A Year in British Politics
Written by Matilda Head
From the threat of World War Three to eye tests at Barnard Castle, 2020 has been quite the year for British politics. With non-stop news coverage, you’d be forgiven for giving into news fatigue and tuning out from time to time. But as the year draws to an end, take this opportunity to revel at the sheer number of events that shook Britain in 2020.
2020 certainly started as it meant to go on, as Donald Trump approved targeted airstrikes in Baghdad, Iraq. This led to the death of Iranian General Qasem Soleimani, and whilst Downing Street refused to support Trump’s threats of further bombings, the fear of heightened conflict prompted World War III to trend on Twitter only 6 days into the New Year.
Other notable events in January include Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s announcement of ‘stepping back’ from the Royal Family, the ratification of Boris Johnson’s EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, and the withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union on January 31st.
This month was largely the calm before the storm – although it did feature Storm Ciara and her 80mph winds – where we could continue with normal life fairly unaware of the Coronavirus shaped disaster set to hit the following month.
In climate crisis news, Boris Johnson committed to net zero carbon by 2050, and suggested bringing forward the phasing out of coal power to 2024, and that of diesel vehicles to 2035. February also saw the appointment of one of the years’ most prominent figures, Rishi Sunak, as Chancellor of the Exchequer, following the resignation of Sajid Javid.
As the number of UK COVID-19 cases reaches 36, Boris Johnson finally attends a COBRA meeting, after skipping five earlier in the year. March marked the beginning of lockdown, and was characterised by rising COVID cases, whilst the Government scrambled to fund vaccine research, tests, and produce economic measures to stop the turmoil caused by lockdown as the pound falls to its lowest level since 1985.
Following the resignation of Jeremy Corbyn in 2019, Keir Starmer was elected leader of the Labour Party at the beginning of April, with Angela Rayner as deputy.
As COVID cases surpassed 100,000, Dominic Raab extended the nationwide lockdown for another three weeks, and the nation was charmed by Captain Tom Moore raising over £13 million for the NHS Charities.
At the end of April, Boris Johnson rather confidently stated that we were ‘past the peak’ of the pandemic, meanwhile, the UK death toll rose to the second highest in Europe.
Providing entertainment in the peak of lockdown boredom was the Dominic Cummings scandal. The PMs Senior Advisor travelled from London to Durham whilst exhibiting COVID symptoms, Dominic Cummings said he had no regrets for his actions, and believes he acted sensibly, including taking a 30-minute trip to Barnard Castle on his wife’s birthday to ‘test his eyesight.’
May was also the height of protests for the Black Lives Matter movement, following the unlawful killing of George Floyd in America.
Following rising outrage towards systemic racism, a statue of Edward Colston, a prolific slave trader, was knocked into Bristol Harbour by protesters.
In the Labour party, Kate Green replaced Rebecca Long-Bailey as Shadow Education Secretary, following her expulsion from the role for sharing a thread containing anti-Semitic conspiracy theories on Twitter.
Life started to go back to normal this month, as easing of restrictions allowed the opening of pubs, restaurants, hotels and most importantly, hairdressers. In light of the continued closure of theatres, the Government announced a much-needed support package of £1.57billion to help arts and cultural venues.
In response to voicing his disapproval for the Chinese’s imposition of national security law on Hong Kong, China warns Boris Johnson to stop interfering with Hong Kong and making ‘irresponsible remarks,’
This month also saw Chancellor Rishi Sunak unveiling his plans for mitigating the economic downfall caused by the pandemic, this included a £30 billion budget and the reduction in VAT for the hospitality industry.
The month dreaded by all A-Level and GCSE students; A-Level results day was a veritable disaster. With exams cancelled due to COVID-19, grades were moderated by an Ofqual algorithm that saw many students downgraded and missing their University places. Following fierce public backlash, the Government did a U-turn, awarding all GCSE and A-Level students their predicted grades.
Also hitting the news this month, UK Government debt was revealed to have reached over £2 trillion for the first time in history, and Sir Ed Davey is elected as leader of the Liberal Democrats party.
COVID numbers began to rise again in September, as the R number increases to above 1.0 for the first time since March, this led to the implementation of the ‘rule of six.’
In Brexit news – who remembers when that was the country’s biggest worry! – the Internal Market Bill, which would allow smooth trade throughout England, Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland, gained support from MPs.
Following the UK’s refusal to alter the Internal Market Bill, the EU Commission enact legal action against the UK, the Bill is rejected from the House of Lords later in the month.
The end of the month was marked by Jeremy Corbyn’s suspension from the Labour Party. This came as a result of his response to a report investigating anti-Semitism during his time as leader, which he said had been ‘dramatically overstated.’
This month saw England pushed back into another lockdown, with this in mind, Rishi Sunak extended the government’s furlough scheme until March 2021.
Debates into the Internal Market Bill continued in November, as the House of Lords voted for the removal of a clause that would’ve violated international law.
Jeremy Corbyn was readmitted to the Labour Party in mid-November, but Keir Starmer did not restore Corbyn’s party whip.
The new COVID tier system was implemented in December, meaning counties of England are subject to different restrictions, depending on the number of cases.
In the fourth month of back and forth over the Internal Market Bill, MPs have now voted in support of reinstating controversial sections which are opposed by the EU.
The UK is the first country to approve the Pfizer COVID vaccine, rolling it out from December 8th.
The most significant event yet to occur is the expiration of the 11-month transition period, granted to the UK on January 31st, meaning that as of January 1st we will have officially exited the EU. This date also marks the end of any negotiations for the UK-EU relationships, and with a continuing back and forth surrounding the Internal Market Bill and trading regulations, the chance of a solid deal being established by the end of the year seem rather precarious, but if there’s anything to learn from 2020, it is to expect the unexpected!