Image Credit: Petr Kratochvil
The Summer Recess is often referred to as a time of little news - the sorts of days where you awake to find a happy news story at the top of the agenda. However, this summer was very different. As MPs returned to Westminster from their constituencies, Opposition forces were readying to hold the Government to account for what has been a summer of twelve ‘U-turns’, according to Labour and the SNP.
PMQs presented the best chance for Starmer to land the full force of the recent exam-fiasco on the Prime Minister’s plate. Despite accusing the Government of ‘governing in hindsight’, Labour seemed unable to put the PM under significant pressure in the way they had been doing in pre-summer sessions. Johnson may have weathered the storm better than many were expecting, but both leaders of the major parties seemed to be, more so than usual, talking past each other – there was very little to be gained by outsiders…
Perhaps instead, the Education Committee had better luck in holding the Government to account for a summer-school nightmare. Answering questions to the panel was the Chair of Ofqual, Roger Taylor, who admitted that the exam-watchdog had its fair share of guilt for the mismanagement of English GCSE and A-Level results, but that it was Government’s job to ‘make it desirable to the public’. Ofqual also confirmed that the ‘mutant algorithm’, as described by the PM, had in fact never undergone mutation – so perhaps the only unexplained exam-related event over the summer was how the Education Secretary kept his job.
Relatively untouched in the news this week was the merging of the Foreign Office (FCO) with International Development (DfID) – whilst changes in government departments aren’t usual exciting, this is! The Shadow Foreign Secretary, Lisa Nandy, tabled an urgent question (granted at discretion by the Speaker, a relevant minister is summoned to answer orally in the Chamber or in writing) to Foreign Secretary Raab over the merger, outlaying her concern that it will decrease Britain’s global influence and further hinder those in-need overseas. The Conservatives, who have been split over such a move ever since the departments were separated under Blair, have said that when aligned with Britain’s global objectives, British aid can reach more people and be more effective in its support.
Backbenchers, mostly from the SNP, attempted to make sure that the Government was still willing to stick to its international and manifesto commitment of 0.7% of GDP for international development. The Foreign Secretary rebuked claims that it was a target for Treasury cuts.
At the tail end of the week came the Fisheries Bill. A sector that has had significant interest from only Brussels over the past few decades, fishing is back in the foreground of British politics as it once again causes debate between the UK and her neighbours. The Conservatives have brought this Bill, which started in the Lords and had its second reading in the Commons on Tuesday, to do away with the automatic right for EU vessels to enter UK waters post-3st December, update environmental protection and outline future quota entitlement for British fishermen. Whilst Shadow Secretary for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Luke Pollard, backed the Bill in principle, though urged for further environmental protections, the SNP refused to support the measures due to their connection to Brexit.
Tories, notably Sheryll Murray, reminded Secretary of State George Eustice that the Tory backbenches will not accept any capitulation over fishing in order to secure an FTA with the EU. The Bill now accedes to committee stage where it will be scrutinised line by line. For once, the first week back for Westminster proved less politically engaging than the summer before it. Although interestingly the new Lib Dem leader, Ed Davey (great surname), wasn’t to be seen.