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THURSDAY CHEAT SHEET
— That big old deadline for the Cabinet Office to hand over Boris Johnson’s WhatsApps has passed — and Westminster’s still waiting for white smoke.
— Scoop: A formal complaint has been made to Labour about Geraint Davies, after he was suspended over multiple allegations of sexual harassment uncovered by POLITICO.
— Rishi Sunak said Ukraine’s “rightful place” is in NATO — but kept one eye on domestic priorities at a big Moldova summit. He’s got a sit-down with Volodymyr Zelenskyy in a bit.
— The PM had an informal brush-by with Ireland’s Leo Varadkar on the margins too.
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TOP OF THE NEWSLIST
WAITING FOR C.O.: Well, the much-hyped deadline has passed — and as Playbook PM hit send there was still no news on the outcome from the big Cabinet Office versus COVID inquiry stand-off.
By all accounts: There will be an update very shortly. So join Boris Johnson and keep frantically refreshing that inquiry page.
As a reminder: The Cabinet Office had until 4 p.m. today to hand over Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp messages, notebooks and diaries to the inquiry. Its options were either cave to the inquiry’s demands … resist them by launching a judicial review of them (or face legal action itself) … or alternatively come up with some kind of compromise.
In the last 24 hours … Johnson piled pressure on the Cabinet Office by giving it all the material the inquiry had requested — material which the CO deems “irrelevant” and has resisted handing in on that basis.
Of course: BoJo could just give the material to the inquiry directly himself but clearly wants to put the CO and his nemesis (Okay, one of his many nemeses) Oliver Dowden in a difficult position. BoJo’s spokesperson has insisted the former PM would give the inquiry what it wants if he were directly asked.
On the government side: At the heart of this is a desire to keep highly sensitive and likely damaging material private — given the inquiry is demanding Johnson’s unredacted messages with people including Rishi Sunak (who was chancellor during the pandemic) and Simon Case (who was and is still cabinet secretary.)
“Is that the line?” This morning Energy Secretary Grant Shapps told TalkTV the COVID inquiry should be given “whatever they want” and that there was “nothing [for ministers] to be shy or embarrassed about.”
SCOOP — DAVIES COMPLAINT IN: A formal complaint has been made to Labour over the conduct of Geraint Davies, my colleagues Esther Webber and Aggie Chambre report in their latest story which has just landed. When the party suspended Davies this morning, they urged anyone with a complaint to come forward. That’s now happened.
Important to note: This complaint has been submitted by a sixth woman — not one of the original five who shared allegations of inappropriate touching and sexual comments by the MP. And a seventh woman tells Esther and Aggie she is seeking advice on whether to submit a complaint.
Labour gets busy: Labour bosses have meanwhile told staff they’ve launched a review of the party’s complaints system. David Evans, general secretary, wrote to Labour staff today, saying the decision had been triggered by both POLITICO’s recent reporting on a Labour aide accused of sexual harassment and claims of misconduct against a shadow minister reported by Tortoise. Evans pledged his personal commitment to tackle this issue as “forcefully as possible,” and said he had been working with a team of the party’s senior leadership to move forward as “quickly as possible.” Tortoise’s Cat Neilan has heard the same.
Official line: A Labour official said the party would not provide a running commentary since any complaints are confidential. Davies, 63, said in response to the original story that he did not “recognize” the allegations, adding: “If I have inadvertently caused offense to anyone, then I am naturally sorry.”
On the morning round: Stephen Kinnock, the shadow immigration minister, told Sky: “I would really urge the women who’ve been affected by this to come forward with formal complaints” and said these would be treated “very, very seriously.”
But the question people are asking is: Why has Labour has only acted now given that — as my colleagues reported — the whips had been aware of informal complaints against the MP?
And another big question for both Labour and the Tories … is why they often seem to treat MPs and others who face these kinds allegations in different ways. Labour MP Neil Coyle had the whip restored last month — despite the fact that a past complaint of sexual harassment him against was upheld.
TROUBLED TIMES FOR LABOUR … which is also dealing with a backlash against its plan to ban all new North Sea oil and gas drilling … criticism of its decision to take cash from an eco-entrepreneur who has funded Just Stop Oil … and the fall-out from i paper analysis about the cost of its policies so far (which the Tories have naturally seized on).
This afternoon … Tory chair Greg Hands wrote to Labour demanding to know what Keir Starmer discussed with Ecotricity founder Dale Vince when they met last week. The Sun has the story.
Least surprising opinion of the day: Andrew Austin, executive chairman of gas producer Kistos Energy, told Times Radio that a ban all new North Sea oil and gas would not be good for the British economy or security. He said the Labour policy was “short-sighted” and appeals only to young voters.
In more green news: Sadiq Khan has recognized “some have concerns” about the expansion of ultra-low emission zones (a key battleground policy in the next London mayoral election) and announced extra financial support in a tweet.
Meanwhile: The Tories are running circles with the i newspaper’s analysis claiming the cost of the policies Labour has announced so far runs up to £20bn a year, equivalent of a 3p rise in income tax. Labour has disputed this — shadow chief sec to the Treasury Pat McFadden tweeted that the analysis was “inaccurate.”
JUST THE PERSON LABOUR WANT TO HEAR FROM: Ex Labour leader and independent MP Jeremy Corbyn has written an article in the Morning Star (where else?) attacking Labour’s stance on immigration. He argues that “trying to outflank the Tories” is a “moral failing” and prompts the question: “will you be prepared to keep feeding the beast of xenophobia you have awoken?”
AS IT HAPPENS … Rishi Sunak’s spent the day at a historic winery in Moldova with leaders from the European Political Community, trying to get them to talk about illegal migration. The PM tweeted saying he would put this issue “at the top of the international agenda.”
Did he? For other countries the main point of the summit is to discuss European security and the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy was there too.
On that topic: Speaking to broadcasters, Sunak backed Ukraine’s bid to join NATO, saying the country’s “rightful place” is in the alliance. He said he was “proud” of the U.K.’s record in supporting Ukraine and said: “We want to make sure we put in place security arrangements for Ukraine for the long term, so that we send a very strong signal to Vladimir Putin that we are not going anywhere — we are here to stay and we will continue backing Ukraine not just now, but for years into the future, and he needs to know that.” Sunak also tweeted that he was the first British PM to visit Moldova and was unveiling new support for the country against Russian aggression.
Coming attractions: This afternoon Sunak will sit down for a bilat with Zelenskyy — expect a readout later.
While he was there: Sunak had a brush-by with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Varadkar asked Sunak to keep him posted about any new package of measures for Northern Ireland designed to meet DUP demands. RTE’s Tony Connelly has more from Varadkar’s comments to broadcasters after the meeting.
In response: A U.K. government spokesperson said it “will continue to engage with the Irish government on a broad range of areas of shared interests like energy, migration, and economic cooperation. This includes getting the Northern Ireland executive back up and running, in line with the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement.”
Photo ops: There’s a group photo of the EPC leaders taken at Castel Mimi and one of Sunak meeting the Moldovan president Maia Sandu via PA on the BBC website. Sunak’s tweet showed him chatting to Spanish PM Pedro Sánchez.
SPEAKING OF UKRAINE: Evening Standard owner and former KGB spy Alexander Lebedev was targeted by the Ukrainian government as part of wave of sanctions in October 2022, Paul Caruana Galizia reveals for Tortoise. Lebedev’s son Evgeny was ennobled by Boris Johnson despite concerns in MI5. Evgeny Lebedev has said he has “no links to the Kremlin.”
The cult of Boris: Ukrainian brewery Pravda Beer Theatre is selling Boris-themed stout — my colleague Andew McDonald has the fun story.
NEWS TO NO ONE: BoJo’s former comms director Guto Harri told BBC Radio Wales that the U.K. government is “largely run by WhatsApp.”
CBI CRISIS: The CBI told an all-hands staff meeting today to prepare for layoffs as it needs to cut its wage bill by a third, the Guardian’s Anna Isaac reports.
BENEFITS TRAP: A little-known trap in the benefit system has caught soaring numbers of self-employed workers on low incomes after COVID-era protections were removed, Chaminda Jayanetti reports for the Mirror.
LATEST NUMBERS: A Savanta poll just published gives Labour a 13-point lead based on fieldwork between 19 and 21 May. Labour is down two points to 44 percent on the previous week, and the Tories are up one point to 31 percent.
In other polling news: A majority of British voters wouldn’t be bothered if Northern Ireland was no longer part of the U.K, according to YouGov polling (which suggests people care slightly more about keeping Gibraltar and the Falklands than they do NI.) A majority would be upset at losing Scotland or Wales though.
SCHOFIELD SCANDAL: ITV chief executive Dame Carolyn McCall has been called to give evidence to MPs about Phillip Schofield’s departure from the channel at a session of the culture, media and sport committee on June 14.
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TWITTER’S FAVORITE COLUMNIST … and Sunday Telegraph editor Allister Heath has got people talking again with his cheery piece titled “The idiot West is sleeping as the end of the world draws near.” In it Heath argues that leaders have “focused obsessively on climate change, turning a real but surmountable problem into an anti-Western religion” while ignoring things that could actually exterminate the human race like a nuclear war or out-of-control AI.
AROUND THE WORLD
IN KOSOVO: NATO says it is ready to send more troops to Kosovo after unrest following the appointment of ethnic Albanian mayors to majority Serb areas. Serbian leader Aleksandar Vucic called for the mayors’ removal, with the U.S. also criticizing their installation. The BBC has a write-up.
IN AUSTRALIA: An Australian solider — and one of the country’s most decorated living war veterans — lost a defamation lawsuit against three newspapers which accused him of war crimes in Afghanistan. Sky News has the details.
IN UKRAINE: Three people were killed and 19 injured after being locked out of a bomb shelter in Kyiv. Ukraine’s air defenses shot down all of Russia’s missiles, but debris hit a hospital and numerous residential buildings. My POLITICO colleague Veronika Melkozerova has more information.
IN SUDAN: Nineteen people have been killed and over 100 have been injured in shelling in a market south of Sudanese capital Khartoum. Six tank shells targeted an area which is not known to be near any military target. The Guardian has a write-up.
IN ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe’s parliament has outlawed criticism of the government before presidential and parliamentary elections in August. Violations of the law are punishable by up to 20 years in prison, prompting criticism from opposition activists. The Guardian has more.
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TONIGHT’S MEDIA ROUND
LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.) leads on the deaths in Bournemouth.
Lewis Goodall at Drive (LBC, until 7 p.m.): Labour’s Charlotte Nichols (5.05 p.m.) … POLITICO’s Daniel Lippman (6.35 p.m.).
BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): Former Cabinet Secretary Robin Butler … Former U.K. Ambassador to France Peter Ricketts.
Drive with John Pienaar (Times Radio, 5 p.m.): U.K. Campaign for Freedom of Information director Maurice Frankel (5.05 p.m.) … Charlotte Nichols (5.45 p.m.) … The Times’ Rachel Sylvester and the Spectator’s Isabel Hardman (both after 7 p.m.).
The News Agents (Podcast, drops at 5 p.m.): Just Stop Oil’s Indigo Rumbelow.
Farage (GB News, 7 p.m.): Former Justice Secretary Robert Buckland.
Jeremy Kyle Live (TalkTV, 7 p.m.): Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib … Former Labour adviser Frankie Leach.
First Edition (TalkTV, 10 p.m.): Virologist John Bell.
Newsnight (BBC Two, 10.30 p.m.): Barrister Michael Mansfield.
Question Time (BBC One, 10.40 p.m.): DSIT Minister George Freeman … Shadow Home Office Minister Jess Phillips … Former government adviser Nimco Ali … Campaigner and cook Jack Monroe … Former Tory Chairman Chris Patten.
REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: TalkTV (10 p.m.): Economist Miatta Fahnbulleh and Tory peer Ed Vaizey … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Commentator Alex Andreou and the Spectator’s Katy Balls.
MORE RAIL CHAOS: RMT train managers, catering and station staff are striking on Friday. Check which trains are running here.
**Baroness Beeban Kidron, chair, 5Rights Foundation, and Crossbench Peer, House of Lords, United Kingdom, will discuss online child protection at POLITICO’s inaugural Global Tech Day, in partnership with London Tech Week, on June 15 in London. Apply to attend today!**
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: This week’s Bagehot column by the Economist’s Duncan Robinson which argues that “the Reform Fairy” has replaced the “Magic Money Tree” as British politicians’ favorite magical item. He makes the good point that many in both the Tories and Labour are talking as if they can improve public services without spending cash or political capital.
THANKS TO: My editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster, Playbook reporter Noah Keate and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.
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