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By ALEX WICKHAM
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Good Wednesday morning.
DAVEY CAMERON IS NOT A PIE: Twitter announced overnight that it is working on an edit feature for tweets. The social media platform said it would involve “time limits, controls and transparency about what has been edited” to prevent the feature from being “misused.” They’ll test whether it works in the coming months before it’s rolled out. What could possibly go wrong?
DRIVING THE DAY
NEW UK SANCTIONS: The U.K. will impose new sanctions against Russia today, Playbook is told. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss will announce the measures, which are going to be targeted at Russia’s strategic industries with a focus on energy. There will also be new restrictions aimed at Moscow’s military ambitions, a source said. Truss will then travel to Brussels for G7 and NATO meetings this afternoon. Britain’s latest sanctions package comes as the EU prepares fresh measures to be put to its member countries including phasing out Russian coal deliveries worth around €4 billion a year, bans on Russian vessels and trucks entering the EU and tougher sanctions on four key Russian banks. However, Brussels stopped short of a Russian oil embargo following resistance from Germany, POLITICO’s Barbara Moens writes. The U.S. and G7 nations are also preparing a ban on investments in Russia, Bloomberg and the Wall Street Journal reported.
Spy fiction: There has been criticism from some politicians and pundits that the U.K. has not followed EU countries in expelling Russian diplomats over the Ukraine crisis. Unfortunately that take is not a very hot one. A source familiar with these matters tells Playbook the reality is the “diplomats” expelled by other countries are in fact spies who were an active national security threat to those states. Britain expelled almost all Russian spies in this country in the wake of the Skripal poisonings, the source said, so while some Western nations had scores of agents operating on their territories when Russia invaded Ukraine, Britain simply did not. That is why there has not been an equivalent U.K. announcement on expelling Russian “diplomats.”
Feeling hypersonic: The U.S., the U.K. and Australia will start joint work on hypersonic missile technology and electronic warfare capabilities under the umbrella of the AUKUS security pact, my top POLITICO colleague Cristina Gallardo reports. The decision, announced last night by the leaders of the three governments, is the latest move in an international race for hypersonic weapons, which can travel up to 10 times the speed of sound, making them much harder to detect. It is also a further example of the deepening security partnership between the U.S., Britain and Australia, after their creation of AUKUS last September scuppered a mega submarine deal for France, souring relations between Washington and Paris. Military sources tell the Times’ Larisa Brown that Britain will develop its own hypersonic missiles.
More weapons: Speaking ahead of today’s NATO meeting, Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg said the alliance would consider how to boost support for Ukraine as Russia pivots to an expected offensive in the country’s east. Joining part of the discussion will be Ukrainian Foreign Minister Dmytro Kuleba, as well as partners from non-NATO countries Finland, Sweden and Georgia.
Zelenskyy truths for the UN: In a virtual address yesterday, Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy demanded the U.N. Security Council punish Russia for its invasion of Ukraine and curb its influence, or else dissolve itself entirely and admit it is powerless to stop Putin’s war. “Where is the security that the Security Council needs to guarantee? It’s not there,” Zelenskyy said. “Where is the peace? Where are those guarantees that the United Nations needs to guarantee?” he added. “It is obvious that the key institution of the world — which must ensure the coercion of any aggressor to peace — simply cannot work effectively.” Hard to disagree. POLITICO’s Quint Forgey has his quotes. The Telegraph leads on Zelenskyy’s remarks.
Johnson’s message to Russians: In a video released on social media last night, Boris Johnson — speaking in part in Russian — urged the Russian people to use VPN connections to access independent information about what their government is doing in Ukraine. The PM’s words splash the Mail. Britain is donating 20 ambulances to Ukraine today to help treat injuries.
Latest war crimes: Bellingcat published drone imagery showing Russian forces firing on cyclists in Bucha. The location was later filmed from the ground, with a corpse visible next to a bicycle. Last night, Ukraine’s parliament posted a photo of Sacha, a six year old boy it said had been shot dead by Russian soldiers. The Telegraph’s Dani Sheridan reports from Borodyanka, which Ukraine says could have a worse death toll than Bucha, finding a “picture of hell” in the devastated town. The BBC’s Hugo Bachega has a shocking account from a 14-year-old boy in Bucha describing how Russian soldiers shot his father dead in the street.
What will it take to convict Putin? POLITICO’s Sarah Wheaton and Leonie Kijewski outline the path to punishing Putin and other top Russian officials for war crimes committed in Ukraine.
UKRAINE POLLING: Some 71 percent of Brits say they feel proud that Zelenskyy praised the U.K. for being the country that has done more than any other to help Ukraine, according to new polling from More in Common and YouGov, shared with Playbook. The public overwhelmingly backs the British response to the war: on arms and military aid, 51 percent are proud and 11 percent disappointed …. on sanctions, 55 percent are proud and 16 percent disappointed … even on refugees, 43 percent are proud and 31 percent are disappointed. The polling suggests some 2 million Brits might be willing to provide accommodation in their own homes for Ukrainian refugees — or 3 percent.
Luke Tryl, director of More in Common said: “These figures show right across the U.K. there is enormous pride in Britain’s role in supporting Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. On top of that almost four in 10 adults, or roughly 23 million people, say that they want to play a part in welcoming refugees to the U.K. The task now is to make sure that through the hugely popular Homes for Ukraine scheme and other routes the government is able to translate that desire to help into proper support for refugees.”
In a remarkably honest interview last night … Refugees Minister Richard Harrington told LBC’s Iain Dale he “finds it hard to disagree” that the Ukraine visa system is a “disgrace.” “We know things are not good,” Harrington told one caller who has still been unable to come to Britain.
Blame game: Allies of Home Secretary Priti Patel have heavily briefed against Foreign Secretary Liz Truss to the Times‘ Steve Swinford and Matt Dathan today. They report that the two Cabinet ministers are at loggerheads. “Priti thinks the Foreign Office has failed to provide any help. She wants manpower to help process visas,” a government source told them. “But the Foreign Office says it is really stretched at the moment. It’s basically saying, ‘Back off, Priti, it’s your problem.’”
FIFA SCOOP: Boris Johnson has blasted world football’s governing body FIFA over its stance on Russia as he snubbed last week’s 2022 World Cup draw, my POLITICO colleague Ali Walker reveals. Johnson’s office sent a letter to FIFA President Gianni Infantino underlining Britain’s “disappointment” to see Russian delegates at FIFA’s Congress last week in Doha, Qatar, according to the text of the correspondence, seen by POLITICO. And he warned that sport cannot be used “as a platform to legitimise Russian aggression.” In the letter, dated March 31, Johnson said it was with “regret” he was unable to attend last Friday’s World Cup draw in Doha and wished the tournament “every success” — before laying into the FIFA boss.
Johnson criticized Infantino … for inviting Russian delegates to the Congress, amid a swingeing Western sanctions drive against Russia, and branded the Russian Football Union “effectively a representative body” for the Kremlin. “We would therefore urge you in the strongest possible terms to rethink your position on this matter, so that representatives of both the Russian Football Union, and also the Football Federation of Belarus, are unable to engage in future FIFA meetings and business,” the letter said. “There is a clear need for football to continue to present a united front in the light of Russia’s abhorrent actions in Ukraine,” Johnson added. “Sport cannot be used as a platform to legitimise Russian aggression.” Infantino famously received an Order of Friendship medal from Putin in 2019, the year after Russia hosted the last World Cup.
Keen an eye on: Anti-corruption activist Bill Browder is testifying in front of the U.S. Helsinki Commission this evening. Browder says he’ll discuss “the problem of Western law firms, PR firms and investigation agencies working effectively as arms of the Russian security services in the U.S. and Western Europe.”
CHINA TROUBLES: Boris Johnson’s government is firmly on the fence when it comes to China, but that fence has got much trickier to balance on since Russia invaded Ukraine, reports POLITICO’s Eleni Courea.
**By bringing together high-level policymakers and executives on both sides of the Atlantic and beyond, Digital Bridge provides exclusive insights and breaking news on the transatlantic tech relationship. Subscribe to Digital Bridge**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Not sitting.
HAPPY NI RISE DAY: The National Insurance tax rise comes into effect today. The BBC has an explainer on how it’ll affect your pay packet.
ONE DAY MORE … until the government’s energy security strategy is finally unveiled. The Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith says it’s still being rewritten with just hours to go, with another split between No. 10 and the Treasury on funding. Riley-Smith says No. 10 wanted to expand the Energy Company Obligation scheme to upgrade insulation and energy efficiency in households across Britain, but the Treasury said no. A Treasury source tells Playbook they are already spending £1 billion per year this parliament on the ECO scheme.
A different kind of donor story: Chancellor Rishi Sunak has donated more than £100,000 to his old boarding school Winchester College, Sky’s Sam Coates revealed yesterday. Should at least help the £43,000 a year school pay its energy bills. An ally of Sunak notes that he and his wife donate to lots of charities and causes and that the money will fund scholarships for children who otherwise wouldn’t be able to go to one of the best schools in the country.
Slow clap: Downing Street’s LGBTQ+ rights disasterclass continues as the government was forced to cancel the “Safe to be me” conference, after it was boycotted by more than 100 organizations in protest at the No. 10 shambles on conversion therapy. The BBC has the story. ITV’s Paul Brand has government sources claiming the whole mess was actually a genius piece of Tory 4D chess to trap Labour leader Keir Starmer in a culture war. Galaxy brain thinking if ever Playbook has seen it. The Times’ Steve Swinford has perhaps a more likely readout on No. 10’s private thinking, including that one senior Downing Street figure is said to have claimed that “the majority of people won’t care” that the event is not going ahead.
One person who does care: Is the government’s LGBTQ+ business champion Iain Anderson, who resigned from his role over the conversion therapy chaos.
C4 LATEST: A Tory rebellion is growing over the decision to privatize Channel 4, the i’s Chloe Chaplain, Hugo Gye and Emily Ferguson report. Culture committee Chair Julian Knight suggested the move could be ministers’ revenge against the broadcaster for unfriendly political coverage.
WHAT THE LIBS ARE SAYING: The Treasury will make an extra £38.6 billion in VAT over the next four years due to rising inflation and prices in shops, according to analysis from the Lib Dems as they call on Sunak to introduce an emergency VAT cut. The Lib Dems’ figures suggest the average family will pay an extra £430 more in VAT next year. Leader Ed Davey will be making the case for slashing VAT — which under his party’s plans would be cut from 20 to 17.5 percent for one year — in a broadcast round this morning, ahead of launching the Lib Dems’ local election campaign later today.
LABOUR’S PARTYGATE LINE: The prime minister “presided over widespread criminality” in Downing Street and in the government, Keir Starmer told the Mirror’s Ben Glaze while on the way to Wales for Labour’s local election launch. The Labour leader attacked the government for recent efforts to shift the blame onto civil servants, who according to some in government misled Johnson over the events which took place. Starmer said: “I’m afraid I’ve got absolutely no truck with the latest defense — and it is the latest defense — because remember the first defense was, ‘there was no parties’ … I don’t buy it, the public won’t buy it, it’s obvious nonsense.” There’s lot of other lines in Glaze’s interview on the local elections, cost of living crisis and more.
Lords: Sits from 3 p.m. with questions on Palestine, the Bread and Flour Regulations and the un-introduced Employment Bill, which was announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech … The main business will see the third reading of the Judicial Review and Courts Bill, followed by the report stage of the Elections Bill. Peers are likely to cause trouble for the government by trying to amend its most controversial proposals on voter ID.
Also today: No-fault divorces come into force.
MEANWHILE, IN FRANCE: Observers of the upcoming French presidential election — first round of voting this Sunday — will have noticed recent narrowing polls between incumbent Emmanuel Macron and the far-right leader Marine Le Pen, culminating in a shock poll earlier this week that had Le Pen only 3 points behind Macron in the second round. POLITICO columnist John Lichfield has a smart piece looking at the main reasons why the race between the two is closer than it was in 2017 and how Macron, despite the tightening polls, is still the clear favorite. As things get serious, a reminder also that POLITICO’s pop-up French election playbook is free and will have you covered with expert coverage and analysis as polling day approaches. See the rest of POLITICO’s coverage here.
Health Secretary Sajid Javid broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … GB News (8.45 a.m.).
Lib Dem leader Ed Davey broadcast round: ITV GMB (6.35 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (6.52 a.m.) … Today program (7.12 a.m.) … Sky News (7.45 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.20 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Police Scotland Assistant Chief Constable John Hawkins (6.50 a.m.) … Tory farming committee Chair Neil Parish (7.20 a.m.) … U.S. Ambassador to NATO Julianne Smith (7.30 a.m.) … Leon founder Henry Dimbleby, head of government’s National Food Strategy (7.50 a.m.) … Chief Executive Officer of Cuadrilla Resources Francis Egan (8.30 a.m.) … Victims’ Commissioner Vera Baird (8.40 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Britain (ITV): Labour leader Keir Starmer (7.50 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley at Breakfast (Sky News): Former Chief of the General Staff Richard Dannatt (7.30 a.m.) … Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle (8.05 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): CBI President Karan Bilimoria (7.05 a.m.) … Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary Peter Kyle (7.10 a.m.) … Former Greens leader Natalie Bennett (8.10 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: European Commission spokesperson Peter Stano (7.05 A.M.) … CEO Advantage Travel Partnership Julia Lo Bue-Said (7.35 a.m.) … Former U.S. Ambassador to the U.N. and Russia Thomas Pickering and Dmytro Gurin, Ukrainian MP for the Servant of the People party (8.05 a.m.) … Former British Army Commander in Afghanistan and former Chairman of Cobra Colonel Richard Kemp (8.15 a.m.).
Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC): Former DfE SpAd Angus Walker … KCL professor Vernon Bogdanor … Broadcaster Hashi Mohamed.
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and former Tory SpAd Anita Boateng.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: 2,921 council ‘fat cats’ paid more than £100k.
Daily Mail: Don’t let Putin do this in your name.
Daily Mirror: If I don’t make it … this is who you are.
Daily Star: Dud’s army — Vlad so desperate he’s recruiting soldiers age 60.
Financial Times: Fed to make ‘rapid’ cuts to balance sheet next month, says top official.
HuffPost UK: Government LGBT+ conference canceled.
i: Tory rebellion brewing over Channel 4 privatization.
Metro: You been on the vodka? — Shock as Putin puppet says troops mean peace.
POLITICO UK: Boris Johnson’s China problem.
PoliticsHome: Government says Netflix and Amazon are ‘eating channel 4’s lunch’ after privatization backlash.
The Daily Telegraph: Stop Putin or dissolve yourself, Zelenskyy tells U.N.
The Guardian: Zelenskyy — Russian leaders must face war crimes trial.
The Independent: Ministers left in dark as COVID test scheme ends.
The Sun: Red Rom kicked in roubles.
The Times: Britain wants hypersonic missiles to counter Russia.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: 🌦🌦🌦 Mixed bag with some rain and some sun. Highs of 13C.
SPAD MOVE: Centre for Policy Studies energy and environment lead Eamonn Ives is joining Alok Sharma’s COP presidency team as a special adviser. The think tank is recruiting for a replacement.
CHATHAM HOUSE RULER: Bronwen Maddox will take over from Robin Niblett as director and chief executive of Chatham House in August. Maddox, a former foreign editor of the Times, has been running the Institute for Government since 2016. Here’s the announcement.
BIRTHDAYS: International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan … Mole Valley MP Paul Beresford … Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols … Tory peer James Graham … Former British Ambassador to Germany Sebastian Wood … Former DExEU Permanent Secretary Clare Moriarty … Former GMB General Secretary Tim Roache … Political impressionist Rory Bremner.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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