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.
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Leading the week
The Covid-19 inquiry kicks off the final week of Module 2 hearings with an all-day session with Prime Minister Rishi Sunak on Monday (December 11). With tensions rising within his government and party over the Rwanda Asylum Bill (more on that below), Sunak will devote his Monday to discussing the intricacies of government policy while he served as Chancellor during the pandemic. The prime minister is likely to face questions on the Eat Out to Help Out scheme he launched in the summer of 2020, which Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty later referred to as ‘eat out to help out… the virus’. Sunak may also face questioning over his involvement in the ‘Partygate’ scandal, for which he received a fine in April 2022. The inquiry rounds off the week with a series of statements from core participants on Wednesday and Thursday (December 13-14).
Sunak’s week won’t get any easier once the inquiry hearing is out of the way, as his flagship immigration policy heads back to the Commons for a second reading on Tuesday (December 12). The new Rwanda legislation, designed to get around the Supreme Court’s decision ruling the asylum seeker scheme unlawful, failed to satisfy either wing of his party when it was published on Wednesday. Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick resigned from his post after hinting at more legal challenges, and the spectre of former Home Secretary Suella Braverman still looms over No.10. But a bullish Sunak has vowed to press on with the plan, insisting it’s the only way to ‘Stop the Boats’. Its success in the Commons is by no means guaranteed, with backbenchers from both wings of the party threatening to rebel and Labour planning to vote against it. And while Sunak isn’t making Tuesday’s vote one of confidence in his government, the prospect of a general election in early 2024 suddenly looks to be closer than ever.
An eventful COP28 ends with the final agreement due to be presented on Tuesday (December 12) as world leaders struggle to find a consensus on plans to curb rising temperatures. The final text may prove controversial, after a draft version published by the UN included various options either calling for or omitting mention of plans to phase out fossil fuels. While major oil producers and carbon emitters are lobbying against the language and campaigners have highlighted a record number of fossil fuel delegates at this year’s meeting, the conference has also suffered from mixed messaging from its leadership. After being forced to row back on comments questioning the science showing fossil fuel phase-out will reduce global warming, the UAE’s COP28 President Sultan al-Jaber is publicly calling for the text to include language on fossil fuels – despite previously saying a phase-out would ‘take the world back into caves’.
Should negotiators agree the third option of the draft text, where fossil fuel reductions simply don’t feature, the already-questionable legacy of COP28 will be thrown into the spotlight again. Back in the UK, opponents can take a break from the migration furore to revisit criticism of the prime minister’s climate commitments following his flying visit to the conference. Former prime minister Theresa May and Shadow Climate Change Secretary Ed Miliband are among speakers at a post-COP summit in London on Thursday (December 14), alongside former Environment Minister Zac Goldsmith, who accused Sunak of being ‘uninterested’ in the environment in his scathing resignation letter earlier this year.
With the conflict in the Middle East having drawn much attention away from Ukraine’s fight against Russia, a number of events taking place next week may help to focus minds back on Kyiv, starting on Monday (December 11) when Ukrainian foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba joins European Union counterparts at a meeting in Brussels. The ministerial talks come ahead of the last gathering of the year for European leaders on Thursday and Friday (December 14-15), when Ukraine is hoping a decision will be made on opening accession negotiations despite opposition from Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban. Vladimir Putin, who made a rare foreign visit this week to the UAE and Saudi Arabia, is scheduled to hold his big end-of-year press conference on Thursday alongside ‘Direct Line with Putin’, another annual tradition that sees him answer questions from members of the public. None of the questions are expected to challenge Putin, though his fans may take the opportunity to ask about his future plans following confirmation today that he will run in next year’s presidential election.
Sticking with the region, Monday (December 11) marks an important moment following October’s inconclusive parliamentary elections in Poland, as parliament holds a vote of confidence in a proposed new government led by incumbent Mateusz Morawiecki of the Law and Justice (PiS) party. If, as many expect, Morawiecki is unable to secure enough votes, lawmakers are expected to move quickly to nominate former European Council President Donald Tusk, who now leads an opposition coalition. Assuming votes go as expected, Tusk could be sworn in as prime minister on Wednesday (December 13) or Thursday (December 14).