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By DAN BLOOM
Good Tuesday morning. This is Dan Bloom. Eleni Courea holds the pen for the rest of the week.
DRIVING THE DAY
POLITICS TRICKLES BACK: The last bank holiday until Christmas is behind us, we’re back to school next week … and you can feel it in the water. Stories about Brexit, China and (checks notes) Nadine Dorries will all rear from their slumber today. But one issue will cause a more immediate, er, stink.
HOUSING POURS FORTH: Leveling-Up Secretary Michael Gove is set to announce this morning that he is ripping up rules that restrict pollution from new-build homes. That’ll settle an apparent months-long standoff between his department and Defra, but open a whole new front in the battle over the environment. The “nutrient neutrality” rules are hated by housebuilders and some Tory MPs, which say they hold housing back. But green groups are already furious.
Can he fix it? Prime Minister Rishi Sunak is due on a visit and will record a pool clip mid-morning. Its purpose and location were unconfirmed overnight. Hard hat or hi-viz? Place your bets now.
The details: Nothing was announced formally overnight, but the Sun’s Noa Hoffman reports nutrient neutrality rules will become “guidance only” with councils given new powers to ignore them. A mitigation fund will aim to combat pollution, which the Guardian puts at about £300 million, plus £400 million in grants to farmers and water firms to improve slurry infrastructure. Playbook hears similar on mitigation, though not all the money announced today will be new.
Tick, tock: Gove wants to do this by amending the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Bill, as the Sun, Guardian and FT all report. But it’s already at report stage in the Lords, where Labour has branded it a “Christmas tree Bill.” One more bauble to avoid dropping in the race to finish, then, before parliament is prorogued for the King’s Speech in November.
Torrent of outrage: The Guardian splash (geddit?) has Greenpeace U.K.’s Doug Parr saying it’ll weaken protection for “our sickly, sewage-infested rivers” … Lib Dem MP Tim Farron calling it a “disgraceful act” … and the RSPB saying without the rules, “our rivers face total ecological collapse.” Wildlife Trusts Chief Executive Craig Bennett tweeted: “Scrapping nutrient neutrality means yet more poo in our rivers. This will be Rishi Sunak’s legacy.”
What backers say: Government officials believe it’ll unlock 100,000 new homes to be built, a number that hacks will no doubt rake over. The FT’s Jim Pickard says ministers will hail the change to EU-derived laws as a “Brexit freedom” while former Leveling-Up Secretary Simon Clarke (who’s campaigned on the issue) tweeted it will be a “victory for common sense.”
What Labour says: The party hasn’t given its view, but an official was eager to point out this is a boost to housebuilding … from a PM who ditched compulsory housing targets last year.
Sorry, what is nutrient neutrality? Ha! Very funny. We all know, and have no need to read this Natural England explainer.
Just in case … Regulations since 2017 say planning authorities can only approve developments they are sure will not damage protected habitats, unless mitigation is in place. So Natural England advice says there should be “nutrient neutrality” — meaning no net extra nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus are released into the environment.
ELSEWHERE, CHINA SHOWDOWN LOOMS: Foreign Secretary James Cleverly landed in the Philippines overnight to talk trade and security in the Indo-Pacific. Comparatively it’s a mere warm-up. As widely reported, this week he is expected to become the first foreign secretary in five years to visit Beijing, a mere five-hour hop from Manila. The Times’ George Grylls hears he will depart for China today and meet his counterpart Wang Yi on Wednesday.
It gets bigger: Whitehall is making preparations for a meeting between Sunak and Chinese premier Xi Jinping at next week’s G20 summit in India, Grylls adds. One source tells him: “You just cannot resolve many of the world’s major issues if you ignore Beijing.” You can almost hear Tory hawks’ groans from here.
TODAY’S THE DAY: The government will finally confirm this morning that it is delaying post-Brexit border checks on food coming from the EU, my colleague Stefan Boscia hears. The “Target Operating Model” was meant to be phased in over a year from October, but the prospect of a fifth delay was reported by the FT nearly a month ago.
RESET? NO RUSH! With the Commons back on Monday, MPs will await Sunak’s “reset” into election mode. But one person familiar with the PM’s thinking suggests Playbook shouldn’t hold out for it in September. The party conference speech on October 4 and King’s Speech on November 7 are the most sensible moments, they say, joking it’s less TBC and more “TBN — to be November.” The PM told MPs in July that he’ll outline a long-term vision … but a second person familiar with his thinking points out he never specified when that would happen.
That seems to chime with … Last week’s reporting by the Times predicting Defense Secretary Ben Wallace will be replaced in a mini-reshuffle in the next week, but a bigger reshuffle will wait until October or November.
But will it be enough … for backbench Tory MPs? One tells Playbook: “We need inspiration and delivery. We need to be able to show people on the ground that we’re actually doing something. A lot of the NHS stuff is good but you’re talking about delivering the benefits in 2031, 2032.” A second says: “I have a really sceptical view on resets — I’d rather there was general competence.” Asked what should be top of the PM’s in-tray, a third replies succinctly: “Small boats.” Plus ça change.
NOT EVERYONE IS BACK TO SCHOOL: Monday’s travel chaos risks becoming a political story if it drags on for days — a very real prospect given it makes the splashes of the Mail, Sun, Telegraph, Express, FT, Metro, i and Independent. “Airline sources” tell the Times disruption could last until Friday, while analyst John Strickland tells the FT hundreds of thousands of passengers are affected. Indie travel guru Simon Calder says travelers may get hotel or meal costs but not statutory compensation.
The next question: Is whether a cyber-attack could be blamed for the seven-ish-hour technical glitch that downed the U.K.’s air traffic control system, canceling at least 500 flights. The government is not explicitly ruling out a cyber attack which a former GCHQ worker tells the i is a “good working assumption.” But government and aviation “sources” do rule it out to the Times, which reports it could’ve been caused by an incorrectly filed plan from a French airline.
ULEZ USED: While you were sleeping, hundreds of cameras quietly clicked online on the dual carriageways, residential streets and country roads fringing the capital. That’s right — it’s Ultra Low Emissions Zone Day!
Uh-huh! Officially, the top of the press grid into this morning is a £5 million fund to tackle drug deaths using AI. But unofficially it’s the expansion of a local government pollution charge in suburban London. One official tells Playbook a planned series of crime-and-punishment announcements this week is taking a break today.
Uh-huh! Transport Secretary Mark Harper is on the morning round and has issued a quote calling the ULEZ expansion “the latest salvo in Labour’s war on motorists” … while Labour is generously giving its London Mayor Sadiq Khan a clear run at the round, including a planned Today program slot at 8.10 a.m.
Uh-huh! After ULEZ helped the Conservatives scrape a win in the Uxbridge by-election, is it any surprise?
Nothing promised, no regrets: City Hall has sent out a 3,500-word press release hailing Khan as a “a doer, not a delayer” whose decision “will save lives.” But …
MAMMA MIA! Just how tricky a topic this is for Labour leader Keir Starmer is illustrated by Shadow Minister Justin Madders — whose comment on Monday that it’s “just an expense too many … at this time” makes page 1 of the Telegraph. As reported in mid-August, Labour junked a paragraph from its policy document that had backed clean air zones in principle, days after defeat in Uxbridge. The “delayer” Khan speaks of, perhaps?
Money, money, money: The Mail has spotted a line in City Hall’s budget estimating the combined income from ULEZ, the low-emissions zone and congestion charge will be £1.028 billion in 2023/24. City Hall insists ULEZ will not raise net revenue beyond 2027.
Slipping through my fingers: Several Tory-run Home Counties councils have still not put ULEZ warning signs up on their side of the border — but fines will be dished out without them. The i names them as Kent, Surrey, Essex, Buckinghamshire, Hertfordshire and Thurrock.
SOS: The last time ULEZ was expanded, 121,200 “warning notices” were sent in the first month. Will that strategy be repeated?
OK, that’s enough contorted ABBA references: Labour’s U-turn and the Tory attacks highlight why London’s transport policy is national news — because it is drawing bitter battle lines on which the next election could be fought. And on the environment, to boot.
WHAT CONSERVATIVES WANT TO TALK ABOUT: TfL’s “Project 2030” website calling for staff to work on a “more sophisticated type of road pricing,” which the Mail on Sunday badged a “plan to charge drivers by the mile.”
For their part … Khan and City Hall insist pay-per-mile charges are not “on the table,” but haven’t ruled them out forever. Unsurprising, given Khan’s office said last year “the long-term and fairest solution” would be to replace fees like congestion charge and ULEZ with, er, a per-mile scheme (while insisting it was “many years away”). Allies of Khan point out Sunak himself was said to be considering the idea when chancellor to plug the tax gap left by electric cars, while Boris Johnson, who launched the original smaller ULEZ, was floating the idea when mayor in 2014.
What else the government wants to talk about: Ministers will back an amendment to — guess what — the Leveling-Up Bill by former Tory City Hall aide Daniel Moylan, that would let some of London’s 32 boroughs “opt out” of future air quality schemes.
WHAT KHAN ALLIES WANT TO TALK ABOUT: The 138 pages of correspondence between City Hall and former Transport Secretary Grant Shapps that have flown round on X for months. Hits include Shapps’ May 2020 request for Khan to “urgently bring forward proposals to widen the scope and levels of” the congestion charge, LEZ and ULEZ … and Shapps’ October 2020 proposal to extend the £15-a-day congestion charge for nearly all cars to the same area as ULEZ (in its previous form).
And this: Clean air charges exist too in Bath, Birmingham, Bradford, Bristol, Portsmouth, Sheffield and Tyneside, where they are part of meeting legal requirements on air quality.
Not in my driveway! A People Polling survey for GB News says 32 percent back and 42 percent oppose the ULEZ expansion in London. But it’s a bigger gap when people are asked if they’d back a ULEZ-like scheme in their own area … 25 percent support, 54 percent oppose.
MEANWHILE … the Times has a letter to Rishi Sunak from 36 financial institutions demanding clarity on the government’s net zero goals. Its organizer says “ministers’ recent remarks are undermining investor confidence and putting the UK’s net zero head start at risk.”
Hostile climate: The Guardian has spoken to “more than 40 scientists” and concluded 2023’s “crazy” weather will become the norm in a decade without drastic action.
**Listen in on conversations with global power players with Power Play, a brand-new global podcast by POLITICO. Renowned host Anne McElvoy takes you into the minds of those shifting power, policy and politics across the globe, starting this September. Sign up here to be notified of the first episodes.**
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PARLIAMENT: Still sun lounging.
NEW GIG: Tory MP Nadine Dorries will today be appointed the steward and bailiff of the Three Hundreds of Chiltern, the archaic crown office that allows her to quit her Mid Bedfordshire seat and spark a by-election. It’s a bittersweet moment … she’ll be taking the job off Boris Johnson.
Tri-election: With Labour getting 14,000 votes in the constituency in 2019 and the Lib Dems on 8,000, neither party is backing down — which will no doubt be music to local Tories’ ears, as the Times notes. Lib Dem leader Ed Davey is making his fourth trip to the seat today, in Aspley Guise at 11.30 a.m., while Labour sent out a gag-laden spoof message to supporters on Monday from “Not Nadine Dorries,” written as if it was from the departing MP.
Blue on blue: ConservativeHome Editor Paul Goodman has a brutal piece saying the core of Dorries’ resignation letter — which “implies Britain was flourishing until Johnson was replaced by Sunak” — was “bonkers” and “may be her greatest work of fiction to date.”
Coming attraction: Dorries’ Mail column will return next week after a few weeks’ break. As an ex-MP, no doubt she will throw off her previous restraint and tell us what she really thinks.
MEANWHILE IN IMMIGRATION: The Express, Sun, Mail, Telegraph and Guardian go big on Home Secretary Suella Braverman re-stating her desire on Monday to leave the “politicized” European Court of Human Rights, while accepting it’s not a government aim “right now.” But the Times noses on the FDA union’s backlash to the home secretary saying she has voiced her “anger” to civil servants over the Bibby Stockholm barge saga.
Sunak, look away now: A YouGov poll for the Times finds 22 percent think Labour would do a better job on asylum and immigration, compared to 16 percent for the Tories. A fifth rejected all the options. The PM’s press secretary tells the paper “small boats crossings are down” 15 percent on last year and Labour “have presented no alternative plan.”
OFF THE RAILS: The Mirror’s John Stevens got hold of train firms’ own impact assessments of ticket office closures, which say disabled passengers “may potentially be victims of financial extortion” and those with hearing loss “may find it difficult to obtain information.” It makes the splash ahead of a consultation closing on Friday.
BLACK HOLE: Consultants’ research handed to the COVID inquiry says the full details of £8 billion of pandemic-era contracts have still not been published. The FT has a write-up.
HOSPITAL PASS: The government appears to have “abandoned hope” of significant progress on Boris Johnson’s “40 hospitals” pledge before the general election, an industry insider tells the i. The government says it “remains committed” to delivering them by 2030.
FOOD FORETHOUGHT: Price rises in British shops slowed to 6.9 percent in the year to August, the lowest since October 2022, says the British Retail Consortium — via the Independent.
WHAT LABOUR IS TALKING ABOUT: The party says it would allow the NHS to bulk-buy emerging medical technology, instead of it being sold to one hospital trust at a time. Labour has freedom of information responses showing almost 7,000 adverse incidents were caused by faulty A&E equipment in the past five years.
What doctors are talking about: The British Medical Association saying Labour’s plan to let patients request a particular GP is an “impossible ask.” One GP (and, er, Tory election candidate) complained it would worsen “incessant requests” in a now-deleted tweet — the Mirror wrote it up.
KEIR PRESSURE: The Independent’s Jon Stone has a letter from 70 academics urging Starmer to drum up more ambitious spending plans to “transform the economic orthodoxy that has made this country poorer.”
HUNGARY TAKES BLIGHTY: Mathias Corvinus Collegium (MCC), an educational institute heavily influenced by Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán, is planning a London outpost according to the Guardian’s Flora Garamvolgyi and Peter Walker. They also highlight what they describe as MCC’s links to right-wing Tory MPs.
POLICING THE POLICE: Met Police Commissioner Mark Rowley tells the Telegraph his officers won’t be allowed to support “woke” causes like taking the knee, flying rainbow flags or wearing badges supporting environmental causes while on duty.
WHAT I DID ON MY HOLIDAYS: Prize for “work trip” of the summer goes to Northern Ireland Secretary Chris Heaton-Harris. His office has sent out pictures of him literally playing golf at Royal Portrush, which will host The Open in 2025.
BEYOND THE M25
HEXIT: Tory donor Surinder Arora has been ordered to tear down all or part of his luxury Windsor hotel — home to the Windsor Framework, a Tory MPs’ away day and a spa offering caviar facials — after breaching planning rules, reports the Times.
SPANISH FOOTBALL LATEST: Spain’s National Court launched a preliminary sexual assault investigation into football federation President Luis Rubiales for kissing national team footballer Jenni Hermoso — despite his mother hunger-striking in a church to support him. POLITICO has more.
POLES APART: Poland and the Baltic states threatened to seal off their borders with Belarus if a “critical incident” arises with the Wagner fighters it is harboring. The Telegraph has further details.
MEANWHILE IN ESTONIA: MPs want to question Prime Minister Kaja Kallas after her husband Arvo Hallik was found to be involved in shipping supplies to Russia — more here.
SUPER SUPER: Former U.S. President Donald Trump’s federal trial on charges of conspiring to subvert the 2020 election will take place on March 4 2024 — one day before Super Tuesday, when more than a dozen states hold Republican primaries. POLITICO has more.
SYRIAN PROTESTS: Protests across government-held areas in southern Syria continued into their second week, with calls for President Bashar al-Assad’s removal. Via the Guardian.
Transport Secretary Mark Harper broadcast round: GB News (6.45 a.m.) … Today program (7.10 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.20 a.m.) … GMB (7.40 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … TalkTV (8.20 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).
Mayor of London Sadiq Khan broadcast round: Times Radio (7.15 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … Sky News (7.45 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.) … GMB (8.30 a.m.).
Also on GB News Breakfast: Tory Councilor in Harrow Matthew Goodwin-Freeman (7 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio Breakfast: Former Commons Speaker John Bercow (8.15 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Britain: John Lewis Partnership Chair Sharon White (8.20 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Tory London mayoral candidate Susan Hall (7.10 a.m.) … Former Transport for London Managing Director of Surface Transport Leon Daniels (7.15 a.m.) … National Chair of the Police Federation of England and…