PLUS: Brexit rebellion looms
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The Times and Sunday Times
Friday September 11 2020
Red Box
Patrick Maguire
By Patrick Maguire
Good morning,
Conservative MPs are revolting over Brexit. Ministers are getting shirty in Brussels. Brexit hardman Steve Baker is harrying Downing Street on the airwaves. No-deal looms. It's like it's the summer of 2019 all over again. Now if you'll please excuse me, I'm off to defect to Jo Swinson's Lib Dems.
Patrick Maguire
Red Box reporter
Twitter icon @patrickkmaguire
After informing readers for 235 years, we now bring the stories of the day to life on radio with warmth, wit and expertise from 5am weekdays and 6am on weekends until the small hours. Listen free on DAB radio, via your smart speaker, online at, and through the Times Radio app.
The briefing
  • It's hard to lose a Commons vote when you've got a majority of 80, but Boris Johnson could be headed there: the government is facing a revolt by up to 30 Tory MPs over plans that would break international law and allow him to renege on parts of his Brexit deal.
  • Yesterday Lord Howard of Lympne became the third former Tory leader to speak out against the Internal Market Bill but ministers are not for turning — not yet, anyway. In Brussels Michael Gove told the EU that Britain “could not and would not” withdraw.
  • Financial, agricultural and trade sanctions are on the table if the prime minister refuses to back down on his threat to walk away from Britain's treaty obligations, Michael Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, warned.
  • Voters aren't delighted either. Only 16 per cent want the no-deal outcome that both sides look to be staggering towards, according to YouGov polling for The Times.
  • Although Downing Street is talking a good game, it all adds up to an almighty headache for Johnson. In today's Times, James Forsyth warns that the combination of Brexit and tightening coronavirus restrictions risks a Tory civil war on two fronts.
  • There's another challenge for the government from the Treasury select committee this morning, which urges Rishi Sunak to extend the furlough scheme beyond October and abolish the triple lock on pensions to help pay for the recovery.
  • Expect a pitched debate over just how urgent those measures are in the wake of this morning's monthly GDP figures from the Office for National Statistics, which show that the economy grew by 6.6 per cent month-on-month in August.
  • Trivia question: Which party leader was MP for Orkney and Shetland? Answer at the bottom of today's email.
What London thinks
Who governs London?
Despite the rolling tumult in parliament and in Brussels, there’s one corner of the UK where politics is still resolutely, unfailingly predictable: London.

New polling for Red Box by Redfield and Wilton Strategies reveals that things are going about as badly as one could expect for Boris Johnson in the city he once ran — and not only electorally.

On just about everything, voters are behind Sadiq Khan, the prime minister’s Labour successor as mayor. Except, that is, when it comes to apportioning blame for the capital’s woes.

No matter how grim the circumstances, Khan, it seems, gets all of the plaudits and none of the pain. And the questions that dynamic raises will reverberate far beyond London, and next year's mayoral election.
Labour of love
That Khan looks set to win a second term at a canter is no surprise: the numbers show that already 40 per cent of voters are certain to give him their first preference, compared to a meagre 23 for the Tory candidate Shaun Bailey.

Despite a long run-up — and a pandemic that has at times felt even longer and forced Khan, the electioneer’s electioneer, to hit Londoners in the wallet with hikes to the congestion charge and the withdrawal of freebies — a third of Londoners have no idea what Bailey’s policies are. These numbers aren’t entirely surprising, of course.

Though briefly marked out for stardom — well, Westminster’s version of it at least — under David Cameron, as a member of the London Assembly, Bailey is no political A-Lister.

Nor was he ever likely to experience anything but a hiding to nothing in a city where, according to this poll, at least, Labour is riding high at 51 per cent when it comes to Westminster voting intention. On this evidence even the PM in his pomp would struggle to put up much of a fight.
The blame game
Drill down, though, and Khan's position is even stronger. He enjoys a net approval rating of 18 per cent, and on every one of his areas of responsibility but one — policing, transport, the environment, housing and supporting London's economy — voters are more satisfied than dissatisfied.

Only on housing are Londoners dissatisfied by their mayor — and only just. Even Labour MPs would struggle to give Khan an endorsement this resounding. A question often asked, even by the mayor's colleagues in Westminster, is what exactly he has done with his four years in City Hall.

The long and short of that answer appears to be that he has ensured that he remains more popular than the Tory government he defines himself against. But how?

For an answer, look to these numbers: when it comes to who voters believe has more control and power over London, they pick the prime minister almost every time. Only on transport and housing does the buck, in the eyes of voters at least, stop with Khan.

But on big-ticket issues such as the economy and the pandemic, it's Johnson the voters hold responsible. That's in part a reflection of political reality: the PM has more power. But it also offers a big clue as to why the muck ministers have sought to chuck at Khan in recent months just hasn't stuck.

And those voters, by the way, are still overwhelmingly working from home and have no interest in heeding the PM's calls to go back to the office full time, even though they suspect that it will damage the economy in the long run.

Perhaps the government can live with that dynamic in London, a city that increasingly looks impervious to any Tory revival. But as ministers push ahead with plans to merge councils and hand power to elected mayors, it might give them pause for thought.

As new Labour discovered to its cost, constitutional innovations rarely work out the way governments expect. The Scottish parliament didn't kill devolution stone dead, as they expected, but aided and abetted the rise of the SNP.

Proportional representation for the European parliament gave us Ukip, Nigel Farage and Brexit. And Tony Blair's own elected mayors gave us a new generation of populists, one of them in a monkey costume, rather than a new era of accountability.

One only needs to look at how much more comfortable Andy Street, the Tory mayor of the West Midlands, looks in the company of Labour counterparts such as Khan and Andy Burnham in Greater Manchester, or listen to how vocally Ben Houchen in the Tees Valley demands cash from ministers, to see how a big mayoral experiment might go wrong.

If the prime minister has a passion project, it's this: ministers say that the demand for more mayors comes straight from his desk. But on this evidence, it is he who will get the blame when things go wrong.
John Kampfner
Britain has surrendered its right to be respected
John Kampfner – commentator
The Sketch
Moonshot mockery and Hancock’s half apology
Quentin Letts
Quentin Letts
When Matt Hancock mentioned “Operation Moonshot” there was derisive laughter, not all of it from the opposition. MPs plainly thought Boris Johnson’s “moonshot” idea of daily home Covid tests was lunar lunacy. Closer to home, look what happened in Telford. An NHS computer blew a gasket and instructed people from around the kingdom to descend on Telford for a corona test. The town’s MP, Lucy Allan (C), sounded a little frazzled when she described how the streets had become jammed by “literally hundreds of cars” containing invalids who had motored there from places such as Cornwall and London. Cornwall! That’s a five-hour car journey each way.
Read the full sketch >
Leon Emirali
No 10 has forgotten what it’s good at: communicating with the public
Leon Emirali – Communications adviser
Need to know
LUCKY TIM: BBC radio DJs and sports presenters could be allowed to keep their salaries secret under radical plans by its new director general to put swathes of the corporation on a commercial footing. (The Times)

SIX APPEAL: Boris Johnson’s “rule of six” coronavirus measures have divided his cabinet, with a number of ministers opposed to the clampdown, it has been claimed. (The Times)

BLUE MOON: The prime minister has been accused of ignoring basic statistics by leading experts, who say that his “moonshot” plan will require coronavirus tests of unprecedented accuracy. (The Times)

LAW AND DISORDER: A behind-the-scenes rift has emerged between the government’s top legal advisers over the legality of the decision to bring legislation that overrides the EU withdrawal agreement. (The Guardian)

WOMBLING FREE: The government's coronavirus marshals have been dismissed as “Covid Wombles” by the police after it emerged that they would have no powers to enforce restrictions. (Daily Telegraph)

TRICKY DICKY: Embattled Scottish Labour leader Richard Leonard wants to deselect MSPs who attempted to oust him in a coup this week and replace them as candidates with keyworkers in advance of next year's Holyrood election. (The Herald)
Adam McNicholas
Labour needs to ‘go low’ if it is to rise again
Adam McNicholas – Former Labour adviser
Ministers can't say they weren't warned if the Internal Market Bill backfires: 81 per cent of you said they should abandon the controversial legislation in yesterday's poll.
Have your say
Yesterday I asked which five politicians you'd ask to join you for a Covid-compliant night out.

Jacqueline Macdonald: "My five politicians for a Covid-compliant night out are Winston Churchill, Anthony Eden, Edward Heath, Harold Wilson, and of course Ramsay MacDonald. I’m not expecting much small talk — or in fact any."

Chez Newman: "Not a politician but I wish he was my MP: I would pick Eddie Izzard five times."

Patricia Judson: "I wouldn't."

Austin Fears: " After thinking long and hard, a ready meal for one at home wins hands down."

Phil Parkin: "I'd invite Bismarck, Kim Jong-un, Stalin, Eisenhower and Schwarzenegger — don't think we'd have any trouble from anyone with that company."

Bill Giles: "For my Covid compliant companions I select Boris Johnson, Gavin Williamson and Matt Hancock simply to keep them away from the levers of power for a while. That is only four of us, which seems plenty to be going on with."

David Lillystone: "Steve Baker, Andrew Bridgen, Richard Burgon, Diane Abbott and Ian Blackford. I couldn’t bear to be in the same room as any of them so social distancing is guaranteed."

TODAY: How would you revive talks over a Brexit trade deal? Email and we'll use some of the best tomorrow.
The best comment
James Forsyth
Johnson ignores backbenchers at his peril
James Forsyth – The Spectator
Ed Conway
We’re world leaders in guns, drugs and money
Ed Conway – The Times
Iain Martin
These assaults on our liberty are a step too far
Iain Martin – The Times
The problem with the Internal Market Bill
Stephen Daisley - Spectator
Hard Brexit is about to deliver a devastating hit to our Covid economy
Simon Jenkins - The Guardian
The cartoon
Today's cartoon from The Times by Morten Morland
Zesha Saleem
Exams fiasco has set a test for which politicians are not yet prepared
Zesha Saleem – Student and writer
Now read this
Becoming a sex symbol overnight was a shock to Diana Rigg, a classical actress with little experience of television. “I didn’t know how to handle it,” she recalled of the fame that came with playing Emma Peel, a secret agent in the Sixties television series The Avengers.

As a dominatrix who sent the villains crashing to the ground with karate-chops and lethal kicks, she proved a perfect foil to the bowler-hatted John Steed, played by Patrick Macnee.

That said, her shiny black leather catsuit was “a total nightmare”, taking 45 minutes to get unzipped and was “like struggling in and out of a wetsuit”.

Some of her fans were also a nightmare. On one occasion she had to hide from them in the lavatory at the Motor Show, and in Germany the police resorted to holding them back with batons.

“I kept all the unopened fan mail in the boot of my car because I didn’t know how to respond and thought it was rude to throw it away,” she said. “Then my mother became my secretary and replied to the really inappropriate ones saying, ‘My daughter’s far too old for you. Go take a cold shower!’ ”
Read the full story >
From the diary
By Patrick Kidd
Waiting for Churchill
In his autobiography, Tom King writes about being the minister who opened up the Cabinet War Rooms for tourists in the 1980s. They included a small room that looked like Churchill’s lavatory because the door had a Vacant/Engaged sign but was soundproofed and held a secure telephone. “When the first person from our team went into the War Rooms to see what needed to be done to open them to the public, he picked up that telephone and a voice immediately said, ‘White House here’, ” King writes. “It must have been a shock for the telephone operator when a light came on his switchboard that had not lit up for nearly 40 years.”
Read more from the TMS diary >
The agenda
  • The Office for National Statistics publishes its monthly estimate of UK GDP.
  • Local lockdown restrictions in Leicester are due for review.
  • HMRC publishes statistics on EU and non-EU trade.
  • The business minister Nadhim Zahawi announces funding for 14 projects to help those using advanced manufacturing technologies in innovative ways.
  • 9am The former chancellors Sajid Javid and George Osborne are among speakers at the Centre for Policy Studies' virtual conference.
  • 1pm Rachel Reeves, shadow minister for the Cabinet Office, speaks at a virtual roundtable organised by TheCityUK on financial and professional services and the coronavirus recovery.
  • 2pm The Department of Health and Social Care and NHS publish their daily update on coronavirus cases, deaths and tests carried out.
House of Commons
  • 9.30am Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies (Environmentally Sustainable Investment) Bill: second reading.
  • Unpaid Work Experience (Prohibition) (No. 2) Bill: second reading .
  • Hospitals (Parking Charges and Business Rates) Bill: second reading .
  • Parliamentary Constituencies (Amendment) Bill: second reading .
  • Public Advocate (No. 2) Bill: second reading .
  • European Union Withdrawal (Implementation Period) Bill: second reading .
  • Pedicabs (London) Bill: second reading .
  • Local Electricity Bill: second reading .
  • Employment (Dismissal and Re-employment) Bill: second reading .
  • Internet Access (Children Eligible for Free School Meals) Bill: second reading .
  • Sexual Offences (Sports Coaches) Bill: second reading .
  • European Union (Withdrawal Agreement) (Extension) Bill: second reading .
  • Magistrates (Retirement Age) Bill: second reading.
  • Adjournment debate on sentencing for child cruelty offences.
House of Lords
  • The Lords returns on Monday.
Today's trivia answer
Trivia question: Which party leader was MP for Orkney and Shetland?

Answer: Jo Grimond.

Send your trivia to
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