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DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

A tale of two inquiries

Written by Katie Armour, senior associate
Edited by Iain Gibson, associate partner

17 December 2021 

Good morning,

On both sides of the border this week, governments have been setting out plans for some almighty inquiries. I suspect that many others, like me, assumed these would come in ‘the aftermath’ of covid. But after two long years here we are at a new beginning. Omicron is ripping through the nation at an unimagined pace but ministers, having committed to start learning lessons in 2021, have had to turn their attention to the scope, leading names and time frames for these investigations that some would much prefer not to happen. On Wednesday the prime minister announced that Baroness Heather Hallett, former High Court judge and current crossbench peer, would chair the UK wide inquiry into Covid-19. Lady Hallett has a stream of impressive, high-profile cases to her name. She is perhaps best known for acting as coroner on the inquest into the deaths of the 52 victims of the 7/7 London bombings. At the time, the Guardian reported that, much to her credit, it was “becoming a model of what an inquest can achieve” and in some respects providing a “kind of national catharsis”. In March she was also appointed to lead the inquest into the death of Dawn Sturgess in the wake of the Salisbury novichok attack. She pledged to conduct a “fearless” investigation into who directed the operation that brought chemical weapons onto UK soil. With Putin in the frame, it’s clear she’s not daunted by controversy or fraught geopolitical context. Similarly on Tuesday in Holyrood, the deputy first minister revealed Lady Poole has been appointed to lead the Scottish-specific inquiry. Lady Poole’s investigation will cover the Scottish government’s handling of events from 1 January 2020 to the close of 2022 and its terms of reference identify 12 specific areas of examination from pre-pandemic planning to PPE. The two parallel pieces of work are expected to jigsaw together. So why now, when everyone’s eyes are fixed firmly on the future? It seems to be as simple a case of meeting parliamentary promises before the end of the calendar year. Promises that were made when it seemed we were emerging from, not entering back into, another pandemic surge.  With Covid likely to be part of our lives for some years to come, learning the lessons of the last two years is something to prioritise. (Although I was sharply reminded today that inquiries aren’t quick. The Edinburgh tram inquiry is now in its seventh year of operation and has racked up a bill of £12.5m, two and a half times that of the higher-profile Leveson example.) When Baroness Hallett appeared on Desert Island Discs last year she was introduced as having “earned a reputation for her authority and humanity”. That’s just the balance we need. These two women bear an awesome responsibility. They will look at huge questions of fairness, freedom, financial gain and everything in between. They must do justice to the story of every heart on the memorial wall that stretches down the south side of the Thames and every family touched by tragedy in the pandemic.   Good luck, we’re glad it’s underway.

News

The Liberal Democrats had a historic win in the North Shropshire by-election last night, securing a 34% swing in the traditionally conservative seat. Speaking after the result was announced, new MP Helen Morgan said voters had told Boris Johnson “loudly and clearly” the party was over and warned that “the government is not safe, even in its traditional heartlands”.

The RAF has confirmed one of its typhoon jets shot down a “small hostile drone” which posed a threat to coalition forces in Syria yesterday. It is the first time the British military has downed another enemy aircraft since the Falklands War.

The Welsh government has announced its intention to close nightclubs and reimpose the two metre social distancing rule in offices from 27 December in response to rapidly rising omicron cases. First minister Mark Drakeford also asked members of the public to reduce socialising over the Christmas period.

Business and economy

Facebook has banned seven ‘cyber mercenary’ firms from operating on its platform and announced it will send warnings to more than 48,000 people they believe were the targets of malicious activity.

The Bank of England has raised interest rates to 0.25% after a significant jump in inflation. Reports suggest the bank is eager to be seen as “in the price stability business” and its governor Andrew Bailey insisted the organisation had no choice but to act. (£)

Rishi Sunak has cut short a business trip to California to address rising concern in Britain’s hospitality industry. The chancellor faced significant criticism for “going missing” as restaurants, pubs and hotels across the country suffered a wave of cancellations because of the rise of omicron. (£)

Columns of note

James Forsyth argues in The Times that covid has divided the prime minister and his supporters and that while a leadership challenge remains unlikely he has lost the backing of the MPs that put him in number 10. Forsyth is married to Allegra Stratton, who resigned last week as a government adviser following the controversy over alleged parties in Downing Street.  (£)

Gaby Hinsliff writes in The Guardian that Britain is “hurtling towards lockdown by stealth” and suggests the chancellor needs to “act fast” to protect business and show he can respond to a crisis.

Markets

What happened yesterday?

London stocks closed in a positive state on Thursday, after the Bank of England surprised markets by raising interest rates.

The FTSE 100 ended the session up 1.25% at 7.260.61, and the FTSE 250 was also up 0.95% at 22,647.96.

Sterling was also stronger, trading 0.4% higher against the dollar at $1.33 and 0.3% higher against the euro, changing hands at €1.18.

In company news:

A number of banks saw positive results after the Bank of England’s announcement. Lloyds Banking Group’s share price rose by 4.63%, Standard Chartered saw increases of 3.89%, HSBC rose 3.69% and Barclays grew by 3.21%.

Domino’s Pizza Group saw their stock jump an astonishing 22.14%, to a record high, after settle a lengthy legal dispute with franchisees. The move should open the door to more stores and adopting new technology.

What’s happening today?

AGMsRenalytix PlcThor ExplorPetroneftZanaga IronFocusrite

Final Dividend Payment DateBlackrock GreatAsia DragonGattacaJames HalsteadOrchard FundingFidelity E.m.ld

Interim Dividend Payment DateGresham HouseTatton Asset MPuma Vct 13 PlcSchroder RealScot.amer.invSainsbury (J)WitanCML MicrocircuitsB&MPrincess Priv E

Wynnstay PropsTelecom PlusBiopharma Cred.Henderson Opportunity TrustCalnex SolutionSdcl Energy Ef.Urban LoTriple Pnt SocNinety One PlcMom Mult TstBiffaUtilico Em.mkts

Quarterly Dividend Payment DatePershing Sq. $Diversified EnCPPershing Square Holdings

Source: Financial Times

did you know

The Indonesian government estimates that during the last 400 years, 129 of the country’s volcanoes have become active. (Source: National Geographic)

Parliamentary highlights

House of Commons 

The House of Commons is in recess. It will next sit on 5 January 2022.

House of Lords 

The House of Lords is in recess. It will next sit on 5 January 2022.

Scottish parliament 

There is no scheduled business today.

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