England fans are reeling from the disappointment of the UEFA European Championship final. However, there’s much they can be proud of. England gave a good account of themselves on the pitch and showed leadership off the pitch in raising awareness for racial discrimination. Following the final, a number of England players have sadly received online racial abuse, however, the team has continued to make a stand against racism and have highlighted some of the failures from our political leaders in addressing it.
In this week’s blog, we look at the dispute between the UK and EU over the post-Brexit financial settlement, Labour’s victory in the Batley and Spen by-election and the upcoming ‘freedom day’.
The EU and UK at loggerheads again?
According to the EU, the UK is liable to pay €47.5 billion to the EU as part of its post-Brexit financial settlement agreed, as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement. The figures were contained in the EU’s consolidated budget report for 2020. The issue of what Britain owes the EU after Brexit has been hugely controversial, with a number of eurosceptics having previously claimed that the UK would not have to pay it if there was no deal on either the Withdrawal Agreement or the future relationship treaty. In 2017, both sides had reached an agreement on the mechanism to calculate the total amount, with UK officials having predicted that it would be between £35-39bn. The Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) had predicted in its March 2018 Economic and Fiscal Outlook Report that the total bill would amount to €41.4bn. The €47.5 billion billed by the EU is much higher than what was anticipated. However, the EU has insisted that the figure is “correct” and “final”.
Downing Street over the weekend rejected the EU’s estimate and instead insisted that the figure stood between £35-39bn and that the EU estimate did not reflect “all the money owed back to the UK”. A Downing Street spokesperson said: “We don’t recognise that figure, it’s an estimate produced by the EU for its own internal accounting purposes”. As part of the settlement, the EU will also have to pay back money the UK had previously put into the European Investment Bank (just over £3bn) and the European Central Bank (about £50m). With the EU and the UK both signalling different amounts, it seems there could be another Brexit-related row brewing which had previously taken place during Theresa May’s tenure. However, with COVID-19 being the dominating factor for most people’s lives it’s unlikely that this dispute will gain any significant traction with the public.
A sigh of relief for Starmer?
Keir Starmer is sure to have breathed a huge sigh of relief when Labour’s Kim Leadbeater narrowly won the Batley and Spen by-election, beating her Conservative rival (Ryan Stephenson) by just 323 votes. It means that Kim Leadbeater will now represent the seat previously held by her sister Jo Cox, who was tragically murdered in 2016. Labour has held the seat since 1997, so in context, the margin of victory could be viewed as a disappointment for Labour. However, the hold of the seat is significant considering the Conservatives recently won the Hartlepool by-election, which we discussed in our previous blog.
Following her victory, Kim Leadbeater stated how the constituents of Batley and Spen had “rejected division” and “voted for hope”. Perhaps this was in reference to former Labour and Respect MP George Galloway, who came third with 8,264 votes. Galloway stood for the Workers Party of Britain and had targeted Labour voters with the aim of toppling Keir Starmer as leader. His campaign revolved around winning support from voters who were unhappy with Labour’s stance on foreign policy issues such as the conflict between Israel and Palestinian, and the disputed territory of Kashmir, claimed by both India and Pakistan. Galloway’s 8,264 votes has shown how people do not feel represented by the two major parties on those issues. Batley and Spen represents an ethnically diverse seat, with around 20% of the population being from an Asian background, and with just under 19% being Muslim. Galloway’s campaign has clearly shown that foreign policy issues are just as important as domestic issues, and it remains to be seen how both Labour and the Conservatives develop their messaging for future campaigns around foreign policy issues.
The most important takeaway from the Labour victory in the seat is that it has offered Keir Starmer a much-needed lifeline following the disappointing local election results in May. It was also widely reported that his disgruntled deputy, Angela Rayner, was seriously considering a leadership bid had the party lost the seat to the Tories. This now offers Starmer a full reset following the elections in May, and provides him with some much-needed authority over some within the Labour movement who would like him out. However, with the new ‘freedom day’ closely approaching, the UK political scene is opening a new chapter that will be focussed on life after COVID-19. This offers Starmer the opportunity to showcase to the British electorate what his post-pandemic vision for Britain will be. Although it is clear that the Labour party is still in a highly fractious state, and alongside broadcasting his vision to the electorate, Starmer will also have to convince those in his own party.
A look ahead
Boris Johnson yesterday confirmed in his news conference to lift most legal restrictions on social contact in England on 19 July. Johnson claimed that there would be an increase in cases whenever restrictions are lifted, and that it would be better to do so now. However, leading academics have warned that the NHS test-and-trace system risks being overwhelmed with increasing COVID-19 infections after 19 July. The latest data released by NHS test and trace last week showed how the system is already straining, with positive tests in England being up to 71% in the last week of June. The UK is set to proceed with ‘freedom day’ on July 19th whilst other nations continue with caution. Boris Johnson will be hoping that the safe transition to normal life will demonstrate his government’s flawless vaccination campaign.