Since my last column, the State Opening of Parliament has taken place. The main purpose of the occasion, amidst all the pomp and ceremony, is to give a first formal indication of what the UK Government’s priorities will be for the coming year, before a week of themed debates on the content take place.
It presented a further opportunity for the UK Government to lay out a response to the ongoing cost-of-living crisis and continuing economic uncertainty. After all, HM Treasury have macroeconomic policy levers at their disposal which could be brought to bear on matters. The Chancellor also has considerably more fiscal headroom than he anticipated thanks to higher-than-expected tax revenues and lower than planned borrowing.
For my part and that of my party, we’ve been consistently clear that we needed to see real support to help put money into people's pockets, including converting the £200 energy loan into a more generous grant, scrapping the National Insurance tax hike, reversing the £1040 cuts to Universal Credit, matching the Scottish Child Payment UK-wide, introducing a Real Living Wage to boost incomes, reducing or removing VAT on household energy bills, and following the Scottish Government’s 6% uprating of benefits.
Sadly, the speech offered nothing to deal with the present crisis, nor did it offer hope of any future respite. Instead, the Prime Minister set out plans for a so-called 'Brexit Freedoms Bill', designed to repeal EU retained law while allowing only limited Parliamentary scrutiny. It also announced plans to proceed with a long-touted move to replace the Human Rights Act with a much reduced “Bill of Rights”, something which threatens to remove the safeguards that individuals currently have against governments which overreach their powers.
Much of this legislation will be passed in breach of the devolution protocol that Westminster will not normally legislate in areas which are devolved to Holyrood. I have made no bones about my opposition to Brexit and the entirely predictable fall-out from the way in which it was carried out. However, the way UK Government has sought to also ‘take back control’ post-Brexit from the Scottish Parliament, Welsh Senedd and Northern Irish Assembly in policy areas which have been long devolved, has been little short of brazen.
Meanwhile, the scandal of ‘Partygate’ rumbles on. Just as I was finishing this column, photographs emerged dating from 13 November 2020, showing the Prime Minister leading the toast in a crowded room to a departing Downing Street employee, at a time when rules prohibited indoor gatherings of two or more people. Incredibly, the Prime Minister appears to have escaped being issued with a further fixed penalty notice by the Metropolitan Police for this.
Reportedly, others who were present haven’t been so lucky. What the Prime Minister will find harder to escape, however, is that he explicitly denied in the House of Commons on 8 December last year that any such party had taken place on that date.
In Mr Johnson, we have a Prime Minister who not only regularly fails to do those things that he should, he is now permanently distracted by the fall-out from the things that he shouldn’t have done but did anyway. Even his closest friends and allies must be thinking that his own works leaving party is now long overdue