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What to expect as Parliament returns from recess

There will no doubt be plenty on the mind of politicians as they return to the Houses of Parliament this week following the summer recess break.

The Coronavirus pandemic remains present throughout the UK, and while the number of new deaths on a daily basis is now much lower than at the peak, there is still much work that needs to be done to protect the public and to try and organise more of a return to pre-COVID normality. After a series of recent u-turns by the government, opposition members, and maybe even some MPs on the government's backbenches, will be keen to ask questions on subjects including schools, with more students beginning to return to classrooms across the UK. 

With the winter now just months away, there will be key questions about how prepared the country is for a feared potential 'second wave' of COVID-19 infections and beyond COVID, there's the issue of Britain negotiating its future relationship with the European Union.

Here's a look at some of the key things to expect as MPs jump back on the UK's political rollercoaster...

 

Back to School

After months stuck at home due to lockdown measures and schools being closed due to the Coronavirus pandemic, millions of school pupils are set to head back to the classroom in the coming days and weeks. 

The dates for students heading back to school are often staggered and perhaps even more so this year, with schools wanting to try and ensure that they return to the classroom in a way that is as safe as possible. 

With safety guidelines set out by the Government, Parliamentarians will be watching on closely to see how the return of pupils to schools takes shape. The exact extent to which children and young people can catch and spread COVID-19 is unknown. Evidence has suggested that the risk of under 18s becoming seriously ill or dying from the virus is extremely low, but fears have been raised about teaching staff and adults in school communities who could face higher risks from the virus.

While Parliament has been in recess, the Government has performed a series of u-turns, including over the use of a controversial exam grades moderation system and over the policy for the wearing of face coverings in communal school areas, following updated advice from the World Health Organisation. It seems likely that these topics will be fairly high up Labour leader Keir Starmer's list of questions to pose to Boris Johnson when he steps up to the dispatch box at PMQs on Wednesday lunchtime.

 

Preparing for the Winter

As Parliament returns, questions will no doubt be asked about the country's preparedness for the winter, with fears that COVID-19 Coronavirus infections could rise significantly during the winter months.

Evidence has shown that it is more difficult for the virus to spread outside, hence the public has been encouraged to have interactions with people outside where possible, and some events that would normally take place inside have moved to outdoor venues. However, as the winter draws closer, it can be expected that the weather will make holding such interactions outside much less feasible.

The alternatives to interacting outside are either not interacting at all, or interacting in indoor venues - such as the home. Data has shown that a significant proportion of Coronavirus infections in England over recent weeks have taken place within homes, leading to some targetted and localised restrictions.

Testing has much improved since the start of the pandemic and much more is now known about the virus, however, some believe that much more work needs to be done. A 'second wave' could cost more lives and further harm the economy, so expect to hear questions about how the Government is planning for the winter and how it aims to prevent a 'second wave.'

  

Developing an Economic Recovery

The Coronavirus pandemic has had huge negative impacts on the UK economy, officially sending it into a recession.  

There is the little doubt in the minds of most that the lockdown implemented in the UK back in March helped to save lives, however, it also had a devastating impact on businesses, with many sectors of the economy effectively shut down for several months. Thousands of jobs have already been lost and even more are expected to go as the Government's furlough scheme ends in October.

Parliamentarians will want to know how the Government plans to support those losing their jobs and what will be done to try and create new jobs in order to prevent unemployment rising further.

During the pandemic, the Chancellor has announced a number of schemes to support the public and businesses financially, notably including the Job Retention Scheme and the Eat Out To Help Out scheme, plus many grants and loan support schemes for individual sectors. The cost of the schemes has been immense and paying back the costs incurred will be no easy task.

Will the Government raise taxes or will it lower them? Will it make cuts to public services or will it launch new services to try and support people negatively impacted by the pandemic? There are so many questions about how the government deals with the economic crisis. Whatever decisions are made, it seems almost impossible that everybody will be kept happy and MPs will have a key role in representing the views of their constituents on economic matters over the coming months.

 

Reopening Society and Returning to More Settings

The UK Government has been clear that it wants more people to return to work in offices, though many unions, businesses and other governments in the UK think that working from home should still continue to take place.

Many cafes, restaurants and retail outlets in city-centre locations rely somewhat on footfall from office workers, so it is understandable why the UK Government wants more workers to return to physical offices. However, many are still sceptical about the safety of working in offices while the Coronavirus continues to spread, especially as the winter approaches - plus, many surveys have now shown a preference of employees to work from home at least some of the time in the future beyond the pandemic.

It seems possible that the Government could try and push the Opposition to endorse a return to offices, as they did with the return of pupils to schools.

Elsewhere, fears have been expressed by some that the moving of university students back to campuses could spark a significant rise in COVID-19 infections. Many universities are returning in September with a blended approach to learning, with plenty of students set to move into student halls over the coming weeks. The government's policy on this area may come into question, in particular, whether they introduce mandatory testing for people moving back to large campuses.

Additionally, questions can be expected over some areas of the UK economy which still remain closed. With social distancing not looking likely to end anytime soon, some venues including stadiums have had to remain closed, as have nightclubs and similar venues. 

 

Future of Brexit 

Following the conclusion of the most recent round of UK-EU trade negotiations, the EU's chief negotiator Michel Barnier said it 'seems unlikely' that a deal will be agreed ahead of the transition period ending on December 31. 

If a deal is not agreed soon, the UK will likely face a 'no-deal' scenario, in which it will have to trade with the EU on World Trade Organization (WTO) terms. A no-deal scenario is feared by many businesses and should it take place, it could prove to provide even greater challenges on top of those presented by the Coronavirus pandemic. 

If a deal can be agreed, it will then have to be agreed and signed off in the UK and EU ahead of December 31, a process which is expectedly to be lengthy and time-consuming, with different legislation needing to pass through Parliament in a relatively short time period.

 

If anybody was hoping for a quiet few months in UK politics ahead of Christmas, we're afraid they'll be quite disappointed.

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