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ULEZ decision day

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Good Friday morning. This is Eleni Courea. Rosa Prince will be back on Monday.


ULEZ D-DAY: London’s ultra-low emission zone is back in the spotlight, with a court deciding today whether its expansion to cover the outskirts of the city is legal.

U-win or U-lez? At 10 a.m. a High Court judge will rule on whether the planned ULEZ expansion on August 29 — championed by London Mayor Sadiq Khan, resented by the Labour leadership and weaponized by the Tories — can go ahead. Five Tory-run councils had launched a judicial review of the move.

The wider context: Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and Labour leader Keir Starmer have both cooled on the climate agenda, having become fearful that any extra financial burden it puts on voters could tip the balance against them at the next election. Voter concerns about ULEZ were pinned as the reason for Labour’s failure to win Uxbridge and South Ruislip off the Tories a week ago, opening a sizeable rift between Starmer and Khan.

On the No. 10 diary: The PM — whose obsession with traveling everywhere by helicopter isn’t helping him dispel claims he doesn’t care about the environment — is visiting a business in Wales today. He will be interviewed by BBC Wales before taking further questions in an off-camera huddle with reporters.

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Memo from TB: New Starmer bestie and former Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair has become the latest to weigh into the green debate. “Don’t ask us to do a huge amount when frankly whatever we do in Britain is not really going to impact climate change,” Blair declared in a cover interview with the New Statesman’s Andrew Marr, which was carried out before the Uxbridge by-election last week (that line splashes the Telegraph and gets a Times write-up too). Blair also said that engagement with China is necessary to solve climate change.

What some Tories are talking about: What the government should do about energy giants’ giant profits (besides simply telling them to be nice and use them to help consumers) and whether the price cap system should be reformed. British Gas’ bumper earnings get prominent write-ups in today’s papers and there is more to come on this topic soon — BP is posting its quarterly results on Tuesday.

OUT OF OFFICE ON: City Hall advisers keen to get on with ULEZ expansion and shadow Cabinet aides nervous about a reshuffle can rest easy for a while — Starmer is taking his summer break from today. He’s spending it in the U.K. (somewhere with good restaurants we presume). Rishi Sunak is going away in the middle of next week.

Later in August: King Charles will host the PM and his family at Balmoral during the late August bank holiday weekend, following the queen’s annual tradition, according to the i’s Jane Merrick — who points out that Sunak and the king could be due an awkward chat about climate policy.

MEANWHILE IN FRANCE: President Emmanuel Macron’s ministers have been told to take low-key domestic holidays and stay within two hours of a government office to avoid stoking the febrile public mood. Keep an eye out for conspicuous snaps of French ministers looking busy over their laptops along the Côte d’Azur.


MARQUEES FOR MIGRANTS: Home Secretary Suella Braverman has bought tents to accommodate up to 2,000 migrants on disused military sites in the next few months, Matt Dathan reports in the Times splash.

The idea is: To stop a repeat of last year, when officials scrambled to make last-minute bookings at expensive hotels after an unexpectedly large surge in small boat arrivals in late summer and early fall. The number of arrivals this year are on a similar track.

Eye-catchingly: Dathan’s story suggests the proposal to house people in makeshift camps opened rifts within government. He cites Home Office sources who argue there’s nothing wrong with the idea and that it’s already used in other countries such as Ireland — but he also reports it’s been likened internally to concentration camps and that a similar proposal was rejected during Boris Johnson’s premiership.

This won’t have helped: Thanks to the Illegal Migration Bill, the OECD reckons that U.K. spending on hotels to house migrants can no longer be counted as aid (or ODA), Rob Merrick reports in a great scoop for the i. In essence, because the bill bars anyone who arrives by small boat from claiming asylum, the likelihood is that migrants can no longer be classed as refugees. Officials are now trying to find where the money for hotels will come from, according to the paper.

Can you get the bill? “There’s now a scramble between three departments to avoid responsibility for paying for this, if the costs can no longer be counted as ODA,” a source familiar with the row tells Merrick. “The Treasury has told the Home Office it can’t have more money, the Home Office is saying it doesn’t have the budget for it, so it will have to come from the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office – but the FCDO is saying that, if it isn’t ODA, it won’t pay.”

More on this topic: This week The Economist takes a look at how the U.K. has squandered its reputation as a world-leader in aid and argues that Starmer could make a mark in this area were he to become PM.

Ready to react: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper is doing a mini broadcast round this morning.

Victory for the Mail: The Solicitors Regulation Authority has told the Daily Mail it is launching a probe into firms and individuals identified in its sting on rogue immigration lawyers.


IF YOU THINK YOU’VE HAD A TOUGH WEEK AT WORK Think of the top bosses at Nigel Farage’s now former bank. NatWest Chief Executive Alison Rose was the first to quit in the debanking row; Coutts’ chief exec resigned on Thursday; and now NatWest Chair Howard Davies is under heavy pressure to follow.

Hounded Howard: The Daily Mail dedicates a spread to whether Davies can survive much longer in his post after Sunak declined to express confidence in him. A Stephen Pollard comment piece decries the “breathtaking arrogance of the serial failure who epitomises so much of what’s wrong with the British establishment,” accompanied by a picture of Davies (just in case readers think that headline is about Farage.)

Uh-oh: Treasury and Bank of England officials have been locked in talks over the prospect of a vacuum at the top of NatWest if Davies goes and have relayed their concerns to ministers, the Guardian reports. The decision about whether to back Davies “seems to be on hold”, a Treasury source told the paper. “So they risk a back him or sack him situation while the taxpayer’s stake loses value.”

Quite the timing: NatWest is due to report its half-year profits today in a call with investors — which the Guardian says Davies is expected to lead.


PARLIAMENT: In recess.

INFECTED BLOOD HEARINGS: Chancellor (and former Health Secretary) Jeremy Hunt will appear before the Infected Blood inquiry from 2 p.m. The hearing will be live-streamed on YouTube. My colleague Dan Bloom had an excellent run-down of what you should know about inquiry in Playbook earlier this week.

LABOUR LAND: The Times runs an interview with Shadow Education Secretary Bridget Phillipson about her upbringing in Washington (Sunderland, not D.C.) — and asks whether she is Labour’s rising star.

Manifesto non-commitment: Labour won’t commit to axing the two-child benefit limit in its manifesto, Shadow Chancellor Rachel Reeves told the Sun’s Natasha Clark in an interview earlier this week.

NAD HITS BACK: Nadine Dorries may complain to the election watchdog over a letter from Flitwick Town Council saying she should step down for not doing her job as a local MP, according to the Express’ David Maddox.

NOT-SO-NATURAL SELECTION: Rishi Sunak is under pressure to remove former UKIP deputy leader and Boris Johnson backer David Campbell Bannerman from the Tory approved candidates’ list after his grassroots organization attacked the integrity of the privileges committee — the Guardian’s Pippa Crerar has the story.

ONE FOR TORY KREMLINOLOGISTS: Voting for roles on the National Conservative Convention closes at 3 p.m.

ONE FOR THE ACTUAL KREMLINOLOGISTS: The Ministry of Defense has launched an inquiry after officials accidentally sent classified information to Mali, whose government has close links to Russia, the Times’ George Grylls reports. U.K. officials trying to email the Pentagon in the U.S. left out an “i” and so sent messages to addresses ending in “.ml” — the Malian government domain — instead of “.mil.” ICYMI, the FT had the astonishing story of how this web quirk has led to millions of U.S. military emails being misdirected to a government of a country that’s allied with Russia.

STRIKES UPDATE: The NEU strike ballot closes today but its results won’t be published officially until next week.

LOBBYING LAND: My colleague John Johnston has spoken to lobbyists who are unimpressed with the government’s latest revamp of transparency rules.


EUROPE IN FLAMES: Wildfires ravaging central Greece spread to a military warehouse, igniting ammunition and setting off huge explosions. My POLITICO colleague Nektaria Stamouli has the story.

UKRAINE UPDATE: Ukraine’s attempt to push through heavily fortified Russian lines in the southeast of the country has drawn comparisons to the Normandy landings, with fierce battles involving thousands of Western-trained and equipped Ukrainian reinforcements — the Times has a write-up.

TAKE IT WITH A GRAIN OF SALT: At the Russia-Africa summit, Vladimir Putin promised African leaders he would gift them many tons of grain despite Western sanctions, stating the country was ready to replace Ukrainian grain exports. More here.

Prigozhin-watch: Yevgeny Prigozhin, head of the Wagner mercenary army, was photographed on the sidelines of Putin’s summit just a month after his failed mutiny. In two pictures circulated on social media Thursday, Prigozhin is shown wearing casual jeans and a white shirt, smiling as he presses the flesh with visiting officials. Here’s the story.

SECURITY RISK: U.S. federal prosecutors announced additional charges against former President Donald Trump for trying to keep security footage from being seen by investigators. The Washington Post has a write-up.

CASH IN HAND: The Economist’s Nicolas Pelham has a fascinating long read about criminals who stole $2.5 billion in cash from Iraq’s largest state bank in broad daylight.

NIGER COUP: Supporters of a coup in Niger attacked the HQ of ousted President Mohamed Bazoum’s party, setting it on fire and burning cars outside. The BBC has the latest.

MISSING MINISTER: The mystery surrounding former Chinese Foreign Minister Qin Gang has intensified as references to him previously removed from the foreign ministry’s website started reappearing — the Guardian has more.

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Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper broadcast round: LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Sky News (8.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (8.35 a.m.).

Nick Ferrari at Breakfast: Former Boris Johnson SpAd Samuel Kasumu (7.05 a.m.) … Labour councillor at Brighton and Hove City Council Bella Sankey (8.20 a.m.).

Also on Sky News Breakfast: Tory MP Anthony Browne (7.20 a.m.) … Former government drugs adviser David Nutt (7.30 a.m.) … Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Chair Robert Goodwill (7.45 a.m.) … Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit Head of Energy Jess Ralston (9.30 a.m.).

Also on Times Radio: Women in Football CEO Yvonne Harrison (7.40 a.m.) … Former England bowler and Ashes winner Steve Harmison (8.50 a.m.).


POLITICO UK: Why Britain’s lobbying crackdown isn’t really a crackdown.

Daily Express: New pension triple lock threat.

Daily Mail: Harry’s hacking claim thrown out by court.

Daily Mirror: The real cost of our throwaway fashion.

Daily Star: How do you sleep?

Financial Times: Flavel resigns as Coutts chief after accepting blame for Farage furore.

i: World enters era of “global boiling.”

Metro: Coutts & go.

The Daily Telegraph: Public must be spared huge burden of net zero, warns Blair.

The Guardian: Era of global boiling has arrived and it is terrifying, says U.N. chief.

The Independent: Farage banking scandal claims another scalp.

The Times: Migrants set to be housed in marquees for summer.


The Economist: The overstretched CEO.


EU Confidential: The team discuss the aftermath of the Spanish election and what it means for the EU going forward with POLITICO’s Aitor Hernández-Morales.

Plus 6 of the other best political podcasts to listen to this weekend:

Committee Corridor: Women and Equalities Committee Chair Caroline Nokes hears how prevention, education and safeguarding are crucial to tackling violence against women and girls with guests including Labour MP Carolyn Harris.

Iain Dale All Talk: Dale is in conversation with economist and author Linda Yueh about growing up in Taiwan and the overlap between political and financial crises.

On the Couch: Lucy Beresford interviews authors Laura Dodsworth and Patrick Fagan about their book on how politicians are manipulating us and how we can resist.

Pod Save the U.K.: Nish Kumar and Coco Khan talk to Compass founder Neal Lawson about his potential expulsion from the Labour Party.

These Times: Tom McTague speaks to North of Tyne Mayor Jamie Driscoll about his exclusion from standing as Labour’s candidate for mayor of the North East.

Women With Balls: Katy Balls is joined by Culture Secretary Lucy Frazer.


WESTMINSTER WEATHER: Light cloud and 23C highs.

MEA CULPA: Keir Starmer’s constituency is Holborn and St. Pancras, not Hampstead and Kilburn as Playbook PM wrote.

WHAT YOU REALLY WANTED TO READ ABOUT: Playbook PM’s report on the backlash to Starmer’s negative review of the food in the parliamentary canteen makes the lead item in the Times diary.

RECESS, WHAT RECESS? Spotted at BBC News Senior Controller Katy Searle’s leaving do at Phoenix Arts Club were BBC Director-General Tim Davie … BBC News Deputy CEO Jonathan Munro … Former Director of News and Current Affairs for BBC News Fran Unsworth … BBC News Presenter Sophie Raworth … Former BBC Political Editors Laura Kuenssberg and Nick Robinson … Politics Live’s Jo Coburn … Any Questions’ Alex Forsyth … Newscast’s Adam Fleming … Newsnight’s Nick Watt … BBC Political Correspondents Nick Eardley, Jonathan Blake and Leila Nathoo … BBC Health Editor Hugh Pym … BBC News Culture Team Editor Chris Gibson … BBC Home Affairs Correspondent Daniel Sandford … BBC Producer Paul Twinn … Lib Dem peer Olly Grender … the Mirror’s John Stevens … the Spectator’s Katy Balls … Times Radio’s Carole Walker … Sky’s Katy Dillon … Treasury SpAd Cameron Brown … Former Westminster Hour host Carolyn Quinn … Former BBC Political Correspondent Ross Hawkins … Former i Pol Ed Nigel Morris … Former political journalist Steve Hawkes … Former Downing Street Directors of Communications Craig Oliver and Jack Doyle … and former SpAd Damon Poole.

Also spotted … At Cabinet Office spinner Shaun Jepson’s leaving drinks at the Tattershall Castle as he jets off to BA … Cabinet Office SpAds Lucy Noakes, Freddie Ellery, Maddie Sibley and Fergus Cameron Watt … Cabinet Office Speechwriter Frances Weaver and ministerial Private Secretaries Ophelia Brook and Isabelle Tombs … DfT Head of News and former Sun Chief Reporter Tom Wells … DLUHC Head of News Ray Tang and Chief Press Officer Charlotte Bransgrove … FCDO’s Owen Bassett and Rich Maher … Cabinet Office press office team Joe Potts, Dan Hatton, Jack Kelly and Ben Walker Collins … Penny Mordaunt’s Press Secretary Katie Armour … Former SpAds Emma Dean and James Price … and the Guardian’s Aubrey Allegretti.

Also spotted … at Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper PAD Caitlin Prowle’s leaving do at the Clarence … Labour advisers Muneera Lula, Tim Waters, Nick Garland, Kate Forbes, Kieran Cunningham and Sarah Harrison … Sarah Jones’ team Helena Molloy, Lucian Clinch and Ruby Evans … LabourList’s Morgan Jones … the Independent’s Archie Mitchell … Unison’s Kieran Maxwell … the RCN’s Dom Trendall … and the Community Union’s Dom Armstrong.

Spotted at the Clarence at the same time: Home Office SpAd Jake Ryan, there for unrelated reasons.

HISTORY HOUR: Queen Mary University of London lecturer Richard Johnson dug out some rare photos of Michael Foot announcing his resignation as Labour leader to the PLP in 1983.

NOAH’S CULTURE FIX: The National Gallery’s exhibition presenting the art and imagery of Saint Francis of Assisi closes this Sunday — it’s a short stroll away from the parliamentary estate.

FRIDAY FILM CLUB: The Full Monty, about a group of unemployed Sheffield steelworkers who turn to stripping to earn extra cash is on BBC One on Saturday at 10.25 p.m. … and Pride, about a group of lesbian and gay activists who find unlikely allies in the Welsh miners in 1984, is on BBC One on Sunday at 10.30 p.m.

Or listen to: Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is the subject of Radio 4’s Profile on Saturday at 7 p.m.

AND BECAUSE IT’S FRIDAY: Here’s a thread of Ryan Gosling as geese, retweeted by Security Minister Tom Tugendhat.

BIRTHDAYS: Labour peer and Shadow Leveling-Up spokesperson Sue Hayman … Former London Minister Keith Hill turns 80 … Tory peer Lorraine Fullbrook … Former Greek PM Alexis Tsipras … Former acting Venezuelan President Juan Guaidó turns 40.

Celebrating over the weekend: Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott turns 60 … Commons Work and Pensions Committee Chair Stephen Timms … Gravesham MP Adam Holloway … Tory peer Norman Blackwell … Commons head of Select Committee scrutiny and analysis Ariella Huff … Meta speechwriter Phil Reilly … POLITICO’s Jacopo Barigazzi and Freddie Martyn … Reuters’ Joanna Plucinska … Japanese PM Fumio Kishida … Former Governor of California Arnold Schwarzenegger … Vale of Glamorgan MP and former Welsh Secretary Alun Cairns … Ayr, Carrick and Cumnock MP Allan Dorans … Lib Dem peer Patrick Boyle … Department of Energy Security and Net Zero SpAd Hebe Trotter … Mother of the House Harriet Harman … Father of the House Peter Bottomley.


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