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DAILY BRIEFING

DAILY BRIEFING

Plenteous mess within thy palaces

Written by Charlie Clegg, senior associate
Edited by Tom Gillingham, partner

14 February 2022 

Good morning,

The Elizabeth Tower is ready for her close-up. The scaffolding which encased ‘Big Ben’ since 2017 had mostly been removed in time to ring in the new year. The job now is to do the rest of the building. Large parts of the adjoining Palace of Westminster are in a parlous state. Masonry is crumbling while electrical and water supplies are so dangerous a nightly fire patrol has been instituted. Work is underway to restore parliament but predicted costs have ballooned from £4bn to £14bn while MPs, peers, and staff may need to decamp nearby for 17 years. Some ministers and Commons’ speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle are understood to see the prospect of a full decamp as increasingly unattractive. Now the sponsorship body for the work is being stood down with no clear alternative. By any standard, the Palace of Westminster is a site of world-class artistic and historic value. But political short-sightedness is threatening, at best, further neglect and, at worst, severe damage. There’s a dispiriting parallel in the expenses scandal. While MPs’ salaries remained at the government’s discretion, successive governments attempted to dodge public ire by keeping salaries low while allowing MPs to exploit expenses. The result was a scandal from which public trust still suffers. Against the perils of inaction, a temporary move nearby is by far the best solution. Parliament can hardly move out of the palace to a new, permanent site. The palace would still need restored while tens of billions would need to go into new buildings. Nor can parliament decamp for a few years to somewhere outside London. As well as MPs and peers, 3,000 people work in parliament in addition to countless attached external jobs in media and consulting. Even if all of them wanted to move, what town could take them? Completing works around MPs and peers while they remain in situ will only lengthen the process and increase its expense. This dithering exposes a parliament which, across parties, remains afraid of being perceived to feather its own nest. MPs have often found it futile to challenge such accusations, many of which – like that MPs give themselves pay rises – are simply false. The parliamentary state is an asset for Britain and the world. MPs have let it fall into disrepair, it’s their job, for this and future generations, to be bold and fix it. Never mind the whingeing now. It’s much better than wailing later.

News

Ukraine has requested a meeting with Russia over the build-up of Russian troops near its border. Ukraine’s foreign minister Dmytro Kuleba claimed Russia had ignored formal requests to explain the build-up of 100,000 troops. Today, a public inquiry is beginning on the wrongful conviction of over 700 postal workers between 2000 and 2014. The workers were falsely accused of theft due to a flaw in the Horizon computer system. A spokesperson for Carrie Johnson has accused Conservative peer Lord Ashcroft of “regurgitated lies” over his new book on her and her husband Boris Johnson. Ashcroft alleges Carrie Johnson has significantly influenced her husband on policy. (£)

Business and economy

Two ‘green freeports’ will be established in Scotland with bidding due to start in spring. Green freeports are a compromise combining the UK government’s plans for freeports and the Scottish government’s plans for ‘green ports’, which it launched in response. Auditor EY will hire more than 1,300 UK staff over the next three years as part of its new EY Carbon division. The £100m investment comes as EY is identifying demand from blue chip companies to meet UK government carbon reporting rules. (£) The UK’s hospitality sector is showing signs of recovery as wages in the sector have grown by 12%. The increase has been especially pronounced among chefs.

Columns of note

Andrey Kurkov and his wife have a date with Brazilian ambassador. It’s just one way in which normal life is going on in Kyiv. Flights to holiday resorts are still coming and going. Kurkov and fellow Ukrainians are, however, on edge about the prospect of Russian invasion. In the Guardian, Kurkov writes about how people in Ukraine are looking to flights, exchange rates, and the Chinese embassy for signs of how and when Russia will attack. Among policy-makers, the four-day working week is fast becoming a rage. Potential benefits range from employee welfare to the environment. The Financial Times’ ‘FT View’, however, strikes a cautionary note. Even if a four-day week were legislated, it risks being so riddled with exceptions as to be meaningless. External pressures on companies are, however, more likely to bring change. (£)

Markets

What’s happening this week?

On Thursday, Russia will chair a meeting of the UN Security Council. In an unpredictable week for the Ukraine crisis, German chancellor Olaf Scholz will also fly to Moscow and Kyiv this week while Nato leaders will gather in Brussels on Wednesday. Friday sees the start of the Munich Security Conference, which US vice-president Kamala Harris will address. Inflation is likely to return as a story in the week that India, China, Japan, the US, the UK, and Canada, which are all publishing consumer or producer price index data. The UK and EU will publish employment statistics while Japan will update on quarterly GDP. Supermarket giants Walmart and Carrefour will report earnings on Thursday, the same day as food producer Nestlé.

What’s happening today?

AGMs
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did you know

The Palace of Westminster was originally built on island called Thorney Island. From the late mediaeval period, the rivers round the island were culverted and the palace became part of the mainland.

Parliamentary highlights

House of CommonsThe House of Commons is in recess and will next sit on Monday, 21 February 2022.

House of LordsThe House of Lords is in recess and will next sit on Monday, 21 February 2022.

Scottish parliamentThe Scottish parliament is in recess and will next sit on Tuesday, 22 February.

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