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By ALEX WICKHAM
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Good Easter Monday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
BANK HOLIDAY CALM: Boris Johnson is readying himself for a hectic 48 hours of Commons action when MPs return from recess on Tuesday to hold him to account over his Partygate fine. Today is very much the Bank Holiday calm before the storm this week as the prime minister looks forward to a pasting from across the despatch box. All the while he will be hoping the Metropolitan Police do not pop up in his inbox with another fixed penalty notice for breaching COVID rules. Enjoy the rest of the sun as we’ll probably be spending much of the next few days watching the parliament channel.
What the PM will say: Johnson is expected to make a statement in the Commons about his fine on Tuesday. The Times’ Matt Dathan says the PM will also talk about Ukraine and the government’s energy security strategy (remember that?). The Sunday Times’ Caroline Wheeler and Harry Yorke were briefed that Johnson will appeal for perspective by invoking his recent conversations with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy and US President Joe Biden.
Apparently he will tell the House: “On April 12, I spoke to President Biden to brief him on my visit to Kyiv and proposed that our long-term goal must be to strengthen and fortify Ukraine so that Russia will never dare to invade again. And of course… the House will know that was also the day when I received a fixed penalty notice relating to an event in Downing Street on June 19, 2020. ”
How the week pans out: The i’s Hugo Gye has a good indicator of how the week might go, although we will not know the order of play until the Commons returns. Check Tuesday’s Playbook for more concrete details. In the meantime, Gye says that at some point on Tuesday or Wednesday there is likely to be some sort of censorship vote on Johnson’s fine, either holding him in contempt of the Commons or seeking a standards investigation. Opposition leaders are holding talks with Commons Speaker Lindsay Hoyle to ensure any vote is binding. However, it should be said that at the moment no one is expecting Johnson to lose any vote, though Labor and the Lib Dems will at least be able to have some fun with Tory MPs who have to defend Johnson.
Sorry not sorry: Johnson also has a meeting with the Conservative parliamentary party on Tuesday evening. A Downing Street source tells Dathan the PM “will of course apologize again” but “he will say that we need to continue to focus on the huge priorities we need to deliver for people.” A close ally of Johnson tells the Times that “mistakes were made” but he would tell colleagues there was “always an exemption for work and people were working in close proximity in No. 10 for very long hours. ”
They go on: “There was always an exemption around work but the prime minister accepted mistakes were made. If you’re going from meeting to meeting and it’s something at 2 pm in the afternoon, people would not particularly call that a party. You do not tend to call that a party. If you go to something where you’re giving a speech, you’re not partying, so from his point of view, it’s his place of work, going to events in a work capacity, that’s the context in which these events happened. That is the way he will present it, and a lot of people understand this. ”
Translation: Even if Johnson ends up with more fixed penalty notices, no. 10 is going to fight hard, insist Johnson did not very much wrong at all, accuse the police of being too harsh and tell Tory MPs the fines do not merit removing him from office.
Another go: Then there’s PMQs on Wednesday, where Labor Leader Keir Starmer can’t miss the pre-locals open goal.
Get me outta here: Johnson then flies to India on Thursday and will visit Gujarat and New Delhi to “advance peace and prosperity.” The Telegraph’s Dominic Penna previews the trip with criticism of Indian PM Narendra Modi’s weak position on Russia.
Right on cue: There is plenty of follow-up on today’s front pages for a line in the Wheeler-Yorke Sunday Times piece which quoted a source claiming Johnson instigated the leaving drinks for his former comms chief Lee Cain on November 13, 2020. The paper describes this as “The event expected to create the biggest headache.” No. 10 says Johnson did not organize the event.
Tell us what you really think: Respected historian Peter Hennessy told the BBC on Sunday that Johnson had “broken the law,” “misled parliament,” “shredded the ministerial code” and left us with the “most severe constitutional crisis involving a prime minister.” The Beeb’s Ione Wells has a write-up.
You’re Nic’d: Scotland’s Prime Minister Nicola Sturgeon is facing some COVID rule-breaking issues of her own this morning after footage was posted on social media of her maskless inside a barber shop while on the campaign trail. The BBC says this is an apparent breach of the law in Scotland as people were still required to wear masks in many indoor settings until today. The Scottish Daily Mail brands here a “mask hypocrite.” A Scotland Police spokesperson said: “We can confirm that we have received a complaint which is currently being assessed.”
KHARKIV DEATH TOLL RISES: There have been further reported Russian missile attacks in the south and east of Ukraine overnight and over the weekend. Speaking on Sunday night, Zelenskyy said at least 18 people had been killed and more than 100 injured during shelling in Kharkiv over the past four days. Reuters has his quotes. The Kyiv Independent reported explosions were heard in Kherson late last night. The governor of Mykolaiv said there had been near continuous attacks in the city, the BBC reported.
No surrender: Ukrainian Prime Minister Denys Shmyhal told ABC yesterday that soldiers in Mariupol would “fight to the end.” Russia is planning to further restrict access to the besieged city from today, the BBC says.
Moscow sinking: Independent Russian newspaper Novaya Gazeta Europe reports that 40 Russian sailors died when its Moscow flagship was sunk. The paper quotes an anonymous mother of one of the Russian sailors on board.
Homes for Ukraine: Transport Secretary Grant Shapps became the first Cabinet minister to welcome a Ukrainian family into his home under the government scheme.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: In recess until tomorrow.
HOLY ROW: It seems those who did not spend Easter weekend in the sun spent it on Twitter arguing about the church’s role in politics. After Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby condemned the government’s Rwanda refugees policy, saying it was un-Christian and would not “stand the judgment of God,” Home Secretary Priti Patel has fired back in the Times with a joint article with Rwanda’s Foreign Minister Vincent Biruta . They offer this thinly veiled criticism of the ABC: “It’s surprising that those institutions that criticize the plans fail to offer their own solutions.” Matt Dathan has the story. Immigration Minister Kevin Foster is on defensive duties in the Sun. The Times also reports that some of Rwanda’s most vulnerable refugees will be sent to Britain as part of the deal.
NHS IN CRISIS: There are three (more) very serious NHS crises that deserve significant attention in Westminster this week. The number of vacant NHS hospital beds in England is lower than at any time since the beginning of COVID, and accidents and emergencies are facing waits of up to 13 hours. The FT’s Oliver Barnes, Sarah Neville and John Burn-Murdoch have the story, and Chris Cook tweeted about the dire A&E collapse this weekend.
Maternity scandal: Then there is the shocking scandal revealed by the Sunday Times’ Shaun Lintern, who found that the epilepsy drug sodium valproate, thought to have caused disabilities in 20,000 babies, is still being prescribed to pregnant women. It is worth reading Lintern’s story for the full indictment of the NHS, medical regulators and the government.
Not a great stat after 12 years of Tory rule: Andrew Gregory has an alarming story on the front of the Guardian revealing women in England’s poorest areas are dying earlier than women in almost every comparable country in the world. Gregory reports “the average life expectancy for all women across England and the UK is lower than the global OECD average. The UK ranks 25th out of 38 OECD countries when it comes to the number of years a woman can expect to live. ”
Cost of living latest: Matt Dathan has a line that Johnson has ordered Cabinet ministers to consider how their departments can help reduce the cost of living and host a meeting on their ideas next week. You can see why he’s worried – the i’s Hugo Gye has a Savanta ComRes poll commissioned by the Lib Dems that is damning on the government’s support on energy bills. Asked if the government had done enough to help, 89 percent of 55-64 year-olds said no, as did 82 percent of 65 and aboves, and 83 percent of 45-54s. These are dire numbers from traditional Tory voters ahead of the local elections.
High street plan: Landlords will be forced to let out shops that have been vacant for more than six months in order to revitalize high streets, the Mail’s John Stevens reports. The plan is expected in the Queen’s Speech next month.
Government announcement: Consumer Minister Paul Scully is announcing a new law to protect money in savings clubs.
Business Minister Greg Hands broadcast round: Times Radio (7.20am)… TalkRadio (7.35am)… LBC Breakfast with Andrew Castle (7.50am)… ITV’s Good Morning Britain (8.15am).
Shadow Policing Minister Sarah Jones: TalkRadio (8.20 am)… Times Radio (8.35 am)… LBC Breakfast with Andrew Castle (8.50 am).
Today program: Public accounts committee Chairwoman Meg Hillier (6.50 am)… Mariupol Deputy Mayor Sergei Orlov and military expert Simon Mayall (8.10 am).
Also on Times Radio: Caroline Haughey QC, expert in human trafficking and modern slavery (7.35 am)… Ukrainian MP Sviatoslav Yurash (8.07 am)… Chris Phillipsformer head of the National Counter-Terrorism Security Office (9.05 am).
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: MPs attack Welby rant.
Daily Mail: Outcry at Welby’s attack on ‘ungodly’ asylum plan.
Daily Mirror: Johnson led the boozy party.
Daily Star: Strife of Brian.
HuffPost UK: A rogue prime minister.
in: Johnson faces triple threat over Partygate.
POLITICO UK: Ukraine war offers palm oil a comeback to the horror of green groups.
PoliticsHome: Hundreds of civil servants drafted to home office.
The Daily Telegraph: Johnson accused of ‘instigating’ drinks party.
The Financial Times: Ukraine war and ‘stagflation’ pose threat to world economic recovery.
The Guardian: Revealed: ‘shocking’ rate of female deaths in England’s poorest areas.
The Sun.: Harry & Meg hire Obama’s bodyguard.
The Times: Defiant PM insists he did not break Covid rules.
WESTMINSTER WEATHER: The lovely weekend continues. Sun and cloud, 17 degrees.
BIRTHDAYS: President of Ireland Michael D. Higgins … Former Lords Speaker and Crossbench peer Frances D’Souza … Former Tory MP Peter Hordern … UK in a Changing Europe Senior Fellow Jonathan Portes … Creative Industries Trade and Investment Board adviser Elizabeth Diaferia … Fashion designer Samantha Cameron.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovichreporter Andrew McDonald and producer Fiona Lally.
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