In a defiant response, Downing Street dismissed Ursula von der Leyen's recent plea to "fix" Brexit, emphasizing that Chancellor Rishi Sunak does not share concerns about the UK's departure from the EU being "in peril." Von der Leyen, the President of the European Commission, sparked controversy by suggesting that the younger generation could potentially pave the way for the UK's return to the bloc.
Speaking at a Brussels event covered by Politico, Von der Leyen stated that the "direction of travel" seemed clear and hinted at the possibility of the younger demographic rectifying what she deemed a Brexit mistake. No. 10 promptly countered these sentiments, with the Prime Minister's Official Spokesman stating unequivocally that Brexit is not in jeopardy.
When questioned about Sunak's stance on Von der Leyen's remarks, the spokesperson affirmed that the Chancellor disagreed, emphasizing the government's focus on leveraging Brexit freedoms. According to the spokesperson, these freedoms are instrumental in evaluating ways to fortify the migration system and ensure expedited access to medicines in the UK, along with advancements in animal welfare.
Amidst this Brexit dispute, the Home Office faces challenges over its Rwanda deportation plan, labeled as unlawful by the Supreme Court. Sir Matthew Rycroft, the top civil servant at the Home Office, revealed the absence of a "plan B" if the government fails to execute its Rwanda policy, despite ongoing contingency planning.
In a separate development, former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt extinguished hopes of the UK returning to its pre-pandemic aid spending target within the next five years. Hunt, now Chancellor, cited fiscal constraints, asserting that the commitment to spend 0.7 percent of gross national income on developmental assistance would only be reinstated when deemed financially viable. The spending target had temporarily dropped to 0.5 percent in 2021 due to the pandemic's economic impact. Hunt affirmed the government's dedication to restoring the original target when economic conditions permit.
Expressing doubt over the feasibility of budgeting for a return to the pre-pandemic aid spending target within the next five years, Chancellor Rishi Sunak delivered a blow to hopes of a swift restoration. He underscored the impracticality of incorporating such figures into the immediate financial outlook. Sunak's skepticism stirred controversy, especially as the Labour party condemned potential increased funding for the stalled migrant deportation scheme in Rwanda.
Labour's Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, decried the prospect of allocating more funds to Rwanda for a deportation plan facing legal hurdles. Kinnock argued that such a move would be an "affront to the hard-working British taxpayer." He criticized the fixed annual costs, emphasizing that this was in addition to the £140 million already allocated for the initial plan announcement. Kinnock also questioned the financial sustainability of the government's approach, citing the £169,000 projected cost for sending a single asylum seeker to Rwanda.
In response, Rishi Sunak's press secretary sought to redirect the focus to Prime Minister Boris Johnson's commitment to Brexit. Emphasizing Johnson's dedication to the cause, she highlighted the government's concentration on ensuring the success of Brexit. Sunak's stance remained resolute, dismissing concerns raised by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen about the UK potentially rejoining the EU. Von der Leyen's comments, made at a Brussels event covered by Politico, suggested a divergence in views on the trajectory of the UK post-Brexit.
Amidst these debates, Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron addressed another contentious issue – the sculptures. Downing Street clarified that in his recent meeting with his Greek counterpart, Lord Cameron reiterated the UK's position on the sculptures. The nature of the meeting was described as informal, with Downing Street acknowledging shared challenges that would continue to be discussed. The intricacies of political and financial decisions remain at the forefront, shaping the ongoing narrative of the UK's domestic and international policies.
In a heated parliamentary exchange, Chancellor Rishi Sunak vehemently refuted former adviser Dominic Cummings' assertion that he advocated a strategy of "just let people die" during the Covid-19 pandemic. Sunak, responding to Labour's Tulip Siddiq, emphasized an ongoing inquiry into the government's pandemic response and expressed eagerness to present his own evidence. He countered Cummings' claim by citing the chief scientific adviser's confirmation that he never heard such remarks from Sunak.
Meanwhile, Downing Street found itself entangled in diplomatic tensions following Sunak's accusations against his Greek counterpart over the Elgin Marbles. The Prime Minister's Official Spokesman denied allegations that Sunak's remarks were intended to divert attention from domestic migration figures. When pressed about the perceived insult to the Greek Prime Minister, the spokesperson cited unadhered assurances and discussions leading to the cancellation of the planned meeting.
Within the parliamentary chambers, Tory MP Sir John Hayes characterized migration levels as catastrophic and urged the Prime Minister to adopt the immigration plan proposed by Robert Jenrick, the immigration minister. Sunak, in response, mentioned the government's review of recommendations from the Migration Advisory Committee and the revival of the Rwanda plan to address illegal immigration.
Opposition leader Sir Keir Starmer labeled Sunak as "the man with the reverse Midas touch" and accused him of residing in "la-la land" regarding immigration reduction claims. Starmer criticized the government for purportedly losing control of borders and accused the Prime Minister of lacking a personal immigration plan. The exchange underscored the mounting political tension and divergent perspectives on crucial issues, ranging from pandemic management to diplomatic relations and immigration policies.
In a fiery exchange within the political arena, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer engaged in a war of words, tackling issues ranging from immigration policies to diplomatic maneuvers.
Sunak, countering accusations from Starmer, dismissed claims that the government lacked a plan to curb small boats crossing the Channel. He highlighted the implementation of significant measures and promised additional initiatives to address the concerns raised by Starmer. The Chancellor seized the opportunity to remind Starmer of his past statements, citing instances where the Labour leader characterized immigration law as "racist" and labeled controls on immigration as a mistake.
Sir Keir, in turn, pledged to dismantle what he termed the Prime Minister's "perverse wage-cutting policy," arguing that certain foreign workers were being paid substantially less than their British counterparts. Sunak defended the government's approach, emphasizing the measures already taken and promising further action. The Chancellor also pointed out Starmer's previous stance on restrictions for skilled migrants, which the Labour leader had referred to as "economic vandalism."
The debate took an unexpected turn when the Prime Minister accused Starmer of prioritizing an EU country over Britain, highlighting Starmer's affinity for the Ode to Joy, the anthem of the European Union. Starmer countered by accusing Sunak of engaging in "small politics" during a recent diplomatic incident with the Greek prime minister over the Elgin Marbles.
As the political sparring continued, Sir Keir accused the Prime Minister of attempting to divert attention from his failures by stirring controversy over the Elgin Marbles—an ancient relic with limited public interest. The clash intensified as Starmer challenged Sunak on unfulfilled promises from the Conservative Party's 2019 manifesto to reduce net migration, which recently reached a record high. The Prime Minister, while acknowledging the need to address migration levels, asserted a determination to bring them down through tough actions, particularly affecting student dependants.
The exchange underscored the deepening divide on critical issues, with both sides aiming to shape the narrative and gain the upper hand in the political discourse.
As the political arena heats up, Chancellor Rishi Sunak takes center stage, poised to confront Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions (PMQs) in the House of Commons. Anticipating a barrage of questions, Sunak preempts the discussion by challenging Sir Keir's approach, accusing him of advocating a "secret backroom deal with the EU" that, according to Sunak, would result in an additional 100,000 migrants arriving annually.
Amidst the ongoing political showdown, Sunak defends the government's energy policy in response to queries from an SNP MP. He asserts that substantial support is being provided to households across the UK to cope with energy bills, signaling a commitment to addressing pressing concerns in the country.
Net migration, reaching a record high of 745,000 in the year to December, looms large on the agenda for PMQs, with Sir Keir likely to press Sunak on the matter. Additionally, the recent diplomatic clash over the Elgin Marbles, where Sunak snubbed the Greek prime minister, is expected to be a focal point of contention during the session.
Meanwhile, Labour unveils plans to crack down on anti-social behavior to rejuvenate town centers. Anneliese Dodds, the shadow women and equalities secretary, emphasizes the importance of creating a safe environment for shoppers and small businesses, suggesting that tackling anti-social behavior is integral to supporting the ailing high street. This proposal, alongside measures such as scrapping business rates and addressing late payments, aims to stimulate economic growth.
In a separate development, the National Audit Office reveals that several government departments lack data on underperforming staff, raising concerns about accountability and performance management within the Civil Service.
As Westminster gears up for PMQs, political observers brace for a spirited exchange, with Sunak navigating a landscape of policy debates, diplomatic tensions, and scrutiny over the government's handling of critical issues. The stage is set for a dynamic session that will shape the ongoing narrative in British politics.
In a recent appearance before the Home Affairs Select Committee, Sir Matthew Rycroft, the permanent secretary at the Home Office, faced probing questions about the costs associated with the migrant deportation scheme to Rwanda. When pressed on the per-person cost once the scheme is operational, Sir Matthew maintained that such information is commercially sensitive but affirmed that the expenses would be roughly equivalent to those incurred if the individual were to stay in the UK. Pressed further for specific figures, Sir Matthew cited confidentiality constraints.
The committee also sought insights into the additional funds allocated to Rwanda in the current financial year for the deportation scheme, which has faced legal challenges. Sir Matthew refrained from disclosing specific financial details, emphasizing that the information would be disclosed annually in the government's report and accounts. Notably, £140 million has been granted to Kigali previously, although no migrant flights to Rwanda have occurred due to the Supreme Court's ruling deeming the government's policy unlawful.
In a separate development, the question of potential UK reentry into the European Union was reignited by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen. During an event in Brussels, von der Leyen suggested that the UK should consider rejoining the EU to "fix" Brexit. Her remarks followed Labour's recent commitment to fostering closer ties with the EU if elected. The context included improved UK relations since Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland in February and the victory of Geert Wilders, a proponent of Dutch EU departure, in the Netherlands' elections.
Meanwhile, at a Nato foreign ministers' meeting in Brussels, Greek Foreign Minister Giorgos Gerapetritis emphasized Athens' claim to the Elgin Marbles amid diplomatic discussions with Foreign Secretary Lord Cameron. The cancellation of a meeting with Prime Minister Sunak was cited in connection to this assertion, underscoring the complexities of international relations and ongoing debates surrounding historical artifacts.
Amidst the diplomatic storm surrounding the Elgin Marbles, Greek Foreign Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis emphasized the cultural significance and historical justice of unifying the Parthenon Sculptures. He underlined the claim's foundation in both history and justice, emphasizing the universal cultural values it represents. While acknowledging the need for bilateral collaboration with the UK, Mitsotakis expressed the intent to deepen the longstanding history shared by the two nations.
In response to the controversy, Environment Secretary Steve Barclay defended the UK's relationship with Greece. Barclay supported Chancellor Rishi Sunak's decision to abstain from a meeting with the Greek counterpart, citing the dispute over the Parthenon Sculptures housed in London's British Museum. Despite tensions, Barclay highlighted the British Museum's global appeal and the settled nature of the issue, asserting that there's no perceived need for change in the sculptures' status.
However, as the focus shifted to tackling record high net migration levels, Barclay acknowledged the government's need to act swiftly and comprehensively. He stressed the urgency of going "further, faster" in addressing the migration challenge. When questioned about potential measures, Barclay hinted at announcements by Home Secretary James Cleverly, emphasizing actions already taken, such as closing the route for around 150,000 student dependents.
Pressed on the possibility of implementing a migration cap, Barclay neither endorsed nor rejected the idea, reflecting the ongoing debate within the government and among Conservative MPs. While some, including Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick, argue for the introduction of migration caps, the government remains in the process of formulating a comprehensive strategy to curtail migration numbers.
The complex interplay of cultural disputes, diplomatic intricacies, and domestic policy challenges underscores the multifaceted nature of the current political landscape, with both the UK and Greece navigating through a series of contentious issues.
The debate over immigration policy within the Conservative Party has surfaced once again, with Environment Secretary Steve Barclay expressing support for Home Secretary James Cleverly's efforts to reduce net migration. In an interview with Times Radio, Barclay acknowledged that current migration levels are "way too high," signaling a commitment to bringing them down. While he refrained from explicitly endorsing a migration cap, his emphasis on the need for control aligns with the broader discourse within the government.
Former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng added his perspective to the conversation, asserting that net migration levels exceed past Tory promises made during general elections. Kwarteng stressed the necessity for more control over who enters the UK, advocating for an immigration system that serves the country's interests. He found appeal in a points-based system, emphasizing the importance of limiting numbers and assessing the skills and contributions individuals bring.
Backing the plan proposed by Suella Braverman to raise the salary threshold for skilled migrants, Kwarteng supported the idea of a cap and a points system. While not privy to internal disagreements within the government, he commended the general approach taken by Braverman and Robert Jenrick, suggesting that a salary threshold increase to £40,000 could be a sensible move.
The varying perspectives within the Conservative Party reflect the complexity of the immigration debate, with voices advocating for a nuanced approach that combines control, a points system, and adjustments to salary thresholds. As concerns about the scale of immigration persist, the government faces the challenge of formulating a policy that aligns with its commitments and addresses the diverse opinions within the party.
In conclusion, the ongoing debate within the Conservative Party regarding immigration policy highlights the diverse perspectives and challenges the government faces in shaping a coherent strategy. While Environment Secretary Steve Barclay supports efforts to reduce net migration without explicitly endorsing a cap, former Chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng emphasizes the need for more control, a points-based system, and potential adjustments to salary thresholds. The divergence in opinions underscores the complexity of the issue and the balancing act required to meet electoral promises, address concerns about the scale of immigration, and craft a policy that aligns with the broader interests of the UK. As the government navigates these intricacies, the final approach will likely be a result of negotiation and compromise within the party.