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By ALEX WICKHAM
Good Wednesday morning.
SPAD MOVE: Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport SpAd and former CCHQ Chief of Staff Hudson Roe will shortly be leaving government. Roe rejoined under Conservative Party co-chair Oliver Dowden and remained in the department after last year’s reshuffle, covering arts, sports, creative industries and tech for Nadine Dorries.
DRIVING THE DAY
BREXIT REDUX: U.K. and EU relations over the Northern Ireland protocol are spiraling this morning, as London threatened to tear up parts of the agreement within days and Brussels warned it could retaliate by canceling the entire Brexit deal and starting a trade war. U.K. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss announced overnight that the government was rejecting the EU’s proposals to fix the issues with the protocol, which it says has disrupted trade and led to political turmoil at Stormont. The EU signaled on Tuesday that it would not back down or renegotiate the protocol. Downing Street is preparing a major new piece of legislation — which was missing from the Queen’s Speech, but could land as soon as next week — allowing the U.K. to unilaterally scrap parts of the agreement it signed in 2020. Brussels has said this would renege on the deal and be a breach of London’s obligations to the Brexit agreement.
Note for the skeptics: Some commentators had suggested that reports of the deteriorating position on Northern Ireland in the last few weeks were just No. 10 spin and empty threats, and that the U.K. would never actually tear up the protocol. But both U.K. and EU sources told Playbook last night that this take was wishful thinking, that the crunch is now imminent, and that without a dramatic change in fortunes over the next few days, London and Brussels are for a bust-up of epic proportions.
Queen’s Speech kicker: The Brexit story shot back to the top of the news agenda after the Times‘ Patrick Maguire, Oli Wright and Chris Smyth revealed officials working for Truss had drawn up legislation that would unilaterally remove checks on goods flowing from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. The deal-breaking bill would also end the role of the EU’s Court of Justice in NI and allow businesses there to stop following EU regulations. The paper said the bill could be announced on Tuesday next week. U.K. sources confirmed this story is accurate. EU insiders also said it was their understanding that this is Britain’s intention.
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Refresher: Ministers have been negotiating with Brussels to reduce trade friction between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, after the protocol drew a customs border down the Irish Sea in a bid to protect the EU’s single market and avoid a hard frontier between Northern Ireland and the neighboring Republic after Brexit. Unionists in Northern Ireland are now refusing to help form a government after recent elections there, and are instead pressing for changes to the protocol, which they see as driving a wedge between the region and the rest of the U.K. More from my POLITICO colleagues here.
Not sustainable: Boris Johnson spoke to Irish leader Micheál Martin yesterday to warn him that “the balance” of the Good Friday Agreement was being “undermined and the recent elections had further demonstrated that the Protocol was not sustainable in its current form … the UK Government would take action to protect peace and political stability in Northern Ireland if solutions could not be found.” While Sinn Féin won last week’s assembly elections in NI, not a single unionist elected supports the protocol and the Democratic Unionist Party said they would not reenter the NI executive until the protocol crisis is resolved. Downing Street believes this situation threatens peace and the GFA.
Try again: In a dramatic intervention last night, Truss flatly rejected EU proposals to address concerns over the NI-GB border and warned: “The current EU proposals fail to properly address the real issues affecting Northern Ireland and in some cases would take us backward. Prices have risen, trade is being badly disrupted, and the people of Northern Ireland are subject to different laws and taxes than those over the Irish Sea, which has left them without an Executive and poses a threat to peace and stability. The answer cannot be more checks, paperwork and disruption. Our preference has always been for a negotiated solution but will not shy away from taking action to stabilize the situation in Northern Ireland if solutions cannot be found.”
What this means in practice: The U.K. government claims that the outcome the EU wants would see goods removed from supermarket shelves in Northern Ireland, with chilled meats from GB requiring a vet’s certificate and Thai Green Curry ready meals, New Zealand lamb and Brazilian pork no longer available. “Sending a parcel to Northern Ireland would require more than 50 fields of information for the customs declaration,” the foreign office says, and “pet owners would also need to pay up to £280 for certificates and jabs for their pets just to go on holiday in the UK.”
What the EU says: They aren’t moving. European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič said in a statement busting Truss’ embargo yesterday: “The protocol, as a cornerstone of the withdrawal agreement, is an international agreement. Its renegotiation is not an option. The European Union is united in this position.” He suggested London had not shown enough “determination or creativity” to find a solution. German Chancellor Olaf Scholz said: “No one should unilaterally cancel, break or in any way attack the settlement we have agreed together.” EU diplomatic sources told the FT’s Jude Webber, Peter Foster and Seb Payne that Truss’ words today will be deliberately provocative and would be “very poorly received” in Brussels.
Trade war threat: Belgian Prime Minister Alexander De Croo warned the EU would cancel the entire Brexit deal and impose tariffs and a trade war on Britain if the protocol was torn up: “Our message is quite clear: Don’t touch this … If that agreement would be revoked, then I would think that the whole system will be revoked. I would not see any other solution.” His comments splash the Telegraph.
Grasp the nettle: Johnson’s government, of course, signed the Brexit deal and the Northern Ireland Protocol, so expect to hear that criticism leveled against him again and again over the next few days. But it is also the case that the Protocol and the different rules NI is having to follow compared to GB are causing serious issues in the province, and that negotiations between the U.K. and EU have been unable to resolve them. One U.K. government source tells Playbook the EU simply isn’t grasping that there is a genuine threat to peace and stability and that fixes have to be found to prevent violence.
And a furious Whitehall source adds: “The suggestion from the EU that we have not shown ‘determination or creativity’ is ludicrous. What is most disappointing here is Brussels truly holds some remarkable brilliant thinkers and yet the negotiations over the past year have shown the EU still clearly misunderstands what is practically happening in Northern Ireland and the structural issues with the protocol. Perhaps even worse they do understand it but simply don’t care about the people and peace in Northern Ireland otherwise they would come back to the table with a sensible mandate.”
What Britain wants: For the EU to change Šefčovič’s mandate and allow him to renegotiate the protocol to secure meaningful changes. Šefčovič insists that won’t happen.
So what happens next: Playbook is told Truss and Šefčovič will speak in the coming days. There is a suggestion that Johnson will discuss the bill tearing up the NI Protocol in a crunch meeting with ministers on Monday — reports this week have claimed Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove are not keen on the idea and want to continue talking. No. 10 insisted last night that no decisions had been made and we wouldn’t be hearing anything from them this week.
See you next Tuesday: That’s the day when Truss is provisionally looking at announcing the bill, if there is no movement from the EU side.
What do Tory MPs think? Johnson might face a rebellion from his Remainer cohort, the Times reports, with Simon Hoare, chairman of the Northern Ireland select committee, stressing that “no honourable country should act unilaterally.”
What about Labour? Not much so far, and it has to be said that a seismic row with the EU about Brexit is not what Labour leader Keir Starmer wants to be talking about heading into a general election campaign.
And how about the US? They’ve apparently been “blindsided” by the U.K.’s hardline approach, according to the Times. Which suggests they haven’t been reading the London media or speaking to any members of the government. Playbook is told Truss may travel to the U.S. soon.
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QUEEN’S SPEECH REACTION
TWO MEH YEARS: There has been a muted response to the government’s Queen’s Speech announcements unveiling its legislative agenda for the next parliamentary session, with little or no surprises and not much in the way of any radical policies or a particularly enthralling vision to take us up to the next election. Queen’s speeches are more about bills coming in over the medium term rather than quick fixes, but still there remains a gaping hole where a strategy to tackle the cost of living should be. POLITICO’s Esther Webber and Annabelle Dickson have a smart piece on the PM and chancellor’s biggest headache. One adviser to the Conservatives suggested the public was increasingly looking for a big money intervention to help: “They tried to get [voters] used to not being able to spend more and voters have told them to eff off.”
Days … or months: Johnson fueled expectations that he would act on the cost of living sooner rather than later with the aside in his Commons speech that he and Chancellor Rishi Sunak will be “saying more about this in the days to come.” This did nothing to stem rumors in Westminster that the government is preparing an emergency budget for this summer. But in a sign that Sunak and his boss are once again not exactly on the same page, Treasury officials poured cold water on the idea of any imminent intervention, with one saying: “The budget timetables will be set out in the usual way. There will be no emergency budget.” Some in Whitehall wonder if this was a deliberate attempt by Johnson to bounce the Treasury into preparing cost of living measures sooner.
Tory MP grumbles: Conservative grandee David Davis gave the PM a sign of what’s to come from his backbenchers if nothing is forthcoming, calling for tax cuts and telling Downing Street they need to “deploy our fiscal firepower now, when our constituents need it, not after they have suffered.”
There are more grim warnings out today: The Yorkshire Building Society fears households could face a £100 per month shortfall by 2024, and Shawbrook Bank says one in five people have lost sleep over surging prices. National Institute of Economic and Social Research reports that 250,000 households face “destitution” without immediate support. Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves says: “The government’s Queen’s Speech this week has fallen far too short on the cost of living, and on a plan to grow our economy. The Conservatives out of ideas and out of touch. They should bring in an Emergency Budget urgently, with a one-off windfall tax on oil and gas producer profits we can cut household bills by up to £600 and support businesses through the cost of living storm.”
On that … the FT has a story on Sunak stepping up his threat for an energy windfall tax.
Hart on his sleeve: Welsh Secretary Simon Hart struggled to spin the Queen’s Speech on broadcast last night, telling Talk TV’s Tom Newton Dunn that some of the leveling up announcements sounded “dull as hell.” He suggested we might hear more from the government on cost of living after a Cabinet away day on Thursday.
The papers do find some Queen’s Speech material to splash on: The Times goes with neighbors being able to vote on housing plans on their streets, as reported by the Sun a few days ago … while the Mail goes with what wasn’t in the speech — a bill to give staff the right to work from home was scrapped.
One more: The government has an announcement on a new Renters Reform Bill out this morning, which will apparently “deliver the biggest change to renters law in a generation.” The “new deal” extends the Decent Homes Standard to the private rented sector.
What are you in for? The Sun got to the bottom of what Johnson said to Starmer as they walked side by side from the Commons to the Lords yesterday: the PM asked the leader of the opposition what his “main takeaway” was from the speech.
DIGEST: German Foreign Minister Annalena Baerbock became the first member of the German government to meet Ukraine’s Volodymyr Zelenskyy since the start of the war in Kyiv yesterday. Baerbock held the French-German line on Ukraine’s bid for EU membership, warning that there is “no shortcut” to membership and can be no “false promises” … The bodies of 44 civilians were found in the rubble of a collapsed building in Izyum, as the battle continues to rage in Eastern Ukraine … Top U.S. intelligence official Avril Haines warned yesterday that Russia’s refocus on the Donbas is likely “only a temporary shift,” telling a U.S. Senate committee that Vladimir Putin is preparing for the long haul … Putin has sidelined the FSB — Russia’s main spy agency — in the war with Ukraine and replaced them with a rival military intelligence service, per the Times … Ukrainians emerging from the occupation of towns and villages west of Kyiv have still been finding bodies and mass graves a full month on from the Russian retreat, according to a harrowing report from POLITICO’s Christopher Miller … and Finland is expected to announce its intention to join Nato as soon as this week, CNN’s Luke McGee reports.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with further debate on the Queen’s Speech. No PMQs today.
BEERGATE LATEST: Labour sources tell the Telegraph’s Tony Diver and Martin Evans that Keir Starmer will try to dodge resignation on a technicality if he is found by Durham Police to have broken COVID rules but is not fined, as has been their previous policy. That would certainly be an interesting one for his future claims of integrity. The Times‘ Fiona Hamilton and Henry Zeffman say the police are under pressure to fine Starmer if he is found to have broken the rules, due to a harder line approach adopted by police in the second half of the pandemic.
CYBER BARCLAY: Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Steve Barclay will warn that Russia poses a significant threat to the U.K.’s cyber security in a speech at the National Cyber Security Centre’s conference today in Newport, Wales. Barclay will call for a “whole of society” approach to strong cyber security in the face of Russian attacks, while the minister will warn that one particular Russian gang has been behind 53 recent attempted ransomware attacks involving hackers stealing personal data to exchange it for cash. The Sun’s Jonathan Reilly picked up the story on the Kremlin computer crooks.
Committee corridor: The transport committee will look at the government’s maritime strategy with Port of Tyne Chair Lucy Armstrong and industry experts (9.30 a.m.) … The home affairs committee will grill Immigration Minister Tom Pursglove on the Rwanda proposals (10 a.m.) … Farming Minister Victoria Prentis will be quizzed on the Australia trade deal at the EFRA committee (2.15 p.m.) … and the joint committee on human rights will look at the government’s planned reforms to the Human Rights Act with EHRC Chair Kishwer Falkner (3 p.m.).
Talking of security: Top scoop from Insider’s Henry Dyer on how the Civil Nuclear Constabulary — which has the small and not-at-all-sensitive job of protecting U.K. nuclear power stations — is using Hikvision cameras for their administrative and training buildings. Chinese firm Hikvision are implicated in human rights abuses in Xinjiang and have been sanctioned by the U.S. government. Foreign affairs committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat said the news “raises serious questions about whether we’re taking national security seriously.”
MEET PETE: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is in Washington today with his U.S. opposite number — Democrat rising star Pete Buttigieg. Shapps is there on a visit aimed at securing U.K.-U.S. cooperation on commercial space launches, which the government hope to begin in the U.K. later this year. Look out for a photo-op of the pair riding Washington’s equivalent of “Boris bikes.” No word on whether Shapps is bringing his copy of Buttigieg’s memoir with him.
Lords: Sits from 3 p.m. with Queen’s Speech debate, with the focus on leveling up, communities and transport in the Lords today.
STATE OF THE UNION: Some 85 percent of voters in Scotland voted for the party that aligned with their constitutional preference in last year’s Holyrood election, according to a new study. Tactical voting at constituency level based on voters’ pro or anti-independence views was key, according to the research from the Scottish Election Study team of academics — read their findings here.
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Leveling Up Secretary Michael Gove broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.).
Shadow Justice Secretary Steve Reed broadcast round: ITV GMB (7.20 a.m.) … GB News (7.40 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.) … talkTV (8.45 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: CBI Director General Tony Danker (7.10 a.m.) … Liverpool City Council Deputy Mayor Jane Corbett (7.30 a.m.)
Also on Kay Burley (Sky News): Former NATO official Fabrice Pothier (7.40 a.m.) … Lib Dem leader Ed Davey (7.45 a.m.) … SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Johnson adviser Alex Crowley (7.05 a.m.) … Senior RAF officer Edward Stringer (8.20 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast: Health Minister Gillian Keegan (7.20 a.m.) … Fine Gael EU spokesperson Neale Richmond (7.35 a.m.) … Tees Valley Mayor Ben Houchen (8.07 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkTV): Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle (7.05 a.m.) … Health Minister Gillian Keegan (7.40 a.m.) … Tory MP Mark Francois (8.05 a.m.) … Former Labour adviser Michael Jacobs (9.05 a.m.).
Also on GB News breakfast: Health Minister Gillian Keegan (8.30 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): Tory MP Steve Baker … Shadow Attorney General Emily Thornberry … The Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler … The FT’s Seb Payne.
The Briefing with Gloria De Piero (GB News 12 p.m.): Former Labour MP James Frith and former Tory MP Jerry Hayes … Labour MP Andrew Gwynne.
Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Tory MP Matt Vickers … Labour MP Florence Eshalomi … Former Evening Standard editor Sarah Sands … ARD London bureau chief Annette Dittert.
Peston (Twitter 9 p.m. and ITV 10.45 p.m.): Brexit Opportunities Minister Jacob Rees-Mogg … Businesswoman Sharon White … Economist Howard Davies … Former Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell … Women and equalities committee Chairwoman Caroline Nokes.
Reviewing the papers tonight: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and the Telegraph’s Olivia Utley … talkTV (10 p.m.): Broadcaster Daisy McAndrew and former Tory adviser Alex Deane.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: Boris promises ‘firepower’ to help hard-hit families.
Daily Mail: Death knell for work from home.
Daily Mirror: Waggro.
Daily Star: Squeaky bum time.
Financial Times: Musk pledges to reverse Twitter’s ‘morally wrong’ ban on Trump.
HuffPost UK: 5 things to know from the queen’s speech.
i: PM U-turn on cost of living crisis.
Metro: Wish you were here.
POLITICO UK: Still a big noise: Orbán flexes power over EU oil ban.
PoliticsHome: Government insists ‘money is finite’ after queen’s speech announced no new cost of living support.
The Daily Telegraph: Truss stands firm in face of EU trade war threat.
The Guardian: Tories ‘bereft of ideas’ to tackle cost of living crisis.
The Independent: PM criticized for failure to tackle cost of living.
The Sun: I hope I did you proud, Mummy — Queen watches on TV as Charles makes speech.
The Times: Neighbours get the right to vote on housing plans.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: 🌧🌧🌧 Chance of rain throughout, strong winds. Highs of 17C.
SOME GOOD NEWS: James Cleverly’s wife Susie is responding well to treatment for breast cancer and won’t require any more chemotherapy, the FCDO Minister tweeted yesterday after missing the state opening of parliament. “Still surgery and other treatments, but a big part of the journey completed,” he said. Very best wishes for the recovery.
LOBBY MOVE: The Mirror’s Partygate scoop-getter Pippa Crerar is moving to the Guardian, where she’ll become political editor later in the summer. Crerar replaces Heather Stewart, who is moving to a special correspondent role. Here’s the tweet.
BIRTHDAYS: Former Newsnight presenter Jeremy Paxman … Rushcliffe MP Ruth Edwards … High Court Chancellor Julian Flaux … Crossbench peer Narendra Patel … SNP MSP Bob Doris … Political betting expert Mike Smithson … Labour staffer Josephine Amos.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Emma Anderson, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Grace Stranger.
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