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By ELENI COUREA
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Good Friday morning.
‘FALTERING’ OFFENSIVE? Russia’s advances in Ukraine appeared to be stalling overnight as the invasion entered its fourth week. In its latest intelligence update issued last night, the U.K. Ministry of Defence said logistical problems were hampering Russia’s “faltering invasion of Ukraine” and that the Russian army was failing to supply its forward troops with essential food and fuel. Meanwhile, Ukrainian counterattacks are forcing Russia to divert troops and limit offensive potential.
Zelenskyy latest: Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy delivered another late-night address in which he claimed some of the Russian conscripts being captured are refusing to return to their home country. More of his comments on the Guardian’s live blog.
Attempt to sway China: U.S. President Joe Biden is due to speak by phone to Chinese leader Xi Jinping today for the first time since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine. White House officials have signaled that Biden will warn Xi against providing Russia’s Vladimir Putin with military support.
Tellingly: Russia canceled a planned U.N. Security Council vote meant to take place today on a so-called “humanitarian” resolution regarding Ukraine due to a lack of support from Beijing and New Delhi, according to AFP.
Talking turkey: Meanwhile, Putin spoke to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday afternoon. The BBC’s John Simpson has an interesting story on Russia’s main demands if it is to agree to a ceasefire, as recounted by Erdoğan’s chief adviser, İbrahim Kalın. The most difficult issues relate to the status of the regions of Donbas and Crimea, but Simpson suggests that overall agreement may be easier than expected.
Latest from the ground: Some 90 percent of buildings in the port city of Mariupol have been damaged or destroyed by the Russian offensive, officials in Kyiv said. The Times has the story. The paper also carries a top-notch digital project by Anna Lombardi and Ryan Watts, looking at the impact of the invasion through satellite images.
Next move: Russia is now thought to be planning an advance from southern Ukraine to link up with other battalions, encircle the Ukrainian army and claim victory, the Telegraph reports.
In Kharkiv: The BBC’s Quentin Sommerville and cameraman Darren Conway have another can’t-miss dispatch from Kharkiv, where they have been given access to the Ukrainian army.
Hoax callers: The Telegraph splashes on suspected Russian hoax calls made to both U.K. Home Secretary Priti Patel and Defense Secretary Ben Wallace. Wallace revealed yesterday he was targeted by an imposter, who was pretending to be the Ukrainian PM and ended the conversations after becoming suspicious.
Homes for Ukraine: The first phase of the government’s program for Britons to host Ukrainian refugees goes live this afternoon. It will allow British sponsors to nominate specific Ukrainians to come to the U.K. on the basis they can house them for six months. A government source said the enormous numbers registering interest demonstrated “the incredible generosity of the British people.”
DRIVING THE DAY
P&O FIASCO: Ministers are under pressure to take action against P&O Ferries after the company sacked 800 crew members over Zoom with immediate effect yesterday to replace them with cheaper overseas labor. P&O’s actions have succeeded in knocking the invasion of Ukraine off several front pages this morning. The Times’s Ben Clatworthy, who broke the story, reports that workers were given 30 minutes’ notice of the decision. The government is now facing calls to penalize the firm, including by withdrawing contracts to operate freeports.
Couldn’t make it up: The Mail splash points out that while the firm claims it is safeguarding its future against £100 million in pandemic losses, it is reportedly spending £100 million to be the title sponsor for the 2022 European Golf Tour.
DYSFUNCTIONAL ORGANIZATIONS #2: Thousands of DVLA staff were put on special leave during the pandemic with no expectation of working at all as drivers faced huge backlogs to get their licenses renewed, The Times’s Paul Morgan-Bentley reports following an undercover investigation. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has ordered an investigation.
DYSFUNCTIONAL ORGANIZATIONS #3: Has No. 10 actually pulled it off? The attempted coup against Boris Johnson is over, allies of the PM tell the Mail’s Jason Groves. Senior figures around the PM believe he would survive even if he were fined by police over lockdown-breaking parties, because the invasion of Ukraine has persuaded disgruntled Tory MPs to think again. “People are seeing the big picture. He will lead the party into the next election — and he will win it,” a Cabinet ally of Johnson’s predicts. On Thursday, Andrew Bridgen followed Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross in withdrawing his no-confidence letter from the inbox of Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee of Tory backbenchers.
In Liz we Truss: Tory leadership hopefuls will need to bide their time. Asked whether she is interested in making a tilt for the top job, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss told the Sun’s Natasha Clark that she is focusing 24/7 on the war in Ukraine and “not thinking about anything else.” But she did pile pressure on Chancellor Rishi Sunak to increase defense spending in his upcoming spring statement, saying: “The free world did not spend enough on defense after the Cold War. We let down our guard.”
Speaking of the spending review: The Sun’s Kate Ferguson has a letter from 50 Tory MPs warning Sunak against a hike in the fuel duty.
The magic number: And 50 Tory MPs are ready to join a rebellion coordinated by David Davis and Andrew Mitchell against plans to process asylum seekers’ claims overseas, sources tell the Tel’s Chris Hope — though Home Office figures cast doubt on the figure.
THE NEW BREXIT? The backlash against Boris Johnson’s net-zero agenda is gaining prominence, whether it’s because of soaring energy bills or the attention-seeking antics of one Nigel Farage. Could they pull off a similar trick to the Leave campaign, wrongfooting the doubters and disrupting the Westminster consensus? POLITICO’s Esther Webber and Karl Mathiesen have done a deep dive in which they map out the extensive links between the two movements — from overlapping personnel to recycled social media accounts and company registrations. But they find that while Leave had a clear mission, the net-zero skeptics lack deep support or a defined endgame. For now.
STILL IN IRAN: Lots of papers are marking the emotional moment that Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Anoosheh Ashoori were reunited with their families in Britain after years of detention in Iran. But the ordeal is not over for all — the family of imprisoned businessman Morad Tahbaz, who has U.S., U.K. and Iranian citizenship, found out that he would not be boarding the return flight from media reports, reports The Times’s Mario Ledwith.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with a day of private members’ bills, starting with Tory MP Jeremy Wright’s bill on making taxis more accessible, followed by Labour MP Rosie Cooper’s bill on recognizing British Sign Language.
RISH-KY BUSINESS: Chancellor Sunak told Cabinet colleagues that an immediate EU-wide embargo on Russian oil and gas imports would send economic shockwaves throughout Europe and cause at least £70 billion in damage to the British economy, the FT’s Jim Pickard and Chris Giles report.
Russian gas-less future: The U.K. has a big Russian gas problem and needs a plan to protect itself, a new Institute for Government paper warns. The paper argues the U.K. can survive without Russian gas by increasing other sources of energy supply, reducing energy demand and protecting households and businesses from high energy costs through new funding.
Un-Lebedev-able: Johnson ally and liaison committee Chairman Bernard Jenkin admitted he “can’t believe” the PM gave a peerage to Evgeny Lebedev, during a private session of the Commons’ standards committee. In the redacted transcript released yesterday, Jenkin said: “Mind you, he gave a peerage to Lebedev — I can’t believe it. It seems to me that that is part of the change in attitude that is required.” More from Insider here.
TAX LINE OF THE DAY: The Tories have reached the “high water mark” of increasing taxes, party Chairman Oliver Dowden told the Chopper’s Politics podcast. Dowden also spoke of wanting to attract new candidates from working-class parts of Britain to drive “genuine diversity” in the Tories’ election candidates list, which he said will involve new tests to determine if they have sufficient Conservative values. His speech at the Tories’ spring conference will be on the same theme.
BULB RESCUE LATEST: Taxpayer losses from the government’s rescue of energy company Bulb could increase further as the government prevented the company from hedging — otherwise known as paying for financial protection against price fluctuations — against further rises in fuel prices, according to officials who spoke to the FT. Around £600 million has already been spent keeping the company afloat.
FIRST WORLD PROBLEMS: Assorted anonymous MPs have complained that the publication of their expenses is “paramount to bullying” and that their accommodation budget is too small, Insider’s Henry Dyer reports.
LORDS: Sits from 10 a.m. with a day of private members’ bills, starting with Lib Dem peer Sarah Ludford’s bill on refugees.
CONFERENCE CORNER: Tory ministers and MPs will troop down to Blackpool today for the party’s spring conference. Chancellor Rishi Sunak will kick off the Cabinet speeches this morning (11 a.m.), followed by Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg (11.20 a.m.) … Transport Secretary Grant Shapps (11.35 a.m.) … Party Chairman Oliver Dowden (12.30 p.m.) … Health Secretary Sajid Javid (3 p.m.) … Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi (3.30 p.m.) … Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan (3.45 p.m.) … and Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove (5.15 p.m.). The PM will address the conference tomorrow morning. Full agenda here.
**The conflict in Ukraine brings unprecedented political, economic, social and humanitarian consequences for Europe. At a critical time when Western leaders are showing solidarity and unity, POLITICO Europe is dedicating its annual POLITICO 28 event to the Ukrainian people, including a fundraiser to support the humanitarian situation in Ukraine, and will itself contribute by making a donation to the Belgian Red Cross. You can find out more and donate to the Belgian Red Cross here.**
STATE OF THE UNION
MINI SCOOP: Ministers are discussing plans to collect key health data centrally amid concerns the current system masks poorer-performing services in Scotland and Wales. More in the full story here. Significantly, some in government are unhappy with Michael Gove’s conciliatory approach to the Scottish and Welsh administrations and believe the failure to make a dent in the public’s support for them proves the need for a more combative approach.
CONFERENCE CORNER II: PM Johnson will this afternoon address a Scottish Tory party that united around calling for his resignation in January, as the Scottish Conservatives’ conference kicks off in Aberdeen. The PM will look to use the Scottish party’s first in-person get-together since before the pandemic as an opportunity to repair relationships, which remain strained between the parties despite Douglas Ross since walking back his call for Johnson to quit. Johnson is the main draw today with a speech at 4.05 p.m. — Chancellor Sunak will also address the conference via videolink just after noon.
Get well soon: A sore throat saw Ross miss Holyrood’s FMQs session yesterday and the party has already announced that his speech, taking place tomorrow, has been shortened. The Telegraph’s Simon Johnson reports that Ross is determined to make it to the conference anyway, out of concern that failing to attend would be perceived as evidence of a split between himself and Johnson. A party spokesman said Thursday that Ross has taken COVID tests each day, all of which have come back negative.
Music to conference-going ears: An eve-of-conference poll by Savanta ComRes for the Scotsman found that a majority of voters, including plenty from the “Yes” camp, think that any planning on the timing of a second independence referendum should stop due to the war in Ukraine. The poll also found a small lead in favor of remaining in the Union overall, by 52 percent to 48 percent with “don’t knows” removed.
IN CASE YOU FORGOT ABOUT BREXIT: Liz Truss has lost faith in negotiations with Brussels and has told officials to be ready to trigger Article 16 from next week to try to force a quick deal with the EU over the Northern Ireland protocol, Patrick Maguire and Chris Smyth report in The Times.
**Save the date – POLITICO Live’s event “Making greener products the norm in the EU?” happening on April 4 at 4:30 p.m. CEST. Discover what it will take to make sustainable products the norm. Register now!**
Armed Forces Minister James Heappey broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio Breakfast (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … Today program (8.30 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.50 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Mark Dickinson, general secretary of Nautilus International (7.10 a.m.) … Peter Aylott, director of policy at the UK Chamber of Shipping (7.50 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Britain (ITV): Labour MP Karl Turner (7.20 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley at Breakfast (Sky News): Former Deputy Supreme Allied Commander of NATO Richard Shirreff (7.30 a.m.) … Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon (8.05 a.m.) … Shadow Mental Health Minister Rosena Allin Khan (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Labour MP Barry Gardiner (7.05 a.m.) … Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities Chair Tony Sewell (9.20 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Former adviser to the Foreign Office, Mark Galeotti (7.15 a.m.) … Ian Blackford, Westminster leader of the Scottish National Party (7.40 a.m.) … Chief Executive of Citizens Advice Clare Moriarty (7.45 a.m.) … Chief Executive of the Refugee Council Enver Solomon (8.10 a.m.) … Deputy Chair of the Public Accounts Committee Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (8.20 a.m.) … Shadow Secretary of State for Environment Jim McMahon (8.35 a.m.) … Iuliia Mendel, former spokesperson for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (8.40 a.m.) … San Francisco’s first female, Black mayor, London Breed (9.45 a.m.).
Also on Jeremy Kyle breakfast show (talkRADIO): Shadow Environment Secretary Jim McMahon (8.20 a.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Demos director Polly Mackenzie and the Times’ Matt Dathan.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Betrayal.
Daily Mail: Mutiny on the P&O ferries.
Daily Mirror: Band of mothers.
Daily Star: Up ship creek.
Financial Times: P&O halts ferry crossings and sacks 800 sailors via Zoom call.
HuffPost UK: U.K. sends ‘defensive’ equipment to Poland.
i: Putin’s tank assault on Kyiv in doubt.
Metro: Mutiny on P&O ferries.
POLITICO UK: Sorry Zelenskyy, Germany’s hooked on that Russian oil and gas.
PoliticsHome: Ministers hope easing security checks for people hosting Ukrainians will speed up refugee resettlement scheme.
The Daily Telegraph: Russians target Patel and Wallace with fake video calls.
The Guardian: Nations unite to condemn Putin over ‘war crimes.’
The Independent: Full Russian attack on Kyiv ‘may never happen.’
The Sun: What a bunch of anchors.
The Times: Ukraine takes fight to Putin.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
The Economist: The alternative world order — ‘Friendship between the two states has no limits.’
THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY
Chopper’s Politics: Christopher Hope interviews Tory Party Chairman Oliver Dowden and Lesia Vasylenko, co-chair of the U.K.-Ukraine friendship group.
Desperately Seeking Wisdom: Former No. 10 spinner Craig Oliver talks to campaigner and crossbench peer Michael Hastings.
EU Confidential: The POLITICO team are joined by the UNHCR’s head of policy and legal support Sophie Magennis.
How Did We Get Here: Andy Bell talks to Tony Brenton, former ambassador to Moscow, about the Putin he knew.
Inside Briefing: The IfG team talks to the veteran broadcaster Adam Boulton.
London Calling EU: The EU delegation team will talk about how Europeans changed British football, with manager Claudio Ranieri and columnists Simon Kuper and Philippe Auclair.
Newscast: The BBC Westminster team are joined by former Brexit Minister David Frost.
Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women: Johnson interviews Social Care Minister Caroline Dinenage.
The Economist Asks: Anne McElvoy talks to former Russian Foreign Minister Andrei Kozyrev.
The Political Party: Matt Forde interviews the former Better Together chief Blair McDougall.
Westminster Insider: Jack Blanchard marks 30 years since the Maastricht Treaty by speaking to those involved, including Francis Maude, Iain Duncan Smith and Andrew Mitchell.
YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS
TORY CONFERENCE LINEUP FOR SATURDAY: Environment Secretary George Eustice (10.15 a.m.) … Home Secretary Priti Patel (10.30 a.m.) … Defense Secretary Ben Wallace (11.15 a.m.) … Foreign Secretary Liz Truss (11.30 a.m.) … and PM Boris Johnson (11.45 a.m.).
In Scotland: Scotland Secretary Alister Jack will address Scottish Tory Conference at 11.25 a.m, followed by leader Douglas Ross — if his throat holds up — at 12.10 p.m.
SUNDAY SHOWS: Sophie Raworth will be joined by Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves (BBC One, Sunday 9 a.m.).
Sophy Ridge will also be joined by Sunak and Reeves (Sky News, Sunday 8.30 a.m.).
Tom Newton Dunn and his T&G co-host Lucy Fisher will also be talking to Sunak, along with former European affairs director for the U.S. National Security Council Alexander Vindman (Times Radio 10 a.m.).
Westminster Hour host Nick Watt will be talking to Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire … SNP MP Alyn Smith … and the i’s Paul Waugh (Radio 4, Sunday 10 p.m.).
IN MEMORIAM: On this day last year, POLITICO Europe’s much-loved editor in chief Stephen Brown died at the age of 57. An exceptional journalist who turned into a fantastic leader of a growing team, Stephen made time for everyone in the newsroom and is missed immensely by politicos everywhere. Read David M. Herszenhorn’s obit.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ☀️☀️☀️ Sunny all day — highs of 16C.
SPOTTED … At Action for Children’s Ultimate News Quiz: BBC News supremo Fran Unsworth … Today presenter Nick Robinson … ITV’s Paul Brand … Former Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey … Tory MP Huw Merriman … Channel 5’s Andy Bell … DCMS SpAd Rob Oxley … Sky’s Joe Pike … Tory peer Liz Sugg … DCMS spinner Craig Woodhouse … and Woman’s Hour presenter Emma Barnett.
BIRTHDAYS: Environment Minister Jo Churchill … Edinburgh South West MP Joanna Cherry … Unaffiliated peer Amir Bhatia … Scottish Greens co-leader and Scottish government minister Patrick Harvie.
Celebrating over the weekend: Crossbench peer and former Met Police chief Ian Blair … Former Tory SpAd Ems Barr … Network Rail Chairman Peter Hendy … The i’s Arj Singh … Government Deputy Chief Whip in the Lords Patrick Stopford … Labour peer Raymond Plant … Scottish Tory MSP Jamie Greene … Former Welsh government Education Minister Kirsty Williams … Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper … Aberdeen North MP Kirsty Blackman … Glasgow South West MP Chris Stephens … Labour peer and former EU foreign affairs chief Cathy Ashton … Unaffiliated peer Peter Truscott … Former Daily Express editor Hugh Whittow.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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