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By ALEX WICKHAM
WHILE YOU WERE SLEEPING: U.S. media reported U.S. President-elect Joe Biden is to nominate Tony Blinken as his secretary of state. Blinken, who was deputy to the role in the Obama administration, has previously called Brexit a “total mess” and compared it to Marine Le Pen’s rise in France, the Times’ Henry Zeffman reports. He also sent this punchy tweet during the whole international-law-breaking row in September. Here are some happier pics of Blinken meeting the U.K.’s former foreign secretary back in 2016. And here’s POLITICO’s David Herszenhorn last month on the two Tonys you should know from Biden’s inner circle.
Good Monday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
SO TIER IT IS: Boris Johnson will today outline a new regional tier system of coronavirus restrictions to come into effect after England leaves lockdown on December 2. As Playbook revealed last Tuesday, the new tiers will be tougher than the old ones the country had before lockdown, with ministers then hoping to introduce a temporary easing of restrictions for a short period over Christmas. The other big announcement of the day is that by January the government wants to end the 14-day self-isolation requirement for people who’ve been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the coronavirus. It’s another very busy day (and week) in Westminster. Playbook takes you through how it will all play out …
WHEN THE PM WILL SPEAK: Johnson will make a statement to the Commons at 3.30 p.m. to announce the post-lockdown rules for England (virtually, as he is still self-isolating). There is currently not expected to be a vote in parliament on the measures until next week. Playbook hears the PM is then likely to make a televised address to the nation this evening, as he has done at other key moments of the pandemic.
WHAT HE WILL SAY: A No. 10 official tells Playbook we’ll get the “framework” of the new system from the PM, meaning he’ll explain what you will and won’t be allowed to do in each tier after December 2 — and why ministers feel England doesn’t need to remain in full lockdown, but still has to face strict regional measures. “The selflessness of people in following the rules is making a difference,” Johnson will say. “The virus is not spreading nearly as quickly as it would if we were not washing our hands, maintaining social distance, wearing masks and so on. And in England, where nationwide measures came into effect at the start of this month, the increase in new cases is flattening off.”
WHAT HE WON’T SAY: We won’t yet be told which areas of England are going into which tiers — that’ll come on Thursday, after ministers have received the latest COVID case data from government scientists. We also won’t be given the full details of the plan for Christmas today, i.e. how many households will be allowed to mix and for how long. A government official says this is because, while they hope to be able to announce a four-nation approach following a meeting between Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the devolved leaders on Sunday, the devolved leaders need some extra time to rubber-stamp the proposals. Playbook is told we could get the full Christmas announcement on Tuesday.
GOOD NEWS 1: Playbook will start with the positives, signed off at a meeting of the Cabinet last night. Gyms will be able to reopen in England in every tier, a government official confirms, after they successfully demonstrated they had made efforts to ensure they would operate in a “COVID-secure” way. 🏋️🏋️♀️🥊💪
GOOD NEWS 2: All non-essential retail will be able to reopen in every tier, the official says, as ministers try to keep shops afloat in the crucial weeks running up to Christmas. 🛍🎁👠👜
GOOD NEWS 3: The 10 p.m. hospitality curfew is expected to be pushed back to 11 p.m., as per Anna Mikhailova’s Mail on Sunday scoop. The Telegraph’s Harry Yorke says last orders will still be at 10 p.m. — but at least that means we’re less likely to see a repeat of everyone leaving the pub at the same time which was, er, not very COVID-secure. 🍺🍷🕙🕚
GOOD NEWS 4: Outdoor sport will be allowed in all tiers, the Times‘ Francis Elliott reports, as he puts it: “In a victory for exercise enthusiasts.” ⚽️🎾🏌️🏉
GOOD NEWS 5: Religious services will be able to take place in all tiers, Yorke reports, though Christmas carols are on hold for now, with a decision “in the coming days.” ⛪️🕌🕍
GOOD NEWS 6: The quarantine period for people returning to the U.K. from abroad is set to be slashed from 14 days to five, as the Mail’s Jason Groves revealed on Saturday. The Telegraph’s Charles Hymas says Transport Secretary Grant Shapps will confirm the new policy today, allowing British families to travel to high-risk “red list” countries to visit relatives from December 15 or 16. Once they’re home, they’ll be freed from quarantine on day five so long as they have a negative test result. ✈️☀️👙🏖
BAD NEWS 1: Unfortunately that’s about it. Aside from the above, the tiers will be toughened up compared with what was in place before lockdown — particularly for the hospitality sector. And as Harry Cole reports in the Sun and Groves says in the Mail, most areas in England will be placed into Tiers 2 or 3, meaning no indoor socializing with other households (apart from at Christmas). Groves says this could last “potentially until the spring.” The government’s SAGE advisory body is expected to publish papers today saying the previous tiers were not strong enough, the Times‘ Eleni Courea and Rhys Blakely report.
BAD NEWS 2: Cole and Yorke both hear that, curfew relaxation aside, the tiers have been significantly hardened for pubs and restaurants. “Tier 2 is more in line with previous Tier 3,” Cole explains, with pubs in Tier 2 only allowed to serve booze alongside a “substantial meal” — and punters only able to dine indoors with members of their own household. Cole says pubs in Tier 3 will be click-and-collect only, Yorke says restaurants in Tier 3 can only do takeaways — a major toughening of the top tier. Industry insiders tell the Sun the rules are a death knell for many pubs.
BAD NEWS 3: Yorke says cinemas will be closed in Tier 3, and Cole reckons hairdressers and beauty salons could also be shut. Note: This isn’t yet confirmed so we’ll have to wait for the PM’s statement to get the full details.
WHAT ABOUT CHRISTMAS? At Gove’s meeting with the first ministers yesterday, they agreed “a shared objective of facilitating some limited additional household bubbling for a small number of days,” the Cabinet Office said yesterday in the first official confirmation of a plan to lift the rules at Christmas. A government official tells Playbook the number of households allowed to mix is likely to be three — so your own household plus two others.
BUT WHEN? ITV’s Robert Peston looks to have got hold of the dates. He reckons “it is looking highly probable that all four U.K. governments’ special Christmas exemption from coronavirus restrictions will allow us to socialise with people from two households in addition to our own household over five days beginning on 23rd of December and ending on 27th December.”
CHRISTMAS PUB LUNCH? Cole suggests: “There are also hopes that these ‘festive bubbles’ will be able to go out for Christmas meals together — as long as they do not mingle with other households.” One to watch when the PM announces the Christmas rules, likely tomorrow.
TESTING ANNOUNCEMENT 1: Johnson will also be making two fairly major testing announcements today. The first is that the government wants to scrap the current rule that people who’ve been in contact with someone with COVID must isolate for 14 days (as Johnson is doing right now). The new plan is that contacts of someone who tests positive will be offered coronavirus tests every day for a week, and they will not need to isolate unless they test positive. It’ll be a while before this policy will come in, though — it’s being trialled in Liverpool next week, if that goes well then it’ll be extended to the NHS and care homes in December, and then rolled out to everyone in January. The Tel’s Laura Donnelly has a write-up.
TESTING ANNOUNCEMENT 2: Johnson will also pledge local leaders in Tier 3 areas will be able to access mass community testing to give them “a direct route out of the toughest restrictions.” Local authorities in the top tier “will be able to draw on the support of NHS Test and Trace and the Armed Forces” to roll out mass testing, based on a successful 30-minute rapid lateral flow tests trial in Liverpool. Peston says the idea is that “any local authority that is put into Tier 3 can ask the government for the kit and resources to test every single person in the area, to identify all of those who have the virus, including those with no symptoms, so that these asymptomatic people can be quarantined to drive down the spread of the virus.” Fair to say that if that works, it really could be the game-changer Moonshot Matt promised. Emphasis on the “if.”
THE BACKLASH: Steve Baker, deputy chair of the COVID Recovery Group of lockdown-skeptic Tory MPs, is doing a broadcast round this morning insisting the government publish a cost-benefit analysis of its new tiered strategy. Former Minister Nus Ghani writes in the Telegraph (not online): “I won’t be able to support any restrictions — tiered or otherwise — imposed on my constituents unless the government shows us there is a fresh strategy for dealing with the virus.” And former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith says in the Mail that the new system is “lockdown in all but name” and a “bitter blow for business.” These MPs claim they have around 70 Tory rebels ready to vote against the new restrictions next week — Playbook would stress the “claim” — but they should still pass the Commons with Labour votes.
WHAT COULD GO WRONG? Labour meanwhile is calling on the government to appoint a dedicated “minister for the vaccine” to oversee its rollout, with Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth arguing it would “provide accountability and avoid repeating mistakes made over PPE procurement and Test and Trace.” Ashworth is doing the morning broadcast round for Labour.
YESTERDAY’S UK STATS: 18,662 new cases, ⬇️ 1,213 on Saturday and ⬇️ 6,300 on the previous Sunday … 398 deaths, ⬆️ 57 on Saturday and ⬆️ 230 on the previous Sunday.
Latest R number estimate: 1 to 1.1.
**A message from Barclays: To support the people and communities most impacted by COVID-19, we are donating £100 million to charities tackling food poverty, loneliness and a range of other urgent issues, across the U.K. and elsewhere. Find out how the charities are having an impact at #BackingtheUK**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
RISHI’S LAST HURRAH: The other big news of the week is Chancellor Rishi Sunak’s spending review on Wednesday, which the Treasury said in an overnight press release would deliver on spending commitments to build schools, hospitals and prisons, as well as providing funding next year to keep promises on police numbers and 50,000 new nurses. The FT’s Chris Giles and George Parker call this the “last hurrah” before looming tax rises. Giles also has a handy primer ahead of the chancellor’s statement on Wednesday.
DEVO DISASTER LATEST: Sky’s Sam Coates has spoken to Tory council leaders who are warning they’re being ignored ahead of the spending review. Hampshire Council leader Keith Mans tells Coates he wished his party had been more concerned with local government, and Leicester Council leader Nicholas Rushton says the government is in danger of breaking its promises: “When we first started off with the coronavirus — the government said whatever it takes, and I took that to mean that whatever we spent would be covered by grant. They have been relatively generous but they’ve possibly only funded 50% of our increased costs. The problems are entirely about money. We need money to carry on what we’re doing.” This could quickly become a theme after Wednesday.
FOREIGN AID TUMBLEWEED: The One Nation Caucus of centrist Tory MPs released a statement last night calling on Sunak to maintain the U.K.’s 0.7 percent spending target on international aid, though it isn’t clear how many MPs are putting their names to it. The relative lack of disquiet among the Tory parliamentary party over the threat to the manifesto commitment on aid has been striking over the past week.
WHAT PUBLIC SECTOR PAY FREEZE? The Treasury will hand over £29 million for the Festival of Brexit in the spending review, the Sun’s Harry Cole reports.
WHAT LABOUR IS SAYING: Shadow Chancellor Anneliese Dodds is giving a speech at Reuters at 2 p.m. where she will claim Sunak’s “irresponsible choices and unacceptable delays” set the country back, and criticize the public sector pay freeze.
LABOUR EXODUS: “Labour has lost members at a rate of nearly 250 a day since Sir Keir Starmer was elected last spring, with supporters of Jeremy Corbyn leading an exodus from the party,” the Times reports.
REMEMBER BREXIT? “Boris Johnson is preparing to make a significant intervention in the Brexit trade talks this week as negotiators begin the ‘final push’ before a deadline in eight days’ time,” the Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner reckons, with a call to European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on the cards. The negotiators are working virtually today in what could be the final week of talks. An EU diplomat tells the FT there will be a “breakthrough or breakdown” by the weekend. No white smoke yet.
FISH CLIMBDOWN COMING? The Sun’s Nick Gutteridge reports there could be “a fishing fudge that could see the EU and UK Brexit trade deal reviewed in 10 years time.” Gutteridge says “Britain offered up a ‘review clause’ on any fishing agreement after three to five years — but Brussels wants it in 10 to 15 years. And crucially they are demanding the appraisal must be of the whole trade deal, not just fishing — opening the door to a decade more of negotiations.”
MERRY BREXMAS! My Brussels Playbook colleague Florian Eder reports in an essential column this morning that the European Parliament is preparing to run a special voting session between Christmas and New Year’s Eve in order to sign off on any potential trade deal with the U.K., with December 28 looking most likely. “MEPs will be ready to vote on a potential agreement with the U.K. ‘at any time,’ an official told Playbook,” Florian writes. He continues: “There’s a broadly shared view among Parliament’s political leadership, according to officials from several groups, that it won’t be a parliamentary recess that pushes the U.K. and EU into the abyss of no deal.”
BULLYING LATEST: Sounds like we haven’t heard the last of Home Secretary Priti Patel’s bullying row — the Times‘ Eleni Courea has a readout from yesterday’s Cabinet meeting in which the PM apparently warned ministers he would not accept bullying and “referred to Clementine Churchill, who in 1940 wrote to her husband after one of his friends had complained of his ‘rough, sarcastic and overbearing manner.’” That should do it.
WHITEHALL WASTE: The Mail splashes on an investigation claiming “£5.6 billion in public cash has been frittered away on luxuries, feathering Whitehall mandarins’ nests and a wide range of jaw-dropping projects.”
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Education questions at 2.30 p.m. … Then the PM speaks at 3.30 p.m.
STILL SPECIAL AFTER ALL: Leading Democrats have said the U.K. government can expect a close and constructive relationship with the Biden administration, speaking at an event hosted the U.S. public strategy firm, Mercury. Barbara Boxer, incoming Vice President Kamala Harris’ predecessor in the Senate, and Toby Moffett, a former congressman and adviser to Biden’s transition team, predicted the U.S. would “surprise the world” on climate change, going further than the Paris Agreement, maintain a skeptical and “transactional” relationship with China and seek to revive the Iranian nuclear deal. The event was chaired by Mercury’s Nick Timothy, former Downing Street chief of staff.
DELAYED: Boris Johnson will plow ahead with the U.K.’s new blue-skies research agency, but it will no longer launch this year, reports POLITICO’s Cristina Gallardo.
VERY SPECIFIC AND LIMITED EVENT: Make sure to tune in this morning to watch Johnson speaking at a Policy Exchange event to mark Australian PM Scott Morrison — who’s being presented with the inaugural Grotius Prize “in recognition of his work in support of the international rules based order.” The prize itself is named after Hugo Grotius, a philosopher credited with being one of the first to explore the concept of international law. It’ll be streamed from 9 a.m. here.
Committee corridor: Brexit action to kick off today’s afternoon of scrutiny, with the Commons public accounts committee looking at the U.K. border’s readiness for new trading arrangements — whatever they end up being — in five weeks’ time. Features senior officials from HMRC, Defra and the Cabinet Office (2.30 p.m.) … The Commons Treasury committee has a scene-setting session with Bank of England Governor Andrew Bailey and Chief Economist Andy Haldane, ahead of the chancellor’s spending review on Wednesday. The witnesses will cover the BoE’s latest monetary policy report (3.30 p.m.) … and the Commons HCLG committee will look at the government’s planning system reforms with industry experts (4 p.m.).
In the Lords: The Other Place opens from 1 p.m. with questions on the future of high street travel agents, the protection of abused migrant women and whether misogyny should be a hate crime, among others … Then the government will face an urgent question on what progress has been made in settling claims under the Windrush Compensation Scheme from Lib Dem peer Navnit Dholakia … and then peers will continue scrutiny of the Internal Market Bill at report stage. Likely to be another long one with possible votes.
BEYOND THE M25
EUROPEAN CHRISTMAS: It’s a big week for Christmas. Ahead of the legal end dates of lockdowns and harsh restrictions across the Continent with a decision on Christmas needed soon, European leaders are also facing a crunch week as they seek to balance public health and festive cheer. Playbook has a rundown of where some of our neighbors are …
Republic of Ireland: The government’s three coalition party leaders are due to meet today to continue talks over the shape of Ireland’s next steps ahead of the current restrictions ending December 1. Taoiseach Micheál Martin said Friday he was keen to exit lockdown, while a government source told the Irish Mirror on Saturday there could be two weeks of relaxed measures in the run-up to Christmas and to the New Year. Throwing cold water on that suggestion yesterday was Green Party Cabinet Minister Pippa Hackett, who told RTÉ such a “free-for-all” approach would lead to a new lockdown, plus the country’s public health chiefs who have expressed concern over current infection rates. Expect clarity at some stage this week.
France: President Emmanuel Macron will announce a three-step plan in a Tuesday night address that will include some light easing of the current lockdown restrictions ahead of Christmas, with non-essential retail likely to reopen at least. Nothing else is certain yet. While PM Jean Castex said earlier in November he expects smaller groups to be able to celebrate Christmas together, a government spokesperson talked down any notion of an end to lockdown in an interview with Le Journal du Dimanche yesterday. Back in late October as he put France back into lockdown, Macron told the nation he hoped they would be able to celebrate Christmas and New Year together — but that the virus would need to be under control for that to be possible. It’s still unclear if that will be possible.
Germany: Chancellor Angela Merkel will meet with Germany’s 16 state leaders on Wednesday to decide the fate of the nation’s “lockdown lite” — where shops are still open and gatherings between two households are still allowed. A draft proposal obtained by Reuters indicates the current restrictions are to be extended to at least December 20, which spells bad news for Germany’s Christmas markets. Senior government figures were also seen across local media calling for such an extension yesterday — DW has a write-up.
Spain: Health Minister Salvador Illa will meet again with regional health experts on Wednesday to discuss plans for restrictions over the Christmas period. Some regions of Spain have already eased their lockdown restrictions, with bars and restaurants reopening today in Catalonia, but the nation remains in a state of emergency and overnight curfews are still in force. In the end, it will be up to Spain’s autonomous regions to decide what Christmas in its boundaries will look like. Illa himself has made it clear that caution will be required as infection rates remain stubbornly high — more from Murcia Today.
Italy: A decree — potentially allowing shops to reopen and highly limited family gatherings for Christmas dinner — is being prepared for the festive season, due before December 3 when the current restrictions end. In his most recent public remarks, PM Giuseppe Conte warned Italians hugs and kisses were off the table at Christmas, but low-key festivities will still be possible. Health Minister Sandra Zampa detailed the government’s plan a little more on Saturday, telling Italian TV “we must be as few as possible.” Thankfully, Conte has already confirmed that a face mask-wearing Santa will still be able to deliver gifts.
NOW READ THIS: Since the summer, Russia has conducted a global disinformation campaign aimed at both undermining vaccines produced in the West and promoting its own rival, POLITICO’s Mark Scott reports.
**A message from Barclays: As part of our ongoing support for people and communities most impacted by COVID-19, we are making 100 donations of £100,000 to U.K. charities who are helping to meet the immediate needs of individuals during the pandemic. Find out how the charities are having an impact at #BackingtheUK**
Coronavirus Research Group Deputy Chairman Steve Baker broadcast round: Today program (7.09 a.m.) … LBC (7.20 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.20 a.m.).
Health Secretary Matt Hancock broadcast round: Times Radio (6.50 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): TUC head of public services Kevin Rowan (7.05 a.m.) … London Chamber of Commerce and Industry boss Richard Burge (9.05 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast show: Mike Tildesley, a member of the committee which advises the government on disease modeling (7.05 a.m.) … Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth (8.15 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Shadow Health Secretary Jon Ashworth (7.10 a.m.) … TUC Head of public services Kevin Rowan (7.23 a.m.) … UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls (7.45 a.m.) … Former NHS Trust Chairman Roy Lilley (9.05 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): SAGE member and former Chief Scientific Adviser Mark Walport … Tory MP Steve Brine … Green Party MP Caroline Lucas … Former government SpAd Lynn Davidson.
Iain Dale in the Evening (LBC): Former Defense Secretary Michael Fallon and former Times Defense Editor Lucy Fisher (9 p.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.40 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Former newspaper editor Eve Pollard and the Yorkshire Post’s Geri Scott … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): ConservativeHome chief exec Mark Wallace and columnist at the Irish News Allison Morris … Times Radio (10.30 p.m.): Former Culture Secretary Ed Vaizey and former Lib Dem MP Luciana Berger.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: It’s official — Christmas is saved!
Daily Mail: Waste that’ll make you weep.
Daily Mirror: Xmas gets go ahead.
Daily Star: Corrie Bev’s indecent proposal.
Financial Times: Sunak funds schools and police in last hurrah before taxes rise.
HuffPost UK: Yule be together.
i: Families can meet up for Christmas.
Metro: Bubbles with the baubles.
POLITICO UK: U.K.’s flagship new science funder delayed.
The Daily Telegraph: Isolation scrapped for contacts of COVID cases.
The Guardian: PM promises mass testing to head off Tory revolt.
The Independent: One million operations delayed by staff shortages.
The Sun: I’ve had therapy to save my marriage — Jacqueline Jossa exclusive.
The Times: PM to ease lockdown with Christmas shopping spree.
Westminster weather: ☁️☁️☁️ Still day with light cloud and a gentle breeze. Highs of 12C.
MPs’ weekends: Shadow Foreign Minister Stephen Doughty explored some Welsh waterfalls … Brent MP Dawn Butler and West Yorkshire MP Stuart Andrew made very rich-looking Jamaican hot chocolate tea and chocolate cake respectively … Norfolk MP James Wild got into the Christmas spirit (it is too early btw) … and Gillingham MP Rehman Chishti and DWP Minister Will Quince both ran 10ks — Chishti with the faster time by five minutes.
Birthdays: Labour Whip Colleen Fletcher … Edinburgh North and Leith MP Deidre Brock … Tory peer and Work and Pensions Minister Deborah Stedman-Scott … POLITICO’s Virginie Dandoy … Former Desert Island Discs presenter Kirsty Young … U.K. Interim Ambassador to Chile Ian Duddy … and the i’s Policy Editor Jane Merrick.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, research assistant Andrew McDonald and producer Miriam Webber.
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