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The Reshuffle

Recent tensions in Westminster lead to anticipated reshuffle, price cap on Russian oil, and release of UK unemployment data.

Reshuffle in Westminster

Following a tumultuous week in Westminster which saw the rift between Suella Braverman and No.10 broadcast across the country, it is now clear that such tensions ultimately acted as the catalyst for the PM to hasten his much anticipated reshuffle.

The former Home Secretary Suella Braverman was the first to be dismissed after just over a year in office. (Of course, Braverman had previously served as the Home Secretary for six weeks between September and October 2022, a tenure which came to a dramatic end after she resigned following her breaking of the ministerial code). Braverman’s time in the Home Office has been marked by controversy, particularly her statement that it had been her “dream” to deport people to Rwanda, leaking confidential Cabinet papers to backbenchers, declaring homelessness was a “life-style choice” and more recently in her criticism that the Met Police were “playing favourites”. Braverman’s position has since been taken on by James Cleverly who moves away from the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. Cleverly’s appointment to the role comes during a week which will see the Supreme Court decide whether the Government’s plan to deport migrants to Rwanda is legal.

Former Prime Minister David Cameron, now Lord Cameron is also to return to Cabinet following a seven-year hiatus, having been appointed Foreign Secretary. Lord Cameron – whose full title is yet to be confirmed – is the first peer to hold the office of Foreign Secretary since Lord Carrington who served under Margret Thatcher in the role between 1979 – 5 April 1982.

The Liberal Democrats are calling for Cameron’s peerage to be blocked citing the controversy around his role in lobbying for Greensill Capital. In 2021, BBC Panorama revealed internal documents suggesting that the former PM had made about $10m for two-and-a-half years work promoting Greensill Capital which subsequently collapsed during the pandemic. Here, Cameron used private channels to lobby prominent ministers and figures in Westminster on behalf of the company, including the then Chancellor Rishi Sunak. The subsequent parliamentary inquiry revealed that though he did not break any lobbying rules, the former PM’s “use of less formal means to lobby government showed a significant lack of judgment”. Notwithstanding the Liberal Democrats calls, Cameron since sad that the Greensill episode has been dealt with and that he has resigned from his various business and charitable roles since taking up his most recent post.

Cameron has already spoken with his US counterpart, Antony Blinken, a conversation in which the US Department of State spokesperson Matthew Miller, said that both “underscored continuity in the U.S.-UK Special Relationship and its importance to regional and global security”. The two were also understood to have discussed the Israel-Hamas conflict, relationships with the People’s Republic of China and the conflict in Ukraine. It is now also being widely reported that meetings between David Cameron and Rishi Sunak took place prior to Braverman’s most recent op-ed episode, indicative perhaps that the rift between Braverman and No.10 had become untenable prior to her most recent controversy surrounding the publication of the op-ed.

Elsewhere, Victoria Atkins has taken over as the new Health Secretary, having served as the Financial Secretary to the Treasury for just over a year (the fifth most significant ministerial role within the Treasury). Her appointment comes amid widespread industrial action across the NHS and growing backlogs which include more than 10,000 people waiting more than 18 months for treatment. The NHS has recently called on the Treasury to provide extra funding given impact of the costs of the strikes which have been cited to have cost the service £1bn, however it is understood that the Treasury agreed to an extra £100m. As the BBC notes “the NHS has been told it will have to use £200m of winter money and raid other budgets, including those originally earmarked for IT and maintenance, to tackle the backlog.” Atkins was first elected MP in 2015 having come from a legal background specialising in fraud and happens to be married to Paul Kenward, who serves as the MD of British Sugar. Atkins replaces Steve Barclay, who has since become the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs.

All eyes now remain on Westminster to follow the most recent developments in the wake of the reshuffle, as focus turns to the next general election. Speculation is continuing to mount that Downing Street may be planning an early election in the Autumn of 2024 as the party tries to reduce its gap in the polls.

Russian Oil

The FT ran an interesting story this morning, saying that almost all Russian oil sold since the summer has changed hands at prices above the $60 price cap that the G7+Australia set. The price cap was brought in at the beginning of this year in a bid to limit the Kremlin’s cashflow but, whilst it was immediately effective, Russia have quickly developed ways around the cap, such as reinstating retired oil tankers and inflating the cost of transporting the cargo to make it appear as though the oil is trading below the cap. The Kremlin say that their average receipt price in October was $80 per barrel, which is only about $10 below the OPEC average for the month and will really do little to reduce the cash available to them for their war effort. The EU have said they want to work to reinforce the cap, but there would appear to be a lot to do. The story is worth a read: Almost no Russian oil is sold below $60 cap, say western officials (ft.com)

UK Labour Data

This morning UK unemployment came in line with expectations at 4.2%, in the three months leading up to September 2023. This was also in line with last month’s print and comes as the number of unemployed persons rose by 9,000 to just under 1.45m. Regular pay (excluding bonuses) also eased 10bps to 7.7% on a year-on-year basis, in line with forecasts. All eyes now turn to UK inflation released tomorrow morning at 0700 where the general market consensus is projecting a print of 4.8%, down considerably from last month’s 6.7% figure.

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