Days to General Election: 9
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What’s Happening? The U.S. president is in town, but seems more interested in squabbling with France than upending Britain’s election.
In winter, it’s best to keep your eye on the road. With little more than a week to go before election day, Boris Johnson’s Conservative party is doing just that. The big peril today was one they knew was coming: U.S. President Donald Trump.
From the moment Air Force One landed at Stansted last night ahead of a two-day NATO summit, Tory strategists crossed their fingers and hoped that the outspoken U.S. president was not about to get involved in local politics. An off-script Trump can upend the most carefully planned election grid.
When the president appeared this morning he did as his host required. Trump insisted that he will “stay out of the election,” repeating only that he likes Johnson and thinks he would do a good job if re-elected. In response to a question, he also said he could work with anyone, including Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. (He later spent much of the day sparring with French President Emmanuel Macron.)
And he delivered a crucial line on the National Health Service, the post-Brexit future of which has become central to Labour’s anti-Johnson message. “We have absolutely nothing to do with it and we wouldn’t want to if you handed it to us on a silver platter,” Trump said, when asked whether the NHS could be part of a future U.S.-U.K. free-trade deal.
Corbyn, for his part, isn’t backing down. He says the NHS is at risk, and last week unveiled a previously redacted document containing minutes of early U.S.-U.K. trade negotiations that he says bolsters his case. Corbyn wrote to Trump on Monday, saying any increase in the cost of drugs would be an “unacceptable” outcome of trade talks.
Even so, Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab admitted a trade deal could mean the U.S. would be able to raise the costs of drugs bought by the NHS. Asked in a Sky News interview if Washington could “jack up the prices” of key drugs, Raab replied: “The Americans will take their decisions… I think it’s hugely unlikely. Why would they do that?”
Russian-style disinformation tactics are at play ahead of the U.K. election, writes Bloomberg’s Alyza Sebenius, who reports on a digital operation to amplify leaked documents in the run-up to the Dec. 12 vote. Johnson’s seriousness about winning is unmatched by a gravitas about governing, Robert Shrimsley writes in the Financial Times. The BBC is politically neutral, yet biased towards the government of the day, Peter Oborne writes in the Guardian — and that means it is favoring the Conservatives this time around.
Brexit in Brief
Feeling Moody | Ratings firm Moody’s cut its outlook for British lenders to negative from stable, saying that while it expects the EU and U.K. to reach a free-trade agreement, “it is increasingly unlikely that any such deal will substantially mitigate the negative economic impact of Brexit.”
Brexit Nightmares | Bank of America is now set up to deal with the U.K.’s exit from the European Union, Vice Chairman Anne Finucane said in a speech in Dublin. Brexit has “consumed days and nights and a few nightmares,” she said.
100 Voices | The Times held a large-scale pre-election focus group, asking 100 people from across England and Wales for their views. The newspaper found a weariness with Brexit that could augur well for Johnson’s “Get Brexit Done” mantra. Throughout the day, Ben Macintyre writes, “I heard not a single voice argue that a second referendum was needed, or even possible.”
Words Matter | The major party manifestos show huge variations in the prominence they give Brexit. Quartz counted every reference across all the party platforms, and found the anti-Brexit Scottish National Party the clear winner, mentioning Brexit 68 times. The Conservatives came second, with 60 mentions. Labour’s manifesto mentions Brexit just 15 times.
Sofa So Good | Johnson may still be avoiding a prime-time sit-down interview with BBC political interviewer Andrew Neil, but he has at least agreed to one with ITV This Morning hosts Philip Schofield and Holly Willoughby, BuzzFeed News reports. The pair today interviewed Corbyn, getting him to say “sorry” over allegations of antisemitism in the Labour party.
No Joke | Comedian Nish Kumar was forced to leave the stage at a lunch organized by cricket charity the Lord’s Taverners after his routine hit the wrong notes. Kumar, who co-presents the BBC Two satire The Mash Report, was booed and had a bread roll thrown at him mid-way through a routine reportedly laced with anti-Brexit jokes.
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