August 2023 | Cyber-attack on Electoral Commission affects data of 40 million voters
The Electoral Commission has reported a cyber-attack on its electoral registers, targeting the names and addresses of 40 million voters registered since 2014. A whistleblower has revealed that the Commission failed a basic cybersecurity test shortly before the cyberattack started in August 2021. The security breach was only discovered over a year later in October 2022 and it is unclear who is behind it. Given the largely paper-based electoral system and public availability of much of the hacked data, the fallout is limited. Concerns for the rights of hacked voters have been voiced, alongside criticisms of the delay in public reporting of the attack. The hack also jeopardizes public trust in the elections watchdog, which already received a blow in April 2022, when legislation was passed strengthening oversight arrangements over the Commission, which was criticized for limiting the body’s independence. Experts demand an upgrade to the democratic safeguards of the Commission, to ensure that it can operate as a robust regulator without any kind of interference.
July 2023 | Parliament passes controversial Illegal Migration Bill
After months of debate, the Illegal Migration Bill received royal assent on 20 July, banning irregular migrants from seeking asylum and requiring their detention and deportation, either to their country of origin or to a “safe third country.” The act is an integral part of Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s pledge to reduce irregular migration, particularly among migrants arriving by small boat via the Channel. The parliamentary committee on human rights and the United Nations are among the many actors condemning the bill, warning that it is in violation of international law. Lacking in protections for LGBTQIA+ migrants and victims of modern-day slavery, it is projected to disproportionately impact vulnerable groups and lead to increased levels of human trafficking. Further, its implementation is uncertain, since deportations to Rwanda, the only third country with which the government currently has an agreement, have been ruled as unlawful by the Court of Appeal.
May 2023 | Conservatives lose ground in local elections
The Labour party became the most represented party in local government in Great Britain, gaining 537 seats after local representatives were elected in 230 English councils on 4 May. The Conservative party suffered great losses, down 1,063 seats, while the Liberal Democrats picked up 407 seats. In England, the Labour party now controls 71 councils (compared to 57 in the 2019 local elections), while the Conservatives only control 33, losing key Tory strongholds. On 18 May, Northern Ireland held local government elections in its 11 councils, where Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein overtook the Democratic Unionist Party as the biggest party in local government. It was the first time English voters were required to show identification in order to be issued a ballot, following the passage of the Elections Act in 2022, which critics have said can negatively impact on voter turnout, particularly among marginalised groups. Turnout in Northern Ireland was 54.7 per cent, up from 52.7 per cent in the 2019 local elections. Women now comprise 31.4 per cent of councillors in Northern Ireland (previously 26.4 per cent).
April 2023 | Dominic Raab resigns over bullying investigation
Dominic Raab resigned from his posts as Deputy Prime Minister and Justice Secretary following an investigation into several formal complaints about his behaviour towards staff while in public office. The inquiry, commissioned by Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and undertaken by lawyer Adam Tolley, found that Raab had engaged in conduct experienced as “undermining” or “humiliating”. In 2021, the High Court found that bullying is not consistent with the Ministerial Code. Raab is a key figure in the Conservative Party’s right wing, and a close ally of the Prime Minister. Raab is the second cabinet member to resign over bullying claims in under six months, following Gavin Williamson’s resignation in November 2022. In his resignation letter, Raab stated that the inquiry would have a “chilling effect” on government officials. For its part, the opposition has said the case is part of a history of Conservative MPs dodging the rules.