This Week in Westminster Review:
It has been another busy week in Westminster this week, with the Prime Minister teetering on the edge of being removed by his Party. Senior Tory backbenchers are now calling for his removal while Johnson’s supporters have been called out for their use of intimidatory tactics to dissuade MPs from attempting to remove the PM. It is as clear to me as it has ever been that Boris Johnson does not have the capacity to lead, and I have called publicly for him to stand down as Prime Minister.
This week also saw Christian Wakeford defect to the Labour Party, marking the first time a Conservative has crossed the aisle since 2005. Christian is the Member of Parliament for Bury South and has been warmly welcomed to the Labour Party.
Finally, in a major development on COVID-19 policy, the Prime Minister announced significant changes to COVID-19 regulations and an end to ‘Plan B’ measures in England from the 27th January 2022. Detail on what the PM has announced and what it will mean to the people in Feltham and Heston is detailed below.
On Wednesday (19 January 2022), the Government made a statement outlining an end to ‘Plan B’ COVID-19 measures in England.
The Prime Minister announced an immediate end to guidance on working from home and the requirement for secondary school pupils to wear face coverings in classrooms. From Thursday 27 January 2022, face coverings will no longer be compulsory in indoor public spaces, but advice remains that they should be used in enclosed or crowded spaces. Mandatory certification for entering nightclubs and other large events will also end, but organisations can choose to use the NHS COVID Pass voluntarily.
Further announcements on the easing of travel rules and restrictions on care home visits in England are expected soon. The Government also intends to end the legal requirement for people who test positive for COVID-19 to self-isolate. The regulations on self-isolation expire on 24 March 2022 and it is expected these will not be renewed.
Throughout the pandemic, the British public have made enormous sacrifices to limit the spread of the virus through staying at home and social distancing. I thank everybody in our constituency and across the country who has followed the rules and I thank the NHS staff and volunteers who have rolled out vaccines.
I do not want to see restrictions in place any longer than necessary. I support the relaxation of ‘Plan B’ measures as long as the science says that it is safe. I urge the Prime Minister to publish the scientific evidence behind his decision to reassure the country that he is acting to protect public health.
The virus is still with us. It will continue to adapt and change and we must remain vigilant. With new variants highly likely, we need a robust plan to live well with COVID. My concern is that the Prime Minister is too distracted to do the job, as pressures on him continue to mount over parties and gatherings held in Downing Street and other Government departments during lockdown.
Labour has set out a credible alternative for living well with COVID-19 to prepare us for the next waves of infections and to protect lives, livelihoods and liberties.
Urgent Question on British Council Staff in Afghanistan
On Thursday (20 January 2022), the Shadow Minister for Peace and Disarmament asked the Government an urgent question about British Council staff in Afghanistan.
Months after the Taliban took control of Afghanistan, there are still many British Council staff and contractors stranded in that country and facing threats of violence every single day. Reports suggest that most of those staff are teachers who worked with the British Council teaching vital skills, such as English language skills, to many Afghans, including many women and girls, who are now largely barred from attending school. We owe those brave people so much for supporting the UK’s work in Afghanistan over the last two decades.
The British Council is vital to the UK’s influence around the world. The Prime Minister’s now hollow pledge to “move heaven and earth” to get those who supported the UK out of Afghanistan has resulted in the abandoning of British Council staff to the whims of the Taliban. That is morally wrong. The Government must acknowledge the message that its inaction sends to other British Council employees working in challenging environments around the world.
Foreign Interference: Intelligence and Security
On Monday (17 January 2022), the Home Secretary made a statement on foreign interference in UK politics.
On Thursday (13 January 2022), MI5 issued an interference alert warning parliamentarians about a specific individual involved in direct political interference. The alert warned that the individual has facilitated political donations to serving and aspiring politicians, with funding coming from foreign nationals in China and Hong Kong. This was done covertly to mask the origins of the payments. The Home Secretary said investigations are ongoing and emphasised that it is for the Crown Prosecution Service to make any decisions related to prosecutions.
I condemn in the strongest terms the attempts by China to interfere in our democratic process. I thank the security and intelligence services for their work on this and I stand ready to work cross-party on national security and protecting our country from foreign interference.
Government Statement on Coronavirus Grant Scheme Fraud
On Tuesday (18 January 2022), the Government was asked to make a statement on fraud in the coronavirus grant schemes. This followed reports that the Government was writing off £4.3 billion of money stolen from these schemes. This is a shocking failure from the Government, once again highlighting their chaotic mismanagement of so many aspects of the Pandemic response.
£4.3 billion would be enough to take hundreds of pounds off energy bills this year for every household in the country. It is roughly the same as the amount the Chancellor cut for people on Universal Credit in the Budget in November or half the annual policing bill for the whole country.
The Minister argued that it would have been impossible for it to prevent all fraud related to support measures during the pandemic, but that it had taken reasonable steps to do so. If robust measures to prevent fraud were in place, it is hard to understand why they failed to such a great extent