A look ahead at the key events leading the news agenda next week, from the team at Foresight News.
Leading the week
Parliament may be rising for recess on Tuesday (19 December) but there’s one more group of Scrooges standing between Rishi Sunak and his Christmas holiday as the prime minister faces a final grilling of the year by the Liaison committee of senior MPs.
The government’s new Rwanda legislation is likely to get top billing at the session, after the Labour chairs of the home affairs and public accounts committees wrote to the government spending watchdog this week to demand scrutiny of the latest asylum deportation plans. We’ll also get a chance to hear more about it from Home Secretary James Cleverly, who is in front of a Lords committee on the Rwanda agreement later that afternoon.
Elsewhere, the committee may ask Sunak about the concluding statement from the COP28 summit in the context of his own net zero announcements, while there are also likely to be questions on the latest developments in Israel and Gaza and Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s attempts to keep the conflict in Ukraine at the top of the international community’s agenda.
Sunak’s progress towards meeting his economic priorities on debt and growth are also likely to come up, while Tory grandee Bill Cash may use the opportunity to ask about David Cameron’s return to government after his own scrutiny session with the new foreign secretary was cancelled earlier this week.
While the committee is the last Westminster hurdle the government needs to contend with, there’s also a mixed bag of devolved issues to address pre-Christmas. Chief among them is the return of the executive in Belfast, as talks between Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Stormont’s main political parties resume on Monday (18 December).
The government tabled a £2.5bn financial package on Monday aimed at addressing the country’s budget crisis, while the holdout DUP have signalled they could be close to a deal on post-Brexit trade arrangements. SDLP leader Colum Eastwood has gone as far as suggesting that legislation could be laid before parliament early next week if the DUP’s officers get on board, which would send the government off to recess on a high note.
There will be less positive talk around the Scottish and Welsh budgets, both due on Tuesday (19 December). Scottish Finance Secretary Shona Robison and her predecessor Kate Forbes have criticised the “catastrophic” effects of Jeremy Hunt’s Autumn Statement on Scottish spending power, and there have been warnings of cuts to council services, mental health budgets and police station closures as the SNP looks to plug a £1.5 billion budget gap.
In Wales, Finance Minister Rebecca Evans has warned of an “extremely difficult” budget, while draft proposals and revisions earlier this year have already warned of cuts to public services to help keep the NHS and rail services running.
After GDP figures showed an unexpected economic contraction in October, there are more statistics coming next week that could dampen the festive spirit in Downing Street if there are further signs of a weakening economy.
The 0.3% fall in GDP was in part attributed to the impact of still-high interest rates on household spending, and inflation data due on Wednesday (20 December) will show how far budgets have been squeezed in the lead up to Christmas. Public borrowing stats on Thursday (21 December) will be notable after last month’s near record-high figure, before the release of quarterly national accounts data on Friday (22 December) which will give a more detailed picture of the health of the economy over the last quarter.
While there has been a significant focus on Ukraine this week with Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s visit to Washington and Vladimir Putin’s first big press conference since Russia’s invasion, the conflict in the Middle East has continued to make headlines.
Following warnings from US President Joe Biden over wavering international support for Israel’s military operation in Gaza, Defence Secretary Lloyd Austin travels to the region on Saturday (16 December) for his second visit since the 7 October attack. Austin is due to meet with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as his counterpart Yoav Gallant to underscore US support but also to “reinforce the importance of taking civilian safety into account during operations”.
Back in New York, the UN Security Council is set to discuss illegal Israeli settlement activity on Tuesday (19 December), when concerns about increased attacks on Palestinians in the West Bank are likely to be addressed.
On Wednesday (20 December), the conflict is sure to feature prominently when Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov joins Arab counterparts for talks in Morocco, with Russia hoping to exploit the conflict to its advantage in the region amid criticism of US support for Israel.
French President Emmanuel Macron, meanwhile, is visiting Jordan on Thursday and Friday (21-22 December) for a traditional Christmas meal with French troops abroad, though he may also hold talks with King Abdullah, who was in Europe earlier this week pushing for a ceasefire in Gaza.
Despite security concerns, a general election remains scheduled on Wednesday (20 December) in the Democratic Republic of Congo, where incumbent President Félix Tshisekedi is seeking reelection.
Voting is taking place amid ongoing violence in the east of the country, where many areas are controlled by Tutsi-led M23 rebels, who Tshisekedi insists are backed by Rwandan President Paul Kagame. If either of Tshisekedi’s main rivals Martin Fayulu or Moïse Katumbi were to win, it would mark only the second peaceful transition of power in the country’s history. But with MONUSCO peacekeepers due to withdraw from the country by the end of next year, and the UN warning of a direct military confrontation between Kinshasa and Kigali, concerns about the country’s future are likely to persist regardless of the outcome of these elections.
Heavyweight contenders Anthony Joshua and Deontay Wilder headline the last big boxing card of the year in Riyadh. Although not fighting each other, the pair have vowed to square off in the future should they both prove victorious on Saturday (23 December), with reports a deal has been reached to stage the fight in Saudi Arabia on March 9.
Joshua appears to have the tougher task, taking on Otto Wallin, who gave lineal world champion Tyson Fury a tough fight in 2019. On the other hand, Deontay Wilder fights South African Joseph Parker, who Joshua previously beat and fellow Brit Joe Joyce brutally knocked out. Away from the fight, accusations of “sportswashing” are sure to be raised as the sporting world once again turns a blind eye to Saudi Arabia’s human rights abuses. Joshua has previously refused to condemn the Saudi regime, despite a request from victims’ families.
Also look out for:
- David Cameron at FCDO committee
- UK demonstration marking International Migrants Day
- BAM ballot of SAS doctors closes
- Trial of Jimmy Lai on national security charges begins in Hong Kong
- Provincial elections in Iraq
- MPs consider Post Office Horizon compensation bill
- BBC Sports Personality of the Year
- RMT ballot of London Underground staff closes
- Peter Bone recall petition closes
- Carabao Cup quarter final fixtures begin
- Strikes by junior doctors in the BMA
- Sentencing of woman convicted of assisting FGM
- Sadiq Khan at Mayor’s Question Time
- Ursid meteor shower
- Sentencing of teens convicted of murdering Gabrial Stoyanov
- Christmas Number One song announced
- El Gordo Spanish lottery
- Fulham v Burnley: first-ever female referee for Premier League match
- Christmas Eve
- Prime Minister’s Christmas message
Statistics, reports and results:
- HMCIFRS report on the needs of victims in the criminal justice system
- Ofcom International Broadband Scorecard
- Overseas Travel and Tourism Survey
- CBI Industrial Trends Survey
- Register of Political Donations
- EU inflation
- Results from: Fedex
- Producer Price Inflation
- House price index and private rental prices
- People’s Bank of China loan prime rate announcement
- Boiler Upgrade Scheme statistics
- Biannual armed forces diversity figures
- Quarterly court statistics
- CBI Monthly Survey of Distributive Trades
- Turkey and Indonesia interest rate decisions
- US Q3 GDP (final estimate)
- Results from: Nike
- Economic Accounts
- Quarterly consumer trends
- CBI Monthly Growth Indicator and Service Sector Survey
- SMMT car production figures
Anniversaries and awareness days:
- International Migrants Day
- Qatar National Day
- Four years ago: Donald Trump first impeached
- 45 years ago: China introduced key economic reforms
- 25 years ago: Bill Clinton impeached
- International Human Solidarity Day
- Security Agency Worker’s Day (Russia)
- Winter Solstice
- “Mad Friday”
The news diary is provided in association with Foresight News.
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