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By EMILIO CASALICCHIO
Good Friday morning. This is Emilio Casalicchio.
DRIVING THE DAY
STICKING WITH PRIT: Boris Johnson is under intense pressure this morning as he prepares to respond to the long-awaited probe into whether Home Secretary Priti Patel bullied Whitehall officials. The PM is expected to give his verdict on the draft findings of the investigation that has been sitting on his desk for months, after numerous trails of its contents appeared in the media last night. The consensus is that the report will find Patel broke the ministerial code in her treatment of civil servants, but her behavior was “unintentional.” The apparent lack of intent means the PM will defend her, according to numerous write-ups and sources Playbook spoke to last night, although she could be ordered to apologize. The report is also expected to take aim at the civil service.
Reminder: The report was commissioned after former Home Office Permanent Secretary Philip Rutnam dramatically resigned and launched a constructive dismissal claim in February, saying he had been sucked into a briefing war after reporting allegations about Patel’s conduct toward staff. Patel denies all the allegations. The conclusions in the draft report, which covers Patel’s time at three government departments, are written by Alex Allan, independent adviser to the PM on ministerial standards. But the final arbiter on the matter is Johnson himself. Cripes!
How we got here: Deep breath … February 20: Patel accused in the Times of “bullying, belittling officials in meetings, making unreasonable demands and creating an atmosphere of fear” … February 24: Home Office issues joint statement from Rutnam and Patel saying they are “deeply concerned” about the allegations … February 29: Rutnam resigns, blames “vicious and orchestrated briefing campaign” … March 2: Cabinet Office inquiry commissioned … March 5: Boris Johnson vows to “stick with Prit” … April 20: Rutnam lodges employment tribunal claim … April 29: Media reports indicate probe cleared Patel … June 15: FT reveals the report is finished and being held back by No. 10 … June-November: A long wait ensues … Last night: Here we go! The FT‘s Seb Payne was first with the scoop.
What was the hold up? My POLITICO colleague Anna Isaac wrote in an email last night that the PM put off reading the full report to avoid having to come to a conclusion and enforce the ministerial code, according to officials. In the Daily Mail (not online), Deputy Political Editor John Stevens writes up another theory: That outgoing top aide Dominic Cummings wanted to dangle it over Patel’s head. “Dom did not want it to go out to keep her in check,” a source told him. “With Dom it is always about controlling people.” Conservative MP Dehenna Davison told Newsnight the hold-up was instead due to the government being “preoccupied” with the coronavirus.
CASE FOR THE DEFENSE: Patel allies were out in force last night to spin the report in her favor. One who spoke to Playbook had, by a stroke of luck, had sight only of the bits criticizing the civil service. The person said it calls on Whitehall to “reflect on its role” and argues the Home Office was “not as flexible as it could have been” in responding to directions from Patel. The report is also expected to note she had “legitimately not always felt supported by the department,” while “no feedback was given to the home secretary of the impact of her behavior,” leaving her unaware of the issues. It is said to add that she was left “justifiably, in many instances, frustrated by the Home Office leadership’s lack of responsiveness.”
The source said: “Based on the findings of this report it should be the civil service apologizing to the home secretary, not the other way around.”
Meanwhile, on Twitter: Conservative MPs flooded Playbook’s timeline with dutiful tweets backing Patel. Foreign affairs committee Chair Tom Tugendhat said she was “hard working, determined and has been very kind to many.” Liaison committee Chair Bernard Jenkin added: “Priti may have lessons to learn, but so have some far better educated officials who shd know better … [Senior civil service] was astonished a Perm Sec should run away, since coping with a demanding minister should be their meat-and-drink.” One senior government figure took a similar tack, texting that the Home Office row amounted to “some old men not liking being told by a female Asian what to do.”
And there’s more: Foreign Minister James Cleverly told BBC Question Time last night that Patel “has always expected and demanded people work hard and I think that is a completely legitimate attitude to take into government.”
CASE FOR THE PROSECUTION: “Frustration around performance of individuals is very different to bullying,” Dave Penman, general secretary of the FDA union for senior civil servants told Newsnight last night. He added: “It seems that the prime minister has decided that despite what it says in the ministerial code, bullying is OK as long as it’s in a limited and specific way.” Penman also lashed out at Johnson for backing Patel when the probe began, arguing he had “undermined confidence in this being a fair and impartial process.”
Ex-mandarin in: “Bullying at work is never justified: it can cause huge misery for those affected and their families,” former Treasury Permanent Secretary Nick Macpherson wrote on Twitter last night. “In my experience, things have to be very bad indeed for a Cabinet Office enquiry [sic] to find fault in a minister — the system is rigged to conclude the contrary.”
From the opposition: Labour was horrified at the suggestion Boris Johnson will back Patel. “His actions are all but condoning bullying in the workplace,” said Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds. “In any other area of life this would not be acceptable. Yet again, it seems to be one rule for them and another for everyone else.” He demanded the report be published in full (it won’t be) and has written to the Independent Committee on Standards in Public Life urging it to investigate the matter and allegations the PM interfered with the probe.
What next? There appears to be no minister lined up to suffer the morning broadcast round, so the next thing to look out for could be Johnson issuing some kind of statement making a decision on the case and backing Patel. There is no suggestion she will be sacked (as she was the first time she broke the ministerial code). Downing Street refused to respond to questions about the report last night.
Kicker to the whole saga: It’s anti-bullying week.
**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**
NO TO CORBO: The Labour war over anti-Semitism remains as fierce as ever this morning after former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was told he will remain without the whip for three months, pending an investigation into his comments about the EHRC report. Chief Whip Nick Brown wrote to the Islington North MP telling him the decision will be kept under review while the party probes whether he breached the PLP code, and his conduct in the meantime will be taken into account. Jess Elgot in the Guardian has a full write-up.
Pen pals: At the same time, 14 left-wing members of Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee wrote to General Secretary David Evans calling for the whip to be restored to Corbyn and taking direct aim at Keir Starmer. “The decision of the leader … to withhold the whip from Jeremy Corbyn MP is an act of deliberate political interference in the handling of a complaint,” the letter reads. Sienna Rodgers at Labour list has the details.
More pen pals: Meanwhile, Corbyn had his solicitors write to Labour to prepare the ground for legal action. The BBC’s Iain Watson has a write-up. And local Labour parties are voting on motions on the Corbyn row, which they were specifically told not to do. If this all sounds completely insane, well … it is. Starmer had hoped to close a lid on the anti-Semitism crisis but it continues to engulf the Labour narrative.
Going nuclear: Corbyn ally and former party Chair Ian Lavery mooted the possibility of a leadership challenge against Starmer in an interview with HuffPost. Political Editor of the site Paul Waugh wrote in his late-night memo that the issue has become one of trust, after Corbyn thought he had made a deal with Starmer about his reinstatement. “Even though there are still efforts on both sides to find some way out, I understand the former leader is reluctant to take any assurances at face value: if he agreed a new statement, there is real doubt Starmer could guarantee it would lead to a return to the PLP,” Waugh wrote.
JUST WHAT WE NEED: Former deputy leader Tom Watson weighed in on the BBC Newscast podcast last night. He said Corbyn should have been “more contrite and accept that whilst he might not have agreed with the scale of the issue, anti-Semitism entered our ranks under his and our leadership and therefore he was in some way responsible for dealing with it.” Watson added: “It would just be a lot easier if there could be more contrition, rather than lawyers’ letters flying around.”
MEANWHILE, IN BREXIT
VIRTUALLY BREXIT: Brexit talks will take place online from this morning after a member of the EU negotiating team tested positive for the coronavirus, sending Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier back into self-isolation. “With respect to the relevant public health guidance, the U.K. and EU teams have agreed to continue to negotiate remotely for the time being,” a U.K. spokesperson said last night. “The talks will resume in person when it is judged safe to do so.” The U.K. decided there was no need for anyone on its side to isolate under Belgian rules. POLITICO’s got the write-up.
Distance learning: It comes at an awkward moment in the process, with expectations a deal could be done in the next week or two. Mujtaba Rahman, the managing director of the Eurasia group who is well across the Brexit process, pointed out on Twitter that progress will in all likelihood be tougher from a distance.
Change of plan: Barnier was this morning set to brief ambassadors about the status of negotiations, but one of his deputies, Ilze Juhansone, will fill in instead. That could mean the usual state-of-play leaks are less forthcoming.
SUMMIT HAPPENED: The chance that negotiations with the U.K. will fail to clinch a Brexit deal was just one of the disaster planning topics at the virtual European Council summit that wrapped up last night. My POLITICO colleague David Herszenhorn has a full account. In terms of specifics, Belgium, France and the Netherlands asked the European Commission to step up its contingency planning for a no-deal Brexit. POLITICO’s Barbara Moens and Hans von der Burchard have more on that one.
**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**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PRESSING ENGAGEMENT: The second Downing Street press conference of the week is scheduled for this evening. Rumor had it that Health Secretary Matt Hancock was down to discuss vaccines but the plan appears to be up in the air with Downing Street and much of government going to ground last night after the Patel leaks emerged.
Thing is: It might be better to put Chancellor Rishi Sunak up for questioning after numerous papers landed stories that he will announce public sector pay restraint at the spending review next week to claw back some of the coronavirus spending. Mail Political Editor Jason Groves writes in his splash that Sunak will unveil a cap on wage increases set at or below inflation, but NHS doctors and nurses will be exempt. Times Deputy Political Editor Steven Swinford notes that the plan was revealed in a letter to Cabinet ministers and is set to last one year. Don’t forget: The public sector pay freeze of the austerity era only ended in 2018.
Perfect timing: Freezing public sector wages for three years would save £23 billion and rebalance the pain of the pandemic, which has fallen largely on private sector workers, the Centre for Policy Studies argues in a new report out this morning. The Unite union said the suggestion was an “insult.”
More perfect timing: New numbers on the deficit for October were released here in the last few minutes.
While we’re on the economy: Labour is warning businesses face a cash crisis in the run up to Christmas due to rising costs, loan payments and furlough contributions. Retail, hospitality, leisure and cultural organizations have seen a £61 billion hit to their takings so far this year compared to 2019, its analysis suggests. The Treasury accused the opposition of conflating different support schemes grants in its sums.
CORONA CHRISTMAS: Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is worried that a plan to suspend restrictions for a few days over Christmas might not work for Scots who are more enthusiastic about Hogmanay, according to the Sun. “She said she wanted to talk to her chief medical officer about what to do before agreeing to the Christmas plan,” a Whitehall source told Political Editor Harry Cole.
‘World beating’ latest: Rowland Manthorpe at Sky News got the leak setting out the Christmas “reset” plan for the struggling test and trace system. Full story here. The BBC meanwhile has a long-read on what went wrong with the regime.
THE ROUTE OUT: “Dozens of mass vaccination centers will be set up across the country and tens of thousands of healthcare staff recruited to immunize people against coronavirus as soon as vaccines are available,” the Telegraph’s Science Editor Sarah Knapton reports. The Sun reckons the NHS could vaccinate up to 1 million Brits each day.
On that note: The over 50s will get a free flu vaccine from the start of December, under plans announced by the department of health overnight.
Yesterday’s UK stats: 22,915 new cases, ⬆️ 3,306 on Wednesday and ⬇️ 10,555 on the previous Thursday … 501 deaths, ⬇️ 28 on Wednesday and ⬇️ 62 on the previous Thursday. The ONS infection survey will be out at midday (here) and look out for R rates (here) and new SAGE papers (here).
OUCH: Former U.S. President Barack Obama described former PM David Cameron as having “the easy confidence of someone who’d never been pressed too hard by life,” in his new memoir, “A Promised Land.” Obama writes: “In his early forties, with a youthful appearance and a studied informality (at every international summit, the first thing he’d do was take off his jacket and loosen his tie), the Eton-educated Cameron possessed an impressive command of the issues, a facility with language, and the easy confidence of someone who’d never been pressed too hard by life.” The Express has the excerpt.
**Join us at POLITICO’s virtual event “European research and innovation beyond 2020″ on December 1 and hear from experts such as Jean-Eric Paquet, director general for research and innovation at the European Commission, about what’s on the horizon for Europe’s research and innovation policy. Register here.**
BEYOND THE M25
DONE DEAL: Northern Ireland will face two weeks of lockdown measures from next Friday, after the Stormont executive signed off a deal behind closed doors last night. All non-essential retail, hospitality and leisure facilities will close, with schools remaining open. Rather bizarrely, under the deal signed in chaotic circumstances last week, cafés and close contact services can reopen today — so long as they then shut again next week. The Belfast News Letter’s Sam McBride ran through the changes and political context on Twitter last night.
MORE GOOD VACCINE NEWS: Jeane Freeman, Scotland’s health secretary, has set a target of 1 million vaccinations in Scotland by the end of January, as she announced the NHS would be ready to vaccinate Scots from the start of December if safety approval is given. She told Holyrood the vaccination program will be “the largest of its kind ever undertaken,” with more than 2,000 staff due to be recruited. Full story here from the BBC, while Freeman will have more on Good Morning Scotland shortly.
ANOTHER PARTY CONFERENCE: Scottish Conservative Conference starts today with a series of mostly low-key events for members, as the main speeches are all tomorrow. It marks an important couple of days for leader Douglas Ross who, after spending his first months in charge making it clear to Scots he isn’t Boris Johnson, will seek to set out his case in more detail. Conference agenda below. Ross will also appear on Good Morning Scotland. And check out this Henry Mance FT long read on how Brexit has stoked the independence debate.
Timing: MSP Oliver Mundell — son of former Scotland Secretary David — resigned from the Tories’ Holyrood shadow Cabinet last night, after refusing to back the whip on measures restricting travel to England.
Today’s main conference event: An interview between Ross and the Courier’s Political Editor Paul Malik, live from Perth Concert Hall (3.30 p.m.).
FROM STOCKHOLM: POLITICO’s Charlie Duxbury has a great and nuanced piece on Sweden’s rising cases — well worth your time.
FROM THE US: Least surprising news of the night: Joe Biden won the ballot recount in Georgia. POLITICO has more.
Shadow Home Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (6.50 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.10 a.m.) … Sky News (7.35 a.m.) … Today program (7.50 a.m.) … ITV Good Morning Britain (8.15 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Welsh First Minister Mark Drakeford (7.10 a.m.) … Health Secretary Matt Hancock (8.10 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC Radio): Met Police Commissioner Cressida Dick (8 a.m.).
Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Commons foreign affairs committee Chairman Tom Tugendhat (8.25 a.m.) … Unaffiliated peer Claire Fox (8.33 a.m.) … UKHospitality CEO Kate Nicholls (8.45 a.m.) … Former Health Secretary Stephen Dorrell (9.06 a.m.) … Former Brexit Party MEP Ben Habib (9.40 a.m.).
Good Morning Scotland (BBC Radio Scotland): Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross … Scottish Health Secretary Jeane Freeman (both between 7.30 and 8 a.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.40 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Telegraph’s Madeline Grant and Daily Mirror’s Jason Beattie …. Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): PR consultant Alex Deane and Demos think tank Director Polly Mackenzie.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication name to see the front page)
Daily Express: Boris battles experts to save Christmas.
Daily Mail: Pay blow for 5M to fill COVID black hole.
Daily Mirror: Tories in dock over care home scandal.
Daily Star: New jab joy.
Financial Times: Brexit deadline tightens as COVID forces talks online.
HuffPost UK: COVID stops Brexit talks.
i: Hope for vaccine in U.K. within fortnight.
Metro: Control the meerkat — Price comparison site fined £17.9M for ‘fixing prices.’
POLITICO U.K.: Boris Johnson woos Joe Biden with defense plan.
The Daily Telegraph: Army to hire specialists for hi-tech future wars.
The Guardian: New spending row as Sunak puts squeeze on public sector salaries.
The Independent: Revealed — ‘cover-up’ by doctors over baby’s death.
The Sun: 1M jabs a day — Biggest push in NHS history.
The Times: Patel guilty of bullying staff, leaked report finds.
TODAY’S NEWS MAGS
The Economist: The Tories’ plan to remake the state.
THANK POD IT’S FRIDAY
(Click on the links to listen.)
Chopper’s Politics: The Telegraph’s Chris Hope talks to Tory MP Danny Kruger and former SpAds James Starkie and Polly Mackenzie.
Commons People: The HuffPost team talks to Labour MP Ian Lavery.
Encompass: Paul Adamson talks to Brexitland author Rob Ford.
EU Confidential: The POLITICO team is joined by the U.K.’s COP26 envoy John Murton.
Iain Dale All Talk: Iain Dale talks to Labour MP Chris Bryant.
Jimmy’s Jobs of the Future: Former No. 1o SpAd Jimmy McLoughlin is joined by Unruly founder Sarah Wood.
How Did We Get Here? Andy Bell talks to royal biographer Hugo Vickers about the new series of the Crown.
Mile End Institute: Tim Bale talks to pollster Deborah Mattinson.
Newscast: The BBC team is joined by former Labour deputy leader Tom Watson.
Pod’s Own Country: Geri Scott talks to Tory MP Imran Ahmad Khan.
The Edition: The Spectator’s team is joined by former No. 10 Director of Communications Craig Oliver.
What Were You Thinking? Former SpAd Laura Round talks to former International Development Secretary Anne Marie-Trevelyan.
YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS
SCOTTISH TORY CONFERENCE SATURDAY LINEUP: Welcome address from Scotland Secretary Alister Jack (10.30 a.m.) … Speech from Boris Johnson (11.30 a.m.) … Speech from Rishi Sunak (2 p.m.) … Speech from Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross (3 p.m.).
SUMMIT GOING ON: The G20 summit is taking place online over the weekend, hosted by Saudi Arabia. Keep an eye out for updates on how Boris Johnson plans to get involved.
DOUBLE JUSTICE: Justice Secretary Robert Buckland appears at the Bar Council conference on Saturday at 11.50 a.m. His shadow David Lammy appears at 12.20 p.m. More details here.
SUNDAY SHOWS: No word yet from Andrew Marr (BBC One, Sunday 9 a.m.). Sophy Ridge will be talking to Shadow Business Minister Lucy Powell (Sky News, Sunday 8.30 a.m.).
G&T: Tom Newton Dunn and Gloria De Piero will talk to statistician David Spiegelhalter, comedian Al Murray and Tory MP Lee Anderson (Times Radio, Sunday 11 a.m.).
Westminster Hour: Carolyn Quinn will be joined by former Culture Secretary Nicky Morgan … Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson … Former DExEU Permanent Secretary Philip Rycroft … and the Mail on Sunday’s Anna Mikhailova (BBC Radio 4, Sunday 10 p.m.).
Westminster weather: ☁️🌧☁️ Light rain in the afternoon but otherwise dry. Highs of 11C.
Big media news: BuzzFeed is taking over its former rival the Huffington Post, in an effort to keep both titles afloat and consolidate ad revenue. For now at least, both newsrooms and websites will remain separate. The Wall Street Journal got the scoop.
Lobby reshuffle: Triple signing for the Times, who’ve recruited the Sun’s Matt Dathan for the home affairs brief (still operating from the lobby,) the Daily Mail’s Larisa Brown as defense editor and the Guardian’s Simon Murphy as social affairs editor. All three will start their roles in the new year. Elsewhere, City AM’s comment and features editor Rachel Cunliffe is joining the New Statesman as deputy online editor in January. City AM is advertising for her current role here.
NEW GIG: Top Labour aide Joe Morris, who works for Shadow Trade Minister Bill Esterson, is quitting parliament next week to become the external affairs manager for U.K. Steel.
Congrats to: The Sunday Telegraph’s Political Editor Edward Malnick, whose wife Amy gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl on Wednesday. Malnick is now taking a paternity break, with lobby vet Chris Hope filling his shoes for next few months.
Birthdays: U.S. President-elect Joe Biden, who turns 78 … Lord Justice of Appeal Launcelot Henderson … Tory peer and son of former PM Alec, David Douglas-Home … Former head of the Northern Irish civil service Malcolm McKibbin … Former U.S. National Security Adviser John Bolton … Governor General of Belize Colville Young, who turns 88 … The Scotsman’s Westminster correspondent Alex Brown … and former 18-day UKIP leader Diane James.
And celebrating over the weekend: Shadow International Development Secretary Preet Gill … Stormont Education Minister Peter Weir … Unaffiliated peer and former Labour Trade Minister Mervyn Davies … Court of Appeal Judge Kathryn Thirlwall … Shadow Health Minister Justin Madders … The Wrekin MP Mark Pritchard … Belfast East MP Gavin Robinson … Milton Keynes North MP Ben Everitt … Tory peer and former Energy Minister Oliver Eden … BBC Newsreader George Alagiah … Downing Street SpAd and former Sunday Times journo Andrew Gilligan … Rail Delivery Group Public Affairs Manager Jonathan Lima-Matthews … Ambitious About Autism Vice President Sally Bercow … European Commissioner for Economy and former Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, research assistant Andrew McDonald and producer Miriam Webber.
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