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By EMILIO CASALICCHIO
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Good Friday morning. This is Emilio Casalicchio. Eleni Courea will be back in the Playbook hotseat on Monday morning.
WESTMINSTER INSIDER: S06 E04 — A boozy dinner with David Davis MP: This week Jack Blanchard sits down for dinner with former Brexit Secretary David Davis to discuss his 35-year career in politics. Over ribeye steak and too much Malbec in an exclusive Westminster restaurant, Davis muses on the Brexit negotiations which will prove his legacy, and his personal relations with David Cameron, Michel Barnier, Theresa May and other key players of the recent past.
SCOOP: Davis told Jack it could take a decade to solve the Irish border crisis created by Britain’s departure from the EU and admitted both sides in the 2016 referendum campaign underestimated the impact of Brexit on the island of Ireland. Write-up here.
DRIVING THE DAY
THE GIFT OF FREEDOM: Boris Johnson can put his feet up and light a cigar to kick off his birthday weekend, safe in the knowledge he has no official ethics adviser to ruin the festivities. The prime minister can be ambushed by cake and drink into the night in Downing Street and no one can send him mild-mannered complaint letters on government-headed paper that seethe with frustration between the insipid lines of civil service discourse.
Proud dad: Johnson will turn 58 on Sunday, which also happens to be Father’s Day, so he’ll be getting double the greeting cards from the BoJo brood.
But but but: As the PM contemplates edging closer toward his seventh decade, questions are still swirling over how his former ethics chief Lord Christopher Geidt came to storm out of government. The move — said to be because Johnson wanted to extend protective import tariffs on a few steel products — doesn’t quite add up. As far as Playbook can tell, both the trade department and the trade remedies watchdog that oversees these things had no idea Geidt had been asked about the issue, and no one can quite work out the explanation for consulting him in the first place.
Pull the other one: The suggestion Geidt quit because Johnson planned to breach World Trade Organization rules seems somewhat far fetched. For starters, there have been much worse things to resign over in the past 14 months, such as the whole golden wallpaper thing, the whole being misled about the whole golden wallpaper thing, all those lockdown parties in Downing Street, all those lies about all those lockdown parties in Downing Street, and that time the prime minister got a police fine but claimed it didn’t amount to a breach of the ministerial code and then rewrote the code. #Governmentofmessybitches (h/t POLITICO’s Esther Webber).
Tin foil hats on: It seems much more plausible that Geidt used the steel tariffs issue as an excuse to resign — or it was an excuse used to push him out of the job. As one Downing Street figure notes to the FT: “I think this is a contrived protest for resignation.” An official who worked with Geidt added to the Guardian: “It may be a convenient hill to die on, or the straw that broke the camel’s back, or perhaps both are true.”
Killer moments and bullets: In a deep dive into the ethics-meets-trade mashup, POLITICO’s Esther (with help from Graham Lanktree and your Playbook author) writes that two former Cabinet Office officials suggested the conflict over trade rules was not the “killer moment” but rather a convenient point at which to throw in the towel after a series of uncomfortable exchanges between Johnson and his official conscience. Catherine Haddon, senior fellow at the Institute for Government think tank, said Geidt “was ready to walk and they gave him the bullet.”
The thing is: The trade remedies bullet was a pretty poor projectile. No one quite understands for what reason Geidt would have to be consulted on a government-wide decision to breach international law. Indeed, Playbook is told the government didn’t consult the ethics adviser when then-International Trade Secretary Liz Truss ignored the trade watchdog and extended the tariffs the first time 12 months ago.
Indeed: One former trade department official noted to the POLITICO team that a WTO panel would need to rule the tariff extension was illegal before it could be deemed so. “DIT and No. 10 seem to have got themselves into a bit of a mess on this,” the person said.
FWIW: Downing Street insists the PM would always seek the view of the ethics adviser when there is a question over something that could relate to the code. Playbook will let readers judge whether that sounds plausible.
The next problem … is that the government has been more than willing to breach international law on a regular basis. (See: Brexit.) “Geidt going is not about breaking international law because we obviously don’t care about that,” one government official told Playbook. “We’re fucking breaking international law like it’s one of our five a day.”
I’m an ethics adviser, Geidt me outta here: Alex Allan, the former ministerial standards watchdog who quit after being ignored over his report about Priti Patel bullying civil servants, told the BBC Newscast podcast the trigger for Geidt was a “combination of issues” around the lockdown parties and the TRA decision. Allan is one of the few people to have spoken to Geidt since he quit.
The damning thing is: The whole steel tariffs thing means Geidt’s true motive (unless it was, in fact, steel tariffs) has been all but lost, and he’s ended up doing Johnson a favor in making the PM look like the savior of steel communities. Penistone and Stocksbridge MP Miriam Cates told Playbook she was “delighted that the prime minister is such a strong supporter of our British steel industry,” while fellow red waller Jacob Young told his Insta followers he was “proud to support a government that backs our steel industry.”
And of course … Cabinet Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg (a Thatcherite who used to extol the wonders of trading on WTO terms) also hailed the PM as a darling of the steel sector on Newsnight. “Geidt’s problem is not many people will understand what’s really happened,” one former top civil servant lamented. “Plus he’s a man of honor with few comms skills up against someone utterly cunning and ruthless.”
THE DAMAGE IS DONE: The long-term issue will be whatever Downing Street does with the ethics adviser role, after making clear it could be headed for the guillotine. No one who was been watching this administration would be surprised if the post never got filled and the ethics regime was scrapped. In a statement last night, Lord Jonathan Evans, chair of the committee on standards in public life, said “removing this independent voice on standards issues at the heart of government would risk further damage to public perceptions of standards.”
Substantive risk: “The ministerial code is the only mechanism a civil servant can use to raise a complaint of misconduct, bullying or sexual harassment against a minister,” added Dave Penman, boss of the FDA union for top civil servants. “If the prime minister does not intend to replace Lord Geidt, then he must immediately put in place measures that ensure a civil servant can, with confidence, raise a complaint about ministerial misconduct.”
**Save the date – POLITICO Live’s virtual event “The unmet needs of immunocompromised patients post-COVID 19” is happening on June 29 at 12:00 p.m. and will take a critical look at how the health care sector can ensure that immunocompromised patients are not left behind in the post-COVID 19 era. Register now!**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: Not sitting.
NOT IN WESTMINSTER: Conservative MPs are congregating at Doncaster Racecourse for the first ever Northern Research Group conference. The idea is to develop a list of manifesto demands in the run-up to the next general election. Cabinet ministers, MPs and others are expected to speak, including NRG Chair Jake Berry, who is expected to call on Johnson to cut taxes.
Bad news, lads: Cabinet Minister Michael Gove told TalkTV last night there can be no tax reductions until inflation (which numerous papers note is expected to rise to 11 percent) is under control.
Will BoJo be a no-show? The Mail reports that the PM will attend the NRG event, but Downing Street insisted that wouldn’t be the case — which means Johnson is running out of opportunities to campaign in the nearby Wakefield by-election before polling day next week.
ALSO NOT IN WESTMINSTER: Britain reversed its opposition to a proposed patent waiver for COVID-19 vaccines at the World Trade Organization, after being the lone holdout. The WTO overnight then approved agreements to authorize generic versions of COVID-19 vaccines, curb fishing subsidies and continue a 24-year-old ban on tariffs on digital goods and services on the internet. More here for POLITICO Pros.
WHAT LABOUR WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: Shadow Cabinet member Emily Thornberry is on the morning broadcast round after almost 100 female Labour MPs signed a letter calling on the government to cancel new guidelines requiring counselling session notes for survivors of rape and sexual assault to be disclosed to the defense when their attackers go on trial. The move was announced three weeks ago and is set to come into force late next month.
Making the case: “That prospect will cause many survivors to avoid seeking therapy, and make it more likely that cases will collapse when the prolonged stress of waiting for trials becomes too much,” reads the letter, which was also signed by Yvette Cooper and Angela Rayner and was shared with Playbook last night.
Also writing letters: Health Secretary Sajid Javid wrote to his opposite number Wes Streeting last night urging Labour to condemn the planned rail strikes next week that he argued could put patients at risk. The Mail has a write-up.
And speaking of Labour … George Parker in the FT has the latest long-read on Labour woes, in which he reveals rumblings that Keir Starmer is expected to ditch the 2019 election manifesto promise to scrap tuition fees.
DEPORTATIONS LATEST: The government plans to bring forward a new “bill of rights” next week to speed up deportations, the Mail and Sun report. The Times team reckons it might come later than that, and has some detail on what it could involve.
MEANWHILE, IN BREXIT: My POLITICO colleague Shawn Pogatchnik has a great color piece on how the Northern Ireland protocol is affecting the land border with the Republic. He speaks to Hugh Maguire, whose farm straddles the border in Belcoo, and argues that “being able to keep selling into the south and into Europe, when Britain can’t any more, has been a real advantage.” Others fear the protocol is pushing Northern Ireland toward unification with its southern neighbor. Well worth a read.
HOW TO WIN A BY-ELECTION: Tell people you aren’t Harold Shipman. That was the tactic from Conservative candidate for Wakefield Nadeem Ahmed. He told the Telegraph former MP and convicted sex offender Imran Ahmad Khan was “one bad apple” and argued “we still trust GPs” after Harold Shipman killed hundreds of people.
BLUE BLOOD: The FT’s Seb Payne has a big read out on the risks to the Conservative “blue wall,” which includes interviews with the prime minister, as well as Deputy PM Dominic Raab (who could lose his seat at the next election) and Lib Dem leader Ed Davey, whose party he could lose it to. Raab insisted the next election will be “business as usual” for the Tories, meaning fewer protest votes and less Brexit anger. Sure.
PHOTO BOMBED: Transport Minister Andrew Stephenson is being reminded of Commons rules after taking a photo from the front bench in the chamber. Kacey Montagu from Democracy Unlocked got the scoop.
RECONSTRUCTING UKRAINE: The trade department is today leading a summit to encourage restructuring investment in Ukraine, with a delegation of Ukrainian MPs visiting.
COME CLEAN ABOUT AIR: The government is not on track to cut air pollution and is failing to inform the public about the crisis, according to a damning report out this morning from the National Audit Office.
UK WAGES WAR ON COOKIE POP UPS: The government is this morning vowing to crack down on “annoying” cookie pop-ups and unleash data-driven scientific research, according to its response to a consultation on its planned overhaul its data protection regulation.
PROTESTING PROTEST LAWS: New police powers for protests could create a “hostile environment” for peaceful demonstrators, the joint committee on human rights warns in a new report published this morning.
STANDARDS PROCEDURE: The government should formalize its standards on issues like hormone growth chemicals in reared meat and deforestation in order to “strengthen the hand of U.K. negotiators” in trade deals, argue MPs on the environment committee in another new report.
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UKRAINE UPDATE: The leaders of the EU’s big three economies — France, Germany and Italy — gave their backing to Ukraine’s EU membership bid during a joint visit to Kyiv yesterday. In the joint presser which followed a walk through the devastated town of Irpin, Emmanuel Macron, Olaf Scholz and Mario Draghi also sought to reassure Ukraine they wouldn’t seek to push the nation into any territorial compromises to end the war. POLITICO’s David Herszenhorn has a write-up of the visit.
Next step today: The European Commission will deliver its verdict on granting EU candidate status to Ukraine (as well as Georgia and Moldova) today, ahead of a crucial European Council summit next week where EU leaders will discuss whether to greenlight the move. It’s likely to be a “yes” for Ukraine today — and with the EU’s big beasts coming out in favor on Thursday, it’s likely to be a yes again next week.
But but but: The trio of leaders didn’t announce any new military or financial assistance for Ukraine, while several hurdles also lie in the way of Ukraine’s path to EU membership. My Brussels Playbook colleagues have all the details.
Meanwhile, in Moscow: Russia’s foreign minister gave a defiant interview to the BBC’s Russia editor Steve Rosenberg. Among other things, Sergei Lavrov falsely claimed Russia didn’t invade Ukraine and argued U.N. reports of war crimes are fake news. All the classic BS, in short. Here’s the fact check.
Business Minister Paul Scully broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … talkTV (7.32 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.).
Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry: LBC (7.15 a.m.) … ITV GMB (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).
Today program: Boris Johnson’s former corruption czar John Penrose (7.10 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley (Sky News): Lib Dem leader Ed Davey (7.30 a.m.) … Opinium’s Chris Curtis (7.40 a.m.) … Spanish Foreign Affairs Minister Jose Manuel Albares Bueno (8.20 a.m.) … Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Refugee Council chief Enver Solomon (8.20 a.m.) … Boris Johnson’s sister Rachel Johnson (8.50 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio: Tim Bale, professor of politics at Queen’s University, London (7.05 a.m.) … Former SAGE member Mike Tildesley (7.13 a.m.) … Crossbench peer Tanni Grey-Thompson (7.35 a.m.) … Lib Dem leader Ed Davey (7.45 a.m.) … SNP MP Joanna Cherry (8.05 a.m.) … Iuliia Mendel, former spokesperson for Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy (8.12 a.m.).
Also on talkTV breakfast show: Tory MP James Sunderland (8.05 a.m.).
Reviewing the paper’s tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Mirror columnist Susie Boniface and columnist at the Article Ali Miraj.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Shock as food prices to soar 15 percent.
Daily Mail: Now brace for pain of the big crunch.
Daily Mirror: Maxwell — Let me out in two years.
Daily Star: 6 pints of water and a packet of crisps please.
Financial Times: Ukraine’s drive to join EU gains impetus from European leaders.
HuffPost UK: Geidt out with a bang as he attacks PM.
i: No tax cuts for two years as inflation heads for 11 percent.
Metro: 11 percent hell is on the way.
POLITICO UK: Boris Johnson’s ethics adviser caved to the inevitable.
PoliticsHome: People’s priorities: how government departments could make better spending decisions
The Daily Telegraph: Inflation to hit 11 percent, says Bank of England.
The Guardian: Johnson may scrap role of ethics adviser after Geidt’s resignation.
The Independent: Outcry as Johnson plans to axe ethics adviser role.
The Sun: Killed in airport chaos.
The Times: Pain ahead as Britons braced for 11 percent inflation.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
The Economist: Reinventing globalisation.
THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY
Westminster Insider: Jack Blanchard interviews former Brexit Secretary David Davis.
Brexit and Beyond: Wonks Anand Menon and Jill Rutter are joined by Full Fact chief Will Moy.
Chopper’s Politics: Christopher Hope interviews Attorney General Suella Braverman and Northern Research Group Chairman Jake Berry.
EU Confidential: The POLITICO team discusses Ukraine and the NI protocol row, with special guest former British diplomat John Ramsden.
Full Disclosure: James O’Brien interviews shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting.
Inside Briefing: The IfG team talks to Jonathan Jones, the former head of the government legal department.
Newscast: The BBC team interviews Alex Allan, former independent adviser to the PM on standards.
Oh God, What Now: Catch POLITICO’s own Jack Blanchard discussing Rwanda with the Remainiacs panel.
On the Couch: Lucy Beresford is joined by former Joint Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Pauline Neville Jones.
Rachel Johnson’s Difficult Women: Johnson is joined by former Labour/Change/Lib Dem MP Luciana Berger.
Stories of Our Times: Journos Jenny Kleeman and Patrick Maguire look at the history of industrial action and how it relates to next week’s rail strikes.
The Economist Asks: Jon Fasman interviews U.S. Senator Chris Murphy about gun reform.
YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS
SUNDAY SHOWS: Sophie Raworth will be joined by Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and Taoiseach Micheál Martin (BBC One, Sunday 9 a.m.).
Sophy Ridge will also be talking to Shapps, and Shadow Leveling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy (Sky News, Sunday 8.30 a.m.).
Westminster Hour host Carolyn Quinn will be joined by Shadow Wales Secretary Jo Stevens and Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine (Radio 4, Sunday 10 p.m.).
IN FRANCE: It’s another crunch weekend for Emmanuel Macron, with the final round of France’s legislative elections Sunday. The French president is at risk of losing his majority after his Ensemble coalition had a difficult time of it in the first round thanks to a surge in support for the far-left Jean-Luc Mélenchon (more from the campaign trail here). POLITICO’s Cornelius Hirsch and Giorgio Leali have a statto’s take on the turbulence ahead.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ☀️☀️☀️ An absolute scorcher with temperatures peaking in the low 30s in the afternoon.
SPOTTED: At the Netflix summer party at the streaming giant’s new HQ in Berners Street: Business Minister Paul Scully … Labour frontbencher Abena Oppong-Asare … former Culture Minister Lord Ed Vaizey … SpAds Sonia Zvedeniuk, Myles Stacey, Rob Oxley, Amy Milner and Keelan Carr.
NEW GIG: The government appointed experienced gynaecologist Lesley Regan as the first-ever female health ambassador, with a mission to close the gender health gap.
BIRTHDAYS: Former Mayor of London Ken Livingstone … Labour peer and former Education Secretary Estelle Morris … Labour peer Vernon Coaker … Former Bolton North East MP David Crausby … Labour peer Donald Anderson … Co-Leader of the Scottish Socialist Party Colin Fox … Labour aide Ryan Denston … Former U.S. Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.
Celebrating over the weekend: Meriden MP Saqib Bhatti … Former No. 10 Union Unit head Luke Graham … Medact human rights lead James Skinner … Author and financial columnist Philip Augar … Former President of South Africa Thabo Mbeki … Former Tory SpAd Olivia Robey … and Beatle Paul McCartney … Prime Minister Boris Johnson turns 58 … Aylesbury MP Rob Butler … Belfast South MP Claire Hanna … Former Great Grimsby MP Melanie Onn … Daily Mirror Political Editor Pippa Crerar … Crossbench peer Michael Jay … Former Defense Secretary Bob Ainsworth … Plaid Cymru AM Siân Gwenllian … Former Home Office Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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