London Playbook: Aliens — China threat — Power couples

London Playbook: Aliens — China threat — Power couples
Опубликовано: Tuesday, 14 February 2023 06:16

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Good Tuesday morning. This is Rosa Prince — Dan Bloom is in the hot seat for the rest of the week.


MARS ATTACKS: It’s all anyone’s talking about, thanks to U.S. General Glen VanHerck’s bold refusal to rule out the possibility that extraterrestrials could be behind the mysterious objects appearing over North America. No. 10 refused to confirm or deny whether Rishi Sunak believes in aliens, but the PM’s sportsmanlike assertion that he is prepared to shoot down any stray surveillance balloons brought some life to what was otherwise shaping up to be a pretty dull recess.

Don’t look up: The Mail, Times, Guardian and Star all carry reports about balloons/UFOs /alien attacks on the front, while the Telegraph has its own version of a flighted threat from Beijing in the form of Chinese-manufactured police drones. The paper reports that Suella Braverman has warned forces to ensure these are “not vulnerable to any interference” by a foreign state.

Close encounters: Meanwhile, my POLITICO colleagues Louis Westendarp, Antoaneta Roussi and Laurens Cerulus report that security chiefs and politicians gathering in Munich later this week — including U.S. Vice President Kamala Harris, German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, French President Emmanuel Macron and our own Keir Starmer — will do so literally in the shadow of telecoms equipment supplied by Chinese firms including Huawei. The presence of antennae and other equipment will again call into question the wisdom of allowing Chinese 5G suppliers such a dominant role in Western markets.

Big picture: Might the many strands of concern relating to China and its surveillance techniques be coalescing into something of a crunch point for Sunak? There is tension between the new PM and some in his party over his attitude toward China, which is less hawkish than they would like. Unhelpfully, Liz Truss is due to pop up in Japan this Friday to deliver what is described as a major foreign policy speech in which she’ll highlight “growing concerns” over China and its place in the region.

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Integrated review: Truss’ speech nicely tees up the integrated review of global security, which as Aubrey Allegretti reveals in the Guardian, will take place on March 7, and which will put Sunak in a tricky spot. It seems unlikely he’ll follow his predecessor’s plan to use the review to officially declare China a “threat” to British security. But not doing so will certainly put him at odds with many on his backbenches — just yesterday, at a protest outside the FCDO, Iain Duncan Smith accused the governor of Xinjiang, who is due to visit Britain and meet officials, of “murder.” And he’s not alone in considering China a pariah state.

Next up — the budget: The integrated review will provide the framework for the budget eight days later, with negotiations between the MoD and Treasury continuing to play out in public. Defense Secretary Ben Wallace is said to be pushing for a 10 percent budget increase to combat the triple drain of Ukraine, inflation and NATO commitments, and seems to have enlisted sympathetic MPs in an attempt to push Chancellor Jeremy Hunt into halting planned reductions in troop numbers.

War of words: Writing in the i, defense select committee Chair Tobias Ellwood warns such a cut could drastically diminish the U.K.’s global standing, saying: “like in the 1930s we may just regret it.” The Times pair of Steven Swinford and George Grylls suggest however the Treasury is “reluctant” to hand over more cash due to the defense department’s history of wasting money on failed projects.

MAKE LOVE NOT WAR: All this talk of war seems a little off-kilter on Valentine’s Day. Downing Street wasn’t letting on how Sunak and wife Akshata Murthy will be celebrating their love, other than pointing to his interview with Piers Morgan in which the PM conceded he was “a little romantic.” No word from LOTO either on how Starmer will be treating his wife Victoria. But if that’s rather deflated your love balloon, don’t fear — Annabelle Dickinson is ready with her annual rundown of Westminster’s power couples.

She says this year’s definitely-not-scientific ranking of 40 political pairs shows that love is still in the air in SW1, and the political world beyond. With two changes of government since last year’s list, there are some big ups and downs, and new entries for 2023. Enjoy!


PARLIAMENT: Still in recess until February 20.

TO THE MAX: Three-quarters of councils will increase council tax by the maximum amount in April, according to County Councils Network research. So far, 84 out of 114 councils to have published 2023-24 budget proposals plan to increase council tax by 4.99 percent, with all but one raising council tax next year.

OUCH: Veteran broadcaster Jonathan Dimbleby has pronounced on the scandal involving BBC Chairman Richard Sharp — and it’s a thumbs down. “The BBC needs this like it needs a hole in the head,” he told Newsnight. “My personal view is that he should, honorably, fall on his sword … and stand aside.” With the Downing Street spokesperson not quite confirming the PM’s confidence in Sharp, and various probes due to report soon, it does feel as if a tipping point may have been reached.

Sharp elbowed: Sunak’s spokesperson said the investigation into Sharp’s appointment (during which Sharp did not disclose that he helped then-PM and BBC chair-chooser Boris Johnson secure a massive loan) would be looked at “carefully” when it reports.

IT’S COMPLICATED: A man who runs a food bank charity is suing new deputy Tory chairman Lee Anderson for libel. Michael Hollis alleges Anderson defamed him in a Facebook post, and has instructed Bindmans to pursue a libel claim. The Guardian’s Jamie Grierson has the write-up.

LETTER FROM KNOWSLEY: Representatives from 180 charities have signed an open letter calling on party leaders to take action over recent disturbances outside a hotel housing asylum seekers in Knowsley. Organized by the coalition campaign Together With Refugees, the letter urges politicians to “take a clear stand and condemn any further violence against those who come here to find safety, and set out the action they will take to prevent it.”

ABOUT TIME: New regulations to clamp down on unregulated buy-now-pay-later creditors will protect an estimated 10 million consumers from unconstrained borrowing while still ensuring those who need it can access interest-free credit, the government says. Under the new rules, providers will have to give consumers key information about their loans and issue affordable credit. It comes as City Minister Andrew Griffith today convenes a summit of banks and debt charities, urging them to work together to improve financial education.

MORE BUDGET: The i’s Arj Singh and Chloe Chaplain hear Chancellor Hunt is not up for funding free childcare for the youngest children — this side of a general election, anyway. Following reports the Department for Education has been bidding for the state to fund 30 hours a week of free child care for toddlers to bolster the Tories’ offering to families, the pair hear the money isn’t there.

COVID INQUIRY: The U.K. COVID-19 probe holds its first hearings, on pandemic preparedness and resilience, starting at 10.30 a.m. You can follow along here.

CAN YOU KICK IT? Chair of the government’s review into the future of women’s football Karen Carney hosts a round table at Kingsmeadow, home of Chelsea’s women’s team. Hopefully, Douglas Ross won’t be officiating.


GIFT THAT KEEPS ON GIVING: More fun from Labour and its government procurement card dossier. In the latest from the trove, the Mirror unearths bills worth £500,000 spent by Foreign Office officials in just 12 months on rugs and wallpapers. The Guardian reports that spending in the same department leaped by 50 percent after Truss took over from Dominic Raab in October 2021.

DEAR JOHN: Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden has written to oppo John Glen about suggestions that the Department for Leveling Up has been blocked from signing off spending on new capital projects without prior Treasury permission. He has demanded Glen says what possible delays this could mean for housing and large capital spending. The Treasury insists DLUHC’s program of capital spending is continuing as planned. The FT has the full write-up.

ALL VERY 1996: Writing in The Independent, former Confederation of British Industry boss Paul Drechsler says Labour should now be considered the party of business. It’s yet another significant intervention by a leading business person, following Iain Anderson’s defection from the Conservatives at the weekend, and in the wake of the party’s increasingly high-profile wooing of industry and business figures.

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PROBLEM SOLVED? The Northern Ireland protocol impasse has been “solved” and a new agreement will be signed within the next fortnight, The Daily Telegraph hears. As others have suggested, the deal is likely to involve the British government dropping its opposition to European judges making rulings as a court of “last resort” over disputes in Northern Ireland. No 10 has yet to sign off on the deal — and it remains unclear if the DUP will play ball.

Not so fast: Brexiteer MPs warn Sunak via The Sun’s Noa Hoffman there will be “trouble” if the protocol deal doesn’t end the supremacy of EU law. Meanwhile, No. 10 has admitted Michael Gove did not inform the PM before attending the now infamous summit at Ditchley Park to discuss how to maximize the benefits of Brexit.

Meeting of minds: Playbook has spoken to an attendee at Ditchley who scoffs at the suggestion the likes of Gove, Nigel Lawson, Michael Howard and Gisela Stuart would have had simultaneous Damascene conversions to the cause of Remain: “If ever there was a storm in a tea cup …”

Not going so well: Brexit has wiped out £29 billion in business investment, according to Bank of England interest rate setter Jonathan Haskel. He told the FT the lack of business investment growth since the 2016 referendum was equivalent to 1.3 percent of U.K. gross domestic product, or about £1,000 per household.

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STRIKES LATEST: More than 70,000 members of the University and College Union take to the picket lines for the first of three days of strikes across 150 universities today. Staff at Amazon’s depot in Coventry have voted to strike for seven days next month. And teachers in Wales are also taking industrial action.

THE BIG SICK: Some areas of England have almost 3,000 registered patients for every fully qualified GP, according to new analysis commissioned by the Liberal Democrats. The number of registered patients at GP practices has increased by 7 percent to 62 million since 2016, a rise of more than 4 million, while the number of fully qualified GPs fell 7 percent. It means there are now 2,273 patients per fully qualified GP in England, up from 1,981 in 2016.


EARTHQUAKES: U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres welcomed the decision by Syrian President Bashar al-Assad to open two further crossing points on the Turkish border to allow more aid into Syria. The death toll from last week’s quakes has now reached more than 36,000, with hope fading of finding any more survivors.

NATO: NATO defense ministers meet in Brussels.

CYCLONE: New Zealand has declared a state of emergency in the wake Cyclone Gabrielle after at least 38,000 homes were left without power. New Zealand’s new Prime Minister Chris Hipkins held talks with Sunak last night. A Downing Street spokesperson said: “The prime minister said that the U.K. stood by to support in any way possible and his sympathies were with all those affected.”

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Shadow Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury Abena Oppong-Asare broadcast round: Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Bauer media clip (broadcast shortly after 8.20 a.m.) … LBC News (8.50 a.m.) … ITN clip (broadcast shortly after 9.15 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Centre for China and Globalization Vice President Victor Gao (7.35 a.m.) … Former British Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch (8.05 a.m.) … Former Conservative party leader William Hague and former Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale (9.10 a.m.).

Also on Sky News: Former British Army intelligence and security officer Philip Ingram (7.40 a.m.) … British Chambers of Commerce Director General Shevaun Haviland (7.45 a.m.) … University and Colleges Union (UCU) President Janet Farrar (8.30 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Former Chief of Air Staff Air Chief Marshal Michael Graydon (7.05 a.m.) … Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh (8.05 a.m.) … UNISON General Secretary Christina McAnea phone-in (9.05 a.m.).

Also on Good Morning Scotland: Educational Institute of Scotland General Secretary Andrea Bradley (7.05 a.m.) … Paragon Brands Managing Director Chris Jones (7.35 a.m.) … Scottish Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater (8.05 a.m.).


(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page):

Daily Express: Millions face maximum council tax hikes.

Daily Mail: Rishi — RAF are ready to shoot down spy balloons.

Daily Mirror: I’m not a threat to victim’s lover.

Daily Star: We can’t rule out aliens.

Financial Times: Overseas bets on ⁦Vodafone mount as ⁦Liberty Global takes £1.2 billion stake.

i: Hunt urged to boost defense spending — or risk failing to deter Putin.

Metro: ‘Strong, fearless, one of a kind.’

POLITICO UK: Britain’s political power couples — 2023 ranking

PoliticsHome: No 10 refutes Cabinet minister’s view Rwanda scheme will be of “marginal benefit”.

The Daily Telegraph: Police use of Chinese drones ‘risks UK security’.

The Guardian: Police missed chances to arrest Couzens as sex offender suspect.

The Independent: Hammer blow for Tories as former ⁦CBI chief declares — Labour is party of business.

The Sun: Cost of living it up.

The Times: Exposed, the secret plot to sink tougher sewage rules.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: A dry day with light winds and some sunshine, reaching highs of 13C. As Andie MacDowell once said: “Is it raining? I hadn’t noticed.”

SOMETHING’S GOTTA GIVE: Stephen McPartland became the latest Tory MP to announce he is not standing at the next election. Representing Stevenage since 2010, McPartland said he will always support the Conservatives “as the party that gave a working class kid from Brixton the opportunity to become prime minister.” Was McPartland too spoilt for choice to choose anyone more recent? His letter is here.

CLUELESS: In desperate need of a late Valentine’s Day present? Why not take your better half along to “DOM — The Play,” which “explores the chief controversies of Dom’s explosive career.” Yes — that Dominic Cummings. On offer: “Why he despises Nigel Farage, the truth about Barnard Castle and the details of his brutal sacking in November 2020.” Unmissable, clearly. No, you don’t need to drive 30 miles to check your eyes have read this properly — this is real. The play opens a week today at The Other Palace theatre on Palace Street. Tickets (from £24) are available here.

DOM, ACTUALLY: Deputy PM Dominic Raab spent recess following the Twitter account “Oddly Terrifying,” which posts pictures and clips of things that are … oddly terrifying. Judge for yourself here.

SPOTTED: At a foreign policy event at German Ambassador Miguel Berger‘s residence: peer Catherine Ashton … Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Secretary General Helga Schmid … Ukraine’s Ambassador to the U.K. Vadym Prystaiko … the EU’s Ambassador to the U.K. Pedro Serrano … Serbia’s Ambassador to the U.K. Aleksandra Joksimović … Kosovo’s Ambassador to the U.K. Ilir Kapiti … Slovenia’s Ambassador to the U.K. Simona Leskovar … High Commissioner of Cyprus in the U.K. Andreas S. Kakouris … the New York Times’ Stephen Castle … the FT’s Tony Barber … and Head of Press and Public Diplomacy for EU Delegation U.K. Federico Bianchi.

JOB AD: Labour is hiring a briefing officer based in its London head office and parliament who will be “responsible for ensuring accuracy and consistency of messages across a range of platforms to support Labour’s political strategy.” The details are here.

MOVING ON: Helen Bower-Easton, the first woman to be appointed the PM’s official spokesperson — to both Theresa May and David Cameron — is leaving her role as head of coms to join the FCA, according to CityWire.

BIRTHDAYS: Commons public accounts committee Chairwoman Meg Hillier … Blyth Valley MP Ian Levy … Old Bexley and Sidcup MP Louie French … Former Labour MP Pat Glass … Lib Dem media officer Ami Wyllie … Lib Dem Lords leader Dick Newby turns 70 … Former Director of Public Prosecutions Alison Saunders … Tory peer John MacGregorDavid Wilson … Welsh Labour MS Dawn Bowden.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Noah Keate and producer Grace Stranger.

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