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Dangerous moments in foreign affairs can bring a party together but Sunak faces his own domestic battles | Politics News

MPs return to Westminster today after two weeks away, to the possibility of dangerous escalation in the Middle East.

But this is a week the prime minister will also need to avoid danger domestically if he is to see through some of the key policies on which his political survival depends.

One is the legislation to declare Rwanda a safe country, which Downing Street expects will finally receive royal assent this week.

It holds the prospect of finally sending some failed asylum seekers on planes there, which the government have trumpeted as a deterrent to small boat crossings.

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‘Party of Winston Churchill wants to ban cigars’

Nearly two years since it was announced by Boris Johnson, many Tories remain sceptical that it can happen at all – there could be another intervention by the European Court of Human Rights which blocked it last time by issuing an interim injunction. Or that it can happen at a scale which would convince voters it has the potential to be a deterrent, and shift the dial politically.

But passing it would be a key moment for the prime minister and his allies, who still hold out hope – despite the polls – that the Conservatives can start to turn things around.

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The next test is the second reading – a vote on the principles – of the prime minister’s controversial smoking and vaping legislation.

Announced as the surprise centrepiece of last year’s party conference, it is essentially a ban on smoking for anyone over the age of 14 – by raising the smoke age by a year every year.

Several Conservatives have publicly questioned its workability and while it has Labour support and will pass; a sizeable rebellion of Tory MPs could spell danger for the prime minister’s authority.

This is a week of key economic news too, with CPI inflation figures on Wednesday predicted to show a further fall from 3.4% to as low as 3.1%; inching closer to the Bank of England’s target of 2%.

The Conservatives’ general election hopes hinge on the economic narrative. Before the March Budget, Rishi Sunak told a conference that voters were starting to see “the green shoots of recovery” and the economy had turned a corner. That’s what the Tories’ hopes hinge on.

But despite announcing cuts to national insurance for 27 million people, the Conservatives’ dire position in the polls has barely moved. A steady stream of Tory MPs are throwing in the towel.

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Sunak won’t give date for Rwanda flights

There are times when dangerous moments in foreign affairs rally a political party behind its leader at a tough time. But a group of discontented Tories are looking to the local elections on 2 May as a moment to move against Mr Sunak if he loses swathes of Conservative councillors, as is predicted.

That’s two weeks away, and this is a key week for showing that on small boats, the economy and his own priorities such as smoking, he can make some headway.

Developments in the Middle East could also swing the other way. Today the prime minister is likely to make a statement about the actions of UK forces in thwarting Iranian attacks.

But it could also pose difficult questions for him, including louder calls for more defence spending in the UK – now uniting a vocal group of Tories and Labour.

Angela Rayner ‘played by the rules’ over tax affairs, claims Labour’s David Lammy | Politics News

Angela Rayner has “played by the rules” when it comes to her tax affairs, her shadow cabinet colleague has said, amid further claims around her former living arrangements.

Labour’s deputy leader has come under the spotlight in recent weeks over the sale of an ex-council house she previously owned in Stockport, having been accused of avoiding capital gains tax on it – something she has denied.

The allegations centre around whether the property was her primary residence, as she claims, or whether she was actually living at her then husband’s address nearby, making her liable for capital gains after the sale of the property.

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The Mail on Sunday has now claimed to have seen dozens of social media posts from the Labour MP between 2010 and 2015, which it said showed her now ex’s address was her main property.

But shadow foreign secretary David Lammy told Sky News that all the report showed was “like so many families across the country [Ms Rayner] had and has a blended family,” adding: “Like everybody else, she had a complicated life and spent time in her husband’s place but also her place. Lots of families do that.”

Speaking on Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, the fellow Labour MP said Ms Rayner had “done nothing wrong” and had the “full support” of the party.

But challenged over why she would not publish her tax returns, having called on Rishi Sunak to do so, Mr Lammy said: “I think there’s a different arrangement and expectation for the prime minister than there is in this context and we are not yet in government.”

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Lammy: ‘I don’t think this is a story’

He added: “We are in a political season, we all know there is an election in May, we know why these smears are being run.

“It is to detract from the £870 that average families are less well off in this country as a result of the tax burden from the Tories. That’s what this is really about.

“It is not about Angela Rayner and her blended family. It is about Tory chaos, ‘let’s distract and focus on this non-story’.”

Mr Lammy concluded: “She has played by the rules. There is an investigation going on, let’s see where we get on that, but I am confident that Angela has done nothing wrong here at all.”

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However, deputy chairman of the Conservative Party, James Daly, called on Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer to “show some leadership and open a full, transparent and independent investigation into the Rayner scandal”.

He said: “As more evidence that Rayner appears to have lied comes to light, it is increasingly clear that the British people cannot trust Labour’s deputy leader. She should stop dismissing and distracting and come clean now.

“If Rayner has lied but Sir Keir Starmer refuses to sack her, it will show yet again that Keir Starmer is just a weak leader whose claim that Labour have changed is rubbish.”

In response to the Mail’s claims, a Labour Party spokesperson said: “Angela and her husband mutually decided to maintain their existing residences to reflect their family’s circumstances and they shared childcare responsibilities.

“Angela has always made clear she also spent time at her husband’s property when they had children and got married. She was perfectly entitled to do so.”