By Owen Bennett
All eyes were on the government on Monday as Boris Johnson and David Davis quit the Cabinet over Theresa May’s plan for Brexit.
Westminster braced itself for more resignation, and even a challenge to May’s position as Prime Minister – although she seems to have survived, for now at least.
With all the attention on the latest chapter in the Tory psycho-drama over the EU, some important stories went under the radar – including a few the government will have been relieved didn’t get more attention.
Here are five important bits of news buried by Brexit chaos:
1) Public Services Suffering As Government Prioritises Cost Over Quality
A damning report into the collapse of Carillion would have normally led the news on Monday, as MPs launched a scathing attack on the government’s entire approach to outsourcing.
The Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee warned the government’s “preoccupation” with delivery services for as cheap as possible “has led to worse public services as companies have been sent a clear signal that cost, rather than quality of services, is the government’s consistent priority.”
The report says the government was right not to bail out Carillion, but no further Public Finance Initiative projects should be approved until the benefits of the schemes are clear.
Chair of PACAC, Tory MP Sir Bernard Jenkin, said: “It is staggering that the Government has attempted to push risks that it does not understand onto contractors, and has so misunderstood its costs.
“It has accepted bids below what it costs to provide the service, so that the contract has had to be renegotiated.
“The Carillion crisis itself was well-managed, but it could happen again unless lessons are learned about risk and contract management and the strengths and weaknesses of the sector.”
2) Journalists And Academics Threatened By New Anti-Terror Laws
MPs have warned that new anti-terror laws could effectively ban debate about the government’s powers and hinder freedom of expression,
A report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights has flagged up “serious concerns” with the new powers in the Counter Terrorism and Border Security Bill.
Journalists and academics could be targeted by anti-terror police because of the nature of the new laws, the committee warned.
Among the concerns are that criminalising “expressions of support” for banned organisations could prevent debate around the government’s use of its powers; criminalising the publication of images online which arouse suspicion that a person is a member or supporter of a banned organisation goes too far and also risks violating the right to freedom of expression; and criminalising the viewing of terrorist material online, where such material is viewed three or more times is a breach of the right to receive information.
The committee said: “Whilst we recognise the need to adapt to new technologies and practices and the need to bridge the current gap between downloading and streaming material, there is a clear risk that this clause would catch academics, journalists and researchers, as well as those who view such material out of curiosity or foolishness without any intent to act upon the material in a criminal manner.”
3) Vaginal Mesh Implants Banned In NHS Hospitals
Vaginal mesh implants in women who have just given birth have been banned with immediate effect, the government announced.
Following a review instigated by now-former Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt, NHS hospitals will no longer carry out the procedure to stop the further risk of “life-changing and life-threatening injuries”.
Mesh was used as a way to treat incontinence and prolapse in women who had gone through childbirth, and up until 2017 the government believed the surgery was safe and effective.
Many women had to have the mesh removed after it cut into the vagina, leaving some unable to walk.
Julia Cumberlege, who chaired the review, said: “I have been appalled at the seriousness and scale of the tragic stories we have heard from women and their families. We have heard from many women who are suffering terribly. Their bravery and dignity in speaking out is deeply moving, and their sadness, anger, pain and frustration at what has happened to them and others has been compelling. We had to act now.”
4) Jared O’Mara Asks For A Second Chance
Labour MP Jared O’Mara has published a statement asking his colleagues to give him a “second chance” after his suspension for historic homophobic and misogynistic remarks.
The Sheffield Hallam MP, who ousted former Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg in the 2017 election, was suspended over online blog posts referring to ‘sexy little slags’ and claims which he denies that he called a barmaid “an ugly bitch”.
He was readmitted to Labour last week, and in a new statement said: “I want to use this opportunity to restate my full and unreserved apology for the comments I made online as a young man. I grew up in an environment where lad culture and prejudicial language were normalised.
“I was in a bad place back then, and after being bullied and called many of those abusive slurs myself, I repeated them as a way of deflecting from my own low self-esteem and depression. But this is not an excuse and I take full responsibility for the unacceptable language I used.
“I am ashamed of the man I was then. I’ve been on a journey of education since, and I am continuing to listen to and learn from others’ experiences and educate myself about tackling prejudice and discrimination. I will be pleased to attend the training mandated by the panel, and I hope this will deepen my understanding of these issues further.”
O’Mara is yet to make his maiden speech in Parliament.
5) US Trade Deal Up In The Air
The US Ambassador to the UK gave his view on the Chequers Brexit agreement, warning that policy had made the possibility of a trade deal between the two countries “complicated”.
Speaking to the BBC, Woody Johnson said: “I would say that the bilateral agreement, whether we have one or not, is totally up in the air at this point.”
He went on to insist that while a deal would get done, it would require “all hands on deck”.
Virendra Sharma, the Labour MP and campaigner for pro-EU group Best for Britain, said: “The Tory Party’s Brexit extremists have lost it on this one.
“They want to scupper our most lucrative trade deals – those with the EU – in order to suit Trump’s every wish and whim in a trade deal worth peanuts by comparison.”