Blog: Sunday Crunch: Not much COP — Brexit is back (or is it?) — Saving the NHS – POLITICO Europe

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By ANNABELLE DICKSON

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Good Sunday afternoon. This is Annabelle Dickson, crunching the political weekend for you. Top colleague Eleni Courea is in the Playbook hot-seat into tomorrow morning.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

NOT MUCH COP: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has just warned that there can be “no time for complacency” after a dawn agreement to help the developing nations worst-hit by climate change with the loss and damage was struck in Egypt. Sunak welcomed the “progress made,” but few will leave the COP27 summit with a spring in their step after the final summit text seemingly offered its tacit blessing to natural gas.

On the ground: “People in the summit meeting hall broke into loud applause and hugged when organizers announced a deal on climate payments, after an arduous final day and night of negotiating,” POLITICO’s Zack Colman and Karl Mathiesen report from Sharm el-Sheikh. It was only later, as people read the final text, that the mood changed as vague wording that “low-emission” energy should be part of the world’s response to rising seas and searing heat waves raised concern. Several negotiators the POLITICO pair spoke to had not noticed the change.

Important step: Labour’s Ed Miliband said the agreement was an “important step forward” in recognizing the consequences of the climate crisis — but said the summit had been “notable for the complete absence of leadership from the U.K. Prime Minister. ”

BREXIT IS BACK (OR MAYBE NOT): It’s déjà vu all over again. Britain’s relationship with the European Union is back at the heart of political discourse after an intriguing Sunday Times splash suggested “senior government figures” are planning to put Britain on the path towards a “Swiss-style relationship with the European Union.” But Cabinet minister Steve Barclay, a Brexiteer and former Brexit secretary, was quick to hose down the reports, warning he would not support such a move, and insisting on Sky’s Sophy Ridge show he did not “recognize” the ST’s Saturday evening Sauvignon-dropper. 

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Up for debate: Denials aside, it is a sign of the times that senior figures in government are even voicing such thoughts to senior journalists. Brexit and trade experts were quick to point out the flaws in the hope that the U.K. could somehow pursue “frictionless trade” through a deal that “would not extend to a return to freedom of movement.” The Sunday Times itself points out the Swiss model involves more liberal EU migration, payments to the EU budget, and a push for greater oversight from the European Court of Justice — all things that were definitely not on the side of that red Brexit bus. Unicorns definitely got a few mentions on Twitter after the story dropped last night.

Benefits of Brexit: In a bid to lower the blood pressure of European Research Group members, Barclay stressed to Sky’s Sophy Ridge that the U.K. had a prime minister “who himself supported Brexit” and that the government was “trying hard to maximize our control of our laws and our borders and our money.” Challenged on Office for Budget Responsibility analysis last week about the hit to trade from Brexit, Barclay said there were “pros and cons” to leaving the bloc.

Cart before the horse: On the BBC, CBI Director General Tony Danker also gave the idea of a Swiss-style deal short shrift, telling Kuenssberg the U.K. government needed to first talk about whether it could actually implement the deal struck by Boris Johnson. Danker argued that deal contained opportunities that are not being captured because of the Northern Ireland protocol row.

Brexit under Labour: Jon Ashworth, who was out representing the opposition Labour party, gleefully pointed out that it was quite something for government sources to be briefing that their own Brexit deal isn’t working out. Labour is not proposing returning to the single market or the customs union, he insisted, but does want to negotiate a bespoke deal for the U.K.

Brexiteers cry howl: The denials came too late to thwart the outrage. Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage predictably took to Twitter to warn the “level of betrayal will never be forgiven” and declare in measured tones that the “Tories must be crushed.” Former Cabinet ministers also waded in. “I very much hope and believe this isn’t something under consideration,” ex Leveling-up Secretary and Liz Truss ally Simon Clarke said.

Not gonna happen, folks: Andrew Neil meanwhile had an excoriating column in Saturday’s Mail pointing out that after Thursday’s autumn statement the “post-Brexit low-tax, low-regulation, free-wheeling economic environment which would unleash homegrown entrepreneurs and turn Britain into a beacon for foreign investment, with enterprising business folk flooding to our shores” is “not going to happen.”

Coming attraction: The Sunday Times says Sunak will make a speech at the CBI tomorrow mapping out some of the principles that will govern his premiership, including the need to boost research, development and innovation. Expect Brexit to come up in the questions. 

Budget debate: MPs will also spend most of their week debating the autumn statement. It’s fair to say not everyone is happy. The Sun on Sunday quotes senior Tories who say it risks losing the Conservatives the next general election. The Mail on Sunday says Boris Johnson’s allies want him to be made party chairman ahead of the next election. An Opinium poll out last night suggests a majority of people think the government should be doing more to tackle the cost of living crisis, and that just three-in-10 voters approved of the statement.

SAVING THE NHS: Barclay actually wanted to be on the airwaves this morning talking about his plans for a “ruthless” cut to NHS red tape. But as well as fielding Brexit questions, he was largely left playing defense on delays to social care reform, a stand-off over nurses’ pay and soaring accident and emergency waiting times. 

First read this: Sunday Times health editor Shaun Lintern’s long read on the findings of a senior coroner in Cornwall, who chronicled appalling ambulance delays, overflowing wards and deadly waits for treatment, sums up the mammoth task facing Barclay. On Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Barclay accepted the NHS was “under huge pressure,” citing the pandemic as predominantly the cause.

It’s good to talk: One of the most pressing issues for him is the prospect of a nursing strike after the Royal College of Nursing (RCN) announced a majority of its members across the UK had voted to take strike action. Barclay said his door is open to talks, but insisted to Sophy Ridge it was “important to look at the package” being offered to nurses as a whole, and not just pay levels.

Voting with their feet: Matthew Taylor, boss of the NHS Confederation, thinks pay is a large part of it. He told Ridge the staffing situation is “deteriorating” in the run up to Christmas. “I speak to people every day who work in health and social care and they talk about staff leaving to go and work in warehouses, to go and work in retail, something which intensifies at Christmas,” he said. The Mirror reckons Sunak is pinning his hopes on migrant workers to plug 212,000 unfilled posts in health and social care.

Not very social: Barclay told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg it had been a “very difficult decision” to delay reforms to social care in last week’s autumn statement, but insisted the government remains committed to the plan.

The Barclay blueprint: The Mail on Sunday devoted its front page to Barclay’s pledge to cut bureaucrats and targets to liberate doctors and nurses from “time-sapping admin.” Challenged, he insisted there is still a place in the health service for targets, but wants fewer coming from the center.

Deluded: Barclay’s claims NHS problems are primarily driven by the pandemic got short shrift from GMB general secretary Gary Smith on the BBC. He said he was “incandescent” after listening to the Barclay interview, accusing the health sec of being “deluded” and spouting “frankly pretty dishonest stuff.” “The ambulance service, the health services and care were on their knees going into the pandemic and things have got worse,” he said.

Opposition offer: Labour’s Jonathan Ashworth told Ridge the NHS is now in a “quite desperate state” — with four-and-a-half Wembley stadiums’-worth of people waiting beyond a year for treatment. Ashworth was out selling his plan to get people back into work with targeted programs for those with long term ill-health.

Maintaining the line: Later on Laura K, Ashworth dodged the question of whether Labour would have given the NHS the £7 billion it asked for from Hunt, after the service came up short last week. He said the party would make a full assessment of the needs of the NHS and fund it properly if the party gets into government.

QUICK-FIRE CATCH-UP

RISHI IN UKRAINE: Rishi Sunak made a flash visit to Kyiv Saturday and announced that the U.K. will provide Ukraine with a new air defense package. The £50 million boost will include 125 anti-aircraft guns and technology to counter Iranian-supplied drones. POLITICO’s Lili Bayer has more. 

HE COULD BE BACK: Twitterer-in-chief Elon Musk has reinstated Donald Trump’s account after running a poll — the result of which was an uncanny 52 to 48 percent — backing the move. Trump reckons he doesn’t see any reason for a return, but it’s hard to believe he wouldn’t be tempted by that particular megaphone, as James Clayton writes on the BBC. Nice POLITICO read here from colleague Nancy Scola, who speaks to the D.C. Twitter addicts who are definitely going to quit the platform … any day now, and after just one more retweet.

PEER REVIEW: Labour leader Keir Starmer is planning to replace the House of Lords with a new elected chamber as part of his pitch to voters to “restore trust in politics,” the Observer reports. Starmer reportedly told the party’s peers of his plans to strip politicians of the power to make appointments to the Lords in his first term. Ashworth told Sky’s Ridge there was great expertise in the House of Lords, but it needs to be brought into the 21st century, and the time is right to“democratize” it. He said there’ll be a proper consultation on the issue. 

Speaking of Starmer: HuffPost UK’s Kevin Schofield chats to a bunch of Labour insiders on Starmer’s bid to more clearly define his political project in the site’s weekend read. “You’re starting to see what Starmerism will look like — a big, bold, Biden-style offer on jobs, skills and green growth, combined with public service reform,” says one. “It’s going to be about giving people the assurance that the country has control again: of the borders, of the public finances, of its future.”

BORIS’ DOWNFALL: Ahead of the publication of his book ‘The Fall of Boris Johnson’, the FT’s Seb Payne has a cracking blow-by-blow weekend read charting the plotting that consumed the ex-prime minister’s last day in power — climaxing with the phone sacking of his old rival Michael Gove.

MIGRANT DEATH: A migrant staying at the Manston processing center in Kent died on Saturday morning after being taken to hospital on Friday evening. The Home Office said there was “no evidence at this stage” that the person had died from an infectious disease. The BBC has more. Home Secretary Suella Braverman faces MPs on the home affairs committee on Wednesday and will no doubt be asked for more detail. 

IN DEFENSE OF MATT: Former Matt Hancock adviser Jamie Njoku-Goodwin has penned a glowing piece about his old boss in the Sunday Times. He recounts how a colleague fessed up after he “accidentally briefed against Matt to a newspaper.” Matt “found the whole thing hilarious and threw open his door to tell the whole office.” 

ON NOTICE: Michael Gove has written to English council leaders and social housing providers to warn they have to improve conditions after the death of two-year-old Awaab Ishaak from exposure to mould in the family flat. The BBC has more. Barclay told Sky’s Sophy Ridge “we need more housing,” but said there had clearly been failures where concerns raised had not been acted on. Rochdale Boroughwide Housing’s chief executive was sacked on Saturday, in a move welcomed by Ishaak’s father, who had repeatedly raised concern about the mould.

CAMPAIGN COMING: In another break from the Truss era, a Christmas campaign to encourage us to cut our energy use by 15 percent is being planned, the Sunday Times reports. If you haven’t already got the memo from Martin Lewis, you need to turn down the thermostat by 2C, reducing the flow rate of you boiler, and install energy-efficient lightbulbs. Sunday Crunch also recommends filing a Sunday newsletter in 20 layers.

QATAR IN THE SPOTLIGHT: With the world cup kicking off this afternoon the news has been dominated by criticism of the hosts Qatar. On Sky’s Sophy Ridge, Ashworth said it was “quite right” people continue to focus on the awful abuses seen in Qatar during the tournament, while enjoying the football. POLITICO’s Ali Walker has a nice piece looking at why, despite more than a decade of critical coverage, Qatar has emerged stronger than ever after its successful bid for the tournament.

MEDIA ROUND

Ayesha Hazarika on Times Radio (4 p.m. to 7 p.m): Leader of the Reform party Richard Tice; Fawcett Society Chief Executive Jemima Olchawski; Conservative MP Jo Gideon; Labour MP Florence Eshalomi; SNP MP Gavin Newlands and Acting Deputy Political Editor for the Mail on Sunday Claire Ellicott.

Gloria Meets on GB News (6 p.m.): Labour MP Jess Phillips; former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith; Tory MP Caroline Nokes.

Westminster Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 p.m.): Tory MP Matt Warman; Labour MP Karin Smyth; Northern Powerhouse Partnership Director Henri Murison; Sunday Times Political Editor Caroline Wheeler.

WEEK AHEAD

MONDAY

— BUSINESS: “Senior Cabinet minister” to address the CBI annual conference, 10.15 a.m. 

— COMMONS: Sits from 2.30 p.m. for leveling-up questions and the first day of autumn statement debate.

— ECONOMY: Treasury select committee to hear from academics and think tankers on the autumn statement, 3.15 pl.m.

— LEVELING-UP: Michael Gove up in front of the leveling-up committee, 4.15 p.m.

— FOOTBALL: England face Iran and Wales take on the United States in the football world cup.

TUESDAY

— ECONOMY: Treasury committee to hear from OBR chiefs, 2.15 p.m.

— COMMONS: Justice questions from 11.30 a.m. followed by the rest of the autumn statement debate. 

— MORE DOM: Justice Secretary Dominic Raab up in front of the justice select committee at 2.30 p.m. 

— BUSINESS: Labour leader Keir Starmer to address the CBI conference, 9.45 a.m. 

— ECONOMY: OECD to publish its Economic Outlook.

WEDNESDAY 

— COMMONS: Welsh questions at 11.30 a.m. followed by PMQs and the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill remaining stages.

— ECONOMY: Treasury committee to hear from Chancellor Jeremy Hunt on the Autumn Statement, 3 p.m.

— SCOTLAND: Supreme Court to give its judgment on whether Scotland can hold a second independence referendum without Westminster’s approval. 

— HOME AFFAIRS: Home Secretary Suella Braverman up in front of the home affairs committee, 9.45 a.m. 

— ECONOMY: Bank of England chief economist Huw Pill to deliver the Beesley series lecture on inflation, text released at 3.30 p.m. 

THURSDAY

— HUMAN RIGHTS: The U.N. Human Rights Council to hold a special session to discuss the Iranian government’s violent suppression of protests prompted by the death in custody of Mahsa Amini.

— COMMONS: Transport questions at 9.30 a.m. followed by general debates on disabilities and children’s social care.

ENERGY: Ofgem announces quarterly price cap changes,

 LORDS: Former Northern Ireland First Minister Arlene Foster to be introduced into the House of Lords.

FRIDAY

— COMMONS: Private members bill day.

— STRIKES: Royal Mail staff go on strike to coincide with Black Friday. Unison ballot of NHS workers’ closes 

SATURDAY

STRIKES: Strike action planned by train drivers in the ASLEF union

Thanks: To Matt Honeycombe-Foster for making Crunch sparkle.

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