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The immigration game — Boris battle — Mr Sunak goes to Washington – POLITICO




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Good Sunday Afternoon: This is John Johnston — normally nerding it up on our London Influence newsletter — taking you through what’s moving and shaking in Westminster on this sunny Sunday. I’ll be back again next week as Annabelle Dickson takes a well-deserved break.

THINGS TO KNOW

WELCOME BACK: Recess is over and Rishi Sunak is looking ahead to his whirlwind diplomacy drive in Washington D.C. later this week. But back in Blighty his government is facing major headaches from two familiar foes — immigration and COVID-19.

Stop the boats: With the government’s flagship Illegal Migration Bill back in parliament this week, Immigration Minister Robert Jenrick dropped into the Sunday studios to laud the government’s progress — despite the figures showing, shall we say, limited success in reducing numbers.

Blame game: Jenrick told the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg the U.K. asylum system is “riddled with abuse” and needs “robust reform” to get a grip on the issue. Harsh words there for whichever party has been in power for 13 years!

But but but: Jenrick said “landmark” deals with Albania and France are already producing results, pointing to a 40 per cent increase in small boats being stopped before they reach the Channel. Such deals are, he said the only “sustainable answer” to the problem of small boats arriving on the U.K.’s shores.

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Rod for his back: Having partly staked his premiership on solving the problem, Sunak has been trying to keep the issue on the international political agenda with a warning to European leaders earlier this week that more action is needed to end the “unprecedented threat” to border security.

Small boats, big bill: But internal documents seen by the BBC taxpayers could end up forking out between £3bn to £6bn over the next two years to fund new detention centers, ongoing accommodation and removals in line with the small boats clampdown. The Beeb cites a a Home Office source who reckons the Treasury is still very much on board despite the eye-watering sums involved.

Tough talk: On Sky, Jenrick doubled down on his earlier comments that illegal migration risked “cannibalizing the compassion” of the British public, saying this was the “right terminology” to use and arguing that the current multi-million pound daily spend on housing asylum seekers is limiting the government’s ability to support migrants who “genuinely need our help”.

Taking notes: Combine that with Home Secretary Suella Braverman’s much-criticized “invasion” comments and it’s pretty clear ministers believe they’re onto a rhetorical winner with the Tory base.

Not so impressed: Pop sensation Dua Lipa, born in London to Kosovo-Albanian parents, sat down with the Sunday Times to express her concern. She tells the paper she’s “hurt” by the language around migration, branding ministers “short-sighted and small-minded.”

Worth keeping an eye on: The House of Lords tomorrow, where peers — who have been some of the loudest critics of the plans — will get another chance to scrutinize the Illegal Migration Bill.

BORIS BATTLES: Not content with trousering wads of cash on the speaking tour, Boris Johnson is still stirring the pot in Downing Street as the row over the COVID inquiry steps up a gear — and the government now threatening to withdraw funding for his legal support.

How we go here: In case you’re somehow not massively amped up about procedural fights and Cabinet Office PDFs, the U.K. government is planning to launch a legal challenge against the public inquiry over its demands for Boris Johnson’s pandemic-era WhatsApp messages and documents. That’s because they believe they should have the chance to redact anything not relevant to the pandemic before the inquiry gets sight of them.

Obviously: Johnson was more than happy to undermine his successo— sorry, act in the best interests of transparency, announcing on Friday he’ll bypass the Cabinet Office by sending his un-redacted messages and documents directly to the inquiry.

You’ve got mail: In response, the Cabinet Office has now fired off a letter to Johnson warning him that if he continues to “undermine the government’s position” his taxpayer-funded legal support would “cease to be available.” Gulp.

WTF is really going on: The Mail on Sunday claims the government is attempting to block the release of WhatsApps because … they fear forcing full transparency could reveal evidence of a Sunak plot to bring down Boris Johnson.

Note of caution: The claims come from various “allies” of the former PM, who also told the paper the messages could reveal further lockdown breaches by Sunak and his staff, something a Sunak supporter described as “total nonsense”.

Mutually Assured Destruction: Johnson allies also let slip that the former PM hopes his tactic will convince Downing Street to “call off the dogs” and stop press briefings against him.

All above board: Jenrick, who made it very clear on the Sunday shows that he used to be a lawyer, claimed the government’s response on all this is reasonable, saying it’s “sensible” for the disclosure process to only cover documents specifically related to pandemic policy and that these should not include details of “personal lives.”

Worth remembering: Thousands of COVID-bereaved families are desperate for the inquiry to reveal the truth of decision-making during the pandemic and are already looking on with horror at how the pre-inquiry period is descending into farce.

GLOBAL BRITAIN: All of this comes as Rishi Sunak prepares to head off to Washington D.C. Wednesday to try and convince U.S. firms that the U.K. is open for business.

Busy day: The trip will give Sunak a chance to discuss global issues with President Biden, get the A-lister treatment at a baseball game — more on Sunak’s bowling arm in Tim Shipman’s long-read — and most importantly address American business titans with serious cash to invest in U.K. PLC.

Special relationship: The trip is the fourth time in as many months the two world leaders have met face-to-face — something which Downing Street is very keen to stress. Crunch hopes Sunak gets more than a bi-latte this time.

Soft power and soft furnishings: The Sunday Telegraph reads the diplomacy tea leaves with a proper look at the 14-bedroom mansion Sunak is being put up in. Whether that actually constitutes a lavish stay for the billionaire PM remains to be seen.

Don’t expect: Any progress on that comprehensive free trade deal we all got very excited about once upon a time.

QUICK-FIRE CATCH-UP

TAXING TIMES: The government is reportedly eyeing a bunch of tax giveaways as the Tories attempt to rebuild their economic offering ahead of the next election.

On message: Both the Sunday Telegraph and Sunday Express splash on the cuts, citing various government sources who say reducing the tax burden is a priority for Sunak — provided he can get inflation under control.

All in the detail: The plans seem vague, to put it generously, with both a 2p cut in income tax or a reduction in national insurance being floated and timings of both the autumn Budget or next year’s Spring fiscal set-piece being considered.

Stamp it out: And Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is facing further pressure from the Conservative Growth Group — which includes 50 Tory MPs — who have called for further stamp duty cuts to help get people on the property ladder. Chair, Liz Truss ally, and ex-cabinet minister Ranil Jayawardena told the Sun on Sunday the tax was “not at all Conservative and not very British.”

CBI LATEST: Ahead of a crunch vote on Tuesday which will decide the future of the scandal-hit Confederation of British Industry, the group’s new director general Rain Newton-Smith joined the BBC’s panel to insist the lobby group still had a role to play.

Trust: The CBI boss said the litany of sexual misconduct allegations against the group had been “devastating” but argued their planned governance overhaul could help rebuild trust with politicians and industry.

Trouble ahead: Even if members back the new proposals, the group is facing a cash crisis. Pressed on whether she’d be taking a pay cut to help ease financial pressures, Newton-Smith said the CBI was “looking at all the options… my pay is already not as high as my predecessor.” Speaking of Tony Danker, he’s “consulting lawyers and considering suing the CBI” over his dismissal, according to a Sunday Times big read.

DAVIES FALLOUT: The suspension of Labour MP Geraint Davies following POLITICO’s reporting prompted tough questions for Shadow Business Secretary Jonathan Reynolds on Sky.

No denial: Commenting on claims Labour whips were made aware of concerns about Davies months ago, Reynolds said he didn’t know — but defended Labour’s process for dealing with complaints, saying people should have “trust” in the current disciplinary process.<img decoding="async" loading="lazy" src="https://www.politico.eu/wp-content/uploads/2023/05/26/Airbnb_SimpleTruth-9_300x250-2.png" width="300" height="250"/>

MEDIA ROUND

Ayesha Hazarika on Times Radio (4 p.m. to 7 p.m.): Nuclear Minister Andrew Bowie … Shadow Trade Secretary Nick Thomas-Symonds … and Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine.

Westminster Hour (BBC Radio 4, 10 p.m.): Tory MP Marco Longhi … Labour leader in the Lords Angela Smith … and Chatham House’s Leslie Vinjamuri.

**POLITICO Pro Central Banker makes sense of the structural transformation of monetary policy in Europe. Start your free trial of Morning Central Banker, the daily newsletter of our brand-new policy coverage service, today! Click here.**

WEEK AHEAD

MONDAY

COMMONS: Returns from recess at 2:30 p.m. with leveling-up, housing and communities questions followed by a backbench business debate on local government’s role in reaching net-zero.

MANIFESTO: Last chance for members of Labour’s national policy forum to submit tweaks to draft policy proposals that will help form the party’s manifesto.

TUESDAY

COMMONS: Sits from 11:30 a.m. with health and social care questions, followed by a ten minute rule motion from Labour’s Dan Carden.

BUSINESS: The Confederation of British Industry has a crunch meeting to decide on its future.

WEDNESDAY

COMMONS: Women and equalities questions from 11.30 a.m., followed by PMQs with deputy leaders Oliver Dowden and Angela Rayner.

FOREIGN AFFAIRS: Rishi Sunak jets off to Washington, D.C.

PARTIES: PinkNews host their Westminster Pride reception and Sky has its summer party.

BREXIT BONANZA: UK in a Changing Europe holds its annual conference, with Labour’s Anneliese Dodds and former Cabinet minister Andrea Leadsom among speakers.

THURSDAY

COMMONS: Sits from 9:30 a.m. with transport questions followed by the business statement and a backbench business debate on National Carers Week.

FRIDAY

TORIES: The Northern Research Group hosts a conference run by ConservativeHome.

COMMONS: Not sitting. Alright for some.

Thanks: To editor Matt Honeycombe-Foster for not making our WhatsApps public. And to the production team for giving Crunch its usual sparkle.

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