By Ann Higgins

What a chaotic few weeks since our last Westminster update, culminating (or so we thought) in the LibDems capturing North Shropshire by a stunning swing away from the Tories and the rebellion by 98 Tory MPs in the vote over new Covid restrictions. All but one Cornish MP supported the government, that being Derek Thomas, MP for St Ives, who is developing voting against the government into a habit, having also defied the whip in the sewage discharge vote. But almost as I was about to sit down to write this piece came the news that David “Lord” Frost, our very own unelected bureaucrat turned Minister for Brexit had proffered his resignation to the PM, citing differences over the direction in which Brexit is going, his opposition to tax rises and the recent Covid restrictions. The official plan had been to delay announcement of his resignation until January, but with the government leaking like a sieve, it’s hardly surprising that along with the news of multiple Downing Street parties during lockdown last year, this got out too. What is perhaps more surprising is that rather than being worried by the economic damage that Brexit is doing, his Lordship wanted more Brexit, not less. Who would have thought it of someone who before the Referendum was lauding the benefits of EU membership?

Here’s some more news:

  1. In the House of Commons, attempts to amend the Nationality and Borders Bill to create a specific offence of trafficking for the purposes of sexual exploitation, to ensure that victims of trafficking receive proper support and assistance even if they provide late evidence of being trafficked, and to exclude victims of modern slavery, exploitation or trafficking from the rules penalising asylum seekers who arrive in the UK other than by legal means were all defeated. The Bill now goes to the Lords in the new year. And despite strong opposition it still includes the clauses that give the HO the right to remove the citizenship of dual nationals or those who in the opinion of the HO would be entitled to citizenship of other countries. Not surprisingly this has attracted a lot of criticism like this from Open Democracy:
  2. The PCSC Bill is still going through the House of Lords and now will not go back to the House of Commons until the end of January. Many of the most controversial clauses have yet to be considered though the government did introduce and manage to pass a new provision which will require mandatory life sentences for the manslaughter of emergency workers even if they were not killed in the course of duty. This was yet another clause that they failed to introduce in the HoC, which deprives MPs of the opportunity to scrutinise such clauses and seems to be becoming a regular practice.
  3. The House of Commons Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs (PACAC) select committee has recently published the final report of its inquiry into the Elections Bill. It calls for the government to reconsider the most controversial elements of the Bill like the introduction of Voter ID and changes to the Electoral Commission of which it is highly critical. The Chair of the Electoral commission itself has also recently expressed his disquiet about the government’s stated plans and their potential to damage the Commission’s independence. Whether the government will listen of course remains to be seen.
  4. The Judicial Review and Courts Bill has now passed the report stage, with the Joint Committee on Human Rights recommending several amendments to the Bill. As with other current bills there are rumours that the government intends to introduce late amendments one of which may be to propose a mechanism to overturn court decisions it doesn’t like. If that were proposed in other countries our government would doubtless condemn it.
  5. Finally from Open Democracy a roundup of the threats facing our democracy.