Can’t catch a (prison) break – POLITICO

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Good Sunday afternoon: This is John Johnston, stepping in for Annabelle Dickson who is on the lam from Sunday Crunch. Normal service will resume next week.


RESET ON REMAND: Expectations of a post-recess reset for Rishi Sunak have been firmly dashed after his first week back was dominated by crumbling school chaos, the resignation of another scandal-hit Conservative MP, and topped off with a terror suspect ordering Uber yeets from Wandsworth prison …

Sigh of relief: Daniel Khalife was captured after 75 hours on the run after a plain-clothes police officer pulled him off a bicycle on a canal towpath in northwest London on Saturday.

Chalk-ed it up: But the questions over how the former soldier managed to slip away are only beginning, with Justice Secretary Alex Chalk taking to the Sunday shows to face a grilling over how on earth this could have happened.

**A message from Google: Google’s Be Internet Legends programme helps children learn five key skills needed to be safer online through interactive materials that make learning fun. Teachers and students are invited to join a Back to School assembly, in partnership with Parent Zone, on 14th September. Find out more.**

Obviously: The usual crisis protocol has been initiated in Whitehall — namely launching a deluge of investigations to try and find someone to blame that isn’t the government.

Lockdown: Chalk said he has ordered preliminary probes to be on his desk by close of play today, including details about Wandsworth’s security processes and whether Khalife should have been held in a Category A prison given his charges.

Vote of confidence: Speaking to Sky’s Trevor Phillips, Chalk said the correct prison protocols were in place at the time of the escape, adding that he had “full confidence” in the Wandsworth governor to conduct an investigation into whether they were actually being followed.

But but but: He revealed that out of an “abundance of caution” around 40 prisoners on remand at the facility had already been moved to other prisons following the escape, and that additional “governor support” had been put in place at Wandsworth …

No snitching: But Chalk was less keen to talk about the cacophony of criticism that staff shortages and budget squeezes seen under Conservative rule had contributed to a crisis in prisons.

The facts: Facing a grilling from the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, Chalk was presented with the fact that the Ministry of Justice’s budget was a quarter lower in 2019 than it had been in 2010, while Labour’s Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds took the opportunity to put the boot in, saying the escape was yet more evidence that public services were not living up to people’s expectations.

Case for the defense: The cabinet minister insisted the government was “putting their money where their mouth is,” claiming reforms to prison organization constituted the second-biggest program of government spending after the HS2 infrastructure project.

IT NEVER RAINS: But another security threat has rocked SW1 after the Sunday Times reported that two men have been arrested under the Official Secrets Act, with that claims one of those, a parliamentary researcher, was spying for China.

Marmalade dropper: The paper alleged the researcher had worked on international policy and had access to senior Conservative MPs, including security minister Tom Tugendhat and foreign affairs committee chair Alicia Kearns.

Snagged: The pair were allegedly arrested in March, with the paper saying the researcher’s contact with Tugendhat came before he was appointed to the security post.

Tense times: The revelation will add to the already strained relationship between London and Beijing, with a No. 10 spokesperson saying Prime Minister Rishi Sunak had raised the issue with Chinese Premier Li Qiang at this weekend’s G20 summit in India.

Unacceptable: Speaking to the media in New Delhi just moments before he hopped on his plane back to London, Sunak said he had expressed “very strong concerns about any interference in our parliamentary democracy, which is obviously unacceptable.”

Tory anger: The news will infuriate China hawks within Sunak’s party who have repeatedly called for the government to take a much tougher approach to Beijing, with former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith telling Times Radio the U.K. had been “deeply penetrated” by the Chinese.

Freudian slip: Pressed on the case on Sky News, Chalk defended the government’s decision to continue engagement with Beijing but slipped up, saying: “The prime minister has been very clear when it comes to China, it’s an epoch-defining threat, or challenge, forgive me.”

He added: “You can’t wish China away, they are the world’s second-biggest economy … we have to engage, but we do so with our eyes open …”

Keeping quiet: The justice secretary was understandably cautious about commenting on the case directly given the potential legal process, but he said it was likely to prompt a further review over whether the parliament’s security processes were rigorous enough.

MEANWHILE IN LIVERPOOL: The annual Congress of the Trades Union Congress (so good they named it twice?) kicks off at 4 p.m. with 72 hours of motions on strikes, pay, AI, women’s football — and some flashpoints with Labour, my colleague Dan Bloom writes from the Avanti train.

Breaking this lunchtime: The TUC will report the U.K. to the International Labour Organization over the Strikes Act — which imposes “minimum service levels” on striking workers, General Secretary Paul Nowak told a press conference. The U.N. agency could in theory reprimand the government. European Trade Union Confederation (ETUC) General Secretary Esther Lynch insisted it is already harder for Brits to strike than any other western European country, despite ministers saying the Strikes Act brings us in line with France and Spain.

Making headlines: Unions will vote Monday afternoon on calls for “non-compliance and non-cooperation” with minimum service level laws, and to fight them in the courts. A senior union official was keen to stress this does not instruct members to break the law and motions are not binding. But it’d be unsurprising to see some backlash from the government.

Meanwhile in the red corner: Some of the most telling differences are with Labour as unions eye next year’s election, writes Dan. Motions today include one calling for “universal free school meals” in primary schools (not Labour policy), and raising “concern” that the party “refuses to commit” to higher public sector pay than the Conservatives. Tuition fees, benefit sanctions and self-ID for trans people will all feature later in the week.

Case in point: Unite General Secretary Sharon Graham, who’s not exactly best buds with Labour leader Keir Starmer, has a 1,400-word Sunday Times op-ed attacking his team for ruling out a wealth tax and “rowing back on workers’ rights.”

And: She blames “ideological, even pathological” people “bathing in the remnants of an internal faction war,” adding: “Through its actions Labour is beginning to tell us whose side it is really on.”

On the defensive: Faced with the comments, Labour Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News he “rejects that quite comprehensively” as he faced down accusations Starmer’s Labour was a “Nineties tribute band.”

But: While saying he was “very proud” of the last Labour government’s achievements, Reynolds insisted the current leadership were taking a new approach to tackling issues like the gig economy and climate change, saying they were “different policies we’re putting forward now … that are right for the here and now.”

The context: Starmer’s office is of course determined to resist big spending so it can project fiscal responsibility … just as Labour’s surge in private donors (£6.5 million in April to June) outstrips unions and could soften their influence in future.

Silver lining: Other big unions like Community, USDAW, GMB and UNISON are more Starmer friendly than Unite. While a Tuesday motion will call for a wealth tax to be explored, an USDAW Monday motion on Labour’s “New Deal” for workers looks positive — despite policy machinations leading to claims the New Deal has been watered down.

For his part: Nowak — whose job is to coordinate 48 TUC-member unions — has been meeting every six to eight weeks with Starmer, who Crunch hears is expected to speak at a private dinner for officials on Monday. Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner then speaks in Liverpool on Tuesday. By contrast, says Nowak, the “shutters came down” in No. 10 about 18 months ago and he has not met Sunak as PM.


MOROCCO TRAGEDY: At least 2,000 people have died following a powerful earthquake that hit Morocco Friday night.

Historic: Thousands more are injured after the quake — the strongest to hit the country in more than a century — devastated areas south of Marrakesh, including in mountainous regions which are proving difficult for rescue efforts to reach.

International response: World leaders have promised assistance to the country, with U.K. Foreign Secretary James Cleverly saying support was being provided to British nationals in the country, and promising to help the country in “whatever way we can.”

TRADE DEAL TALK: Rishi Sunak talked up the “exciting opportunity” of an impending post-Brexit trade deal with India during his G20 visit to the country as he said Britain should be looking to “attach” itself to the booming Indian economy.

Warm welcome: The prime minister said he would not “sacrifice quality for speed” in striking the deal, as he insisted he would not offer more work and student visas to help secure the agreement, but said India’s growing economy was a reason for the U.K. to “deepen” ties with the country.

SOFT DIPLOMACY: Sunak also praised the efforts of his wife, Akshata Murty, for helping build “personal relationships” during the trip to the country of her birth, which saw her playing football with Indian school children and taking part in meetings on the fringes of the global gathering.

First Lady: The Telegraph has an interesting analysis of how the successful entrepreneur led a charm offensive during the India visit, with Sunak saying she had “thrown herself” into the informal diplomatic work.

TORY REFORMERS: Once a hipster’s paradise, Shoreditch was this weekend the scene of the Tory Reform Group’s One Nation Day which saw speeches from serving Tory ministers and party grandees as they tried to figure out a way to avoid electoral annihilation.

Worth a try: Security minister Tom Tugendhat spoke of the need to address inter-generational unfairness, while Treasury minister Victoria Atkins hit out Labour’s lack of private sector experience.

Between the lines: The group are just one of many Tory splinter cells attempting — but currently failing — to convince Sunak their ideas are what is needed to break the polling malaise. Bring on Tory conference.

TRUSS TALES: The fleeting former-PM sat down with the Mail on Sunday following the announcement she will be publishing a book next April — including her treatise on why she was actually right and anecdotes from her historically short premiership.

Hubris overload: Liz Truss pins the blame for her failures on the “left-wing establishment” and a lack of support within her own party, who she claims failed to recognize her “unfashionable” policies were the correct ones for the country …

SPOTTED: Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond living it up in Cyprus as he watched the Scottish men’s football team secure a 3-0 victory.

Foreign Ambassador: As one X user put it, Salmond was “cutting about Larnaca” with a customized ‘Salmond 1’ Scotland shirt on, and posing for pictures clutching a bottle of Buckfast wine.


Ayesha Hazarika on Times Radio (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.): Tory MP David Simmonds and Shadow Minister without Portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds.

Gloria Meets on GB News (6 p.m.): Podcaster and ex-MP Rory Stewart.

Westminster Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 p.m.): Tory MP Robert Buckland … Labour peer Jenny Chapman … Former Tory SpAd Mo Hussein and the i’s Hugo Gye.

**Register today for The UK Financial Services Summit, taking place on November 9. A status update of the U.K. economy will kick off the day followed by discussions on how London can keep its dominance as a financial powerhouse and how the advancement of quantum computers will change the financial services landscape. Register here.** 



COMMONS: MPs sitting from 2:30 p.m. with defense questions followed by a General Debate on Ukraine.

LORDS: Sitting from 2:30 p.m. with oral questions on sustainable clothing sales.

UNIONS: The TUC’s annual conference continues.


COMMONS: Sitting from 11:30 a.m. with justice questions, followed by ping pong of the Online Safety Bill.

LORDS: Sitting from 2:30 p.m. with oral questions on the government’s target to build 300,000 new homes a year.

UNIONS: Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner gives the keynote speech to TUC conference.

ARMS FAIR: The Defense and Security Equipment International fair starts at the ExCel and runs until Friday.

**POLITICO Power Play, our brand-new global podcast, brings you insightful conversations with global power players, hosted by award-winning journalist Anne McElvoy. Don’t miss an episode of our season in September by subscribing for alerts in one click.**


COMMONS: Sits from 11:30 a.m. with oral questions followed by Prime Minister’s Questions and then ping pong on the Procurement Bill and Economic Crime Bill.

LORDS: Sits from 11:00 a.m. with report stage of the Levelling-Up Bill followed by questions on the U.K.’s plans to rejoin Horizon.

DRINK TANK: Bright Blue host their Autumn event with MP Chloe Smith to discuss AI regulation.

UNIONS: Veteran Labour MP Harriet Harman gives a speech on the final day of TUC conference.


COMMONS: Sits from 9:30 a.m. with business and trade questions, followed by the Business Statement and then a backbench business debate on football and dementia.

LORDS: Sits from 11 a.m. with oral questions on preventing employers from using fire and rehire tactics.

POOCH: Westminster Dog of the Year contest takes place.


PARLIAMENT: Not sitting.

Thanks: To editor Jones Hayden for putting typos into solitary isolation.

**A message from Google: Kids today are growing up in a digital world, so giving them the knowledge to make good decisions online is essential. Aimed at 7-11 year olds, Google’s Be Internet Legends programme is designed to help children learn five key skills needed to be safer online. Recent research by IPSOS Mori found that kids are twice as likely to show a better understanding of internet safety after taking part in the programme. Our interactive materials make learning fun, including the adventure-filled Interland. In this free online game, children can explore four levels as they learn about thinking before they share, spotting signs of a scam, protecting passwords and respecting others online. Programme resources can all be found on the website and teachers and students are invited to join a special Back to School assembly, in partnership with Parent Zone, on Thursday 14th September. Find out more.**

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John Johnston

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