Monday is going to have a certain Christmas Eve feel to it this week, but out in the real world (well, Luxembourg), the beat goes on. The EU Foreign Affairs Council meets with the reported intention of relaxing decades-old sanctions against Burma following successful by-elections on April 1 which saw National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi elected to Parliament, where she takes up her seat today (unless the NLD goes ahead with its threatened boycott). The Council is also likely to discuss the ever-more fragile ceasefire in Syria and UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon’s assertion last week that the Syrian Government had failed to adhere to the truce.
The Commission on the West Lothian Question, chaired by former Clerk of the House of Commons Robert McKay, holds its first formal evidence session in Westminster on Monday and Tuesday. Although it won’t be the biggest show in town this week, the outcome of this commission could still be crucial for the Coalition and Parliament as a whole, particularly given the recent escalation of devolution hostilities.
Theresa May’s long-standing appointment with the Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday could well have passed unnoticed by anyone except regular viewers of BBC Parliament and fans of leopard print kitten heels until, early last week, the Government found itself in the middle of another ‘omnishambles‘ following the appeal lodged at the European Court of Human Rights by Abu Qatada over his deportation to Jordan. The Home Secretary quickly found herself under fire from all sides and was forced to defend the Home Office’s actions in Parliament on consecutive days. It’s not all bad news for Theresa though; TV’s Keith Vaz has promised not to focus entirely on Qatada at today session, with questions also expected on surveillance proposals, Brodie Clark and the Government’s alcohol strategy.
It’s been a while since the last bout of TRAVEL CHAOS, so sub-editors have the RMT union to thank on Tuesday when, following the failure of conciliation talks, its members begin a 72-hour strike in a dispute over pensions and travel concessions. Given the public reaction earlier this month to the mere suggestion of a strike by fuel tanker drivers, RMT members may find themselves about as popular next week as Alan Davies in Liverpool.
Transparency champion Julian Assange may be preoccupied on Tuesday when Private First Class Bradley Manning’s latest pre-trial hearing takes place in Maryland. The WikiLeaks whistleblower is yet to enter a plea since his arraignment in February on charges including the capital offence of aiding the enemy, defined in Manning’s case as al-Qaeda. Military prosecutors have stated that they will not seek the death penalty, but Manning still faces life imprisonment should he eventually be found guilty for his part in the release of the WikiLeaks ‘Collateral Murder’ video.
For those who thought the Leveson inquiry had lost some of its blockbuster appeal (the Guardian excepted) amid the swathes of middling media types defending everything from phone-hacking to the insights of page three models, this week’s arrival of the Dirty Digger and his blackberry-wielding son James Murdoch should have us all glued to the screens once more. The lesser Murdoch will be facilitating his way to the inquiry on Tuesday, where he’ll be subjected to a day of questions on why he was too busy to read work emails, followed by his octogenarian father on Wednesday and Thursday for two more of the ‘most humble day[s] of his life’.
In the middle of the James and Rupert Show comes the release of this year’s first quarter GDP figures on Wednesday, and there may be some in Government who’ll welcome the distraction given recent pessimistic forecasts and last month’s downward revision to Q4 growth.
The ageing overlord of a sprawling business empire gives evidence to a foreign inquiry on Thursday – nope, not that one; Donald Trump is due before the Scottish parliamentary committee on energy to warn MSPs of the ‘suicidal’ consequences of building an offshore wind farm near his £1bn Aberdeenshire golf resort, which the tycoon may or may not object to on the grounds that his comb-over will be in danger.
After nine years and a trial that featured testimony by supermodels and Hollywood actresses, the Special Court for Sierra Leone is due to present its verdict in the case against former Liberian President Charles Taylor on Thursday. Taylor had a request to re-open his defence case rejected in February, meaning he faces the prospect of a conviction for 11 counts of war crimes and crimes against humanity during the course of Sierra Leone’s 11-year civil war.
Roving EU suit Catherine Ashton follows in auspicious footsteps on Saturday when she arrives in Burma for meetings with government and opposition officials, including the 2012 intake’s Aung San Suu Kyi. With the expected relaxation of sanctions on Monday and today’s visit by Ashton, the likelihood of Burma permitting Aung San Suu Kyi to accept invitations to visit Norway and the UK this summer seems ever more likely.
Finally, Sunday marks the date by which countries including Russia, the United States and Libya must submit detailed plans for destroying remaining stockpiles of chemical weapons under a deadline set by the Conference of the States Parties to the Chemical Weapons Convention. Today’s deadline had originally been intended to be the final date for the disposal of all chemical munitions, but foot-dragging by the US and Russia has led to a reduction in expectation that the target will be met.