Good Monday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
SMILEY PEOPLE: After weeks of Groundhog Day repeats, the first signs are finally emerging of where some potentially meaningful progress has been made in the Brexit negotiations — raising the chances a U.K.-EU trade deal could still be struck by the end of the year. After U.K. PM Boris Johnson and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen pledged to “go the extra mile” and continue talks into this week, it is worth stressing both sides are downplaying the extent to which there has been major game-changing movement. A U.K. official cautions Playbook there has been “minimal progress” and “no breakthrough,” a sentiment broadly echoed by the EU side. But “minimal progress” is still progress, the two sides are still talking, the rhetoric is slightly less gloomy — and several leading Europe correspondents this morning report there has indeed been a change in the substance on the crucial level playing field sticking point.
THROUGH THE LOOKING GLASS WAR: As Sunday’s “deadline” was extended (with crushing inevitability), a Downing Street official said the attempted time-limit had always come from the EU side and insisted: “We’ve always said we won’t walk away and will keep negotiating for as long as a deal still appears possible.” Britain’s chief negotiator David Frost is in Brussels to resume talks with his counterpart Michel Barnier this morning (after Barnier briefs EU ambassadors at 8.30 a.m. Brussels time). Playbook is told Frost is expected to remain in the EU capital for “at least a couple more days.” If a deal is still a possibility after that, Barnier and his team could then once again return to London, although this is still up in the air. There is no arbitrary deadline this time, although a cynic would note there wasn’t last time either. Several papers reckon negotiations could theoretically go on until December 31, but Playbook is told not to worry and they won’t run on that long. Famous last words.
A DELICATE TRUTH: A senior No. 10 source tells Times Radio’s Tom Newton Dunn in this gloriously weary quote: “Anybody who claims to know what’s going on will be making it up.” Let’s see if we can give it a go …
IN FROM THE COLD: So why are they still talking? U.K. officials are not steering away from a report by the Sun’s Nick Gutteridge that the EU has dropped its demand for a “ratchet clause” (which would have allowed Brussels to unilaterally and automatically impose tariffs on Britain if it failed to keep up with EU standards in the future). Gutteridge says the two sides are now trying to thrash out how future divergence on standards might be judged to be “unfair” and what level of “rebalancing measures” would be deemed reasonable. The EU has moved away from its insistence on being able to apply automatic tariffs and is now talking about an independent arbitrage system, he reports, while the U.K. is trying to convince Brussels retaliatory tariffs should be limited to the sector in which the divergence occurred, rather than imposing blanket tariffs — which Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday rejected as a “nuclear-style reaction.” Reciprocity and arbitration are the key U.K. priorities this week, an official says.
QUEST FOR CARVE-OUTS: This does appear to be where the talks are headed. The Times‘ Steve Swinford, Olly Wright and Bruno Waterfield reckon “there have been more positive discussions” in this area over the weekend, and the negotiators are “discussing what role independent arbitration could have in resolving disputes and at what stage either side might be able to impose retaliatory tariffs and how extensive they could be.” Bloomberg’s Ian Wishart, Alberto Nardelli and Alex Morales report there has been “progress” on LPF, with the EU now accepting retaliatory tariffs “would come only after arbitration and dispute resolution.” If the U.K. signs up to accepting this kind of potential penalty, it “could win concessions on the other main sticking point: EU fishing rights in British waters,” Bloomberg predicts.
OUR GAME: Brexit watchers have been saying for months that the route to a deal was always going to be the U.K. accepting it would be have to take some sort of punishment if it breaches the level playing field, which in turn would lead to the EU making some form of concession on fish. Sure enough, Bloomberg reports: “A breakthrough on that could mean negotiations in the final days focus on quota numbers for EU fishermen in British waters. If talks ultimately get narrowed down to that, a deal should be achievable, an official said.” And U.K. government sources tell the Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner that Britain could also compromise on fish by agreeing to pay compensation to French fishermen.
ABSOLUTE FRIENDS: Bloomberg also says von der Leyen held a pretty important-sounding meeting with French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris yesterday to “discuss the state of play” on Brexit. Intriguingly, Playbook hears some European diplomats reckon German Chancellor Angela Merkel is leaning on VDL to seek a compromise from Macron and the other EU leaders who have taken the hardest stance on fish. Which might suggest the EU’s publicly declared united front isn’t quite as united as it makes out.
A SMALL FROWN IN GERMANY: Writing in today’s Daily Mail, the editor-at-large at German tabloid Bild, Alexander von Schönburg, claims Merkel’s government intervened to keep talks alive. “Our Foreign Minister Heiko Maas insisted it was time to end the doctrinaire approach and ‘start looking for a political solution.’ If that meant talks had to go on beyond Sunday night, then so be it,” von Schönburg writes. “As we have seen, his intervention proved decisive.”
THE NIGHT MANAGER: Frost and his U.K. negotiating team kept themselves going late into the night on Saturday with “British bacon sarnies” from Waitrose, Gutteridge and Kate Ferguson report in the Sun. Apparently, “the streaky rashers were brought in from Britain, as the shops in Brussels bizarrely do not sell the porkie snack.” Remind Playbook to FoI Oliver Lewis’ lunchbox.
NAIVE AND SENTIMENTAL: If you’re thinking this is the most deal-y sounding news we’ve heard for a while, you would be right. But it is important to note both sides still say they are far apart on several outstanding areas. A U.K. official says there are still major differences on LPF, fish and “about half a dozen other issues” — from governance, non-discrimination and aviation to financial services and geographical indications — and we’ll need to see how the next few days go before we get a proper indication of whether a deal is on the cards. Downing Street officials pointed Playbook to Johnson’s insistence in his interview with Sky’s Sam Coates yesterday that no deal remained “the most likely thing.”
17 DAYS TO GO: In the Telegraph, Rayner quotes a source summing up where things are this morning (at least according to the U.K. side): “There has been minimal movement, there haven’t been any breakthroughs, and no deal is still the most likely outcome. But maybe the odds have shifted slightly in the direction of a deal.”
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TIER WE GO AGAIN: It looks increasingly likely London could be put into Tier 3 of the government’s coronavirus restrictions this week. The fortnightly review of the regional tier allocations is due on Wednesday, although things are so bad in the capital an announcement could come sooner, even today or tomorrow, government sources tell Playbook. A Downing Street official last night said nothing had been decided and the prime minister, senior ministers and scientific advisers were still looking at the latest data. But they added: “The numbers have been bad for a few days. They’re going in the wrong direction.”
REMINDER: Last month Johnson overruled Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove’s attempt to put London in Tier 3, after reportedly being shown data that suggested doing so would lead to half a million job losses. For Tier 3 to once again be under consideration for the capital shows just how worried ministers and officials are by the data coming in. The Telegraph’s Rob Mendick quotes a health source saying it’s “inevitable” London will be put in Tier 3 because the latest data is “terrifying,” with rates in the capital worse than those of Liverpool or Manchester when they entered the top tier.
SCHOOL’S OUT: Just before this email went out, London Mayor Sadiq Khan and the chair of London Councils, Georgia Gould, fired off a letter to the PM demanding he take “further urgent measures” to try to get the virus back under control. Khan wants secondary schools, sixth forms and further education colleges to be closed from Tuesday, and an expansion of community testing. “The biggest spread of the virus in the capital is within education settings and specifically amongst the 10-19 year old age group,” Khan and Gould write. They also want mandatory wearing of face masks in “all busy outdoor spaces” such as high streets, as well as a new compensation scheme for businesses.
… FOR WINTER: Khan’s Conservative mayoral rival Shaun Bailey has gone the other way, lobbying Johnson to keep schools shut for longer over the Christmas break. “Since schools have contributed to the recent rise in infections, I’m calling on the government to let schools start one week later in January. This move would help us break the cycle of transmission and avoid further restrictions — vital for a city that can only survive if it stays open,” says Bailey, who has been a vocal opponent of London entering Tier 3.
GREENWICH HOME TIME: Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is so far resisting pressure to shut schools, but one London council has gone rogue and done so anyway. “The Royal Borough of Greenwich wrote to parents and head teachers on Sunday evening, requesting that all schools be closed by the end of Monday and switch to online learning. The request affects about 90 schools and tens of thousands of pupils,” the Tel’s Laura Donnelly reports.
ANYTHING BUT TIER 3: It’s fair to say putting London into Tier 3 will be an extremely difficult decision for Johnson both politically and economically. He faced calls from Tory MPs in the Mail on Sunday to split the capital into different tiers depending on case numbers, but a health source tells Playbook this would be very difficult to make work. Other Tories want London to be given its own unique restrictions, a kind of “Tier 2.5,” which would mean schools are shut but restaurants and non-essential retail are allowed to remain open. But the health source says ministers would struggle to explain why London was getting its own special measures that were not afforded to other cities in the north.
TIER, THERE AND EVERYWHERE: One London Tory sums up the problem of increasing the restrictions in the capital before the Christmas free-for-all: “We would go from Tier 2 to 3 to 0 and then back to 3 in a matter of weeks.”
CHRISTMAS CANCELLED LATEST: Talking of which, some government ministers and scientific advisers are privately warning Downing Street the plan to release restrictions over Christmas could lead to a disastrous third wave of the virus for which they will be held personally responsible. One minister tells Playbook: “You can see two months down the track when we’re all looking back saying ‘why on earth did they do that.’” Some are even urging No. 10 to follow Angela Merkel, who has closed shops and schools in Germany in a tough Christmas lockdown (more on that here). “Restrictions on social gatherings will now be relaxed for a shorter period than previously announced, from 24-26 December,” the Guardian’s Philip Oltermann reports.
HERE COMES RISHI: “The U.K. government is planning to launch a permanent replacement for the £65bn Covid loans programme with new state-backed guarantees to support lending by banks to a broad range of small to medium-sized business,” report the FT’s Daniel Thomas and Jim Pickard.
YESTERDAY’S UK STATS: 18,447 new cases, ⬇️ 3,055 on Saturday and ⬆️ 1,175 on the previous Sunday … 144 deaths, ⬇️ 375 on Saturday and ⬇️ 87 on the previous Sunday.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
PLEASE, NO MORE TARIFF CHAT: Business Secretary Alok Sharma publishes the government’s energy white paper today, including plans trailed in the Sundays to automatically switch consumers to cheaper tariffs. Sharma is on the morning broadcast round for the government — he may well also be asked about Steve Swinford and Emily Gosden’s Times story that the PM has approved talks for a new £20 billion nuclear power station at Sizewell, with the government considering taking an equity stake in the plant.
KEIR’S VIRTUAL VISITS: Labour leader Keir Starmer is still in isolation until Wednesday, so he’s taking part in “virtual visits” to the West Midlands to meet with homelessness projects, people with experience of rough sleeping and food poverty campaigners. Starmer has written to Johnson quoting research from the Joseph Rowntree Foundation that found destitution increased by 54 percent between 2017-19, with 2.4 million adults and 500,000 children affected. “Rough sleeping is a crisis which you pledged to end for good. But it is just the tip of an iceberg — the sharp end of a broken housing system and a society with gaping holes in its safety net,” he writes. “Many more people, many of them families with children, will experience homelessness, poverty and destitution this winter.”
STATS: The Office for National Statistic will be releasing homeless deaths data at 9.30 a.m. Also worth keeping an eye on its release on how the coronavirus has affected different ethnic groups — also at 9.30 a.m.
LABOUR PEACE LATEST: Starmer’s predecessor Jeremy Corbyn launched his hotly anticipated Peace and Justice Project yesterday, to the absolute delight of everyone on Twitter. Playbook is told the project has been in the making for nearly a year and first came about in the spring, with staff in the-then leader’s office, shadow Cabinet and party HQ — including then-chief of staff Helene Reardon Bond — involved in its conception. Those involved say a number of Corbyn’s friends, colleagues and former staff continue to provide advice — that sounds like it’s worth keeping an eye on — with Chloe Schlosberg appointed as director of projects and operations. Apparently they are all very keen to avoid any factional differences with the current Labour leadership. But do they want Peace with Starmer or Justice for Jez?
WINDRUSH CASH: Home Secretary Priti Patel will announce today she is increasing compensation payments for Windrush victims, with an early preliminary payment of £10,000. Charlotte Wace has the story in the Times.
YIKES: The Daily Mail splashes on an investigation it says proves Prince Andrew stayed at Jeffrey Epstein’s New York mansion — something he directly denied during his infamous interview with the BBC’s Emily Maitlis last year. The detail is fairly damning — read the full report here.
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Relatively quiet day in parliament. House sits from 2.30 p.m. with Home Office questions followed by any ministerial statements or UQs … Time has then been set aside to consider amendments from the Lords to the Internal Market Bill … and then there will be a lengthy general debate on COVID-19.
Committee corridor: The Commons public accounts committee will put the “jaw-dropping” evidence gathered last week about PPE to DHSC and Cabinet Office officials, as well as Public Health England (2.30 p.m.) … Business Minister Nadhim Zahawi followed by MoD Minister Jeremy Quin will take questions on the defense supply chain at the Commons defense subcommittee (3.15 p.m.) … and top banking officials will provide evidence on the economic impact of the coronavirus at the Commons Treasury committee (3.30 p.m.).
IN THE LORDS: Peers sit from 1 p.m. with questions on the climate change committee, a potential green economic recovery and more … and then from around 2.30 p.m. the Lords will consider the Commons rejection of their Internal Market Bill amendments on devolution.
BLOOD RULE CHANGES: Rules limiting blood donations from gay and bisexual men are to be dropped, the NHS blood service has announced today. Risk assessments will now be conducted on an individual basis instead of a population-based one, a move broadly welcomed by campaigners. Full story from the Guardian’s Clea Skopeliti.
MEANWHILE IN OUTER SPACE: The U.K. is to build a “Comet Chaser” spacecraft to track down and 3D map comets — the cosmic snowballs with tails that orbit the Sun — in space for the first time. U.K. Space Agency boss Graham Turnock told Playbook the craft could discover “some of the secrets of our universe” when it launches in 2028, despite sounding “like the plot from a poorly pixelated 90s computer game.”
**The countdown to Brexit has begun but big question marks remain on the impacts on trade, travel, and more. On December 16, POLITICO’s reporters will discuss the changes expected and the outstanding issues on a Pro Briefing call. Not a Pro but interested in attending? Email us at [email protected]**
BEYOND THE M25
SCHOOL TESTING: Lateral flow COVID testing will be rolled out in Welsh schools and colleges from January, in a bid to keep schools functioning despite positive tests. Under the plans all pupils and staff identified as close contacts can take the test each day of their self-isolation period, to determine if they should isolate or go to school as normal. Full story from WalesOnline.
CARE VACCINES: Some Scottish care home residents will be vaccinated today, as Scotland shifts its vaccine rollout focus to include care home staff and residents along with NHS staff. The vaccine will be packed into small quantities and taken directly to care homes for inoculation. BBC Scotland has more.
NEXIT: As Norway heads toward an election in 2021, the Euroskeptic Center Party is topping opinion polls, winning over voters with a message that the country needs to renegotiate its 1994 deal with the EU under which it follows many of the bloc’s rules and pays billions of euros in grants in exchange for access to the single market. POLITICO’s Charlie Duxbury has the story.
IN THE US: Thousands of vials of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine will arrive in all 50 states today, with top health officials hopeful the first vaccines could be administered at some stage in the day. The vaccine cleared the last hurdle yesterday when the CDC gave the final OK. POLITICO’s Brianna Ehley has a nice write-up of the logistical challenges of transporting the vaccine across a nation as large as the U.S.
**A message from Goldman Sachs: The latest Goldman Sachs Research looks at how technological and financial innovations, supported by policy, are flattening the de-carbonization cost curve and making net zero more affordable. Analysis of the updated Carbonomics cost curve yields three key conclusions. 1. Low-cost de-carbonization technologies — mostly renewable power — continue to improve consistently through scale. 2. Clean hydrogen emerged as the breakthrough technology in the upper half of the cost curve, lowering the cost of de-carbonizing emissions in more difficult sectors. 3. Financial innovation and a lower cost of capital for low-carbon activities have driven around one-third of renewables cost deflation since 2010. Learn more.**
Business Secretary Alok Sharma broadcast round: Sky News (7.20 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.45 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.) … ITV GMB (8.30 a.m.) … LBC (8.50 a.m.) … talkRADIO (9.05 a.m.).
Shadow Cabinet Office Minister Rachel Reeves broadcast round: BBC Breakfast (7.10 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.25 a.m.) … Sky News (7.45 a.m.) … BBC Radio 5 live (8.35 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Welsh Health Minister Vaughan Gething (7.15 a.m.) … Director General of the German-British Chambers of Industry and Commerce Ulrich Hoppe (7.20 a.m.) … Medical Director of Primary Care for NHS England Nikki Kanani (7.30 a.m.) … Chief Executive of the Port of Dover Doug Bannister and Former CEO of Sainsbury’s Justin King (7.50 a.m.).
Also on Good Morning Britain (ITV): Scottish government COVID Advisory Group member Devi Sridhar … Health protection Professor Paul Hunter … Independent SAGE member Gabriel Scally (all 8.15 a.m.).
Also on Sky News breakfast show (Sky News): Belgian MEP Kris Peeters (7.05 a.m.) … Former European Commission negotiator Thomas Cole (7.30 a.m.) … Former No. 10 Chief of Staff Gavin Barwell (8.05 a.m.) … Former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (8.30 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Former Lib Dem leader Menzies Campbell and the Spectator Australia’s Mark Higgie, a former Australian diplomat (7.05 a.m.) … BMA’s GP Committee Chairman Richard Vautrey (7.20 a.m.) … Plumstead Labour Councillor Matt Morrow (8.20 a.m.) … Green London Assembly member Caroline Russell (8.35 a.m.) … Phone-in with Labour leader Keir Starmer (9 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast show: Former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (7.05 a.m.) … 91-year-old vaccine recipient Martin Kenyon and former EHRC Chairman Trevor Phillips (8.20 a.m.) … Businesswoman Deborah Meaden (8.35 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Commons work and pensions committee Chairman Stephen Timms (7.10 a.m.) … Former NHS Trust Chairman Roy Lilley (7.23 a.m.) … Former International Trade Secretary Liam Fox (8.07 a.m.) … Former WHO cancer program chief Karol Sikora (8.33 a.m.) … Former NATO Commander Chris Parry (9.25 a.m.).
Politics Live (BBC Two 12.15 p.m.): Tory MP Dehenna Davison … Former Labour spinner Alastair Campbell … The Telegraph’s Camilla Tominey … Tortoise Media Editor James Harding.
Iain Dale in the Evening (LBC): Climate panel with former environment SpAd Tom Burke … Manchester Climate Change Board member Dom Goggins … GoodEnergy CEO Juliet Davenport … Green New Deal U.K. Co-Executive Director Fatima Ibrahim (all 9 p.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.40 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Broadcaster John Stapleton and PoliticsHome’s Kate Proctor … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Spiked’s Ella Whelan and broadcaster Steve Richards … Times Radio (10.30 p.m.): GQ political commentator Guto Harri and former Labour/Change U.K./Lib Dem MP Luciana Berger.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: At long last … has EU finally got the message.
Daily Mail: New Andrew bombshell — Duke misled Emily Maitlis in BBC interview.
Daily Mirror: Final push — Trade talks extended in bid to avoid no-deal disaster.
Daily Star: Taxi for Piers Moron! Scourge of rule breakers — I’m covidiot for going mask-free.
Financial Times: EU and U.K. trade talks extended but parties still split on key issues.
HuffPost UK: Boris cautious over deal.
i: Extra extra time to find deal with EU.
Metro: We’re into extra time — Talks go on but PM says ‘prepare with confidence’ for no deal.
POLITICO UK: Norway’s push for a change to ‘bad deal’ with EU.
The Daily Telegraph: Brexit talks until New Year’s Eve as latest deadline missed.
The Guardian: PM and von der Leyen vow to go ‘extra mile’ to get deal.
The Independent: Brexit talks go to the wire.
The Sun: Beahave! Princess ‘flouts COVID rules’ dining with pals inside top restaurant.
The Times: Brexit talks extended amid signs of progress.
Westminster weather: 🌦🌦🌧 Equal measures of sun and rain to start the week. Highs of 12C.
RIP: Legendary espionage novelist John le Carré — real name David Cornwell — has died following a short illness, his literary agent Jonny Geller announced last night. The New York Times’ Sarah Lyall has an outstanding obit, while the Guardian’s picture gallery is well worth a look.
SW1 pays tribute: A united Westminster shared memories, including Security Minister James Brokenshire … Daily Mail’s Dan Hodges and Michael Crick … Vote Leave’s Gisela Stuart … The Guardian’s Jonathan Freedland … Former Shadow Chancellor Ed Balls … Tory MPs Imran Ahmad Khan and George Freeman … FT’s Jim Pickard … The Sunday Times’ Tim Shipman … Pensions Minister Guy Opperman … and an understated George Galloway.
TAKE 5 MINUTES AND ENJOY … The annual epic thread from gal-dem’s Diyora Shadijanova, who brings you the most iconic British TV moments of 2020 — featuring Emily Maitlis, Alan Johnson, Matt Hancock, Nigella Lawson and an under-appreciated classic from the BBC’s Carol Kirkwood.
Coming attractions: POLITICO is launching Playbook Paris in February to help cover the Emmanuel Macron revolution from the French capital. You can read more info here, but in the meantime welcome Playbook Paris author Pauline de Saint Remy. You can already register here.
Congrats to … Playbook’s Brussels colleague Florian Eder, who received Amerigo’s Europe 2020 Award — a prestigious Italian journalism prize. Florian took the gong thanks to his work on the 100,000-subscriber-strong Brussels Playbook, which you can subscribe to here if you haven’t already.
Birthdays: Labour Chief Whip in the Lords Tommy McAvoy … Tory peer Graham Kirkham … Tory peer Roger Swinfen Eady … U.K. Ambassador to Estonia Theresa Bubbear … Former Danish PM Helle Thorning-Schmidt … Governor of Western Australia Kim Beazley … Holyrood Alex Salmond inquiry convenor Linda Fabiani … Historian Antony Beevor … and former FBI Director James Comey, who turns 60.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, research assistant Andrew McDonald and producer Miriam Webber.