A look at the UK and international political/events calendar for the rest of 2021

Matthew Elliott, Senior Political Adviser and Dr Clive Black, Head of Research

Thanks to the discombobulating effect of lockdown, the first half of 2021 has felt simultaneously like a marathon and a sprint. But as the UK opens up, the political/events calendar shows no signs of slowing down – both here and around the world. Here’s some of the key events to look out for over the next six months:


With the House of Commons rising for the summer recess on 22 July, Westminster will pack up once everybody has enjoyed the short summer party season allowed by the lifting of restrictions on 19 July. The Government will be hoping for a quiet summer. They will be vigilant of the ongoing threat of Covid and keen not to repeat 2020’s exam results fiasco, but aware that the country needs a rest from politics – MPs and Ministers included. 

I doubt many MPs will be travelling overseas for the summer holidays, unless they have a pressing family reason for doing so, but the lifting of restrictions on overseas travel will undoubtedly increase the risks of Coronavirus mutations, so there will naturally be some apprehension in Government as to what biology overseas holidaymakers return with. Mutations that challenge the vaccine are perhaps the domestic and global economy’s greatest current threat.

During this period, the eyes of the world will turn to Tokyo for the ‘2020’ Summer Olympics (23 July to 8 August). Having experienced the wonderful lift hosting the Olympics can give a country (London 2012), it is impossible not to sympathise with the Japanese this time around. Despite the ban on travel for spectators, international TV audiences form the majority of the crowd, so I hope Japan experiences an Olympic boost to tourism in future years, post-Covid.   

Over in the United States, the result of the CIA report on the origin of Covid is due to be published imminently. If its conclusion points to a lab leak from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a short drive from the wet market where the first cluster of infections emerged, expect an interruption from the usual ‘silly season’ stories we have come to expect in August (British understatement).


The big international story in September will likely be the withdrawal of the remaining 2,500 US troops from Afghanistan on the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, bringing an end to America’s involvement in the War in Afghanistan (for now). 

Closer to home, the German election will take place on 26 September. Until recently, the Greens were riding high, and many predicted Germany’s first Green Chancellor, as part of a Conservative (CDU/CSU)/Green coalition. This combination is still likely to win, possibly with the Liberals (FDP) in the mix, but it is less clear who the next Chancellor might be. Either way, the end of Angela Merkel’s 16-year reign is a significant moment, and a big opportunity for Emmanuel Macron. The President of France will then become the most senior national leader in the EU, and based on past form, I suspect he will exercise the influence that comes with the honorary position rather less deftly than its current office holder.

Here in the UK, the House of Commons returns on 6 September, and the Government will hope to make COP26 the big focus for the autumn. Before that happens, I suspect the media will be rather more interested in the tit-for-tat with the European Commission over the Northern Ireland Protocol, as the grace period (once again) expires at the end of the month. The 12 July parades have seemingly passed largely without incident in Northern Ireland, which is a relief and good news. Let us hope that the civil situation in this fragile region remains calm, whilst diplomats and politicians make necessary substantive progress on UK-EU matters in relation to Northern Ireland between now and October. Neither side wanted a big fight in June over mandatory checks amidst the final push on Covid, but I suspect the Commission will be less willing to simply extend the grace period once again this time. Expect an intervention from President Joe Biden, who I suspect will be less supportive of the EU’s purest interpretation of the agreement than many commentators expect him to be. 

The other crunch point in September will be the end of the furlough scheme. We have the paradox of millions of people paid to stay at home and thousands of businesses short of people. Managing the end of furlough will not be easy, and some thought needs to be given to getting people back to work and matching the job vacancies to job hunters. We also need some real strategic thinking regarding our medium to long-term human capital needs, and to devise an academic and vocational education strategy to raise our productive capabilities and reduce dependence on imported labour.


The first in-person party conferences since the 2019 General Election will take place – touch wood. Labour will meet at the end of September, giving Keir Starmer an opportunity to buttress his leadership (or his Corbynite opponents the chance to commit another self-inflicted wound on what remains of a once-great party). For the sake of the country, Labour needs to look like a serious party again; after all, all governments benefit from a competent opposition. 

The Conservatives gather in Manchester at the beginning of October, giving the journalists, lobbyists and think-tankers of SW1 their first opportunity to meet en masse since the beginning of the pandemic. Boris Johnson will sadly not be able to revel in a European Championship victory, but he will be able to point to three big victories since the last gathering – defeating Jeremy Corbyn, getting Brexit done, and being the first major country to roll out the Covid vaccine. But he can’t rest on his laurels. The country needs to hear his big vision for the UK in the 2020s. That narrative has been crowded out with fighting the pandemic, but the Party conference gives the Prime Minister the opportunity to speak to the country, and let us know where he wants the country to be in 2030. 

In the wider world, the ‘2020’ World Expo in Dubai is scheduled to begin on 1 October, SpaceX is set to launch its Crew-3 mission to the International Space Station (23 October) and the 2021 Rugby League World Cup will run in England from 23 October to 27 November. But the biggest event to look out for from a business perspective is the G20 meeting in Rome (30-31 October), where finance ministers intend to finalise the new tax framework announced by the G7 earlier this year. The implementation of this initiative is not inevitable – Ireland for one has serious reservations – but it is notable that governments are focusing on tax collection rather than tax attractiveness in this post-Covid fiscal environment. Serious tax rises are on the horizon globally for 2022. 


The eyes of the world will be on Scotland at the beginning of November, with COP26 being held in Glasgow from 1-12 November. The Pope is apparently attending, and the UK Government were being encouraged to invite Kim Jong-un, according to one source, so it will be the biggest gathering of world leaders since the Covid pandemic. And if the successful G7 Summit is anything to go by, the Prime Minister and Royal Family will exude UK soft-power at its finest. That is not to say the negotiations to agree the 2030 emissions reductions targets and finalise the Paris Rulebook will be straightforward – if they are to be meaningful, they will be difficult discussions – but the gathering is another opportunity for the UK to show global leadership and put meaning into the phrase, Global Britain. It also presents us with an opportunity to structurally seize the moment and commit to further expansion of the Green Economy. Outside the EU we can be more agile and effective in this area, including access to green capital through the City of London. COP26 therefore marks an important moment not only for the world, but for the future of the UK.

Towards the end of November (date tbc) the Chancellor will make his Autumn Statement and announce the results of his three-year Comprehensive Spending Review (CSR). Rishi Sunak has a difficult job to balance the ambition of the Government’s levelling-up agenda with the fiscal constraints facing the country post-Covid. He also has to balance the manifesto commitment to retaining the triple lock with the new reality that young people have borne the brunt of Covid. And this is before a potential rise in interest rates squeezes Government finances even further, thanks to mounting inflationary pressure. The March 2021 Budget was (rightly) based on very small-c conservative assumptions, and hopefully the picture will look brighter come November, but even taking this into account, the Chancellor is not in an enviable position. Rishi Sunak has glowed in giving money away, so it will be interesting to see how he handles taking money away.


What goes for the UK also applies internationally – by December we will have a much clearer picture about the economic effects of the global vaccination rollout and the pullback of the various stimulus schemes operating across the world. We will also see in the Northern Hemisphere the severity of a possible fourth wave combined with the winter flu season, which could bring another crunch point for the NHS. This is where the Government’s investment in domestic manufacturing capability for vaccines is crucial, building on Kate Bingham’s sterling work, and ensuring we can all remain safe.

The main electoral event to keep an eye on in December (19) is the Hong Kong Legislative Council ‘election’. President Biden’s administration is as hawkish on China as President Trump’s was, but he is seeking to address the issue through international coalition building, rather than bilaterally.

In the UK, some people suggest that a reshuffle might be on the cards just before Christmas, to enable Boris Johnson to go into 2022 with the team to build his post-Brexit, post-Covid legacy. Sajid Javid’s return as Health Secretary took away one of the main reasons for an early reshuffle, and I suspect the Prime Minister will be reluctant to shake up his team ahead of the Party conference, COP26 and the CSR. 


It’s tempting to assume that 2022 will bring easier political times, but even assuming that we have seen the back of Covid, there will still be chunky issues facing the Government. As well as the ones touched on above, there’s the issue of social care, tensions in the Union, and delivering on net zero. 

Internationally, the key elections that will shape the geopolitical weather are the French Presidential election (10-24 April 2022) and the US midterms (8 November 2022). Politics never stops. But as Prime Minister Harold Macmillan replied when asked what the greatest challenge for a statesman was, he wisely observed: “Events, dear boy, events”.

Matthew Elliott tweets @matthew_elliott.