Opposition Day in Parliament
Monday was “Opposition day” in the House of Commons, which allowed Labour to debate whether or not to extend the £20 a week top-up to Universal Credit introduced last March. Tory MPs were told to abstain from the non-binding vote, but it put pressure on the government to extend a lifeline for many, despite the expense. Five and a half million people claim Universal Credit, a number which has doubled during the pandemic due to unprecedented job losses. Following last week’s school meals disaster and visual reflection of the severity of UK poverty, it’s another reminder that the pandemic has not affected us all equally.
A special relationship?
With a new US president, Boris Johnson will have to form the ‘special relationship’ with Joe Biden, who once called him a Trump ‘clone’. They both share similar goals for climate policy, and post-Brexit the US will be an important ally for the UK. However, moving on from the UK’s cosying up to Trump during his time in office may make this trickier.
No more travel corridors…
After 10 months of the coronavirus pandemic, the UK finally closed its travel corridors and toughed border restrictions on Monday. This delay reflects the broader pattern of the UK’s handling of the pandemic: a failure to act quickly and decisively. Johnson hates making unpopular decisions, and the UK has suffered from chronically late policies and multiple U-turns. On Wednesday, leaked audio from Home Secretary Priti Patel has also caused embarrassment for the government, as she stated that borders should have been closed before now, and that she had advocated for this back in March.
Their message on COVID has toughened, with harsher measures to ensure the public comply (such as fines of £800 for going to parties), and not giving an end-date to the current lockdown. However, the government is very keen to emphasise that the vaccine roll out, despite regional difficulties, is still sign for optimism, with almost five million first doses reported across the UK.
North of the border
Going into next week, the Holyrood inquiry into the handling of the sexual harassment trial against Alex Salmond could prove damaging to the current first minister. Nicola Sturgeon is accused of breaching the ministerial code, and a public political battle against her former mentor could be very damaging going into this year’s Scottish Elections.