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 current phase of the Covid-19 Inquiry enters its penultimate week next week with a single two-day session with former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who appears before the inquiry on both Wednesday and Thursday (December 6-7). After his former health secretary Matt Hancock was raked over the coals in a similarly long session last week, Johnson can expect harsh questioning over his decision-making process at each stage of the pandemic, with the ‘partygate’ furore which dogged his premiership undoubtedly due to resurface. Johnson may also face questions on entries in Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance’s diary – made public as part of the inquiry – which said Johnson agreed that Covid was ‘nature’s way of dealing with old people’ and that the former prime minister was ‘bamboozled’ and ‘confused’ by the science during the pandemic.
The country’s rail network is expected to suffer significant disruption this week as ASLEF train drivers undertake a series of one-day strikes at different train operating companies (TOCs) up and down the UK. Despite RMT rail workers voting to accept a pay deal this week to end their 18-month dispute, ASLEF drivers are continuing to campaign for an improved pay offer. After strikes on the East Midlands, LNER, Avanti West Coast, Chiltern and Great Northern Thameslink lines at the weekend, drivers take strike action on the C2C and Greater Anglia lines on Tuesday (December 5), Southeastern/Gatwick Express and South Western Railway on Wednesday (December 6), Cross Country and GWR on Thursday (December 7), and Northern and TransPennine Express on Friday (December 8). An overtime ban is also in place throughout the week.
The walkouts wrap up just as the next stage in the unions’ fight against the government’s new strike laws begins in earnest, as the TUC hosts a special congress in London on Saturday (December 9), the first such gathering since the height of the labour movement’s battles with the Thatcher government in the 1980s. Organisers say exceptional circumstances require a mass meeting of trade unions to discuss how to oppose plans to bring in minimum service levels during strikes by key sectors.
Ministers claim the new regulations will limit disruption, notably promising to ensure 40% of train services run on strike days, though the TUC has already pledged to run a campaign of non-compliance with the laws, arguing they represent an attack on workers’ right to strike. Public sympathy for striking workers involved in pay disputes during the cost of living crisis has remained relatively high, though a protracted campaign of walkouts over the coming months may test the limits of people’s patience.
After fighting between Israel and Hamas resumed this morning as the latest one-day extension to what was an increasingly fragile truce expired, the conflict is likely to once again dominate news next week, particularly amid indications that Israeli operations now look set to include southern Gaza. Qatar, which hosts Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh and has become a centre of diplomatic activity over the conflict, has said efforts to renew the truce continue between the two sides, despite the renewed bombing campaigns.
With French president Emmanuel Macron due to arrive in Qatar tomorrow (December 2), Doha looks set to continue to be a focal point in the coming days. Turkish president Recep Tayyip Erdogan is expected to arrive in Qatar on Monday (December 4) for talks on the conflict, which is likely to dominate the Gulf Cooperation Council leaders’ summit taking place there on Tuesday (December 5). It’s also worth keeping an eye on a meeting of Caspian foreign ministers hosted by Sergey Lavrov in Moscow on Tuesday, which Iranian foreign minister Hossein Amir-Abdollahian is expected to attend.
Sunday (December 10) sees Argentina’s new president Javier Milei take office following his victory in November’s run-off. Milei, whose win was lauded by the likes of Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro, was in Washington, DC earlier this week, where he met with officials from the IMF and the Biden administration. Having confirmed plans to scrap the country’s central bank, Milei later surprised many by announcing that he intends to appoint the mainstream centre-right former finance minister Luis Caputo to be his economy minister, leading some analysts to conclude that Milei’s flagship policy of replacing the Argentine peso with the US dollar may not be an early priority for his fledgling administration.