This Week in British Politics: 15th-21st October

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Last week was another action-packed week of twists and turns along the long and arduous road of Brexit. The prospect of a no deal Brexit seemed ever likelier as negotiations stalled once more overreaching an agreed resolution to ensure a soft border on the island of Ireland.

While Theresa May tentatively began to suggest a willingness to extend the Brexit transition period only to receive considerable public criticism from her own backbench Brexiteer MPs, approximately 700,000 people marched on Saturday in London for a ‘People’s Vote’ on Brexit, including two SUSU sabbatical officers. It was the largest peaceful mass demonstration in the UK since the march against military intervention in Iraq in 2003. Inevitable comparisons between the two events have followed, with some people, such as the BBC‘s Nick Robinson, wondering whether the People’s Vote protests will equally fail to be heeded by the leaders of the two main UK parties.

However, there concludes any further reference to Brexit as I try to highlight just some of the other latest UK political developments, all too often overshadowed by Brexit.

Northern Ireland devolved powers legislation

On Thursday, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Karen Bradley announced that a bill would soon be fast-tracked into Parliament to grant civil servants more decision-making powers over Northern Irish governance. Northern Ireland has been without a devolved government since January 2017 after the dominant unionist and Irish nationalist parties, DUP and Sinn Fein respectively, bitterly feuded and split, ostensibly over the role Northern Ireland First Minister and DUP leader Arlene Foster had played in a renewable heating incentive scandal.

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Bradley (above) talked up the bill as providing the ‘best chance’ of restoring power-sharing in the future. However, former Ulster Unionist Party leader Lord Empey described it as nothing more than a ‘smokescreen for failure’. With power-sharing in Northern Ireland seemingly no closer to being resolved and this to all intents and purposes ensuring the UK government doesn’t have to take direct rule over Northern Ireland’s devolved powers, the bill does seem to merely extend the length of bureaucratic rule over Northern Ireland.

Facebook hires Sir Nick Clegg

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The beknighted former Deputy Prime Minister (seen above campaigning for the Liberal Democrats on the issue of free school meals) was announced on Friday as the new head of Facebook’s global affairs and communications team. Clegg will start work today (Monday 22nd October), before moving permanently to California with his family in the new year. While in a comment piece for The Guardian the former Sheffield Hallam MP has tried to portray his acceptance of the position as trying to ‘build bridges between politics and tech’, others have suggested the £1mn a year salary may have been the real inducement for Clegg.

It certainly is a surprise move when considering that the Liberal Democrats are traditionally the party most fiercely protective of an individual’s right to privacy of their personal data and Facebook’s track record of sharing people’s personal data and, indeed, the company’s fine of £500,000 this summer by the UK’s Information Commissioner Office (ICO) for lack of transparency and failing to protect users’ information in the Cambridge Analytica data scandal. The Times columnist Hugo Rifkind also isn’t the only one to point out the equal unpopularity of both Facebook and Sir Nick Clegg, who of course reneged on the Liberal Democrats’ manifesto promise to vote against any rise in tuition fees:

Parliamentary goings-on

As with any week when parliament’s in session, a whole host of topics were debated and considered by our elected and, in the case of the House of Lords, unelected representatives.

Perhaps the eye-catching parliamentary moment of the week was when Pepper the robot from Middlesex University answered questions from the House of Commons Education Select Committee, becoming the first robot questioned by a parliamentary select committee. It is not inconceivable that in preparation for her grilling Pepper watched a few sessions of PMQs, given that her answer to select committee chair Conservative MP Robert Halfon’s question, ‘What is your role at Middlesex University?’ was somewhat evasive.

Meanwhile, the House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee published a report calling for a full-scale review of current dog control legislation. The report summary described the current approach to dog control as ‘plagued with deep structural problems’, while committee chair Neil Parish added:

The Government’s current strategy for tackling dangerous dogs is well intentioned but misguided… Our evidence was clear that the law is riddled with inconsistencies, harms animal welfare unnecessarily, and offers false reassurances to policymakers and the general public.

Finally, a House of Commons-commissioned independent report into the bullying and harassment of House of Commons staff was published at the beginning of the week. The report alleges among other things sexual harassment by MPs of women and that there was a culture of ‘deference, subservience, acquiescence and silence’ in the Commons when it came to bullying and harassment. The report increased the pressure on Speaker John Bercow to step down from his role due to allegations of bullying against himself, actually forcing Bercow to name a date (Summer 2019) for his retirement as Speaker.

It also prompted one of this week’s 4 House of Commons urgent questions, the parliamentary procedure where the opposition or backbench government MPs call the government to respond concerning recent or ongoing events. Labour MP for Bassetlaw John Mann successfully sought a statement from the Leader of the House, Andrea Leadsom, on the report, who promised to do everything in her power to ‘stamp out all forms of bullying and harassment’.

More articles in This Week in British Politics
  1. This Week in British Politics: 8th-14th October
  2. This Week in British Politics: 17th-23rd September
  3. This Week In British Politics: 8th-15th July
  4. This Week in British Politics: 5 March – 11 March 2018
  5. This Week in British Politics 19-25 February 2018
  6. This Week in British Politics: 1-7 January 2018
  7. This Week in British Politics: 15-21 January 2018
  8. The Week in British Politics: 12 March – 18 March 2018
  9. This Week in British Politics: 2nd – 9th September 2018
  10. This Week in British Politics: 10th – 16th September
  11. This Week in British Politics: 1st – 7th October
  12. This Week in British Politics: 15th-21st October
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Editor 2018-19 | International Editor 2017/18. Final year Modern History and Politics student from Bedford. Drinks far too much tea for his own good.

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