westminster brexit

The Week in Westminster: Looming elections and transatlantic tantrums

Your need-to-know guide to this week's UK political happenings

The will be the last instalment of The Week in Westminster before the 2019 General Election – which means it making your mind up time gents. While we’re not in the business of telling you who to vote for, we will help you decide by giving you a frank rundown of the week’s most important political events. And, frankly, it’s been a mixed bag.

NATO no-go

In what is, to be fair, an already pretty tense week for the UK’s political leaders, the rest of the world’s head honchos flew in for the 2019 NATO Summit, celebrating 50 years of the organisation. Things got off to a fairly peaceful start, despite some serious side-eye at Boris ‘Get Brexit Done’ Johnson over comments he made about the success of the organisation being down to unity and solidarity between nations.

But, of course, wherever Trump is, there is often trouble. Day one saw the President treat the conference like his own personal audience with the world’s media, holding an impromptu 50-minute press conference on Tuesday evening which made him, and several other world leaders, late for an official event. The following day a video emerged which *appeared* to show Emmanuel Macron, Justin Trudeau, Princess Anne and Boris Johnson gossiping and laughing about the President’s actions. While Trump is never actually named, and Johnson strongly denies the accusations, Trump took the slight as well as one might expect. He huffed his way back on to Airforce One, leaving the summit early, calling Trudeau ‘two-faced’ and cancelling a joint press conference with Johnson.

Johnson, for his part, went ahead with the press conference but, despite Trump dealing him a helpful political hand by saying the US had ‘no interest’ in the NHS, Johnson side-stepped mentioning the President by name at every opportunity. As well as distancing himself from the US President, the Prime Minister also refused to rule out a no-deal Brexit before abruptly calling the conference to an end when the questions got tough.

Interviews and interrogations

There have been a whole host of interviews and debates this week as the parties make 11th hour attempts to woo swing voters. On Sunday night a cross-party ITV election debate was considered to have been won by Nicola Sturgeon (SNP), Richard Burdon (Labour) and Adam Price (Plaid Cymru) with Rishi Sunak (Conservative) and Nigel Farage (Brexit) failing to impress.

On Tuesday, Corbyn finally apologised for antisemitism in the Labour party after weeks of criticism for refusing to say sorry outright. The next day he came under the crosshairs of ITV’s Julie Etchingham who claimed a ‘gotcha’ moment when Corbyn appeared to lie about watching the Queen’s speech – saying his family had it on in the morning when it is, in fact, aired at 3pm. Given that only around 10% of the British population actually watches the Queen’s speech, it isn’t clear why he felt the need to say he was one of them or quite why the issue has caused quite so much outrage.

Meanwhile Jo Swinson became the third party leader to be interrogated by BBC’s Andrew Neil on Wednesday night. It was a tough outing for the Lib Dem leader, who repeatedly apologised for voting in favour of austerity measures during the 2010-15 coalition government. The party’s support has been slipping throughout the campaign process but Swinson maintained she would remain leader even if they ended up with fewer than the 21 seats they currently hold. She was eventually forced to renege on her assertion that she could become the next PM saying it’s ‘not the most likely scenario’.

Elsewhere Channel 4 was cleared of any bias over the Johnson/Farage ice block saga and Andrew Neil once again urged Johnson to commit to an interview with him. Despite all the other party leaders submitting to Neil’s grilling, Johnson has refused to sit down with both Neil and Julie Etchingham, leading to claims of cowardice and a lack of trustworthiness.

Anything else I need to know?

Things took a happier turn for Labour on Friday when a leaked document from the Treasury was released, warning that Johnson’s Brexit deal ‘has the potential to separate Northern Ireland in practice from whole swathes of the UK’s internal market’. Given that it is exactly this outcome Theresa May’s deals were repeatedly rejected for, it’s not looking good for a 31 January exit.

It hasn’t been such a great week for Brexit party leader Nigel Farage. Four of the party’s MEPs defected this week in a move designed to bolster support for the Conservative party. It’s a big blow for the leader, whose party is currently polling at just 3%. It doesn’t help that European council president Donald Tusk called Brexit ‘one of the most spectacular mistakes’ in EU history this week either.

So who’s going to win?

Sadly, gents, we’re not mind readers or fortune tellers so we don’t know. Analysis from The Guardian tracking all GB-wide polls currently puts Conservatives at an 11-point lead over Labour, who are at 43% and 32% respectively. Support for the Brexit party has plummeted, from 24% in June to just 3% now, while the Lib Dems have also sustained a seven-point loss since October, putting them at just 14% a week before the election.

As always, however, no poll is completely accurate so only time will tell who the winner is going to be. Our advice? Make sure you vote.

Got some catching up to do? Read all our election coverage from the beginning

Further Reading