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By ELENI COUREA
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DRIVING THE DAY
RWANDA PRESSURE: Ministers are grappling with the fallout from their decision to send asylum seekers who cross the English Channel to a migrant processing center in Rwanda.
Helpfully: The announcement has succeeded in knocking Partygate off the top of the agenda — for now — and splashes in the Times, Mail, Express, Guardian, Mirror and i. The proposal will see most migrants who arrive illegally in the U.K. shipped off to Rwanda at the cost of between £20,000 and £30,000 per person. Boris Johnson and Priti Patel vowed to push ahead with the plan yesterday, despite the threat of legal challenges alongside objections from human rights groups, opposition parties and potentially senior civil servants.
Intriguingly: Last night the Home Office was not denying suggestions, first reported by ITV’s Anushka Asthana, that a ministerial direction has been put in place over the policy. If true, this would mean that Patel has given the Home Office a formal instruction to proceed despite an objection raised by its permanent secretary. Senior civil servants seek ministerial directions in cases where they have concerns about the legality, propriety, feasibility or cost of a proposal. This is quite rare — the IfG counts 46 ministerial directions in the last decade — and would add more fuel to the fire. David Normington, a former Home Office perm sec, told Newsnight that the policy “is inhumane, it’s morally reprehensible, it’s probably unlawful and it may well be unworkable.”
Weeks away: The PM wants the first flight carrying U.K. asylum seekers to Rwanda to take off by the end of May, according to the Times’ Matt Dathan and the Mail’s John Stevens. Yolanda Makola, a spokesperson for the Rwandan government, told Newsnight that the country was “prepared to accept thousands” of asylum seekers and was in discussion with U.K. ministers over exact numbers.
Everything is fines: As many people have pointed out, all this triggers a major row that diverts attention from the fact that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have been fined for breaking lockdown rules over birthday cake in June 2020. The period of respite for No.10 will be temporary, however — the government faces a packed parliamentary calendar next week in which MPs will seek to force the PM to admit he has misled them over Partygate. In a Telegraph op-ed, former Brexit minister David Frost calls on the PM to “recognise that giving correct information to parliament is fundamental to our constitution.” Johnson promised yesterday to “set the record straight” before parliament.
54 letters latest: Around a dozen Conservative MPs are openly calling for the PM to go, with Karen Bradley and Neil Hudson joining their ranks yesterday. The Guardian’s Jess Elgot and Aubrey Allegretti have a fun piece about the damage limitation operation that kicks in when Johnson is under attack.
More to come: The Times’ Chris Smyth reports that there is discomfort among One Nation Tories — who are already incensed by Partygate — over the Rwanda plan. In his analysis, Dathan says the timing of the policy is an indication that the party is most concerned about protecting its right flank and assuaging voters who are angry about illegal crossings ahead of the local elections.
FIFTY DAYS OF HORROR: The Kremlin confirmed that Moskva, the Russian navy’s Black Sea warship, sank Thursday on the 50th day of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine. Kyiv says its missiles hit the warship.
Paris to Kyiv: Emmanuel Macron — who will square up against far-right challenger Marine Le Pen in the second round of the presidential election in a week’s time — has pledged more military equipment for Ukraine following a late-night call with Volodymyr Zelenskyy that marked the “50th day of horrors.” In a national address, Zelenskyy branded the invasion “absurd” and “suicidal.”
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: In recess until April 19.
WAKE(UP)FIELD CALL: Westminster is gearing up for the most critical by-election of this parliament so far, which some insiders predict could prove career-ending for either Boris Johnson or Keir Starmer.
Imran out: Wakefield’s formerly Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan finally quit yesterday, three days after being convicted of sexually assaulting a 15-year-old. In a statement posted on Twitter, he said that it was “intolerable” for his constituents not to be represented properly while he fights the conviction. How very good of him. My POLITICO colleague Esther Webber hears that his decision to resign came after he was presented with a series of separate allegations — watch this space for more.
Setting the scene: This is the first Red Wall seat the Tories will have to defend since the general election, and as such it is the first real test of whether their hold on Labour’s former heartlands is more than fleeting. A decisive victory for Labour could act as the tipping point for enough Tory MPs to decide that Partygate has stripped Johnson of his election-winning abilities, and set in motion a no-confidence vote.
On the other hand: It’s already received wisdom in Westminster that Wakefield should be Labour’s for the taking — and if the Tories hold it, despite all that’s happened in the past few months to put them six points behind in the polls, there will be questions over whether Starmer has what it takes to lead his party to victory. His critics will make the case that, if he can’t win a key marginal by-election after 12 years of Tory government when Johnson has become the first sitting PM found to have broken the law, it is clear that Starmer just isn’t cutting it as leader of the opposition.
But first: Both candidates must overcome internal obstacles to find suitable candidates for the constituency. Esther hears that the local Conservative association is in a state of disarray and feels gloomy about the prospects of finding anyone willing to stand. Some Labour figures, meanwhile, are determined not to repeat the mistakes made in Hartlepool and want to select a candidate who was “at the very least neutral” on Brexit.
First out of the traps: The Telegraph has a poll by Electoral Calculus and Find Out Now projecting that the Tories are on course to lose more than 800 council seats at the locals. Wandsworth, Barnet, Harlow, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Southampton and Thurrock would all go red as a result. If this was replicated at a general election, Labour would be 15 seats short of a majority.
Early signs: The FT’s Seb Payne points out that Labour gained the West Auckland ward of County Durham in a council by-election last night.
GREEN WOES: Though Partygate will continue to dominate the political narrative, Playbook has spoken to both Tory and Labour figures who believe its impact on voters is already priced in — and that it is the spiralling cost of living that will decide the government’s fortunes in the May elections and beyond. In his Times column, James Forsyth says the cost-of-living crisis could eventually generate “expenses-style anger” and that without an economic upturn, Johnson is doomed.
Speaking of all this: Playbook hears that there is some internal division over Labour’s headline-grabbing policy calling for nationwide injunctions against oil protesters earlier this week. The party backed the measure to prevent the Just Stop Oil demonstrators from blocking motorists, with shadow justice secretary Steve Reed saying that people were already being “hammered by prices at the pump, and now millions can’t even access fuel.” Playbook hears that Labour’s focus grouping has found that voters can recall to the penny the price they last paid for petrol.
Red Ed goes green: However, several Labour sources have indicated to Playbook that the shadow climate secretary, Ed Miliband, is uncomfortable with the injunctions policy. Notably, he has made no public comment since it was announced on Monday. “Some people in the shadow cabinet are less interested in reflecting the concerns of voters than others,” one source noted dryly. A source close to Miliband claimed he did not recognize the characterization.
Cooped up: Other Labour figures have noted that shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper did not want to lead on the policy despite it being a Home Office matter. Playbook is told that Cooper was off that day and that there was some internal discussion, involving members of her team among others, about who the most appropriate person was to announce it before the baton fell to Reed.
NET ZERO MASK CRACKS: Meanwhile, a climate denial group linked to a group of Brexit-backing Tory MPs has published a “systematic review” of scientific data concluding that there is in fact “very gentle warming and no evidence of a climate crisis.” The Global Warming Policy Foundation, of which MP Steve Baker is a trustee, published the paper.
Fact check: The GWPF paper was written by one retired, long-time climate skeptic scientist: Norway’s Ole Humlum. He strikes a marked contrast with the recent finding of “widespread and rapid changes” already driving damaging extreme weather, which was authored by a U.N. climate science panel of 234 authors from 66 countries.
Fine line: Baker and his fellow members of the Net Zero Scrutiny Group in parliament have been assiduously sticking to questioning the cost of climate policy, rather than the scientific basis of the U.K.’s goal to reach net zero. But the GWPF has a long history of casting doubt on the science. Baker wouldn’t be drawn last night on whether he felt the report was accurate. “I am clear that questions of climate science should be handled scientifically. The last thing we need is politicians and activists twisting the science to their particular ends,” he told POLITICO’s Karl Mathiesen.
VVIP TREATMENT: Johnson made a special request to exempt Evgeny Lebedev and Kremlin-linked Russian dignitary Mikhail Piotrovsky from airport-style security checks when they visited him in City Hall in 2015, according to emails obtained under FOI by the Guardian’s Rowena Mason.
THE NAT MOBILE: Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP will embark on a cost-of-living crisis-themed campaign bus tour of Scotland today, marking three weeks until local election day and the day postal ballots land across Scotland. The first minister will likely have more to say on the U.K. government’s asylum seeker plans, which she described yesterday as “despicable.”
Meanwhile, in Wales’ locals campaign: Labour have suspended a candidate for next month’s election after he described Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy as a “Zionist” and a “fascist.” BBC Wales reports that Ziad Alsayed has been suspended by Labour pending an investigation — but will remain on the ballot for the election as a Labour candidate, as nominations have closed.
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Tackling Illegal Migration Minister Tom Pursglove is on the broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.50 a.m.) …
Also on BBC Breakfast: Former U.K. Border Force head Tony Smith and human rights lawyer Sue Willman (7.10 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Former CIA Director David Petraeus … Tory MP Andrew Mitchell.
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show: Tory MP Craig Mackinlay (8.05 a.m.) … Former Trump spokesman Jason Miller (8.20 a.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 and 11.30 p.m.): Mirror columnist Susie Boniface and commentator Tim Montgomerie.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: ‘No migrant boat will go undetected.’
Daily Mail: PM — I won’t let the left wreck Rwanda plan.
Daily Mirror: Inhumane … and it won’t work.
Daily Star: I may be a wrong ‘un but it’s OK because I’ve said soz — From the actual home secretary.
HuffPost UK: Rwanda asylum plan ‘won’t work.’
i: Patel faces legal battle over ‘cruel’ Rwanda plan.
POLITICO UK: Macron goes green to attract red voters.
PoliticsHome: Doubt raised over how plan to send asylum seekers to Rwanda will work in practice.
The Daily Telegraph: Russians parade captured Briton.
The Guardian: Rwanda asylum seekers plan branded ‘inhumane.’
The Independent: U.K.’s warning to Rwanda on human rights before signing asylum deal.
The Sun: Harry and Meg’s secret visit to queen.
The Times: PM wants first Rwanda migrant flights in weeks.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
The Economist: What China is getting wrong — It’s not just COVID.
THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY
Chopper’s Politics: Christopher Hope is joined by former Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick and Electoral Calculus founder Martin Baxter.
Encompass: Paul Adamson talks about the EU’s recovery fund and the war in Ukraine with senior Vodafone official Joakim Reiter.
EU Confidential: The POLITICO team analyze the latest from the French election campaign and hear from Slovakian PM Eduard Heger, who recently visited Ukraine.
Inside Briefing: The IfG team are joined by POLITICO’s own Esther Webber.
Newscast: The BBC Westminster team look at the government’s asylum plans with the Migration Policy Institute’s Camille Le Cox.
Oh God, What Now: Alex Andreou, Dorian Lynskey and Naomi Smith and joined by Shadow Defra Minister Alex Sobel.
The Economist Asks: Anne McElvoy talks to Bob Menendez, chairman of the U.S. Senate’s Foreign Relations Committee, about America’s response to the conflict in Ukraine.
The Rundown: PoliticsHome’s Adam Payne interviews Labour leader Keir Starmer.
Walescast: The BBC Wales team look at the future of Wales’ relationship with the rest of the U.K. with former Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams.
YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS
EASTER: All the Sunday shows are on a break for Easter — Playbook, however, will be in your inbox as normal on Easter Monday morning.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ⛅️⛅️⛅️ Sunny in spells and getting warm, with highs of 20C. Much the same over the bank holiday weekend.
NOW HIRING: OpenDemocracy are hiring a London-based news and politics reporter. More details here.
BIRTHDAYS: Shadow FCDO Minister Stephen Doughty … Kingston upon Hull East MP Karl Turner … Berwickshire, Roxburgh and Selkirk MP John Lamont … Unaffiliated peer and author Jeffrey Archer … Retired Lib Dem peer Veronica Linklater … Senedd Chief Executive Manon Antoniazzi … U.K. Ambassador to Switzerland and Liechtenstein Jane Owen … Brussels Playbook author Suzanne Lynch … French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire … Atlas Partners founder Charlie Napier.
Celebrating over the weekend: Daily Mail columnist Sarah Vine … Labour peer Joan Bakewell … Former Labour MP Paula Sherriff … UUP deputy leader Robbie Butler … DUP peer Willie Hay … Labour peer Anthony Young … Welsh government SpAd Owen Alun John … Former MP and Deputy Mayor of London for Transport Heidi Alexander … Labour peer Tony Clarke … Former MoD Director Paul Rimmer … Novara’s Ash Sarkar.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Paul Dallison, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Giulia Poloni.
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