Afternoon summary

  • MPs have voted to get the Commons privileges committee to investigate the SNP MP John Nicolson over a complaint that he broke Commons rules by revealing the contents of a letter he received from the speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle. (See 3.37pm.) Nicolson wanted people to know why Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, was not going to face any penalty after a report concluded she had misled the culture secretary. Correspondence from the speaker is meant to be treated as confidential. The Tory MP David Davis tabled the motion saying Nicolson should be investigated and he told MPs that Nicolson broke the rules when he discussed, in a video he posted on Twitter, what Hoyle said. Davis said:

Nowhere in his filmed statement did he tell his followers that Mr Speaker was following normal precedent or normal procedure by accepting the will of the [culture] committee.

All of us in this house have a duty to uphold its rules and institutions, but by knowingly breaching the confidentiality of the speaker’s correspondence he has done the opposite of that. This is a clear breach of our rules.

Nicolson said people would find it “curious” that Dorries was not being punished for misleading a committee, but that he was being penalised for letting people know about this.

  • Neil Basu, the outgoing assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan police, has described Suella Braverman’s language about immigration as “horrific”. (See 5.04pm.)


Ukraine's first lady tells MPs that UK should take lead in helping to ensure Russia faces justice over war crimes

Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, has urged the UK to become a leader in helping Ukraine achieve “justice” against Russia, during an address to MPs and peers that included Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, PA Media reports. PA says:

The speech, in the parliament committee room, came as part of a visit to London for Zelenska as she urged the UK and other allies to seek justice against alleged Russian war crimes.

Her visit has focused on the use of sexual violence and rape by Russian forces in the months-long war, which is now heading into a long winter.

And to politicians gathered in the houses of parliament, she had a stark message as she said that the Ukrainian experience today has echoes of the British suffering during the second world war.

In front of a union flag and Ukrainian flag, Zelenska, who is married to the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, said: “Justice, like victory, is not possible without allies.”

She argued that the international criminal court (ICC) does not have the legal force to punish Moscow for its invasion.

Through a translator, she said: “We need to start the special tribunal against the crime of aggression of Russia against Ukraine, which will enhance the work of the ICC and not weaken it.

“We need to unite the world community just as it happened in January 1942 to support the special tribunal against the aggression of Russia against Ukraine.

“I’m asking you a small favour: to become the world leader in the justice efforts.

“I believe that London can give this decisive impetus so that the world can become better, fairer, thanks to you.”

She said: “Ukrainians are going through the terror, which will resonate with you.

“Your islands survived the air raids, which were identical to those that Russia uses now to put us on our knees.

“We’re hearing sirens every day identical to those which were heard by earlier British generations. You did not surrender and we will not surrender.

“But victory is not the only thing we need. We need justice.”

Olena Zelenska.
Olena Zelenska. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA


Outgoing Met police assistant commissioner says Braverman's language on immigration 'horrific'

Neil Basu, who is standing down as assistant commissioner at the Metropolitan police, has given an interview to Channel 4 News in which he has described Suella Braverman’s language about immigration as “horrific”.

Asked about the home secretary saying it was her dream to read a story on the front page of the Telegraph saying a flight had left Britain carrying asylum seekers to Rwanda, Basu, the most senior police officer of colour in Britain, said:

I find some of the commentary coming out of the Home Office inexplicable …

It is unbelievable to hear a succession of very powerful politicians who look like this, talking in language that my father would have remembered from 1968. It’s horrific.

I was born in 1968. The ‘rivers of blood’ speech [by Enoch Powell] happened on the constituency next to where my parents lived and made their life hell. A mixed-race couple walking through the streets in the 1960s. Stoned.

Basu also said he was proud to describe himself as “woke” – a word now routinely used by senior Tories as an insult. He explained:

Are you alert to issues of racial and social justice? Yes I am. And if that is the definition of woke, I’ll wear it as a bumper sticker every day of the week. And by the way, every serving police officer, let alone a chief constable, better believe that too. We serve all of the public without fear or favour, regardless of who they look like, not just the people we like.

In response, the Home Office told Channel 4 News that Braverman expected police forces to adopt “a zero-tolerance approach to racism” but that she, and the public, wanted an asylum system that worked for those in genuine need.

"I find some of the commentary coming out of the Home Office inexplicable."

Assistant Commisioner for the Met Police, Neil Basu, tells @cathynewman that Home Secretary Suella Braverman's language about her dreams of sending immigrants to Rwanda is "horrific."

— Channel 4 News (@Channel4News) November 29, 2022


Shapps tells MPs latest wind turbines now so big they have to go offshore

Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change and net zero, accused Grant Shapps of being part of the “dinosaur” tendency in the Conservative party on windfarms.

In exchanges during the statement on Sizewell C, Miliband asked Shapps why he did not clear up the confusion caused by the government’s flip-flopping on the onshore windfarm ban. He said:

The ban on onshore wind in England that they put in place in 2015 has raised bills for every family in this country by £150 each, and keeping the ban in place up to 2030 would mean customers paying £16bn more on bills compared to a target of doubling onshore wind.

Miliband said the public were in favour of onshore windfarms, but he said the “dinosaurs on the benches opposite oppose clean energy”. And he said Shapps himself was even less supportive of onshore windfarms than his predecessor, Jacob Rees-Mogg. Shapps’s stance was “making the Victorian of the Tory party look positively on trend”, Miliband said.

In response, Shapps did not say what the government would decide when it agreed a new position on onshore windfarming. But he defended his preference for offshore by saying new wind turbines were “so big’” they had to go offshore. He told MPs:

These turbines are now so large, they can’t even be constructed onshore. They are so big, the turbines wouldn’t be able to be carried by roads.

They have to be put offshore. How big are they? Well, it’s actually convenient the World Cup is on, he will be able to envisage this.

These single turbines are seven football pitches in scope as they turn. They’re not buildable onshore. It’s one of the reasons why the cheapest way to build them offshore, to produce energy offshore, is to build these mammoth turbines which go together in groups of two or even up to 300.


Bank of England had 'no idea' what was going to be in parts of mini-budget in advance, governor tells peers

Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, has been giving evidence to the House of Lords economic affairs committee. He said that the Bank had no warning of what was going to be in the mini-budget, and that it did not get the usual advance briefing. He told the committee:

We did not know what was going to be in the statement. We had some ideas ... but I’m afraid there were parts of it we had no idea what was in it …

There was no formal communication of the sort we normally have and it was a quite extraordinary process in that sense.

My colleague Graeme Wearden has more on our business live blog.

SNP MP faces conduct inquiry for exposing how Nadine Dorries was avoiding punishment for misleading Commons committee

MPs have voted by a huge majority for a privileges committee investigation into the SNP MP John Nicolson. It started with what seemed to be a minor and technical breach of parliamentary etiquette, but it escalated into quite a row, and one which illustrates faultlines running through the chamber.

It all started when Nicolson wrote to Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the speaker, asking if he would allow a debate on a motion about Nadine Dorries telling the Commons culture committee that Channel 4 faked a reality TV programme when there is no evidence that was true. Nicolson asked Hoyle to allow a debate on a motion saying the privileges committee should investigate her for misleading parliament. But Hoyle said no.

Nicolson then posed this on Twitter, making the whole exchange public.

I know many of you are following the story of how Nadine Dorries misled the House of Commons Culture Select Committee on which I sit. The Committee issued an excoriating report about her. I sent a copy to The Speaker asking him to take action. Have a listen to his response to me.

— JOHN NICOLSON M.P. (@MrJohnNicolson) November 16, 2022

On Wednesday last week Hoyle lashed out at Nicolson in a statement to MPs. He said that MPs’ correspondence with the speaker was private, that Nicolson had given “a partial and biased account” of his letter on Twitter and that Nicolson had not apologised.

In response, Nicolson said the culture committee had published a unanimous report criticising Dorries for her remarks and that people wanted to know what happened to an MP who misled a committee.

Nicolson did not apologise in the chamber last week, and the Tory MP David Davis tabled a motion saying that he should be referred to the privileges committee for an investigation. MPs debated it this afternoon and it passed by 371 votes to 16.

Davis said that MPs should respect the rule that correspondence with the speaker should be private. He also accused Nicolson of questioning the integrity and impartiality of the speaker, whom MPs should respect, he said.

Nicolson spoke in his own defence. He said that he did not know he was not allowed to reveal the contents of Hoyle’s letter, and that he was not criticising the speaker. He also said that Dorries was not being punished for misleading a committee, while he was being punished for revealing this – although as soon as he accused Dorries of “misleading” MPs, he was asked to withdraw the comment.

John Nicolson tries to defend himself by pointing out that Nadine Dorries isn't in trouble for misleading a committee, while he's facing punishment for revealing that fact.

He is told to immediately withdraw the comment.

— The National (@ScotNational) November 29, 2022

The SNP MP Pete Wishart said he did not know about the rule saying correspondence with the speaker was confidential despite having been an MP for more than 20 years. He said what was happening to Nicolson seemed like “institutional bullying”.

Some MPs seemed particularly aggrieved that Nicolson had not apologised last week, although he did in his speech today.

Just 16 SNP MPs voted against Davis’s motion. Among those voting in favour were 248 Tories, 100 Labour MP, 10 Liberal Democrats and seven DUP MPs.

Nicolson lost the vote this afternoon. But the spectacle of parliament voting to investigate an MP acting as a quasi-whistleblower while absolving a former cabinet minister who told falsehoods to a committee is probably a good result for the SNP, in that it does support their claims about the Commons being institutionally flawed.

It is possible that if a Tory or Labour MP had acted as Nicolson did, the Commons would have responded in the same way, but, listening to the debate, it did feel as if in part this involved the political parties that revere parliament ganging up on an MP from a party that doesn’t.

And many people will conclude there is an element of double standards involved. The culture committee said in its report that, in making a false statement about the broadcaster, “Dorries appears to have taken an opportunity, under the protection of privilege, to traduce the reputation of Channel 4”. It said that it would have demanded a privileges committee inquiry if she was still culture secretary, but that it was not pushing for one because she was no longer in charge of Channel 4.

That sounded like a compromise position intended to persuade Tories on the committee to back the conclusion. Misleading a select committee is a contempt of parliament regardless of whether the person doing the misleading is in cabinet or not.


Zero Tolerance, an Edinburgh-based charity campaigning to end violence against women, has asked those attending its 30th birthday celebrations today to “refrain from discussions of the definition of a woman and single sex spaces in relation to the Gender Recognition Act”.

Referencing the controversial bill currently making its way through the Holyrood parliament, supported by the SNP government but criticised by a number of groups who believe it will erode women’s legal protections, the group has issued a statement on its website that states:

We understand that as feminists we have strong opinions on these subjects. But this is not what this event is about.

Instead, we would like to focus on how we can integrate prevention work across Scotland, engage in meaningful partnership work, and celebrate 30 years of our organisation working to create a Scotland free from violence against women and girls.

Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, is one of the speakers at today’s event. The Scottish Conservative spokesperson on gender reform, Rachael Hamilton MSP, has asked the SNP leader to clarify if anybody from the government or her party requested that the charity limit discussion of the bill.

Hamilton also wrote to Sturgeon yesterday to ask that the gender recognition reform bill be suspended until evidence could be taken from Reem Alsalem, the United Nations special rapporteur on violence against women and girls, who issued a strong critique of the legislation to the UK government last week.


Former culture minister 'disappointed' by changes to online harms bill that favour freedom of speech lobby

Dame Caroline Dinenage, who was a culture minister until September and who worked on the online safety bill, told Radio 4’s World at One she was disappointed by the government’s decision to drop the “legal but harmful” provisions from the proposed legislation. (See 9.26am.) She said:

[The bill] still goes a long way towards achieving the ambition that was initially set out, which was to try and make the UK one of the safest places in the world to be online.

I’m a little bit disappointed about the decision to get rid of the legal but harmful aspect of it.

It was always clunky, it was always a little bit sub-optimal, but the protections that it included, I think, are really important, and I’m just a little bit disappointed that the, sort of, freedom of speech campaign has won out over some of those protections.

Dinenage’s boss at the department when the original legislation was drafted was Nadine Dorries. In an interview earlier this month, Dorries said her bill did not need to be changed and that Michelle Donelan, her successor as culture secretary, did not understand the topic very well because she had only been in the job for “five minutes”.

But since the government has confirmed that the bill is being amended, and that the “legal but harmful” provisions are being dropped, Dorries has been uncharacteristically restrained. She has not yet commented in public at all.


Tory MPs complain summoning of Chinese ambassador to Foreign Office too weak a response to assault of BBC journalist

In response to an urgent question in the Commons about the way the Chinese police arrested and assaulted a BBC journalist covering the protests in Shanghai, David Rutley, a Foreign Office minister, told MPs that the ambassador was being summoned to the Foreign Office for a reprimand. Rutley said:

The BBC has stated that the journalist was beaten and kicked by police during his arrest and was held for several hours before being released. In response, we are calling in the Chinese ambassador to make clear the unacceptable and unwarranted nature of these actions, the importance of freedom of speech, and to demand a full and thorough explanation.

But some Tory MPs said the government should have responded more robustly. Referring to the phrased used by Rishi Sunak in his foreign affairs speech last night (see 10.58am), Tim Loughton, a former minister, said:

We have had an awful lot of calling in the Chinese ambassador. If robust pragmatism is to mean anything, should there not be clear consequences?

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, said:

I wonder what effect calling the ambassador in has, and whether more doesn’t need to be done urgently that actually has an effect on the Chinese operation in the UK.

Should we not be looking to expel diplomats, to take tougher action in international forums where Chinese interests are at stake, to do things that the Chinese would not want us to do, like improving our relationship with Taiwan, or inviting the Dalai Lama on a formal visit by the British government so that we show that we are not a pushover, we are not going to support the communist running dogs?

And Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, asked Rutley to explain “how ‘robustly pragmatic’ will worry the Chinese any one bit”.

In response, Rutley said the Foreign Office would handle the calling in of the ambassador “in a very robust manner”. He also said Sunak was proposing “a coordinated and coherent approach where we will be doing more to adapt to China’s growing impact”.


Going ahead with Sizewell C nuclear power plant 'misguided', says Green party

The Green party has described the decision to go ahead with Sizewell C as a mistake. Adrian Ramsay, the Green party’s co-leader, said:

This is an ideological decision driven by a misguided energy policy. It is clear there are cleaner, quicker and much less expensive options to meet our electricity needs. Investment in renewable energy and insulation at scale are what is needed to tackle both the climate emergency and cost of living crisis with the urgency needed.

The design of Sizewell C will follow the much-criticised Hinkley Point C scheme in Somerset which has been delayed by years and beset by technical difficulties and mushrooming costs. It is clear that large nuclear reactors are far too slow to help solve our climate crisis and way too expensive to address sky-high energy bills.

In the Commons Grant Shapps, the business secretary, is now making a statement confirming the decision to go ahead with the construction of the Sizewell C nuclear power plant. His department has already published details in a news release.

The Sizewell C announcement was in the autumn statement, and Shapps seems to be struggling for anything very new to say. He has just been padding out his speech with quotes from Shakespeare, about England being “a fortress built by nature”, which he managed to turn into a reference to wind and tidal power.


No 10 refuses to deny Home Office planning list of 'safe' countries to which asylum seekers face swift return

At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson gave journalists a briefing on Rishi Sunak’s innovation evangelism at cabinet. (See 12.10pm.) Here are the other main lines from what he said.

  • No 10 refused to deny a report saying the Home Office wants to revive a “safe list” of countries to which asylum seekers could be returned speedily. This is broadly what David Davis and around 50 other Tory MPs were calling for yesterday, and in the Times Matt Dathan says Suella Braverman, the home secretary, wants this as policy. Dathan says:

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, is looking to resurrect a list of designated “safe” countries, from whose citizens asylum claims are largely regarded as unfounded. Rejected claimants will have no right to appeal.

The list would include Albania, the nationality which has accounted for the largest number of small boats across the Channel this year with more than 12,000 of the 43,000 arrivals.

The Times understands that the Home Office is seeking to emulate a policy carried out by the New Labour government in the early 2000s in which it dealt with claims from asylum seekers from so-called “white-list” countries within ten days.

Asked if this was correct, the spokesperson said he did not want to comment on speculation. But he went on:

You will know that this is an area, in broad terms. where we are looking to do more. One of the prime minister’s priorities is getting a grip on the illegal immigration system. But I’m not going to get into sort of speculating on what further approaches may or may not be.

Tuesday's Times: Social media firms told to protect young or pay price #TomorrowsPapersToday #TheTimes #Times

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) November 28, 2022
  • The spokesperson refused to say whether Rishi Sunak backed the argument that Michael Gove made in 2017 proposing putting VAT on private school fees. Gove was a backbencher when he wrote his 2017 Times column, which has recently been circulating widely on social media in response to the Daily Mail splashing on stories critical of Labour’s plans to put VAT on private school fees for two day in a row.

Tuesday's Mail: Keir's Class War Threat To 200 Private Schools #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyMail #Mail

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) November 28, 2022

In his article Gove said:

Private school fees are VAT-exempt. That tax advantage allows the wealthiest in this country, indeed the very wealthiest in the globe, to buy a prestige service that secures their children a permanent positional edge in society at an effective 20 per cent discount …

The prime minister, quite rightly, wants to end burning injustices in our society. We could scarcely find a better way of doing that than ending tax advantages for the global super-rich and instead extending them to the vulnerable and voiceless. What better way to make next month’s budget a budget for social justice?

The spokesperson claimed he had not seen those comments, but he said the government thought private schools had “an important role” to play. He said they offered targeted bursaries, and worked with local state schools.

  • The spokesperson said that, under the revised online safety bill, it would be up to social media companies to decide how they enforce effective age verification.

  • The spokesperson said Sunak would be supporting England in its world cup match against Wales.


Government decision to go ahead with Sizewell C nuclear power plant could create up to 20,000 jobs, Shapps tells MPs

Grant Shapps, the business secretary, will be making a statement to MPs later about the plan to go ahead with the construction of the Sizewell C nuclear power plant in Suffolk. In the Commons, during departmental questions, he said the project would create 10,000 jobs in the immediate area, and “perhaps 20,000 across the country”.


Sunak tells cabinet innovation should be 'defining focus' for government

At cabinet Rishi Sunak delivered a lecture to his team on the importance of innovation, according to the PM’s spokesperson. In a readout from cabinet, the spokesperson said Sunak told his ministers that he wanted innovation to be “a defining focus for the government”. The spokesperson said:

[Sunak] said innovation permeates every part of people’s lives and has the power to further transform our public services. He said innovation accounts for around half of the UK’s growth and should be driving practical ideas such as elective surgery hubs, which are speeding up the number of people receiving operations in the NHS.

He said innovation was a competitive space with every major economy seeking to maximise its advantage. He said the UK would lead the way by pursuing four goals backed by £20bn in R&D spending. First, using government levers to harness science and technology to drive economic growth. Second, creating the conditions to pull capital investment into UK tech and R&D, embedding innovation in our public services and, finally, ensuring the UK has the skills it needs to be a leading tech nation.

Grant Shapps, the business secretary, told colleagues the spaceport in Cornwall, which is close to staging launches, showed how the UK could lead the way in Europe in this area. Sunak also said artificial intelligence was another area where the UK could lead the way.


Truss and Kwarteng should have pressed on with spending cuts instead of U-turning on mini-budget, says Rees-Mogg

In one of his first major sit-downs since being kicked out of the cabinet following the fall of Liz Truss’s government a month ago, Jacob Rees-Mogg has argued she and former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng should never have U-turned on their mini-budget.

Instead, he argued the pair should have tried to shore up market confidence by bringing forward plans for spending cuts – including pushing ahead with the drive to cut 91,000 civil servants – and supply-side reforms, to prove the measures could be paid for.

“U-turns made it all worse,” he told listeners of his fortnightly “Moggcast”, hosted by the ConservativeHome website.

The former business secretary said once the mini-budget was announced, “it was important to bring forward the next stage – the spending cuts that were going to come and the supply side reforms – to try and build the package, rather than start unpicking stage one”.

Such a move would have been a “diversion” rather than a U-turn, Rees-Mogg argued.

He said the “point at which there was no return” for Truss was when chaos erupted over the pulling of a confidence vote – ordered by Downing Street against the whips’ wishes. He said:

Randomly – for no obvious reason – the rug was pulled. Nobody told me and I’m not sure the chief whip knew either.

When he went into the whips’ office to find out what was going on as the division bells started ringing, Rees-Mogg recalled how he was told: “The chief and deputy chief have resigned and nobody knows anything.”

Asked what Truss’s legacy would be, Rees-Mogg said simply: “In seven weeks, the only thing of note is the brevity of it.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA


Donelan says revised online safety bill would still block harmful content of kind seen by Molly Russell

Here are some more lines from the Michelle Donelan interviews this morning on the changes being made to the online safety bill.

  • Donelan, the culture secretary, said she was removing the “legal but harmful” provisions from the bill (see 9.26am) because they created a “quasi-legal category”. She told Sky News:

It had [a] very, very concerning impact, potentially, on free speech. There were unintended consequences associated with it. It was really the anchor that was preventing this bill from getting off the ground.

It was a creation of a quasi-legal category between illegal and legal. That’s not what a government should be doing. It’s confusing. It would create a different kind of set of rules online to offline in the legal sphere.

  • She rejected Ian Russell’s criticism of the changes to the bill, and said that the content seen by his daughter Molly would still be removed under the new version. (See 9.26am.) She told the Today programme:

You mentioned young people and children - nothing is getting watered down or taken out when it comes to children.

We’re adding extra in, so there is no change to children. This is a very complicated bill and there’s lots of aspects to it, but I wouldn’t want any of your listeners to think for a minute that we are removing anything when it comes to children because we’re not.

I think it might be just misunderstanding what Ian [Russell] has said on this. I’ve spoken to him even this morning. So the legal but harmful aspect was pertaining to adults. Content that is harmful or could hurt children that is not illegal, so is legal, will still be removed under this version of the bill.

So the content that Molly Russell saw will not be allowed as a result of this bill. And there will no longer be cases like that coming forward because we’re preventing that from happening, and I want to be really clear on that.

  • She said the fines in the bill for social media company which do not enforce proper age verification would not necessarily apply for one-off cases. She said it would “depend on the circumstances” whether fines were imposed. Asked about what might trigger a fine, she told the Today programme:

If a child had tried to get around it ... or if it was an individual isolated case, or if there were ramifications, just like any regulator works, they will look at the context of this, they’ll look at the systems and the processes that that company has put in place to try and prevent that from happening. So I can’t comment on individual, sort of hypothetical, cases that haven’t happened.

  • She said the bill would become law before the end of the current parliamentary session. The session is due to end in spring 2023.

Michelle Donelan
Michelle Donelan. Photograph: Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Left to right: John Glen, chief secretary to the Treasury, Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, and Mark Harper, the transport secretary, leaving No 10 after the end of cabinet this morning.
Left to right: John Glen, chief secretary to the Treasury, Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, and Mark Harper, the transport secretary, leaving No 10 after the end of cabinet this morning.

Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

The Fire Brigades Union has said that its members will start voting on 5 December on whether to strike over pay, with the result due at the end of January.

As PA Media reports, the move follows the rejection of a 5% pay offer. If a national strike took place, it would be the first since action over pensions between 2013 and 2015 and the first on pay since 2002/03.

Matt Wrack, the FBU general secretary, said:

This is an historic ballot for firefighters and control staff. We are rarely driven to these lengths.

Nobody wants to be in this position, but after years of derisory pay increases and a pay offer that is well below inflation, firefighters’ and control staff’s living standards are in peril.

U-turn on onshore windfarms likely after Tory rebellion

Ministers will make an announcement on a ban on onshore windfarms in the coming days, including potential “tweaks” to the levelling up bill, in the face of a growing rebellion by Conservative MPs, my colleague Jessica Elgot reports.

Sunak's 'robust pragmatism' approach to China 'sounds more and more like appeasement', says Iain Duncan Smith

Rishi Sunak seems to have beefed up his lord mayor’s banquet speech in the final hours before he delivered it last night. According to a briefing released on Sunday night, he was going to say that the UK could treat autocratic countries like China “not with grand rhetoric but with robust pragmatism” (whatever that means). By the time he delivered the speech, as my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports, it contained a line saying the “so-called ‘golden era’ [in UK-China relations] is over, along with the naive idea that trade would lead to social and political reform”.

But he does not seem to have gone far enough for the China hawks in his own party. In an article for today’s Daily Express, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, says:

China, even as I write this is committing genocide on the Uyghur, putting the men into slave labour camps, forcibly sterilising the women, and rounding up their children and placing them in re-education camps. It doesn’t stop there.

They are arresting Christians, trashed the Sino-British Hong Kong agreement and arresting peaceful democracy campaigners and journalists, invaded, and militarising the South China Seas illegally, whilst stealing key technologies from us and our allies. And last but not least, they threaten to invade Taiwan on a regular basis …

I wonder if robust pragmatism now sounds more and more like appeasement.

And in an interview with Times Radio this morning Bob Seely said the UK and other countries in the west should wean themselves off their economic dependency on China. He said China wanted to reincorporate Taiwan, and countries in the west did not realise how powerless they were to stop it. He explained:

What it will say to the west, and the rest of the world, is that if you put sanctions on us once we invade Taiwan, you will destroy your economies, you will destroy your living standards, because we can survive because we are self sufficient, where you are dependent on us.

And that is the big strategic issue that we face, because we should be under no illusion, China uses trade for power in a way that we don’t and naively, we don’t really quite understand either.


England and Wales now minority Christian countries, census reveals

England and Wales are now minority Christian countries, according to the 2021 census, which also shows that Leicester and Birmingham have become the first UK cities to have “minority majorities”, my colleagues Robert Booth, Pamela Duncan and Carmen Aguilar García report.

The story is based on ONS census data available here.


Suella Braverman, the home secretary, arriving for cabinet this morning.
Suella Braverman, the home secretary, arriving for cabinet this morning. Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

China’s ambassador to the UK, Zheng Zeguang, has been summoned to the Foreign Office to be told about the government’s anger about the arrest and assault of a BBC journalist covering the protest in Shanghai, the Evening Standard’s Nicholas Cecil reports.

UK summons Chinese ambassador to Foreign Office over police ‘beating’ of BBC journalist in Shanghai

— Nicholas Cecil (@nicholascecil) November 29, 2022


Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, is being accused by the leading online safety campaign Ian Russell of watering down the online safety bill. (See 9.26am.) But Big Brother Watch, a libertarian group campaigning for freedom of speech, says Donelen has not changed the bill enough. In a statement on the changes, Mark Johnson, its legal and policy officer, said:

The government’s revival of plans to give state backing for social media companies’ terms and conditions in the online safety bill is utterly retrograde, brushes aside months of expert scrutiny, and poses a major threat to freedom of speech in the UK …

The government promised a revised online safety bill that would protect free speech. We welcome the secretary of state’s willingness to make changes to the legislation but the reheating of a junked policy that merges the censorship powers of the state and Silicon Valley is neither good for civil liberties nor safety online.


Harper offers RMT 'better information sharing' in response to calls for clarity on who can negotiate end to rail strike

On Thursday last week Mark Harper, the transport secretary, held what both sides described as a positive meeting with Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary. They were talking about the rail strikes and afterwards Lynch told journalists that it was not clear to his union who had the authority to negotiate a pay settlement. The individual rail companies, and the Rail Delivery Group (which represents them), were both saying they could not engage in collective bargaining, he said.

Lynch said Harper had offered to send him a letter clarifying who exactly did have the authority to negotiate a settlement.

Harper has now released the text of his letter to Lynch. It is short and it does not really address Lynch’s questions at all, but Harper is promising a further meeting, as well as “better information sharing”. He says:

My role is to facilitate and support – not negotiate. Negotiations will continue between trade unions and employers, but I can see scope for agreement.

Let me set out how I think we can help support that. Better information sharing between the rail minister, trade unions and those leading the negotiations on behalf of the employers can speed up this process. We will soon convene a further meeting to help advance, with the good faith of all parties, settlement discussions and progress in this dispute.


Culture secretary Michelle Donelan rejects claims changes to online safety bill have made it weaker

Good morning. The Rishi Sunak cabinet may be stuffed with faces from the David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson and Liz Truss administrations, but it is not all continuity and in some ways Sunak is revising policies pursued by his predecessors. We’ve got an example today, with changes to the online safety bill.

The bill, which has been years in the planning and which was published by Nadine Dorries when she was culture secretary, would extend significant new controls over social media companies. It goes further than what has been tried in most other western democracies. The bill completed almost all its Commons stages in the spring, but it was shelved as Johnson had to resign, amid concerns that it restricted freedom of speech too much and in the knowledge that a new PM might prefer a different approach.

He does, and this morning Michelle Donelan, the culture secretary, has announced significant changes. Here is the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport’s summary. And here is my colleague Dan Milmo’s overnight story.

The original bill focused heavily on a category of content deemed “legal but harmful” (posts about suicide, for example). The bill did not ban this content, but it imposed strict restrictions on how social media companies would have to handle it (the full details are in a briefing here), and that led to claims that this would amount to a de facto ban, because the social media companies would choose not to take any risks and remove the content anyway.

The “legal but harmful” provisions have now been removed, and replaced with plans that are intended to achieve a similar effect while looking less like censorship. Ian Russell, who has been a campaigner for stricter controls since his daughter Molly killed herself after viewing large amounts of content related to suicide and depression on social media, said he was glad the government was finally bringing the bill back to parliament.

But he said the removal of the “legal but harmful” clauses meant the bill was being watered down. He told the Today programme:

There are two emotions this morning and one is some relief, not just on my part but on the part of many parents who sadly find themselves in similar circumstances, that at last this is moving forward.

There’s been a growing sense of frustration amongst that community of bereaved parents and families that not enough is being done, so that’s the good news.

But, as ever with these things, the devil will be in the detail and so it’s very hard to understand that something that was important as recently as July, when the bill would have had a third reading in the Commons – and was included in the bill, this legal but harmful content – it’s very hard to understand why that suddenly can’t be there …

I don’t see how you can see the removal of a whole clause as anything other than a watering down.

But Donelan claims the bill has been made “stronger”. And, interviews this morning, she said the protections for children in the bill were not being watered down. She told the Today programme:

Let’s be absolutely clear. So you mentioned young people and children - nothing is getting watered down or taken out when it comes to children. We’re adding extra in, so there is no change to children.

And she has posted this on Twitter.

The Online Safety Bill is back and I’ve made some changes.

It now includes stronger protections to keep children safe, and new duties to support free speech and give more power to users.

— Michelle Donelan MP (@michelledonelan) November 29, 2022

I promised I would make some common-sense tweaks and I have.

This is a stronger, better bill for it. It is focused where it needs to be: on protecting children and on stamping out illegality online.

Now it is time to pass it.

— Michelle Donelan MP (@michelledonelan) November 29, 2022

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

10am: Martin Lewis, the consumer champion and founder of the MoneySavingExpert website, gives evidence to the Commons culture committee at 10am on misinformation.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

3pm: Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence to the Lords economic affairs committee.

Afternoon: Olena Zelenska, the first lady of Ukraine, gives a speech to MPs and peers in parliament.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions and, if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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