Summary of the day
It’s been a fairly quiet day in Westminster, bar Ian Blackford’s announcement that he would be resigning as the SNP’s leader in the House of Commons. Here are all the main events of the day:
Opposition parties in Scotland claimed Blackford’s resignation showed the SNP is “in disarray” as the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, struggles to retain control amid infighting. In a statement, Sturgeon paid tribute to Blackford, who she said has “done an outstanding job in holding the Tory government to account and in promoting the case for independence”.
The former prime minister Boris Johnson announced his intention to stand again as an MP in the next election, expected to take place in 2024. But if an ongoing Commons investigation finds him to have been in contempt of parliament by misleading MPs over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, he could struggle to retain his seat in a byelection before then.
Downing Street urged public sector unions planning strikes in the run-up to Christmas to consider the impact on the public and call off their “unnecessary” industrial action. Instead a spokesperson asked that unions return to the negotiating table.
Labour condemned the government for voting down a cross-party opposition amendment in the Lords that would have sought to block future governmental use of “VIP lanes” for suppliers with links to MPs or peers.
In the first electoral test for Rishi Sunak, polls in the City of Chester constituency are open until 10pm to replace the Labour MP Chris Matheson, who resigned in October after allegations of sexual misconduct. Labour is expected to retain the seat – but it’s not a done deal in the swing seat.
Thanks for following today. I’m closing the blog for the evening but we will be back again tomorrow morning.
The Guardian’s defence and security editor, Dan Sabbagh, has been following the visit of an all-party group of MPs to Taiwan:
China accused an all-party group of MPs visiting Taiwan from the foreign affairs select committee of “gross interference” in the country’s internal affairs, marking the third complaint made by Beijing about Britain this week.
The Chinese embassy in the UK said this week’s trip had gone ahead despite “firm opposition” and amounted to “a flagrant violation of the one-China principle” by which Beijing claims sovereignty over the self-ruled and democratic island.
The all-party committee, chaired by the Conservative MP Alicia Kearns, arrived on Tuesday and met Premier Su Tseng-chang on Thursday. They are due to meet President Tsai Ing-wen on Friday and hold a press conference.
In disregard of China’s firm opposition, the relevant UK MPs went ahead with their visit to the Taiwan region of China. This is a flagrant violation of the one-China principle and a gross interference in China’s internal affairs, and it sends a seriously wrong signal to the separatist forces for “Taiwan independence”.
The multiple challenges to security and prosperity across the globe make constructive ties between democracies, such as those enjoyed by the UK and Taiwan, all the more important
Earlier this week prime minister Rishi Sunak declared that the so-called “golden era” of relations with China is over, although he stopped short of calling Beijing a threat. Separately a BBC journalist was beaten and briefly arrested as he covered an anti-lockdown anti-government protest in Shanghai.
Those developments prompted a lengthy complaint from the country’s foreign ministry who accused the UK of “a serious distortion of the facts” and producing “distorted reports on Xinjiang and Hong Kong”. China’s ambassador to the UK added that the UK was “falsely claiming” that the journalist was arrested and beaten.
Video of the incident shows the journalist, Ed Lawrence, being manhandled by police, before being detained for several hours. The BBC said he was beaten and kicked by police officers, and then taken away in handcuffs.
It is entirely right that democracies engage in dialogue with one another. Whilst the Chinese Communist Party has chosen to shut down dialogue by sanctioning British MPs, I believe that engaging with, and listening to, our friends across the Indo-Pacific, matters.
No 10 has said there is “no one single thing” that will fix illegal immigration, but stressed working with international partners, such as Albania, is important.
Pressed on which “loopholes” in the system Rishi Sunak and Edi Rama discussed closing when they spoke on Thursday, a Downing Street spokesperson said the PM was talking “more generally” about the issues “we know exist”.
You know that we’ve been working closely with Albania throughout this year. Earlier this summer we pledged to fast-track the removal of Albanians with no right to be in the UK where possible and to send senior Albanian law enforcement to the UK to speed up processing.
As the prime minister said, we want to continue to tackle illegal immigration.
There’s no one single thing that will do that but we need to work with international partners, such as Albania, to try and tackle, as he said during PMQs, human trafficking and illegal migration across the channel.
Rory Carroll, Ireland correspondent, has been keeping an eye on the Irish parliament, which is hosting the EU Commission president today:
Ursula von der Leyen has quoted the Irish rock band the Saw Doctors to describe the EU’s approach to post-Brexit negotiations with the UK.
The EU Commission president channelled the County Galway group’s 1996 feelgood single To Win Just Once in an address to both houses of the Irish parliament in Dublin on Thursday.
I can promise you that whenever the European Union sits down with our British friends we will do so with ‘an honest heart and an open mind’ – to quote the great Irish band, The Saw Doctors.
The reference elicited laughter in the packed chamber and sealed a love-fest between Von der Leyen and her Irish hosts, with both sides lauding the mutual benefits of Ireland’s membership of the EU.
The commission president said applying “common sense” and focusing on issues that really mattered to Northern Ireland could bridge differences over the protocol.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen, said she had “encouraging” engagement with Rishi Sunak on the Northern Ireland protocol, but noted that the consequences of Brexit could not be completely removed.
In a two-day visit to Ireland, Von der Leyen said she is “very confident” a solution on the protocol would be found if the UK government is willing. Negotiations are continuing between London and Brussels aimed at securing post-Brexit changes which both sides are happy with.
In an address to the Irish parliament, Von der Leyen suggested that relations had improved under Sunak:
I’m glad that today our talks with London are marked by a new, more pragmatic spirit because the European Union and the United Kingdom are still members of the same extended family, even if we no longer live in the same house.
I can promise you that whenever the European Union sits down with our British friends, we will do so with ‘an honest heart and an open mind’ - to quote the great Irish band The Saw Doctors.
By applying common sense and focusing on the issues that really matter in Northern Ireland, I believe we can make progress in resolving the practical issues surrounding the protocol.
We’re listening closely to the business and civil society stakeholders in Northern Ireland, but the consequences of Brexit and the kind of Brexit chosen by the UK cannot be removed entirely.
The solutions we find must ensure that the single market continues to function in Ireland and elsewhere in the European Union.
I think if both sides are sensitive to this careful balance, a workable solution is within reach. I believe we have a duty to find it.
My contacts [with] Prime Minister Sunak are encouraging and I trust we can find the way.
Let me reassure you, Ireland can always count on the European Union to stand by the Good Friday Agreement. There can be no hard border on the island of Ireland.
Ireland’s minister for foreign affairs Simon Coveney said he hopes that with a new British prime minister both sides can resolve its Brexit-related differences.
Coveney told the Irish parliament:
The United Kingdom is our neighbour. It’s our friend and a country that we and the rest of the EU want a deep partnership with as they travel a new journey outside of the European Union.
I hope that with a new UK Prime Minister, and indeed in new context internationally, we can now grasp the opportunity to resolve our Brexit related differences in the coming weeks through dialogue and compromise.
PA Media has more analysis on Boris Johnson’s plans to stand again as an MP at the next general election:
The news agency’s source confirmed Johnson’s decision to stand for a fourth time after the Telegraph first reported that he told his local Conservative party of his intention.
But if a continuing Commons investigation finds him to have been in contempt of parliament by misleading MPs over lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street, he could face a fight for his seat in a byelection.
Since leaving No 10, Johnson appears to have embraced life as a backbencher, tweeting about a number of constituency visits, including to Ruislip Synagogue and Uxbridge high school this week.
He has also already started a lucrative post-prime ministerial career on the speaking circuit, having been paid £276,000 for a speech to US insurers barely a month after leaving office.
Clearly still harbouring a desire to return to Downing Street, Johnson could pose a challenge for Rish Sunak, and has already caused a headache by joining a Tory rebellion against the prime minister’s opposition to onshore windfarms.
Johnson’s decision to seek re-election comes amid a steady stream of Tory MPs saying they will stand down. The party is braced for a growing exodus as opinion polls suggest the Conservatives are facing an almighty challenge to recover their popularity.
The leaders of Wales’ pro-independence party, Plaid Cymru, have shared a statement offering a more positive response to Ian Blackford’s resignation as the SNP’s leader in Westminster.
The Plaid Cymru leader, Adam Price, and its Westminster leader, Liz Saville Roberts, said:
There has been no greater champion for Scotland’s interests at Westminster than Ian. As a steadfast ally of our party and on behalf of Plaid Cymru we thank Ian for his immense contribution and for holding this undemocratic Tory government to account.
Diolch for speaking so loudly, authoritatively, and passionately on behalf of Scotland, its people and their right to self-determination.
No 10 begs unions to call off strikes in run-up to Christmas
Downing Street has urged public sector unions planning strikes in the run-up to Christmas to call off their “unnecessary” industrial action and return to the negotiating table.
As the Fire Brigades Union became the latest union to begin balloting its members, No 10 expressed concern at the impact multiple strikes would have on the public.
Earlier this week ambulance workers in three unions voted to strike over pay and concerns about staffing levels. The Royal College of Nursing is also staging two strikes this month while industrial action is continuing on the railways and among postal workers.
GMB national secretary Andy Prendergast – whose union represents some of the ambulance staff concerned – refused to rule out coordinated action with other unions.
He told Sky News:
We will be talking to other unions … we will be looking to make sure that this has the maximum impact. We will be making sure that emergencies are covered, but ultimately, the government needs to listen.
The public of Britain deserve better, the NHS members deserve better, we need to see something happen very fast.
Downing Street urged the unions to consider the impact on the public before pressing ahead with further strike action.
The prime minister’s official spokesperson said:
We are concerned about the impact strikes by multiple unions will have on the people of this country as we head into the Christmas period.
We recognise that these are challenging economic times but public sector pay awards must be affordable for the taxpayer.
We want them to keep engaging with employers, to keep talking so that we can come up with a resolution and put an end to some of this unnecessary strike action.
Ireland correspondent Rory Carroll has been following the tussle between the Westminster government and Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist party over energy bill support. Here’s the story:
The UK government and DUP are trading blame over a delay in energy bill supports to Northern Ireland until next year.
Graham Stuart, the minister for energy and climate, told the Commons on Wednesday he hoped to deliver the £600 credit to Northern Ireland households in January – several months after other parts of the UK started receiving payments. Poverty and consumer advocacy groups expressed dismay.
Stuart linked the delay to the absence of devolved government – a veiled rebuke to the DUP, which has collapsed power-sharing institutions to protest post-Brexit trading arrangements.
The DUP accused the government of using the delay to pressure the party to return to Stormont, and said it would not buckle.
A complicating factor is that Northern Ireland has a different energy market to the rest of the UK.
Sinn Féin said the row was letting Northern Ireland households go cold this winter, a line that other parties in the region will use to beat the DUP. So far its power-sharing boycott has been popular with grassroots unionists.
Boris Johnson to stand again as MP in 2024, source says
Boris Johnson will stand again as an MP at the next general election, a source close to the former prime minister has told the PA Media news agency.
Johnson, who has been on the backbenches since departing No 10, will run for re-election in his Uxbridge and South Ruislip constituency at the next poll, expected to be held in 2024.
There’s more happening in Scotland today than just the furore over Ian Blackford’s resignation – Libby Brooks has been following first ministers’ questions, where Nicola Sturgeon’s controversial gender recognition reform bill has been raised.
Nicola Sturgeon was challenged repeatedly at FMQs about her controversial gender recognition reform bill, following a highly critical letter from the UN’s special rapporteur on violence against women and girls suggesting that the legislation could increase potential safety risks.
In her letter to the UK government, Reem Alsalem shared concerns that the reforms “would potentially open the door for violent males who identify as men to abuse the process of acquiring a gender certificate and the rights that are associated with it”.
The Scottish government says that the bill will streamline how individuals change their legal sex by introducing a system known as self-identification and insists there is “no evidence” women and girls will be harmed by the reforms.
Questioned repeatedly by Scottish conservative leader Douglas Ross, Sturgeon said that the cabinet secretary with responsibility for the bill, Shona Robison, would be meeting Alsalem next week, but pointed to a letter in response signed by Scottish women’s groups including Scottish Women’s Aid, Rape Crisis Scotland and Engender which argues that “there is a solid basis in international human rights standards to support the aims and principles of the bill”.
She urged the parliament to treat the issues “seriously, respectfully and calmly”.
Here’s the comment from the Scottish Conservatives, which reprises the same theme as reaction from other parties: that the SNP has been crippled by infighting.
Chair Craig Hoy said:
Ian Blackford has jumped before he was pushed. His resignation is a total humiliation for Nicola Sturgeon. She shamefully stood by her Westminster leader earlier this year despite his appalling handling of the complaints made against Patrick Grady.
This showed a total lack of judgement by Nicola Sturgeon. Ian Blackford should have been sacked immediately for his disgraceful behaviour but he was allowed to stay in post for several months and now gets to dictate the terms on which he leaves.
It is clear that unlike Nicola Sturgeon, SNP MPs were not prepared to forgive how Ian Blackford put the needs of the perpetrator above the victim who had bravely come forward in this case. Whoever is elected the next leader of the SNP at Westminster must ensure that never happens again.
The SNP Westminster group are clearly in a state of disarray and Nicola Sturgeon is rapidly losing her grip over her party.
Away from Westminster, my colleague Ben Quinn has this report from two miles away at the London assembly.
Misogyny and racism among Metropolitan police officers is a problem found in “widespread pockets” rather than being “pervasive,” the force’s new commissioner has insisted.
Sir Mark Rowley, who was appointed to the top job in British law enforcement in July by promising “urgent reforms” to lead the country’s biggest force out of crisis, told London assembly members that public trust in the force was “dented but not broken” and his leadership team was “going after” corrupt officers.
He opened a session alongside London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, by paying tribute to the work of thousands of Met officers, noting that 95 had been assaulted on duty in London over the past week alone, but added: “We also have hundreds of people in the organisation letting us down.
“We haven’t been vigorous and clear enough in our leadership and culture to reduce that problem to an irreducible minimum, and we will do. Setting up the good officers to succeed is critical, as is taking on those who have undermined the trust of the public through their corrupting behaviour,” said Rowley.
Back to the SNP and Ian Blackford’s decision to step down as Westminster leader for the party.
Stephen Flynn, the SNP MP for Aberdeen South, is reportedly touted as the “overwhelming favourite” to replace him.
The National, the pro-independence newspaper, has a profile of the frontrunner here.
“Sources suggest that Flynn has been manoeuvring “for some time” for a shot at the leadership role,” the profile suggests. It adds:
Born in Dundee and a graduate of the University of Dundee, Flynn previously worked as a political researcher for SNP MPs and MSPs.
The 34-year-old is significantly younger than Ian Blackford, who turned 61 in May.
Boris Johnson tells local party he will stand as MP again, reports say
The Daily Telegraph are reporting that Boris Johnson has told his local Conservative Party he will stand again as an MP at the next general election.
The former prime minister indicated his decision ahead of Monday’s deadline for Tory candidates to inform the party whether they wish to contest the poll, which is expected to be held in 2024.
The report comes as the government braces itself for an exodus of MPs who would rather step down than campaign in seats that they believe they are certain to lose in the face of grim polling for the Conservative party.
Hello, Jamie Grierson here picking up the blog while Rachel has some lunch.
SNP MPs and their staff are lining up on Twitter to pay tribute to Ian Blackford’s tenure as Westminster leader for the party.
“Shift” must be a key word in the media lines from SNP HQ …
Responding to the resignation of Ian Blackford as SNP Westminster leader, Liberal Democrat Scottish affairs spokesperson Christine Jardine MP said:
From his bitter campaign against Charles Kennedy to his mishandling of sexual harassment allegations against an SNP MP, it’s clear that Ian Blackford has never been fit to lead.
He should have stepped aside a long time ago. It’s been clear that his SNP colleagues have been pushing him to go and the recent failed leadership challenge was just one indication of their dissatisfaction.
Ian Blackford knows that the Scottish Liberal Democrats are breathing down his neck in Ross, Skye and Lochaber. While he spends the next two years banging on about breaking up the UK, we will be laser focused on health, education and the cost-of-living crisis; the issues that really matter to the people of the Highlands.
Blackford was accused of abusing former Lib Dem leader Charles Kennedy, and refused to apologise during an appearance at an Edinburgh fringe event in the summer.
Scottish Labour says Blackford resignation shows 'SNP is in total disarray'
Reaction to Blackford’s resignation is starting to filter in.
Here are the comments from Shadow Scottish secretary Ian Murray, who says it is a sign of SNP in-fighting:
The SNP is in total disarray – the nats are deserting the sinking ship.
Nationalist MPs know Nicola Sturgeon’s plan for a de facto referendum is finished before its even started and are worried about Labour gaining seats.
Across Scotland, Labour is growing in strength every single day.
At the next election, Scots can do more than just oppose the Tories, we can replace them altogether with a Labour government that grows the economy and creates a fairer, greener future.
Nicola Sturgeon pays tribute to Blackford
The Guardian’s Scotland correspondent Libby Brooks has the response from Scotland on Ian Blackford’s resignation.
Commenting on Blackford’s announcement that he will not be standing again for leader of the SNP’s Westminster parliamentary group, SNP Leader and First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said:
I would like to pay tribute to Ian Blackford for his five years as leader of the SNP’s Westminster group.
He led the group at a time of huge electoral success for the SNP, particularly at the 2019 general election, and has done an outstanding job in holding the Tory government to account and in promoting the case for Independence.
I would like to place on record my thanks for Ian’s diligence, tenacity, friendship and loyalty in his time as group Leader. He will continue to play an important role as constituency MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also asked him to take on a role as part of the wider SNP team preparing the case for Independence.
I look forward to working with Ian’s successor as group leader at Westminster, as we continue to make the case for the people of Scotland to have a democratic choice on the country’s future.
The Guardian’s social affairs correspondent, Robert Booth, reports on the latest warning from the housing watchdog following the social housing scandal:
The reputation of social landlords will be “irreparably damaged” if they do not prioritise the standard of housing they provide, the housing watchdog has told landlords, issuing a new warning after the death of Awaab Ishak due to mould that on of their main jobs is “to provide safe, well-maintained homes”.
Bernadette Conroy, chair of the regulator of social housing, told social landlord bosses in a speech on Thursday:
The importance of the first of those fundamental roles has been starkly highlighted by the recent inquest into the tragic and shocking death of Awaab Ishak [a two year old boy who died of respiratory disease resulting from prolonged exposure to mould in his social housing flat in Rochdale]”. And she instructed them to own up to any breaches of standards immediately.
She spoke as Rochdale Boroughwide Housing, which had failed to fix the mould in Awaab’s home, appointed a new interim chief executive following the sacking of Gareth Swarbrick, the boss in charge when Awaab died in December 2020.
Awaab’s family have called for the entire leadership of the social landlord to quit warning “while the current board remains, there is an ever present risk and danger to Rochdale Boroughwide Housing tenants.”
But the landlord’s chair, Alison Tumilty, remains in place and she announced the appointment of Yvonne Arrowsmith to “deliver the quality of homes and services that our tenants deserve and expect.”
The Guardian’s political editor Pippa Crerar has the full story so far on Ian Blackford’s stepping down – one party insider told her it was a “generational” issue and there was a “need to look to the future”.
Rory Carroll, the Guardian’s Ireland correspondent, has some detail on an interesting report in the Irish News:
Vladimir Putin met Official IRA representatives during two previously unreported visits to Northern Ireland during the Troubles, it has been claimed.
The then KGB officer was part of Soviet delegations to Ireland that crossed the border and visited Belfast, County Down and County Armagh for several days in the spring and summer of 1986, the Irish News reported on Thursday.
Citing unnamed former members of the Official IRA, the paper said the delegations met different “groups and societies” and that the future Russian president had a Guinness at a social club in the Lower Falls, a west Belfast republican heartland.
The report could not be independently verified.
The Official IRA was a leftwing republican rival to the Provisional IRA. It declared a ceasefire in 1972 but was still involved in sporadic violence and feuds within the republican movement in the 1980s. The Officials had ties to communist governments and left-wing groups.
Some of the Soviet visitors used false identities but the delegations notified the UK authorities before crossing into Northern Ireland, a source told the paper. “It was low key … it was a learning experience for them.”
Ian Blackford steps down from role as SNP leader in Westminster
Ian Blackford is stepping down from his role as SNP leader at Westminster but will remain MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, he has announced.
In a statement, he said:
I have today informed SNP MPs that I will not be restanding as leader of the Westminster parliamentary group at our AGM next week.
After more than five years in the role, now is the right time for fresh leadership at Westminster as we head towards a general election and the next steps in winning Scotland’s independence.
During my time as leader, the SNP won a landslide victory in the 2019 general election, with an increased share of the vote and MPs, and support for independence has continued to grow with polling this week showing a majority in favour.
While I am stepping down as Westminster leader, I will continue in my role as the MP for Ross, Skye and Lochaber, and I have also accepted a new role at the centre of the SNP’s independence campaign, leading on business engagement.
I would like to thank our MPs and staff for all their support over the past five years. Whoever replaces me as Westminster leader will have my full support as, together, we stand up for Scotland’s interests and democratic right to choose our future in an independence referendum.
Labour condemns government for blocking anti-VIP lanes amendment
The Guardian’s political correspondent Peter Walker writes about how the government is blocking legislation that would prevent a repetition of the scandal over the preferential awarding of contracts during the pandemic.
Labour has condemned the government for voting down a cross-party opposition amendment in the Lords that would have sought to block the future use of so-called VIP lanes for suppliers with links to MPs or peers.
The amendment to the procurement bill, led by Liberal Democrat peer Lord Scriven, follows revelations about the way some suppliers received apparently preferential treatment in access to contracts for protective equipment during the Covid pandemic, among a business recommended by the Tory peer Michelle Mone.
Scriven’s amendment sought to bar “any preferential treatment on suppliers connected to or recommended by members of the House of Commons or members of the House of Lords”. In a Lords vote on Wednesday evening it was defeated by 220 to 201, with 189 of the opposing votes coming from Conservative peers.
Speaking for the government in the debate, Cabinet Office minister Lucy Neville-Rolfe argued that the amendment was not needed given the procurement bill already included safeguards against such potential conflicts of interest.
But Florence Eshalomi, a Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister, said ministers “simply can’t be trusted at their word to say VIP lanes will not happen again on their watch”. She said: “They must explain why they’ve scrabbled to block cross-party attempts to close loopholes in legislation that are still open for others to exploit in the future.”
The government’s approach to the Online Safety Bill does “absolutely nothing to tackle the harmful content at its root”, Labour has said.
Shadow culture minister Alex-Davies Jones told MPs:
The government are making an absolute mess of the online safety bill. After years of inaction, we now know that the government plans once again to delay this bill from progressing.
Their approach would supposedly give adults greater choice online, but it does absolutely nothing to tackle the harmful content at its root. So can the minister confirm whether the abhorrent yet legal extreme content that led to a man to shoot and kill five people in my honourable friend, the member for Plymouth and Devonport (Luke Pollard)‘s constituency would still be available to view and share freely online under the terms of this bill?
Culture secretary Michelle Donelan replied:
Not a single clause in this bill is actually changing in relation to children, it is being strengthened. In relation to illegal content, of course that is still being taken down which the honourable member would know if she read the stuff that we have published.
We are also introducing a triple shield of defence which was lacking before and we have made the promotion of self harm and intimate image abuse an offence, whilst also protecting free speech and every choice. It’s important that the opposition remember that making a Bill stronger is not watering down.
Levelling up should not be about “pitting arts organisations against each other”, Labour has said.
Shadow culture minister Barbara Keeley told the Commons:
We all support a fairer distribution of arts funding and the principle that communities outside London should get a fairer share so that everybody everywhere can enjoy the arts.
But levelling up should not be about pitting arts organisations against each other. What we have seen is an attempt to address regional disparity by shifting some funding to the regions, but doing so from a funding pot, which has been shrinking since 2010.
So does the minister agree with me that these very short timeframes and the lack of consultation on these cuts to funding could have a very damaging impact on the ecosystem of the arts?
Culture minister Stuart Andrew replied:
I have to say that London will still be getting the lion’s share of the funding from the Arts Council. And I make no apology for seeing areas like Blackburn, for example, that has never received any funding and now four projects are receiving funding.
Why can’t talented artists in Blackburn get the same access to those opportunities as artists in London? I don’t understand the problem.
MPs are discussing an urgent question on rail cancellations in the north in which Labour has accused the government of systematically allowing rail operators to continue to provide poor service.
Transport minister Huw Merriman said he wanted to take the opportunity to set out the “disappointment from the government on the experience of many passengers”.
We recognise the current performance is not acceptable and is having a significant effect on passengers and the northern economy.
Two rail services providers are facing problems at the moment: Transpennine Express and Avanti.
Transpennine Express has been dealing with higher than average sickness levels, a withdrawal of the option for drivers and conductors to work non working days as overtime and strike action as part of the RMT dispute. Harper said they were “undertaking an intense programme of crew training to address the backlog”.
He said Avanti also had a shortage of fully trained drivers, and was struggling to adjust to no longer being able to use overtime to run the timetable to the mutual benefit of staff and operators.
Noting that nearly 100 additional drivers will enter service this year between April and December and that the companies are taking “positive steps to get trains moving they must do more to deliver certainty of service”. He said the government would hold them to account for matters within its control, but some aspects are the responsibility of others.
Shadow transport secretary Louise Haigh said rail services in the north were “once again in meltdown”.
People are cut out from jobs and opportunities. Investors in Manchester I spoke to are thinking again about investing in the north.
The damage this fiasco is doing is enormous.
For months and years [the government] has forced the north to settle for a substandard service, forced it to accept delays, cancellations and overcrowding while ministers not only allowed it but actually rewarded the abject failure of these operators. Six years s ago Transpennine express had exactly the same issues as they face today, then as now they blamed it on staff shortages and rest day working. They said six years ago they would recruit drivers and improve resilience but here we are again in crisis, and it’s the public paying the price.
She asked whether the government would introduce a binding remedial plan to fully restore services or face penalties, claw back taxpayer money paid out in dividends, and whether the minister of state was preventing an offer being reached on rest day working.
Merriman said the government is in talks aimed at working practice reforms which would mean rail operators no longer have to seek the approval of their workforce to implement a seven-day working week, and to speed up the training of new drivers.
This can’t be unilaterally dealt with, it requires the agreement of unions to modernise.
YouGov have published the results of its latest poll on voting intention, showing that support for the Conservatives has dropped by a further three percentage points, and Labour have dropped by one percentage point, though the party retains a strong lead. Rightwing populist party Reform has gained four percentage points, though support remains low, at 9%. The other parties have stayed stable.
A poll in Scotland suggests that more people support Scottish independence than want to remain part of the United Kingdom.
The research found that 49% of Scottish respondents said they would vote Yes and 45% said they would vote No if there were to be a referendum tomorrow on whether Scotland should be an independent country, with the remainder saying they do not know.
Redfield & Wilton Strategies carried out the poll on 26-27 November, days after the UK supreme court ruled another independence referendum cannot be held without Westminster’s consent.
Support for independence was higher than a comparable poll on 18 September last year, when 44% of respondents said they would vote Yes while 47% said they would vote No.
The latest poll, of 1,000 Scottish voters, also found 46% said they would support a referendum on Scottish independence being held in the next year, while 43% would oppose one, 9% said they would neither support nor oppose the prospect, and 2% said they did not know.
SNP depute leader Keith Brown said:
This poll shows growing support for what the people of Scotland expressed in the 2021 election, they want a choice to become an independent nation.
The chaos at Westminster in recent months has tanked the UK economy, accelerated inflation and crippled household budgets with soaring mortgages, all from successive Tory governments that Scotland didn’t elect.
Last week’s ruling showed clearly that the UK is not a voluntary union.
In a democracy, it is right for the people to have their say and neither the Tories or Labour should be able to deny that.
The message to Westminster parties now is clear, Scottish democracy cannot be denied.
Polls open in Chester byelection
Good morning and welcome to the politics blog today.
The big politics story today is that the first Westminster byelection since the resignations of Boris Johnson and Liz Truss and the financial fallout from the mini-budget takes place in Chester today.
In the first electoral test for Rishi Sunak, polls in the City of Chester constituency are open until 10pm tonight to replace Labour MP Chris Matheson, who resigned in October after allegations of sexual misconduct.
Labour, which has a majority of 6,164 votes in the affluent constituency, is expected to retain the seat – but it’s not a done deal as the seat, which is one of the oldest in the UK, has been held by the Conservatives in the past, most recently in 2010.
Election expert Robert Hayward told Politico’s Playbook that the Conservatives will be pleased to win more than 20% of the vote, while Labour would expect to get above 65% – or at least 60%.
It should be a very, very comfortable Labour victory.
The Labour candidate is Samantha Dixon, previous leader of Cheshire West and Chester council, while the Conservatives put up Liz Wardlaw, also a local councillor, and the Lib Dems selected school teacher and parish councillor Rob Herd. You can see the full list of candidates here.
Here’s what else is happening today:
9.30am: Department for Culture, Media and Sport questions in the House of Commons, followed by Commons leader Penny Mordaunt’s weekly business statement. Later in the day, MPs will discuss the legislation for a bill which adds Princess Anne and Prince Edward to the list of royals who can deputise for the king. There will also be a backbench-led debate to mark World Aids Day.
10am: The DCMS committee will grill BBC execs including Director of England Jason Horton on the corporation’s deep local radio cuts. The Public accounts committee will ask Home Office officials on fraud against businesses and individuals.
3pm: Tory MP Jackie Doyle-Price will lead a debate on the international day for the elimination of violence against women and girls.
Home secretary Suella Braverman and policing minister Chris Philp will also meet police leaders in Downing Street today to discuss extreme protest tactics.
I’ll be keeping you updated with all the key happenings in Westminster for the rest of today, but if you think I’ve missed anything do drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org.