Joe Biden dashes Boris Johnson’s hopes for speedy US-UK trade deal

Seeking to demonstrate his eco-credentials and in a nod to Joe Biden’s affection for trains, Boris Johnson chose a sleek silver Amtrak train to travel between New York and Washington DC last night — a move that was rewarded by a rambling train anecdote from the US president. The good-will of the so-called special relationship, however, did not seem to extend as far as welcoming words on a post-Brexit trading relationship between the old partners.

Inside the bubble

Our political commentator Andrew Grice on what to look out for today

With Boris Johnson on his travels, prime minister’s questions will see a tussle between a man with three jobs – Dominic Raab (deputy PM, lord chancellor and justice secretary) and a woman with four – Angela Rayner (deputy Labour leader, shadow first secretary of state, shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary of state for the future of work). There won’t be much time for questions if the Speaker reads out all their titles.

On the select committee corridor, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, will be quizzed about covid vaccines for children; Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, about foreign travel and the shortage of lorry drivers and Matthew Rycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office, about the Windrush scandal, migrants crossing the Channel and arrivals from Afghanistan.

BACK OF THE QUEUE Despite the exchange of pleasantries at the White House last night with Joe Biden, the prime minister’s hope of delivering the long-promised post-Brexit Britain prize of a US-UK free trading agreement appears to be evaporating.Mr Johnson admitted yesterday that his special relationship partner had “a lot of other fish to fry” while the US president himself gave no cause for optimism about a swift agreement, saying only that the pair would talk a “little bit” about trade. Pouring cold water on the prospect while sitting next to the PM in the Oval Office, Mr Biden added: “We’re going to have work that through”. Perhaps former president Barack Obama wasn’t bluffing when he visited the UK during the referendum, warning that Brexit would put the country at the “back of the queue” in any trade deal with the US. Instead, the UK is mulling a bid to join a trade partnership between the US, Canada and Mexico, my colleague Andrew Woodcock reports from Washington. “There are a variety of different ways to do this,” a UK government source said. “The question is whether the US administration is ready. The ball is in the US’s court. It takes two to tango.” Today, the prime minister will also issue a call for the world to “grow up” and address the threat of climate change in his speech to the United Nations.

TOXIC COCKTAIL On the domestic front, the prime minister has dismissed growing fears of a cost of living crisis this winter — despite one of his cabinet colleagues, Kwasi Kwarteng, admitting some families may face a “very difficult winter” with energy bills rising and an imminent cut to the £20-per-week uplift in universal credit — introduced at the onset of the pandemic. Asked if people are “really going to struggle”, Mr Johnson told reporters: “No, because I think this is a short-term problem”. This claim has been rejected by the anti-poverty think tank, the Resolution Foundation, which warned of a “cost of living crunch”, even if the immediate gas supply problems ease. Director of policy at the fuel poverty charity the National Energy Action added: “This cocktail of challenges will leave millions of households struggling to cope with less income and higher costs. For many, it will be an impossible task.” Labour are again seeking to highlight what they have described as the cost of living “triple whammy” facing families. Elsewhere, the government is reported to have a struck a deal with CF Industries to restart carbon dioxide production at its UK plants, after they were closed last week due to spike in global natural gas prices.

CIVIL WAR Given the Labour Party actually votes on issues at its annual conference — in stark contrast to the Conservatives’ selection of speeches — it is perhaps no surprise there’s usually an internal battle over the party’s rulebook, despite repeated vows to stop “navel gazing”. On the eve of the last in-person Labour conference in 2019 there was an extraordinary attempt to abolish the position of deputy leader. This year, Sir Keir Starmer eyes changing the way leaders of the party are elected — reverting to the old electoral college system last used in 2010. Under the new (or rather old) proposed system, the vote for the leader would be split one third between MPs, one third between unions, and one third between members — in contrast to now where all party members get a single vote. The party’s governing body — the National Executive Committee — is expected to hear the plans on Friday, but they have already triggered an almighty row on the eve of conference. Left-wing group Momentum said the rule change “would mark the start of a civil war in the party”.

GUERRILLA CRACKDOWN Police made 38 arrests and dragged Insulate Britain protesters from the M25 after members of the group stormed onto the country’s busiest motorway once again. Footage taken at the scene by LBC showed the climate activists walking on to the motorway and sitting down  — forcing traffic to stop. Writing in the Daily Mail, the home secretary, Priti Patel, alongside her cabinet colleague, Grant Shapps, said the protestors had “broken the law, undermined the cause they believe in, alienated the public, and created extra pollution, in one of the most self-defeating environmental protests this country has ever seen”. The duo also insisted the government was giving the police “powers to better manage such guerrilla tactics in future”. According to the reports, the cabinet ministers are seeking a court injection to prevent protestors causing gridlock and is likely to be sought by National Highways at the High Court on Thursday. One protester told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme they were “consulting lawyers”.

KERCHING An investigation has found that Whitehall departments spent at least £500,000 since 2016 attempting to block the release of information under transparency laws, with government legal staffers challenging rulings by the Information Commissioner. Three cheers for transparency. The greatest one-off spend award goes to the Department of Health and Social Care, which raked up legal bills exceeding £129,000 fighting a single case to prevent the release of ministerial diaries. The judge in this particularly case eventually ruled against the wishes of the government. “At the same time when the public are concerned about government secrecy it is deeply ironic that government departments are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds of public money to hide information from the public,” said the editor-in-chief on the investigative outfit openDemocracy. A government spokesperson defended the approach saying they were “committed to being as transparent as possible” but added: “When considering FOI requests we have to balance the need to make information available with our duty to protect sensitive information”.

From the Twitterati

“Moving to an electoral college for Labour leadership elections – ending one member one vote and hoarding power in the hands of MPs in Westminster – would be a shameful attack on democracy”

Labour MP Zarah Sultana on Sir Keir Starmer’s proposed changes to leadership elections

Essential reading

Gloria de Piero, The Independent: Why is a lefty like me working at GB News?

Tom Peck, The Independent: What a surprise that the UK is, yet again, overly exposed to a global crisis

Vince Cable, The Independent: A terminal crisis is looming for Boris Johnson’s doctrine of ‘cakeism’

Polly Toynbee, The Guardian: Labour should be approaching its party conference with hope, not despair

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