PLUS: Trump clings on, obviously
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The Times and Sunday Times
Monday November 9 2020
Red Box
Esther Webber
By Esther Webber
Good morning,
The US news network ABC provoked much amusement among British audiences this weekend after tweeting that fireworks had been let off across the UK to celebrate Joe Biden's victory, apparently unaware of our pre-existing traditions. I suspect the United States's second Catholic president would not approve of their true purpose.
Esther Webber
Red Box reporter
Twitter icon @estwebber
 
The briefing
  • We now know who the next president of the United States will be and we can all move on with our lives. Oh, wait, President Trump is digging in for a lengthy legal fight as he refuses to accept the "unfair" outcome of the election.
  • Speaking of fake news, The Times's front page carries the story that GCHQ has begun an offensive cyberoperation to disrupt anti-vaccine propaganda being spread by hostile states.
  • Wales emerges from its "firebreaker" lockdown today, apart from Merthyr Tydfil where restrictions remain in place. If nothing else, people will never again take their right to buy a kettle in a big Tesco for granted.
  • Rishi Sunak is doing what he does best today, launching a charm offensive to win round northern Tory MPs who attacked the government last month over the impact of lockdown on their constituencies.
  • Today's main parliamentary action is in the Lords, where peers will try to strike out controversial parts of the Internal Market Bill. Before that, there's a private notice question on Covid-19 statistics which may not be entirely comfortable for the government.
  • Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, arrived in London last night for talks on fair trade rules and fishing rights as Boris Johnson stressed a deal is "there to be done".
  • Trivia question: What links the Conservative MPs Boris Johnson, Greg Hands and Joy Morrissey? Answer at the bottom of today's email.
Learning to count
Great claims are made for the relationship between the UK and the United States, which the prime minister sought to bolster yesterday by saying more unites us than divides us. If we're naturally suspicious of Boris Johnson telling us this or that relationship is "special", then he only has his own track record to blame.

By any measure, the bonds were tested this weekend. Despite the slow counting in some key states, oversight of which we must assume is Dido Harding's other job, we did eventually get a result on Saturday around 4pm, when the news networks called the election for Amtrak passenger of the year Joe Biden.

Congratulations flooded in from world leaders but not, conspicuously, our own, who took a couple of hours to fire up the Instagram template and find something nice to say. Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, contrived to make the UK's response look even weirder by including the caveats "some of the processes are still playing out" and "Donald Trump fought hard" in his tweet.

When Raab appeared on Sky News yesterday Sophy Ridge, the presenter, attempted to set him an easier task by asking if he thought all votes should be counted. He treated the question with a kind of outraged disdain as though he'd been asked to nominate his favourite child on live TV, and demurred several times before agreeing, yes, he was in favour of democracy.

Tongues wagged over the weekend about whether this performance had something to do with the Vote Leave troops still encamped at No 10 and the Foreign Office, and their unwillingness to let go of America's biggest Brexiteer.

One source familiar with their workings played down this idea, saying it was more cock-up than conspiracy, and pointing to Raab's innate knack for making even the most benign things sound sinister. A senior Tory reported the reaction among colleagues was one of "confusion, above all else".

It was not one-way traffic either. A prominent Democrat described Boris Johnson in a tweet as a "shapeshifting creep" while Donald Trump apparently looked to a British newspaper to strengthen his wild claims about voter fraud. He tweeted: "Best pollster in Britain wrote this morning that this clearly was a stolen election, that it’s impossible to imagine that Biden outran Obama in some of these states."

He seemed to be referring to a column in the Express, the UK outlet most sympathetic to Trump and Nigel Farage, in which one Patrick Basham wrote: "There is a mountain of evidence, direct and circumstantial, of widespread ballot fraud". The only catch? Basham is the director of something called the Democracy Institute in Washington DC - so it turns out even our "best pollsters" are American. Sad!

Away from the mudslinging over the results, today parliamentarians are picking over the Internal Market Bill, the controversial piece of legislation which Joe Biden went on record to criticise during the US election campaign.

Back in September, when the government revealed its intention to allow ministers to break international law, Biden tweeted: "We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit."

The bill is being debated by the Lords, with peers expected to take the unusual step of forcing two votes at committee stage today, on clauses which give ministers the power to override the withdrawal agreement and determine future trade arrangements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

You don't need to be the poll inspector of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania, to work out that the government will almost certainly be defeated in those votes, making our friends in ermine unlikely allies of the Republic.

Yesterday the prime minister signalled he had no intention of backing down in this fight, saying: “The parliamentary timetable goes ahead. The whole point of that bill ... is to protect and uphold the Good Friday agreement and the peace process in Northern Ireland. And again, that’s one of the things that we’re united on with our friends in the White House.”

George Eustice, the environment secretary, hammered home the same message this morning, telling Times Radio: "These controversial clauses are all about defending the Good Friday Agreement."

The trouble is that very few people believe them. The widespread theory at Westminster is that today's ructions are a form of shadow-boxing and the government will eventually withdraw this part of the bill further down the line as negotiations with the EU progress, when No 10 will say the whole breaking-the-law thing was only ever needed as a form of insurance.

A Conservative peer in the know told me: "I still think the government will concede but the window for doing so is tightening. If Michel Barnier were prescient he may realise he has added leverage right now." A senior Labour source added: "Peers on all sides are pretty determined to try to knock out the ‘law-breaking’ clauses. Ping-pong [stage] might end up resembling a Wimbledon tie-breaker."

On this reading, the transatlantic angle may have been overdone, and it will be the government's calculations on finding a deal with the EU which determine the outcome.

There's another factor at play here, one which I imagine could hardly be further from Biden's mind. I've heard from a few people that business in the Lords is very much being conducted with one eye on the House's ultimate demise, a passion project of Sir Eddie Lister, the PM's head of strategy.

Lister himself was ennobled in Johnson's recent peerage list, and apparently fancies taking the House of Lords down from the inside. On one level it seems a bizarre undertaking: Lords reform is notorious as the Bermuda triangle of British politics, where you can lose yourself for months at a time without making any progress, and it can hardly be considered a first-order priority right now.

But if the government finds time to apply itself to the problem in a less acute phase of the coronavirus crisis, a number of other conditions are on its side: a large majority of Tory MPs who are driven by their loyalty to Brexit, whose voters have little time for the House of Lords and probably would not mourn its passing. It will be grist to the mill if Downing Street can point to a recent example of their hands being forced by peers in a struggle with the EU.

It would also be in keeping with the government's wider OTT, tear-it-all-down tendencies. As one Tory peer puts it: "There are realisable reforms that could be achieved in short order but this government isn’t going to find them. They keep checking the fuel levels in the car using a blowtorch."

If Biden's foreign policy ends up unintentionally setting the stage for Lords reform, he has already secured his place in history as one of the most effective presidents ever to sit in the White House.
RED BOX: COMMENT
David Miliband
The world's democracies must share Biden's load
David Miliband – International Rescue Committee
Frankie Leach
No, it’s not sexist to report on Kamala Harris’s style
Frankie Leach – Writer and activist
Chart of the day
In this research from BritainThinks, Nicola Sturgeon comes out top among the main party leaders, with Rishi Sunak hot on her heels. Boris Johnson can at least take comfort he's rated more highly than Donald Trump.
RED BOX: COMMENT
Lucy Morrell and Tom Brookes
Voters want empathy from their leaders at a time of crisis
Lucy Morrell and Tom Brookes – Britain Thinks
Need to know
RESULTS-DRIVEN: The universities admissions body Ucas is proposing that pupils should not apply for places until after getting their A-level results, and courses would start in January. (The Times)

HEALTH CHECK: Ministers have claimed that they were not aware Kate Bingham, the head of the government’s vaccine task force, had hired a team of PR consultants on salaries equivalent to £167,000 a year each. (The Times)

LOCKDOWN CRACKDOWN: Police forces are prepared to escalate their response to lockdown breaches, ministers have warned amid rising concern that the public is not adhering to the rules. (The Times)

CANARY IN THE MINE: Boris Johnson is being urged to hand differently worded briefings to cabinet ministers in order to catch the leaker who revealed the second national coronavirus lockdown early. (The Telegraph)

BACK OF THE NET: Marcus Rashford has welcomed the government's change of heart over free school meals after Boris Johnson promised £170 million to help feed disadvantaged children over the Christmas holidays. (Sky News)
RED BOX: COMMENT
John Cope
Now is the time to reform university admissions
John Cope – UCAS
Here's a chance to answer Saturday's poll.
RED BOX: COMMENT
Kevin Hollinrake
Fair wages will help businesses survive the pandemic
Kevin Hollinrake – Conservative MP
Have your say
On Saturday Patrick asked how Boris Johnson should break the ice and build a constructive relationship with Joe Biden.

Adrian Webster: "Johnson should behave in a way that is valued by the majority of Americans: tell the truth, keep your word, get your sex life under control, brush your hair, tuck your shirt in, and preferably go to church (or the equivalent) regularly. Oh, and don’t game and insult cherished democratic institutions or breach international treaties."

Deborah King: "The ice is already breaking up around the North Pole. Boris should offer Joe Biden the top of the bill at COP26 to set out his plans to make the US economy environmentally sustainable."

Ruth Mills: "I very much doubt Johnson is any kind of priority for Biden, and Biden has been very clear if the Good Friday agreement is ignored or subverted there’s no trade deal. So perhaps before making any attempt to contact Biden the bloviating blond should beg the EU for an indefinite extension."

Chez Newman: "Boris could invite Biden for a sleepover at Chequers and spend the night with a midnight feast of ethical chicken and chips plus a binge-watch of Designated Survivor."

Ian Orlebar: "Seek an indefinite extension of the Bwrecksit transition period, whilst a referendum is held on invoking article 49 TEU. This ticks all of the Democrats' (particularly Biden's) boxes as well as serving the best interests of the UK, not least in making the UK Union a viable proposition into the future."

Stuart Hogan: "Anything Biden wants in return for a free trade agreement."

TODAY: Which political event should we commemorate with fireworks? Email redbox@thetimes.co.uk and we'll use some of the best tomorrow.
The best comment
Clare Foges
I’m pro-Joe but spare me the Trump haters
Clare Foges – The Times
Libby Purves
Bashir was just one of many who used Diana
Libby Purves – The Times
Edward Lucas
Drink up — and help to foil Beijing’s bullying
Edward Lucas – The Times
Joe Biden won’t fix America’s relationship with the world
Tom McTague - The Atlantic
Patients pay an unforgivable price for ‘saving the NHS’
Kate Andrews - The Telegraph
The cartoon
Today's cartoon from The Times by Morten Morland
Now read this
Every year some 10,000 veterans march down Whitehall to honour Britain’s war dead. On the lockdown Remembrance Sunday, however, there were just 25 veterans from across the services, writes Valentine Low.

And among the few, there was one who bore a heavy weight of symbolism on his shoulders. John Aitchison, 96, a veteran of the Normandy landings, was the sole surviving serviceman from the Second World War who took part in the slimmed-down, socially distanced ceremony.

This was the 28th time that he had done so. Every other time there had been crowds and thousands of veterans like him taking more than an hour to march past the Cenotaph.

This year, there were no crowds, the march past took just a couple of minutes and the number of servicemen taking part was just a small fraction of the usual number.
Read the full story >
The agenda
Today
  • Two-week "firebreak" lockdown comes to an end in Wales.
  • Mark Carney, the COP26 finance adviser and UN special envoy for climate action, launches a roadmap for financing the net-zero transition at the opening day of the Green Horizon Summit.
  • Josep Borrell, the EU high representative, delivers an address at the annual EU Ambassadors Conference.
  • 8am EU trade ministers hold online meeting to discuss World Trade Organisation reform and trade relations with China and the United States.
  • 10.35am Andrew Bailey, the Bank of England governor, addresses the Green Horizon summit.
  • 2pm Andy Haldane, chief economist of the Bank of England, takes part in discussion series organised by the Reform think tank.
  • 2.30pm Sarah Healey, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport permanent secretary, Susannah Storey, the DCMS director-general for digital, and Raj Kalla, Building Digital UK's chief executive, give evidence to the public accounts committee.
  • 2.45pm Representatives of NDI, ADS, Britten-Norman, Oxley Group and Produmax give evidence to the defence sub-committee on foreign involvement in the defence supply chain.
  • 3.30pm Caroline Wayman, the chief ombudsman and chief executive of the Financial Ombudsman Service, gives evidence to the Treasury committee.
  • 4pm Brian Berry, the Federation of Master Builders chief executive, Kate Henderson, the National Housing Federation chief executive, and representatives of Barratt Developments and the Greater London Authority give evidence on planning to the housing, communities and local government committee.
  • 4pm Penny Mordaunt, the paymaster general, gives evidence to the National Security Strategy joint committee.
  • 4.30pm Hilary Benn, chairman of the future relationship with the EU committee, takes part in an IPPR webinar on climate action.
House of Commons
  • 2.30pm Home Office questions.
  • Financial Services Bill: Second reading.
  • Adjournment debate on changes to the Small Breweries' Relief.
House of Lords
  • 1pm Introduction of Lord Stewart of Dirleton.
  • Questions on the Royal Commission on criminal justice; the US election; net-zero carbon emissions, and freelancers who work in the entertainment and music industries.
  • Private notice question on Covid-19 and the presentation of statistics.
  • Immigration and Social Security Co-ordination (EU Withdrawal) Bill: Consideration of Commons amendments.
  • Agriculture Bill: Consideration of Commons amendments.
  • United Kingdom Internal Market Bill: Committee stage (part 5 of the bill).
Today's trivia answer
Trivia question: What links the MPs Boris Johnson, Greg Hands and Joy Morrissey?

Answer: They were all born in the United States.

Send your trivia to redbox@thetimes.co.uk
 
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