Whilst questions continue to swirl about what Rishi Sunak knew of the various complaints made against Gavin Williamson before appointing him – a decision even many of the PM’s allies think was poorly judged – PM Sunak headed to Blackpool today (Thursday 10th November) to meet Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin for the 38th British-Irish Council. This body was established in 1999 with the aim of strengthening inter-government relations, following the signing of the Good Friday Agreement. It is made up of representatives from the UK and Irish governments, the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, as well as the governments of the Isle of Man, Jersey and Guernsey. It’s the first time a UK Prime Minister has attended since 2007, but Northern Ireland’s ministers won’t be there because the power-sharing executive remains suspended.
The Prime Minister is also taking the opportunity to hold his first face-to-face talks with Nicola Sturgeon, The two leaders will discuss the cost-of-living crisis and, with the Scottish First Minister hoping to hold a second vote on independence in October 2023, Ms Sturgeon also wishes to highlight the importance of respecting the right of the people of Scotland to choose their own constitutional future.
Over the coming weekend in Blackpool, Ireland’s Taoiseach Micheál Martin will meet leading members of the Irish community from the North of England along with the Mayor of Liverpool City Region Steve Rotheram, and the Manchester Greater Authority Mayor, Andy Burnham.
Meanwhile, as he left London for Blackpool, there have been unofficial leaks from PM Sunak’s office centred on what we can expect in the long awaited financial statement due on November 17th to plug the gap of £60 billion in the looming black-hole of the country’s finances. These measures include:
- a lengthy freeze to workers’ income tax allowances
- lowering the threshold of the top 45p rate of income tax
- reinstating the 50p rate
- widening the net for inheritance tax
- a multi-year freeze to defence spending
- another delay in the cap on social care costs
- a bigger tax on the profits of oil and gas producers.
But, Pensioners and benefit claimants won’t be bearing the brunt of the cuts, with the PM seemingly planning to raise welfare payments and pensions with inflation.