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By JACK BLANCHARD
Good Monday morning.
GAME ON: The wait is over — England’s 2018 World Cup gets underway this evening. Gareth Southgate’s young side play Tunisia at 7 p.m. (U.K. time) in the first of their three group games. A win tonight followed by victory over Panama on Sunday should put England through to the knockout stages even before their toughest game against Belgium next week. The good news is many of England’s potential rivals in other groups have started slowly, with Germany, Brazil, Argentina, Spain and Portugal all failing to win their opening matches.
Where it’s at: England are playing in Volgograd, the industrial city formerly known as Stalingrad, which lies 600 miles or so south of Moscow. Almost 2 million Russians died here during the harrowing World War II siege that helped turn the tide against Nazi Germany.
Political world cup: Tunisia’s “jasmine revolution” is viewed in the West as the only real success story of the Arab Spring uprisings, with dictator Zine El Abidine Ben Ali toppled and a parliamentary democracy established. But the Economist’s “Democracy Index” concludes Tunisia’s democracy remains “flawed,” and warns the economic crisis gripping the nation since 2011 has left many disillusioned. But Tunisia still ranks second only to Israel for democracy in the North Africa and Middle East region. And the football team are no mugs — FIFA ranks them the best side in Africa.
Where to watch: The match is live on BBC1, which means it will be on in pretty much all the pubs around Westminster including the Red Lion and the Westminster Arms. Strangers will have it on too — though possibly without sound — as will the Sports and Social. But if you want a big screen, you’ll have to go further afield — try the Barley Mow on Horseferry Road, Greenwood in Victoria (which has 19 screens) or Sports Bar & Grill at Waterloo station. The Porterhouse in Covent Garden was great for the last World Cup, with fans from all over the world flocking there. The Grafton Arms in Soho has an outdoor screen if you need to chain-smoke nervously.
Whatever you do: Get there early — the pubs are going to be rammed. In fact, get there really early and check out England’s next opponents … Belgium vs. Panama kicks off at 4 p.m.
Who’s going to win? The “mystic meerkats” at Drayton Manor zoo predict an England win.
But feel sorry for: Theresa May, who drew, erm, Peru in the No. 10 World Cup sweepstake. The Mirror’s Mikey Smith got the scoop.
DRIVING THE DAY
BUS-TED: Theresa May will formally unveil her grand plan to boost NHS funding by £20 billion this morning with a major speech in central London. But what was meant to be a popular domestic announcement to lift the current Brexit gloom has not landed quite as hoped. No. 10 will be less than impressed by today’s front pages, with almost every paper offering its own uniquely negative take. The Times warns of a “black hole” in the PM’s funding plan, while the Telegraph complains that “stealth taxes” will have to fill the gap. The Guardian has May “under fire” for promising a “Brexit dividend.” The Sun says May has broken a “tax pledge.” The FT warns of a “Tory backlash.” The mild-mannered Metro is rudest of all, with a mocking splash headlined “Magic Money Theresa.” Ooft.
What’s going on? Part of the problem with briefing a big story on a Sunday is that every daily paper is left hunting for a fresh line the following day. The bigger issue though is that May has managed to upset both Remainery liberals with her somewhat dubious claim about a Brexit dividend — which contradicts her government’s own stats — and right-wing Tories with the threat of looming tax rises. And the compromise deal cut with Chancellor Philip Hammond means the increase is less than health experts were asking for, allowing Labour to say it’s simply not enough money.
Annoying one side: The PM gets a fair old kicking in the Remain-supporting papers for suggesting Britain will have billions of extra pounds to lavish on public services thanks to Brexit. The Times’ main leader column calls her comments “as mendacious as the lie on the big red bus.” In the Guardian, Matt d’Ancona says “there is absolutely, categorically, definitely no Brexit bonanza in prospect.” The Mirror calls it a “cash con.” The FT kicks off a big Q&A on the announcement thus: Q: “Is there any Brexit dividend?” A: “No.”
… While also annoying the other: Most of the papers report income tax and national insurance thresholds will be frozen in the coming years, though this will only raise a small proportion of the extra cash required. That’s still enough to upset the Sun and the Daily Telegraph, however, with both papers warning of “stealth taxes” that should be avoided. But it also allows the Times to report the plans remain “underfunded by up to 11 billion.” Literally no one is happy.
Victory laps: OK, these two are probably quite pleased. Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt will be touring the broadcast studios this morning … and NHS England boss Simon Stevens will appear before the Commons public accounts committee at 3 p.m. for a session on NHS services provided by Capita.
Spend, spend, spend: The Treasury is insistent the extra funding for the NHS does not mean the floodgates are opening to other departments. But the reality is Philip Hammond faces huge pressure to turn on the taps in other areas too — chiefly policing, housing and defense. The Telegraph’s Chris Hope reckons all three are out of luck. The issue is raised again today with a Commons defense committee report urging ministers to hike defense spending closer to 3 percent of GDP. This would certainly be an appealing olive branch to offer to Donald Trump when he arrives in Europe for the NATO summit next month. The problem is it would cost another £17 billion a year. The BBC has more.
MEANWHILE IN BREXIT
PING-PONG DING-DONG: The EU (Withdrawal) Bill returns to the Lords for a second go this afternoon after the Commons overturned most of the peers’ 15 amendments last week. Three key issues to keep an eye on today: First crossbench peer David Pannick will raise his amendment on the Charter of Fundamental Rights for a second time — though the suspicion is he is seeking verbal reassurances from ministers rather than pushing it to another vote. Labour has drawn up a new-look amendment based on its long-held concerns about the loss of workers’ and consumer rights after Brexit. It looks like they have the votes to get it through. And then comes the main event — the “meaningful vote.”
New amendment? Lord Hailsham — the former Tory Cabinet Minister Douglas Hogg — has re-tabled Dominic Grieve’s original amendment giving parliament the power to take control of the Brexit process if MPs do not accept the final deal. However the rumor is that Hailsham is considering floating a new version this morning — via a process called a “manuscript amendment” — based on the deal the Tory MP rebels believed they had done with Theresa May last week before she apparently backtracked. Either way, the government is headed for a big defeat this afternoon, setting up another Commons showdown over the meaningful vote on Wednesday.
Will it all be sorted in time for the football tonight? We can only hope. Proceedings should kick off just after 3 p.m., so it might be touch and go. One Lords source said that given England’s 7 p.m. kick-off time, an appeal may be made to the upper chamber “in the national interest” to have the meaningful vote part of the debate dealt with first.
Meanwhile in the Commons: MPs will be debating the, erm, abolition of the House of Lords. A Westminster Hall debate led by Brexit-backing Tory MP Paul Scully gets underway at 4 p.m. A new report by the Electoral Reform Society also puts the boot in to the upper chamber today for its lack of diversity, pointing out nearly 40 percent of its members are former politicians or advisers, and the vast majority come from London or the South East. The Yorkshire Post is not impressed.
Brexit diary: Brexit Minister Robin Walker and Northern Ireland Minister Shailesh Vara give evidence to the Lord EU committee … MPs hold an emergency debate on Brexit and devolution in the Commons (3.30 p.m., though subject to change) … Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg delivers a lecture on Brexit at Speaker’s House at 7 p.m.
SCOOP — More pressure on Labour: Anti-Brexit campaigners will keep their focus firmly on the Labour frontbench today with a new campaign targeting high-profile members of the shadow Cabinet. The Our Future, Our Choice (snappily known as OFOC) group will be sending ad vans and billboards to the constituencies of Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott, Shadow Defense Secretary Nia Griffith and Shadow International Development Minister Preet Gill. OFOC is also claiming responsibility for this anti-Brexit stunt at the Labour Live festival on Saturday.
Plane stupid: The EU has banned aviation regulators from preparing a fallback plan with Britain to keep planes in the skies in the event of a no-deal, the Times’ Oliver Wright reports. “Airlines, manufacturers and regulators across Europe have said that they would need about nine months to draw up plans to minimize disruption if Brexit talks collapse,” he writes. “They have told the Commission that unless a deal is in place between the U.K. and the EU by March, then tens of thousands of aircraft could be automatically grounded.”
Now read this: Britain is to beef up its diplomatic presence in Brussels after Brexit as part of a massive overhaul of the current “UKRep” office, POLITICO’s Tom McTague and Jacopo Barigazzi report. U.K. officials speak of “endless meetings” planning Britain’s diplomatic relationship with the EU after Brexit, and daily conversations with Swiss and Norwegian counterparts to understand how nations outside the EU lobby influence and gather information about the bloc. “We are going to have to completely rethink what we do,” one official says. “We are going to need new skills, the best diplomats we’ve got, to find out what is going on now we’re no longer sitting at the table.” More here for our Brexit Pro subscribers.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
OFF THE RAILS: The bosses of Britain’s dysfunctional rail industry will be in parliament this afternoon for a mauling from the Commons transport committee. Govia Thameslink Railway boss Charles Horton resigned on Friday over the recent timetabling meltdown, but is still expected to appear today as he remains in post for a short changeover period. David Brown and Rob Warnes of Arriva Rail North have no such excuse and will surely get both barrels from Chairwoman Lilian Greenwood and her committee at 4.45 p.m. An hour later three Network Rail bosses will be dragged in for a similar pasting. Normally this would be a must-watch session but, you know, there’s a football game on.
NEW FROM POLITICO: Today we launch a beta U.K. edition of our Pro Technology subscription service covering tech policy in Westminster, Brussels, Berlin, Washington and beyond. For a free trial, email [email protected] and include “Tech, U.K. edition” in the subject line.
ICYMI LAST NIGHT: The Westminster Hour’s Mark Lobel ran an excellent package last night on knife crime, fast becoming one of the hottest political topics of the year. The Beeb has now published the full audio of his powerful interview with victim Rico Finlayson — it’s well worth your time if you have 20 minutes to spare today.
SEARCH FOR THE CENTER GROUND: Labour’s former Shadow Chancellor Chris Leslie will be speaking at the Social Market Foundation at lunchtime as he unveils a new paper designed to promote new policies for the center ground. Leslie is one of Jeremy Corbyn’s fiercest critics within the party, to the extent there are rumors he faces the threat of deselection in his own seat. He has written for the Times website, and Sam Coates has a news story on his big ideas. The question is whether “equalizing taxes on unearned dividend income with those for earned income” or “a harmonized rate of 30 percent pensions tax relief” will really set the pulses racing among Labour’s radical new base.
ISRAEL DEBATE: Former Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and former U.K. Foreign Secretary Jack Straw debate whether Jerusalem should be recognized as Israel’s capital. Newsnight’s Emily Maitlis chairs the event, which kicks off at the Emmanuel Centre at 7 p.m.
MEANWHILE IN MAJORCA: The latest entrant on Love Island used to work as a policy adviser at the department for education. Yes, really. Mail Online has more.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (7.10 a.m.) … Sky Sunrise (7.20 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell (7.09 a.m.) … former Deputy PM Nick Clegg (8.40 a.m.) … former Labour leadership hopeful Liz Kendall (8.45 a.m.).
Daily Politics (BBC2, noon): Playbook’s own Jack Blanchard.
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.40 p.m.): The Daily Telegraph’s Christopher Hope and former Blair adviser Lance Price … Sky News (10.30 p.m. & 11.30 p.m.): TLS Editor Stig Abell and former columnist Carole Malone.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
City A.M.: Tax rises for £20 billion NHS boost.
Daily Express: Ditch pills to tackle heart disease.
Daily Mail: Let’s go to war on NHS waste.
Daily Mirror: Ant’s wife “betrayed.”
Financial Times: May faces Tory backlash over funding of £20 billion NHS boost.
HuffPost: School budget crisis — Hundreds use Amazon “wish lists” to fund basic supplies.
i: May’s £20-billion “birthday present” for NHS.
Metro: Magic money Theresa.
The Daily Telegraph: Stealth tax to pay for NHS boost.
The Guardian: May under fire for claim “Brexit dividend” will fund NHS windfall.
The Independent: Tory MPs urge May to tackle housing crisis.
The Sun: We Kane do it — Kiss Harry’s boot for luck.
The Times: Black hole in May’s cash plan for NHS.
On the Continent: Read what the rest of Europe’s papers are saying in POLITICO’s EU press review blog here (updated daily at around 8 a.m.).
BEYOND THE M25
MERKEL’S REPRIEVE: German Chancellor Angela Merkel looks to have dodged a major clash with her government allies over migration today that many feared would lead to the collapse of her government. Writing for POLITICO, Matthew Karnitschnig says the leaders of Merkel’s Christian Democrats and the Bavarian Christian Social Union were last night discussing a plan to delay enacting tougher asylum rules at Germany’s borders until after the European Council summit next week.
SPEAKING OF MIGRATION: Italy’s new populist government is ready to blow up next week’s summit with its radically anti-immigration stance, POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi reports. “The major European powers have become used to containment maneuvers for the EU’s awkward squad on its periphery — such as Hungary and Poland,” he reports. “But with a populist coalition now at the helm in the EU’s soon-to-be third largest country, there seems little hope that the agenda on some of Europe’s most pressing dilemmas won’t be upended by their demands.”
FRANS THE MAN: European Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans will hold last-ditch talks in Warsaw today ahead of a crucial EU hearing on Poland’s observance of the rule of law — potentially opening the way to the first member-country censure by the bloc, the FT’s Michael Peel and James Shotter report.
FARC ME: Colombia’s fragile peace with former terrorist group FARC is in danger after the nation elected Conservative candidate Ivan Duque as its new president yesterday. He has pledged to overhaul the 2016 peace deal agreed with FARC terrorists. There’s an AFP story here.
GIVE ME YOUR TIRED, YOUR POOR … Donald Trump’s new “zero tolerance” approach at the U.S. border is sparking uproar across America, with images of children being forcibly separated from parents making even the most conservative of politicians unhappy. POLITICO’s Elana Schor has the latest.
Westminster weather: 🌥🌥🌥 Warm and dry but very cloudy day, with highs of 24C.
A year ago tonight: London remembers the Finsbury Park terror attack tonight, when a far-right terrorist from Cardiff drove a van into a group of Muslims in north London as they walked home from prayer. One man died and several more people were seriously injured. Read an interview with one of the survivors, Shariff Xamza, here. Tonight the phrase #LondonUnited will be displayed on the Muslim Welfare House at Finsbury Park.
Moving on: One of the biggest jobs in British political journalism is up for grabs after David Dimbleby announced he is quitting BBC Question Time after 25 years at the helm. His last episode will air in December. You’d like to think his replacement will be a female journalist, given the show has never been chaired by a woman in its near-40-year history. The Guardian’s Jim Waterson casts his eye over the runners and riders here — they include Newsnight’s Kirsty Wark and Emily Maitlis, Desert Island Discs’ Kirsty Young, BBC Radio 5 Live’s Emma Barnett and BBC2 presenter Victoria Derbyshire.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich.
- How do they expect people to go back to work if they have to travel like this? Tory MPs' fury as rail unions hold nation to ransom with refusal to return services to 85 per cent capacity
- Gove: we must break down 'Berlin Wall' between state and private schools
- Tubes and trains crowded on first day back for workers under new lockdown rules
- '100 per cent accurate' antibody tests to tell millions of Britons if they have ALREADY had coronavirus 'will be available in TWO WEEKS' - as Boris Johnson plans primetime broadcast to unveil the nation's route back to school and work
- UK coronavirus cases jump AGAIN as rolling average tops 800 for first time in a month but officials record 89 more deaths and separate data shows the number of weekly fatalities is the lowest since BEFORE lockdown
- So how many of the 'five tests' to lift lockdown have we passed? Government adviser admits they've only cracked two so far as ministers admit they are stockpiling masks to get public back to work
- Queuing for Britain: Thousands wait for TWO HOURS in mile-long lines outside Sports Direct, Primark and John Lewis as shops see 51% surge in customers - with towels and egg cups most highly-prized purchases
- Scotland's barbecue weekend! Brits north of the border make the most of being allowed to meet in groups of EIGHT people while the English still can't
- Race to fix NHS contact tracing before schools return: Ministers admit there's 'more to do' but say pupils WILL return in September after Lancet report warned failures in testing would cause a devastating second wave
- Official UK daily coronavirus death toll could be SCRAPPED after row over PHE 'exaggerating' the tally by blaming it for all deaths from people who have caught it
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