POLITICS
18/03/2018 08:23 GMT | Updated 19/03/2018 09:23 GMT

6 Important Stories You Might Have Missed Because Of The Salisbury Nerve Agent Attack

1. Tory and DUP MPs voted to cut free school meals in England – despite protecting them in Northern Ireland.

The fallout from the Salisbury nerve agent attack has dominated headlines over the past week, but away from the escalating tensions between Russia and the UK, a lot of other important stories happened that you might have missed.

1. Cuts to free school meals

Prime Minister Theresa May greets DUP leader Arlene Foster

Tory and DUP MPs voted on Tuesday in favour of controversial cuts to free school meals in England – despite protecting Northern Ireland from similar curbs.

Labour tried to block the changes to the Universal Credit benefit system, but the government won the vote 312 votes to 254.

Charities and other campaigners claim that the welfare reforms mean that up to a million children will be denied eligibility for free lunches.

Its figure was based on what would happen if current transitional arrangements, which give every family on universal credit the right to free school meals, were rolled out nationwide. 

But Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey and Education Secretary Damian Hinds rejected the accusation.

They accused Labour of scaremongering and insisted that 50,000 more youngsters would actually benefit than at present.

Labour pointed out that the cuts planned for England stand in sharp contrast to the situation in Northern Ireland, where children of the “working poor” will get stronger protection.

2. The NHS refused to rule out giving patient data to benefit fraud investigations

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Tory MP Sarah Wollaston

NHS Digital bosses refused to rule out sharing confidential patient data with the government in future benefit fraud investigations.

The organisation currently passes information to the Home Office - including addresses - to help with immigration enforcement as part of a ‘memorandum of understanding’ with the government, which experts say puts people off seeking potentially life-saving medical treatment

MPs on Parliament’s health select committee want the controversial practice to be paused while a full investigation into its impact is carried out by Public Health England.

But bosses have so far refused and on Thursday did not rule out similar arrangements with other government departments in the future.

3. Philip Hammond tried to abolish the penny

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Chancellor Philip Hammond delivers the Spring statement

Downing Street intervened to save the penny on Wednesday, just 24 hours after the Philip Hammond threatened to abolish lower value coins.

The Treasury revealed getting rid of the coins – as well as the £50 note – were part of a consultation on the role of cash in the increasingly digitalised economy.

Several newspapers featured the threat to the penny on their front pages, overshadowing the increase in economic growth revealed in Hammond’s Spring statement.

After Tuesday’s statement, Downing Street initially refused to confirm the penny was “safe” under Theresa May’s premiership.

Just 24 hours later, her spokesman said: “There are no proposals to scrap one or two pence coins in the consultation that the Treasury issued yesterday.

Joking about the U-turn, Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom told MPs: “It’s safe to say, the penny has dropped. We’ve considered change. We know we like change. So we think we will probably keep change. And have no change.”

4. Still posh at the top

Privately-educated pupils are increasingly more likely to be accepted on to a prestigious Civil Service scheme than comprehensive students

Privately-educated pupils are increasingly more likely to be accepted on to a prestigious Civil Service scheme than comprehensive students, Government figures have revealed.

Statistics released by the Cabinet Office show the numbers from a fee-paying background recruited to the Civil Service Fast Stream has increased since 2013 – despite the number of privately-educated applicants falling.

In the 2016 intake, 28.6% of those who made it on to the scheme went to a private school – despite just 6.7% of all pupils receiving a paid education.

In 2013, the successful applicants figure was 23.5%.

While the numbers of those with a private education taken on increased, the proportion of those who applied from a fee-paying background actually fell, from 20.5% in 2013 to 18.9% in 2016.

5. Brexit is still happening...

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EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier and Brexit Secretary David Davis 

For the first time in what seems like forever, Brexit has not been the dominant story of the week. But that does not mean it has stopped happening.

In February the European Council published its draft of what it thought the Brexit deal would look like. A defiant Theresa May told MPs “no UK Prime Minister could ever agree” to the draft text, as it wanted to keep Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs union after Brexit if no other deal was reached.

On Thursday, the EU published an update to its initial document - and completely ignored everything May had said. 

The section on Northern Ireland remained virtually unchanged, meaning a showdown on the Irish border is – of course – still on the cards.

There was one addition to the text though, which has now had input from the European Parliament.

6. Although some MPs say it should be delayed

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Hillary Benn, Chair of The House of Commons' Brexit Committee

HuffPost UK revealed on Friday that an influential committee of MPs wanted to delay Brexit so Theresa May can negotiate a better deal.

In a move that infuriated Tory MPs, the Commons Brexit Select Committee was set to recommend that the PM should request an extension to the EU’s Article 50 process beyond next March.

The idea of delaying the process beyond the official withdrawal date of March 29, 2019, is seen as so inflammatory that Conservative members of the Committee refused to sign off the proposal and tabled their own minority report instead.

But after a two-day drafting session, the majority of the committee backed keeping open the option of a short, time-limited extension to Article 50 to help May get a better deal.

HuffPost UK’s Paul Waugh, Owen Bennett, Kate Forrester and Ned Simons discuss all this week’s developments on this week’s Common’s People podcast.