Blog: Playbook PM: Caught in the Met — BoJo limbers up — Brexit Gradualists v Fundamentalists – POLITICO Europe

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— Westminster is outraged after that damning report into the Met police.

— Boris Johnson is limbering up for his big hearing tomorrow after publishing his argument. Punches have been thrown ahead of time.

— Conservative MPs who love and hate Johnson are BOTH sick of the ongoing saga.

— The ERG hates the new Brexit deal … but isn’t expected to whip its MPs against it … while colleagues argue it’s a spent force.

— Conservative Brexiteers are increasingly split between Gradualists and Fundamentalists.


CAUGHT IN THE MET: The Met police isn’t getting the friendliest reception in Westminster right now.

Blasted from all sides: Senior politicians lined up to condemn the force in the wake of the Louise Casey report that found institutional racism, sexism and homophobia rife in its ranks.

Not a pleasant read: In a Commons statement this lunchtime, Home Secretary Suella Braverman said the report makes for “concerning reading” and shows the Met “faces a long road to recovery.” She added: “Every officer in the force needs to be part of making these changes happen.”

Not impressed: But Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper accused Braverman of being “dangerously complacent” in her response, arguing: “Astonishingly there is no new action set out in her response, simply words saying the Met must change.”

The Labour plan: In a speech in Southwark this afternoon, Labour leader Keir Starmer detailed the opposition’s plan to create a national vetting process for police, bans for applicants with histories of domestic abuse or sexual crimes, new leadership training, specialist sexual crime units in all forces and training on bias and violence against women and girls.

In his own words: The former DPP said “deep cultural change” was needed in the Met. “It means to be ruthless of weeding out those who will not change or are changing too slowly,” he said. “Above all, it means changing the police from a force to a service with public service values.”

Not our fault: On Times Radio this morning, Transport Secretary Mark Harper insisted cultural problems in the police aren’t a result of Conservative cuts. He said forces should be expected to “live within their means” and not use that as an excuse for “appalling behavior.”

What’s in a word: There’s been some dancing around the word “institutional,” after the report used it to describe the racism, sexism and homophobia Casey found. Braverman told the Commons it was “not a helpful term to use” because “it’s an ambiguous, contested, and politically-charged term that is much-misused, and risks making it harder for officers to win back the trust of communities.”

Echo: Downing Street said the same, arguing: “We don’t think focusing on language is what the public want. The public wants tangible actions.”

More horror: The News Agents podcast just dropped, including an interview with Casey in which she details more of the vile behavior she found in the force, including one serving officer openly masturbating on a train.


TRAGICOMIC PERFORMANCE: Stock up on the microwave popcorn on your commute home tonight — there’s four solid hours of “is Boris Johnson a liar?” coming when he appears at the privileges committee tomorrow.

Cache for questions: Westminster had its appetite moistened around lunchtime when the committee published the tranche of evidence the former PM hopes will help him wriggle free of the committee’s clutches. In the so-called “dossier,” BoJo insists he didn’t “intentionally or recklessly” mislead MPs when he told them there were no lockdown parties at his home and workplace of 10 Downing Street.

Pre-hearing fisticuffs: In a sign of the tensions to come, there’s been bickering between team Johnson and the committee over the release of the document, with the committee insisting it contained no new documentary evidence and had to be resubmitted this morning because the original version contained typos and errors (it wouldn’t happen here). Team Johnson pointed to various aspects of the evidence it said were new to the public domain, and argued just one date needed to be amended. Not the friendliest of starts.

Case for the defense: My POLITICO colleague Andrew McDonald has a rundown of all the crucial points in the document, but the headline claims are: that the committee has no evidence Johnson had intent or was reckless when he misled the House … that multiple witnesses saw civil servants assure him the rules were followed … that he asked his team to “get the truth” about allegations of one bash into the public domain … and that the police never explained fining him for the now-infamous cake ambush.

Not to mention: While thanking them for their hard work, Johnson of course does his best to attack the committee, arguing it’s taking a political position and overstepping its remit.

A different view: The ex-PM’s former top aide Dominic Cummings promised to live-comment on the privileges committee hearing tomorrow, and argued on his Substack that the PM did know about the parties. He reckons there’s little chance of a Johnson return to Downing Street.

Also worth reading: Former parliamentary legal eagle Alex Horne (not the dude off TV… until now!) wrote a piece for the Spectator arguing Johnson is most vulnerable on whether he corrected the record in parliament after misleading MPs about there being no parties. Horne said he doesn’t expect Johnson to end up with such a harsh punishment that he has to face a recall petition in his Uxbridge seat.

Make it stop: Johnson detractors and supporters in Conservative ranks want the whole process over as soon as possible albeit for opposing reasons. “Just make him go away — he’s occupied more than enough space in my head already,” one minister lamented to Playbook PM. The same person dismissed the BoJo die-harders who appear not to have been embarrassed enough about the various contortions the ex-PM put them through and who still believe in his electoral prowess.

Tether long ended: “I can’t believe colleagues have forgotten the chaos of his premiership and think this is a fight worth having,” the person said. “Boris leaves landmines wherever he goes. He doesn’t deliver in government because he can’t chew gum and walk at the same time. And he no longer has the Brexit issue, the support of the working class and tolerance of the middle class, or Jeremy Corbyn to make him the electoral asset he once was.”

But but but: A Johnson fan said: “He remains the most powerful electoral force within the party — if we harness him right. What happened to him was an insult. He has every right to feel insulted.” His most loyal supporters have been out in force already.

What the public thinks: A third of people (30 percent) reckon BoJo should resign as an MP if the committee finds him in contempt of parliament, according to a Savanta poll released this morning. Although … 37 percent think he should quit no matter what.

Limbering up: Johnson spent the day with his legal brains preparing for the marathon session, Playbook hears from within his team, which has been briefing journalists and coordinating with friendly MPs. He’s said to be confident, in good spirits and across the detail. The sole break in the 4-hour session tomorrow is expected to be when MPs vote on the Brexit deal in the Commons. Whether Johnson will vote against that deal or abstain isn’t clear, as he said last month that he wouldn’t be able to vote for it.


LACONOPHILES GO LACONIC: In the end, around 18 MPs turned up to the European Research Group meeting in Portcullis House to decide whether the group will back the “Stormont brake” element of the new Brexit deal in the Commons tomorrow. But the Spartans didn’t even end with an agreed position to shout about.

Shell organization: Most of Westminster seems to think the group is a husk of its former self, with little weight among colleagues and not enough of a voting bloc to make a difference. “If Steve Baker isn’t involved, the organization just isn’t there,” a minister who was once a member of the group told Playbook PM. Another said the reason the group had become a little tired was down to “different leadership.”

Not the most aggressive look: Despite publishing a 52-page assessment from its legal pals about how the new Brexit deal is a load of oversold tosh, the ERG hasn’t taken a view on whether to vote against it or not. It will meet tomorrow to have another bash at reaching a consensus, but one member told Playbook’s Dan Bloom the group isn’t expecting to tell members how to vote at all. That suggests things aren’t all peaches and cream between the Brexit ultras. Have sparks flown between the Spartans?

Nevertheless: The big gripe from ERG members appears to be that the Windsor Framework and Stormont brake don’t do quite what’s claimed on the tin. “The framework itself has no exit, other than through a highly complex legal process,” ERG chief Mark Francois told reporters after the meeting. Asked if the ERG had been “misled” about its contents, Francois said: “I am going to leave that to others to judge.”

It’s not just the backbenchers: Even Brexiteers in ministerial ranks aren’t too impressed with the Downing Street sales pitch. “The Stormont brake doesn’t change the protocol — Rishi has oversold it,” one told Playbook PM. “If he said he’s fixed some of the problems on trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland then great. But he’s insisting it’s an all singing, all dancing overhaul of the protocol, which it isn’t.”

The hard sell: Asked by Playbook PM at the Downing Street briefing this morning whether a vote against the protocol was a vote for automatic alignment with the EU, a spokesman for the PM said: “The framework is the only avenue by which that default can change. So a vote against the brake in factual terms would lead to automatic alignment with the EU with no say at all.”

Forever split: Speaking to Brexiteers this week, Playbook PM detects a new fault-line dividing the Conservatives, between Brexit Gradualists and Brexit Fundamentalists.

On one hand: The gradualists believe the Windsor deal is a staging post on the path to smoother trade relations and a purer form of Brexit that will be developed over time, so well worth voting for. The hope is that as relations with the EU normalize, the trauma of the past half decade is forgotten and the EU begins to trust an independent Britain when it comes to trade rules and the like, more of the current arrangements can be negotiated out. Some, for example, reckon that at some point the Northern Ireland deal will be subsumed into the trade and cooperation agreement, meaning an arbitration regime that won’t require European Court of Justice input.

On the other hand: The Brexit Fundamentalists believe severance from the EU must be hard and fast, and a deal that risks baking in EU involvement in U.K. trade arrangements is to be swerved at all costs.

Regardless: The Stormont brake statutory instrument will pass in the Commons tomorrow — and on the back of Labour votes if Conservative rebels are organized enough to cobble the numbers together. But don’t expect much of a revolt if Labour is needed to pass it. “A lot of the Conservative Party is beyond caring at this point,” said the minister who thought the deal has been oversold. “Getting it through on the back of Labour votes might fuel ERG anger, which never helps, but it’s not going to cause too much of a stir.”


FURTHER PAGGER: SNP leadership candidates do battle in their latest live debate tonight, this time on Times Radio from 8 p.m. to 9 p.m. It will take place in Edinburgh in front of a live audience who will get to ask questions.

COOKING THE BOOKS: Household energy support schemes saw government borrowing hit its highest level since records began in the 90s, as the government subsidized heating and cooking bills around the nation. Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said borrowing remained high (at £16.7 billion last month) because “we’re determined to support households and businesses with rising prices.”

WHAT THE GOVERNMENT WANTS TO TALK ABOUT: Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer confirmed a £1 million allocation to help people into creative industries careers … Ministers announced Derby as the new location for the Great British Rail organization … Transport Minister Richard Holden announced the first all-electric bus fleet in the U.K. in Leicester.


IN UKRAINE: Japan’s Prime Minister Fumio Kishida is in Kyiv where he has promised unwavering support to Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelenskyy. Kishida also discussed reconstruction and humanitarian aid. It comes as a series of blasts targeting Russian weapons in Russian-occupied Crimea took place on Monday night. The BBC’s Shaimaa Khalil and Gareth Evans have more.

IN AMERICA: U.S. Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen said the government could repeat its drastic action to protect bank depositors if smaller lenders are threatened. Per Bloomberg, Yellen said: “Our intervention was necessary to protect the broader U.S. banking system and similar actions could be warranted if smaller institutions suffer deposit runs that pose the risk of contagion.” 

IN FRANCE: Ryanair wants the EU to force France to allow flights in its airspace when air traffic controllers are on strike. My POLITICO colleague Mari Eccles reports the company wants the European Commission to force France to include overflights in its definition of the “minimum service” air traffic controllers have to provide.

IN SOMALIA: A new report released by the Somalian government suggests far more children died last year due to the ongoing drought than previously realized. The Guardian has more.


LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.) leads on Louise Casey’s report into the Met police, including interviews with Casey and Mayor of London Sadiq Khan BBC News at Six looks at the Casey report and its broader implications … Channel 4 News (7 p.m.) focuses on Casey’s review including an interview with her.

Ben Kentish at Drive (LBC, until 6 p.m.): Deputy Mayor of London for policing and crime Sophie Linden (4.17 p.m.) … National Education Union Deputy General Secretary Niamh Sweeney (4.35 p.m.) … Independent Police Scrutiny and Oversight Board Chair Abimbola Johnson and Independent Strategic Review of Policing in England and Wales Chair Michael Barber (both 5.05 p.m.).

BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): Chairman of Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council Jonathan Marland … Crossbench peer Nuala O’Loan.

News Hour (Sky News, 5 p.m.): Former Home Secretary David Blunkett (5.05 p.m.) … Former Tory MP Dominic Grieve (6.30 p.m.).

Drive with John Pienaar (Times Radio, 5 p.m.): Women and equalities committee Chair Caroline Nokes (5.05 p.m.) … The FT’s Jim Pickard and the New Statesman’s Rachel Cunliffe (both after 7 p.m.).

The News Agents (Podcast, drops at 5 p.m.): Met police reviewer Louise Casey.

Tonight With Andrew Marr (LBC, 6 p.m.): Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar …  Shadow domestic violence and safeguarding minister Jess Phillips … Former Director of Public Prosecutions Ken Macdonald.

Farage (GB News, 7 p.m.): Tory peer Stephen Greenhalgh … Former U.S. National Security Advisor John Bolton.

Jeremy Kyle Live (TalkTV, 7 p.m.): Independent Commission on U.K.-EU Relations director Mike Buckley.

Aasmah Mir (Times Radio, 8 p.m.): SNP leadership debate with the three candidates (until 10 p.m.).

Cross Question with Iain Dale (LBC 8 p.m.): Economic Secretary to the Treasury Andrew Griffith …  Aslef General Secretary Mick Whelan … The Daily Telegraph’s Camilla Turner … Plaid Cymru’s Westminster leader Liz Saville Roberts.

Newsnight (BBC 2, 10.30 p.m.): Met police reviewer Louise Casey … Lib Dem peer Brian Paddick … National Black Police Association President Andy George.

REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: Talk TV (10 p.m.): The Evening Standard’s Emily Sheffield and Tory MP Bim AfolamiTimes Radio (10.30 p.m.): Political journalist Julia Langdon and the Spectator’s Freddy GraySky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Observer’s Sonia Sodha and Total Politics Group’s Mark Wallace.


NOWRUZ UP: Labour frontbencher Yvette Cooper and foreign affairs committee chair Alicia Kearns are co-hosting an event at Speaker’s House tonight to celebrate Nowruz — a.k.a. Persian New Year.

SHOTS FOR SCIENCE: Science and Tech Secretary Michelle Donelan is hosting a drinks bash for journalists to launch her new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. It had been due to take place in the 61-story Salesforce Tower in the City but will now be held in Westminster.

GOODSPEED YOU! BLACK EMPEROR: The ASI has an event about the U.S. tax cuts and jobs act with a former economic adviser to the White House Tyler Goodspeed. It kicks off at Church House at 6.30 p.m.


FISCAL COMEDOWN: The latest inflation figures from the Office for National Statistics will be out at 7 a.m.

IN THE COMMONS: Northern Ireland questions from 11.30 a.m. then PMQs from noon.

GETTING BREXIT DONE: The Commons will debate the Stormont Brake element of the new Brexit deal for 90 minutes, then vote. From around 1 p.m. barring urgent questions or oral statements.

GET THE MICROWAVE WARMED UP: Boris Johnson faces that grilling from the privileges committee about whether he lied to parliament. From 2 p.m. for up to four hours.

BUDGET FALLOUT: OBR chair Richard Hughes appears at the Treasury committee from 2.15 p.m.

FORCE FOR EVIL: Met Police reviewer Louise Casey will up at the home affairs committee from 2.45 p.m.

IN THE NAME OF GOVE: Communities Secretary Michael Gove is chatting about constitutional affairs with the public administration and constitutional affairs committee from 3 p.m.

INSERT YOUR OWN METAPHOR: Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves will take part in a chess tournament in Speaker’s House tomorrow afternoon.


PACKED LUNCH OR PARL LUNCH: Subject to change, here are the lunch menus on the estate tomorrow: Bellamy’s: Baked oregano trout with roasted butternut squash, pumpkin seeds and green beans; roasted carrot, celeriac and lentil pie; stir fried red Thai beef with steamed rice and toasted peanuts … The Debate: Grilled beef burger with streaky bacon and cheese slaw; grilled lemongrass and ginger hake with glass noodles and peanut mint tea dressing; peri peri tempeh with chunky peppers, zucchini and sweet potatoes … Terrace Cafeteria: Pork and black pudding in a bun; vegan mozzarella, zucchini and lentil cake; lamb and potato madras with basmati rice and trimmings … River Restaurant: Tomato, spring vegetable and ricotta pie served with potatoes and vegetable gravy; grilled tuna with pak choi, rice noodles and prawn crackers; gammon with roasted potatoes, vegetables and gravy.

NOW HIRING: The House Mag is looking for a political editor.

SPOTTED: Celeb barrister Amal Clooney having lunch with Attorney General Victoria Prentis in the Strangers dining room of the Palace of Westminster.

WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: The Marina Hyde take in the Guardian about the Boris Johnson committee appearance tomorrow is, of course, lots of fun.

THANKS TO: My editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster, Playbook reporter Noah Keate and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.

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