Rishi Sunak is focusing on levelling up today, with a new round of funding for areas across the UK announced; as the nurses’ strike enters its second day, a former cabinet minister doubles down on his criticism of them using foodbanks.
For the first time since Scottish devolution nearly 25 years ago, Westminster has blocked a bill, which concerns transgender rights, from getting royal assent.
Westminster is objecting to the Gender Recognition Reform Bill on the grounds that it would have a “significant impact” on GB-wide equalities. But Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says the veto is an attack on democracy.
On the Sky News Daily, Niall Paterson is joined by political correspondent Joe Pike to unpack the unprecedented row. He’s also joined by lecturer in law at Glasgow Caledonian University, Andrew Tickell, to discuss the legalities of a constitution in crisis.
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Sir Keir Starmer is currently at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.
Rishi Sunak is not attending however – with Business Secretary Grant Shapps representing the UK government.
But Sir Keir says Mr Sunak’s absence is notable.
“Yes, I think our prime minister should have showed up at Davos,” the Labour leader told a panel event.
“One of the things that’s been impressed on me since I’ve been here is the absence of the United Kingdom.
“That’s why it’s really important that I’m here and that our shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves is here as a statement of intent that should there be a change of government – and I hope there will be – the United Kingdom will play its part on the global stage in a way I think it probably hasn’t in recent years.”
While at the forum, the Labour leader announced his plans to take on OPEC, the Organization of the Petroleum Exporting Countries which consists of Algeria, Angola, Congo, Equatorial Guinea, Gabon, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Libya, Nigeria, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Venezuela.
Sir Keir called for a “clean power alliance” with a “view to driving global prices down”.
OPEC has sometimes been called a cartel, which agrees on a price at which to sell oil.
In Morecambe in the North West of England the prime minister today spoke to students, business owners and journalists about the £2.1bn of levelling up funding he announced.
“Levelling up, oh yes I remember that old slogan!,” you might say.
Well despite reports of the death of Boris Johnson’s flagship mission, Mr Sunak is adamant the vision is alive and kicking.
This second round of funding has left some Tory MPs who lost out grumbling, but the locals Sunak spoke to today were generally thrilled by the investment on their patch.
However, the prime minister continues to be haunted by the comments he made in Tunbridge Wells.
And when challenged by journalists about the distribution of the funding the prime minister defended his record and stressed that the North had been given ample funds to revitalise its communities.
Mr Sunak was also keen to stress that allocating funding can be a nuanced process and that ensuring value for money when dishing out cash must also be a top priority.
Several journalists asked the prime minister about his stance on tax cuts as the tax burden remains the highest for seven decades, to which Mr Sunak replied he would be able to deliver tax cuts once the economy was in a better place and that the public needed to “trust me” that such cuts are on the way.
But if the public can’t see an impact from this new levelling up funding within the next 18 months, they may find it harder to believe his promises on tax cuts when voting in the next general election.
While locals in places such as Morecambe are thrilled by the news of investment from the government’s levelling-up plans, deputy political editor Sam Coates points out that there are imbalances in how the money is invested across England.
It’s day two on the picket line outside University College hospital in central London, writes correspondent Shamaan Freeman-Powell, as we return to the ongoing industrial disputes.
“Rishi Sunak hear us shout: ‘Pay us properly or get out’.” – that’s the chant of today.
The nurses’ resolve only strengthens with every member of the public who stops by to offer support. And there have been many.
Other emergency services have been showing solidarity too – with horns honking every time an ambulance or fire truck passes by.
Think they’ll give up easily? Well as one placard on display put it: “Ask how long they wait to pee whilst on shift.”
Ruhiya Al Hassan has just finished a 12-hour night shift – but spent the morning on the picket line before going back to work tonight.
“I don’t want to, but I have to,” says Ruhiya.
She has been a nurse 25 years and says she can’t believe how bad pay and conditions have become.
“It’s not OK. We need to keep our patients safe” she adds.
Ruhiya says she loves working as a nurse and can put up with the pressures of working in intensive care, but she cannot “cope with the cost of living crisis”
Sky’s deputy political editor Sam Coates asks if the country is getting the “kind of levelling up that we were promised in the 2019 general election by Boris Johnson”.
Mr Sunak says the government is “completely committed” to levelling up across the UK.
He says: “If you look at how we’re spending this money it is disproportionally benefiting people in the northeast and northwest and that’s great.
“Part of what the former prime minister said is actually one of the criteria’s in this fund.”
He goes on to say the the fund looks at the previous investment in areas and tries to correct it.
“We remain committed to delivering it,” he adds.
Asked if he was 100% committed to the current plans for HS2, Mr Sunak does not provide an answer and the Q&A session comes to a conclusion.
As we reported at 12.56pm, Rishi Sunak flew to Blackpool from London for today’s events.
He is asked why he did this when there’s a climate emergency, and why money is not being provided to reopen the airport for commercial flights.
Mr Sunak gives a similar answer as has been trotted out for the two times he flew internally in the UK last week – that he needs to fly to “do lots of things in one day”.
He adds that he is “not travelling around it just for my own enjoyment”.
On Blackpool, he says the city is getting £40m to invest in a university campus focused on net zero.
It had already received £40m as part of a previous scheme, Mr Sunak adds.
This will be for a “King’s Cross” kind of regeneration – and that people in Blackpool are “probably really excited”.
Rishi Sunak gets asked about Sir James Dyson criticising his tax policies after the entrepreneur said his strategy is “shortsighted” and “stupid”.
The PM rejects the criticism and says he is cutting taxes for some businesses, including cafes and restaurants in the Spring, as well as small businesses who are investing.
He says you can write off £1m in investment for small and medium-sized businesses each year, which he thinks is incredibly generous and does not happen in any other country.
By doing that, he says they will then be able to cut taxes for other businesses.
Rishi Sunak is now asked if he can vow that he will not put income tax or any taxes up “by a penny before the next election”.
The prime minster says that as a Conservative he wants to cut taxes.
“I wish I could do that tomorrow but the reason we can’t is because of all the reasons you know,” he says.
“We had a massive pandemic for two years. We had to shut the country down, do a bunch of extraordinary things – that didn’t come cheap.
“And then we’ve got this war going on, which is having an enormous impact on inflation and interest rates. And that’s meant that the public finances and the trajectory of our debt is not where it needs to be.
“The worst thing I could do is promise you a bunch of things that sound great, but ultimately just make the situation worse.”
After a number of questions about Morecambe from locals, the PM turns to the media.
He is asked about the fact his cabinet has more members representing Surrey than the north of England, and if this has impacted the decision-making process.
Mr Sunak points out that the North is getting more money per capita than London and the South East are.
Referencing the cabinet makeup, Mr Sunak says “most people just want people who can get on and do the job” and deliver on the government’s pledges.
He also says he was the most northern-sitting chancellor in some decade – assuming he means in England, as Labour chancellor Gordon Brown was an MP in Scotland when he had the job under Tony Blair from 1997 to 2007,
He also says he is the PM in “one of the most northern seats” for some time.
Mr Blair was the MP for Sedgefield – which is 20 miles north of Rishi Sunak’s Richmond seat.
The PM says his commitment to the North is “incredibly important”, and also personal.
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