The Speaker
Monday, 24 June 2024 – 08:32

2023: What Happened in UK and World Politics?

As 2023 draws to a close, we’ve been looking back on the year as it unfolded in UK and world politics.

While many may have expected a quieter year in UK politics, the year of 2023 didn’t fail to keep the headlines flowing. Events in the UK also happened amid an already and increasingly challenging context in international politics, with new conflicts breaking out this year. Looking forward, 2024 is set to be a major year for politics, with two key elections expected in the UK and US, against a backdrop of significant challenges across the world. 

Month by month, this is a summary of some of the key political stories that got people talking, drove change and impacted people’s lives in 2023…

January

Strikes – The UK Government published a bill in Parliament designed to require organisations in the public sector to provide a minimum level of service in the event of strikes by workers. The move came during a month in which workers for various services walked out over numerous disputes – workers to strike included rail workers, NHS staff, DVLA staff, DWP staff, bus drivers, legal advisers and more. There was even greater impacts from strike action in March.

Gender Recognition Reform Bill – The UK Government announced it would block a bill passed by the Scottish Parliament seeking to make it simpler for people to change their legal gender. The bill was blocked under a section 35 order of the 1998 Scotland Act to stop the bill receiving royal assent – the first time such an order is thought to have been made.

International – Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva was sworn in as the President of Brazil.

Also in January… Prime Minister Rishi Sunak set out his government’s priorities for 2023, telling the public: “I fully expect you to hold my government and I to account on delivering those goals” – the five priorities included having inflation, economy growing, debt falling, cutting NHS waiting lists and stopping small boats; Andrew Bridgen MP was suspended from the Conservative Party over coronavirus vaccine comments; Prime Minister Rishi Sunak apologised for not wearing a seat belt in a moving car while a social media clip was filmed and was issued with a fixed-penalty notice by Lancashire Police; Nadhim Zahawi was dismissed as Chair of the Conservative Party for a “serious breach of the ministerial code” in relation to his tax affairs; and GB News hired Conservative MP Jacob Rees-Mogg as a presenter of a talk show.

February

Change in Scotland – Nicola Sturgeon announced her resignation as the First Minister of Scotland and the Leader of the Scottish National Party. Sturgeon announced she would stay in post until her successor was elected – she had served as First Minister since November 2014.

New Names and Faces – UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak performed a Cabinet Reshuffle which saw Greg Hands named the new Conservative Party chairman and new Government departments created. The new departments included the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, while there were also changes to the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. Elsewhere a by-election in West Lancashire saw Ashley Dalton elected the new MP for Labour, and Nadine Dorries announced she would step down as an MP at the next General Election.

International – A series of earthquakes in Turkey and Syria left thousands dead. International humanitarian efforts and monetary support were offered following the disasters.

Also in February… Former UK Prime Minister Liz Truss wrote a 4,000 word piece in the Sunday Telegraph arguing that she was never given a “realistic chance” to enact her policies “by a very powerful economic establishment”; former Labour MP Jared O’Mara was convicted of fraud and sentenced to four years in prison; supermarkets placed purchase limits on some vegetables due to shortages; and the Windsor Framework was announced to try and fix some post-Brexit issues in Northern Ireland.

March

COVID-19 Stories Dominate Headlines – WhatsApp exchanges of Matt Hancock relating to the pandemic were leaked to The Daily Telegraph; the Commons Select Committee of Privileges found that former Prime Minister Boris Johnson may have misled Parliament over partygate – he insisted in an evidence session that he “did not lie” to the Commons; the Parliamentary Standards Committee recommended that former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier be suspended from the House of Commons for breaching COVID-19 regulations in 2020; and Sir Keir Starmer announced Sue Gray as Labour’s new Chief of Staff, sparking questions about her impartiality due to her leading an investigation into Partygate.

New First Minister of Scotland – Humza Yousuf was elected as the next leader of the SNP, becoming Scotland’s First Minister. He became the first Muslim to lead a major UK political party – he previously served as Scotland’s Health Secretary. Also this month, Peter Murrell resigned as chief executive of the SNP over a a row about party membership numbers. 

International – CCP General Secretary Xi Jinping was re-elected to a third term as the President of China. 

Also in March… The Scottish Government announced the Caledonian Sleeper train service would be nationalised; Home Secretary Suella Braverman introduced the Illegal Migration Bill into the House of Commons; a 2 year delay was announced to the Birmingham to Crewe leg of HS2; the Chancellor of the Exchequer Jeremy Hunt presented the 2023 budget; TikTok was banned from UK Government devices; Jeremy Corbyn was blocked from standing as an MP at the next election; and King Charles III became the first British monarch to address the Bundestag in Germany.

April

Challenges for the SNP – The SNP made headlines over questions around the party’s finances. Former SNP Chief Executive Peter Murrell was arrested by police and later released without charge pending further investigation. SNP Treasurer Colin Beattie was arrested and questioned later in the month in connection with the investigation into the party’s finances, and then resigned. 

Supensions and Exits – Dominic Raab resigned as Deputy Prime Minister after an inquiry found he acted in an “intimidating” and “insulting” manner with civil servants – multiple changes to Cabinet posts followed. Richard Sharp resigned as chairman of the BBC after an investigation concluded he had broken rules by failing to declare his connection to a loan to former Prime Minister Boris Johnson. Diane Abbott was suspended from the Labour Party pending an investigation into a letter she wrote about racism. Andrew Bridgen was expelled from the Conservative Party following suspension earlier in the year. Scott Benton had the whip removed as a Conservative MP pending an investigation over lobbying.

International – Finland joined NATO, becoming the 31st member of the alliance.

Also in April… Plans were announced to ban wet wipes containing plastic in England; Sir Keir Starmer stood by Labour Party adverts attacking Prime Minister Rishi Sunak; the UK Government’s Emergency Alerts Service was tested – though many people on the Three network reported not to receive it.

May

Local Elections – Local Elections were held in England, and later in Northern Ireland. There were significant losses for the Conservatives, while Labour, the Green Party and the Liberal Democrats gained controlled of a number of councils. Sinn Féin made gains to become the largest party, while Alliance and TUV also made gains in Northern Ireland local elections.

Coronation of Charles III and Camilla – The coronation of Charles III and Camilla as King and Queen of the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth took place on 6 May at Westminster Abbey, following Charles’ accession to the throne in September 2022.

International – The World Health Organisation announced that it no longer considers COVID-19 to be a global health emergency, but rather a global health threat.

Also in May… Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said that Home Secretary Suella Braverman did not breach ministerial rules over her handling of a speeding offence; Bablin Malik became the first woman of colour to be appointed as the Lord Mayor of Cardiff; and four MPs were asked to repay money after claiming fines for driving offences on expenses.

June

Johnson Stands Down – Boris Johnson stood down as an MP with immediate effect after receiving the report into Partygate from the Commons Select Committee of Privileges, leading to a by-election. Nadine Dorries announced on the same day that she would also stand down with immediate effect, though she did not formally resign until August. The Partygate report, which was published later in the month, concluded that Boris Johnson deliberately misled the Commons over lockdown parties – the report was backed by MPs by 354 votes to seven. Also in June, Boris Johnson went on to sign up as a columnist for the Daily Mail.

Rwanda Plan Ruled Unlawful – The British Court of Appeal ruled that the UK Government’s plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda as unlawful, saying that Rwanda cannot be considered a safe third country.

International – The implosion of the Titan submersible, while on an expedition to view the wreck of the Titanic, gripped global headlines. All 5 passengers on board the vessel died.

Also in June… Rhun ap Iorwerth was elected unopposed to take over as the leader of Plaid Cymru. Geriant Davies was suspended as a Labour MP following complaints over his behaviour; a legal challenge was launched over the COVID-19 Inquiry’s demand for unredacted WhatsApp messages; a new agreement, the Atlantic Declaration was announced by the UK and US with the aim to strengthen economic ties; the Green Party’s only MP Caroline Lucas announced she will not stand at the next General Election; Nicola Sturgeon was arrested and released without charge as part of Police Scotland’s investigation into SNP finances.

July

Three By-Elections Held – Labour took the formerly safe Conservative seat of Selby and Ainsty, and the Liberal Democrats overturned a Conservative majority of over 29% to win the seat in Somerton and Frome. The Conservatives held former Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip, though with a smaller majority of 495 votes. It is thought that the Labour Mayor of London’s plans to expand ULEZ played a role in the by-election result, leading to further debates over green policies in the rest of the year.

Banking Row – Nigel Farage campaigned for people who have been denied bank accounts after a report indicated that his political views had been considered as a factor in the closure of his Coutts accounts.

International – A wave of protests were triggered following the death of teenager Nahel Merzouk, who was shot by a police officer in a Paris suburb.

Also in July… Labour announced a policy to give newly qualified teachers in England a £2,400 payment to stop them leaving the profession, under a new Labour government; the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards recommended that Chris Pincher MP be suspended for eight weeks; US President Joe Biden met the King during a trip to the UK; and UK Defence Secretary announced his intention to stand down from the Cabinet at the next reshuffle, and as an MP at the next General Election.

August

Mini-Reshuffle – Grant Shapps was promoted to Defence Secretary after Ben Wallace previously announced his intention to step down. Claire Coutinho replaced Shapps as Energy Secretary.

Greenpeace Protest – A number of arrests were made after environmental protesters linked to Greenpeace climbed on the roof of Rishi Sunak’s home in North Yorkshire, with the protests over the awarding of 100 new oil and gas licences. Government departments were told to cut ties with Greenpeace following the protest.

International – Donald Trump was charged by federal prosecutors as part of an investigation into attempts to overturn the 2020 United States Presidential Election.

Also in August… The Labour Party suspended the whole of its Leicester East constituency party pending an investigation; Nadine Dorries resigned as an MP; and Murray Foote was appointed as the new chief executive of the Scottish National Party.

September

Concrete Crisis – More than 100 schools and other public buildings were affected after the identification of reinforced autoclaved aerated concrete (RAAC). Government ministers said that new information came to light about increased risks over the summer and that the Education Secretary “acted immediately”. Opposition parties criticised the government, with the news over the crumbly concrete featuring in headlines just days before pupils were due to return to schools after the summer holidays.

Rethink on Net Zero – Rishi Sunak announced that the ban on the sale of new petrol and diesel cars would be delayed from 2030 to 2035, as part of a rethink on the Government’s net zero policies. Exemptions and delays were also announced to other green policies, with Sunak saying the government could not impose “unacceptable costs” from reducing emissions on British families.

International – Russia and Ukraine both said they had destroyed significant numbers of drones as the war between Russia and Ukraine continued with air attacks.

Also in September… Sir Keir Starmer shuffled his Shadow Cabinet; Stephen Flynn reshuffled his SNP frontbench in the House of Commons; Christopher Pincher resigned as an MP, leading to a by-election; Tobias Elwood resigned as Chair of the Defence Select Committee; MPs voted to reclassify nitrous oxide as a Class C drug; Liz Truss made a speech a year on from her budget; the Scottish Government began a legal challenge against Westminster over the blocking of the Gender Recognition Reform bill; a speech by Suella Braverman attracted complaints over his comments on whether gender or sexulaity should entitle people to protection as a refugee; and speculation mounted over HS2 being scrapped between Birmingham and Manchester.

October

Israel-Hamas War – An armed conflict began between Israel and Hamas-led Palestinian militant groups on 7 October when militant groups launched a surprise attack on southern Israel from the Gaza Strip. The ongoing war has led to a severe humanitarian crisis in Gaza, and prompted widespread protests in UK and international communities. There were significant debates among the international community over whether to call for a humanitarian pause or a humanitarian ceasefire – a temporary truce was later held in November.

Party Conferences – Political parties in the UK held their annual party conferences, announcing key policy priorities. The Conservative conference in Manchester was largely overshadowed by speculation that the northern leg of HS2 would be scrapped. Rishi Sunak announced in his speech that HS2 would be cancelled between Birmingham and Manchester and that money saved would be spent on other transport projects. Other announcements included a future ban on smoking and changes to A Levels. At the Labour Conference, Sir Keir Starmer’s speech was interrupted by a protester who showered him in glitter shortly after the start of his speech. Key policy focuses included housing, energy and investment into the NHS.

International – Thousands were killed or injured when two earthquakes struck the Herat Province in Afghanistan.

Also in October… Peter Bone was suspended by the Parliamentary Conservative Party following complaints of bullying, and also from the House of Commons for six weeks; Parliament was prorogued for the State Opening on 7 November; and Labour won two by-elections in Mid Bedfordshire and Tamworth.

November

Cabinet Reshuffle – Suella Braveman was sacked as Home Secretary, shortly after she defied Downing Street over an article about the policing of protests. A major reshuffle followed and included seeing James Cleverly appointed Home Secretary, and the return of former Primer Minister David Cameron to frontline politics as Foreign Secretary.

Elgin Marbles Row – A dispute over whether the sculptures known as the Elgin Marbles should return to Athens was sparked after Rishi Sunak cancelled a meeting with Greek PM Kyriakos Mitsotakis at the last minute due to it being suggested the Marbles would be discussed. Days later, the King’s choice of tie at COP28 conference sparked speculation and discussion due to it featuring a pattern similar to the Greek flag.

International – At the COP28 climate summit, leaders agreed to “transition away” from fossil fuels. The decision text had a mixed reception, with some saying the document did not go far enough.

Also in November… The UK announced an agreement between 28 countries on how to manage the safety of artificial intelligence; David Cameron visited Ukraine on his first work trip as Foreign Secretary; and Jeremy Hunt presented the Autumn Statement in the House of Commons.

December

Rwanda Bill – The UK Government published plans for new emergency legislation in an attempt to move forward the Rwanda immigration plan. Robert Jenrick resigned from his post as Minister of State for Immigration over the plans, arguing that it did not go far enough. After significant debate, the government avoided defeat when the bill had its first vote in the Commons, though there were signals that MPs were unhappy with the bill and would look to table amendments in the new year.

Change in Wales – First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford announced that he would resign as leader of the Welsh Labour Party in March 2024, and would stand down as First Minister when a succesor had been selected. He made the announcement five years on from being confirmed as First Minister in 2018. His resignation saw various members of the current Welsh Cabinet announce their intention to stand for the leadership.

International – The US House of Representatives formally backed an impeachment inquiry into President Joe Biden, with the inquiry partly focused on claims of corruption surrounding the President.

Also in December… Sir Keir Starmer credited Margaret Thatcher for seeking to set loose Britain’s “natural entrepreneurialism” in an article in the Sunday Telegraph; Finance Secretary Shona Robinson presented the Scottish Government’s budget for 2024-25; the UK Government announced a new plan for reducing legal migration; a deal was signed between the UK and Switzerland to support easier financial transactions between Swiss and UK companies; and the date of the next UK budget was confirmed for 6 March, as the UK and world looks forward to the new year in 2024.

At The Speaker, we’re focused on inspiring the next generation in politics. Find free resources on how politics works, how it impacts you and how you can get involved in 2024 in our Political Education Hub.

*Article designed to be a summary of selected events, not exhaustive.

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