London Playbook: San Diegone — See you back in Cali? — Boats bill sails through
Presented by Lowell
By ELENI COUREA
with ROSA PRINCE in San Diego
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CRICKETING NATION: Rishi Sunak has pledged to don his cricket whites and join the batting order for the Downing Street versus Lobby grudge match this summer. On the plane back from San Diego (which is still en route), the PM revealed he used his time “between jobs” last autumn to brush up on his skills with bat and ball — and lamented that the No. 10 cricket team was not a patch on the Treasury’s. Let’s see how they fare against the Lobby’s finest.
Good Tuesday morning. This is Eleni Courea, with Rosa Prince filing updates from the plane. Dan Bloom is in charge for the rest of the week.
DRIVING THE DAY
SAN DIEGONE: Rishi Sunak arrives in London at lunchtime after a whirlwind 24 hours in California, where he oversaw the sale of a collapsed bank … sealed a deal to build nuclear-powered subs for Australia … announced £5 billion of defense spending … unveiled a new strategy on China and Russia … and secured a promise from U.S. President Joe Biden to visit Northern Ireland this spring.
And he’s back: In good time to put the finishing touches on the budget before tomorrow.
**A message from Lowell: The latest update to our Financial Vulnerability Index shows the UK is struggling to return to its pre-pandemic financial health. In areas like London, high unemployment and a large proportion of lone parent families are undermining resilience and driving vulnerability. Find out how your area is doing here.**
Last night in San Diego: The PM held a bilat with Biden just before take-off, Rosa — who’s traveling with him — writes in to report. They had their tête-à-tête in a slightly smelly gym at Point Loma submarine base, where, at the PM’s suggestion, they ordered officials out of the room so they could have a frank discussion.
As it happens: The PM spent over an hour with French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday without officials present. Hopefully his team isn’t taking this personally.
See you next month: Biden accepted the PM’s invitation to come to Northern Ireland for the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday Agreement. In return, the president invited Sunak to D.C. in June — and apparently tried to blag himself an invite to the PM’s swanky Cali pad. “He’s a Stanford man, and he still has a home here in California,” Biden told reporters on Monday before turning to Sunak: “That’s why I’m being very nice to you, maybe you can invite me to your home in California.” Does he know about the heated pool in Yorkshire?
AUKUS CAUCUS: Before the bilat, there was a trilat. Sunak, Biden and Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese lined up against a dramatic blue-sky backdrop at the base, where they unveiled the latest phase of the so-called AUKUS security deal on Monday afternoon.
Unspun: Claims the AUKUS partnership isn’t about China fell apart a bit when No. 10 circulated a readout saying that Sunak and Biden had “noted the challenges posed by the increased assertiveness of the Chinese Communist Party” — and that “the prime minister outlined the steps the U.K. is taking to protect our national and economic security interests.” The pair agreed on the importance of maintaining dialogue.
Tune in for more: Security Minister Tom Tugendhat is out on the broadcast round. He’ll be on Today at 7.30 a.m.
Coke and chips: Before flying home, the PM heaved a big stash of his favorite chocolate chip cookie muffins from California grocery store Vons and cans of Mexican Coke into the hold — a supply that should carry him over until his next U.S. trip.
THE CITY’S WHIRLWIND WEEKEND: Back in London, POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson, Mark Scott and Tom Bristow tell the behind-the-scenes story of how a buyer was found for the U.K. arm of Silicon Valley Bank — a mission dubbed Project Yeti by Treasury officials. From the late-night WhatsApp messages, intensive lobbying from high-profile techies to the last-minute Treasury negotiations with HSBC, our top tech team chronicles the race to the 7 a.m. announcement on Monday.
Phew: “I’m sure you’re all a lot more relieved and calm tonight,” Science and Technology Secretary Michelle Donelan told a room of fintech entrepreneurs in Westminster on Monday. “I can only imagine the hell you’ve all been through, but now we’re out on the other side.” Playbook’s mole said the sense of relief was “palpable.”
DON’T SAY ‘THREAT’: China has been upgraded from a “systemic challenge” to an “epoch-defining challenge” in the refreshed integrated review, which warns that the risk of escalation is “greater than at any time in decades.”
Stepping back … from the slightly maddening debate over what dictionary words it uses to describe China, the document sets out an intention to maintain good trade relations and dialogue on challenges such as climate change — while locking China out of critical infrastructure and working with Western allies to counter the security threats it poses.
Actions not words? The budget for cross-government China capabilities has been doubled from £1.6 million to £3.2 million over the next two years. There will be more money for Mandarin-language teaching for officials (which we reported was being piloted months ago).
“It’s better than Boris …” one hawkish China watcher told Playbook — which is kind of a win. This strategy doesn’t look too different from Boris Johnson’s have-your-cake-and-eat-it approach, though Sunak would argue he is tougher on national security issues. He reversed the takeover of the Welsh semiconductor plant Newport Wafer Fab by a Chinese-backed firm (as he often likes to mention), a deal that had been effectively waved through under Johnson. And earlier in his premiership, Johnson had to be forced to ban Huawei from involvement in the U.K.’s 5G network by a Tory rebellion.
What experts are saying: Beijing to Britain analyst Sam Hogg told Playbook: “This is a good starting point for two reasons. First, the government has finally put its (limited) money where its mouth is when it comes to investing in the UK’s critically underfunded China capabilities. Second, the IR23’s choice of language around China and the CCP should allow us to draw a line under the redundant conversation about declaring China a ‘threat,’ while bringing the UK in line with allies.”
NEW CPTPP BEEF: Clinching U.K. membership of the CPTPP at last would really help with the “Indo-Pacific tilt” that forms the crux of the IR — but the pesky Canadians appear to be holding things up. Kemi Badenoch will meet her Canadian counterpart today after the two nations clashed over the U.K.’s bid to join the bloc during talks on the Vietnamese island of Phu Quoc. POLITICO’s crack trade team reports that Canada’s demand that Britain opens up its beef market has thrown a spanner into the works. Read their full piece for details of the diplomatic fallout.
SAILING THROUGH: Last night, the Commons approved the Illegal Migration Bill by 312 votes to 250 — a majority of 62.
The Tory rebels: There weren’t any. Not a single Tory voted against it, with both Caroline Nokes (who had expressed “absolute horror” at the bill) and Chris Skidmore (who said it broke international law) deciding to abstain. On TalkTV afterward, Nokes compared it to “Donald Trump’s caging of children.”
The Tory critics: In the Commons debate, ex-PM Theresa May — who is penning a “searing exposé of injustice” — said that “genuine victims of modern slavery will be denied support” under this legislation. She said there was no evidence that Channel migrants were abusing her Modern Slavery Act to enter the U.K. The Times’ Matt Dathan has a write-up.
Wince: Sunak got rather testy when asked about May’s monstering of his bill in the Commons. “I’m confident that our bill represents the best way to grip this problem,” he told reporters traveling with him in the U.S. “I’ve also always been clear that there is no … one simple solution to what is a complicated problem. It will take lots of different interventions.”
Also not happy: Nimco Ali, who until a few months ago was advising the government on violence against women, told the Guardian that Home Secretary Suella Braverman should resign over her “cruel and heartless” policies toward refugees.
Coming down the track: Katy Balls points out on the Spectator site that the real challenge for ministers is to stop a backbench amendment seeking withdrawal from the ECHR when the bill moves to the committee stage. Playbook reported in February that Red Wall MPs were loudly plotting their amendment and speculating they would get 80 backers with multiple PPS resignations.
Now read this: Whatever your views on this bill, it is striking how little time MPs will get to pore over it. It’s due to spend two days in the Committee of the Whole House before its third reading and passage to the Lords. In a punchy blog post the Institute for Government’s Hannah White argues that “MPs generally — one third of whom have joined the House since 2017 — have lost institutional memory of what used to count as adequate scrutiny.”
**Do not miss POLITICO Live’s virtual event “Managing the growing burden of respiratory infections in the EU” on March 29 and hear a frank discussion about how Europe can better prevent and address the strain posed by the rise of respiratory infections. Register now!**
ONE DAY MORE: Jeremy Hunt delivers the budget on Wednesday and the narrative that has been spun is that the public finances give him little room for maneuver. But it’s rare that a chancellor doesn’t have a rabbit up his sleeve — and one Tory watcher pointed out to Playbook over the weekend that he seems “assured.” Not long to go.
Pension pots: Hunt will raise the lifetime allowance for pension savings to a record level, as part of plans to disincentivize early retirement and keep more people in work. It splashes the Telegraph and also makes p1 of the Times.
Growth coalition: Hunt will outline 12 investment zones intended to “supercharge” growth in hi-tech industries, each backed by £80 million of investment over five years. Here’s the Sky write-up.
News on booze: The Telegraph hears alcohol duties will be frozen for a further six months before rising by inflation on August 1, which was first reported by the Sun in December.
LINEKER DAY EIGHT: A chorus of right-wing papers and MPs lambast the BBC and call the future of the license fee into question, after bosses at the broadcaster reinstated Gary Lineker to Match of the Day.
Brace for the backlash: The Mail splashes on this topic for the seventh day in a row, branding the decision a “slap in the face for BBC license payers.” Tory MP Scott Benton tells the paper that the Beeb “has caved in” and looks “incredibly weak.” The Express asks if this is the nail in the coffin of said license fee.
Lose-lose: My POLITICO colleague Stefan Boscia has interviewed ex-culture sec John Whittingdale and former BBC interviewer Emily Maitlis on how Lineker wins, the government wins — and the Beeb loses. “I think there may be a perception that Gary Lineker has challenged the leadership of the BBC and got away with it,” Whittingdale tells him.
Still under pressure: Director-General Tim Davie, who is now being attacked by both sides, and chairman Richard Sharp.
YOU’RE ON YOUR OWN: Sunak pointedly refused to come to the aid of his predecessor-but-one, Johnson, over the privileges committee probe, which could end with him being suspended or kicked out of parliament. Asked whether he would encourage Tory members not to impose too harsh a punishment, the PM said: “That wouldn’t be right. This is a matter for parliament and the House. It’s not a matter for the government.”
Don’t forget: Johnson is due to finally appear before the privileges committee next week.
Campaign of intimidation: The Conservative Post website is launching a “campaign” to try and strong-arm the four Tory MPs on the privileges committee into quitting the probe, the Express’ Christian Calgie reports. Charles Walker, Bernard Jenkin, Alberto Costa and Andy Carter will apparently be bombarded with messages from grassroots members telling them they won’t “tolerate politically motivated attacks against our party.” As they say — good luck with that.
**To what extent has the energy crisis tied to the war in Ukraine shown that the market needs a deep reform? POLITICO Live’s virtual event “Power market reform approaching a snag?” on March 22 is bringing you the answer together with our energy reporter, Victor Jack, and a stellar group of experts. Register now!**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
STRIKES ROUND-UP: Junior doctors and trainee dentists strike for the second day … And Shadow Transport Secretary Louise Haigh is billed to speak at an RMT rally marking a year since 786 P&O Ferries workers lost their jobs.
LABOUR’S LATEST BIZ BLITZ: Keir Starmer is attending an EY-hosted roundtable discussion of global execs today on how tech can be used to deliver public service reform. Google, Microsoft, BT Openreach, AstraZeneca and Deepmind will be among those there.
Diplo duel: Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris and Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy are both spending the next few days in Washington for meetings — presumably separate ones. Lammy is speaking at the Center for American Progress on Wednesday.
New green new deal: The Yorkshire Post’s Mason Boycott-Owen reveals Labour party officials are working with Biden’s team that wrote the Inflation Reduction Act to craft their own British version. POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson wrote all about how Labour is seeking inspiration abroad last month.
THE HARDEST WORD: Tory chairman Greg Hands has apologized for an email sent to Tory party supporters last week, criticizing civil servants in the name of Home Secretary Braverman. Civil Service World’s Tevye Markson has the scoop.
IN THE SPOTLIGHT: Tory MP David Simmonds faces questions over issues raised in parliament relating to a constituent’s business after his local Conservative association received thousands in donations, the Guardian reports … While Health Secretary Steve Barclay hired self-proclaimed “famous lobbyist” Lionel Zetter, who has links to insurance and private healthcare, as an adviser between January and November last year, the New Statesman reports.
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with FCDO questions followed by a 10-minute rule bill from Tory MP Paul Holmes on planning (quarries) … there are then two backbench business debates covering homelessness among Ukranian refugees in the U.K. (led by Tory MP Bob Blackman) and the seizure of Russian assets (managed by former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith). Tory MP Crispin Blunt has the adjournment debate on proscribed psychedelics drug and access to medicine.
WESTMINSTER HALL: Debates from 9.30 a.m. on topics including knife crime in the West Midlands (led by Tory MP Suzanne Webb) … support for single parent families (managed by the SNP’s Amy Callaghan) … and Middlesbrough Development Corporation (led by Labour’s Andy McDonald).
On committee corridor: Skills Minister Robert Halfon gives evidence to the education committee about Careers Education, Information, Advice and Guidance (10 a.m.) … The DCMS committee hears from Ofcom Chief Executive Melanie Dawes (10 a.m.) … Health Minister Nicholas Markham gives evidence to the health and social care committee about digital transformation in the NHS (10 a.m.) … The BEIS and justice committees jointly hear evidence from energy experts about prepayment meters and their forced installation (10.15 a.m.) … The DCMS committee hears from Culture Minister Stuart Andrew about safety at major sporting events (2.30 p.m.).
HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 2.30 p.m. with the introduction of the Bishop of Sheffield Peter Wilcox, followed by oral questions on U.K. car production since 2016, carbon reduction costings and compulsory subjects in schools. The main business is the Electronic Trade Documents Bill at report stage, consideration of Commons amendments to the Public Order Bill and U.K. Infrastructure Bank Bill, and the Trade (Australian and New Zealand) Bill at report stage. Labour peer Gillian Merron has a short debate on ambulance waiting times.
BEYOND THE M25
UKRAINE UPDATE: Fierce fighting continues in eastern Ukrainian city Bakhmut, where both sides have claimed battlefield successes in the longest running and bloodiest battle of Russia’s invasion.
SWANSEA EXPLOSION: A man’s body has been recovered from the scene of a suspected gas explosion in Swansea, with three other people taken to hospital. Images showed one house had collapsed and another badly damaged. The Evening Standard’s Nina Lloyd has more.
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Security Minister Tom Tugendhat broadcast round: GB News (6.45 a.m.) … Times Radio (7 a.m.) … Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … Today program (7.30 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Good Morning Scotland (7.55 a.m.) … GMB (8.30 a.m.) … ITN (8.55 a.m.) … Bauer media (9.05 a.m.) … TalkTV (9.10 a.m.)
Shadow Economic Secretary to the Treasury Tulip Siddiq broadcast round: Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … ITN (8.20 a.m.) … Bauer media (8.35 a.m.) … LBC News (8.40 a.m.) … GB News (9.05 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Maggie Blyth, the NPCC’s lead for violence against women and girls (7.10 a.m.) … economist John Vickers (7.50 a.m.).
Also on Sky News Breakfast: SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (7.30 a.m.) … Hampshire Police and Crime Commissioner Donna Jones (8.30 a.m.).
Also on TalkTV Breakfast: Defense committee Chair Tobias Ellwood (7.05 a.m.) … Former Chief of General Staff of the British Army Richard Dannatt (8.05 a.m.) … Defense analyst Simon Diggins (9.05 a.m.) … Independent economist Julian Jessop (9.30 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Former Head of Scotland Yard’s Paedophile Unit Mike Hames (7.20 a.m.) … Former government adviser on violence against women, Nimco Ali (8.15 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Policy Exchange senior fellow Christopher Brannigan (7.05 a.m.) … Former Assistant Chief of the Defense Staff at the Ministry of Defense Jonathan Shaw (7.10 a.m.) … The i’s arts and media correspondent Adam Sherwin (7.20 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Britain: Pregnant Then Screwed founder Joeli Brearley (7.25 a.m.).
Also on GB News Breakfast: Spiked editor Tom Slater (6.05 a.m. and 7.05 a.m.) … Immigration lawyer Skylar McKeith (6.10 a.m.) … Former Lib Dem minister Norman Baker (6.30 a.m., 7.30 a.m. and 8.30 a.m.) … Former NATO commander Chris Parry (7.10 a.m.) … ERG Chair Mark Francois (8 a.m.) … Former newspaper editor Eve Pollard (9 a.m. and 9.20 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): Tory MP Jake Berry … Labour’s national campaign coordinator Shabana Mahmood … Labour’s former Director of Policy Andrew Fisher … Former Tory SpAd Sonia Khan.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page):
Daily Express: Has Lineker put a nail in coffin of licence fee?
Daily Mail: A slap in the face for BBC licence payers.
Daily Mirror: Glitter back in jail.
Daily Star: 1—0 to the crisps salesman.
Financial Times: Banks battered and rate forecasts reined in as SVB tremors spread.
i: Pressure grows on BBC bosses over Lineker climbdown.
Metro: ‘Time for a sharp exit’.
POLITICO UK: Saving Silicon Valley Bank U.K. — How the British tech sector averted disaster.
PoliticsHome: Tory Party Chair has apologized for Suella Braverman email calling civil service an “activist blob”.
The Daily Telegraph: Boost for pensions as Hunt ready to raise cap.
The Guardian: BBC bosses face pressure after U-turn over Lineker.
The Independent: Lineker 3, BBC 0.
The Sun: Glitter back in jail.
The Times: PM strikes submarine deal to face new threat.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Rainy with highs of 10C and lows of 3C.
CULTURE FIX: Radio 4 documentary series “Shock and War: Iraq 20 Years On” continues today at 1.45 p.m. Listen to the first five episodes here.
MOVING ON: Alison Gow is leaving Reach, where she is interim audience and content director, after 19 years.
JOB AD: GB News is hiring a London-based producer to work on their early prime time programming.
BIRTHDAYS: Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar turns 40 … Wirral West MP Margaret Greenwood … Shadow Roads Minister Gill Furniss … Bethnal Green and Bow MP Rushanara Ali … Dewsbury MP Mark Eastwood … Tory peer Gabrielle Bertin … Lib Dem peer Sarah Ludford.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Noah Keate and producer Grace Stranger.
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