Westminster Diary: No break from the coronavirus crisis as Parliament starts summer recess
PUBLISHED: 09:33 30 July 2020
Welcome to my Westminster diary. Each week, I’ll be giving a behind-the-scenes take on what life is really like as a new MP. From jeering and bobbing, procedures and prayers, I’ll be lifting the lid on the mother of all Parliaments. Think ‘The Thick of It’ not ‘House of Cards’!
This week saw the final few days of the Parliamentary term before the summer recess. That means that whilst (some) MPs are still working, they won’t be meeting as a group in Parliament to debate and vote on new laws.
The “Russia Report” was finally published but whether it contained a ‘smoking gun’ or not fell down to party lines. The government was quick to say there was no evidence of Russian interference and opposition MPs pointed out this was because the government hadn’t looked for any.
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As predicted, there was a “take out the trash day” – publishing new and usually unpopular policies online where few people will see them, without any formal announcement and when it’s too late for them to be scrutinised.
Perhaps the most ominous looking of these was that Number 10 is taking direct control of government data policy. In operational terms, this might be a good thing: the government’s digital transformation could do with a top-level push. But the question is one of scrutiny and accountability. Dominic Cummings is famous for breaking the rules and not apologising, and working for Vote Leave, which was fined for using data without consent during the EU referendum. When he’s the one in charge of centralising government data and power, alarm bells start to ring.
Strangely, the government also sneaked out an ‘announcement’ that, in my view, should have been shouted from the rooftops: a call for evidence on how to fix the broken business rates system that is killing our high streets. Just two weeks earlier, I had written to the government with the support of 20 MPs, calling for this review to be “turbo-charged”, so it was nice to secure an end of term win.
Finally, as MPs shuffled through the voting lobby for the final time before September – some wearing masks, some not – we exchanged small talk about summer plans. Many were going to catch up on emails, some were hoping for a holiday abroad via an air bridge, most were planning a ‘staycation’.
The week closed with the air bridge to Spain being suspended. Thousands of Brits, including the Secretary of State for Transport, will now have to quarantine when they return from holiday. It serves as a stark reminder: that there’s no recess from the COVID crisis this summer.
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