Foresight News rounds up the key events that need to be in your news diary this week…
European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič is due in London this week for talks with Michael Gove on the Northern Ireland protocol. The in-person meeting follows virtual discussions last week over the events which led to the Commission triggering Article 16 of the protocol, a move which united Westminster, Stormont and Dublin in condemnation. Gove told the Commons last week that there were serious problems with the protocol and called for the extension of customs grace periods; the Cabinet Office minister can elaborate on his comments and wider UK-EU relations in an appearance before the European Scrutiny Committee on Monday.
Gavin Williamson is the keynote speaker at the Association of Colleges’ annual conference on the strategic issues facing the further education sector. With just a month remaining until the proposed return of pupils to schools, the under-fire Education Secretary will be braced for questions on exactly how the re-opening of education settings will work in his post-speech Q&A. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has committed 8 March at the earliest for the return for English pupils, but Williamson may continue to face pressure from his own benches to open schools earlier after the Scottish government pledged to re-open schools from 22 February.
Former SNP leader Alex Salmond is scheduled to finally give evidence to Holyrood’s Committee on the Scottish Government’s Handling of Harassment Complaints, but the session now looks in doubt after the committee refused to publish evidence Salmond submitted in a separate inquiry. MSPs are looking into First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s alleged role in botching the investigation into her predecessor, which was deemed unlawful following a judicial review in 2019. The evidence submitted to the James Hamilton inquiry into Sturgeon’s conduct – in which Salmond calls her government “a disgrace” – can’t be used by the Holyrood inquiry unless they publish it, and Salmond is meeting with lawyers to discuss the impact on today’s session.
Donald Trump’s second Senate impeachment trial begins. The House of Representatives voted to impeach the former president last month for inciting an insurrection against the US government, accusing Trump of being “singularly responsible” for the deadly attack on the US Capitol on 6 January. The relatively short trial is expected to be dominated by lengthy debates over the constitutionality of the trial itself as much as Trump’s own liability.
A strict overnight curfew in place in the Netherlands since 23 January is due to be lifted at 4.30am, though most of the country’s lockdown restrictions will remain until March. The government could still opt to extend the curfew, which has spawned violent protests and led one mayor to warn the country is “on the path to civil war”.
A momentous month in Mars exploration kicks off as the UAE’s Hope mission arrives at the Red Planet today, followed by the Chinese Tianwen-1 mission tomorrow. While the two spacecrafts spend some time in orbit, NASA’s Perseverance rover is scheduled to head past them and land on the Martian surface on 18 February.
Parliament attempts to pass a new law in double-quick time to permit Attorney General Suella Braverman to take maternity leave later this month. Current legislation requires members of the Cabinet to resign in order to take leave after the birth of a child, prompting the government to introduce the Ministerial and other Maternity Allowances Bill last week. It’s expected to pass through the Commons today with the backing of the Labour Party, though backbenchers may seek to amend the bill to extend the provision of other parental rights.
Londoners get an opportunity to put questions to the Mayor of London as he gears up for an election in the first People’s Question Time of 2021. Sadiq Khan’s route to a second term looks relatively straightforward, though his campaign could yet be thrown off course by a faltering recovery for London as the city emerges from lockdown in the coming weeks. Expect questions on Khan’s plans for the capital’s economy, the state of TfL’s finances and his new London Plan for housing and development.
Olga Freeman appears for sentencing at the Old Bailey after pleading guilty to the manslaughter of her son Dylan. Freeman admitted killing the disabled 10-year-old at their home in Acton last August after suffering a breakdown while struggling to care for him during lockdown. The court heard how Freeman had spoken to friends before the killing about her struggles in caring for her son.
GDP figures for the final quarter of 2020 are released with the prospect of a double-dip recession looming after November’s release showed a 2.6% month-on-month fall. Statistics for the UK regions last week showed negative growth for all four nations and the nine English regions, with those figures coming after the IMF downgraded its forecast for UK growth this year. Echoing Sadiq Khan, CBI Director-General Tony Danker suggested in his first major speech that a post-war recovery plan would be required to rebuild the economy over the coming decade.
The inquest into the death of Leon Briggs, a 39-year-old father of two who died in police custody in 2013, is scheduled to conclude after more than a month of evidence. Briggs died in hospital on 4 November shortly after his detention at Luton police station where he had been restrained face-down by officers. The jury has heard evidence of officers using excessive force during his detention, and allegations of “institutional failings” have also been levelled at emergency services.
As the clock counts down to May’s Welsh Parliament election, Plaid Cymru will continue to press its case for independence with a special online conference. The YesCymru independence movement has gained much traction in recent years; a poll published last summer showed support for breaking away from the UK is now at an all-time high (though still some way short of a majority). Plaid Cymru leader Adam Price has already pledged to hold an independence referendum in the event of victory in May’s election, opening a second front in the fight to prevent the breakup of the United Kingdom.
Elections take place in Catalonia, despite efforts by lawmakers in the Spanish region to have them moved to the end of May, ostensibly due to the coronavirus crisis. The region is currently controlled by pro-independence parties but having Salvador Illa, who until last month was Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez’s Health Minister, lead the Catalan Socialists’ campaign has bolstered hopes of a meaningful challenge to the separatists’ control of the Generalitat.
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
Picture: Reuters/Jim Bourg