Westminster diary: Final mine arguments & out-of-date sanctions

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We're counting down towards a government decision on whether to allow controversial plans for a new deep coal mine in West Cumbria to go ahead.

In March, the elected mayor of Copeland, Conservative Mike Starkie, argued the mine could reduce the UK steel industry's reliance on coal imports from Russia.

After a Telegraph article last weekend suggesting Communities Secretary Michael Gove was ready to come down in favour of the project, 14 environmental organisations hit back in a letter to him on Tuesday.

They wrote: "Cumbrian coal would not replace imports from Russia", arguing it was a different type of coking coal, and stressing familiar points about the mine increasing carbon emissions.

After the public inquiry last autumn, we learned just before easter that the planning inspector had submitted his recommendation (though we don't know what it is). There's a deadline of 7 July by which time Mr Gove must approve or refuse permission. Either way, though, there could then be further legal challenges.

On Wednesday, Russia announced sanctions against 287 British MPs, in retaliation after the UK imposed penalties on its politicians over the invasion of Ukraine.Alister Jack, David Mundell, John Lamont, John Stevenson and Trudy Harrison from our region were among those who were banned from entering Russia.

Mr Mundell, the Conservative MP for Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale described it as "a badge of honour."

Amusingly, the Russians' list of MPs seemed rather out of date. It featured a number of politicians who left the Commons at the 2019 general election, including former Conservative (then briefly Independent) MP for Penrith & The Border Rory Stewart, and former Workington Labour MP Sue Hayman.

After an urgent question in the Commons on Wednesday, the current Conservative MP for Penrith & The Border Neil Hudson called on the government to rethink their plans to privatise Channel 4.

He said: "Now is the time to support and bolster our public service broadcasters, not challenge them or lead them to being a competitive, subscription-based service, which is the last thing that our rural communities need."

Media, Data & Digital Infrastructure Minister Julia Lopez responded: "we would maintain Channel 4 as a free-to-air service. We are not looking for a subscription model. Everything that we are doing seeks to bolster the public service broadcasting sector."

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer was campaigning in Carlisle and Workington this week ahead of the local elections on Thursday, 5 May.

There's been no sign of any senior Conservatives yet. 

My reports on the reorganisation of Cumbria's councils and the political battles for control of the two new authorities are available here.

Parliament was prorogued on Thursday, and will return for the Queen's Speech on 10 May.