Reshuffle trundles on — Suella under fire — Spin doctor runners and riders – POLITICO

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Good Thursday morning. This is Eleni Courea. I’ll be back again Friday.


LOW-TEMPO MUSICAL CHAIRS: Rishi Sunak will press on with his slow-and-steady ministerial reshuffle — with the first slate of junior appointments announced last night after a full day’s wait — as the row over his decision to return Suella Braverman to the Home Office picks up steam.

Playbook’s thoughts are with … Anne-Marie Trevelyan, who went into No. 10 on Monday afternoon and only had her new FCDO role confirmed on Tuesday evening. No word yet on whether she had to ask her team to deliver a sleeping bag.

More moves of existing ministers … were Chris Philp to the Home Office (who like AMT was demoted from Cabinet level)… Lucy Frazer to DLUHC … and Jesse Norman to transport. About a dozen ministers were reappointed to their existing roles, including Steve Baker at the NIO, Nus Ghani at BEIS and James Heappey at defense.

Brought back from the backbenches … were Alex Chalk, made a defense minister … Helen Whately, who’s back at DHSC … George Freeman back to BEIS … Nick Gibb, the widely respected veteran schools minister, brought home to DfE … and education committee Chair Rob Halfon appointed an education minister.

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Dithery Rishi: One Sunak-supporting MP texted Playbook a little after 8 p.m. to say: “There are some of us who think Rishi’s weakness is indecisiveness and who look at a reshuffle that began at 1.30 p.m. and has publicly sacked three people almost 7 hours later.” The same person said that after what happened to Liz Truss, the new PM and his team “are so keen to keep people on side they’re forgetting this is their moment of maximum power.”

And a response: A No. 10 source countered that “it’s not indecisiveness, it’s giving people the respect they deserve,” and said Sunak had to chair Cabinet and take PMQs yesterday but nonetheless appointed quite a few ministers.

Worth noting: The nature of the appointments themselves has been pretty conservative, with ministers including Whately, Freeman, Halfon and Gibb returning to the same or similar roles they held before (though frankly with the amount of chopping and changing recently we can do with a bit of continuity).

Slow and steady: In general, where Truss was determined to do everything at breakneck speed, Sunak is exercising an abundance of caution. The fiscal event penciled in for October 31 has been postponed by three weeks to November 17 (ironically close to the original date Kwasi Kwarteng chose before he was forced to bring it forward). It will now be an autumn statement. The delay — which splashes the FT — suggests Sunak wants to painstakingly go through the plans. It also gives the OBR time to develop more optimistic forecasts based on the now-improved economic outlook (which City traders in the FT call the “dullness dividend”).

On that: Bloomberg’s Alex Wickham was the first to reveal that the Treasury is looking for ways to fill a £35 billion hole in the public finances next month. He and Joe Mayes report that officials have drawn up a list of 104 options to cut spending.

Where those cuts might come from: The Times’ Oli Wright reports Sunak is looking at two measures to help balance the books — freezing income tax thresholds for two more years and prolonging the cut in international aid spending. Combined, he says these would reduce the fiscal gap by up to £10 billion. The PM’s old employer Policy Exchange has a report out today with more recommendations, including scrapping the pensions triple lock and introducing a new windfall tax. The Times’ Chris Smyth has a write-up.

Breathing space: The Telegraph splashes on analysis by the Resolution Foundation suggesting the three-week delay will shrink the size of the shortfall by up to £15 billion — which could allow ministers to pare back double-digit spending cuts that Chris Hope reports Hunt was planning across departments. The Express splash warns the PM not to touch the pensions triple lock.


SHOULD HAVE BEEN BRAVER, MAN: Rishi Sunak is feeling the heat over his decision to reinstate Suella “leaky Sue” Braverman as home secretary six days after she had to quit over breaching the ministerial code (and one day after her endorsement gave him the momentum he needed to win the Tory leadership contest).

Spooking the spooks: The Mail’s David Barrett reveals today that Cabinet Office officials questioned Braverman as part of an MI5-linked inquiry into the leak of a sensitive story. The investigation found “no conclusive evidence” of where the story came from. In it, the Telegraph revealed that Braverman, who was attorney general at the time, was seeking an injunction against the BBC naming a former spy accused of using his position to terrorize his ex-partner.

As an aside: Playbook would love to know more about this secretive “Government Security Group” that carries out leak inquiries from within the Cabinet Office and includes officials on secondment from MI5 and MI6. Barrett reports: “They are known to be ruthless in their inquiries. During one leak probe during Boris Johnson’s government they turned up unannounced one evening at the home of a Cabinet Minister and demanded he hand over his mobile phone.”

Labour attack: Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, tells the Mail the allegations are “extremely serious” and calls for an urgent investigation.

Meanwhile: Another row is brewing over whether Braverman alerted the government over her breach of the ministerial code by using her personal email address. The home sec said in her statement last week that she had “rapidly reported” her mistake “on official channels and informed the Cabinet secretary.” But former Tory Chairman Jake Berry told Harry Cole and Kate McCann on TalkTV last night that “as I understand it, the evidence was put to her and she accepted the evidence, rather than the other way round.”

Commons line: Questioned by Keir Starmer on Wednesday, Sunak told the Commons that Braverman had “raised the matter and accepted her mistake.” If Berry is right, it opens the possibility that Sunak has relayed an incorrect version of events to the Commons.

This should sort things: In the Times, Matt Dathan reports that MI5 is concerned about Braverman’s conduct and will give her lessons on what she can and can’t share. Home Office officials who have worked with her tell him she is a “human hand grenade” who will be “gone by Christmas.”

Policy clash: Matt Dathan also reports there are tensions between the PM and home secretary on immigration, as Sunak does not share Braverman’s desire to reduce student immigration or restore the Cameron-era pledge of cutting net migration to the “tens of thousands.”

Taking a step back: Playbook can’t help but wonder whether Sunak feels that Braverman’s appointment wasn’t worth the headache it’s creating at the very beginning of his premiership.

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SEEKING A SPIN-DOCTOR: Liz Truss thought the main drag on her premiership was poor comms. To her critics it was clear that — among other errors — she’d populated No. 10 with young and inexperienced advisers. Sunak will be determined not to make the same mistake, and one of the most important roles he needs to fill in his new Downing Street team is director of communications. Playbook will take you through the runners and riders.

One thing that has to be worked out … is whether Sunak will retain the split director of comms role — with a political appointee as well as a civil service one — which Truss introduced. Simon McGee, Truss’ civil service comms director, remains in No. 10 at least for now.

Nerissa Chesterfield: Nissy to her colleagues, Sunak’s long-time spin doctor helped run his leadership campaign. Before joining Team Sunak she did comms for the Institute of Economic Affairs, and worked for Liz Truss for a bit at trade. She is the obvious internal candidate for the role, unless Sunak decides to recruit someone with more experience externally, in which case she could be appointed press secretary.

James Forsyth: The Spectator’s impeccably connected pol-ed has been close friends with the now-PM since their school days at Winchester. Sunak is said to have been best man at Forsyth’s wedding to Allegra Stratton and they are godparents to each others’ children. Could he be tempted to make the leap from Old Queen Street to No. 10?

Allegra Stratton: Now a star columnist at Bloomberg, Stratton left journalism in 2020 to become Sunak’s director of strategic communications at the Treasury. She was poached by Boris Johnson as his spokeswoman but was forced to resign over a leaked video in which she joked about the Downing Street parties. An obvious external candidate for the role, except that the optics of recruiting someone who quit over Partygate would be difficult.

Ben Mascall: Helped run Sunak’s leadership campaign over the summer, triggering speculation over whether he might fancy a return to a senior government job. Now at Palantir Technologies, Mascall was head of strategic communications at No. 10 under Theresa May and deputy director of communications for the Tories in the runup to the 2015 election.

Alex Wild: The experienced CCHQ director of communications was drafted in temporarily as press secretary in Truss’ short-lived administration, and is rated by some in No. 10. Sunak could try to tempt Wild into a more senior role but he is thought to be happy to be back at CCHQ preparing for the election.

Rob Oxley: Boris Johnson’s former press secretary, who most recently worked as a SpAd to Nadine Dorries and left government a few weeks ago, worked for Sunak at No. 11 for a short period in early 2020.

Jason Groves: Boris Johnson poached his best spinners from the Daily Mail Lobby room. Could Groves be tempted to switch to the dark side after seven years as Mail pol-ed?

Harry Cole: The well-connected Sun political editor is another leading candidate should Sunak try to poach a top Lobby hack.

Macer Hall: The well-liked former Daily Express pol-ed — who left the paper this summer after spending nearly two decades there — is being discussed in some quarters as a potential candidate for the job.

Paul Stephenson: The well-connected Hanbury founder and former Vote Leave director of comms has the experience needed for the role, should he fancy a return to government anytime soon.

Christian May: The managing director at Teneo is thought to have been in the frame recently for a top government comms role. He spent over five years as editor-in-chief of business bible CityAM.

Simon McGee: Still working in No. 10 for now as director of communications on the civil service side, he could be invited to stay on in a beefed-up version of his current role or asked if he’ll consider switching to a more political one.

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HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with Cabinet Office questions to Oliver Dowden … Followed by any UQs … Commons leader Penny Mordaunt has the weekly business statement next … and then the main business will be a backbench-led debate on the National Food Strategy, followed by another debate on the right to maintain contact with people in care. Westminster Hall has a debate marking World Menopause Day at 3.10 p.m.

HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 11 a.m. with questions on public space protection orders, the Zimbabwean government’s detention of the country’s members of parliament and on COP27 … The main business will be two long debates, the first on the 50th anniversary of the expulsion of Asians from Uganda and the second on freedom of expression in the digital age.

WATCH OUT FOR … Commons elections for the stewardship of three powerful select committees — Treasury, health and education — after their chairmen Mel Stride, Jeremy Hunt, and now Rob Halfon were all elevated to Cabinet.

EDUCATION, EDUCATION, EDUCATION: The Times’ Oli Wright and Rachel Sylvester report Rishi Sunak is preparing radical education reforms, including a new “British baccalaureate” with mandatory English and maths exams and a network of prestigious technical colleges for vocational training. A Downing Street source tells them the PM believes the “one silver bullet in public policy” would be investment in education and skills.

PMQs WRAP: After all of Playbook’s insufferably snarky comments, it turned out Wednesday’s PMQs was one of the best in years, with Sunak and Starmer both in top form and trading barbs over Jeremy Corbyn, north London, Brexit, being a non-dom, cracking down on criminals and that video from Tunbridge Wells. “Like a pianola, there is something programmed about him,” Quentin Letts says of Sunak in his Times sketch. “But as he boinged up and down, waving a hand and snapping shut his folder, you could sense Tories redirecting their muskets.”

Poll position: The Tories are up by 4 points (to 23 percent) since Sunak became PM and Labour is down by 5 (to a still-staggering 51 percent) in a YouGov poll for the Times. More notably Sunak’s personal ratings were within touching distance of Starmer’s. But while a majority of Brits want an early election, they’re unlikely to get one, reports POLITICO’s Emilio Casalicchio.

CABINET NUMBER-CRUNCHING: The Guardian has a comprehensive piece with the stats about the new Cabinet: 23 percent are women, 16 percent are from ethnic minorities, 42 percent are privately educated and 52 percent Oxbridge grads.

Northern snub: Sunak has ditched his leadership pledge to appoint a Cabinet-attending minister for the north, the Yorkshire Post’s Mason Boycott-Owen reveals (though he notes Truss didn’t do that either).

WHAT A PRIVILEGE: The Telegraph’s Tony Diver reports that Sunak is unlikely to be called to give evidence to the Commons privileges committee probe into whether Boris Johnson misled MPs over Partygate.

CHANNEL CRISIS: The Mail splashes on a senior Home Office official’s warning that there has been an “exponential” rise in the numbers of people illegally crossing the Channel, and that Albanian criminal gangs have gained a foothold in the north of France. Dan O’Mahoney, clandestine Channel threat commander at the Home Office, gave evidence to the home affairs committee yesterday.

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TODAY IN NI: Stormont meets at noon today in a final attempt to appoint ministers that looks doomed to fail. Northern Ireland’s main political parties have spent the week holding talks with NI Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris in an effort to get the Stormont executive working again, ahead of Heaton-Harris’ deadline on Friday — upon which he says he’ll call an election if power-sharing isn’t resolved. The DUP today look set to continue their protest at the Northern Ireland protocol, making that election the overwhelming probability.

How it will work: A range of officials in Belfast, London and Dublin have told POLITICO’s Shawn Pogatchnik to, in the case of no resolution today, expect Heaton-Harris to specify on Friday the date of an assembly election, with December 15 likely. The U.K. government would then prepare legislation giving new decision-making powers to the senior civil servants overseeing the Stormont executive’s departments, effectively to keep the political lights on while avoiding direct rule from Westminster. The government hopes a new election would either break the power-sharing deadlock or at least buy extra time for a protocol deal to be reached with the EU.

NO EU WITHOUT EURO: Four separate EU sources have told the Times’ Kieran Andrews that an independent Scotland couldn’t join the EU unless it committed to adopting the euro currency, in a massive blow to Nicola Sturgeon’s efforts to make the case for independence add up. When she launched her government’s economic paper last week the Scottish first minister said Scotland would use sterling in the years following independence, before moving to its own separate version of the pound, while still attempting to join the EU. Sturgeon added that she believes the euro is not “the right option for Scotland,” but (anonymous) senior figures in Brussels pointed out to the Times that the EU’s membership terms state that a commitment to joining the euro is required. Of course, Scottish nationalists point to the examples of bloc member countries such as Sweden, which is committed only in theory to joining the euro and has no plans to switch from the krona.

Coming attraction: Well-read opposition MSPs might fancy putting the above to Nicola Sturgeon at FMQs in Holyrood just after noon. Plus, more questions and scuffles will no doubt arise when the Scottish government publishes its planned paper on EU membership, expected in the coming months as it continues its series of Indy policy docs.

ON PUTIN’S BIG SCREEN: Vladimir Putin spent his Wednesday watching Russia’s first nuclear drill since the invasion of Ukraine, in not-at-all ominous news as Moscow continues its unsubstantiated claims about Kyiv plans for a “dirty bomb.” The Kremlin said ballistic and cruise missiles were launched in Russia’s far east and the Arctic, which the U.S. was informed under normal procedures. Elsewhere, Estonian PM Kaja Kallas told POLITICO’s National Security Daily newsletter that Russia is reaching its “breaking point” with Putin, thanks to military failures and the domestic consequences of the war.

Today in Westminster: Former PM Boris Johnson plans to use his post-prime ministerial office in Westminster to start a new foundation aimed at helping rebuild Ukraine, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports. A friend of Johnson’s described the plans as a “Marshall plan for Ukraine,” which will raise money for the country. Johnson is also set to head to Washington to make a speech about Ukraine’s plight and to meet with U.S. senators to make the case for increased support.

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Tory Party Chairman Nadhim Zahawi 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.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … talkTV (8.35 a.m.) … GB News (9 a.m).

Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy broadcast round: Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.).

Also on the Today program: Labour MP Diana Johnson, chair of the home affairs select committee (8.10 a.m.).

Also on Good Morning Britain: Crossbench peer Simon Woolley (6.40 a.m.) … Sinn Féin President Mary Lou McDonald (7.25 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Former GM Police Detective Constable Maggie Oliver (8.35 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio breakfast: Deputy head of health at Unison Helga Pile (7.05 a.m.) … Human rights activist and U.K. Director of the Uyghur Congress Rahima Mahmut (7.35 a.m.) … Former Universities Minister Jo Johnson (8.05 a.m.) … Police and Crime Commissioner for Devon and Cornwall Alison Hernandez (8.35 a.m.).

Also on talkTV breakfast: Tory MP John Redwood (7.05 a.m.) … Labour MP Siobhain McDonagh (8.05 a.m.) … Unaffiliated peer Kate Hoey (9.20 a.m.).

Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): Tory MP Tim Loughton … Labour MP Stella Creasy … Social policy professor Nicola Rollock … Tory activist Albie Amankona.

Question Time (From Dulwich, iPlayer 8 p.m. and BBC One 10.40 p.m.): Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy … Satirist Armando Iannucci … Broadcaster Julia Hartley-Brewer and a government minister tbc.

Reviewing the papers tonight: TalkTV (10.20 p.m.): The Spectator’s Isabel Hardman and Tory peer Robert Hayward.


(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)

Daily Express: Do you really want to scrap pension triple lock again?

Daily Mail: Rishi’s migrant crisis headache.

Daily Mirror: Zelenskyy — Our pride.

Daily Star: Rise of the zombie pigeons.

Financial Times: Delay to fiscal statement wins breathing space for Hunt.

HuffPost UK: Sunak and Hunt delay crucial budget update.

i: Cuts warning as Sunak rips up Truss growth plan.

Metro: ‘Don’t be gay at world cup.’

POLITICO UK: Britain wants an election. It’s not getting one.

PoliticsHome: Rishi Sunak defends Suella Braverman appointment despite security breach in first PMQs.

The Daily Telegraph: Sunak reconsiders tax rises as Budget delay saves £15 billion.

The Guardian: Fracking banned and pensions in spotlight as Truss legacy rejected.

The Independent: Relief as Sunak brings back ban on fracking.

The Sun: Harry’s snog with Florence.

The Times: Sunak — Better education can be our silver bullet.


POLITICO Europe: Abortion’s underground railroad.

The Critic: Putin’s imperial fantasy.

The New Statesman: State of disorder — A special issue on Britain’s political crisis.

The Spectator: Is Rishi ready?


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: 🌦🌦🌦 Light showers throughout the day. Highs of 20C.

MEA CULPA: As a shrewd reader pointed out, Wednesday’s Playbook mistakenly referred to “Playbook’s Angela Rayner” when in fact she remains Labour’s deputy leader and had only given us an exclusive quote. POLITICO is hiring if she happens to be mulling a career change.

NEW GIG: Kwasi Kwarteng’s former spin doctor Cameron Brown is now a media SpAd for the new Chancellor Jeremy Hunt.

CONGRATULATIONS … To all the winners and nominees at the London Press Club’s awards Wednesday, including Pippa Crerar, who was crowned journalist of the year, Paul Brand, who won broadcaster of the year, Gabriel Pogrund, who won scoop of the year, and Noa Hoffman, young journalist of the year. All hugely deserved.

COMING ATTRACTION: HarperCollins has brought forward the publication date of Shadow Leveling Up Secretary Lisa Nandy’s political manifesto “All In” to November 24. Wes Streeting, another ambitious member of Labour’s front bench, also has a book due out over the next few months.

BIRTHDAYS: North West Hampshire MP Kit Malthouse … Shadow Business Minister Bill Esterson … Tory peer Simon Wolfson … Labour peer Frederick Ponsonby … The Economist’s Tom Nuttall.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, and reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.

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Eleni Courea

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