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Instant replay: The highs and lows at Westminster as parliament takes its summer break

The Houses of Parliament.

Westminster broke for recess this week, calling time on what has been one of the most tumultuous year’s in recent history.

Brexit finally became a reality in January and the spectre of Covid has continued to loom large over Britain.

Below we look back at the stories that have dominated, month by month.

July 2020

Prime Minister Boris Johnson holds crabs

Boris Johnson marks his first year in Number 10 with a visit to Scotland.

The prime minister used a trip to Orkney to reaffirm his “unwavering commitment” to the Union and his “levelling-up” programme.

His visit was marred however by a Scottish affairs committee report which alleged there was a “lack of understanding about devolution in Whitehall”.

Away from Number 10, the long-awaited Russia report from the intelligence and security committee found that there was “credible” evidence that Moscow attempted to influence Scotland’s independence referendum.

The report, which is heavily redacted, said the independence vote was “potentially the first post-Soviet Russian interference in a Western democratic process”.

August 2020

The prime minister was again in Scotland, this time for a family holiday.

Mr Johnson, his fiancée Carrie Symonds and their son Wilfred travelled to the west coast for a “staycation”, amid polling that put support for Scottish independence at 54%.

Douglas Ross.

Douglas Ross vowed to wage an “unrelenting” war on the SNP after succeeding Jackson Carlaw as Scottish Tory boss.

The outspoken Moray MP pledged to “change the narrative” in Scottish politics and end the “division and arguments” around the constitution.

September 2020

Mr Johnson warns that a second wave of coronavirus has arrived in the UK, but says “I don’t think anybody wants to go into a second lockdown”.

September also saw an admission that Mr Johnson’s plan to redraw the boundaries of the EU withdrawal agreement “does break international law”.

Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs that the prime minister’s plan to override parts of the Brexit deal did in a “very specific and limited way” break the law.

Mr Johnson’s blueprint for a post-Brexit Britain also caused consternation at home, with many claiming his Internal Market Bill was a vehicle to destroy devolution.

The month ended with the prime minister telling the nation to prepare for six months of disruption, as the battle against Covid-19 reached “a perilous turning point”.

October 2020

Rishi Sunak braced the nation for tax hikes, warning there will be no “easy cost-free answer” to the economic crisis unleashed by coronavirus.

In his first Conservative Party conference speech as Chancellor, Mr Sunak said there were “hard choices” ahead and warned the government could not “simply borrow our way out of any hole”.

In a more light hearted moment, Douglas Ross told a Conservative Party fringe event he often unwinds from Westminster by watching US cow shows.

This was also the month in which Nicola Sturgeon called on the House of Commons to take action against Margaret Ferrier, after the disgraced former SNP MP said she would not resign despite the backlash over her repeated breach of coronavirus rules.

November 2020

Dominic Cummings leaves 10 Downing Street

Mr Johnson’s former chief aide Dominic Cummings and director of communications Lee Cain leave Number 10 after an internal power struggle.

Meanwhile the prime minister quietly dropped plans for a £20 billion bridge between Scotland and Northern Ireland and instead ordered officials to explore the possibility of a tunnel.

Mr Johnson was also left red-faced after it was revealed he told Tory backbenchers that Holyrood had been “Tony Blair’s biggest mistake” and that devolution had been a “disaster” for Scotland.

The month ended with another warning from the Chancellor. Mr Sunak said the economic emergency caused by coronavirus has “only just begun”, as he announced plans to borrow a peacetime record of almost £400 billion to combat the worst recession in more than 300 years.

December 2020

The UK becomes the first country in the world to approve the Pfizer/BioNTech coronavirus vaccine.

Soon after approval, Margaret Keenan, 90, becomes the first patient in the world to receive a Covid jab outside clinical trials as the NHS launches its biggest ever vaccination campaign.

As the month and year came to a close, so too did Britain’s ties with the EU. Mr Johnson’s Brexit deal passed, the UK left the EU with on December 31.

Fishing industry bosses wasted no time in calling the deal a “betrayal”, with many saying promises made by Leavers that they would regain control of all UK fishing waters by voting for Brexit had been broken.

January 2021

Victoria Prentis

Brexit anger continued as fisheries minister Victoria Prentis revealed peers she did not read the fishing deal when it was published on Christmas Eve because she was “very busy organising the local Nativity trail”.

After multimillion pound losses, the prime minister was eventually forced to announce a compensation scheme for under fire fishing firms.

Number 10 dismissed SNP plans to bypass Westminster and hold a second independence poll, saying such a move would go “beyond the powers” given to Nicola Sturgeon by the devolution settlement.

The comments came after the SNP announced a second independence referendum would be held, with or without a section 30 order, if May’s Holyrood elections returned a pro-independence majority.

As the month ends the Covid-19 death toll reaches 100,000 in the UK.

February 2021

Mr Johnson is in Scotland again, but soon comes under fire after it emerges his team organised a visit to a Glasgow factory where there had been a Covid outbreak.

We revealed that Mr Johnson’s team of union advisers is to triple in size this year, marking a major change in the UK Government’s approach to the SNP and Scottish independence.

It is understood the issue was made a top priority in Downing Street, after the prime minister privately admitted not enough time had been devoted to securing the Union during the Brexit and coronavirus crises.

March 2021

Rishi Sunak unveiled a £65billion coronavirus support package to “protect jobs and livelihoods” as Britain emerges from the pandemic.

The Chancellor confirmed the furlough scheme, 5% VAT rate for hospitality and Universal Credit uplift would all be extended until September.

Mr Sunak also allocated billions of pounds in business grants and tax cuts to help employers while lockdown restrictions remain and the economy recovers from the worst recession in 300 years.

The month ended with a pledge from Mr Johnson to build a “fitting and permanent” memorial to those who have died from Covid-19, as Britain marked the anniversary of the first national lockdown.

April 2021

In sport, the proposed European Super League collapses as Premier League clubs withdraw from the competition amid a fierce backlash from fans and a lack of support from politicians including Mr Johnson.

May 2021

Iran is accused of pushing disinformation online in an attempt to destabilise the UK by swinging elections in favour of parties supporting Scottish independence.

Cyber specialists acting on behalf of the Iranian regime are targeting voters on Facebook and Twitter by creating fake accounts, groups and pages, according to a study by the Henry Jackson Society think tank.

Mr Johnson put the Union front and centre of his legislative programme for the next year.

Just days after Holyrood returned a pro-independence majority, the prime minister used the Queen’s Speech to announce a series of measures to “strengthen the economic ties across the Union”.

Later that month Mr Johnson dismissed farming industry fears that a post-Brexit trade deal with Australia and New Zealand could knock many out of business.

Scottish farmers are concerned that a free-trade deal with our Commonwealth cousins could result in small family farms being unable to compete with a flood of cheap food imports.

June 2021

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon.

Nicola Sturgeon and Boris Johnson had a “frank discussion” about the UK’s coronavirus recovery at a virtual four-nations summit.

The first minister used the meeting to push for an extension to the furlough scheme beyond its current September expiry date and argued for extra investment in public services.

Matt Hancock’s affair with an aide which broke Covid restrictions is exposed by the Sun newspaper, soon after Mr Hancock resigns as Health Secretary and former chancellor Mr Javid is brought in to replace him.

Crippling US tariffs on single malt whisky exports were suspended for five years, after the US, EU and UK reached an agreement in the long-running row over subsidies to aircraft manufacturing giants Boeing and Airbus.

July 2021

Ruth Davidson

Ruth Davidson brands Boris Johnson’s decision to slash overseas aid “a bloody disgrace”.

MPs voted by a majority of 35 to back the reduced level of aid funding and a new test which critics have warned could mean spending never returns to its target of 0.7% of gross national income.

Michael Gove laughs off SNP referendum demands, telling a House of Lords committee that he would be “enjoying retirement” before Westminster permits another poll.

The 53-year-old Cabinet Office minister told peers that Nicola Sturgeon’s party had lost momentum and support for separation in Scotland was falling.

As Westminster broke for recess, Mr Johnson scrapped all Covid restrictions in England, despite soaring cases of the Delta variant.

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