POLITICO’s Coverage: Evading the Question for an Entire Day


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FRIDAY CHEAT SHEET

Neither the government or Labour wants to discuss whether Israel’s ultimatum to civilians in northern Gaza is practical.

Defense Secretary Grant Shapps went toe to toe with the BBC over its refusal to use the word “terrorists” without attribution.

Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said the government values Israeli lives more than Palestinian lives.

Astonishing WhatsApp messages from Whitehall boss Simon Case were shown to the COVID-19 probe.

Fans of Science Minister George Freeman can now see what his end-of-school photo might have looked like.

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TOP OF THE NEWSLIST

24 HOURS OF DODGING THE QUESTION: Both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer are swerving comment on the 24-hour deadline Israel gave civilians in northern Gaza to flee southwards ahead of a ground invasion to root out Hamas fighters.

Sticking to general terms: In a clip this afternoon during his visit to Sweden, the PM avoided questions on the humanitarian risk of around a million people lacking food, water and power migrating en masse via bombed-out roads. He said the government was monitoring the situation, adding that “of course the humanitarian concern and protection of civilians is very important.”

Pressed again … Sunak said “Israel has every right to defend itself and take the action that is necessary to ensure the protection and security of its citizens and that nothing like this can ever happen again.” He argued the concerns of civilians are “paramount in our minds.” But he avoided direct comment on the order to evacuate, which numerous groups have argued will not be possible without serious humanitarian consequences.

For the moment: Downing Street and the Foreign Office are sticking to their existing lines. From 8 a.m. tomorrow we’ll start seeing what the ground incursion looks like.

What the PM has been up to: Sunak told the opening session of the Joint Expeditionary Force meeting in Sweden that “terrorism will not, must not prevail, in Ukraine, in Europe, in anywhere else.” He’s had bilateral chats with the leaders of Denmark, Sweden and Norway, and announced increased military support for Northern Europe.

Also sticking to the line: Defense Secretary Grant Shapps also avoided the question of whether the mass movement from northern Gaza was possible when he appeared on BBC Radio 4 this morning. He said it was right for the Israeli government to give “advance notice” to civilians but swerved being drawn on whether the order was compliant with international law. Here’s the clip.

And while we’re at it: Shapps going toe to toe with presenter Mishal Husain about his complaints at the BBC not using the word “terrorist” without attribution to describe Hamas is worth a listen. “Isn’t there a freedom of the press issue here?” Husain asked. “So the U.K. government’s language should be mirrored by all U.K. broadcasters?” Shapps defended himself but it was a bit of a squirm-a-thon.

Not appreciating the silence: Conservative MP Roger Gale, who took to Twitter to question the proportionality of the Israeli response. 

Also preferring not to get involved: Labour leader Keir Starmer and his frontbench, who don’t appear to be answering questions at all about the 24-hour notice. Former Jeremy Corbyn aide Andrew Fisher has been keeping a thread going of all the left-wing MPs who have distanced themselves from the leadership position on the Israeli response to the Hamas attacks. 

Going in hard: Richard Dalton, a former U.K. ambassador to Iran and Lybia, told Times Radio the “kneejerk endorsement of everything Israel does is obscene and a departure from previous stances in which we have sought some fairness in these dreadful situations.”

He added: “It’s not clear to me that Israeli war aims — which appear to be to occupy the northern half of Gaza and in doing so to pay very little attention as they have to civilian casualties — is within the law … Clearly what Hamas has done was an obscene terrorist atrocity, but Israel should not be committing war crimes in response.”

And there’s more: Dalton said British ministers were in one breath insisting the Israeli response must be proportionate, and in the next “endorsing a policy which is simply not in line with those statements. Israeli actions are not proportionate.”

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Also going in hard: Gershon Baskin, a former Israeli government adviser, condemned the U.K. and its allies for paying lip service to wanting a “two state solution” while refusing to engage with Hamas when it took power in Gaza. “You can’t talk about two states and only recognize one of them,” he told Times Radio. The U.K. government also hasn’t commented on claims from Human Rights Watch that the Israeli government used white phosphorus in Gaza.

And also going in hard: Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf said the U.K. government doesn’t value Palestinian lives as much as it does Israeli lives in an interview with ITV released in the past few minutes. He said British ministers “should be at the forefront saying the life of a Palestinian is the same as the life of an Israeli.” In an interview with the BBC, he suggested he would support the planned ground invasion of Gaza as long as innocent people aren’t the victims.

Personal angle: Yousaf cried in interviews when talking about the plight of his in-laws who are trapped in Gaza, after releasing a video from his mother-in-law this morning. He said he felt “powerless and helpless” about the situation, and complained that he’d not heard from Foreign Secretary James Cleverly after writing to him about his loved ones. 

But but but: A person with knowledge of the case told Playbook PM Cleverly raised Yousaf’s concerns with the Israeli government.

In defense of the Israeli response: In his latest Mail column, Former PM Boris Johnson argues that although “what is happening now in Gaza is tragic,” the Israelis “have no choice but to try to find those who attacked them, and to prevent them from doing it again. They are not intentionally terrorizing the innocent; they are trying to prevent more terrorism.” The full piece, which also takes aim at the “idiots” blaming Israel for the Hamas attacks, is well worth a read.

The Israeli line itself: “This is a war for the existence of Israel as a prosperous state, as a democratic state, as homeland of the Jewish people,” Israeli Defense Minister Yoav Gallant told a press conference alongside his U.S. counterpart this afternoon. “We are fighting for our home. We are fighting for our future,” he said. “The path will be long, but ultimately I promise you we will win.” Reuters has a writeup.

POLITICO’s Coverage: Evading the Question for an Entire Day

DRIVETIME DEBRIEF

SIMON SAYS: Still-serving Cabinet Secretary Simon Case told Boris Johnson’s comms chief the U.K. looked like a “terrible, tragic joke” during the COVID pandemic and joked that the PM’s wife Carrie Symonds was in fact running Downing Street. Read the astonishing exchange that the official COVID probe revealed here. HuffPost’s Kevin Schofield has a write-up here. There’s been no comment from Case so far either to civil servants or in public.

STORMONT STALEMATE: Ministers will be listening for hints of an agreement to restore power sharing in Northern Ireland when the DUP meets for its annual conference from tonight, POLITICO’s Shawn Pogatchnik reports from across the Irish Sea. This evening features a private dinner for members at the Crowne Plaza on Belfast’s bucolic southern outskirts, in sight of the Northern Ireland Assembly at Stormont that overlooks Belfast from the east.

State of the union: The crucial moment will come when DUP leader Jeffrey Donaldson delivers his speech on Saturday afternoon. He’s spent weeks haggling with U.K. ministers behind the scenes over the text of two proposed pieces of legislation aimed at helping him sell the Windsor Framework deal to a divided DUP rank and file. Unionists hate the deal because although it reduces checks on goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, it doesn’t eliminate them.

Next steps: If Donaldson doesn’t reject the government proposals (made in private) during his speech, ministers could publish their DUP-friendly legislative package next week once parliament returns. One mooted bill would reassert Northern Ireland’s equal trade rights under the 1800 Act of Union. The other would address how, in the event of expected regulatory divergence between the U.K. and EU, Northern Ireland firms could follow British standards for goods, not the EU’s – even though the Windsor Framework requires the opposite to keep exporting barrier-free to Ireland and the wider EU.

Now read this: Shawn’s big scene setter from last month is well worth looking back at.

AND TO THE NATIONALISTS: In his interview with BBC political editor Chris Mason, Scottish First Minister Humza Yousaf, who kicks off the SNP annual conference this weekend, admitted the party has concentrated “too much on process” when it comes to independence and not enough on a positive case. “You’ve also got to give people a reason to vote for independence,” he argued. Despite losing the Rutherglen and Hamilton West by-election and losing an MP to the Conservatives this week, Yousaf pointed out that the SNP is the largest party in Scotland and still leads in most polls.

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EORUM CULPA: The government has been slipping out corrections into its “Network North” plan … which doesn’t suggest the document was put together in a rush at all. See pages four and five of this PDF. Shadow Transport Secretary Lou Haigh was fuming about it on Twitter.

THE OTHER WAR: Chancellor Jeremy Hunt has asked the Bank of England “whether Russian sovereign assets could be used to fund Ukraine’s defence.” More from the BBC here.

**In this brand-new U.K. politics podcast, two of Westminster’s best-connected journalists Jack Blanchard (POLITICO) and Sam Coates (Sky) bring you everything you need to know about the week ahead in British politics. Get notified of new episodes here**

SOCIAL AFFAIRS

TWITTER TROLLING: Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges asked those arguing that Israel should not bomb, enter via land or besiege Gaza what the nation should instead be doing to defend itself. Then he had a good grapple with the respondents.

MINISTERIAL YEARBOOK: The science and tech department created AI school photos of all its ministers and the results are *chef’s kiss*. Check it out here.

IN THE REAL SOCIAL WORLD: Soho private members’ club Blacks is closing, after recent new owners turned their membership into NFTs and made former Cabinet minister Matt Hancock an honorary lifetime member. It was in Popbitch last night.

AROUND THE WORLD

IN FRANCE: French police used teargas and water cannons to break up a Paris rally in support of Palestinians, POLITICO’s Pierre Emmanuel Ngendakumana reports. Thousands of protesters waved the Palestinian flag and chanted in spite of the French government’s ban on pro-Palestinian demonstrations in the country. 

IN TECH WORLD: Microsoft has completed its takeover of Activision Blizzard — in what represents the gaming industry’s biggest deal ever. The deal was made after the U.K.’s CMA gave the green light and said its initial concerns had been addressed. More from the Beeb here, while POLITICO’s tech team had this read on Microsoft v. Regulators back in August.

IN SERBIA: Snap elections are on the way in Serbia, after president Aleksandar Vučić announced a poll would take place on December 17. The country was rocked by two mass shootings in May — the POLITICO team have more context here.

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TONIGHT’S MEDIA ROUND

LEADING THE NEWS BULLETINS: Channel 5 News (5 p.m.), the BBC News at Six and Channel 4 News (7 p.m.) will be leading on the conflict in Israel and Gaza.

Tom Swarbrick at Drive (LBC, until 6 p.m.): Former RUSI director general Michael Clarke.

BBC PM (Radio 4, 5 p.m.): A UNRWA representative … Israel Foreign Ministry spokesperson Ohad Zemet … Former U.K. perm rep to the U.N. Mark Lyall Grant.

Drive with Cathy Newman (Times Radio, until 7 p.m.): Former Tory leader William Hague and Labour Lords leader Angela Smith.

The News Agents (Podcast, drops at 5 p.m.): Foreign affairs committee Chair Alicia Kearns. 

Lee Anderson’s Real World: (GB News 7 p.m.): Tory peer Daniel Moylan … Trade unionist Andy MacDonald … Ex-police officer Norman Brennan … Comedian Bobby Davro … Musician Denise Pearson.

Any Questions (Radio 4, 8 p.m.): Dragons Den winner Myles Dickinson … Shadow Development Minister Lisa Nandy … Local government minister Lee Rowley … Climate activist Scarlett Westbrook.

Newsnight (BBC Two 10.30 p.m.): Former IDF in Gaza deputy commander Amir Avivi.

REVIEWING THE PAPERS TONIGHT: Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): Guardian columnist Zoe Williams and former Tory SpAd Anita Boateng

YOUR WEEKEND IN POLITICS

ANNIVERSARY: Tomorrow will mark 12 months since Liz Truss sacked Kwasi Kwarteng as chancellor and replaced him with Jeremy Hunt.

UNIONIST JAMBOREE: The action kicks off with a breakfast at 8 a.m. Highlights include a speech from deputy DUP leader Gavin Robinson at 11.15 a.m. and a speech from leader Jeffrey Donaldson at 12.25 p.m.

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DIDN’T GET ENOUGH LABOUR CONFERENCE? The Fawcett Society conference takes place at King’s House on Saturday, with speakers including Fawcett Chair Harriet Harman, Labour Party Chair Anneliese Dodds and Labour MP Stella Creasy.

MARCH IN OCTOBER: Pro-Palestine campaigners plan to march in central London from noon on Saturday. Thousands are expected to turn up, as is a significant police presence, and the Met is warning it will crack down on behavior deemed harassment or hate crime. In his clip this afternoon, Rishi Sunak said any racism and incitement to violence will be met “with the full force of the law.”

NATIONALIST JAMBOREE: The SNP kicks off its annual conference in Aberdeen on Sunday, with speeches from Westminster leader Stephen Flynn (10.30 a.m.) and Deputy First Minister Shona Robison (4 p.m.). There will also be a vote at 2.20 p.m. on the route to Scottish independence. POLITICO’s Andrew McDonald will be there. Follow him.

WEEKEND MEDIA ROUND

Ayesha Hazarika with Times Radio drive (Times Radio, 4 p.m. on Saturday): Former IDF deputy director of military intelligence Meir Elran … Author Nathan Thrall … CPRE policy lead Lizzie Bundred Woodward … British Property Federation chief Melanie Leech.

Trevor Phillips on Sunday (Sky News, 8.30 a.m. on Sunday): Foreign Secretary James Cleverly … Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy … Former Israeli Ambassador Mark Regev.

Sunday with Laura Kuenssberg (BBC One, 9 a.m. on Sunday): Foreign Secretary James Cleverly … Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy … Scottish FM Humza Yousaf.

The Camilla Tominey Show (GB News, 9.30 a.m. on Sunday): Foreign Secretary James Cleverly … Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy … Government antisemitism adviser John Mann … IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner … Tory MP Bill Cash.

Sunday Morning with Kate McCann and Adam Boulton (Times Radio, 10 a.m. on Sunday): Foreign Secretary James Cleverly … Shadow Foreign Secretary David Lammy … Scottish Independence Minister Jamie Hepburn … Tory MP Caroline Nokes … Journalist Anne Applebaum.

Ayesha Hazarika with Times Radio drive (Times Radio, 4 p.m. on Sunday): SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn … Former Foreign Secretary Jack Straw … Labour MP Stella Creasy, Scotland Office Minister John Lamont and Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine.

Westminster Hour (Radio 4, 10 p.m. on Sunday): Former Health Minister Jim Bethell … Shadow Skills Minister Seema Malhotra … SNP MP Alyn Smith … The FT’s George Parker.

ANY OTHER BUSINESS

WHAT I’VE BEEN READING: The Jonathan Freedland piece in the Guardian is worth a read in the wake of the bloodshed in Israel and Gaza. “Hamas is not identical with the Palestinian cause: it is a curse on it,” he writes. “You can condemn Hamas and name its actions as evil, even as you support the Palestinians in their quest for a life free of occupation and oppression. And there should still be room in your heart for a Jewish child whose last moments were filled with unimaginable terror — the same terror his grandparents, and their grandparents, thought they had escaped for ever.”

SO LONG, FAREWELL: POLITICO’s Westminster Insider host Ailbhe Rea is off to travel the world. Great news for her but sad times for all those left behind. Here’s her tweet.

NOT ANOTHER ONE! Playbook’s Eleni Courea is also leaving us for a new job as political correspondent at the Guardian. Massive congrats! Her announcement is here ahead of her start in January. Your Playbook PM author isn’t crying, it’s just been raining on my face. And I’ve been chopping onions to make lasagne for one.

WRITING SUNDAY CRUNCH: Anabelle Dickson.

WRITING MORNING PLAYBOOK FOR MONDAY: Eleni Courea.

ON THIS DAY IN POLITICS: On October 13, 2020 Labour leader Keir Starmer urged the government to impose a “circuit breaker” lockdown after scientific advisers recommended doing so as COVID cases rose.

HAVE GREAT WEEKENDS: Conference season is brain-melting so do some serious recovering before parliament kicks off again. I’m seeing the in-laws.

THANKS TO: My editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster, Playbook reporter Noah Keate and the POLITICO production team for making it look nice.

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Emilio Casalicchio



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