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It’s a new month and already so much has happened, but don’t worry we’re here to expand your commercial awareness with our latest top stories. We’re kicking off the round-up with the ever-developing story of industrial action, before checking in with the progress of an old favourite, Brexit. We’ve then got a quick summary on current election polls and what’s happening with Nadim Zahawi’s tax scandal, as well as a troubling story about missing migrant children. February is already setting up to be an eventful month, so grab a cup of tea and get stuck into this week’s commercial round-up.
- On Monday night, the government’s Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill passed its second reading in parliament with 315 ‘ayes’. The proposed legislation will demand minimum service levels are maintained during any planned industrial action for ‘essential’ services such as:
- health services;
- fire and rescue services;
- education services;
- transport services; and
- border security.
Just yesterday, half a million workers went on strike in the UK’s largest walkout in more than a decade; striking workers included teachers, train drivers and university lecturers. Should this bill be successful, the government has said the legislation will prevent strikes from hindering “people getting to work, accessing healthcare, and safely going about their daily lives”. But, general secretary of the Trades Union Congress Paul Nowak called the proposal “undemocratic, unworkable, and almost certainly illegal”. Under the proposed legislation “when workers democratically vote to strike they can be forced to work and sacked if they don’t comply”. Nowak is joined in his criticism by Labour MP Zarah Sultana, who claimed the UK has “some of the worst anti-trade union laws in the Western world”, and Jacob Rees-Mogg who, despite supporting the proposed aims, believes the bill is “badly written”. Now that the bill has been passed in the House of Commons it’s set to undergo further scrutiny in the House of Lords at a later date.
- Tuesday 31 January, marked three years since we officially left the EU, and for many the #bregret is kicking in. Caroline Lucas, former leader of the Green Party took to Twitter to express her frustrations: “Our economy, society and environment are being held hostage by Brexit ideology”, she wrote, adding that trade is down 15%, investment down 13%, food inflation is soaring and tax revenue is down £40 billion. The Office for Budget Responsibility has estimated the UK will be 4% worse financially than it would’ve been had the Brexit referendum resulted in remain. Brexit, officially named the Trade and Cooperation Agreement, is subject to review every five years, with the next review set for 2025 prompting a rise in calls for a renegotiation of the deal specifics. However, at current, both major parties are avoiding the tender topic; Kier Starmer is determined to regain Labour’s lost seats therefore refusing to jeopardise the party’s lead in the polls, while Sunak is being careful to avoid linking the current economic catastrophe to Brexit. Described as a “lose-lose” situation by leading City figure, and former Tory donor, Guy Hands, it’s perhaps no surprise 57% of UK residents would vote to re-join the EU, but for now the government is pushing on.
- From past voting habits to upcoming ones, according to the latest polling data Labour is currently in the lead and set to win at the next general election. Latest stats are as follows:
- 50% Labour – 21% Conservative (PeoplePolling)
- 48% Labour – 26 Conservative (YouGov)
- 49% Labour – 24% Conservative (focaldataHQ)
Rishi Sunak has also fallen behind Keir Starmer on polls concerning who’d make the most capable prime minister. To add to this, 55% of Britons believe it’s time for a change in government, believing the Conservatives have “done a poor job”. The next general election isn’t scheduled until January 2025; however, King Charles does have the power to dissolve parliament before this time.
- Three times must be the charm because this next story also focuses on the current hurdles within the UK’s political sphere. Sunak is under criticism for his handling of Nadhim Zahawi’s tax scandal. Upon election, Sunak appointed Zahawi to his cabinet, only to fire him months later after Zahawi broke the ministerial code over his tax affairs. Zahawi has been under investigation by HMRC due to a £5 million tax error since July 2022 – a scandal which sources say Sunak was made aware of before appointing Zahawi. Upon appointment to Number 10, Sunak promised to lead with “integrity and accountability”, but at current Zahawi is his second senior minister to leave office in disgrace with calls mounting for Dominic Raab to leave office amid an inquiry into bullying claims. Sunak is also facing increasing pressure from the Labour party; Labour Chair Anneliese Dodds wants to uncover what exactly Sunak knew and “why he said in parliament that there weren’t questions to be answered about Mr Zahawi’s tax affairs and why do we see our prime minister continuing to prop up such a rogues’ gallery of ministers?”.
- The final story of today is a tough one. More than 200 migrant children have gone missing after disappearing from hotels managed by the Home Office. The government has been accused of a “dereliction of duty” as it’s failed to adequately safeguard children in their care. This news broke after a whistleblower came forward from the Home Office hotel in Brighton, to report children were being taken off the street and bundled into cars. The government has rejected help from various non-governmental organisations who’ve offered assistance to the Home Office and its six hotels for unaccompanied asylum-seeker children. In October, the migration watchdog discovered that hotels were hiring staff who didn’t have DBS certificates, as is required by government rules. One whistleblower who worked at a hotel in Brighton reported hearing “staff threatening to throw children out of the window and joking about them going missing”, as well as a series of staff shouting, “xenophobic stuff”. Patricia Durr, chief executive of children’s rights organisation Ecpat UK, said this disclosure highlights a “growing child protection failure”.
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