A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News. Delivered to your inbox on Fridays.
Leading the week
After almost a year of waiting, Boris Johnson’s day of reckoning with the Commons privileges committee finally arrives on Wednesday (March 22). The inquiry into the Partygate scandal has been working away as Johnson flirted with comebacks during recent Conservative Party regime changes, but he now faces a real fight to convince the committee he did not mislead Parliament and give himself the opportunity to one day fulfil his own prophecy of a dramatic return to power. The odds do seem to be against the former prime minister after the committee released an interim report containing new evidence which was widely considered to provide proof that Johnson must have known about the rule-breaking in Downing Street. One person who disagreed was Johnson himself, claiming that the report offered no clear evidence against him and suggesting that he will attempt to use the appointment of Sue Gray as Keir Starmer’s chief of staff as a main line of defence against the committee’s questioning.
The scope of the inquiry itself is narrow enough, though the implications of the committee finding that Johnson did lie to Parliament will be much wider: a suspension of 10 or more sitting days could trigger a recall petition and eventual by-election, though the sanction would have to be approved by the House first. Despite the committee’s Tory-majority membership, Johnson’s parliamentary allies have already been vocal about the ‘Machiavellian’ and ‘rigged’ inquiry, and the Commons vote may amount to another blue-on-blue headache the government doesn’t need. With the unflappable Harriet Harman in the chair and Johnson sure to be in typically florid oratorical form, the scene is set for the most dramatic committee session since Rupert Murdoch’s ex-wife fought off a foam pie-wielding assailant in 2011.
An independent report into the Metropolitan Police out on Tuesday (March 21) is expected to condemn the force for being riddled with racism, sexism, and homophobia. The review, led by Baroness Casey, began in February last year after public outcry at the murder of Sarah Everard by serving Met officer Wayne Couzens, who was reported to the force for incidents of indecent exposure before killing Everard in March 2021. The report is expected to heavily criticise the Met for tolerating bad behaviour and protecting its own people ahead of the public – just months before David Carrick was jailed for life after being convicted as a serial rapist, Casey’s interim review revealed that only 1% of officers who had received complaints about misconduct had been sacked. Home Secretary Suella Braverman and Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley have reportedly held crisis talks this week to discuss Casey’s findings, which are expected to condemn the force for failing to reform despite numerous official reviews while also laying some blame with government cuts to police funding.
The UK’s monetary policy committee announces its latest interest rate decision on Thursday (March 23), hot on the heels of the US Federal Reserve’s announcement on Wednesday (March 22) and in the wake of several days of turmoil that have disrupted the calm that had started to settle on markets. Fed chair Jerome Powell’s hawkish appearances before Congress earlier this month led to speculation that another half-point rise could be on the cards in the US next week, though inflation data released this week have tempered those expectations for now. In the UK, Bank of England governor Andrew Bailey suggested at the start of the month that an increase was not inevitable after inflation had also begun to slow, while the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank appears to have further reduced the likelihood of an increase to the bank rate above its current 4% level.
Chinese President Xi Jinping begins a three-day state visit to Russia on Monday (March 20) for talks with his Russian counterpart Vladimir Putin on the conflict in Ukraine, with plans to speak with Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy after the trip reportedly in the works. The visit comes shortly after China surprised many by announcing it had brokered a deal between Saudi Arabia and Iran on restoring diplomatic ties, the latest sign of the country’s growing assertiveness as a diplomatic power. It also follows a visit by top Chinese diplomat Wang Yi to Moscow towards the end of February, the last stop on a tour of European cities that notably did not include Kyiv.
Indeed, a potential obstacle to Chinese efforts to broker peace in Ukraine is the fact that China’s self-proclaimed neutrality in the conflict is undermined by its close relationship with Russia, including buying record amounts of discounted Russian oil since the start of the conflict. China’s 12-point peace proposal, released on the anniversary of Russia’s invasion, contains no reference to the status of Russian-annexed parts of Ukraine, despite insisting the territorial integrity of all countries must be upheld, and calls for end to ‘unilateral’ sanctions against Russia. On the other hand, some argue that China presenting itself as an honest broker makes it much less likely that it will provide military support to Russia, something the US has claimed China is considering.
The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) publishes its sixth assessment report on Monday (March 20) ahead of the first global stocktake under the Paris Agreement later this year. The AR6 Synthesis Report brings together findings from research conducted since the last assessment in 2014, drawing on six landmark reports published between October 2018 and last April. Each of those prompted their own set of bleak headlines as political action failed to keep up with increasingly dire predictions: a warning that we only had 12 years to bring warming under 1.5°C in 2018 became ‘now or never’ by 2022, while special reports on oceans and land raised the spectres of food insecurity, wildfires and extreme storms that amounted to a ‘code red for humanity’. Monday’s report is expected to urge drastic action in the run-up to COP28 in Dubai to maintain the 1.5°C goal, something COP28 President Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber can discuss with ministers meeting in Copenhagen on Monday and Tuesday (March 20-21) to set the course for the stocktake summit.
Ukraine will be front and centre of discussions at the latest gathering of EU leaders in Brussels next Thursday and Friday (March 23-24). European nations are currently negotiating an agreement, said to be worth €2 billion ($2.1 billion) to restock Ukraine’s dwindling ammunition supplies, which is set to be discussed on Monday (March 20) at a joint meeting of EU foreign and defence ministers before a planned final sign off by leaders later in the week.