That’s all from a busy day in Westminster. Here is a quick round-up of what’s been going on:
Rishi Sunak has decided to block legislation passed by the Scottish parliament making it easier for transgender people to self-identify using a constitutional order under the Scotland Act for the first time. The secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, announced that he would use provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 to halt the gender recognition bill after a review by UK government lawyers.
Nicola Sturgeon has described Westminster’s move to block the gender bill as “a full-frontal attack” on the Scottish parliament. In a tweet posted in response to Alister Jack’s Section 35 announcement, the first minister said: “This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters.”
The UK government has been accused of using the “nuclear option” after Westminster stepped in to block Holyrood legislation. Nancy Kelley, the chief executive of Stonewall, a leading transgender rights charity in the UK, accused the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, of using trans people’s lives as “a political football”.
Nurses will stage two more strikes next month as a row with the government over pay shows no clear sign of reaching a resolution. In an escalation of industrial action, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said nurses will strike on 6 and 7 February, with more NHS trusts taking part than during two days of strikes in December. NHS Providers interim chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said the announcement was “very worrying”, PA reported.
Thousands of schools in England and Wales are set to close in February after teachers voted to strike, union leaders have announced, as nurses also prepare for further stoppages. Action by members of the National Education Union will begin with a mass strike on 1 February, to coincide with the Trades Union Congress’s national “protect the right to strike” day of action, followed by six days of regional stoppages.
Rishi Sunak’s new anti-strike laws would prevent certain job-holders from ever being able to take industrial action, Labour’s deputy leader said during fiery exchanges in the House of Commons. Angela Rayner promised on Monday that Labour would repeal the government’s anti-strikes bill, saying it was one of the most “indefensible and foolish pieces of legislation to come before this house in modern times”. She said that enforcing minimum service levels would mean some roles – like railway signal operators – would never be able to withdraw their labour.
The business secretary, Grant Shapps, said life would be made “harder for every single family” in the country if the government agreed to “inflation-busting” pay demands. Speaking as MPs debated the strikes bill, DUP MP Jim Shannon said he believed in the “fundamental right” of workers to withdraw their labour, before adding: “Does government really believe that withdrawing the right of a worker to withdraw their labour is what they’re about?”
Talks will continue this week between the rail industry and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) amid renewed optimism that a deal can be reached without further strikes. However, the drivers’ union Aslef was set to reject an initial offer from train operators, meaning a full resolution to the long-running pay dispute on the railway is likely to remain some time away.
Speaking outside Downing Street at the protest against the new strikes bill, Mick Lynch told Keir Starmer to avoid trying to be a “vanilla politician” and back workers’ rights. The RMT general secretary said: “There are some people missing tonight. You get this every time you hear me. We’ve got Jeremy [Corbyn], he’s with us, we’ve got SNP MPs, we’ve got Caroline Lucas from the Green party. But there’s a big question – where’s the Labour frontbench tonight?”
That’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, for today. Thanks for following along. The UK politics live blog will be back in the morning. Goodnight.
Speaking outside Downing Street at the protest against the new strikes bill, Mick Lynch told Keir Starmer to avoid trying to be a “vanilla politician” and back workers’ rights.
The RMT general secretary said:
There are some people missing tonight. You get this every time you hear me.
We’ve got Jeremy [Corbyn], he’s with us, we’ve got SNP MPs, we’ve got Caroline Lucas from the Green party.
But there’s a big question - where’s the Labour frontbench tonight?
He urged the shadow cabinet to support unions and rip up anti-strike bills on winning an election.
Lynch said the Labour leader should not try to be a “vanilla politician in a vanilla suit”, adding:
Come and stand with us … stand up for socialism, stand up for workers and let’s change this going forward.
Home secretary Suella Braverman has said that standards and culture in British policing need to change and that it was a “sobering day” for the Metropolitan police as a serving officer pleaded guilty to rape.
This appalling incident represents a breach of trust and will affect people’s confidence in the police.
David Carrick committed more than 71 serious sexual offences, spanning 17 years, making him one of the worst sexual offenders in modern criminal history.
Agency staff and volunteers could be used to cover classes if teachers go on strike, with schools expected to remain open where possible and the most vulnerable pupils given priority.
The Department for Education (DfE) has issued updated guidance for schools after members in the National Education Union (NEU) voted in favour of walkouts in a dispute over pay.
The guidance calls on headteachers to “take all reasonable steps to keep the school open for as many pupils as possible”, PA reported.
While the decision to open, restrict attendance or close academy schools lies with the academy trust, the DfE said it is usually delegated to the principal, and the decision for maintained schools rests with the headteacher.
The latest guidance stated:
It is best practice for headteachers to consult governors, parents and the local authority, academy trust or diocesan representative (where appropriate) before deciding whether to close.
Headteachers are entitled to ask staff whether they intend to strike, the DfE added.
The department stated that a repeal of a regulation in July - under the Conduct of Employment Agencies and Employment Businesses (Amendment) Regulations 2022 - means employers are now able to “engage with agency staff to replace the work of those taking official strike action”.
‘Foolish’ anti-strike bill would stop some workers from ever striking, says Labour
Rishi Sunak’s new anti-strike laws would prevent certain job-holders from ever being able to take industrial action, Labour’s deputy leader said during fiery exchanges in the House of Commons.
Angela Rayner promised on Monday that Labour would repeal the government’s anti-strikes bill, saying it was one of the most “indefensible and foolish pieces of legislation to come before this house in modern times”.
She said that enforcing minimum service levels would mean some roles – like railway signal operators – would never be able to withdraw their labour.
But the business secretary, Grant Shapps, struck a combative tone in the exchanges, referring to the union funding for Labour MPs who intervened in the debate and said the opposition were putting lives at risk by opposing minimum service levels.
The new law would apply across England, Scotland and Wales and would mandate minimum service levels for critical industries even on strike days, meaning some workers must stay on duty in industries like health, transport, fire service, border force, nuclear and education.
The first Commons vote on the bill came as Shapps was sharply criticised by the legislation watchdog, the regulatory policy committee, which said he had failed to set out an impact assessment.
In the Commons, the Labour deputy leader, Angela Rayner, would not be drawn on the specifics of what Labour would offer unions threatening to strike, insisting her party would have solved them through negotiation.
Challenged by Conservative MPs to say what level of pay Labour believes would be appropriate, the deputy Labour leader said:
Whilst I used to be a trade union official, and I’m a member of a trade union, I don’t actually negotiate on behalf of the trade union.
What I would do is sit round the table and resolve this dispute with the trade union. That would be better than what the Conservatives have done.
The children’s commissioner for England, Dame Rachel de Souza, said she was left “disappointed” by the teachers’ ballot results and “the implications this will have on children’s education”.
In a statement issued on Monday night, she said:
I know the decision to strike will not have been taken lightly for any teacher, and the vote has been far from unanimous - but it comes in the wake of huge disruption from the pandemic and will add to the challenges already faced by so many pupils who are catching up on lost learning.
I urge those choosing to take industrial action to take all possible steps to minimise the impact on children and families, by working to keep schools open for as many children as possible and with priority given to vulnerable pupils and those with SEND.
I am grateful to all those teachers and support staff who continue to prioritise their pupils’ wellbeing and I want to see an end to the dispute as soon as possible.
The Scottish social justice secretary, Shona Robison, has described the UK government’s decision to make an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act as an “outrageous decision”.
The use of section 35 of the Scotland Act to stop the GRR bill from proceeding to royal assent is an outrageous decision. This is a procedure that has never been used under nearly 25 years of devolution and is contrary to a bill that was overwhelmingly passed by the Scottish parliament by members of all parties.
This is a dark day for trans rights and a dark day for democracy in the UK.
As the first minister said, this is a political decision that is more in keeping with UK government’s contempt for devolution and the Scottish parliament.
It comes as Scottish Conservative shadow equalities spokesperson, Rachael Hamilton, defended the UK government’s move.
Sadly, Nicola Sturgeon’s decision to rush through flawed legislation at breakneck speed left the UK government with little option but to make a section 35 order.
As the secretary of state for Scotland makes clear, this was not a decision he wanted to take but, given that the GRR bill impinges on the operation of UK-wide equalities legislation, he was compelled to intervene.
In their desperation to force this legislation through Holyrood before Christmas, the Scottish government ignored the warnings that the bill would have implications beyond Scotland’s borders.
The UK government has been accused of using the “nuclear option” after Westminster stepped in to block Holyrood legislation aimed at simplifying the gender recognition process in Scotland.
Nancy Kelley, the chief executive of Stonewall, a leading transgender rights charity in the UK, accused the prime minister, Rishi Sunak, of using trans people’s lives as “a political football”.
In a statement after the UK government’s announcement, Kelley said:
This is the nuclear option.
It is the only time that section 35 of the Scotland Act has been used since 1998, in an unprecedented move which significantly undermines the devolution settlement and will unlock constitutional and diplomatic strife.
Meanwhile, Vic Valentine, manager of Scottish Trans, said:
The bill as passed would introduce a simpler and fairer way for trans men and women to be legally recognised as who they truly are, allowing them to live with the dignity we all deserve.
It was passed by the Scottish parliament by 86 votes to 39, with the overwhelming support of the SNP, Labour, the Greens and the Lib Dems. That followed years of consultation, and lengthy parliamentary consideration and debate.
The bill covers matters that are devolved to the Scottish parliament, and its consequences were considered by MSPs in great detail.
The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, said she regretted the “tone” of the business secretary.
To suggest or imply in any way that members of this House do not care about their constituents and put their constituents first, and that members of our vital public services that got us through the pandemic, in some way, do not take the safety of the people who they look after seriously and walk away, I think the secretary of state should reflect on his comments today.
I cannot recall a measure that is at once so irrational and so insulting. Not only is it a vindictive assault on the basic freedoms of British working people, but this legislation is as empty of detail as it is full of holes.
So, we will oppose the sacking of nurses bill and not just nurses, but also many of the key workers who we clapped and who kept our services going in the face of the pandemic, and we will vote against it tonight and the next Labour government will repeal it.
The business secretary, Grant Shapps, said life would be made “harder for every single family” in the country if the government agreed to “inflation-busting” pay demands.
Speaking as MPs debated the strikes bill, DUP MP Jim Shannon said he believed in the “fundamental right” of workers to withdraw their labour, before adding: “Does government really believe that withdrawing the right of a worker to withdraw their labour is what they’re about?”
Shapps, in his reply, said:
I always think that people think very carefully about this and I think they’re right to do so. We’re operating within the context of a crisis in global growth.
He then raised Russia’s renewed invasion of Ukraine, adding:
Putin invaded Ukraine, what members opposite don’t seem to realise is what then happened to energy prices caused a crisis which has put up inflation throughout the western world.
Those prices going up throughout the rest of the world, and here included, have also pushed up wage claims. But I don’t think we should get into a 1970s spiral where we end up with higher wage claims, higher wage settlements, higher wage claims and inflation continuing forever – that is a cycle that we must break.
Clearly, if we’re to meet all the inflation-busting demands of the unions that wouldn’t just make life harder for some, it’d make life harder for every single family in this country, and that is why we cannot do that.
He added that there had been a “flare-up in strikes which are putting people’s lives and livelihoods at risk, and this government, for one, isn’t going to stand by and watch that happen”.
Rail industry and RMT to resume talks amid hopes of end to strikes
Talks will continue this week between the rail industry and the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) amid renewed optimism that a deal can be reached without further strikes.
However, the drivers’ union Aslef was set to reject an initial offer from train operators, meaning a full resolution to the long-running pay dispute on the railway is likely to remain some time away.
Network Rail – responsible for track, signalling and other infrastructure in Great Britain – and the Rail Delivery Group (RDG), representing train operators, were set to resume separate negotiations in London with the RMT leadership on Tuesday morning.
Sources close to the dispute said the RMT now believes it can reach an agreement without taking further action, after a four-week period of strikes and other industrial action either side of Christmas.
However, the union said it was still awaiting an improved offer in writing from Network Rail and the RDG – something it regards as a prerequisite after a clause inserted at the last minute scuppered a prospective deal with train operators in December.
Sunak blocks Scotland’s gender recognition legislation
Rishi Sunak has decided to block legislation passed by the Scottish parliament making it easier for transgender people to self-identify using a constitutional order under the Scotland Act for the first time.
The secretary of state for Scotland, Alister Jack, announced that he would use provisions of the Scotland Act 1998 to halt the gender recognition bill after a review by UK government lawyers.
It comes after ministers met on Monday to consider how to approach the legislation, which would make it easier for transgender people to obtain official gender recognition certificates, including by reducing waiting times, removing the need for a medical diagnosis and bringing the minimum age down to 16 from 18.
The Unite union chief Sharon Graham has described the second reading of the anti-strike bill as “preposterous”.
In a statement this evening, she said:
It’s official the government has lost the plot. The country is riven with crises and their answer to that is a preposterous attack on the trade unions. The government is out of touch with reality. How will devoting precious hours in parliament to unwarranted and unprecedented attacks on trade unions do anything to resolve the cost of living crisis, the crisis in the NHS or soaring energy costs?
Unite also dismissed ministers’ claims that the bill is designed to protect the public by providing a legal minimum service level.
People are dying unnecessarily in the National Health Service because of a decade of cuts and life-threatening austerity. So right now the government isn’t delivering minimum service levels. Not because of strikes by ambulance workers but because the government has created this crisis. The ‘strikes bill’ is undemocratic and unworkable and will fail. We will not stand for it”
Westminster’s move to block gender bill is 'full-frontal attack' on Scottish parliament, says Sturgeon
Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon has described Westminster’s move to block the gender bill as “a full-frontal attack” on the Scottish parliament.
In a tweet posted in response to Alister Jack’s Section 35 announcement, the first minister said: “This is a full-frontal attack on our democratically elected Scottish parliament and its ability to make its own decisions on devolved matters.
“The Scottish government will defend the legislation and stand up for Scotland’s parliament.
“If this Westminster veto succeeds, it will be first of many.”
Nurses announce two further strike dates
Nurses will stage two more strikes next month as a row with the government over pay shows no clear sign of reaching a resolution.
In an escalation of industrial action, the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) said nurses will strike on 6 and 7 February, with more NHS trusts taking part than during two days of strikes in December.
NHS Providers interim chief executive, Saffron Cordery, said the announcement was “very worrying”, PA reported.
The health service is already stretched far too thin as trust leaders try to cope with ongoing industrial action alongside other mounting pressures bearing down on the NHS.
We’ve seen how disruptive these strikes can be, and more extensive industrial action is likely to have an even greater impact. Nobody wants this to continue happening.
We understand how frustrated nurses feel, and how they have got into this point; below-inflation pay awards, the cost-of-living crisis, severe staff shortages and increasing workloads have created near-impossible conditions.
There are three weeks between now and these newly announced dates in February.
This is more than enough time for the government and the unions to open negotiations on pay for 2022-23 and avert more strikes.
Nurses at 55 NHS trusts in England are already scheduled to strike on Wednesday and Thursday this week, but the February action from the RCN will grow bigger and cover 73 trusts.
Twelve health boards and organisations in Wales will also take part in the two consecutive days of strikes.
More reaction on this story to follow.
The Scottish government is likely to challenge the UK government’s decision to block the gender recognition reform bill in the courts, Glenn Campbell, the BBC Scotland’s political editor, reports. A constitutional dispute like this would have to be resolved by the supreme court.
That’s all from me for tonight. My colleague Tom Ambrose is taking over now.
UK government confirms it is blocking Scotland's gender recognition bill because of 'adverse impact' on equalities law
Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, has confirmed that the government is using article 35 to block the Scottish government gender recognition reform bill.
He says the UK government is willing to work with the Scottish government on an amended bill that would not affect UK-wide equalities law in the way he claims the Scottish bill would.
Here is his statement in full.
I have decided to make an order under section 35 of the Scotland Act 1998, preventing the Scottish parliament’s gender recognition reform (Scotland) bill from proceeding to royal assent.
After thorough and careful consideration of all the relevant advice and the policy implications, I am concerned that this legislation would have an adverse impact on the operation of Great Britain-wide equalities legislation.
Transgender people who are going through the process to change their legal sex deserve our respect, support and understanding. My decision today is about the legislation’s consequences for the operation of GB-wide equalities protections and other reserved matters.
I have not taken this decision lightly. The bill would have a significant impact on, amongst other things, GB-wide equalities matters in Scotland, England and Wales. I have concluded, therefore, that this is the necessary and correct course of action.
If the Scottish government chooses to bring an amended bill back for reconsideration in the Scottish parliament, I hope we can work together to find a constructive way forward that both respects devolution and the operation of UK parliament legislation.
I have written today to the first minister and the Scottish parliament’s presiding officer informing them of my decision.
NAHT teaching union says postal strike may explain why its strike ballot did not reach 50% turnout threshold
The National Association of Head Teachers (NAHT) has said it will consider rerunning its industrial action ballot in England due to postal disruption, PA Media reports. PA says:
In England, 87% of NAHT members taking part in the union’s pay ballot voted in favour of action short of strikes, while 64% supported strikes.
However, the turnout was 42%, which is below the threshold required by law.
Paul Whiteman, NAHT general secretary, said:
It is incredibly frustrating that anti-trade union and anti-democratic legislation compelled us to conduct the ballot by post during a period in which the management of the Royal Mail refused to take action to ameliorate the disruption to the postal service.
We have to conclude that our democratic process has been compromised by factors outside of our control.
Six revelations about handling of Covid from Hancock's memoirs which are unlikely to feature in Boris Johnson's
It sounds like we might have to wait quite a while for Boris Johnson’s memoirs. (See 3.30pm.) But Matt Hancock published his Pandemic Diaries before Christmas and, although they scored highly on the vanity scale, they were also more interesting than some of the reviews suggested they would be.
They were also in places quite critical of Johnson, which was not always apparent from the serialisation in the (pro-Johnson) Mail. So here are six revelations about Johnson from Hancock’s book that you probably won’t read in Johnson’s.
1) Hancock thought the failure to lock down earlier in the autumn of 2020 cost lives. Hancock describes how Johnson resisted a lockdown for weeks, despite Hancock and the scientific advisers pressing for one, and he describes Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, telling him on the day a lockdown was agreed: “Secretary of state, you’ve saved many lives with what you’ve done today.” And in an entry from March 2021, Hancock recalls sending a text message saying he had “mixed feelings” about what he had achieved over the past year. “Wish I’d won the argument sooner in the autumn. Could have saved a lot of lives,” Hancock wrote in the text message to Michael Gove. Hancock does not say directly in this passage whom he was arguing against, but he does not need to.
2) Hancock says officials felt they were under pressure not to put India on the red list for travel in the spring of 2021 because Boris Johnson was due to go there on a visit. In an entry for 18 April, he says:
There’s a major row brewing about putting India on the red list. My clinical advisers are very nervous of perceived pressure on the system on such a major decision because of an upcoming VVIP visit.
Hancock also says that at the end of March Priti Patel, the home secretary, was asking why India was not already on the red list. But at the time the government rejected claims that the delay in putting India on the red list was connected to the fact that Johnson was due to visit.
3) Johnson wanted everyone in the UK to be tested for Covid on the same day. Hancock says Johnson was excited when he learned Slovakia was planning to test its entire population on the same day and in November 2020 Hancock was asked to get a ministerial committee to agree. But colleagues thought the plan was “crazy” and Hancock had to tell No 10 it had “run into a brick wall”.
4) Johnson did not realise how long it would take for the government to build the 40 “new’ hospitals he promised at the 2019 election. In an entry from October 2020, Hancock says: “Boris has belatedly woken up to the fact that it’s now going to take ages to build the 40 new hospitals – including the one in his constituency.”
5) Johnson personally chose UK Health Security Agency as the name for the body set up during the pandemic to succeed Public Health England. Hancock himself did not like the name. He says he found it “boring and creepy at the same time”.
6) Johnson asked Whitty if he could get his dog, Dilyn, to have a blood test to see if he had Covid antibodies. Johnson said he thought Dilyn had had the virus. Hancock says Whitty “diplomatically” told Johnson he was not sure if there would be any point because the human antibody test might not work.
In the Commons Labour’s Rachael Maskell intervenes to accuse Grant Shapps of “fabricating” what happens when minimum service levels are agreed. She says she has negotiated a minimum service level agreement, but he hasn’t. She says agreements are negotiated on the ground between unions and employers to protect patients.
After being reprimanded by the deputy speaker, Maskell withdraws the word “fabricates”. MPs are not allowed to accuse each other of dishonesty.
In response, Shapps says Maskell is funded by the unions. And he says that in the most recent strikes the NHS did not know at a national level what cover there would be.
MPs debate strikes bill
In the Commons Grant Shapps, the business secretary, is now opening the debate on the strikes (minimum service levels) bill.
In a joint statement on the NEU strikes, Dr Mary Bousted and Kevin Courtney, the union’s joint general secretaries, said:
This is not about a pay rise but correcting historic real-terms pay cuts. Teachers have lost 23% in real-terms since 2010, and support staff 27% over the same period. The average 5% pay rise for teachers this year is some 7% behind inflation. In the midst of a cost of living crisis, that is an unsustainable situation.
The government has also been happy to sit by as their own recruitment targets are routinely missed. Teachers are leaving in droves, a third gone within five years of qualifying. This is a scandalous waste of talent and taxpayers’ money, yet the government seems unbothered about the conditions they are allowing schools and colleges to slide into. The reasons for the recruitment and retention crisis are not a mystery; the reports in the last week from the IFS and the NFER confirm the NEU argument.
The government must know there is going to have to be a correction on teacher pay. They must realise that school support staff need a pay rise.
If they do not, then the consequences are clear for parents and children. The lack of dedicated maths teachers, for example, means that 1 in 8 pupils are having work set and assessed by people who are not qualified in the teaching of maths. Anyone who values education should support us in this dispute because that is what we are standing up for. It is not us who should turn a blind eye to the consequences of government policy on schools and colleges.
NEU teaching union announces seven days of strikes in February and March, with England and Wales both affected
The National Education Union says it will be organising strikes on seven days in February and March. It says:
The union is declaring seven days of strike action in February and March, though any individual school will only be affected by four of them. The first will be on will be on Wednesday 1 February, affecting 23,400 schools in England and Wales.
Teacher members in sixth form colleges in England, who have already been balloted and taken strike action in recent months, will also take action on these days in a separate but linked dispute with the secretary of state …
This means that the following constituencies of NEU membership are able to take strike action in pursuance of a fully-funded, above-inflation pay rise: teachers in England state-funded schools; teachers in Wales state-funded schools; support staff in Wales state-funded schools; and teachers in sixth form colleges in England.
The full list of projected strike days are as follows:
Wednesday 1 February 2023: all eligible members in England and Wales.
Tuesday 14 February 2023: all eligible members in Wales.
Tuesday 28 February 2023: all eligible members in the following English regions: Northern, North West, Yorkshire & The Humber.
Wednesday 1 March 2023: all eligible members in the following English regions: East Midlands, West Midlands, Eastern.
Thursday 2 March 2023: all eligible members in the following English regions: London, South East, South West.
Wednesday 15 March 2023: all eligible members in England and Wales.
Thursday 16 March 2023: all eligible members in England and Wales.
Full results of NEU strike ballot
Here are the NEU figures strike ballot figures.
Teachers in England
In favour – 121,253
Against – 12,811
Majority in favour – 90.4%
Turnout – 53.3%
Teachers in Wales
Majority in favour – 92.3%
Turnout – 58%
Support staff in England
Majority in favour – 84.1%
Turnout – 46.5%
Support staff in Wales
Majority in favour – 88.3%
Turnout – 51.3%
Sixth form colleges in England
Majority in favour – 83.6%
Turnout – 36.2%
Teachers in England and Wales vote for strike action, NEU education union says
The National Education Union says teachers in England and Wales have voted to go on strike by huge majorities.
In Wales teaching support staff also voted to go on strike.
But in England, even though 84% of teaching support staff voted in favour, they did not meet the 50% turnout threshold for a strike vote to be valid.
The union says the England result for teachers is “the biggest ballot result of any union in recent times”.
Ben Wallace confirms UK to supply tanks to Ukraine
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has announced the “most significant package of combat power to date to accelerate Ukrainian success”. As PA Media reports, making a statement in the Commons, Wallace told MPs:
In December, I told the house that I was developing options to respond to Russia’s continued aggression in a calibrated and determined manner.
Today, I can announce the most significant package of combat power to date to accelerate Ukrainian success.
This includes a squadron of Challenger 2 tanks with armoured recovery and repair vehicles. We will donate AS90 guns to Ukraine. This batch comprises a battery of eight guns of high readiness and two further batteries at varying stages of readiness.
This donation will not impact our existing AS90 commitment in Estonia.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, has condemned the execution of British-Iranian Alireza Akbari, warning Iran “the world is watching you and you will be held to account”. As PA Media reports, in a statement to MPs Cleverly said:
Let there be no doubt, [Akbari] fell victim to the political vendettas of a vicious regime.
His execution was the cowardly and shameful act of a leadership which thinks nothing of using the death penalty as a political tool to silence dissent and settle internal scores.
The house should be in no doubt that we are witnessing the vengeful actions of a weakened and isolated regime obsessed with suppressing its own people, debilitated by its own fear of losing power and wrecking its international reputation.
Our message to that regime is clear: the world is watching you and you will be held to account, particularly by the brave Iranian people, so many of whom you are oppressing and killing.
Paul Nowak, the TUC general secretary, has said it is “shameful” that the government is asking MPs to vote tonight on the anti-strikes bill when the impact assessment has not yet been published. Referring to the regulatory policy committee statement about this (see 12.59pm), Nowak said:
It’s shameful that MPs are being asked to vote blind on a bill that will have far-reaching consequences for millions of workers.
The government is deliberately railroading through this spiteful legislation to avoid proper parliamentary scrutiny.
The National Education Union says it will announce the results of its strike ballot at 5pm. Dr Mary Bousted, one of the union’s joint general secretaries, told Sky News this morning that, on the basis of its internal polling, the union expected the strike threshold to be met.
Under strike law, for a strike vote to be valid, at least 50% of those entitled to vote must participate in the ballot, and at least 40% of those entitled to vote must vote in favour.
The NAHT, which represents school leaders, is also announcing the result of its strike ballot at 5pm.
Boris Johnson agrees deal for publication of his memoir - but with no date set for publication
HarperCollins has announced that it will be publishing Boris Johnson’s memoir. In a statement Arabella Pike, publishing director at William Collins (one of its imprints), said:
This will be a prime ministerial memoir like no other. I look forward to working with Boris Johnson as he writes his account of his time in office during some of the most momentous events the United Kingdom has seen in recent times.
HarperCollins says that no publication date has yet been set. That is probably wise. As a journalist Johnson was notorious for ignoring deadlines, and he still has not published his biography of Shakespeare, which was orginally meant to be out in 2016 and for which he was reportedly paid an advance of £500,000. Johnson has also repeatedly been hinting that he thinks his career at the top of politics is not yet over, and a comeback would obviously set back publication even further.
This is from Tom Harwood of GB News on the gender recognition reform bill row.
David Carrick, the police officer today exposed as a serial rapist, was an armed protection officer who for a period worked in parliament. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, has written to MPs and parliamentary staff saying that, although none of Carrick’s offences took place on the parliamentary estate, he has asked the Metropolitan police for assurances that the failures that allowed Carrick to work at the Commons will not be repeated.
In his email Hoyle said:
Carrick is guilty of shocking and heinous crimes and our thoughts are first and foremost with the many women he abused and harmed.
Although none of these offences took place on the parliamentary estate, I know how troubling and unwelcome it is that Carrick was allowed to work among us.
I want to reassure you that throughout the year I have been in regular contact with the Metropolitan police service about their review of the parliamentary and diplomatic protection command, ‘Operation Leven’. I am seeking clear reassurance from the Metropolitan police that their system failures which enabled Carrick to work in parliament will never be repeated.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, says he does not think the UK and the EU are close to a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol. He said:
It was clear from our conversations with James Cleverly last Wednesday when he visited Belfast that there are still substantial gaps between the two sides.
There is still a lot of ground to be covered. I don’t think we are close to a deal at this stage.
Our position remains unchanged. We need to get an agreement that restores Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom and its internal market.
UK and EU say 'scoping work' for potential solution to Northern Ireland protocol will continue in 'constructive' spirit
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, and Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president and EU Brexit negotiator, have issued a joint statement about their talks this morning about the Northern Ireland protocol.
It is almost identical to every other statement on these talks issued by the two sides since October, when Rishi Sunak became prime minister. Pre-October statements were quite similar too, but relations are more friendly, and the talk readouts a bit more upbeat under Sunak than under Boris Johnson or Liz Truss.
In other words, the statement tells us nothing new. It says:
The two sides discussed the range of existing challenges over the last two years and the need to find solutions together to tackle comprehensively the real-life concerns of all communities in Northern Ireland and protect both Northern Ireland’s place in the UK’s internal market and the integrity of the EU’s single market.
They agreed that this scoping work for potential solutions should continue in a constructive and collaborative spirit, taking careful account of each other’s legitimate interests.
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, says he’s been put on the Russian government’s sanctions list.
That’s a bit late, you might think. Almost 300 British MPs were hit by Russian sanctions in April last year, as were 41 British journalists last summer, including several from the Guardian.
Here is the latest polling from YouGov, on voting intention and who would make the best PM.
Critics of Rwanda asylum plan win right to appeal against court judgment saying policy is lawful
Government plans to deport asylum seekers to Rwanda will be considered by the court of appeal after high court judges gave the go-ahead for their ruling that the policy is lawful to be challenged, PA Media reports.
Summary of Downing Street lobby briefing
Here is a summary of the main points from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
The PM’s spokesperson said no decision has yet been taken as to whether or not the government will block Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill. See 12.23pm.
The spokesperson said played down speculation that the UK and the EU are close to an agreement on the Northern Ireland protocol. See 12.34pm.
The spokesperson said the crimes of PC David Carrick were “appalling” and that Home Office was making it easier for rogue officers to be dismissed. The spokesperson said:
This is an appalling case and the prime minister’s thoughts are with all of his victims. We have been clear, there is no place in our police forces for officers who fall so seriously short of the acceptable standards of behaviour and are not fit to wear the uniform.
Police forces must root out these officers to restore the public’s trust, which has been shattered by high-profile events such as this.
The Home Office is pushing for improvement and has recently announced a review of police dismissals to ensure the system is fair and effective at removing officers who are not fit to serve, following a range of concerns including those set out in the publication of Baroness Casey’s interim report into the culture and standards at the Metropolitan police.
Downing Street rejected Keir Starmer’s criticism of the way GP services are delivered. Starmer has called for GPs over time to be employed directly by the NHS, instead of being self-employed, and said that patients should be able to self-refer to specialists in some cases, instead of having to go through a GP. But the spokesperson said a government review in 2019 concluded that the GP partnership model should stay and that abolishing it would “carry significant costs”. And he said self-referral “already happens in number of low-risk cases”. NHS England was considering if this could be expanded, he said. But he said it would not be appropropriate to remodel primary care provision wholesale.
No 10 urged teachers not to go on strike. Asked about the prospect of a vote by NEU members being announced this afternoon, the spokesperson said:
We would continue to call on teachers not to strike given we know what substantial damage was caused to children’s education during the pandemic and it’s certainly not something we want to see repeated.
We would hope they would continue to discuss with us their concerns rather than withdraw education from children.
The spokesperson dismissed a claim from the Kremlin that British tanks sent to Ukraine would “burn” on the battlefield. Asked about the Russian claim, the spokesperson said:
We have seen very clearly that the Ukrainian armed forces have been very effective with the equipment that we have provided to them. I think there is a plethora of evidence for that and we are confident they will do so again.
The spokesperson refused to comment on reports that Nadhim Zahawi, the Tory chair and former chancellor, has paid millions to HM Revenue and Customs to resolve a tax dispute. The spokesperson said that Zahawi has issued a statement about this, and that it was not for him to coment on people’s tax arrangements.
The spokesperson said he was not able to say whether or not Sunak thinks too many bishops are leftwing, as the Mail on Sunday claimed he does.
No 10 refused to back Penny Mordaunt’s call for the Church of England to embrace same-sex marriage. Asked about her comments (see 11.09am), the spokesperson said this was a matter for the church.
Regulation watchdog criticises government for not publishing anti-strikes bill impact assessment
Ministers have been criticised by a government regulation watchdog for not publishing an impact assessment about the anti-strikes bill.
The bill, which is officially known as the strikes (minimum service levels) bill), is getting its second reading debate – the main parliamentary debate in the Commons – this afternoon. Normally an impact assessment should be available before MPs vote on the bill, but the IA for this bill has not yet appeared.
In a statement, the regulatory policy committee (RPC), an independent body set up by government to advise ministers about regulations, said:
The RPC notes that the strikes (minimum service levels) bill was introduced into parliament on 10 January 2023. Second reading is scheduled for today (16 January). Government departments are expected to submit IAs to the RPC before the relevant bill is laid before parliament and in time for the RPC to issue an opinion alongside the publication of the IA. An IA for this bill has not yet been submitted for RPC scrutiny; nor has one been published despite the bill being currently considered by parliament.
The government may be sensitive about publishing an IA because an IA published last year into a similar bill (which has been replaced by the current one) concluded that making minimum service levels mandatory could lead to more rail strikes not fewer, increased disruption short of strike action and exacerbated staff shortages.
Government's net zero tsar criticises decision to approve new coal mine in Cumbria
Chris Skidmore, the government’s net zero tsar, has criticised Rishi Sunak’s decision to open a new coal mine in Cumbria.
Launching his new net zero review at King’s College London this morning, the Tory MP said: “If the recommendations from my review were put into practice, the coal mine would never have taken place.”
This is because the review recommends that, for infrastructure, net zero is taken into account during the planning process and that clear cost-benefit analysis takes place. He believes the coal mine would have failed all these tests.
Speaking in front of the energy minister Graham Stuart, who endorsed the coal mine decision, Skidmore said: “I personally think the coal mine is a mistake.”
He also said he thought the coal mine would “never take place” because “it is going through the courts at the moment” and a judgment would probably be made against it.
Skidmore said the country was running out of time to meet net zero carbon emissions, and that there was “a real danger to the UK economy” if the investment opportunities were not seized and other countries secured them instead.
Stuart told the audience the government would publish its response to the review as soon as possible. Skidmore said he expects a government response by the end of March.
No 10 plays down speculation UK and EU close to deal on Northern Ireland protocol
At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson played down speculation that the UK-EU talks on the Northern Ireland protocol are about to go into the “tunnel” – dipomatic-speak for the moment when the negotiators shut down all briefing to the media, because talks are intensifying and an agreement is close. Asked how the discussions were going, the spokesperson said:
As we’ve said on a number of occasions, there are still gaps in our position that need to be resolved in order to address the full range of problems created by the protocol.
Asked if the government was optimistic about a breakthrough, he said:
I’m not going to get into characterising in that way whilst we are still having these important discussions. I think the public will understand that for sensitive issues like this since right negotiations are able to take place in private.
No 10 says no decision yet made on blocking Scotland's gender recognition bill, but announcement due before Wednesday
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said that the government has not yet taken a decision on whether or not to block Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill. He said Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, was “the ultimate decision maker” on this and that a decision would be taken before Wednesday (the deadline for intervention using a section 35 order).
The spokesperson said:
No decision has been taken at this point by the UK government. It’s the secretary of state for Scotland who is the ultimate decision-maker and you can expect to hear from him before the deadline on Wednesday.
At her news conference Nicola Sturgeon said that if Westminster blocked the gender recognition reform bill there could be further challenges to devolution in future. As the Scotsman reports, she said:
I would say to anyone who might welcome that because they disagree with this particular piece of legislation – if the UK government is able to normalise action to block legislation democratically passed by the Scottish parliament within our areas of competence on this issue, then that will embolden them to look to do it on other issues, and we will be on a very, very slippery slope indeed.
So I think it is that serious, and I think the import and significance of this would go beyond the particular subject matter of the legislation.
The first £600 energy payments are being rolled out in Northern Ireland, PA Media reports. PA says the money includes a £400 payment as part of a UK-wide support scheme and an additional £200 in recognition of Northern Ireland’s dependence on home heating oil.
Sturgeon accuses Starmer of being 'pale imitation' of Tories and calls his NHS plans 'dispiriting'
At her news conference, asked about Keir Starmer’s claim that the SNP and the Tories are both exploiting the gender recognition bill for partisan advantage (see 10.22am), Nicola Sturgeon said that this had only become a constitutional issue because Westminster was refusing to accept the right of the Scottish parliament to legislate on a matter within its own competence. She went on: “So, if anybody is trying to use it politically, it’s those Westminster politicians.”
She pointed out that most Labour MSPs voted for the bill. And she said the Scottish government accepted an amendment, from Labour, saying the bill would not affect the Equality Act. So Starmer needed to understand this was not just an SNP bill, she said; it was legislation backed by a large number of MSPs.
Sturgeon also said that she found Starmer’s comments on the NHS in his interview with Laura Kuenssberg yesterday “pretty dispiriting”.
She claimed that some of what he was saying was “quite dangerous”, because he implied people with serious conditions should not consult their GP, or should bypass their GP. She said Starmer may have intended to say something different.
And she said Starmer should be committing to invest more in the NHS, and to reverse Brexit, to address the staffing problem in the health service. She went on:
Keir Stamer needs to stop trying to be a pale imitation of the Tory government he’s seeking to replace, and actually start offering some positive alternative.
Sturgeon says using trans people as 'political weapon' would be 'unconscionable'
At her news conference Nicola Sturgeon said Westminster would have no grounds to block the gender recognition bill. As the National reports, she said:
It doesn’t affect the operation of the Equality Act, and it was passed by an overwhelming majority of the Scottish parliament after very lengthy and very intense scrutiny by MSPs of all parties represented in the parliament.
So if there is a decision to challenge, then in my view, it will be quite simply a political decision.
And I think using trans people, already one of the most vulnerable stigmatised groups in our society, as a political weapon will be unconscionable and indefensible and really quite disgraceful.
Sturgeon says it would be 'outrage' for UK government to block Scotland's gender recognition reform bill
Nicola Sturgeon told the press conference in Edinburgh that it would be an “outrage” if the UK government blocked the Scottish gender recognition reform bill, and that that would show “complete contempt” for the Scottish parliament. This is from the Mirror’s Ashley Cowburn.
Sturgeon signals that she still favours treating general election, not next Holyrood election, as de facto independence poll
At her news conference in Edinburgh Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, said that there had been a slight easing in the pressure on the NHS in Scotland over the last week. This is from the BBC’s James Cook.
But one of the first questions was about the SNP’s decision to get its members to choose at a special conference in March between two options for turning an election into a de facto independence referendum.
As the National reports, one option is to treat the next general election as a de facto independence referendum. The alternative is for the next Scottish parliamentary elections, in 2026, to be used as the de facto independence referendum.
Asked which option she preferred, Sturgeon said she favoured the plan she set out last year (for the general election to be the de facto referendum).
The motion to be debated at the special conference, with the two options, is here.
Penny Mordaunt urges Church of England to allow same-sex marriages in church
Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, has written an open letter to the Bishop of Portsmouth urging him to back reform proposals that would allow vicars to conduct same-sex marriages in Church of England churches. She says the Church of England is increasingly out of step with its counterparts in Scotland and Wales, where the clergy are allowed to take these services.
Judging by the letter, Mordaunt has written in her capacity as a constituency MP, not as a cabinet minister.
This rather undermines a claim in a Mail on Sunday story yesterday saying that Rishi Sunak is concerned about bishops being too leftwing.
Nicola Sturgeon is just starting her press conference in Edinburgh now. We should have a live feed at the top of the blog soon, but in the meantime there is one here.
Starmer calls for gun ownership rules to be tightened following Euston shooting
And this is what Keir Starmer told LBC about wanting to see gun ownership laws tightened. He was speaking in response to a question about the Euston shooting at the weekend. He said:
We’ve had these incidents from time to time with guns.
And every time there is, there’s evidence, which I am concerned about, that people have access to guns that they shouldn’t have access to.
Now, if it’s illegal access, obviously, that’s a pure matter of the criminal law.
But other people, where better checks should be taken over circulation of guns. So I think that we need to look again as to whether those laws are strong enough …
There are many illegally owned guns out there and there are legally owned guns, which I don’t think should be in the hands of the people who are legally owning them.
Asked for evidence to justify this, Starmer cited the outcome of a review carried out after the mass shooting in Plymouth, where five people were killed in 2021 by a man using a legally owned gun.
Asked if he wanted gun ownership laws “made even tougher”, Starmer replied yes.
But he stressed that he did not want to see gun ownership outlawed completely. Farmers needed guns, he said, and he was not opposed to gun clubs. But gun ownership should be “subject to tighter control”.
Starmer suggests SNP and Tories both exploiting gender recognition bill for political advantage
This is what Keir Starmer said in his LBC interview about Scotland’s gender recognition reform bill, and the UK government’s reported intention to block it.
Starmer suggested the SNP and the Tories were both exploiting the Scottish gender recognition bill for political advantage. He said:
I am worried about the fact that I think this is being used by the SNP as a sort of devolution political football. And I think it’s being used by the government – or might be used – as a divisive football in relation to the particular issue.
On this whole issue of trans rights, I think the government is looking to divide people rather than bring people together.
He refused to say whether Labour would support the UK government if it did block the legislation. When it was put to him that, from what he was saying about his reservations about the bill that he was minded to support Rishi Sunak on this, he did not accept that. He said he would want to see exactly what the government said before deciding how to react. Blocking Scottish legislation would be “a big step for a government to take”, he said. But he also said No 10 was treading “very, very carefully” (which rather undermines the claim he made about the Tories potentially exploiting this for party political advantage).
He said that he accepted the Gender Recognition Act needed to be modernised. But he confirmed that he thought people should not be able to self-certify their gender at the age of 16 (as they would be able to under the Scottish law). And he said he was worried about the potential impact of the Scottish bill on UK equality laws.
He said that only a tiny proportion of people were likely to want to change gender. He said:
I approach it on the basis that for 99.9-something percent of women, it is all about biology. Sex-based rights matter, and we must preserve all those wins that we’ve had for women over many years, and including safe spaces for women.
According to figures recently published by the Office for National Statistics, 0.5% of people say the gender they identify with is not the same as their sex registered at birth.
On the Today programme this morning Shami Chakrabarti, who was shadow attorney general when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, said that, while she was “sympathetic” to the aims of Scotland’s gender recognition bill, the UK government was entitled to argue that it had UK-wide implications. She said:
Whilst I am sympathetic to the change that is made to make the rights of trans people in Scotland, I think we may have a clash between the position in the UK-wide legislation and the position in Scotland …
[The legislation] may mean – even though I suspect political mischief on the part of the Conservative government and culture wars – they may have a point. It is arguable, at least, that what’s happened in Scotland has a potential impact on the legislation as it operates UK-wide.
This is the argument that the UK government is expected to use if, as reported, it blocks the Scottish bill, under a procedure that has never been used before since the Scottish parliament was created more than 23 years ago.
Starmer ends the phone-in by praising Arsenal for its performance yesterday, and saying he hopes the fan who kicked the Arsenal goalkeeper gets banned.
Q: Would Labour support Ukraine even more than the current government?
Starmer says Labour would certainly do as much as the government is doing. He says it might go further, but he says he is not saying that to criticise the government.
He praises Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, for acting in lockstep with Nato on this.
Labour will not play party politics with this, he says.
Q: How do you respond to the Daily Mail claims from last week that you are breaking many of the promises you made when you were running for leader?
Starmer says a lot has changed in the last three years. We have had Covid, and the economy is a lot poorer than it was, he says. Leaders have to respond to the changes that happen, he says. And he says people in the Labour party overwhelmingly support the changes he has made to the party.
Starmer is now responding to a call from a trans woman from Edinburgh, Amber, who says she was concerned by what he said in his BBC interview yesterday about being opposed to the Scottish government’s bill.
Starmer says he thinks 16 is too young for people to be able to self-certify as a different gender. He would go for 18, he says.
He also says he is worried this issue is being used by the SNP as a “devolution football”, and that it is being used by the government as a “divisive football”.
Q: What do you mean by divisive football?
Starmer says he thinks the government are using this to divide people.
He says he will wait and see what they do. But this issue should not be a politcal football.
Amber says Scottish Labour MSPs voted for the Scottish bill. So what does Starmer say to them. They got amendments to the bill accepted.
Starmer says not all Labour amendments were accepted, “and that troubles me”.
But this is becoming a UK-wide issue, he says. That is why he has to make his position clear, he says.
UPDATE: See 10.22am for the full quotes.
Nick Ferrari asks about the shooting at Euston at the weekend, which was in Keir Starmer’s constituency.
Starmer says it was awful. He is concerned about the access people have to guns. He says we need to “look again” at whether gun laws are “strong enough”.
He says there are many illegally held guns. But there are also guns that are legally owned, but are in the hands of people who should not have them.
Q: So you would make gun ownership tougher?
Yes, says Starmer.
Q: Outlawed completely?
No, says Starmer. He says people like farmers need guns. And he is not opposed to organisations like gun clubs.
UPDATE: See 10.48am for the full quotes.
Starmer says he is not convinced police need new powers to deal with disruptive protests
Starmer defended his decision to take a donation from Dale Vince, who has also funded Just Stop Oil. Starmer said he was strongly opposed to the tactics used by Just Stop Oil. He indicated he was concerned that, despite what they say, they do obstruct ambulances. When he saw footage of protests like that, he thought it might have been his own mum in the back of that ambulance, he said. (She was frequently hospitalised because of a serious disability.)
Q: Do you support the government’s plan to take new powers to deal with these protests?
Starmer said he was not convinced the police did need new powers.
If the police need legal clarity, they should get a lawyer to give a strong opinion, and test it in court, he said.
UPDATE: Starmer said:
I am as strong as anyone in the argument we need to take action against Just Stop Oil – gluing yourself to the road, taking those actions, stopping ambulances getting through – wrong, deeply arrogant and I want the police to act.
If I was prime minister … what I would do instead of more headline-grabbing legislation, I would get the chief constables into a room, sit them down with me and say: ‘Right, what’s the problem?’
Because I don’t accept that if you are walking at a funereal pace that that is not obstructing the highway and I think if police were told, in terms: ‘Yes, that is an offence, get on and do something about it’, they could get on and do something about it tomorrow morning.
Starmer clarifies what he meant by saying people should be able to self-refer to specialist for 'internal bleeding'
Keir Starmer is doing his LBC phone-in, with Nick Ferrari presenting.
Ferrari started by turning to the NHS, and Starmer’s Telegraph article about NHS reform. He introduced the first caller.
Q: You have promised to slash bureaucracy within GP services. How will you do this when the service is already in crisis?
Starmer said he accepted the service was in crisis. His wife works in a big London hospital, he said. Labour would get rid of the non-dom tax exemption to fund extra staff for the NHS, he says.
On bureaucracy, he said there should be more preventative medicine. He said some people could refer themselves to physios, instead of having to go through a GP.
The 8am call to get a GP appointment is a nightmare, he said.
Q: You said yesterday that if you had internal bleeding, you should be able to refer yourself for tests. How will you know if you have internal bleeding?
(My colleage Owen Jones was one of those particularly outraged by this remark.)
Starmer said he was on TV and trying to be delicate. He was referring to blood you might see when you go to the toilet.
In this case, people should be able to self-refer, he said.
Q: Isn’t there a risk of too many people referring themselves after consulting “Dr Google?”
Starmer said he accepted you would need to consult on this. But he said the idea had merit.
Q: The BMA says this is unlikely to allieviate pressure on the NHS.
Starmer said he did not want to go to war with the British Medical Association. But reform was necessary, he said. He said he imposed reform when he was the director of public prosecutions. When he started, they still used paper files.He could not believe that. He started the move towards digital files. People were opposed to that, but things had to change, he said.
Rishi Sunak urged by Scottish Tory MSP not to block Holyrood’s gender recognition bill
Good morning. It it quite a busy day at Westminster, and there is a lot of news definitely coming: the results of ballots that will decide if teaching strikes go ahead, a meeting that could pave the way for the intensification of Northern Ireland protocol talks with the EU, and the debate on the government’s anti-strikes bill.
But there is also a lot of interest this morning in news that might come today, or maybe later this week. George Parker in the Financial Times, firming up a story reported by the Times last week, says Rishi Sunak “is set to use a constitutional ‘nuclear option’ for the first time by blocking legislation passed by the Scottish parliament that seeks to make it easier for people north of the border to legally change their gender”. Parker says:
One senior government figure said: “There isn’t much disagreement that legally we have to act.” A decision could be taken as soon as Monday and Alister Jack, the Scotland secretary, is said to be fully supportive of the intervention.
My colleague Peter Walker says the final decision has not yet been taken, but that the FT is right about the direction in which the government is heading.
So that may, or may not be, a story for today.
In Scotland, most Conservative MSPs opposed the Scottish government’s gender recognition reform (Scotland) bill. But Jamie Greene, the party’s justice spokesperson, was one of three Tory MSPs who voted for the bill in the final vote (it was a free vote) and he has written to Sunak urging him not to block the bill. As Mike Wade reports in the Times, Greene said:
I fear the UK government’s rumoured moves to block the Scottish gender recognition reform bill will set us back years. This move could be a gift to proponents of independence who may accuse us of tearing up the devolution settlement.
It could be a gift to Labour, as we show to LGBT+ people, their friends and their families, that we are happy to leave the centre ground for others as we fail to live up to our promise to govern with compassion …
We must not treat trans people as a political football. Make no mistake. This could also fuel accusations of riding roughshod over devolution. It may also give the SNP-led Scottish government the welcome gift of a fight.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9am: Keir Starmer holds his ‘Call Keir’ phone-in on LBC.
Morning: GMB officials representing ambulance staff meet to discuss further strike action.
Morning: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, holds a virtual meeting with Maroš Šefčovič, the European Commission vice-president and EU Brexit negotiator, about the Northern Ireland protocol.
11am: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, holds a press conference about the situation in the NHS in Scotland.
11.30am: Downing Street holds its lobby briefing.
Afternoon: The NEU and NAHT teaching unions are due to announce the results of their strike ballots.
After 3.30pm: MPs begin debating the second reading of the strikes (minimum service levels) bill.
3pm: Andrew Bailey, governor of the Bank of England, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee.
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