London Playbook: Bonhomie with Brussels — Tory spring (forum) — King Pong

London Playbook: Bonhomie with Brussels — Tory spring (forum) — King Pong
Опубликовано: Friday, 24 March 2023 06:17

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POLITICO London Playbook


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Good Friday morning. This is Eleni Courea. Rosa Prince will be back next week.


FRIDAY WITH FRIENDS: Ministers will dot the is and cross the ts in their Windsor Framework today — and discuss the next stage of their new chummier relationship with Brussels.

On the agenda: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly will meet the EU’s Maroš Šefčovič mid-morning for what is effectively a rubber-stamping exercise.

What will be most interesting … is talk of how to work more closely in areas like science, energy and financial regulation — and whether the U.K. might rejoin Horizon Europe (the program that gives researchers in participating countries funding and collaboration opportunities) or the European Atomic Energy Community (Euratom). A colleague of Cleverly’s tells the FT: “We have secured the Windsor agreement. We are now asking: ‘Where can we go next with this?’” The paper reports that the controversial Retained EU Law Bill (to wipe remaining EU legislation off the statute book) will also come up in talks today.

As for Rishi Sunak: After meeting Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu early in the morning, the PM will continue his end-of-the-week victory lap with a speech to the Tory grassroots at the National Conservative Convention at 5 p.m. The NCC kicks off the Conservative spring forum in the West Midlands. Sunak will meet party activists for drinks at 6 p.m.

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Tory spring indeed: Quashing a Tory rebellion over the central plank of the Windsor Framework (and embarrassing Boris Johnson and Liz Truss in the process) will be enough to keep Sunak smiling into the weekend — which he is spending in Chequers with his family. An ally of the PM tells the Mail’s Jason Groves: “A Brexit vote that commands near support on both sides of the House is a collector’s item. It’s his party now.”

KING PONG: The general bonhomie isn’t just infecting ministers but royalty too, with King Charles heading to Paris on Sunday for his first trip abroad since taking the throne. The catch? The French are up in arms over Emmanuel Macron’s pension reforms, with nightly demonstrations, strikes and rotting bin bags piling high in the streets (where they are formed into barricades). My colleagues Clea Caulcutt and Esther Webber have a rollicking piece on the chaos that awaits the king in Paris. The Mail reports that a planned banquet at Versailles on Monday is set to be moved.

Clear the way: One Parisian told Playbook she was surprised to hear the rubbish truck trundle down her street early one morning this week. It turned out a minister was visiting a local school that day, so they cleared up the area for the pictures. No doubt there’ll be a similar emergency op in a small radius around the king’s Paris accommodation happening as we speak.


GETTING BATTLE-READY: Boris Johnson is preparing for the worst and gearing up for a by-election, his allies tell the Times. He’s already stepped up campaigning on local issues in his Uxbridge constituency, where ultra-low emission zones would be a key battleground — and Johnson will be hoping to drum up support among suburban drivers. Like the Lib Dems, Labour has selected its candidate, Danny Beales, this week.

Waiting game: Whitehall figures tell the Mail’s Jason Groves that the decision from the privileges committee on Johnson’s future could come as late as June or July … potentially delaying any vote until the autumn. So we all have months more of this to enjoy. The former PM’s allies are accusing the committee of dragging its feet to benefit Labour.

Tune in: TalkTV’s Friday Night with Nadine Dorries — the former culture secretary and staunch BoJo ally — should be fun. In trailed remarks she said: “They may find him guilty, but the means by which they do so will be fully challenged. This isn’t going to end any time soon.”

What is going to end: Brexit arguments. Don’t take it from Playbook but from Deputy ERG Chairman David Jones. “The problem is people are tired of it, frankly, almost physically tired of it,” Jones tells my POLITICO colleague Esther Webber. “Everybody wants the whole thing to go away.” In her piece Esther examines whether the Tories might be tired of Boris Johnson as well. “His party colleagues, taught through long and bitter experience never to underestimate him, are starting to believe that his value to them may finally be through,” she writes.

RIVAL GATHERING: Worth noting here that Tory spring forum isn’t the only party in town this weekend. A cabal of Thatcherite movers and shakers is heading over to Buckinghamshire for an inaugural “freedom festival” hosted by the Margaret Thatcher Centre, Playbook hears. They will attend a gala dinner with a “very senior politician” (who is apparently not Liz Truss). Billed to attend are arch Brexiteer Dan Hannan, minister Steve Baker, MPs Conor Burns and Greg Smith, as well as some right-leaning wonks and journalists.

WORTH NOTING: The Tel’s Chris Hope reported on Thursday that publication of Boris Johnson’s resignation honors list is imminent … though senior government officials aren’t expecting it today. Johnson’s former aides are on tenterhooks to see who has and hasn’t made the cut. One told Playbook’s Rosa Prince: “Considering the length of that list and my old boss … I don’t think you can take anyone’s word for it until it’s in black and white.”


STARMER IN SCOTLAND: Keir Starmer — fresh from launching his second “national mission” on crime — heads to Inverness today with Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar and Shadow Climate Secretary Ed Miliband to visit an offshore wind farm.

Tax raid rage: The Telegraph splashes on Labour refusing to entirely rule out increasing capital gains tax. Capital gains are taxed at a lower rate than income — as both Starmer and Rishi Sunak’s tax returns demonstrated this week. The Times’ Chris Smyth has more on that and Starmer’s press conference.

Now read this: The i’s Paul Waugh argues in this compelling piece that Starmer has bitten off more than he can chew with his over-ambitious “missions.” It started with a pledge to make the U.K. the fastest-growing G7 economy — a goal hostage to the fortunes of, say, Japan or France. Now his crime targets (like halving knife crime) will be affected by many uncontrollable factors like unemployment, technology and gang culture, Waugh points out. “Actually slapping a percentage target on all that is not just brave but potentially foolish,” he writes. “What seems striking is just how un-Blairlike it is to set targets that just seem unachievable or beyond a government’s control.”

ON SELF-ID: Starmer has been advised by Labour strategists since 2021 that he needs to shift his position on trans rights and tell voters that “self-ID is not going to happen,” Sky’s Joe Pike reports. A senior Labour source tells him: “If Keir is still being asked by the time the election campaign begins ‘what is a woman?’ then he’s lost on day one.”

KISS AND TELL: Now for our lifestyle section. If you’re diehard Labour, is it ever OK to kiss a Tory? Rachel Reeves thinks so — and would encourage colleagues to be less “tribal in politics and in life,” she tells my POLITICO colleague Ailbhe Rea in her new profile episode of Westminster Insider.

So has she done it? “I’m sure I have,” she laughs nervously. “Unlike maybe some of my colleagues I don’t go around voter-IDing people. I don’t think we need to be quite so tribal in politics and in life.” Of course it wasn’t just a conversation about kissing Tories — the shadow chancellor tells Ailbhe about living in south London in the 1980s, Oxford during the New Labour years, and her banking days pre- and post-financial crisis. There’s a write-up too.

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ASBO PLAN: The government is publishing its anti-social behavior strategy on Monday, according to Onward’s Seb Payne, who previews it in his Times column today. He says the strategy is likely to include bigger fines and tougher punishments … more money for community patrols … a harsher clampdown on illegal drug use … and greater powers for landlords to evict troublesome tenants. There will probably be more in the Sunday papers.

SMALL BOATS: Ministers are considering a rebel amendment to the small boats bill that would bar judges from granting injunctions to stop the removal of illegal migrants, the Times reports. The proposal put forward by backbencher Bill Cash is backed by up to 50 Tory MPs … two frontbenchers have discussed quitting if Sunak doesn’t cave. … and it’s the only amendment ministers are seriously considering, according to the story. The bill is due back in the Commons on Monday and Tuesday.

Rebel round-up: Tory moderates are spearheading separate amendments to remove unaccompanied children from the bill’s remit and to introduce safe and legal routes for asylum, according to the Times. And Tory backbenchers led by Jonathan Gullis have tabled an amendment to ban the use of hotels to accommodate migrants, the Telegraph’s Charles Hymas says.

Meanwhile: Rishi Sunak struck an agreement for the deportation of Albanian criminals with the country’s PM Edi Rama — after Rama told the BBC that Suella Braverman’s comments had sunk relations a “very low moment.” The Times has a write-up.

COST OF LIVING CRUNCH: The average council tax bill is now more than £2,000 a year, the Times splash says — the day after the Bank of England hiked interest rates by another 0.25 percent. It also makes the Mail.

COVID INQUIRY: The COVID inquiry has approached David Cameron and George Osborne to give evidence on the U.K.’s pandemic preparedness — and whether austerity damaged it, ITV’s Anushka Asthana reports. She says some bereaved families are boycotting the inquiry over the involvement of companies like 23Red which held government contracts during the pandemic.

99 PROBLEMS: This year the Economist is taking a microscope to the problems with the British state, including weaknesses in the machinery of government. In this week’s issue it looks at the challenges facing the civil service including churn and low morale. “More of it is in flux now than it has been for a very long time,” Peter Hennessy told the mag of Whitehall.

SEWAGE SITU: Most applications from areas to the government for bathing water status have been rejected in the past 14 months, according to Lib Dem data written up by the Guardian.

NOT CONTENT: Ofcom will not police online content, its chief exec Melanie Dawes told POLITICO’s Mark Scott. Dawes said the U.K.’s Online Safety Bill would not make decisions about what people could post online, instead looking at the design of social media platforms and their algorithms.

HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with a day of private Members’ bills including the remaining stages of the Protection from Sex-based Harassment in Public Bill (Tory MP Greg Clark), the Ballot Secrecy Bill [Lords] (the Tories’ Paul Bristow) and the Workers (Predictable Terms and Conditions) Bill (Tory MP Scott Benton).

See you in Strangers: The Ballot Secrecy Bill would end “family voting” — a practice where people are accompanied into a polling booth by a member of their family (usually a man supervising how a woman votes). If concluded it will be one of the few Lords PMBs which gets to the statute book — and Robert Hayward, who has championed it, will be heading straight to Strangers Bar to celebrate.

HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 10 a.m. with peers considering the Mobile Homes (Pitch Fees) Bill and the Universal Credit (Removal of Two Child Limit) Bill at third reading before examining the Co-operatives, Mutuals and Friendly Societies Bill, the Neonatal Care (Leave and Pay) Bill, the Shark Fins Bill and the Worker Protection (Amendment of Equality Act 2010) Bill at second reading.

WONK WATCH: In its latest report Onward argues ministers need to prepare for a rise in climate change-induced migration and create two visa schemes designed for it … the TBI says the government should be spending 10p on public health for every additional pound it spends on the NHS to improve the nation’s health and save money in the long run … and according to Transparency International U.K. analysis of Acoba data, nearly a third of all jobs taken by former ministers and senior officials significantly overlapped with their previous brief.


CONFLICT CLAIMS: Middlesborough’s independent Mayor Andy Preston has been accused of an “obvious” conflict of interest because he owns eight properties in a part of northern England he’s been tasked with regenerating, the FT’s Jen Williams reports. Preston told the paper the idea that he was trying to gain financially “would be laughable if it wasn’t so offensive.”

LEICESTER DESELECTIONS: Nineteen sitting Labour councillors in Leicester have been deselected, the Guardian reports, the majority of whom were from BAME backgrounds.

DARK TIMES FOR TICK TOCK: The FT splashes on TikTok’s chief exec Shou Zi Chew facing severe criticism before the U.S House energy and commerce committee on Capitol Hill. My POLITICO colleagues in D.C. have more on how badly the hearing went down. The app was banned from the U.K. parliamentary network on Thursday.

STURGEON’S FAREWELL: After Nicola Sturgeon took part in her final First Minister’s Questions Thursday … The Daily Record says “save the best for last” over a pledge she made … The National splashes with “a fond farewell” over tributes paid to Sturgeon … The Scotsman declares “bitter division and a standing ovation as Sturgeon era ends” … The Press and Journal highlights “Sturgeon has last word in final act as first minister” … The Dundee Courier has Nicola Sturgeon stating “I am proud of what has been achieved” … and the Herald’s website details “SNP MSPs in ‘disgraceful’ attack as Sturgeon criticised in ferry fiasco.”

ERDOĞAN ON THE EDGE: For the first time in over 20 years, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has lost his aura of invincibility, reports POLITICO’s Elçin Poyrazlar, and the Turkish president’s detractors say May’s election is the last chance to salvage the country’s democracy. After the worst earthquake in almost a century — as well as years of economic mismanagement — there’s a feverish anticipation of change in parliament and party headquarters. “It’s 50-50,” a senior member of the administration tells Elçin. “People feel change is coming.”


Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting broadcast round: LBC (7.05 a.m.) … GB News (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (9.05 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: East Suffolk and North Essex NHS Foundation Trust Chief Executive Nick Hulme (7.10 a.m.) … National Association of Head Teachers Vice President Simon Kidwell (8.10 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Former senior adviser at the Bank of England Charles Goodhart (8.05 a.m.).

Also on GB News Breakfast: Academic Matthew Goodwin (8 a.m.) … Former Foreign Secretary David Owen (8.10 a.m.).

BBC Breakfast: Former head of Ofsted Michael Wilshaw (8.30 a.m.).


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

POLITICO UK: For Boris Johnson, every option looks bleak.

Daily Express: Here’s hoping! Bank chief’s optimism for U.K. economy.

Daily Mail: Fury at woke barristers refusing to prosecute eco warriors.

Daily Mirror: Why is Prem star still playing after rape and assault claims?

Daily Star: Have killer machines taken over the world?

Financial Times: TikTok chief struggles to fend off U.S. ban in front of hostile Congress.

i: No tax cuts in 2023 as interest rate climbs to 14-year high.

Metro: Harvest of horror.

The Daily Telegraph: Labour plots tax raid on savings and investments.

The Guardian: Councils spend £500 million on beds in worst care homes.

The Independent: Bank of England hikes interest rates to 4.25 percent.

The Times: Council tax tops £2,000 as rates rise for 11th time.


The Economist: The world according to Xi.


EU Confidential: The POLITICO team speak this week from the European Council summit in Brussels, where competitiveness and the economy are high on the agenda.

Westminster Insider: POLITICO’s Ailbhe Rea interviews Labour’s Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Plus 6 of the best political podcasts to listen to this weekend:

Chopper’s Politics: Christopher Hope speaks to former Leveling-Up Secretary Simon Clarke, Veterans Minister Johnny Mercer and ConHome’s Paul Goodman.

Committee Corridor: Environmental audit committee Chair Philip Dunne hosts a special live episode to mark 25 years since the committee’s creation, including a keynote speech from former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Iain Dale All Talk: Iain Dale speaks to Schools Minister Nick Gibb about how he got into politics and his aims before the next election.

Mugshots with Michael Crick: Michael Crick profiles Business and Trade Secretary Kemi Badenoch, learning what makes her tick.

Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women: Rachel Johnson interviews the Sunday Times’ Chief Foreign Correspondent Christina Lamb about her life and career.

Red Box: Matt Chorley talks to the owner of the company that makes the red boxes used by every Cabinet minister, and hears reflections on their red boxes from former Prime Minister David Cameron, former Chancellor George Osborne and former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light rain showers and highs of 13C.

Brighter days ahead: Clocks go forward by an hour at 1 a.m. on Sunday.

EARTH HOUR: Parliament will switch off non-essential lights at 8.30 p.m. on Saturday to mark Earth Hour and raise awareness of climate change. Given the buildings’ state of disrepair let’s just hope the lights come back on.

MEA CULPA: Here’s a cautionary tale about the dangers of sleep deprivation. Playbook inadvertently broke the embargo of the NAO’s latest bombshell report on the amount in COVID business grants that’s been lost to fraud on Thursday (it had been meant for Friday). The NAO were very gracious about it. Their report found that of £1.1 billion lost, only £11.4 million has been recovered — there are write-ups in the FT and the Times on p1.

SPOTTED: At the Ivy Club earlier this week, Keir Starmer’s head of strategy and polling Deborah Mattison in deep discussion with Iain Anderson, the Stonewall chair and former Tory business chief who defected to Labour a few weeks ago. Anderson quit as a government adviser last year over its policy on trans rights.

Also spotted: At a Good Friday Agreement reception in Speaker’s House: Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle … The European Commission’s Maroš Šefčovič … Ministers Chris Heaton-Harris and James Cleverly … Shadow Ministers Peter Kyle, Tonia Antoniazzi and David Lammy … Former Northern Ireland Secretary Theresa Villiers … Hacks Adam Payne, Claire Ellicott, Arj Singh and Sam Lister … SpAds Claire Tighe, Harriet Smith and Louis Flood … Ireland’s Ambassador to the U.K. Martin Fraser … The EU’s Ambassador to the U.K. Pedro Serrano … EU Delegation to the U.K.’s Bart Vodderie … The U.K.’s Ambassador to the EU Lindsay Croisdale-Appleby … Northern Ireland Assembly Speaker Alex Maskey … and the Tony Blair Institute’s Anton Spisak.

Also spotted: At the launch of Byline Books with hummus and cocktail sausages in the Attlee Suite: Labour MP Dawn Butler … Former Labour MP Ian Lucas … Byline’s Peter Jukes, Hardeep Matharu, Sam Bright, Adam Bienkov, Josiah Mortimer … PoliticsHome’s Nadine Batchelor-Hunt … and Fair Vote U.K.’s Kyle Taylor.

Met with resistance: Labour MP Dawn Butler said she believed the government has leant on Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley to say that Met racism is not “institutional,” claiming “in private meetings he’s said the opposite.” PolHome’s Nadine Batchelor-Hunt writes it up.

MAGIC NUMBER: Asked by the Times to write a victory speech for a new prime minister, chatGPT decided to set out its own five priorities — so it’s pretty much ready to take on Sunak and Starmer.

BIG BEN BALLOT: They were denied a queue-jump to the queen’s lying-in-state, but at least MPs’ staff can get a tour of the Elizabeth Tower. Nearly six years after Big Ben’s chimes were silenced for renovation, preview tours start next month. They are sold out to the public, but Playbook’s Dan Bloom hears staff have been offered entry to a ballot for seven Fridays, starting April 21. The deadline to enter is next Thursday.

CULTURE FIX: Journalist Peter Taylor investigates how a former MI5 officer encouraged the IRA to end its violent campaign and embrace politics in “The MI5 Spy and the IRA: Operation Chiffon” on Saturday at 7 p.m. on BBC Two … Radio 4’s Profile of Louise Casey, who wrote this week’s damning review of the Met, is broadcast at 7 p.m. on Saturday … and Oscar-winning 2017 film “Darkest Hour” about Winston Churchill during World War II is on BBC One on Sunday at 10.30 p.m.

OVER ON INSTA: Here’s a snap of Labour bruisers John Prescott and Angela Rayner in boxing gloves.

JOB ADS: The Northern Ireland Office is hiring a senior policy adviser … the Telegraph’s editorial insight graduate scheme is open for applications.

BIRTHDAYS: Attorney General Victoria Prentis … The Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti turns 30 … Crossbench peer and TV entrepreneur Alan Sugar … President of Sri Lanka Ranil Wickremesinghe … Former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis.

Celebrating over the weekend: Strangford MP Jim Shannon … Former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell … Labour peer and former SDLP leader Margaret Ritchie … Lords Opposition Whip Margaret Wheeler … Labour peer Stewart Wood … The FT’s European Diplomatic Correspondent Henry Foy … Tory peer and former leader William Hague … Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Pat McFadden … Shadow Climate Change Minister Kerry McCarthy … Crossbench peer Helene Hayman … Shadow Arts and Civil Society Minister Barbara Keeley … Basingstoke MP Maria Miller … Congleton MP Fiona Bruce … SNP Commons health spokesperson Martyn Day … Opposition Deputy Chief Whip Lilian Greenwood … Tory peer James O’Shaughnessy … DWP SpAd Isabel Bruce … Former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Nancy Pelosi … Washington Post legend Bob Woodward turns 80.

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

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