This Week in British Politics: 26th November-2nd December

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This week brought increasing pressure onto the Prime Minister after predictions of economic decline from the Bank of England and Whitehall, while becoming embroiled in a row with Jeremy Corbyn about the format and host tv channel for a televised Brexit debate between the pair. Winter deaths in the NHS are at their highest since 1976, whilst rail fare prices continue to rise. Mark Zuckerberg was also a no-show at his own hearing at Parliament.

Prime Minister’s Brexit strategy buffeted from all sides

With a deal approved by EU leaders, May’s fight is still not over, as she faces a vote in Parliament on it. MPs are divided, however, to the detriment of Prime Minister. Talk of a second referendum has heated up this week, with the Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, saying this week that the Labour Party will inevitably back a referendum if forcing a general election isn’t possible.

The situation for May was worsened by a round of reports that were released this week detailing the economic impact of her Brexit strategy. The Bank of England (BoE) said that economy would be at least 1.25% smaller in five years’ time, and Whitehall concluded that in all Brexit scenarios the UK would be worse off. Other warnings included the possible constriction of the economy by 8% and the tumbling of house prices by 30%. Whether a likely possibility or another part of ‘project fear’, May is facing yet another challenge in securing a Brexit deal.

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Labour oppose her deal, due to the lack of a customs union or strong single market deal. The Prime Minister, in turn, responded: ‘What does Labour have to offer? Six bullet points. My weekend shopping list is longer than that’.

World leaders also took the opportunity at the G20 summit to weigh in on Brexit. Warnings came from the Japanese Prime Minister, Shinzo Abe, over the dangers of a no deal Brexit, whilst Donald Trump snubbed May, saying her Brexit is a ‘great deal for the EU’.

Theresa May-Jeremy Corbyn debate antics

A televised debate between Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn concerning Brexit is supposedly due to take place on 9th December, two days before MPs vote on May’s deal. Disagreements broke out over which media platform should host the debate. May preferred to use the BBC, which would have included a larger panel of participants and aired on the Thursday before the vote, whilst Corbyn backed ITV, which offered a head-to-head format in a prime time slot just before I’m a Celebrity, Get Me Out of Here on the Sunday before the vote.

Shortly before publication, the BBC confirmed the withdrawal of its offer to host the debate.

Winter excess deaths at the highest level since 1976

In other news, figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) have shown that there were 50,100 excess deaths in England and Wales last winter. This is the worst winter crisis that the NHS has faced since 1976 and was 45% and 50% more fatal than the 2016-17 and 2015-16 winters respectively. There was an average of 379 deaths a day among over 65’s, according to the ONS.  Health analysis specialist Nick Stripe said that the deaths were linked to the predominant strain of flu, the effectiveness of the influenza vaccine as well as below-average temperatures.

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Others say that too little is being done to keep older people warm during winter and that the NHS requires more resources from the government to cope. Dr Nick Scriven, president of the Society for Acute Medicine said that the NHS is simply not equipped to deal with challenges that include:

…an older, frailer population with increasingly complex medical problems, a lack of funding across health and social care to meet demand, a recruitment crisis and persistently poor performance. Ultimately, despite reassurances from the government and NHS leaders that enough funding has been made available and the service is coping with the additional demands placed on it, the reality is clearly different given these statistics.

Rail prices to increase by 3.1% in 2019

Transport is also under continuing strain. The Rail Delivery Group has said that UK rail fares will increase by 3.1% in January, under years of price increases. In the last decade, rail fare prices have increased faster than wages.

Anthony Smith, chief executive of the Transport Focus watchdog said that railways make £10bn a year from passengers, ‘alongside significant government investment’, and that the industry should have no way of being short of funding. He asked when an improvement in the quality of the railway will be seen by passengers, a frustration that is shared by many.

This too will no doubt remain a lingering issue, especially given Labour’s claim that they could complete a rail nationalisation policy in just five years.

Mark Zuckerberg a no-show at parliamentary Facebook hearing

An unprecedented international inquiry into Facebook’s conduct took place at Parliament this week, but politicians from nine different countries were left frustrated after Facebook’s founder and CEO, Mark Zuckerberg, did not appear at the hearing. Facebook is facing allegations facilitating the spread of fake news and Russian propaganda on its site. Zuckerberg’s absence in a hearing surrounding these issues was therefore noted, with the committee asking ‘where is Mark Zuckerberg?’ on Twitter.

Canadian lawmaker, Charlie Angus, suggested that Zuckerberg has ‘upended’ democratic institutions through Facebook’s inaction and that his absence ‘speaks volumes’.

Facebook’s vice-president of policy solutions, Lord Richard Allan was sent in his place. ‘I’m not going to disagree with you that we’ve damaged public trust through some of the actions we’ve taken’ he said during the hearing.

More articles in This Week in British Politics
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  2. This Week in British Politics: 8th-14th October
  3. This Week in British Politics: 17th-23rd September
  4. This Week In British Politics: 8th-15th July
  5. This Week in British Politics: 5 March – 11 March 2018
  6. This Week in British Politics 19-25 February 2018
  7. This Week in British Politics: 1-7 January 2018
  8. This Week in British Politics: 15-21 January 2018
  9. The Week in British Politics: 12 March – 18 March 2018
  10. This Week in British Politics: 2nd – 9th September 2018
  11. This Week in British Politics: 10th – 16th September
  12. This Week in British Politics: 1st – 7th October
  13. This Week in British Politics: 15th-21st October
  14. This Week in British Politics: 26th November-2nd December
  15. The Week in British Politics: 11th-17th February 2019
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