Starmer hits then runs – POLITICO

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BREAKING IN THE LAST FEW MINUTES: Tobias Ellwood has quit as chair of the defense select committee. The Conservative MP was facing a no confidence vote from his fellow committee members tomorrow over his controversial recent video about Afghanistan.

Good afternoon.


Keir Starmer is soon to touch down in The Hague for meetings with Europol about illegal migration.

And he set the stage for a political showdown in the Lords before he took off for the Netherlands.

Rishi Sunak accused Starmer of being a “blocker” on housing while the Labour leader labeled the PM “inaction man.”

The vote to replace disgraced former Conservative MP Chris Pincher will happen at the same time as the by-election to replace Nadine Dorries.

Westminster won’t stop Scotland trialing drugs consumption rooms in a bid to solve its heroin problem, the government confirmed.

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HIT AND RUN: Keir Starmer will land in the Netherlands in the next couple of hours after setting off a political bomb on house building back home.

Court of political opinion: The Labour leader is heading to The Hague with Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper to talk illegal migration with Europol. But around the time his plane is expected to touch down, peers will be voting on a government plan Labour might have scuppered at the last minute.

Reminder: Labour came out last night against government proposals to scrap nutrient protection rules for house builders, which ministers are attempting to tack onto the leveling up bill as an amendment. The division is set for around 7 p.m. and there is a chance the government could lose it. Ministers lost three votes on the bill this morning, but should be able to clinch it if the government buses a load of its peers into the chamber, which Labour is expecting it to do.

Bitter feud: It’s clear the Conservatives are furious with Labour after being given the impression the opposition would back their plans. During PMQs, Rishi Sunak said Starmer cannot be trusted due to his “principles-free, conviction-free type of leadership.” He said the opposition leader was “flip-flopping from being a builder to a blocker.” Conservative backbenchers nodded sagely.

Bringing up the rear: “While he’s planning his trip across the pond today he might like to spend five minutes thinking about the 100,000 homes that are not going to be built because of what he’s doing,” Sunak’s press secretary told hacks after the Commons bout. 

But but but: Labour is arguing the Tories are “disingenuous” to claim its opposition would block new houses. “There are far better ways to build the new homes we desperately need rather than greenlighting water pollution in the way the Tories’ proposals will do,” a spokesman for Starmer told journalists after PMQs.

Such as … Labour has put forward its own amendment for more consultation, and argues allowing developers to build while addressing nutrient protection, but then banning them from selling the finished houses until those protections are in place, would see building done quicker while protecting the environment. Conservative election manifesto scribe Robert Colvile has a response to the Labour proposals in this mammoth thread.

On to Europol: Starmer has meetings tomorrow and should appear in a TV clip around lunchtime. He’s then on to Montreal over the weekend and France next week. His team refused to say whether he will meet French President Emmanuel Macron (despite Paris confirming it to POLITICO — and despite the Telegraph lifting chunks of our scoop word for word while, to be fair, adding some nice extra detail.) The LOTO team also wouldn’t confirm whether Starmer hopes to meet Justin Trudeau in Canada.

Action slam: The travel blitz follows a blistering Starmer attack on Sunak at PMQs. Listing issues with the probation services, prisons, schools and the government approach to China, Starmer said: “Yet again Inaction Man fails to heed the warning and then blames everyone else for the consequences.” It got a good laugh across the Commons, to be fair. Conservative MP Will Wragg was having a little giggle at the back — although he often seems to be chuckling about something or other. 

Scores on the doors: In his PMQs scorecard, POLITICO’s Andrew McDonald reckons Starmer won it. 

Back off, mate: Sunak’s press secretary later insisted to hacks the PM is, in fact, “a man of action,” pointing to the Windsor Framework, the Atlantic declaration, the Horizon deal and other achievements. She said Starmer “might want to get a mirror.”

Pre-emptive strikes: The Tories are hoping to urinate on the Labour parade in the Netherlands and France too, with attacks on Starmer’s hope of working up plans to stop people smugglers. 

For example: Conservative officials were pointing to stories overnight about the National Crime Agency arguing the Channel crossings cannot be stopped without a removal and deterrence scheme. According to briefings about the contents of the memos, the NCA said no amount of action against people smugglers upstream will stop the crossings. A statement from the NCA this afternoon did note that “there is no single solution.”

To be fair: Labour does insist more people should be deported, and promises to agree more returns deals, including with the EU, which the bloc has ruled out. “Positions that people state at the start of a negotiation aren’t necessarily the positions that people have at the end of the negotiation,” a Starmer spokesman said. The Tories mock the Labour proposals, Labour mocks the Rwanda deal … it goes on and on. 


ANOTHER SUPER THURSDAY: The vote to replace disgraced former MP Chris Pincher in Tamworth will take place on October 19, the same day as the Mid Beds by-election.

AYE OF THE NEEDLE: Scotland Secretary Alister Jack told the Commons Westminster won’t attempt to stop the Scottish government trialing drug consumption rooms in a bid to tackle the terrible heroin problem north of the border. He argued the SNP had managed to find a legal workaround to make it a reserved (i.e. not devolved) matter. Labour however said it had no plans to change laws on drugs, without being explicit about whether it would block the SNP plans. Asked by Playbook PM whether Keir Starmer welcomed a new approach to the problem, his spokesman said: “I don’t have anything to add.”

GROWTH IN POLITICS: Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves decried the “Conservatives’ low growth trap that is leaving working people worse off,” after the ONS revealed U.K. GDP shrank 0.5 percent in July, driven by strike action and bad weather. But Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said there were “many reasons to be confident about the future,” noting that the U.K. is now thought to have been the fastest in the G7 to recover from the pandemic (at least until other nations update their figures too.) He added: “Only by halving inflation can we deliver the sustainable growth and pay rises that the country needs.”

Not quite the line: Ambushed about the figures on Times Radio this morning, Health Minister Maria Caulfield admitted the stats were “disappointing.”

STATE PENSION SECRETS: The questions continue to come on the pensions triple lock … but the answers don’t follow. Asked multiple times whether Rishi Sunak is committed to the triple lock for the long term and if it will be in the next Conservative manifesto, his spokesperson and press secretary refused to budge. The pair also remained tight-lipped about whether the government will link the next pension rise to average wage increases with bonuses or without.

The latest with questions: Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones has written to Hunt about the triple lock.

Bear in mind: Labour also isn’t being clear about what it will offer on pensions in its next manifesto, as Sunak noted during PMQs.

UNPARLIAMENTARY, MUCH? Environment Secretary Thérèse Coffey might have been the first person to use the phrase “sweet F.A.” in the Commons chamber when she hit back at Labour attacks on sewage this morning. “Frankly the Labour government did sweet F.A. and we are cleaning it up now.” Clip here. Playbook PM can confirm a charge of possible law-breaking from the Office of Environmental Protection does include the last Labour government, but that’s not stopping Labour taking the fight to the Tories.

The Labour line: “Nothing more graphically illustrates 13 years of failed Tory government than the tide of raw sewage swilling down our rivers, into our lakes and washing up on our beaches,” Shadow Environment Secretary Steve Reed told the Commons. Clip here. Labour is promising automatic fines for sewage discharges.

JUST THE TICKET: Rail Minister Huw Merriman got a roasting from Conservative backbenchers about ticket rail closures in the Commons this morning. Former Cabinet Minister Priti Patel said she was “flabbergastered” at the proposals, as well as “frustrated” and “deeply angry” … Backbench hand grenade Mark Francois said the proposals were “unloved” adding: “Take the hint. Drop it. Get rid of it. Retreat” … Sally-Ann Hart said it was “unacceptable” … Martin Vickers said it was “complete madness” and “nonsense” … Anne Marie Morris said it was “ludicrous.”

But but but: Sunak’s spokesman told journalists that although no decisions have been taken, the government reckons moving staff out of ticket offices to be more visible and accessible will help passengers.

TALKING OF PASSENGERS: One of life’s greats, Theresa May, has earned herself a POLITICO write-up for her latest comments about Brexit.

HOT TOPIC: Temperatures rose in the Commons as MPs accused the government of timing out a vote on an amendment to the Economic Crime Bill aimed at backing up enforcement agencies going after economic criminals with big legal arsenals. Labour MP Margaret Hodge described the procedural wheeze as a “flagrant denial of democracy.”

OVER IN NORTHERN IRELAND: The U.S. economic envoy to Northern Ireland Joe Kennedy III told an audience of visiting investors that the feud-prone territory is “ripe for investment,” my POLITICO colleague Shawn Pogatchnik messages in to say – even though, nearly nine months into the job, he has yet to nail down a single new dollar for the place.

**Reach beyond the headlines with Power Play, POLITCO’s brand-new global podcast bringing you compelling discussions with international power players, hosted by award-winning broadcaster Anne McElvoy. Episodes of the must-listen podcast will drop this September – click here to be notified.** 


IN RUSSIA: North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un offered Russian President Vladimir Putin his “full and unconditional support” for Russia’s “sacred fight” against the West in their first meeting for four years — more via the Guardian.

IN LIBYA: At least 30,000 people have been displaced in the Libyan city of Derna after two dams burst, killing more than 5,300 people as authorities struggle to deliver aid — AP News has a write-up.

IN BELGIUM: European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen announced she would launch an anti-subsidy investigation into Chinese electric vehicles, following pressure by France to hit back at surging imports — my colleagues Barbara Moens and Douglas Busvine have further details.

IN GABON: Gabon’s new Prime Minister Raymond Ndong Sima said he would honor the nation’s debt commitments and consider measures to stimulate investment. Sima was appointed on September 7, a week after military officers removed President Ali Bongo from office — Bloomberg has further information.

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LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.) focuses on the Libya flooding … BBC News at Six leads on the return from Pakistan of three people police want to speak to over the death of 10-year-old Sara Sharif … Channel 4 News (7 p.m.) also leads on the flooding in Libya.

BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): Crossbench peer Jim O’Neill.

Drive with John Pienaar (Times Radio, 5 p.m.): Former UKIP Comms Director Gawain Towler (5.05 p.m.) … former U.S. National Intelligence Council Chair Gregory Treverton (5.45 p.m.) … the Sun on Sunday’s Kate Ferguson and the i’s Paul Waugh (both after 7 p.m.).

The News Agents (Podcast, drops at 5 p.m.): Liberal Democrat MP Christine Jardine.

Tonight With Andrew Marr (LBC, 6 p.m.): Former Prime Minister Theresa May.

Farage (GB News, 7 p.m.): European Research Group Chair Mark Francois … Welsh Conservatives Leader Andrew RT Davies.

Jeremy Kyle Live (TalkTV, 7 p.m.): Former Labour adviser Stella Tsantekidou.

Politics Hub with Sophy Ridge (Sky News, 7 p.m.): Transport Secretary Mark Harper … Shadow Home Office Minister Jess Phillips … former Downing Street Director of Communications Guto Harri.

Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC, 8 p.m.): Labour MP Barry Gardiner … the Five Foundation’s Nimco Ali … Ecotricity founder Dale Vince.

Peston (9 p.m. on Twitter, 10.45 p.m. on ITV): Mark Harper … Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson … Tory MP Robert Buckland … RMT General Secretary Mick Lynch.

Newsnight (BBC 2, 10.30 p.m.): Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting.


REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: TalkTV (10 p.m.): PoliticsJOE’s Ava Santina and the Sun’s Ryan Sabey Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and the Mail’s Sarah Vine.


TOASTING UKRAINE: The Henry Jackson Society discusses Ukraine’s strategy to win the war with Ukrainian MP Lesia Vasylenko at 5 p.m.

GETTING SLOSHED ON SMITH: Transport Minister Jesse Norman speaks to the Resolution Foundation about the economist Adam Smith at 5.30 p.m.

DRINK SMART: Bright Blue holds a Drink Tank session with Tory MP Chloe Smith on regulating AI from 6.30 p.m.

WHO CAN DRINK DEMOS? Demos is in conversation with Shadow DCMS Minister Alex Davies-Jones about creating a more equal digital society at 7 p.m.

DRINKING TO FORGET THE TRAUMA: Labour MP Debbie Abrahams shows her short film about COVID-19 in the Attlee Suite at 7 p.m.

**Your secure source on defense policy POLITICO Pro Defense is launching on October 10. We’ll be covering the defense & aerospace industry, weapons technology, NATO, cyber and space as well as the nitty gritty of procurement decisions and political battles over defense budgets. Learn more.** 


LABOUR IN ANOTHER LAND: Keir Starmer heads to the Hague for meetings with Europol to talk migration.

WHAT THE GOVT WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: Ministers will be announcing an insulation scheme.

RUMOURS: There are some whispers the government response to the Intelligence and Security Committee on China could be published.

IN THE COMMONS: Business and trade questions from 9.30 a.m. then the business statement.

IN THE LORDS: Not-Conservative peer Dan Rosenfield is introduced before questions at 11 a.m. After that there’s a few legislative bits and bobs.

PAWS FOR THOUGHT: The Westminster dog of the year contest takes place in Victoria Tower Gardens from 9.30 a.m. More info and contestants here.


PACKED LUNCH OR PARL LUNCH: Subject to change, here are the lunch menus on the estate tomorrow: Bellamy’s: Soup and sandwiches … The Debate: Jerk chicken with rice and peas; grilled sesame tuna with kimchi buckwheat noodles; spiced cauliflower Bombay burrito … Terrace Cafeteria: Quiche Lorraine; jerk chicken with rice and peas; plant based burger with garlic aioli, tomato and lettuce … River Restaurant: Jerk chicken with rice, peas and (because the Lords are just that little bit more special) plantain; Pakora burger with curried fries, yoghurt and cucumber raita; lime and ginger steamed hake with pho broth, vegetables and rice noodles.

SPOTTED: Watching PMQs in the VIP galleries, satirist Charlie Brooker and broadcaster Konnie Huq. The married couple was sitting with Huq’s Labour MP sister Rupa and her Labour colleague Rosie Duffield.

SPOTTED: At the NFU breakfast reception to celebrate all things farming with union President Minette Batters: Farming Secretary Thérèse Coffey … Farming Minister Mark Spencer … Chief Whip Simon Hart … Shadow Farming Secretary Steve Reed and his aide Jamie Williams … Junior ministers Rebecca Pow, Andrew Bowie, David Duguid and Faye Jones … Shadow Farming Minister Daniel Zeichner … Conservative MPs Siobhan Bailey, Anthony Mangnall and Daniel Kawczynski … Lib Dem MP Sarah Dyke.

NEW GIG I: Labour aide Felicity Slater has taken on a new role working for new Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Darren Jones.

NEW GIG II: The Mirror’s Mikey Smith has been promoted to deputy political editor (Sundays) at the paper. Here’s the tweet.

NEW GIG III: Watch out politicians, BBC fact checker extroadinaire Chris Morris (nope, not the Brass Eye dude) has joined Full Fact.

SO LONG, FAREWELL: Chair of the Independent Monitoring Authority for the Citizens’ Rights Agreements, the former Conservative MEP Ashley Fox, has quit after being selected as the Conservative candidate for Bridgwater ahead of the next election.

WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: This Spectator piece from Niall Gooch about whether we need another centrist dads podcast to rival The Rest is Politics is well worth a read. “We are seeing the relentless rise of political podcasts and radio shows that are little more than an opportunity for presenters, guests and listeners to congratulate one another for their reasonableness,” Gooch writes. “I very much doubt that their cosy chats will generate any meaningful insight about the challenges of 2023.”

Pitch to the broadcasters: Playbook PM has long been telling whoever will listen that the podcast Westminster really needs is one based on gutteral disagreement, something like Steve Baker versus Richard Burgon, or Miriam Cates versus Diane Abbott. Italian speakers might be familiar with the controversial and foul-mouthed La Zanzara radio show featuring right-wing shock jock Giuseppe Cruciani and left-leaning David Parenzo. The pair fight like animals with each other and their listeners, then return covered in plasters for a fresh bout 24 hours later. A British version but with better music could be a hit.

ON THIS DAY IN POLITICS: On September 13, 2022, former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier was given 270 hours of community service after pleading guilty to culpably and recklessly exposing people to COVID 19. Ferrier had traveled by train from London to Scotland after receiving a positive COVID test in September 2020.


THANKS TO: My editor Rosa Prince, Playbook reporter Noah Keate and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.

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Emilio Casalicchio

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