Sunak 1) The Prime Minister and Macron to attend first UK-France summit for five years later in March

“UK prime minister Rishi Sunak and his French counterpart, president Emmanuel Macron, will in March attend a UK-France summit, the first of its kind in five years. Downing Street on Wednesday confirmed that Macron will host Sunak for a meeting to foster bilateral co-operation in areas such as climate and security. The idea was initially discussed by the pair during their first phone call last October. The meeting, to be held on March 10, is a sign of thawing relations between Britain and key EU partners since Boris Johnson’s departure as prime minister last September. The relationship between France and Britain has been fraught in recent years with spats over fishing rights and illegal migration, and mistrust between Macron and Johnson.” – The Financial Times

Sunak 2) He tells the Commons he is ‘registered’ with an NHS GP but has used private healthcare

“Rishi Sunak has said he is now registered with an NHS GP, having previously used private healthcare, during a prime minister’s questions dominated by the state of the NHS and the strikes by health and ambulance staff. “I am registered with an NHS GP. I have used independent healthcare in the past,” Sunak told the Commons in response to a question from the Labour MP Cat Smith about NHS dentistry. He also praised a hospital in his Yorkshire constituency “for the fantastic care they’ve given my family over the years”. The prime minister and his officials had previously refused to say whether Sunak or his family used the NHS after the Guardian revealed he was registered with a private clinic in west London clinic that charges £250 for a consultation.” – The Guardian

  • More people should go private, not fewer – Editorial, The Daily Telegraph
  • Tories’ Little and Large rise and fall with Sunak – Quentin Letts, The Times
  • Starmer squawked the same old slogans he’s been parroting for weeks like a rusty train station Tannoy – Henry Deedes, The Daily Mail
  • Sunak opened 2023 with a six-nil thrashing of Starmer at first PMQs – David Maddox, Daily Express
  • Starmer squawked aphorisms as Sunak clenched his teeth – but gallows humour saved the day – Madeline Grant, The Daily Telegraph

Sunak 3) He ‘urges’ Starmer to back laws aimed at protecting lives during health service strikes

“Rishi Sunak accused Sir Keir Starmer of being in hock to unions yesterday – as he urged Labour to back laws protecting lives during strikes. During angry clashes in the Commons, the Prime Minister said that backing ‘minimum service levels’ during strikes by ambulance workers and others ‘shouldn’t be controversial’. ‘This is a simple proposition,’ he said. ‘No one denies the unions’ freedom to strike but it is also important to balance that with people’s right to have access to life-saving healthcare.’ The PM also addressed speculation about his own medical history by admitting he had previously used private healthcare…Mr Sunak said Sir Keir ‘simply doesn’t have a policy’ for dealing with the walk-outs…” – The Daily Mail

  • Voters support plans to enforce minimum service on strike days, according to poll – The Times
  • Facing weeks of more strikes, siren voices are calling for Sunak to capitulate and settle. But the worst thing he could do now is cave in – Stephen Pollard, The Daily Mail
  • Setting NHS minimum service rules poses a risk for Tories – Stephen Bush, The Financial Times
  • British politics is still suffering from ‘long populism’ – Robert Shrimsley, The Financial Times



Sunak 4) Downing Street and Poland ‘confirm plans’ to send modern heavy tanks to Ukraine

“Britain and Poland have confirmed they are planning to send modern heavy tanks to Ukraine, heaping pressure on Germany and other governments to follow suit. UK prime minister Rishi Sunak has asked defence secretary Ben Wallace to “work with partners” in the coming weeks to go “further and faster with our support for Ukraine including the provision of tanks”, Downing Street said. Poland’s president Andrzej Duda said his government would send a company of German-built Leopard 2 tanks to Ukraine’s army “as part of the building of an international coalition”. A company implies about 14 tanks. London and Warsaw’s moves will raise pressure on Berlin to provide tanks of its own to Kyiv…” – The Financial Times

Sunak 5) Hundreds of ‘investment zone’ bids are being ‘killed off’ under his government

“Hundreds of bids by councils to be granted tax exemptions and liberalised planning rules under the “investment zones” scheme have been killed off, as Rishi Sunak’s government dismantles another of Liz Truss’s projects. Sources said ministers were trying to scale down the scheme, which was a key part of the previous government’s growth strategy, while salvaging some aspects of it as a sop to the former prime minister and her allies. Fewer than 20 zones, which will probably be focused instead on universities, are now envisaged. Following alleged disagreements between the Treasury and the Department for Levelling Up, a planned announcement last week about a replacement scheme was called off at the last minute.” – The Guardian

Sunak 6) He accuses Sturgeon of ‘turning her back’ on North Sea energy

“Rishi Sunak has accused Nicola Sturgeon’s Government of turning its back on the oil and gas industry after she proposed a presumption against further exploration in the North Sea. The Prime Minister lashed out at the First Minister’s new energy strategy, saying her administration did not want to support the industry in Scotland “and the 200,000 jobs that it produces”. He warned that curtailing further exploration in the North Sea would backfire on the environment by increasing the amount of oil and gas that would have to be imported with more than double the carbon footprint… But Michael Matheson, the SNP’s Energy Secretary, argued that further exploration would only marginally increase domestic production…” – The Daily Telegraph

  • Single-sex schools across UK ‘would be forced to accept students certified as transgender in Scotland under SNP’s plans’, think-tank warns – The Daily Mail

Sunak 7) UK and Japan sign defence pact to ‘counter China threat’

“Rishi Sunak, the UK prime minister, and his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, will on Wednesday sign a defence agreement, enabling the UK and Japan to deploy forces in each other’s countries. The move comes as the UK government seeks to strengthen its engagement in the Asia-Pacific region to counter the influence of China, although the war in Ukraine has forced London to reassess its global strategy. The talks in London will also see the two leaders discuss Britain’s bid to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, a free trade bloc that includes Japan, Canada, Mexico and Chile, in spite of reservations from some Conservative MPs.” – The Financial Times

  • The Reciprocal Access Agreement is a welcome sign of the UK’s commitment to combating China. It must now be matched with strategic thinking closer to home – Editorial, The Times
  • Allying our shrunken forces to Japan is an act of vanity that brings war with China one step closer – Stephen Glover, The Daily Mail

Sunak 8) The Prime Minister ‘leads condemnation’ of Bridgen over his claim the Covid vaccine was ‘the biggest crime against humanity since the Holocaust’

“Rishi Sunak has slammed the ‘utterly unacceptable’ actions of a Tory MP who compared the Covid vaccine rollout to the Holocaust. Andrew Bridgen was stripped of the party whip after an astonishing outburst on Twitter that led to widespread condemnation from politicians, Jewish groups and medical experts. The MP for North West Leicestershire has made a series of anti-vaxxer claims on social media and in the Commons chamber in recent weeks. But action was finally taken against him this morning after he shared an article on the Pfizer and Moderna jabs online, based on safety data reportedly from US health agencies…Mr Sunak voiced his own anger after the comment…was raised by former health secretary Matt Hancock at Prime Minister’s Questions.” – The Daily Mail

  • Bridgen suspended from the Conservative Party – The Sun
  • The Government is ‘urged’ to bar Bridgen from standing at next election – The Daily Telegraph

Sunak 9) He is ‘under pressure’ after nearly 40 Tory MPs join ‘backbench revolt’ over online safety law

“Nearly 40 Tory MPs have joined a major backbench rebellion over the Online Safety Bill with a demand that social media bosses should face jail if they fail to protect children from online harms. Thirty-seven Tory MPs – enough to overturn Rishi Sunak’s Commons majority – have signed an amendment that would give Ofcom, the communications watchdog, extra powers to prosecute tech bosses and hold them criminally liable for breaches of their duty to protect children. At least 10 former ministers, including Sir Iain Duncan Smith, Priti Patel and Dame Andrea Leadsom, are backing the proposals, due to be considered by the Commons next week. With Labour also supporting, it is enough to wipe out Mr Sunak’s 69-strong majority…” – The Daily Telegraph

Sunak 10) He delivers Covid-style ‘broadcast to the nation’ as he vows to clear NHS backlogs and stop Channel boats

“Rishi Sunak tonight made a Covid-style ‘broadcast to the nation’ in which he vowed to ‘fix the challenges’ facing Britain – but made no mention of strikes crippling the nation. In the three minute and 40 second political broadcast the Prime Minister vows to tackle problems including the economy, the NHS and migrants crossing the Channel in small boats. But on the day when NHS paramedics were on the picket line in a dispute over pay, and after rail strikes that have hammered services for months, there is no mention of industrial action. Instead the PM, sitting at a desk in Downing Street, talks about how he wants to restore ‘pride in the United Kingdom’ by focusing on ‘the people’s priorities.” – The Daily Mail

Cleverly says Iran must halt the execution of a British citizen…

“The UK foreign secretary…has urged the Iranian government not to…execute a British-Iranian dual national found guilty of spying for MI6. Alireza Akbari, a former Iranian deputy defence minister who has lived in the UK…, could be executed…after he was found guilty…His appeal was rejected more than three months ago, but for reasons that are not clear the Iranian security services are now threatening to…impose the death penalty. Cleverly said: “Iran must halt the execution of British-Iranian national Alireza Akbari and immediately release him. This is a politically motivated act by a barbaric regime that has total disregard for human life.” Akbari’s wife…told the Guardian that her husband was the victim of Iranian factional power politics and is a patriot.” – The Guardian

…as he says ‘genuine differences’ remain over Northern Ireland protocol

“London and Brussels still have “genuine differences” over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland, despite the first…signs of progress in ending a…deadlock…On a visit to meet politicians and business leaders…Cleverly said he would not be rushed into signing a deal with Brussels on the…Northern Ireland Protocol without ensuring it was sustainable. But he triggered a…dispute by refusing to allow Mary Lou McDonald, head of the all-island nationalist Sinn Féin party, to attend talks. McDonald is also leader of the opposition in the Republic of Ireland and diplomatic convention dictates that he should first meet his Irish counterpart. The incident…illustrated London’s challenges in navigating the region’s delicate tensions.” – The Financial Times

  • Brexit talks left ‘in disarray’ by Sinn Fein and SDLP ‘no-shows’ – The Guardian
  • Protocol peace could trigger Tory civil war – Iain Martin, The Times


Braverman scraps Patel’s plan for a specific spiking offence as ‘unnecessary’…

“Suella Braverman has reversed Priti Patel’s plans to create a specific offence for spiking. Sarah Dines, the Home Office minister, said a new law was “unnecessary” because there were “already several offences which cover incidents of spiking” and the Government had not found “any gap in the law that a new spiking offence would fill”. However, she said the Government would consult on potentially changing the statutory guidance to include “explicit reference to spiking being illegal and give examples of such spiking”. The move was revealed in a letter to Dame Diana Johnson, the chair of the home affairs committee, which was told last February by Ms Patel that officials were looking at “how we can prepare a specific criminal offence to target spiking directly”.” – The Daily Telegraph

…as she is ‘at odds’ with Freeman over student migrant cap…

“The science minister has challenged Suella Braverman’s plans to restrict foreign students, stressing that university research is “very dependent” on them. George Freeman insisted that Britain’s ambition to become a science superpower relied on attracting foreign researchers, in contrast to the home secretary’s desire to bring down overseas student numbers. Braverman wants to target foreign students to meet the government’s pledge to reduce overall immigration. Downing Street has said that it is looking at restricting the numbers of foreign nationals coming to the UK to study “low quality degrees” while limiting the number of family members they can bring with them.” – The Times

…as the Science Minister sets out ‘science superpower’ ambitions for the UK

“The UK can play a leading global role in research and technology and at the same time remain closely involved in European programmes, science minister George Freeman said on Wednesday as he set out his vision of making Britain a “science superpower and innovation nation”. The government is pushing ahead with preparations for what Freeman calls “Plan B”, an alternative to rejoining the EU research programmes from which the UK has been excluded for two years because of political disagreement over post-Brexit trading arrangements. Freeman said Plan B would include initiatives to attract scientific talent from around the world to Britain and set up bilateral and multilateral collaborations.” – The Financial Times

Strikes 1) Barclay ‘considers’ new proposal that could include one-off payment as 25,000 ambulance staff go on strike

“The Health Secretary is hoping for fresh talks with health unions amid warnings that nurses are set to imminently announce fresh strikes for next month. Steve Barclay wants to sit down with union leaders again amid growing hopes of a deal to end industrial action that is piling pressure on the NHS during a serious winter crisis, with thousands of ambulance workers on Wednesday walking out again over pay. The Government’s position appears to have softened following talks on Monday, with Mr Barclay currently looking at a suggestion by union negotiators to backdate next year’s NHS pay deal to this January. A one-off payment is also believed under consideration in Whitehall, although Chancellor, Jeremy Hunt, has not yet been asked to sign off on any new offer.” – The I

  • Trade unions to boycott NHS pay review body – The Financial Times
  • A&E expects wave of patients after ambulance strike – The Times
  • UK doctors call for simplification of visa rules to stem GP shortage – The Financial Times
  • Woke NHS must put new mothers first – Editorial, The Daily Mail
  • Greatest threat to the NHS is loss of faith – David Aaronovitch, The Times
  • The NHS is dead – and it’s dragging the rest of the country down with it – Allister Heath, The Daily Telegraph

Strikes 2) Rail workers could receive new pay offer of nine per cent after ministers approve extra one per cent

“A new offer will be tabled to the militant RMT rail union as early as today in a bid to halt their strikes. It is understood train bosses will make a new pay offer of at least 9 per cent over two years to workers for 14 firms. This is up from the current 8 per cent offer. They had looked at a 10 per cent rise and this was considered by ministers. But officials are understood to have only approved an extra 1 per cent increase. Rail minister Huw Merriman left open the possibility of an improved deal in a meeting with RMT boss Mick Lynch on Monday. The new offer would be for 2022 and 2023, backdated to the beginning of last year. It was unclear last night whether Government demands for more driver-only operated (DOO) trains…would be watered down.” – The Daily Mail

Stride ‘mulling’ plan to allow people to continue claiming sickness benefits after returning to work

“People will be allowed to keep claiming sickness benefits after returning to work and will be offered tax breaks for getting jobs, under plans to boost employment. A reform of disability benefits is likely to scrap a “perverse” assessment system, which ministers think encourages people to prove they are too ill to work, in an effort to reverse a rise in the number of people not looking for jobs. The Times has also been told that the Treasury is discussing plans to incentivise people to return to work by offering tax breaks…Mel Stride, the work and pensions secretary, is drawing up plans to “rewire” the benefits system as ministers grapple with a rise in the numbers not looking for work since the pandemic.” – The Times


Keegan defeats Opposition effort to charge VAT on school fees – as she points out that the number of Labour MPs educated privately is double the national average

“Education Secretary Gillian Keegan today highlighted how more than one in 10 Labour MPs were privately educated as the opposition made a fresh bid to charge VAT on school fees. In a tetchy…debate, Ms Keegan pointed to research that showed 14 per cent of Labour MPs attended private schools – which she said was double the UK average. The Cabinet minister accused Labour MPs of attempting to ‘destabilise the sector that has provided the opportunities afforded to them’ by pushing for the removal of tax breaks…Sir Keir Starmer…led his party’s latest effort to overhaul the tax status of private schools. The opposition have repeatedly claimed that putting VAT on independent school fees could fund a £1.7billion cash boost for…state education…” – The Daily Mail

‘Don’t gag Clarkson’,argues Donelan…

“The culture secretary has defended the publication of a column by Jeremy Clarkson about the Duchess of Sussex, but has criticised Gary Lineker’s comments about racism in the United States…Last month Clarkson…apologised for a column in which the presenter fantasised about the duchess being paraded naked through the streets and pelted with excrement. In an interview with LBC’s News Agents podcast, Donelan described Clarkson’s comments as “outrageous” and said she was “sure he expected” the outcry…But she added: “What I do stand up for is freedom of press, and free legal speech. And you can’t pick and choose which legal opinions you want to see and what you don’t. And that’s the nature of our democracy. The free press is part of that.”” – The Times

…as she says the Elgin Marbles belong in the UK

“The Elgin Marbles belong in the UK, the Culture Secretary has said, as she cast doubt on any new deal for the artworks. Talks are ongoing between Greek officials and George Osborne, the chairman of the British Museum, regarding a deal which could see the classical sculptures and friezes returned to Athens. However, Michelle Donelan has said that they should not be returned and that repatriation would simply open a “complete can of worms”. She has argued that Britain has cared for the 2,500 artefacts along with many others, and sending the artwork to Greece would set an unwelcome precedent which could see other nations seek to have their contested objects returned.” – The Daily Telegraph

Kearns ‘calls for review’ of China semiconductor buyout

“A Conservative MP has called for a review of the takeover of a Cambridge-based semiconductor designer by a Shanghai shell company with ties to the Chinese state. Alicia Kearns, chairwoman of the foreign affairs select committee, said the £28 million deal for Flusso was of “significant” concern. Access to computer chips is…an issue of national security. Flusso, which designs and sells ultra-small chips that regulate gas and liquid flows in tubes and pipes, was acquired last August by Shanghai Sierchi Enterprise Management Partnership… The Chinese company was only set up in 2021 with the purpose of acquiring Flusso, according to Kearns…The takeover comes at a time when the UK government is heavily scrutinising deals between British and Chinese tech companies.” – The Times

Johnson ‘faces summons’ to appear in televised ‘partygate’ hearings

“Boris Johnson will be summoned to televised hearings within weeks as the House of Commons privileges committee investigates whether the former UK prime minister lied to MPs about the “partygate” affair. The seven person cross-party committee of MPs held its first meeting of the new year on Wednesday to pore over a cache of information about illegal gatherings in Downing Street during Covid-19 lockdowns. The documents were released by the Cabinet Office in late November, soon after Rishi Sunak became prime minister. The committee, which has a Tory majority but is chaired by Labour veteran Harriet Harman, has not yet held public hearings. But the next stage of its inquiry will include it issuing invitations…to give public evidence…” – The Financial Times

  • Sex claim at Number 10 lockdown party – The Times

Lord Clarke: Time for a Labour victory to give Tories ‘a rest’

“It is time for Labour to win the next general election and give the Conservatives “a rest”, Lord Clarke, the Tory grandee, suggested on Wednesday. Lord Clarke, who was chancellor between 1993 and 1997, said he would vote for the Tories if he was allowed to cast a ballot – a change from his refusal to endorse Boris Johnson in 2019. But his remarks are in line with a view expressed among some senior figures, and rebutted by the Government, that the Tories should spend a period in opposition after the infighting of recent years…He argued that an electoral “danger” was posed to Mr Sunak by Reform UK, the Right-wing party led by Richard Tice, which is currently polling at around eight per cent amid Tory grassroots frustration.” – The Daily Telegraph

Putin replaces ‘most brutal’ general with ‘trusted army chief’ Gerasimov

“President Putin has responded to high-level criticism of the progress of the war in Ukraine by demoting and replacing its operational commander for the second time since it began. Valery Gerasimov, the armed forces’ chief of general staff, will take personal command of forces in Ukraine, the defence ministry has announced in a statement published on the Telegram messaging app. He replaces General Sergei Surovikin, who will act as Gerasimov’s deputy alongside two other generals, Oleg Salyukov and Alexei Kim. “The increase in the level of leadership of the special operation is linked to the expansion of the scale of the tasks at hand and the need to organise closer interaction between troops,” the statement said.” – The Times

  • The Russian President now faces his own 1917-style catastrophe – Con Coughlin, The Daily Telegraph

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