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Boris Johnson Executes Cabinet Reshuffle

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After weeks of speculation Boris Johnson has executed a Cabinet Reshuffle to “refresh the Government” after the Covid 19 Pandemic. There have been many moves some might consider to be overdue, a few more left field picks, and of course more than their fair share of tantrums and political bickering which has come to define the Conservative Party over the Covid era.

The biggest move is quite clearly the demotion of Dominic Raab from Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth, and Development Affairs to Secretary of State for Justice. Sources believe Boris has long eyed his one-time leadership rival for a demotion in order to promote new talent and throw red meat to the base. But Mr Raab did not go quietly, allegedly holding up the reshuffle by as much as an hour refusing to take his new position without the moniker of Deputy Prime Minister being attached, a demand Boris acquiesced to in order to be able to promote Liz Truss to the position of Foreign Secretary. She leaves the Department for International Trade one of the most popular Tories in Government, at least among Tory members, and Boris is clearly hoping to keep her sweet over the coming months and years. Completing the spinning triangle that is this saga Robert Buckland QC has been sacked from the Government entirely.

A couple of scandal ridden departures have been announced today as well with Robert Jenrick, the beleaguered Secretary of State for Housing, Communities, and Local Government was relieved of his post to be replaced by Michael Gove who moves from the Duchy of Lancaster to become the new Secretary of State for “Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities for Intergovernmental Relations”. Steve Barclay, former Chief Secretary to the Treasury, replaces him at Lancaster and is in turn replaced by Simon Clarke at the Treasury. Meanwhile Gavin Williamson has been unceremoniously fired from the Department for Education to be replaced by the Vaccine Minister Nadhim Zahawi.

The main surprise was the promotion of long-suffering member of the Business Select Committee, Richard Fuller, to the position of Secretary of State for Business, Energy, and Industrial Strategy. The move, seen by some as a hardening of both Brexit and free market orthodoxy on the Government’s economic team comes at the same time as fellow Bedfordshire MP Nadine Dorries is promoted to Secretary of State for Digital, Culture, Media, and Sport. A geographical power couple that now have the final say over privatisation of media in all its forms doing the bidding of a PM who is on the record wanting to privatise Channel 4 and heavily reform the BBC Licence Fee.

 

Admin Note: The full Cabinet can be found in the usual places.

Sir Dylan Macmillan QC
MP for North East Bedfordshire: 2001 - Present
Secretary of State for Justice: 2016 - Present

Shadow Solicitor General: 2002-03
Shadow Attorney General: 2003-05
Chair of the Justice Select Committee: 2010-15
Minister of State for Police, Crime, Criminal Justice, and Victims: 2015-16

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Starmer Reshuffle Makes Absolutely No One Happy

One day after Prime Minister Boris Johnson carried out his most recent reshuffle, Leader of the Opposition Keir Starmer followed in his footsteps, attempting to continue his balancing act between the two sides of the party.

The first piece of news in the reshuffle was the resignation of Cat Smith as Shadow Secretary of State for Young People and Democracy, with Smith posting her resignation letter on Twitter, claiming that the continued independence of Jeremy Corbyn in the House of Commons was "utterly unsustainable," and saying that she was "disappointed" that the party had not yet adopted Proportional Representation as a policy. Smith's role will be split into two as part of a larger reorganization. Tulip Siddiq, MP for Hampstead and Kilburn, is Shadow Minister for Democracy and Engagement, and David Lammy moves to be Shadow Secretary of State for Civil Liberties and Equalities.

Much of the team at the top remained the same, with Angela Rayner, Rachel Reeves, Alan Campbell, and Shabana Mahmood maintaining their current positions.  Although many were expecting Starmer to call up former Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper to either fill Shadow Home or Shadow Foreign, she remained on the backbenches throughout the reshuffle, and maintains her post as Chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee. Louise Haigh, previously Shadow Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, will be Shadow Home Secretary instead. A source close to Starmer's office said that "it was a very difficult decision. [Priti] Patel is a tough person to shadow, and knowing that we've got Yvette providing scrutiny on the committee level and Lou at the dispatch box made us feel better about the scrutiny we can do, rather than Yvette at Shadow Home and someone else on the committee." Nick Thomas-Symonds, previous Shadow Home Secretary, moved to cover the International Trade brief.

For a man who is portrayed as "obsessed" with image and polls, Starmer sacked Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, Shadow Communities Secretary Steve Reed, Shadow DEFRA Secretary Luke Pollard, and Shadow Culture Secretary Jo Stevens, all weak parliamentary performers. Shadow Attorney General Lord Falconer chose to step back from the Shadow Cabinet. To replace their seats, Starmer called up Andrew Gwynne, Stephen Kinnock, Catherine McKinnell, and Karl Turner. 

Despite all of this, the two main moves centered around the Foreign Office. Starmer promoted Lisa Nandy out of Shadow Foreign to shadow Michael Gove as Shadow Secretary for Levelling Up, Housing, and Communities. While this would typically be a demotion, Nandy is a noted advocate for towns and local policy, and will be the primary scrutinizer of Johnson's levelling up policies. To replace her at the Foreign Office, Starmer appointed former Labour Leader Ed Miliband. Miliband, who has been seen as a stellar performer in his Business and Climate Change Role, keeps the Climate Change portfolio, while former Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds gains the business portfolio.

The other major promotion was Wes Streeting, previously Shadow Child Poverty Secretary, replacing Green at Education. A darling of the Labour right, Streeting is seen by some (but mostly by himself) as a potential party leader post-Starmer.

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Autumn Budget 2021: Key points at-a-glance

What is the Budget?

Each year, the Chancellor of the Exchequer - who is in charge of the government's finances - makes a Budget statement to MPs in the House of Commons.

It outlines the government's plans for raising or lowering taxes. It also includes big decisions on what the government will spend money on - including health, schools, police and other public services.

How is the economy fairing?

  • Inflation in September was 3.1% and is likely to rise to average 4% over next year, OBR says
  • UK economy forecast to return to pre-Covid levels by 2022
  • Annual growth set to rebound by 6.5% this year, followed by 6% in 2022
  • Unemployment expected to peak at 5.2% during next year, lower than 11.9% previously predicted
  • Wages have grown in real terms by 3.4% since February 2020
  • Borrowing as a percentage of GDP is forecast to fall to around 3.5% next year, then fall in the following four years to 1.5%
  • Foreign aid spending projected to return to 0.7% of GDP by 2024-25

Are we still paying for the pandemic?

Measures such as the furlough scheme - which finished at the end of September - were expensive, and government income is down because it collected less money in tax during the pandemic.

To close the gap between higher spending and less money, the government has had to borrow more. In the year ending April 2021, the government borrowed £320bn - the highest figure seen outside wartime. Economists expect it to borrow around £180bn more this year, another enormous sum.

Are taxes going up or down in the Autumn Budget?

  • Universal Credit taper rate will be cut by 8% no later than 1 December, bringing it down from 63% to 55% - allowing claimants to keep more of the payment
  • Confirmation business rates to be retained and reformed. A 50% business rates discount for the retail, hospitality, and leisure sectors in England in 2022-23, up to a maximum of £110,000
  • Planned rise in fuel duty to be cancelled amid the highest pump prices in eight years
  • Consultation on an online sales tax
  • National Living Wage to increase next year by 6.6%, to £9.50 an hour
  • Planned rise in the duty on spirits, wine, cider and beer cancelled, and rates simplified

What will the Government be spending on?

  • Whitehall departments to receive rise in overall spending, totalling £150bn over the course of this Parliament
  • Funding will rise by an average of £4.6bn for Scottish Government, £2.5bn for Welsh Government, and £1.6bn for Northern Ireland Executive
  • Levelling Up Fund will mean £1.7bn invested in local areas across the UK
  • Government backing projects in Aberdeen, Bury, Burnley, Lewes, Clwyd South, Stoke-on-Trent, Ashton under Lyne, Doncaster, South Leicester, Sunderland and West Leeds
  • Extra £2.2bn for courts, prisons and probation services, including funding to clear the courts backlog
  • Tax relief for museums and galleries will be extended for two years, to March 2024
  • Core science funding to rise to £5.9bn a year by 2024-25
  • £6bn of funding to help tackle NHS backlogs
  • £7bn for transport projects in areas including Greater Manchester, the West Midlands and South Yorkshire
  • Schools to get an extra £4.7bn by 2024-25. There will be nearly £2bn of new funding to help schools and colleges to recover from the pandemic

Does the Budget affect all parts of the UK?

Some parts of the Budget, such as defence spending, affect the whole of the UK. Others, such as education, only affect England. This is because Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland make their own decisions.

Scotland has income tax-raising powers, which means its rates differ from the rest of the UK. The Scottish government will publish its Budget on 9 December.

If the government announces extra spending on areas that only affect England, the other nations get an equivalent extra sum of money to spend as they choose, according to a rule called the Barnett formula.

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  • 2 weeks later...

Dozens dead in Channel tragedy

At least 27 people headed for the UK have drowned in the English Channel near Calais after their boat sank. The International Organization for Migration said it was the biggest single loss of life in the Channel since it began collecting data in 2014. Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he was "appalled" by what happened, adding the UK would leave "no stone unturned" to stop human trafficking gangs.

Five women and a girl were among the dead, France's interior minister said. Gerald Darmanin also said two people were rescued and one was missing. It was earlier reported 31 people had died, but the total was revised down overnight on Thursday.

Four people had been arrested near to the Belgian border, he added, saying: "We suspect that they were directly linked to this particular crossing." On Wednesday evening, Mr Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron agreed to step up joint efforts to prevent the crossings and stop the gangs putting people's lives at risk, Downing Street said.

A fishing boat sounded the alarm on Wednesday afternoon after spotting several people at sea off the coast of France. French and British authorities are conducting a rescue operation by air and sea to see if they can find anyone.

Mr Johnson said the deaths were a "disaster", adding that it was vital to "break" the people trafficking gangs which, he said, were "literally getting away with murder". Speaking after chairing an emergency Cobra meeting, the prime minister said more needed to be done to stop criminals organising crossings. "It also shows how vital it is that we now step up our efforts to break the business model of the gangsters who are sending people to sea in this way," he said.

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(BBC credit: https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-59406355)

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February 2022

Ukraine conflict: Russian forces invade

Russian forces have launched a major assault on Ukraine, firing missiles on cities and military targets.

The invasion by land, air and sea began after a pre-dawn TV address where Russian President Vladimir Putin demanded that Ukraine's military lay down its arms. Initial reports of casualties included Ukrainian civilians and soldiers, and Russian troops.

Ukraine's leader said his country "won't give up its freedom". "Russia has embarked on a path of evil, but Ukraine is defending itself," President Volodymyr Zelensky tweeted. Ukraine has declared martial law and severed all diplomatic relations with Russia. It says weapons will be given to anyone who wants them.

In the capital Kyiv, home to almost three million people, warning sirens blared out as traffic queued to leave the city and crowds sought shelter in metro stations. Several neighbouring countries have begun preparations to take in a large number of refugees. Moldova alone said more than 4,000 people had come over the border from Ukraine.

Thursday's invasion followed weeks of escalating tensions, as Russia massed troops along Ukraine's borders. The UK, EU and other Western allies have vowed to impose tough new sanctions to punish Moscow, but say they will not send in troops. "These are among the darkest hours of Europe since the Second World War," EU foreign affairs chief Josep Borrell said.

Dozens of people have been killed, including about 10 civilians. Six died in an air strike in Brovary near the capital Kyiv. A man was also killed in shelling outside the major north-eastern city of Kharkiv. A Ukrainian presidential adviser said that more than 40 soldiers had died and many more were wounded. Ukraine said it had killed 50 Russian troops and shot down six Russian aircraft, but this has not been verified.

'Unprovoked and unjustified'

The Russian leader launched the "special military operation" by repeating a number of unfounded claims he has made this week, including alleging that Ukraine's democratically elected government had been responsible for eight years of genocide. He said the goal was demilitarisation and "denazification" of Ukraine. Hours earlier Ukraine's president had asked how a people who lost eight million of its citizens fighting Nazis could support Nazism. "How could I be a Nazi?" said Mr Zelensky, who is himself Jewish. Mr Putin also warned that any outside power intervening on Ukraine's behalf would face an "instant" response.

Neighbouring countries have reacted to the crisis. In the Baltic republic of Estonia, which borders Russia, Prime Minister Kaja Kallas said a number of Nato allies that shared borders with Russia had agreed to launch consultations under Nato's Article 4. Under the defensive alliance's treaty, Nato can be brought together if any member fears their independence or territory is under threat. "Russia's widespread aggression is a threat to the entire world and to all Nato countries," she said. As cars queued on Ukraine's border with Moldova, the country's pro-EU president, Maia Sandu said she was declaring a state of emergency and was prepared to give help to tens of thousands of Ukrainians. Lithuanian President Gitanas Nauseda also said he was signing a state of emergency to be approved by parliament.

"President Putin, in the name of humanity, bring your troops back to Russia," said UN Secretary-General António Guterres.

Ukraine's Western allies had repeatedly warned that Russia was poised to invade, despite repeated denials from Moscow. The US, EU, UK and Japan imposed sanctions against leading Russians, Russian banks and MPs who backed the move. In a televised address, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that the "hideous and barbaric venture by Vladimir Putin must end in failure". Addressing Russians, he said: "I cannot believe this is being done in your name, or that you really want the pariah status it will bring to the Putin regime." He told Ukrainians that the UK was "on your side". US President Joe Biden said the world would hold Russia accountable. He is expected to address Americans on Thursday about consequences Russia will face. France's President Emmanuel Macron said the attack would have "deep, lasting consequences for our lives".

Why Russia invaded

Earlier this week Russia's president announced he was recognising the independence of two self-proclaimed people's republics of Donetsk and Luhansk in eastern Ukraine. The breakaway regions were seized by Russian-backed rebels after Russia invaded Crimea in 2014. Mr Putin launched that attack after mass street protests in Ukraine that ousted pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych. Since then more than 14,000 people have died in the east in a conflict between the rebels and Ukrainian forces. A shaky ceasefire had held but there has been a surge in violations in recent days.

Mr Putin said the military operation's objective was to defend the people in the breakaway areas. Kyiv and its Western allies have repeatedly rejected as absurd Mr Putin's claims that Ukraine was being run by neo-Nazis, instead pointing out that Ukraine was now a nation with growing democratic institutions, unlike an authoritarian Russia. Fears of a Russian attack have been rising for months. Mr Putin has repeatedly accused the US and its allies of ignoring Russia's demands to prevent Ukraine from joining the Nato military alliance and offer Moscow security guarantees.

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April 2022

Energy price: Bill shock for millions as rises hit

Millions of people will now feel the impact of an unprecedented £700-a-year rise in energy costs - at the same time as a host of bill hikes take effect.

The 54% rise in the energy price cap means a household using a typical amount of gas and electricity will now pay £1,971 per year. A further rise pushing the annual bill up to £2,600 should be expected in October, one analyst has told the BBC. Council tax, water bills and car tax are also going up for some on 1 April. Minimum wage rates are rising which, along with some financial support from the government, is partially softening the blow. The £693 a year rise in a typical energy bill will affect 18 million households, with 4.5 million customers on prepayment meters facing an even bigger increase of £708 a year.

Among them is Winston Carrington, a grandfather in his 70s, who said he was growing vegetables in the garden of his Manchester home to help ease the impact of the rising cost of living. "I'm going to grow, and I'm going to fill my freezer this year with my own produce. I'm going to have to," said Mr Carrington, who uses a prepayment meter. "I can't go away this year again, not because of Covid or anything. I just can't afford to go away. The state pension that we're getting at the moment does not cover what I need."

Prices in general are rising at their fastest rate for 30 years, but the sudden increase in the cost of energy is the most significant for individuals. New official figures suggest four in 10 bill-payers have been finding it very, or somewhat, difficult to afford their energy costs. The governor of the Bank of England, Andrew Bailey, said the country is facing the biggest single shock from energy prices since the 1970s.

It is the largest increase, by far, in the energy regulator Ofgem's price cap, since it was introduced. The cap, set every six months for England, Wales and Scotland, is designed to protect domestic customers from the volatility of wholesale energy prices. However, official forecasters and analysts have warned people to be braced for another huge rise in energy bills when the next cap takes effect in October. Wholesale prices have been affected by the war in Ukraine and ongoing pressure on suppliers. This could add another £629 to a typical bill in October, according to the most up-to-date prediction, provided to the BBC from leading energy consultancy firm Cornwall Insight. If this proved to be accurate, then the average bill next winter would be double that of the winter just gone. A typical bill is expected to fall back to the current level in summer 2023, although longer-term forecasts are tricky.

Bill Bullen, the boss of Utilita, warned that elderly people and children were at serious risk over the next winter because of a lack of heating. "We are going to see an extra £500 or £600 added to bills in October, and frankly the chancellor's going to have to fund that entirely for low-income households," he told the BBC's Today programme. "He won't be able to afford to take this problem away for everybody... but for customers who can't respond to that price [increase], that's where the help needs to be targeted."

Chris O'Shea, chief executive of Centrica, which owns the UK's largest supplier British Gas, said his business was supporting struggling customers and was giving grants to those most in need. "We would love to do more. The reality is that for a retail energy company, the market has gone through quite a change, and profits have reduced quite substantially," he told the BBC's Big Green Money Show. However, he accepted that profits had risen sharply for the heavily taxed exploration arm of the business.

Month of bill rises

Council taxes and water bills are also going up for many people, added to the rising cost of food and household items. One estimate suggests that a typical consumer is now facing a £73 a month increase in bills, of which about £58 is from rising energy costs. "The added cost pressures set to come into play in April threatens to obliterate even the most finely tuned budgets." said Myron Jobson, senior personal finance analyst at Interactive Investor.

The Office for National Statistics said that low earners, renters, parents, people with disabilities, unemployed people and divorcees were least able to afford a bill shock. Even before the latest increases, charity Citizens Advice said that in March, it referred 24,752 people to food banks or to other charitable support, up by 44% compared to the same month last year.

The government has said it was taking "decisive action" to help people with the cost of living, including a £200 reduction to energy bills in October - which needs to be paid back in instalments, and a £150 reduction in council tax bills for 80% of billpayers.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour party, branded the government's response as "pathetic". He accused the government of forcing people to choose between heating their homes or eating. He said that the Labour party would introduce a one-off windfall tax on the profits of oil and gas companies and use the money to help households struggling to cope with rising energy bills.

But Chancellor Rishi Sunak told the BBC's Newscast: "I'm confident in what we've done. I know it's tough for people. We're facing a very difficult situation with the price of things going up and I want to do what we can to ameliorate some of that, but I'm also honest with people that we can't ameliorate all of it, sadly."

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