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The weekly lunchtime digest of the best stories kicking off the week in British politics.

By ANNABELLE DICKSON

 

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Good Sunday afternoon.

JUBILEE FINALE: If you still can’t get enough of the Platinum Jubilee celebrations there’s more to come. The finale is about to kick off. A pageant celebrating the Queen’s 70-year reign will set off from Whitehall at 2.30 p.m. LBC has a handy guide with what to expect, timings and routes here.

3 THINGS TO KNOW

1. WILL THEY, WON’T THEY? There are a few glorious hours of the long weekend left, but attention is already turning to what the future holds for Boris Johnson ahead of (another) key week for his premiership. MPs return to parliament tomorrow, and backbench Conservative MP Graham Brady will tot up the number of Tory MPs who have messaged him calling for a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. If the magic 54 letter threshold is reached we can expect a secret ballot of Tory MPs on the future of the prime minister to be held within days.

Numbers game: There is plenty of speculation (again) today about whether the tally has been met. One MP “who has been keeping a private tally” tells the Sunday Times there are 67 letters. Usual caveats: only Brady, the 1922 Committee chairman who runs the process, can know, and some rebels don’t exactly have a strong track record of calling it right.

Spreadsheet Shapps: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps, who had the morning media round and has been a key number cruncher for Johnson leadership operations past and present with his top spreadsheet skills, was dismissive. He told both the BBC’s Sunday Morning and Times Radio he didn’t think there would be a vote this week.

Wakefield warning: But potentially the biggest game changer today, and one which will be watched very closely by Conservative MPs, is a new poll in the Sunday Times which puts Labour 20 points clear of the Conservatives in Wakefield, where a by-election will be held on June 23.

Boris is the problem’: “The main reason given for voting Labour is Boris Johnson,” James Johnson (no relation), whose polling company JL Partners carried out the fieldwork, says. His must-read Twitter thread on the detail will no doubt be carefully scrutinized by Tory MPs fearful of their job prospects before their return to Westminster this week.

A day is a long time in politics: The poll dropped a matter of hours after a senior government source swaggeringly told the i paper none of the potential alternative Tory leaders had the same ability as the prime minister to attract voters in those former Labour constituencies in the Midlands and North. “If you chuck Boris, you blow the red wall apart,” said the source. “He is the only leader that holds it together.”

What the candidate says: Nadeem Ahmed, the Tory candidate in Wakefield, tells the Sunday Express: “Boris is our biggest asset.” 

And in the blue wall: “Boris has shown that he understands the traditional blue wall sensibility, and it will be important for him in time to want to then prove and show that,” the i’s source also says. Meanwhile the FT has been to Tiverton – where there will also be a by-election on June 23 – and the quotes don’t exactly back up that argument. Local activists don’t appear to be fighting hard either. The FT came across one person who “admitted sheepishly to being a local Tory councillor, before whispering conspiratorially: ‘You’re wasting your time, mate. We’ve been told to refer all media inquiries to the press office.’”

Optics matter: Johnson had a bad weekend on the Jubilee party circuit too. There were jokes at the PM’s expense at last night’s Platinum Party at the Palace, where he was sitting among the VIP audience. Reports of boos in the crowd as the PM and his wife arrived at St Paul’s Cathedral for a service of thanksgiving on Friday also dominated the bank holiday political discourse. Shapps told the BBC he had heard people cheering as well, and dismissed the significance of the reception. “I remember booing going on at the Olympic Games in 2012 and it didn’t mean that the election wasn’t won in 2015,” Shapps insisted.

Fightback: The Sun on Sunday says Johnson has told aides he is going to visit the two by-election seats ahead of polling day.

Not over yet: But even if the PM wins a secret ballot, as Shapps also unsurprisingly predicted he would, the Mail on Sunday hears Tory rebels could go on strike and refuse to vote for government legislation if it is not a convincing victory — a briefing that gets short shrift from the PM’s supporters.

Patriotism pitch: Labour has spied an opportunity and has used the Jubilee weekend to attempt to park its tanks firmly on the Tories’ lawn when it comes to patriotism. Shadow Culture Secretary Lucy Powell uses an  Observer article to say Labour is the party which now stands up for much-loved British institutions – including the BBC and Channel 4. Culture wars are back on. Expect to hear more of this from Labour in the coming months.

2. TRAVEL BLAME GAME: Ministers and travel bosses have been blaming each other for the chaos at airports and ferry ports over the bank holiday as travelers have endured a miserable few days of queues, delays and cancelations. “The industry itself needs to solve it. The government doesn’t run airports, it doesn’t run the airlines,” Shapps told the BBC’s Sunday Morning when quizzed on the chaos.

Warning: Union sources briefed the Observer that the aviation minister Robert Courts was warned at the start of the year that the widespread flight chaos witnessed last week was “inevitable,” and government intervention was urgently required to prevent such disruption. But Shapps told Times Radio it was the sector which “should have seen it coming.”

Army rejected: Shapps rejected calls from controversial Ryanair boss Michael O’Leary in Saturday’s Times to call in the army to eliminate the security queues at airports for the next eight to 12 weeks.

Is this about Brexit? Labour Mayor of London Sadiq Khan told the BBC there was more the government could do, and suggested the causes were not just COVID-related. “This is about Brexit plus COVID,” he said. O’Leary has said Brexit has made it harder to find staff for airport and airline jobs. Khan said the government could “very easily” make sure those who were in those jobs before, who’ve gone back to their EU country of origin “are encouraged to come back.”

Not the answer: On Times Radio, Shapps said: “I know there’s always a temptation to … pull for the lever marked ‘immigration’ and sort of resolve it somehow with magic employment from elsewhere.” But he pointed out that only 27 visas were issued to foreign drivers to help ease last year’s HGV crisis and “the whole of Europe and the world is suffering the same shortages.” 

About that furlough money: Khan also criticized the government for giving cash to the aviation industry with “no strings” attached during the COVID-19 pandemic. Earlier on the BBC Shapps was critical of airline lay-offs. “The cuts went too deep,” he said.

Watch this space: Shapps said there would be further measures on security coming, and the government would be focusing on passengers getting compensation. He said he wanted the system to be more like the Delay Repay system on the railways. A working group would be looking at the issue on a daily basis between now and the summer holidays, he promised.

Twitter has been enjoying: This Express online story on the social media posts of frustrated Brits forced to queue for hours at EU airports. “British tourists had to wait up to three hours to get through passport control in countries like Spain, as e-gates are no longer available for Britons after Brexit,” the website reports.

3. KYIV UNDER ATTACK: Kyiv was hit by several explosions early this morning — the first attack on the Ukrainian capital in weeks. The BBC has more.

Meanwhile in diplomacy: French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said the West should not “humiliate” Russian President Vladimir Putin in Ukraine so as to preserve the chance to find a diplomatic solution to the “historic” mistake of invading the country. POLITICO’s Gabriela Galindo has more.

Stop the pressure: Attorney General Suella Braverman has a riposte to former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger who suggested Ukraine should accept giving up part of its territory to reach a peace deal with Russia. “We shouldn’t be putting pressure on the Ukrainian people to give away territory, especially while they are giving their lives to defend it,” she writes in the Express.

ALSO WORTH KNOWING

BANK HOLIDAY FOREVER: Note to ministers. The Sunday Express has polling suggesting there is overwhelming support for an extra bank holiday as an annual day of thanksgiving for Queen Elizabeth.

RIGHT TO BUY (AGAIN): Lots of the papers preview government plans to announce it will extend the right to buy to millions of people who rent from housing associations in a speech next week. Chapeau to the Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith who saw this one coming a month ago. Although, as Labour’s Lisa Nandy points out, it was in the Conservative manifesto seven years ago so has been rather a long time coming.

DETAIL TIME: Watch out Brussels, the new law overriding the Northern Ireland protocol could be published this week, according to the Sunday Telegraph.

EXEMPTION: It appears Chancellor Rishi Sunak is mulling a tweak to his windfall tax. The Sunday Telegraph says that electricity generated by wind farms and nuclear power plants could be exempted after a backlash to the plans.

WATCH OUT FOR THIS WEEK

IT’S HEALTH WEEK: Expect a raft of NHS-related announcements in the coming days for what is being dubbed health week. Let’s hope it goes better than crime week, when Sue Gray finally published her Partygate report.

About those 40 hospitals: It’s not off to the greatest of starts. The Sunday Times is told that some of the 40 new hospitals Boris Johnson promised at the last election may never get off the ground because of wrangling between the “toxic triangle” of No. 10, the Treasury and the Department of Health.

Making progress: The government says the NHS is making massive progress in clearing the backlog of appointments caused by the pandemic. The Sun on Sunday has a write up. The Sunday Mirror says patients needing urgent cancer and other tests will now have to wait until March 2025 before six-week targets are met.

EXEMPT: MPs will get their first say on the government’s National Security Bill tomorrow. Tory MP David Davis tells the Independent an exemption from the offence of encouraging or assisting a crime overseas in cases where it is “necessary for the proper exercise of any function” of MI5, MI6, GCHQ or the armed forces, is “far too slack” in the discretion it grants to ministers. A row to watch.

SUNDAY COFFEE READING AND LISTENING

NOSTALGIA NATION: Sophia Gaston has a fascinating piece in the FT on the Brits and nostalgia. She found in her research conducted across the U.K., France and Germany that Britons are less trepidatious about the future.

VICTIMS OF THE TROUBLES: If you haven’t already listened, Ailbhe Rea’s second Westminster Insider podcast takes on an important and sometimes little understood issue: the British government’s contentious efforts to find peace and reconciliation within Northern Ireland’s war-torn past. She talks to both the families of some of those murdered during The Troubles, and hears their anger at Westminster proposals for an effective amnesty for those responsible, and she hears too from Conservative MPs who say pursuing elderly ex-servicemen for alleged crimes from many decades past is vindictive and wrong.

SUNDAY MEDIA ROUND

Rick Kelsey standing in for Ayesha Hazarika on Times Radio, 4 p.m. to 7 p.m: Tory peer Daniel Moylan; Labour peer Andrew Adonis; Lib Dem peer Jeremy Purvis and former political editor Julia Langdon.

The Andrew Neil Show on Channel 45.15 p.m.: Business Minister Paul Scully; the Telegraph’s Madeline Grant and the FT’s Stephen Bush.

Westminster Hour, BBC Radio 4, 10 p.m.:  Tory MP Matt Warman; Labour MP Meg Hillier; UK in a Changing Europe’s Anand Menon and the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot.

WEEK AHEAD

MONDAY

— COMMONS: MPs return to Westminster after a recess. The Commons sits from 2.30 p.m. with work and pensions questions followed by the National Security Bill second reading. 

— ECONOMY: Chancellor Rishi Sunak to give evidence to the Treasury committee on the cost of living, 1.45 p.m.

— TRANSPORT: The RMT union will hold a 24-hour London Underground strike from the start of Monday service until 8 a.m. on Tuesday. 

— ENERGY: International Atomic Energy Agency board of governors meeting begins in Vienna, Austria.

LORDS: Product Security and Telecommunications Infrastructure Bill second reading.

TUESDAY

— COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with business questions followed by Labour’s opposition debate on ministerial standards.

— FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Former Brexit minister David Frost to give evidence to the public accounts committee on international treaties, 10 a.m.

— TROUBLES: Chief Commissioner at Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission Alyson Kilpatrick to give evidence to the Northern Ireland committee on the U.K. government’s new legacy proposals. 

HEALTH: Health Secretary Sajid Javid and NHS Chief Executive Amanda Pritchard give evidence to the health committee on the NHS staffing crisis, from 4.05 p.m.

NET ZERO: COP26 President Alok Sharma to speak at the CBI’s net zero conference, 1.30 p.m.

LORDS: Identity and Language (Northern Ireland) Bill

WEDNESDAY

COMMONS: Sits from 11.30 a.m. with women and equalities questions followed by questions to the prime minister and the second reading of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill.

NORTHERN IRELAND: Northern Ireland minister Conor Burns to give evidence to the Northern Ireland committee, 9.30 a.m.

— ECONOMY:  Treasury Permanent Secretary Tom Scholar at the public accounts committee, 1.30 p.m.

HOME AFFAIRS: Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration David Neal at home affairs committee, 2.30 p.m.

— ENERGY: E.ON Chief Executive Michael Lewis at the environmental audit committee, 2.25 p.m.

— ECONOMY: OECD to publish its economic outlook report, 9 a.m. U.K. time.

LORDS: Schools Bill committee stage.

THURSDAY

— COMMONS: Sits from 9.30 a.m. with Cabinet Office questions followed by the business statement and general debates on social housing and building safety and the water regulator Ofwat. 

INFLUENCE: Chair at Advisory Committee on Business Appointments Eric Pickles at the public administration committee, 10 a.m.

SOCIAL MOBILITY: Chair of the Social Mobility Commission Katharine Birbalsingh to speak at the Policy Exchange think tank on social mobility, 11 a.m.

— LORDS: Short debates on Ukraine and U.K. diplomacy, travel chaos at airports and ferry ports and the cost of living.

HOUSING: The prime minister is expected to make a speech announcing plans to let housing association tenants buy their flats, according to the Sunday Times.

FRIDAY

— ECONOMY: ONS due to publish a report on the cost of living. 

SUNDAY

— FRANCE: First round of legislative elections.  

— TRADE: World Trade Organization ministerial conference begins.

Thanks: To Ian Geoghegan for finessing Sunday Crunch.

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Annabelle Dickson





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