Gavin a rough morning — Border skirmishes — Sausage committee hope – POLITICO

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Good Tuesday morning. This is Emilio Casalicchio here today and Wednesday.


GAVIN A ROUGH DAY ALREADY: Rishi Sunak faces an awkward Cabinet meeting this morning with Gavin Williamson in the room, following fresh damning revelations about the under-fire minister. The Guardian’s excellent Pippa Crerar last night revealed that Williamson made vile comments to an MoD official while he was defense chief some four Conservative prime ministers ago. The denial from Williamson over the claim is (to coin a phrase) somewhat limited and specific, however — suggesting he accepts he made the comments in question.

Details, details: Crerar reports allegations from a former senior civil servant that Williamson told the person to “slit your throat” and “jump out of the window” in separate furious outbursts. The aide said Williamson “deliberately demeaned and intimidated” them on a regular basis. The person flagged the behavior to the head of HR at the defense department and took notes at the time but didn’t submit a formal complaint. 

The Gav line: The Cabinet Office said it had not received a single formal complaint about Williamson about his time at the MoD or other departments, while Williamson himself said: “I strongly reject this allegation and have enjoyed good working relationships with the many brilliant officials I have worked with across government. No specific allegations have ever been brought to my attention.”

But but but: Crerar pointed out that the Williamson denial refers to claims of bullying and is not denying that he used the words quoted. Playbook understands that to be correct. Williamson did not respond to a request for further comment last night.

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Grin and bear it vibes: The Cabinet meeting is due to kick off in less than three hours, with Downing Street confirming last night that Williamson is expected to attend. No. 10 declined to comment further than the Cabinet Office lines on the Guardian report, however. Let’s see if Gav shows up.

HOW TO GAME IT OUT: It’s all a bit grim for Sunak, but if he’s desperate to protect Williamson, Downing Street can of course stick to the line that it’s an anonymous allegation and no official complaint was made. It’s a gamble though, seeing as Westminster is expecting more to come out about Gav’s past niceties, which could mean sustained damage for the PM. And if Sunak is forced to sack him in the end, he’ll look like a chump after appointing the controversial MP while knowing there was an existing complaint against him from the Truss administration. 

Hart of the matter: Conservative MPs have long muttered about Sunak showing political naivety at key moments in his journey to No. 10 — including the reaction to the revelations about his wife’s tax status, his campaign launch in the summer that was interpreted as a backstabbing operation, and his Cabinet appointments. Some wonder whether his political nous is improving, with a former figure in the whips office telling my colleague Esther Webber that Sunak might have underestimated the importance of the role of chief whip in appointing Simon Hart.

Good at Hart: They described Hart as “a really nice guy” but pointed out that he had never previously served as a whip. The person added that Hart is “a good friend of Gavin Williamson — and Gavin doesn’t really have a brief, so Gavin is out there pulling the strings.” A government official described the claim Williamson is running things as “totally untrue.”

Hart or no Hart: Sunak could do with some help from an ethics adviser, who Downing Street insists will be recruited in due course. Playbook is more than happy to take the job in the interim, seeing as this stuff isn’t actually that hard. 

TO MAKE MATTERS WORSE: Labour is piling pressure on Downing Street over the Guardian scoop, of course. “These allegations are extremely serious and speak to the toxic culture at the top of the Conservative Party,” said Chair Anneliese Dodds.

This won’t help either: Former Cabinet Minister Nicky Morgan was piling in last night too. “I had my run-ins with Gavin Williamson when he was Theresa May’s chief whip; none of this surprises me, sadly,” she told Kate McCann on TalkTV. Morgan added that it would be “very difficult” for Sunak not to ask Williamson to quit. 

The stickiest wicket: Mel Stride, the work and pensions chief and one of Sunak’s closest allies, is on the broadcast round this morning batting for the government. Expect Morgan’s words to be put to him.

ONE TAKE … is that the Williamson pressure and the noise about the appointment of Home Secretary Suella Braverman is all part of a plot masterminded in Camp Boris Johnson, according to David Maddox in the Express. “Nobody’s going to storm the gates at the moment to force Rishi out but there is a more surgical attempt to take out his allies,” one MP told Maddox. Some reckon former Conservative Chair Jake Berry could be holding the scalpel. 

But but but: Camp Johnson has bigger fish to grill: Getting the former PM’s list of Lords appointments through its own ethics gauntlet. Lara Spirit managed to get hold of his latest shortlist in the Times. It includes two aides under 31: Ross Kempsell and Charlotte Owen; senior MPs Nadine Dorries, Nigel Adams, Alister Jack and Alok Sharma (who have promised to hold off taking their Lords seats to avoid by-elections); former Downing Street officials Dan Rosenfield and Ben Gascoigne; former City Hall aide Kulveer Ranger; and Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen. 

Wait, there’s more: Mail former Editor Paul Dacre is back on the list, despite ethics chiefs blocking him on a previous iteration; as is David Ross, the multi-millionaire Carphone Warehouse founder who was forced to quit as a City Hall aide over a shares selling scandal and was listed as having paid for the vacation then-PM Johnson took on the Caribbean island of Mustique that triggered standards questions; and so is former Conservative London mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey, who quit a London Assembly committee after he was pictured breaking COVID lockdown rules.  

Impressed: “If this latest list gets past the House of Lords Appointments Commission, they might as well pack-up and go home,” Duncan Hames from Transparency International said last night. Stranger things have happened.

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MUSICAL SEATS: Cabinet Ministers Ben Wallace and Dominic Raab are breaking a fresh sweat this morning, after independent officials revealed their latest update to the electoral map aimed at equalizing the number of constituents in each seat. There is a final month of consultation before the new constituency boundaries map goes to the printers — but don’t expect much to change from now. The latest version is all-but final, with just small tweaks expected at this late stage.

There’s a war on: The picture for Wallace is an improvement on the first draft, which could have left him seatless, but it’s not much better. Now the defense chief’s Wyre and Preston North seat becomes a super-marginal, based on the past voting habits within its borders. Raab’s marginal Esher and Walton seat has meanwhile got worse for the Tories, plunging him into even more serious trouble at the next election. 

Also in the firing line: The reduction of constituencies in parts of the West Midlands means under-fire Cabinet Minister for Nothing Much At All Gavin Williamson will have to compete with colleagues Mike Wood and Bill Cash to retain a seat at the next election. PA’s Sam Blewett has the details on that one. Williamson could always ask BoJo for a seat in the Lords.

Speaking of Bozza: His Uxbridge seat has been tinkered with but leaves him in the same boat votes-wise as before, as is the case for Labour leader Keir Starmer — although the map falls as such so that Starmer could end up living outside of the zone. The Times has more on that one, and on a similar note adds that Tony Blair’s former Sedgefield seat is set to be abolished.  

Overall: The Tories are still expected to pick up another five to 10 seats under the latest version of the map, Conservative peer and electoral expert Robert Hayward maintains. The overall number of seats remains at 650, with England increasing its number of seats from 533 to 543, Wales seeing a decrease from 40 to 32, and Scotland seeing a slight dip from 59 to 57. Northern Ireland will still have 18 seats. All the seats will have between 69,000 and 77,000 constituents, except for five special cases including the Isle of Wight, which is nevertheless being split into two. 

What happens next: There will be a final four-week consultation to December 5, then the absolute final plan will be revealed next summer. Once the speaker lays the new map before the House, the government will have four months to get it signed off by the privy council. Once that happens, it’s all official and the subsequent general election will be fought on those terms. Boundary Commission Secretary Tim Bowden is due to appear on TalkTV just after 9.30 a.m., for the proper geeks.

Worth noting: One thing that can still change at this point is the names of the constituencies, and the boundaries commission is eager for suggestions from the public. And the public is, of course, excellent at this kind of thing (when it isn’t rigged). So get cracking.


GENDER GAP: As luck would have it, there is a space going on the international trade committee after Conservative MP Mike Wood was appointed a government whip. As Playbook readers will know, the committee is 100 percent male. But a campaign is growing to ensure a female MP replaces Wood when the relevant election comes. 

Chief campaigner: “What fortunate timing!” Sally Jones, trade chief at EY and enthusiast about getting at least a single female voice onto the committee, told Playbook. “Wouldn’t it be marvelous if the Conservative Party were able to find just one woman to sit on the international trade committee?” Playbook’s Eleni Courea also revealed last night that Anthony Mangnall has been appointed a PPS in HMT — which might also free up another space. TWO women? Unthinkable.

Getting on board: Jones is joined by two of the Labour members on the committee, who (safe in the knowledge there’s a Conservative seat up for grabs) agree someone from another gender should be given a chance. “I would love to see a woman on the committee, the last woman being Labour’s Taiwo Owatemi MP who stood down on being promoted,” said Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle. 

Striking a welcome Tone: “All our committees should reflect the need for recognition of gender,” said fellow Labour MP Tony Lloyd. “There is always a churn of members, especially as governments come and go, so parliament has no real excuse in addressing this total imbalance.” MPs from different parties on the committee said no women had put their names forward as candidates … even though trade is the best thing ever.

Rebalancing: Those who arrange the elections for spaces insist it’s out of their hands. For the Tories, it’s the 1922 committee of backbench MPs that sorts it. Its executive team thought an all-woman shortlist would be against House of Commons rules, but the Commons debunked that last night, telling Playbook there are no such restrictions and the parties are free to run the elections as they see fit. 

One thing is sure: Someone, somewhere has the power to make sure at least one woman gets onto the trade committee.


APOLOGIES IN ADVANCE: The latest rumor this morning about how Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt plan to plug the massive black hole in their upcoming budget is that the pair will maintain a freeze of the threshold above which people have to stump up inheritance tax (as per the FT, Telegraph and Bloomberg). Preventing the threshold from rising in line with inflation will mean more estates are pulled above it.

Also … on the Santa side of things, Sunak is expected to increase pensions and benefits in line with inflation, according to Steven Swinford in the Times. 

HAPPENING TODAY: The second installment (£324) of the cost of living support package for households claiming means-tested benefits is due to land. 

On that note: Sunak is hoping to bring gas prices down and reduce reliance on Russia via a massive deal with the Washington that could see around 10 billion cubic meters of American gas shipped to Britain over the coming year, according to Ben Riley Smith in the Telegraph. The two sides are still negotiating over the exact figure, while Britain is also pushing for similar deals with Norway and Qatar.

ANOTHER SAVING SCHEME: The U.K. is preparing to hand some £80 million to the French as part of a deal aimed at stopping small boats of migrants from crossing the Channel, in a bid to avoid the chaos in Dover and save cash in the long term, according to numerous reports including from David Barrett in the Mail. The deal is expected to see British Border Force officials allowed into French control rooms to access live intelligence on people smugglers. 

High stakes: The Tories could lose the next election over the failure to tackle the small boats crisis, according to polling from the More in Common campaign group shared with Matt Dathan in the Times. 

**Join our POLITICO Pro Transatlantic Briefing Call on November 9 at 4 PM CET, exceptionally open for everyone. Our reporters Suzanne Lynch & Ryan Heath will decipher what the mid-term results mean for US allies. Register here.**


HOUSE OF COMMONS: MPs sit from 11.30 a.m. for foreign, commonwealth and development office questions. Barring urgent questions or statements, a ten minute rule motion will follow on share ownership for workers. Then there’s a Labour opposition debate (more on that below) and an adjournment debate on the impact of night flights on communities under flight paths. 

Yesterday in parliament: Conservative MP Mark Francois asked why it takes BAE Systems 11 years to build a ship “the Japs” can build in four. 😬

COMMITTEE CORRIDOR: Education Minister Robert Halfon is at the Lords science and tech committee at 10.15 a.m. … Senior NHS England official Chris Hopson is among names at the health committee discussing integrated care from 11 a.m. … Lord Chief Justice Ian Burnett is before the justice committee at 2.30 p.m. and senior EU ex-bigwigs are at the Lords European affairs committee at 4 p.m. to discuss the future of the EU-U.K. relationship.

KEEPING THE PRESSURE GOING: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is touring broadcast studios right now ahead of her opposition day debate later, at which Labour will attempt to force the government to release advice on Suella Braverman’s reappointment as home secretary. The hope is to get to the bottom of reports about various leak inquiries that are said to have tailed her around her ministerial career, and whether she ignored legal advice about overcrowding at the Manston migrant processing center. 

What to expect from Cooper: In comments released overnight, she said Sunak was “just irresponsible” for reappointing Braverman. “It shows that neither the prime minister nor the home secretary are taking security and public safety seriously enough,” she added. 

SPEAKING OF LABOUR HOME AFFAIRS: Shadow Immigration Minister Stephen Kinnock told Times Radio Labour could introduce “basic” ID cards to help count the number of people in Britain and fight illegal immigration. He told Matt Chorley almost every EU member country has a similar scheme and “it can’t be beyond the wit of man” for the U.K. to create one too. But Labour wants to limit the scale of data the government would store, to swerve the civil liberties rows that Tony Blair faced over the same issue. 

FLEXING LABOUR MUSCLES: To further burnish their hard-nut credentials, shadow defense chief John Healey is off to the NATO HQ in Brussels this morning to meet Deputy Secretary General Mircea Geoană and ambassadors from member nations. It comes as Labour reveals a new fleet of U.K. surveillance aircraft — meant to enter service in 2023 — now won’t be good to go until at least mid-2027. Healey said the government had “created a credibility gap that impacts our contribution to NATO.”

ANOTHER LABOUR BID: The party will also push a Commons vote on maintaining the triple lock — to make life awks for the Tories. More here from the Mirror’s Dan Bloom.  

BAG-CARRIERS BULLETIN: Playbook’s Eleni Courea got hold of the finalized list of PPSs last night, which includes a mix of new and old faces. Loyal Sunak backer Laura Farris has been appointed PPS to Dominic Raab in his deputy prime minister role. A trio of PPSes — Ruth Edwards, Peter Gibson and James Daly — will be the Cabinet Office’s eyes and ears in the parliamentary party (a department which has three Cabinet-attending ministers including CDL Oliver Dowden and beleaguered Minister for Who Knows What Gavin Williamson). 

And there’s more: Gareth Davies and Paul Dowell have been made Treasury PPSes while James Sunderland and Shaun Bailey fulfill the role for the Home Office. David Johnston is Michael Gove’s PPS at DLUCH, while Boris Johnson loyalists Alexander Stafford and Paul Bristow have also landed roles, the former at trade and the latter at DCMS.

FOR THE LOLZ: The i newspaper’s Paul Waugh had an excellent nugget in his evening take on COP27 last night: The reason Jacob Rees-Mogg believed hotel rooms cost £2,000 a night in Sharm El-Sheikh was because he told officials he needed a room with a freestanding bath. A fair request of course, but them freestanding baths don’t come cheap. 

SEE YOU IN COURT 1: Two councils are making bids at the High Court this morning to stop hotel firms housing asylum seekers in their areas. 

SEE YOU IN COURT 2: The Good Law Project is appealing the dismissal of its bid to confirm whether the government has a legal requirement to keep WhatsApp chats as records.

HAPPENING TODAY: The second session of the post-Brexit Parliamentary Partnership Assembly of MPs and MEPs. There are hopes of an announcement on trade between the EU and U.K. if the government agrees. 

Speaking of Brexit: U.K. firms are still wondering when the so-called dividend will materialize, according to British Chambers of Commerce boss Shevaun Haviland. She made the comments in an interview with Bloomberg’s Joe Mayes. 

Data be furious: Meanwhile, a key European Union lawmaker has described meetings with the U.K. government over the country’s data protection reform plans as “appalling.” French MEP Gwendoline Delbos-Corfield said she felt “we were taken for fools” after Digital Minister Julia Lopez quit the meeting halfway through, U.K. Home Office ministers didn’t bother to meet them and the U.K. data regulator sent a substitute for its chief. Read more from POLITICO’s Vincent Manancourt here.

BEST READ TODAY: The Times carries a thoughtful piece from style expert Jeremy Langmead inspired by Chancellor Jeremy Hunt shelling out more than £100 on a haircut. Honestly, it’s quite interesting, especially for 30-something males like Playbook who are starting to face the wrath of hair loss. 


OVER IN SHARM: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon speaks at the COP27 summit at 7.30 a.m. U.K. time here and at 1.10 p.m. here. 

Sharm offensive: Amid the COP frolicking, businessman and former U.S. presidential hopeful Mike Bloomberg, alongside European Climate Foundation boss Laurance Tubiana, has written for POLITICO about the urgent action needed. “If we are to stave off ever-worsening climate impact, everything points to the need for immediate and radically faster action,” they argue. “But to do this, we need to empower the groups best positioned to lead the way: cities, businesses and other local organizations — our subnational actors.”

Cleaner Street: West Midlands Mayor Andy Street also writes for POLITICO about how action at a local level can help to tackle the climate issue.

OVER IN NORTHERN IRELAND: Westminster will postpone the election until 2023 in the hope that the DUP will stop refusing to form a government in the meantime, according to Bloomberg’s Ellen Milligan and Alex Wickham and PolHome’s Adam Payne. 

FURTHER TO THE WEST: The U.S. is holding its midterm elections. According to our U.S. POLITICO colleagues, the Republicans are expected to win the House while the Senate is a toss-up. Steven Shepard has a final prediction here, and the Economist forecast model is also worth a look. The POLITICO team has a guide to all the crucial races here, and sets out the five big contests that won’t get settled on election night here.

For all other US election pleasures: Check out the POLITICO homepage for updates, including a live chat running as the results come in.

Keep watch for: Donald Trump declaring a 2024 presidential campaign, which some expect him to do in the next 24 to 48 hours. 

What Kyiv is watching for: A Republican surge that could weaken Washington’s backing for Kyiv. POLITICO’s Jamie Dettmer and Sergei Kuznetsov have the story.

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Work and Pensions Secretary Mel Stride broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … GMB (8.30 a.m.). 

Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (6.45 a.m.) … Radio 4 (7.12 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.). 

Also on Sky News: Former Pensions Minister Ros Altman. 

TalkTV Breakfast: Conservative MP Craig Mackinlay (8.05 a.m) … Former Pensions Minister Steve Webb (8.45 a.m.) … Former standards committee Chair Alistair Graham (9.20 a.m.) … Boundary Commission Secretary Tim Bowden (9.32 a.m.) … More in Common U.K. Director Luke Tryl (9.45 a.m.).

Times Radio breakfast: Former Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey (9.10 a.m.).

Politics Live (BBC 2 12.25 p.m.): Ed Vaizey … SNP MP Kirsty Blackman … Tortoise Political Editor Cat Neilan … GB News Political Correspondent Tom Harwood

LBC Cross Question with Iain Dale: Conservative MP Heather Wheeler … Lib Dem MP Daisy Cooper … Guardian former Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger … Telegraph columnist Simon Heffer

Reviewing the papers tonight: With Carole Walker on Times Radio will be Deltapoll co-founder Joe Twyman and journalist Michael Binyon


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

Daily Express: Rishi: I will get ‘grip’ on migrant crisis.

Daily Mail: Just what planet are they on!

Daily Mirror: Brave mum’s TV dissection to educate millions.

Daily Star: Babs’ hubby reveals her spirit visits him.

Financial Times: UN chief calls on richer nations to pay up for ‘climate solidarity pact.’

HuffPost UK: US Congress on a knife-edge.

i: Red alert for Earth: gravest warning yet on climate change

Metro: Sunak turns on the Sharm.

PoliticsHome: Northern Ireland election deadline set to be delayed into 2023.

POLITICO UK: Russia, China and Islamic State jump on Musk’s Twitter bandwagon.

The Daily Telegraph: Gas deal set to ease energy crisis.

The Guardian: Poor nations ‘paying twice’ for climate breakdown.

The Independent: Sunak shuns pleas for climate crisis reparations.

The Sun: I didn’t want to get out of there.

The Times: Welfare and pensions set to rise with inflation.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: 🌧🌧🌧 A John Constable-esque panoramic of dark, billowed clouds and rain, with the sun fighting to sneak through. Highs of 14C. 

CONGRATULATIONS TO: All journalists shortlisted in the new Pagefield press awards — some in multiple categories — including the Sun’s Noa Hoffman, the Guardian’s Anna Isaac, the BBC’s Ione Wells and Marianna Spring, the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti, the Sunday Times’ Hannah Al-Othman, freelancer Simon Walters, as well Playbook’s own Eleni Courea, who is shortlisted for the journalist whose influence grew the most this year. 

MEA CULPA: Monday’s Playbook said a portrait of David Hume was being unveiled in parliament, when it was in fact a portrait of the former MP John Hume. And there was Playbook thinking that philosophy degree was a total waste of money. Meanwhile, top Treasury official James Bowler was at the public accounts committee and not the Treasury committee. 

NOW HIRING: The i newspaper interviews this week for its political reporter job — so get an application in quick. Info here. Meanwhile, ACOBA (the panel that has no power to police post-ministerial job appointments over conflicts of interest) is looking for a caseworker (h/t Henry Dyer). Those who want to see actual consequences for breaching standards need not apply.

HAPPY BIRTHDAY: South Shields MP Emma Lewell-Buck Yeovil MP Marcus Fysh, who turns 50 … Former Torbay MP Rupert Allason Archbishop of Westminster, Cardinal Vincent Nichols High Court Judge Laura Cox … Elle UK Editor-in-Chief Farrah Storr.

OH, AND A MASSIVE F*CK YOU TO … whoever shat in a box and left it outside the office of Stroud MP Siobhan Baillie. Playbook is of course partial to a bit of scatological humor — but intimidation is for losers. In Britain we make our views known via the ballot box and not via our anuses. The police have launched a probe, as the BBC reported last night. 

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Emilio Casalicchio

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