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.
Want to know what’s in store for 2023? Join us on Wednesday, December 14 for a panel discussion looking ahead to the war in Ukraine, the cost of living crisis, and political developments next year. Find out more and register here.
Leading the week
The controversial Online Safety Bill returns to the House of Commons on Monday (December 5), just days after the government faced widespread accusations that it’s tried to water down the legislation. Rishi Sunak has attempted to strike a compromise amid concerns over the bill’s impact on free speech, by enabling users to filter out ‘legal but harmful’ content. Under previous plans, tech platforms would have been required to remove such material, though Culture Secretary Michelle Donelan has dismissed claims the change would weaken laws aimed at protecting social media users. Another key change announced before the third reading is an amendment which would criminalise encouraging self-harm after an inquest into the death of teenager Molly Russell cited the ‘negative effects of online content’ as a factor in her self-harm.
Despite its reintroduction to the Commons, the bill has been bogged down in Westminster’s political quagmire since it was first unveiled under Theresa May’s premiership. Senior Tories including former Brexit Secretary David Davis launched a stinging attack on the proposed laws this summer, dubbing them ‘fundamentally misjudged’ and ‘the biggest accidental curtailment of free speech in modern history’. Digital Minister Paul Scully also announced this week that aspects of the bill will return to committee stage for greater scrutiny, meaning its passage through Parliament is likely to run on well into the new year.
Elsewhere on the parliamentary estate, SNP MPs gather on Tuesday (December 6) for their AGM, where they will choose a new Westminster leader following Ian Blackford’s announcement yesterday that he is stepping down from the position he has held since 2017. Aberdeen South MP Stephen Flynn is widely tipped to replace Blackford as the party turns its focus to the next general election and their strategy to pitch the result as a de facto independence referendum.
Anne Sacoolas is sentenced at the Old Bailey on Thursday (December 8) after pleading guilty to causing the death of teenager Harry Dunn by dangerous driving in August 2019. The case has been at the centre of a long-running diplomatic dispute between the UK and the United States, after Sacoolas fled the country and claimed diplomatic immunity to avoid criminal charges. Despite the case finally reaching court, Dunn’s family have said they now plan to push for a public inquiry into the government’s involvement. Sacoolas was initially due to be sentenced December 1, but the hearing will now go ahead on Thursday following a successful application for the proceedings to be broadcast on TV.
Monday (December 5) marks a key moment in the Western response to the Russian war in Ukraine as new oil sanctions take effect. EU and UK bans on transporting seaborne Russian crude, which were agreed earlier this year, are due to come into force alongside a price cap on Russian oil set by the G7 and Australia. The arrangement is designed to allow countries which have not yet imposed an import ban on Russian oil to continue purchasing it at a capped price, thereby avoiding a global spike in oil prices which analysts predict would happen under a total ban. EU countries have been wrangling over the price cap proposal for weeks, and look to have settled on $60 a barrel; the agreement needs full approval to be implemented on Monday, and any last-minute failure would mean the transport bans coming in without the mitigating effect of the price cap. A similar ban and cap on Russian petroleum products is scheduled to follow on February 5.
Following a tumultuous week in China that saw authorities respond to unprecedented protests against the country’s zero-Covid policies with a mixture of repression and concession, a state memorial takes place in Beijing on Tuesday (December 6) for former President Jiang Zemin, who died this week at the age of 96. His death is reminiscent in ways to that of Mikhail Gorbachev in Russia earlier this year: Zemin’s move to step down from leadership in 2003, which marked the Communist era’s first orderly succession, stands in stark contrast to President Xi Jinping’s recent move to effectively abolish term limits. And his presidency is associated with an era of relative liberalism; support for Zemin, who is known as the ‘toad’ or ‘toad king’, became a concern for censors in China at least as far back as 2014 during Hong Kong’s ‘umbrella movement’ protests, and his death poses a challenge coming at such a sensitive moment.
It’s unclear whether Xi plans to attend the memorial on Tuesday, or whether, like Putin with Gorbachev, he chooses to pay his respects privately and avoid the main event. A much-anticipated visit by Xi to Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, could begin on Wednesday (December 7) with a broader summit with regional leaders on Friday (December 9). The planned trip is likely to be extremely closely watched in Washington, given its soured relations with Riyadh following the murder of Jamal Khashoggi, as well as in Moscow, which has increasingly relied on China to purchase its oil since the invasion of Ukraine.