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By EMILIO CASALICCHIO
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Good Thursday morning. This is Emilio Casalicchio. Eleni Courea will be back with you Friday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
NATO BLOW BY BLOW: Boris Johnson faces questions this afternoon before the NATO summit in Madrid wraps up and he heads back home on his vanishingly small plane after an epic world tour. The prime minister is expected to take the podium for a press conference at 12.45 p.m. Spanish time, where he will offer a blow-by-blow account of some important summit outcomes, argue the U.K. is at the forefront of the global response to Ukraine and defend British spending on its armed forces as well as its planned cuts to troops. Follow along with POLITICO’s live blog.
Top of the grid: The PM has boosted his Ukraine credentials this morning with the announcement of an extra £1 billion in armed support for the war-torn nation. Downing Street is painting the cash injection as the start of a new phase in the conflict, giving Kyiv the tech needed to mount offensives against the Russians in the hope of driving Vladimir Putin’s troops out.
To be fair: The new commitment almost doubles British support for Ukraine in the conflict from £1.3 billion to £2.3 billion. The U.S. is the sole other nation to have offered more.
In his own words: “U.K. weapons, equipment and training are transforming Ukraine’s defenses against this onslaught,” the PM told NATO leaders in comments briefed overnight. “And we will continue to stand squarely behind the Ukrainian people to ensure Putin fails in Ukraine.”
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But but but: Labour is hoping to rain on the PM’s parade, pointing to planned troop cuts, a failure to deliver new armed vehicles on time and numerous MoD programs that are expected to be held up or bust their budgets. “With threats increasing, the government risks leaving our armed forces without the equipment and troops they need to fight and fulfill our NATO obligations,” Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey said. He’s on the morning broadcast round right now.
Also worth asking the PM: Johnson will no doubt be pressed on Cabinet grumblings over U.K. defense spending after Downing Street admitted he won’t keep his 2019 manifesto target to keep up with inflation, and amid fears that without a big cash boost Britain could soon miss the NATO target of spending 2 percent of its GDP on defense.
This fudge isn’t quite tasty enough: The PM argues the cash for Ukraine should count toward the British NATO spend target, but Defense Secretary Ben Wallace admitted the funds are not “core defense spending.” The Sun’s Harry Cole has his comments. Let’s see what the line is from Foreign Secretary Liz Truss, who is also touring broadcast studios as this email goes out.
When all is said and done: Johnson will bid his farewells and board his embarrassingly small plane after more than a week of foreign summits. He took in the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Rwanda, where he visited his deportation station and had an awks cuppa with Prince Charles; a G7 summit in the German Alps where he opened two shirt buttons for a memorable man-hug photo op; and the NATO get-together in Madrid where he told other nations to spend more on defense while quietly allowing cash for his own armed forces to be eaten away by inflation.
Head of the government latest: After all the laughter and tears, Johnson gets back to the U.K. late tonight where multiple domestic pressures wait to greet him.
Down at the mouth: The front pages of the Telegraph and the FT report depressing warnings from Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey that the U.K. is — in an economic sense — right up the sh*tter. Speaking at a conference in Portugal, the banker said Britain was suffering more from the fuel crisis than other nations and has a good chance of seeing higher inflation for longer.
Could be a tough one to swallow: There’s also the whole privileges committee probe into whether the PM lied to parliament about all those lockdown parties in Downing Street, which has finally kicked off in earnest. The MPs will allow witnesses to give evidence without having to reveal their identities.
Tiniest violins in the world: Spare a thought for … Boris Johnson, after Chris Hope and Tony Diver in the Telegraph quoted allies of the PM sobbing that to grant witnesses anonymity might not be entirely fair on the upstanding, incorruptible and glorious leader. Verily, the heart doeth melt.
Hopes to get Johnson out: There’s also the upcoming election for the executive of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs, which if rebels get their way will see an anti-Boris majority voted in that could force another confidence vote in the PM. In the Guardian, Bree Allegretti reveals critics are organizing to offer colleagues a slate of anti-Boris candidates. It all sounds a bit Labour NEC.
Sucks to be PM: Johnson also returns to Westminster-wide gossip about *that* Private Eye story containing lurid allegations (denied by his allies) that Playbook won’t get into while numerous readers are having their breakfasts. Finish your porridge before you run out and get a copy.
Of course, if things get too tough going … The PM could always just call a snap election … which would be quite a novel take on the whole dead cat thing. Johnson ruled out the possibility three times when asked by the traveling press pack, insisting: “I don’t comment on those sorts of things. The idea hadn’t occurred to me.” Someone else in the Downing Street entourage told the journos: “The PM won an 80-seat majority. People want us to use it to get sh*t done rather than hold another vote.” Here’s the Mail write-up from John Stevens.
Want to get sh*t done? How about insulating all the homes the government promised to insulate but never got around to sorting? The climate change committee and members of the public seeing their fuel bills rocket would appreciate it. That could be a start. Also, get a bigger plane.
MEANWHILE, IN BREXIT
GETTING BREXIT DONE … ONE DAY: Expect more low-level Brexit trolling between London and Brussels as the EU-U.K. Forum kicks off online this morning. Cabinet Office Minister Michael Ellis will argue in an 11 a.m. speech that the U.K. and EU are partners on vital issues like the Ukraine crisis and should not allow their differences over the Northern Ireland protocol to weaken cooperation. Top EU Brexit negotiator Maroš Šefčovič will also speak at the event. Full agenda here.
Avoiding confrontation: Your Playbook author was in the crowd at the Bloomberg offices last night as Šefčovič made his first public appearance since MPs backed new Brexit deal-busting legislation in the Commons. The European Commission VP chose to come to Britain right when Boris Johnson and Liz Truss were out of reach at the NATO summit … which doesn’t exactly scream eagerness to negotiate. “I met Mike Bloomberg; I’m meeting the business community,” Šefčovič insisted when asked whether he was meeting a single member of the U.K. government on his first trip to London since February. That’s a no, then.
Nevertheless: Šefčovič came armed with attack lines for his U.K. non-interlocutors. “You’re not going to negotiate when you have a gun on the table,” he said about the Northern Ireland Protocol Bill that passed its second reading this week. “This is surely the moment to abandon the chronic trend of non-implementation and unilateral surprises that has emerged from the U.K. side,” he declared.
Here all night: The Eurocrat got a good laugh from the room when he added: “You won’t hear this often from a European commissioner, but it is high time we got Brexit done.”
He’s not alone: Some 45 percent of Brits believe Brexit has made their lives worse — up from 30 percent since last year — according to polling from Ipsos and the EU-U.K. Forum ahead of the event this morning. The proportion of Leavers who agree has doubled from 10 percent to 22 percent. Presumably it’s a reflex to still having to hear about Brexit.
Oh, and … Nearly half of Northern Ireland voters trust the European Union to represent their post-Brexit interests — and almost none of them trusts the British government to do so, according to a separate poll from LucidTalk for Queen’s Uni Belfast. My POLITICO colleague Shawn Pogatchnik has written that one up.
BUCCANEERING BRITAIN LATEST: After the dust settled on the World Trade Organization’s latest global summit, some are arguing that the U.K. has dropped down a tier in relevance at the organization after Brexit and finds itself outside the room during crunch talks, my POLITICO colleague Seb Whale reports after his trip to Geneva for the meeting. U.K. officials, of course, push back on that suggestion.
But but but: It might not matter that much if the U.K. is shut out — seeing as it agrees with the EU on all the issues regardless. Read the full piece on the trials of Global Britain here.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with transport questions followed by any UQs … Mark Spencer has the weekly business statement after any other ministerial statements and a procedure committee statement … and then the main business will be backbench debates on Iran’s nuclear program and Pride in the U.K.
On that procedure committee statement: Babies should not be allowed in the Commons chamber or Westminster Hall, a new report by MPs has concluded. It follows the row that ensued last year when Labour’s Stella Creasy was told she could not bring her three-month-old into a debate. Insert your own jokes about what the baby ban means for MPs themselves attending parliament.
Proxy war: Better news for those campaigning for the extension of proxy voting. The committee agreed that nominating a proxy to vote should be available to MPs who are seriously ill.
HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 11 a.m. with questions on prosecutions for banks that forged customer signatures and links between advertising, body image and mental health, among other things. The main business will see peers debate the causes of crime and the future of the Commonwealth.
THIS HAS GONE WELL: Outsourcing NHS services over much of the past decade has led to an increase in avoidable deaths, a new report from Oxford Uni suggests. Researchers reckon the increased privatization drive under the Conservatives since 2012 has reduced the quality of patient care and could be linked to “higher rates of treatable mortality.” The Guardian splashes the story.
BETTER THAN GLASTO: The Tony Blair Future of Britain festival conference kicks off this morning with a welcome from the former PM himself and appearances from numerous big names in the Remain world. Playbook’s Deputy Editor Eleni Courea revealed the plan for the big centrist love-in last month.
BREACH OF HUMAN RIGHTS: Kudos to George Grylls in the Times, who has a great follow-up after Dominic Raab winked at Angela Rayners during PMQs. Camp Raab insisted he wasn’t winking at the deputy Labour leader but was in fact making the weird gesture to Shadow Scotland Secretary Ian Murray, who was doing some enthusiastic heckling. “The deputy prime minister winking like a dirty old man at Ian — I doubt it,” a Labour source quipped back.
Speaking of Labour: New Labour architect Peter Mandelson *still* doesn’t think Keir Starmer is doing a good enough job to define himself to the public. “At the moment, too many voters have no clear idea of who Starmer is. He needs to define himself before his opponents do it for him,” the grandee wrote in the latest edition of the Spectator.
RIGGING THE SYSTEM LATEST: Could a PR pact between Labour and the Lib Dems be on the cards? Those in the Lib Dem camp were pouring cold water on this interesting tale from Kevin Maguire last night. Seems doubtful Labour would go for a move that would eat into its electoral performances, but desperation comes in unexpected forms.
LIKELY TO GO BIG ON TWITTER TODAY: Sarah Wheaton’s deep dive for POLITICO on the story behind J.K. Rowling’s journey from beloved children’s author into the culture war frontlines.
PLAYGROUND SCRAP: Education Secretary Nadhim Zahawi is preparing to overhaul planned legislation that some feared could lead to the micro-management of academies. The Schools Bill sparked a backlash from Tory peers after it appeared to water down the reforms brought in under the coalition government. The expected changes are being chalked up as a U-turn, although Team Zahawi insists the plan was never to claw back control over academic decisions. ITV’s Anushka Asthana got the scoop.
SETTING THE AGENDER: Female ministers have a better chance of working with the civil service rather than against it, a new report this morning from the Institute for Government suggests. The IfG identified two approaches from ministers: a “transactional” approach of seeing Whitehall as a political risk to be contained; or a “transformational” approach of trust and respect. Female ministers are “somewhat more likely to adopt transformational approaches,” the researchers found.
ICYMI: Policing Minister Kit Malthouse was forced to apologize in the Commons last night after he ambushed Labour with a bunch of political jibes during an earlier statement about the Met Police. The convention is for ministers to give the opposition advance copies of Commons statements and then not tweak them later to be full of attacks.
SUMMER OF DISCONTENT UPDATE: Royal Mail managers have voted to go on strike. Unite will announce the dates soon.
NETWORKING EVENT OF THE DAY: Chancellor Rishi Sunak is among those addressing the British Chambers of Commerce annual global conference. More details about the line-up here.
BACON INFLATION: Labour grandee Hilary Benn is taking evidence from bosses this morning about the cost of living crisis, after his trade and business commission worked out that the price of a full English breakfast has increased 9.3 percent. The session starts at 10 a.m. and will be streamed here.
POLICE ACADEMY: Think tank Policy Exchange is running an event from 6 p.m. this evening about the challenges facing the next Met Police commissioner, after the force was put into special measures. The panel features a former Met commissioner and a former NYPD and LAPD commissioner. Info and registration here.
On that note: It’s not just the Tories who are criticizing London Mayor Sadiq Khan about Met Police woes. A Labour police commissioner has laid into him too, Stefan Boscia and Sascha O’Sullivan report for City AM.
ROE V WADE UK ANGLE: At least 17 British women and girls have been investigated by U.K. police over suspected illegal abortions in the past eight years, according to data obtained through FOI by National World’s Harriet Clugston. All were investigated under an 1861 act which makes abortion technically illegal in England and Wales.
STATE OF THE UNION: Nicola Sturgeon clarified her Plan B for getting to independence — catch up on all that jazz here — last night, telling the BBC that gaining more than 50 percent of Scottish votes in a general election would be a mandate to begin independence negotiations. The Times carries quotes from various experts who disagree.
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POW EXCHANGE: Ukraine received 144 of its soldiers back in a prisoner of war exchange with Russia, according to Ukrainian intelligence officials, with 95 of those involved in the defense of the Azovstal steelworks. But as POLITICO’s Sergei Kuznetsov reports, most of the relatives of the 3,500 Ukrainian troops who surrendered in Azovstal and other pockets near Mariupol remain in the dark about the soldiers’ fates, and there’s growing anger that Kyiv isn’t doing enough to get them back.
TURKEY THE KEY TO UNLOCKING BLACK SEA: Ukraine is looking to Turkey for security guarantees to unlock a deal with Russia to allow grain to be shipped through the Black Sea, report POLITICO’s Sarah Anne Aarup and Gabriela Galindo. A government official in Kyiv told them a plan is under discussion that would open up blocked Ukrainian ports, without the need to de-mine the waters in the area. A security guarantee provided by Turkey or another state — likely one within NATO — is now the crucial missing piece of a deal and a plan could be finalized within days, the official said.
GRAPHIC WARNING: CCTV footage released by Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy shows the moment a missile hit a shopping center in Kremenchuk, debunking a Russian lie that no missiles hit the building. At least 18 people were killed in the strike.
WINNERS AND LOSERS: Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton told last night’s Peston that Russia is winning the war in terms of gaining ground and achieving objections, contradicting Defense Secretary Ben Wallace.
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Foreign Secretary Liz Truss broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.).
Shadow Defense Secretary John Healey: Today program (6.50 a.m.) … LBC (7.15 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Former Prime Minister Tony Blair (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Kay Burley: Former U.K. perm rep to NATO Adam Thomson (7.30 a.m.) … Tory MP Bob Seely (8.20 a.m.) … Former Lib Dem MP Norman Baker (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former National Security Adviser Mark Lyall Grant (7.10 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast: Chair of the foreign affairs select committee Tom Tugendhat (7.35 a.m.) … Environmental activist Daniel Hooper, aka Swampy (7.45 a.m.) … Estonia’s Foreign Minister Andres Sutt (8 a.m.) … Chief Executive of Iceland Richard Walker (8.15 a.m.).
TalkTV breakfast show: Scottish Tory MP Andrew Bowie (7.20 a.m.) … Foreign affairs committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat (8.05 a.m.) … Former SNP MP Stephen Gethins (8.20 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 10.15 a.m.): Tory MP Damian Collins … Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle … The Telegraph’s Zoe Strimpel … The FT’s Sebastian Payne.
The Briefing with Gloria De Piero (GB News 12 p.m.): Former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson and former Defense Secretary Michael Portillo.
Tonight with Andrew Marr (LBC 6 p.m.): Former Home Secretary Alan Johnson.
Question Time (From Inverness, BBC 10.40 p.m.): Scottish Constitution Secretary Angus Robertson … Tory MSP Craig Hoy … Labour MSP Pam Duncan-Glancy … Comedian Susie McCabe … The Spectator’s Fraser Nelson.
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The FT’s Seb Payne and the Sun’s Kate Ferguson.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Charles ‘would never take suitcase of cash again.’
Daily Mail: Meghan ‘bullying’ inquiry buried.
Daily Mirror: £100 million for the royals? Reign it in..
Daily Star: You can’t park that there, mate!
Financial Times: High inflation will persist longer in U.K., Bailey warns.
i: No extra U.K. defense cash until 2025 despite war.
Metro: Europe’s new iron curtain.
POLITICO UK: Britain finally takes its seat at the WTO. Has anything changed?
PoliticsHome: Defense secretary warns ‘the threat is changing’ and calls for more defense spending.
The Daily Telegraph: No 10 fears PM faces ‘kangaroo court.’
The Guardian: Tory privatisation linked to increase in NHS death rates.
The Independent: The firms cashing in on housing for vulnerable.
The Sun: Now let’s raise £10 million for Debs.
The Times: Troop surge to defend NATO’s east from Putin.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
POLITICO Europe: The metamorphosis of J.K. Rowling.
The New Statesman: American darkness — Why the disintegration of the U.S. should worry us all.
The Spectator: Cold war — Wolfgang Münchau on Putin’s plan to hold Germany to ransom.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: ☁️☁️☁️ Another cloudy day. Highs of 21C.
NEW GIG: Former Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has taken a second job at an education firm with a £50,000 annual wage for just 80 hours work. The job — which no doubt Williamson will excel at following his deft running of the Department for Education throughout the COVID pandemic — is to advise RTC Education Ltd. The firm has given stacks of cash to the Conservatives in donations and its chair is … er … colorful. The Guardian has a full write-up.
NOW HIRING: Transport sec Grant Shapps is looking for a new chief of staff. Ad here.
BIRTHDAYS: Former de-facto Deputy PM David Lidington … Labour peer and former Scottish First Minister Jack McConnell … UUP peer Dennis Rogan … Tory peer Sandip Verma … Crossbench peer Alan Brooke … Finsbury Director Jason Stein … City AM Editor Andy Silvester … The Times’ Policy Editor Oliver Wright.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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