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Good afternoon. This is Esther Webber from D.C., and Andrew McDonald anchoring from London.
WEDNESDAY’S CHEAT SHEET
— Rishi Sunak’s D.C. tour gets going in earnest — but a U.S. trade deal remains a distant dream.
— The PM will press the fresh on Capitol Hill and watch some baseball.
— Questions about inflation back home are following him around.
— A new poll projects doom for the Tories — though it isn’t all sunny for Keir Starmer either.
— Gene Simmons turned up to deputy PMQs and it was weird.
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TOP OF THE NEWSLIST
SUNAK HITS WASHINGTON: Good afternoon from the bowels of the Yours Truly hotel where the traveling press pack is camped out for Rishi Sunak’s packed 48 hours in D.C. The prime minister paid a visit to Arlington National Cemetery earlier and will shortly head to Capitol Hill for meetings with top congresspeople as he eyes closer co-operation on trade and A.I. regulation. More on what’s not in his trade in-tray in a moment…
But first: On a clear, bright morning — the day after the 79th anniversary of D-Day — the PM laid a wreath at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, accompanied by top U.S. and U.K. military figures and diplomats.
From the scene: A 19-gun salute started at 8.55 a.m. on the dot and echoed around the sprawling grounds, before the national anthems of the U.S. and U.K. were played by a military band. Dozens of personnel from the U.S. army, navy, marines, air force and coastguard formed a guard of honor.
On the Hill: Sunak will hold talks with senior figures in the House of Representatives and Senate, including House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, and Senators Chris Coons, Lindsey Graham, Bob Menendez and James Risch.
What’s on the agenda? Not a free trade deal with the U.S., that’s for sure.
Of course: We already knew hopes of a full-fat deal have faded under Biden. But Sunak pretty much admitted it’s never gonna happen, telling hacks on the plane over: “For a while now, that has not been a priority for either the U.S. or U.K.”
Flashback: The last time your Playbook author was on a plane to the States with a British PM it was Liz Truss on her way to the U.N. General Assembly, when she said there was no prospect of a deal in the short to medium term. Sunak’s words on the plane seem like the clearest acknowledgement yet that a deal has slipped out of reach. Read the full story here.
All is not lost: Instead, Sunak said: “What we’re both focused on is making sure that our economic partnership reflects the particular challenges and opportunities of the time that we’re in right now.”
What the hell does that mean? Well, a pact on critical minerals is one big target, as my colleague Graham Lanktree reported back in April.
Digital dreams: Lobby groups on both sides of the Atlantic are also hopeful Sunak could press for a digital deal with the U.S.
Don’t get any ideas: One No. 10 official warned Playbook not to read too much into Sunak’s meeting with McCarthy by the way. He’s known as a supporter of closer trade ties with the U.S. But could he be a useful ally on those crucial, narrower deals?
From one embattled conservative to another: Might Sunak have some words of advice and encouragement for McCarthy? The house speaker was hit with a surprise rebellion this week from his own side over the regulation of gas stoves.
Competing for airtime: Sunak’s not meeting Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, who’s currently schmoozing with Sinn Fein’s Michelle O’Neill. In a tweet he congratulated her on their electoral success and called on “all parties [to] respect the will of the voters and get to business forming a power-sharing government.”
From the Hill to the mound: Later today the PM and press pack will head to the Washington Nationals Stadium, D.C.’s home team for baseball, where they will take on the Arizona Diamondbacks at the second annual U.K.-U.S. “friendship day.” Anticipation among the lobby is rising as we are promised “ballpark food” will be available. POLITICO’s U.S. team confirmed Biden will not be attending the game, making it a slightly lopsided friendship day.
Sunak hearts Biden: Interviewed by TalkTV after his visit to Arlington, Sunak was at pains to boast of his three previous meetings with Biden in as many months. “I focus more on actions than words or phrases,” he said. He was also keen to stress the U.K. can play with the big boys, hailing the “unprecedented multilateral defense partnership” of the AUKUS alliance, and repeating that the U.K. is “well-placed to play a leadership role” on AI.
Speaking of which: The PM swerved a question on whether it takes a younger leader than Biden to be able to grasp something like artificial intelligence, saying: “We discussed artificial intelligence when we were in Japan together … I know he is also aware of the challenges and opportunities that it poses.”
Rise of the robots latest: ITV got a fun line out the PM on AI, as Sunak suggested he’d be happy for a robot to teach his children or care for his grandmother. Asked about AI’s potential use to perform the jobs of teachers and carers he said: “Technology for our time has improved our lives and will continue to do so. Our job in government is to make sure that we can get those benefits.” To be fair he already puts loads of robots up on the airwaves for him.
In attendance at the baseball: Instead of Biden, Sunak will meet U.K. and U.S. service personnel and veterans, as well as Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, Senator Mitt Romney and business leaders including Palantir CEO Alex Karp.
ROCK AND ROLL ALL NITE
NORMAL WEDNESDAY: A fairly tedious edition of deputy PMQs was livened up by a cameo from iconic Kiss co-lead Gene Simmons, who watched on from the upper gallery as Oliver Dowden and Angela Rayner traded barbs about the COVID inquiry and unredacted WhatsApps saga. Yes, you read that right.
The God of Thunder speaks: Gene Simmons told PA — what a sentence — that he witnessed “controlled chaos” in the chamber. “It was the clash of wills but respectful — the right honorable so and so, it was fascinating,” he said. One for Dowden and Rayner’s CVs.
I was made for lovin’ DUP: Simmons — who kept his trademark sunglasses on in the gallery — was there as a guest of the DUP MP Ian Paisley Jr. Paisley told the Belfast Telegraph that Simmons has a “genuine interest” in Northern Irish and British politics. Playbook PM hears Paisley and Simmons are heading out for dinner tonight, where the DUP MP will hopefully explain to the rockstar that U.K. politics is a lot more interesting than it might have seemed earlier today.
Talking of which: There really wasn’t much to get your tongue out about at DPMQs, where Rayner focused her fire on the government’s legal challenge against the COVID inquiry. Hitting back at her claim that the government is spending reams of cash on lawyers, Dowden brought up Rayner’s £139 earphones. Sorry, Gene.
For more: Read a scorecard recap of the session from your Playbook PM co-author here.
WHITEHALL EVACUATION: Whitehall and Downing Street were evacuated earlier while police assessed a suspicious package, which later turned out not to be harmful. Road closures are now being lifted and Whitehall is back to work.
MRP GO BRRR: Westminster is exercised by a new MRP from Focaldata, which suggests Labour are on track to win a 140-seat majority at the next election even with new constituency boundaries in place. The company also did some other polling on scenarios, including one ‘best-case’ scenario for the Tories where Reform U.K. would stand aside for them in marginal seats and lots of ‘don’t knows’ end up breaking for the Tories. In that very best of best case scenarios … Labour would still be the largest party in a hung parliament. The i’s Eleanor Langford has a good write-up.
In less sunny news for Labour: The MRP — unveiled at a Best for Britain event today — does find that Labour’s lead has shrunk a touch and that Sunak has won back some Tory voters who didn’t enjoy the whole Liz Truss crashing the economy thing. More in Common focus grouper Luke Tryl also added at the event that voters aren’t won over by Keir Starmer yet, and that the word Brits mainly associate with him is “meh.” The Sun’s Noa Hoffman and Jack Elsom write up those bits.
THE OECD’S GOOD NEWS … Is that the U.K. economy will eke out some growth this year, and at a faster rate than Germany. That’s the main silver lining for Chancellor Jeremy Hunt from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development’s stats drop in its economic outlook today, which boosted its growth projection for the U.K. from -0.2 percent to a mighty 0.3 percent.
The OECD’s bad news is … The U.K. is set to have one of highest inflation rates in the G7. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said the U.K. needed to “stick relentlessly to our plan to halve it this year. That is the only long-term way to grow the economy and ease the cost of living pressures on families.” Talking of bad news for Sunak and Hunt, the OECD also reckons they have little room to do any pre-election tax cuts. In a Sky interview that’s just dropped, Sunak said “it’s absolutely my responsibility” if the government doesn’t meet its big halving inflation target.
In other economic news: House prices have fallen by 1 percent compared with a year ago according to Halifax, in the first annual drop in prices since 2012.
Don’t look at my mortgage: After some evasion, Sunak told journalists on the plane to D.C. that he has had a mortgage in the past — but insisted that his own circumstances should not be the focus.
And: He repeated that the most important thing to help people struggling with soaring mortgage rates is to bring down inflation.
BIG MEDIA NEWS: The Daily and Sunday Telegraph are to be put up for sale, the Guardian and BBC are reporting, amid a row with the newspaper group’s lender Lloyds Banking Group.
Media news II: CNN CEO Chris Licht has stepped down after just a year in charge. Licht was the subject of a 10,000 word magnum opus from the Atlantic’s Tim Alberta less than a week ago, which seems to have sealed his fate.
WONK WATCH: Labour Chair Anneliese Dodds was the main attraction at today’s U.K. in a Changing Europe conference, where she accused the government of having a poor record on equality. She pointed to rising hate crime, huge waiting lists for gynaecological procedures and the government’s failure to ban abusive conversion practices.
On that note: Dodds will address PinkNews’ Westminster reception tonight, where she’ll challenge the government to bring forward a ‘proper’ ban on conversion therapy.
WINTER OF DISCONTENT: Another selection row is kicking off in Labour, where Socialist Campaign Group MP Beth Winter has lost out to frontbench MP Gerald Jones in the Labour selection for new seat of Merthyr Tydfil and Upper Cynon. Winter has accused the party of placing “unacceptable obstacles” in the way of her campaign. LabourList have an even-handed write-up.
LEVELING UP FUNDS LATEST: The Guardian’s Rowena Mason and Henry Dyer report that a £150,000 grant from Boris Johnson’s leveling up towns fund was awarded to an amusement center launched by Lubov Chernukhin — a Tory donor who has given more than £2 million to the party since 2014. A spokeswoman for the C&O Entertainment firm that managed the bid said Chernukhin was not involved in the grant application process.
CORRUPTION COUNTDOWN: It’s been a full year since John Penrose stepped down as the PM’s anti-corruption champion, and the role is still vacant. Asked at DPMQs when a new ACC would be appointed, Oliver Dowden said it would happen “very shortly” — though he said something similar back in February. In the meantime, this is currently the longest period the U.K. has ever been without an anti-corruption champion since the role was created in 2006. According to Transparency International U.K., in the last 365 days there’ve been at least 20 breaches of the parliamentary code. Time to squeeze a few more in, by the sounds of it.
FEELING THE PAYNE: Former FT journo turned Onward chief Seb Payne has missed out on the shortlist for the Tory selection in Selby and Ainsty, Guido reports.
DEPOSIT RETURN SCHEME, CANNED: Scottish government minister Lorna Slater confirmed this afternoon that the SNP and Greens’ controversial Deposit Return Scheme has been delayed until at least October 2025. The SNP blames a U.K. government block on including glass in the scheme. More here from BBC Scotland.
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JOBS FOR GINGERS: Playbook PM — and much of Twitter — is still reeling from the actor-led reconstructions of Prince Harry’s day in court yesterday, where Sky and GB News last night both decided to get a random ginger bloke to pretend to be the exiled royal for … reasons. Watch for yourself here and here.
AROUND THE WORLD
FROM UKRAINE: Hundreds of thousands of Ukrainians are without normal access to drinking water in the wake of Kakhovka dam being destroyed, Volodymyr Zelenskyy has said. Mass evacuations are continuing in the Kherson region, with thousands still trapped in flooded areas. More here from the BBC. Ukrainian Energy Minister German Galushchenko told POLITICO today that Russia deliberately destroyed the dam in a crime that could be categorized as the use of a weapon of mass destruction. And Sunak told Sky from D.C. that if the damage to the dam is intentional, it marks an “unprecedented level of barbarism.”
FROM THE RACE TO D.C.: Former governor of New Jersey Chris Christie formally entered the U.S. Presidential race and Republican primaries with multiple jibes at Donald Trump at a campaign event in New Hampshire. He’ll try to portray himself as the most credible Trump critic in the Republican field — but things didn’t go so well for him when he tried that in 2016. POLITICO’s Lisa Kashinsky has more.
IN THE VATICAN: Pope Francis has been taken to hospital for intestinal surgery, the Vatican confirmed earlier. The 86-year-old has had a fair few health issues lately. POLITICO’s Nicolas Camut has a write-up.
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TONIGHT’S MEDIA ROUND
LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.) will be leading on Prince Harry’s court case, followed by Ukraine … The BBC News at Six will be leading on Ukraine followed by Prince Harry … and Channel 4 News (7 p.m.) will be leading on Ukraine.
Tom Swarbrick at Drive (LBC, until 6 p.m.): RUSI cyber threats research fellow Jamie MacColl.
BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): BBC pol ed Chris Mason‘s interview with PM Rishi Sunak will air … Plus David Halpern of the behavioural insights team.
News Hour (Sky News, 5 p.m.): Former U.K. Ambassador to the U.S. Kim Darroch.
Drive with John Pienaar (Times Radio, 5 p.m.): Former AI adviser to Joe Biden, Alondra Nelson.
Jeremy Kyle Live (TalkTV, 7 p.m.): Reform UK’s Alex Phillips and Richard Tice … Tory MP Andrea Jenkyns … Former football manager Harry Redknapp.
Peston (9 p.m. on Twitter, 10.45 p.m. on ITV): PM Rishi Sunak … Former Sainsbury’s boss Justin King … Former EU negotiator Michel Barnier … Labour Chair Anneliese Dodds … Tory MP Steve Brine.
REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: Talk TV (10 p.m.): More in Common’s Luke Tryl and Labour’s Carolyn Harris … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and the Mail’s Sarah Vine.
WHERE TO FIND BOOZE IN WESTMINSTER TONIGHT
SPIRITS IN THE SKY: Sky News are holding their summer reception at the Wallace collection from 6.30 p.m. Invite only.
PINK: PinkNews are hosting their annual Westminster summer party in the Commons from 6 p.m. — also invite only.
NOT WESTMINSTER BUT: Go easy on any POLITICO employees you encounter tomorrow — our annual summer bash for staff takes place in Brussels tonight. Legends only.
COMMONS: Sits from 9:30 a.m. with transport questions followed by the business statement and a backbench business debate on National Carers Week.
FIND OUT WHETHER WE’RE ALL DOOMED: Former National Security Adviser Mark Sedwill will give evidence on the national security implications of AI at a Lords committee, 10 a.m.
IN HOLYROOD: FMQs, from noon.
WONK WATCH: KCL’s policy institute has an event on polarising attitudes in U.K. society — and whether Brexit/the pandemic had an impact — with journos and professors. Details here.
ANY OTHER BUSINESS
PACKED LUNCH OR PARL LUNCH: Subject to change, here are the lunch menus on the estate tomorrow: Bellamy’s: Soups and sandwiches … The Debate: oven-roasted paprika salmon and prawns in red pepper sauce with dill ride; field mushroom, feta and plum tomato wrap with leaves and watercress mayo; jerk chicken with rice and peas … Terrace Cafeteria: Roast squash with dried fruit quinoa and nut granola; jerk chicken with rice and peas; quiche Lorraine … River Restaurant: quorn and mushroom bobotie with yellow rice; Durban hake curry with a carrot biryani, sambals and chutney; boerie roll served with onions and chakalaka, fries and coleslaw.
MEA CULPA: This morning’s Playbook said the procurement bill would be back in the Commons on Tuesday 21 June (which is actually a Wednesday). We meant it’ll be back next week on Tuesday 13 June.
JOBS JOBS JOBS: Prospect Magazine have a (paid) six-month fellowship opportunity for aspiring British Muslim journalists, based in Westminster — apply here.
IN MEMORIAM: Ivan Menezes, chair of the U.K.’s Scotch Whisky Association and Diageo CEO, has passed away. Here’s the statement from the SWA.
THANKS TO: My editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.
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