ishi Sunak has joked about putting an elf on the shelf at No 10 so Boris Johnson behaves himself this Christmas and doesn’t promise any big spending splurges. “I should take his credit card away,” the chancellor laughed. Top scientists fear the prime minister could be much too generous with the public this Christmas. Johnson, keen to be the man who saved the holidays, is preparing to gift us a seasonal break from coronavirus rules. Top Tories, on the other hand, fear the PM won’t be nearly generous enough when it comes to lifting lockdown at the start of December.
Inside the bubble
Our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn on what to look out for today:
Boris Johnson is set to announce his plan for England once lockdown comes to an end. While the Brexit negotiations carry on virtually, top government officials will discuss the readiness or unreadiness of Britain’s borders at the Commons public accounts committee. Meanwhile, the PM will hand over something called the Grotius Prize – in honour of the founder of international law – to his Australian counterpart Scott Morrison at an online Policy Exchange event.
GOING GETS TOUGHENED: Boris Johnson is ready to set out a “toughened” three-tiered system for England when lockdown finishes up on 2 December. Despite the strengthening of some rules, the PM is hoping he can keep Tory MPs onside by relaxing the 10pm curfew (punters will get another hour to drink up), while gyms and non-essential shops are expected to reopen in all areas. Yet up to 70 backbenchers in the Covid Recovery Group are ready to rebel – unless No 10 produces a “cost-benefit analysis” which shows the moves will “save more lives than they cost.” What about all those front pages about the “saving” of Christmas? The Cabinet Office said restrictions on household mixing would be relaxed for a “small number of days” across the UK, after ministers from England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland endorsed a shared aim of extended “household bubbling”. Several families could be allowed to mix between 22 and 28 December, according to The Telegraph. But both the BBC and ITV report that it’ll only be a five-day break.
SEE YOU IN A DECADE: Fisheries remains Brexit’s big sticking point. The EU is said to be a demanding review of any fishing deal in 2030, which would allow the bloc to trigger the renegotiation of quotas. UK negotiator David Frost is pushing back against the idea, according to The Times – though he has offered a transition period of at least three years to give European fishing crews more time to adjust. Johnson is ready to make a big, final diplomatic push for a deal this week, and is expected to talk to European Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen. Is he leaving it too late? Leaders in Brussels have set a deadline of Tuesday next week for an agreement. “Both sides seem to think we will get there, but nothing is certain,” one official said. It follows the welcome news over the weekend that the UK and Canada have agreed a deal “in principle” to continue trading under the same terms as the current EU agreement once the transition period ends.
THE BIG CHILL: With Brexit deadlines pushed back yet again, it looks like Rishi Sunak’s spending review will dominate much of this week. The chancellor will unveil £3bn in new money for the NHS to help tackle the backlog of cancelled surgeries when he sets out plans this Wednesday. But Labour and the unions have already pounced upon Sunak’s failure to rule out a public sector pay freeze. TUC boss Frances O’Grady described the prospect as “morally obscene” and refused to rule out strikes, while shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds will give a speech today warning that any freeze would damage the country’s economic recovery. Sunak insisted the public “will not see austerity” during his Sunday interviews, but also make clear he did not want high levels of borrowing to go on much longer. Sunak also hinted that tax rises may have to begin next year.
PRIT COMES UNSTUCK? Johnson’s decision to “stick with Prit” has caused outrage in the past few days – but Patel is likely to be moved on as home secretary in the New Year government reshuffle, according to The Sunday Times. Sources insist it would be down to concerns over her “competence” rather than her accidental bullying. Meanwhile, campaigners have submitted a legal challenge alleging that the PM and health secretary Matt Hancock acted “unlawfully” when appointing key figures to top posts during the pandemic. A judicial review had been lodged with the High Court by the Good Law Project and Runnymede Trust – claiming test and trace chief Baroness Dido Harding, vaccine taskforce boss Kate Bingham, and test and trace director Mike Coupe were all handed roles without open competition. Hancock may have further questions to answer. According to The Times, he failed to declare the appointment of one of his closest university pals, Gina Coladangelo, director of lobbying firm Luther Pendragon, as a £15,000-a-year adviser.
JUMPING JEZ FLASH: Labour have big problems of their own. Insiders fear Keir Starmer has unleashed another big “flashpoint” by commissioning an independent inquiry into the controversial party report leaked last year (the one alleging that an anti-Jeremy Corbyn conspiracy was hampering efforts to tackle antisemitism). Sources told The Observer the “nightmare” inquiry has taken on “a life of its own”. Have recent dramas over antisemitism hurt Starmer in the polls? His approval rating has fallen from 17 points to 11 points in the past fortnight. And the latest figures show party membership fell by almost 57,000 between April and November. Labour folk may or may not be pleased that rail re-nationalisation is on the Tory government’s agenda. Transport secretary Grant Shapps has asked Network Rail chief Andrew Haines to come up with a 30-year strategy called the “The Whole Industry Strategic Plan”, according to internal documents leaked to The Telegraph – with a state takeover of the railways among the options.
SUCH AN EMBARRASSMENT: One of Trump’s closest allies in recent years, ex-New Jersey governor Chris Christie, has said it’s time his old pal faces up to reality. He called the conduct of the president’s legal team “a national embarrassment”, adding: “We cannot continue to act as if something happened here that didn’t happen.” The man leading that embarrassment, Rudy Giuliani, said he was “thankful” to the judge who threw out the campaign’s election lawsuit in Pennsylvania – claiming that it will actually help them move more “expeditiously” to the Supreme Court. Judge Matthew Brann said his court had been presented only with “strained legal arguments without merit and speculative accusations”. More Republicans are beginning to turn on Trump. Maryland governor Larry Hogan said efforts to overturn the election results were “beginning to look like we’re a banana republic”.
On the record
“We saw ministers join millions of us clapping firefighters, refuse collectors, social care workers – I don’t think this would be the time to reward them with a real pay cut”.
TUC boss Frances O’Grady on the prospect of a pay freeze.
From the Twitterati
“Boris Johnson once again choosing being popular over keeping people alive, like a dad who lets their kid play with the electrical sockets because “look at how happy they were briefly”.”
James Felton suggests the easing of rules at Christmas is unwise…
“Nice to know we can do it for Christmas, just not for Eid or Diwali. Fair.”
…while Sky News’ Inzamam Rashid suggests it is unfair.
Rachel Reeves, The Independent: The government’s ‘chumocracy’ knows no bounds
James Moore, The Independent: The future of Fox News is hanging in the balance
Katy Balls, The Spectator: The difficult decisions Rishi Sunak still has to make
Peter Nicholas, The Atlantic: The damage Trump could still do before the inauguration
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