We’re closing this liveblog shortly. Here’s a roundup of the key developments from the day:
Polls opened this morning in three parliamentary seats where byelections are being held, with Rishi Sunak braced for an electoral test of his premiership. Voters have been able to cast their ballots from 7am in the south-western Tory stronghold of Somerton and Frome, Boris Johnson’s old seat in the west London suburbs Uxbridge and South Ruislip, as well as Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire.
Ministers will lay out their final year of legislation at King Charles’ first king’s speech in November, the government has confirmed. Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, said on Thursday the king’s speech will take place on 7 November, in what is likely to be the last such speech before a general election.
Lobbying rules will be toughened up across Whitehall in a long-awaited response by ministers to issues raised by the Greensill scandal, the Guardian has learned. Government departments will be forced to release more information about meetings with lobbyists and extend current requirements for disclosure to phone and video calls, sources say.
Rishi Sunak has criticised the European Union’s “regrettable choice of words” after it appeared to have endorsed the name Argentina uses for the Falkland Islands. A diplomatic row erupted after the EU referred to the islands as “Islas Malvinas” in a declaration jointly signed with Argentina and other Latin American countries.
The ongoing Stormont stalemate is “totally unsustainable”, the Sinn Féin vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, has said. Following a meeting with the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, at Hillsborough Castle, O’Neil said engagement would continue, but stressed it had to be meaningful.
Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng received about £400 in severance pay for every day they were in office, according to government accounts published on Thursday. The former prime minister and former chancellor each received more than £16,000 on leaving their jobs after just a few weeks, the Treasury’s annual report shows, while Tom Scholar, the department’s most senior civil servant, received £457,000 after being sacked by Truss.
You can follow our liveblog on the Ukraine-Russia war here:
That’s it from me today. Thanks so much for joining me and for all your comments and emails.
Updated at 10.43 EDT
Dogs at polling stations, a series.
Updated at 10.19 EDT
The government’s sweeping and controversial asylum reforms have become law as the number of people crossing the Channel in small boats topped 14,000 for the year so far, PA news reports.
The illegal migration bill has become an Act of Parliament after being given royal assent, deputy speaker Sir Roger Gale announced in the Commons on Thursday afternoon.
It comes as Channel crossings for the year to date reached a provisional total of 14,071, after 297 people were recorded making the journey on Wednesday.
The total number of migrant crossings for 2023 so far is still lower than the more than 15,000 arrivals recorded this time last year.
Crossings continued on Thursday amid calm weather conditions at sea.
Updated at 09.57 EDT
Full story: Truss and Kwarteng given more than £16,000 each after leaving office
Liz Truss and Kwasi Kwarteng received about £400 in severance pay for every day they were in office, according to government accounts published on Thursday.
The former prime minister and former chancellor each received more than £16,000 on leaving their jobs after just a few weeks, the Treasury’s annual report shows, while Tom Scholar, the department’s most senior civil servant, received £457,000 after being sacked by Truss.
The figures are contained in a series of annual reports from across government, which also show that Boris Johnson was given a payout of £18,660 after quitting as prime minister.
Truss and her allies saw Scholar, who was sacked on her first day in office, as representative of orthodox Treasury thinking, which they were determined to overhaul as part of their plan to bring in much lower UK tax rates.
Meanwhile the Department for Transport’s accounts show that Grant Shapps received £16,876 after quitting as transport secretary in September, even though he returned to government as home secretary six weeks later. He is now energy secretary.
Rishi Sunak, however, who spent just over three months out of government between quitting as chancellor and becoming prime minister, handed back his payout of the same amount.
Labour criticised Johnson and Truss for taking their payments after resigning, the former after a series of ethics scandals and the latter amid economic turmoil created by her government’s fiscal policies. UK mortgage rates rocketed after the Truss government’s mini-budget last September, and have not returned to the same level since.
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said:
After the mess they left our country in, they should be hanging their heads in embarrassment, not walking away with an enormous payoff.
At a time when people up and down the country are struggling to pay their mortgages and put food on the table, it shows a staggering lack of shame for Johnson and Truss to accept this money, but is exactly what we’ve come to expect from a bunch of Tories who only care about themselves.
Read more here:
Updated at 09.46 EDT
Ongoing Stormont stalemate is ‘totally unsustainable’, says Sinn Féin vice-president, Michelle O’Neill
The ongoing Stormont stalemate is “totally unsustainable”, the Sinn Féin vice-president, Michelle O’Neill, has said.
This from PA Media:
Following a meeting with the Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, at Hillsborough Castle, the Sinn Féin vice-president, Michelle O’Neil, said engagement would continue, but stressed it had to be meaningful and lead to the restoration of the devolved power-sharing institutions.
Heaton-Harris is concluding a round of talks with party leaders in the latest attempt to break the Stormont stalemate.
The assembly has been in flux for more than a year amid DUP protest action over the Northern Ireland protocol.
The Windsor framework was agreed by the EU and UK earlier this year as a way to reduce red tape on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.
But the DUP has insisted it will not return to Stormont until the UK government provides further legislative assurances around Northern Ireland’s place within the UK internal market.
Senior civil servants have been left running Stormont departments and having to make substantial cuts following a budget set by Heaton-Harris. After the meeting, O’Neill said the British and Irish governments had to do more to bring Stormont back.
We have just had our meeting with the secretary of state and we have made it very clear to him that the current position is totally unsustainable, this vacuum isn’t good enough, all it is serving is to punish the public.
Whilst people within the DUP take themselves off on summer holidays, workers and families are left struggling and worrying about how they are going to deal with the cost-of-living issues.
We have impressed upon the secretary of state that both himself, the British government and the Irish government must do more; this position just isn’t tenable.
We need to see action, the public rightly expect that everybody will work together.
We have heard from the secretary of state that they intend to be engaged over the summer, but there is a difference between engagement, and engagement which is actually meaningful and leads to a restoration of the executive.
Heaton-Harris met earlier this week with the DUP, Alliance party and the SDLP in London.
The DUP leader, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, said after his meeting on Wednesday the “ball is in the government’s court” with regards to action which would see the restoration of the Stormont power-sharing arrangements.
Donaldson said there had so far been a “lack of meaningful action” from Westminster in addressing his concerns over post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Heaton-Harris has been pressing the parties on their plans for a costed programme for government for any incoming executive.
Updated at 08.33 EDT
Rishi Sunak has criticised the European Union’s “regrettable choice of words” after it appeared to have endorsed the name Argentina uses for the Falkland Islands.
A diplomatic row erupted after the EU referred to the islands as “Islas Malvinas” in a declaration jointly signed with Argentina and other Latin American countries, PA Media reports.
Downing Street said any suggestion that the EU would recognise Argentina’s claims on the Falklands would have been “entirely unacceptable”, as it welcomed a subsequent clarification that EU countries have not in fact changed their position on their status.
The initial statement, published on Tuesday after a summit between EU nations and the Celac bloc of Latin American and Caribbean states, said:
Regarding the question of sovereignty over the Islas Malvinas / Falkland Islands, the European Union took note of Celac’s historical position based on the importance of dialogue and respect for international law in the peaceful solution of disputes.
British diplomats reportedly complained about the wording, which Argentina’s president, Alberto Fernandez, appeared to hail on Twitter as support for his country’s long-standing “claim to sovereignty” over the Falklands.
In a statement, the EU foreign affairs spokesman, Peter Stano, said:
The EU member states have not changed their views and positions concerning the Falklands/Islas Malvinas.
The EU is not in a situation to express any position on the Falklands/Islas Malvinas, as there is not any council discussion on this matter.
Sunak’s official spokesman told reporters on Thursday:
The prime minister’s view is that it would have been entirely unacceptable for the EU to question the Falkland Islanders’ right to decide their own future.
To be clear, the Falkland Islands are British, that was the choice of the islanders themselves.
The EU has rightly now clarified that their position on the Falklands has not changed after their regrettable choice of words.
And just as a reminder, in the 2013 referendum, 99.8% of islanders voted to be part of the UK family. It’s a position supported by international law and the UN charter which is binding on all UN members.
And we will continue to defend the Falklands’ right to self-determination in all international forums and have called on the EU to respect the democratic rights of the Falkland Islands.
The concern is any suggestion that EU states would recognise Argentina’s claims on the Falklands, which they have now clarified is incorrect.
The islands were the subject of a war in 1982 which killed 255 British service personnel, three islanders and 649 Argentinian personnel.
Updated at 08.35 EDT
Lobbying rules to be tightened in long-awaited response to Greensill scandal
Lobbying rules will be toughened up across Whitehall in a long-awaited response by ministers to issues raised by the Greensill scandal, the Guardian has learned.
Government departments will be forced to release more information about meetings with lobbyists and extend current requirements for disclosure to phone and video calls, sources say.
Private emails, as well as WhatsApps and texts on personal phones that are used to discuss government business, will also now need to be declared, and senior civil servants will have to comply with the new rules.
The changes come nearly two years after a major report was published following the Greensill lobbying scandal, involving a multinational supply chain finance firm, the former prime minister David Cameron, serving ministers and top officials.
Nineteen reforms were proposed by Nigel Boardman, a corporate lawyer who was commissioned by the government to conduct an independent investigation and published his findings in August 2021.
In its response, the government will commit to improving the quality of departments’ transparency disclosures, which cover meetings, gifts and hospitality, and are meant to guard against any perception of improper or secretive lobbying. Declarations will be aimed to be published monthly instead of quarterly under the plans to be announced later this week.
Read the full story here:
Updated at 07.56 EDT
The controversial sacking of a top Treasury civil servant, Sir Tom Scholar, cost the government £457,000 in compensation, PA Media reports.
The department’s annual accounts reveal Scholar, who was dismissed as permanent secretary when Liz Truss came to power in September 2022, received a £335,000 severance payment along with £122,000 in annual leave adjustments, payment in lieu of notice and other payments.
The accounts also show the extent of severance payments made to ministers in the wake of last year’s mass resignations.
Among those to receive severance payments was Chris Pincher, who resigned as deputy chief whip in June 2022 over allegations he groped two men at the Carlton Club.
Pincher received £7,920 in severance. The former prime ministers Truss and Boris Johnson received £18,660 each after resigning, while the former chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng received £16,876.
Updated at 07.46 EDT
The education secretary, Gillian Keegan, has confirmed that the controversial guidance to schools on trans pupils will now be delayed.
Rishi Sunak had promised the guidance would be published before the end of the school year but it has been beset by ministerial in-fighting and legal wrangles.
Keegan did not give any hint of when the guidance would now appear.
In a written statement, Keegan said:
It is vital that the guidance we publish gives clarity for schools and colleges and reassurance for parents. So, we have made the decision to allow more time – to speak to teachers, parents, lawyers and other stakeholders – in order to ensure this guidance meets the high expectations that these groups rightly have for it.
Updated at 07.47 EDT
The Law Society has said the illegal migration bill, expected to be given royal assent today, will be unworkable.
Lubna Shuja, the president of the independent body for solicitors in England and Wales, said:
We have been clear from the start that this legislation threatens to undermine the rule of law and access to justice.
Whilst the act will soon come into force on paper, it will be unworkable in practice because it doesn’t provide solutions to the asylum backlog, and there isn’t capacity in the legal aid sector to provide the immigration advice needed.
The Rwanda removal agreement has been ruled unlawful and is subject to an appeal in the supreme court.
Even if that appeal proves successful, there are no other removal agreements in place. Rwanda alone would not be able to accept anywhere near the number of people who will be scheduled for ‘removal’.
A growing number of people will be left in limbo as they cannot be removed, and they cannot claim asylum.
The cost to the taxpayer will continue to increase as the individuals left in limbo are housed in various accommodation indefinitely.
Updated at 06.55 EDT
Date of Charles’ first king’s speech announced
Ministers will lay out their final year of legislation at King Charles’ first king’s speech in November, the government has confirmed.
Penny Mordaunt, the leader of the House of Commons, said on Thursday the king’s speech will take place on 7 November, in what is likely to be the last such speech before a general election.
The event will not only give the government a final chance to set the legislative agenda before that election but will also give the king his first chance to attend a state opening of parliament as monarch.
Updated at 06.56 EDT
Nigel Farage has praised a “swift” intervention by government ministers after reports that new laws could be drawn up to stop banks closing customers’ accounts because they disagree with their political views.
The former Ukip leader said MPs were “beginning to realise that this system is coming for them as well” after his bank accounts were closed by Coutts, he says because his views “did not align with” its values.
Ministers are considering legislation to protect free speech by threatening banks with losing their licences if they blacklist people with controversial views, according to the Times.
Farage said it was “one of the swiftest interventions I’ve seen by government for many, many years”, and suggested it was a problem that had been “building up for years and years and years”.
He told PA media:
Every MP will know of constituents, small businessmen and women, who’ve literally been shut down by their banks with no reason given whatsoever.
I also think that because of the politically exposed persons (PEP) rule, I think they’re beginning to realise that this system is coming for them as well.
Those designated a PEP are typically political representatives and their family members, whose accounts can be treated with extra due diligence by financial institutions.
Farage claimed there was “a real sense of anger” among the public, who bailed out banks during the 2008 financial crisis, that now such banks could “treat us with contempt”.
The closure of Farage’s accounts sparked outrage among senior Tory MPs, who have put pressure on Coutts and its owner, NatWest.
The prime minister, Rishi Sunak, intervened in the row on Wednesday to say it was “wrong” and that “no one should be barred from using basic services for their political views”.
Read more here:
Updated at 06.00 EDT
A senior Conservative MP has apologised and deleted a video in which he praised the Taliban and credited them with improving safety in Afghanistan.
Tobias Ellwood said he was “sorry for my poor communication” after his actions outraged fellow Tory MPs and military veterans, and an attempt was launched to challenge his role as chair of the Commons defence select committee.
In a tweet and accompanying video, Ellwood described Afghanistan as a “country transformed” and talked up the group that seized power in August 2021, claiming “security has vastly improved, corruption is down and the opium trade has all but disappeared”.
Following the backlash, Ellwood said:
The last couple of days have probably been the most miserable as a member of parliament. I got it wrong.
He called the row a Twitter “storm” and said he stood by criticisms in the video about Britain’s lack of engagement with Afghanistan’s new leadership since the chaotic exit of western countries’ armed forces from Kabul nearly two years ago.
But Ellwood used a TV interview to repeatedly apologise, and said the video “could have been much better done”.
“It’s important to put your hand up and acknowledge errors, however well intentioned,” the Bournemouth East MP and former army captain told TalkTV.
Read the full story here:
Updated at 05.08 EDT
The Rail, Maritime and Transport union general secretary, Mick Lynch, has accused the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, of a “dilution of traditional Labour positions” and “taking the side of the Conservatives” over the two-child benefit cap.
Lynch told Sky News on Thursday:
It’s not just our members, we’d like him to show that he supports the trade unions, that he supports working people who are struggling, and we think some of the stuff that we’re hearing is a dilution of traditional Labour positions and even the positions that he himself adopted when he was elected as leader.
So the stuff about the two-child cap is not really good enough; it’s taking the side of the Conservatives, it’s taking the side of austerity.
Lynch said Starmer needs to show that he is a progressive Labour politician and that if he wants to win working-class votes and wants the support of the trade unions, then “he might want to start saying things that we can agree with”.
I’m hoping that we’ll get a new deal for workers, the repeal of many of these anti-trade union laws that restrict our rights and our freedoms, and that he shows that in terms of funding public services like education, health, care for our elders and addressing the housing crisis that we’ve got in this country that he can do something positive in favour of working people.
If he does that then more people will support him, if he doesn’t then some people might conclude … they may as well have the Tories because there’s not much difference between them.
I don’t think that’s true. I think it’s in our interest to get rid of this government, but he’s got to show some distinction and some distinguishing policies that set him out as different and as a radical person pushing for change.
Updated at 06.25 EDT
Staff working for MPs need better HR access and a more supportive culture in parliament, but the system through which they are directly employed by members does not need to change, a report by a committee of MPs has concluded.
The speaker’s conference on the employment conditions of members’ staff, chaired by Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, was set up last year after a wave of stories about sexual harassment and bullying in parliament.
There was particular concern that staff working directly for MPs, as opposed to those centrally employed by parliament, were vulnerable because the HR practices and working culture were directly set by the MP, who was also their employer.
Before the inquiry, Hoyle called for a change to this system, suggesting the idea of setting up an outside employer, meaning staff would have independent input into their careers and concerns.
But the report, produced by a cross-party group of 16 MPs, led by Hoyle, said the problems faced by staff were “not inherently related to the identity of the employer”, and that changing the employer would be expensive, time consuming, and “ultimately a blunt instrument”.
We conclude that the nature of the work of an MP, and the close working arrangements and personal loyalty between members and their staff mean that members should continue to be the employers of their staff.
The report, which will be debated in the Commons before it is implemented, sets out other proposals, including universal access to professional HR, and reforms to the Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority, which has a significant role in the contracts and salaries of MPs’ staff.
More widely, the MPs said, there was a need for “a culture which recognises and values the work that [MPs’ staff] do and makes these staff feel part of the wider parliamentary community”.
Updated at 06.27 EDT
Rishi Sunak told MPs at a meeting of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers on the eve of the polls on Wednesday night that they faced a “tough battle” in what were seen as safe seats for his party.
The prime minister told them that governing parties rarely win byelections but urged the MPs to unite in the face of any defeat as he pledged to “throw everything” at winning the next general election, PA Media reports.
Labour hopes to snatch Uxbridge and South Ruislip, which was Boris Johnson’s seat until he quit, and Selby and Ainsty – vacated by his ally Nigel Adams’ resignation.
The Liberal Democrats are eyeing victory in the contest in Somerton and Frome that was triggered by David Warburton quitting after admitting cocaine use amid allegations of sexual harassment.
Losses for the Tories in all of the seats would be the first time in 55 years that a government has been defeated in three byelections on the same day.
On Wednesday evening, Sunak was understood to have told his MPs:
In the coming months, I am going to set out more of what I would do if I had a full term.
I was recently described as a full-spectrum, modern Conservative and you are going to see that in the programme I lay out.
Sunak pledged to show the public “who is really on their side”, adding: “And that is what will propel us to victory.”
Sunak told the meeting.
When we come back in September we have a choice to make, all of us. Do we come together and throw everything at winning the next election or not? I’ve made my choice, I’m all in with you to win.
I promise you we can do this but we can only do it together as one team.
The Tory backbencher Jonathan Gullis told reporters outside the meeting that the problem is “apathetic Conservative voters” rather than the public’s support for the Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer.
He said Sunak told them “what we already know, which is it’s going to be a tough battle” in the byelections.
Tory MPs at the meeting said he did not address suggestions that he could spring a Cabinet reshuffle on Friday in an attempt to reset his premiership.
During a visit to Warwickshire, Sunak told reporters asking whether he would shake up his top team that “you would never expect me to comment on things like that” – in what was clearly not a denial.
He welcomed a fall in the rate of inflation as proof his government’s plans were working.
The prime minister’s press secretary acknowledged it would be tough for the Tories to hold the three seats on Thursday.
Byelections, for incumbent governments, are very difficult, that is the nature of them.
The election that the Conservative party is most focused on is the general election.
Updated at 06.42 EDT
Voters picking new MPs in three constituencies
Polls have opened in three parliamentary seats where byelections are being held, with Rishi Sunak braced for an electoral test of his premiership.
The Conservative-held constituencies are being targeted by Labour and the Liberal Democrats, who hope to overturn large majorities and send Tory MPs off into the summer recess nervous about their own political futures come the general election.
Voters have been able to cast their ballots from 7am in the south-western Tory stronghold of Somerton and Frome, Boris Johnson’s old seat in the west London suburbs Uxbridge and South Ruislip, as well as Selby and Ainsty in North Yorkshire.
Sunak was privately downcast on Wednesday afternoon about the his party’s electoral prospects, in part given the nature of why the contests were triggered.
Johnson stood down to avoid being suspended from parliament over a report that found he misled MPs over Partygate. Nigel Adams quit after being passed over for a peerage. And David Warbuton, an MP in Somerset since 2015, quit after being investigated over claims of harassment and drug use.
On top of the circumstances of the byelections being called, Sunak’s party is also polling poorly, nationally. At a behind-closed-doors meeting of Tory backbenchers on the eve of the byelections, MPs said Sunak appeared to acknowledge the results would be “tough”.
If the Conservatives are trounced, Sunak could become the first prime minister since Harold Wilson in 1968 to lose three byelections in a single day.
I will be looking after the politics blog today. If you have any tips or suggestions, please get in touch: [email protected].
Reminder: Please don’t tell us how you voted in the comments section – Election law (specifically section 66A of the Representation of the People Act 1983) makes it an offence to publish before the polls close at 10pm. Many thanks.
You can read more from my colleague Aubrey Allegretti here:
Updated at 04.38 EDT