Leading the week
The week starts with attention firmly on the fallout from Thursday’s Autumn Statement as the Treasury Select Committee meets on Monday (November 21) to pore over the detail of the government’s new economic direction. Representatives from the OBR will then join the committee for a further session on Tuesday (November 22), before the main event on Wednesday (November 23) with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt. The Government’s new fiscal plans proved sobering to say the least, as it tries to patch up the £50 billion black hole in the country’s coffers. The Chancellor admitted ‘everybody will be paying higher taxes’ as he introduced a raft of new measures including a reduction in the top rate of tax, slashing the dividend allowance on personal income allowances, and a freeze on income tax thresholds.
The inescapable truth which Hunt hammered home as he stood at the dispatch box is that the UK is now in a recession. The Office for Budget Responsibility estimates the economy will shrink by almost 1.5% in 2023, with nearly a decade of economic advances being wiped out, and growth not expected to exceed 1.3% until 2024. The icing on the cake is the prediction for inflation, which is expected to top 9% before the end of the year. The Chancellor told the House of Commons that his plan would rebuild the economy and reduce debt – with a general election now looming ever larger on the horizon, the Conservative Party’s hopes of winning a fifth consecutive term in power now seem entirely in the hands of the financial gods.
The Supreme Court hands down its hugely anticipated judgment on Wednesday (November 23) on whether Scotland can hold a second independence referendum without Westminster’s approval. During a full hearing held in October, lawyers representing the UK government asked judges to throw out the case, arguing debates over a new independence vote are beyond the court’s jurisdiction. The Scottish government countered that a court ruling is in the national interest, adding that any result would be advisory rather than legally binding. Should the court rule in favour of a second referendum, Scotland will head to the polls next October. A win for the UK government though would instead throw focus onto the next general election, which Nicola Sturgeon has already claimed would act as a de facto independence referendum for the SNP.
Away from the economic and constitutional strife, England and Wales finally get their World Cup campaigns up and running in Qatar. The action begins on Monday (November 21) when England face Iran and Wales take on the United States, and continues Friday (November 25) when both sides swap opponents. With only three group games to contend with, Gareth Southgate and Rob Page’s dreams of a place in the knock-out stages could theoretically be realised or dashed by this time next week.
The UN Human Rights Council holds a rare special session on Iran on Thursday (November 24) to discuss the government’s violent suppression of protests prompted by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini, the 22-year-old Kurdish-Iranian arrested on September 13 for violating the country’s severe dress code. Her death has sparked unprecedented nationwide protests that have rocked authorities who have in turn responded with brutality, with at least 362 protesters believed to have been killed, including two young boys earlier this week.
On Friday (November 25), European Union interior ministers are due to gather for an extraordinary meeting to discuss migration following the high-profile row between France and Italy over Italy’s refusal to allow a boat carrying rescued migrants to dock in its territory. The incident happened shortly after new far-right Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni took office and suggests the debate over burden-sharing among EU nations regarding migrants and asylum seekers is likely to heat up again. Friday’s meeting will come two days after the European Parliament’s debate on asylum and migration, scheduled for Wednesday (November 23).