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POLITICO London Playbook, presented by ExxonMobil: The mayhem continues — Blue murder — Watch like a pro, Part II

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POLITICO London Playbook

By JACK BLANCHARD

PRESENTED BY EXXONMOBIL

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Good Wednesday morning. And a special hello to London Playbook’s newest reader, Donald Trump. Hope you’re enjoying the Brexit crisis, Mr. President. Only 57 days to go.

Happy birthday to me: Can you believe it? London Playbook is two years old today. I feel like I’ve aged two years in the past 24 hours, but anyway … Please send Champagne, flowers, baby clothes and Test match tickets to the usual address. Or, you know, show us some love on Twitter or whatever. Despite the oddball hours, it has been brilliant fun — thanks, as always, for reading.

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DRIVING THE DAY

THE MAYHEM CONTINUES: A bruised but victorious “Rebel Alliance” of opposition and backbench MPs will today seize control of the Commons order paper to pass emergency laws preventing Britain leaving Europe without a deal. Last night’s historic 27-vote government defeat means Prime Minister Boris Johnson has lost his grip on the Brexit process, leaving him little choice but to push for a snap general election in the weeks ahead. Today’s Commons order paper confirms Johnson has put forward a motion under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act calling for an election in mid-October, in which he will seek a fresh mandate for his hardline approach. But with Jeremy Corbyn resolved to block the plan until the anti no-deal bill becomes law, the PM looks unlikely to win over enough MPs to secure an election tonight.

And that’s not all: We also have Cabinet, BoJo’s first ever PMQs and Chancellor Sajid Javid’s spending review today. And there are big Brexit meetings in Brussels, Mark Carney’s return to Westminster and a court case on proroguing parliament to look forward to. Yesterday was one of the great days in Westminster — but today doesn’t look too shabby either.

How it all pans out: As ever, this is all subject to change, delay and the whims of John Bercow.

7 a.m.: Blue murder on the airwaves as the fallout from the Tory civil war continues. The Lib Dems’ newest MP Phillip Lee will be touring the broadcast studios, as will many of his now-former Tory colleagues. For Labour, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer will be trying to explain why he wants an election more than anything in the world — but is not prepared to actually vote for one tonight.

8 a.m.: Meeting of the political Cabinet in Downing Street, as Boris Johnson seeks to reassure his top team following last night’s Commons defeat and lay the ground for a general election. Ministers will also hear from Chancellor Sajid Javid on this afternoon’s autumn spending review. A normal meeting of the Cabinet — complete with officials — will follow.

10 a.m.: Behind closed doors in Downing Street, Johnson prepares for his first PMQs. If things don’t pan out quite as he hopes this next month, it may also be his last.

Noon: Prime Minister’s Questions. Johnson and Corbyn will slug it out to deliver the best TV news and social media clips, but the real action will come from the benches behind the PM. Which Tory (or former Tory) MPs will be called to speak? And how many will raise concerns about the purge of the party moderates we’ve just seen? Keep a close eye too on Jacob Rees-Mogg’s posture, following yesterday’s slouching scandal. If Corbyn doesn’t crack a joke or two about that, then we might as well all give up and go home.

12.45 p.m.: Sajid Javid unveils his first spending review, setting out 2020/21 budgets for Whitehall departments. The chancellor announced this morning he is pledging a further £2 billion (why is it always £2 billion?) for Brexit preparations, taking the total spent since the referendum to more than £8 billion. The FT has the story. You can insert your own joke about that famous magic money tree.

2.45 p.m.: Hull MP Emma Hardy presents a private members’ bill on compulsory purchase orders. Which means you should have about 10 minutes to leg it to the kitchen/shop/café and grab a sandwich and a brew. Just make sure you’re back by 3 p.m. sharp, if you want to see history in the making.

3 p.m.: The Rebel Alliance takes control of the Commons. Proceedings kick off with the second reading of Hilary Benn’s bill to avoid a no-deal Brexit. Expect a heated debate to follow. If you get bored, you can always keep a close eye on Iain Duncan Smith following yesterday’s snot-eating scandal (grim video here if you dare to watch — though it’s not for the faint-hearted.) Keep a close eye out too for further developments in the John Bercow vs. Michael Gove stand-off, following last night’s surreal rant by the speaker about Gove’s kids. Gove’s wife Sarah Vine is not impressed.

5 p.m.: Vote on the second reading, with the rebels’ 27-strong majority likely to hold. Outside on College Green, a mass anti-Brexit rally gets underway.

5.20 p.m.: Bill hits committee stage, at which points a flurry of amendments may be discussed. Among them will be one by a “Bregretful” group of 17 Labour MPs led by Stephen Kinnock who didn’t actually vote for Theresa May’s deal when they had the chance, but now kinda wish they had done. Their attempt to bring May’s final deal back to the House for an MV4 is not going to happen given that neither frontbench supports the plan, but it should at least allow these MPs to tell their constituents they tried. PoliticsHome’s Kevin Schofield has the story.

7 p.m.: Flurry of further divisions as MPs vote on an unknown number of amendments, followed by the third reading of the bill. This could take anything up to a couple of hours. Once the bill has passed (most likely unamended), it heads on to the House of Lords for the next phase.

9 p.m.? Guessing now, but somewhere around this time we should get to Boris Johnson’s motion for an early election. A 90-minute debate will follow, ahead of the big vote. The PM needs the support of 424 MPs to secure an election — and without Jeremy Corbyn’s backing, he ain’t gonna get them.

And then it’s over to the Lords: Tory peers have put down an impressive 92 amendments to the program motion setting out the timetable for Thursday’s debate. Government sources say they will try to force two votes on every single one. Peers are gearing up to sit all night, ahead of the bill’s debate proper tomorrow.

**Apply for an invitation to attend POLITICO’s Happy Hour at the U.K. Conservative Party Conference taking place in Manchester on Monday, September 30. Within walking distance of the Conference Centers, our London Playbook team will convene a top-level audience for drinks and conversation on the hot topics currently shaping British politics.**

BLUE MURDER

INSIDE DOWNING STREET: Boris Johnson is this morning holed up in Downing Street preparing for his first-ever PMQs session, which kicks off as usual at noon. The atmosphere as he faces Jeremy Corbyn in the Commons will be fraught following last night’s defeat, with Tory MPs still reeling from the news that 21 of their colleagues (here’s the full list) voted against the government — right at the top end of all expectations. The rebels were swiftly informed they have had the Tory whip permanently removed, leaving them as independents in the Commons and effectively ending their political careers when the election comes. Among those deselected by Johnson were Nicholas Soames, the grandson of his hero Winston Churchill, plus eight former Cabinet ministers and 11 former ministers. Johnson’s claim to be a “One Nation Tory” are looking a little hollow today.

‘Richard bloody Benyon?’ Despite all the threats and aggressive briefings from No. 10 in lead-up, plenty of Tory MPs and aides were still gobsmacked by the unprecedented purge of the moderates we saw last night. When was the last time any major political party threw out more than 20 of its MPs for disobeying orders? Worryingly for Downing Street, even slavishly loyal Brexiteers were unnerved. “It’s like something out of North Korea,” one normally supportive No. 10 aide phoned Playbook to say. “I honestly think they’ve completely overreached. They have f***ed this up. We look bonkers. You’re trying to frame it as parliament vs. the people — and then you deselect 20-odd of your own MPs, including Winston Churchill’s grandson? I mean — deselecting Philip Hammond is one thing, but Richard bloody Benyon? Imagine what we’d be saying if Corbyn did something like this.”

Blame game: To the surprise of absolutely no one, angry fingers are being pointed at Johnson’s de-facto chief of staff Dominic Cummings. “He’s made Nick Timothy look like Mary Poppins,” Playbook’s source in Downing Street said. “This is not on Boris. Of course the PM takes responsibility — he’s the big man and the buck stops with him — but we all know this is Cummings and [director of comms] Lee Cain. They’ve cooked up this strategy and they’ve told him it’s going to work and he’s trusted them. And now we’re throwing Winston Churchill’s grandson out of the Conservative Party.” When Playbook cracked a gag about World War III kicking off in the days ahead, the source replied: “With Cummings and Cain we’ll have IV, V and VI by the end of the year.”

Also angry: A source close to the rebel camp was also furious with Cummings. “It’s more than a purge of the party — it’s a Vote Leave takeover,” the rebel source told Playbook last night. “Cummings is in complete control, and I’d be surprised if even Boris realizes it fully. This is a guy who is not even a member of the Conservative Party, pulling the strings of an operation that has just removed the whip from Winston Churchill’s grandson. When will the rest of the party wake up to what is happening?”

Caught in the middle: Centrist Tory MPs such as ex-Minister Tobias Ellwood told my colleague Annabelle Dickson they too were worried by Downing Street’s response. “It is a sad day indeed when the grandson of Churchill is threatened with deselection,” Ellwood said. “We shouldn’t lose sight of the party we used to be — an open, center-right, One Nation, progressive party. Given how many people rebelled under Theresa May’s government it is a worrying precedent that has been set.” Another Tory MP told her the deselections were “completely unacceptable,” adding: “There are a lot of moderate people who won’t be at all happy with this.”

Rebel Watch: Soames himself told BBC Newsnight it was “a great pity” to have lost the whip after 37 years in the Tory party, and announced he will not be standing again in the coming election. He reckons Johnson and Cummings always intended to force this confrontation and then go to the country for a mandate. “I think they planned, personally, all along to have an early general election and to get this out of the way and get a new parliament,” he said. “This is exactly what they wanted, they’ve got it, and they’re going to announce tomorrow that they’re going to organize a general election.”

Sounds about right: One bullish government source tells my colleague Charlie Cooper that Soames is more or less on the money. “Election … Get Corbyn out of the way … Leave,”  the senior official shrugged. And for all the headlines this morning, it’s a strategy that might very well just work.

Rebel Watch II: Ken Clarke was also on Newsnight last night, and said he has yet to decide if he will even *vote* Tory at the next election. This, needless to say, is quite a thing for a party grandee. “That’s my next problem,” he said. “I am a Conservative, of course I am … But this leader, I don’t recognize this. It’s the Brexit Party, rebadged.” Asked what has happened to the Tory party he knew, Clarke replied: “It’s been taken over by rather a knockabout sort of character [Cummings] who’s got this bizarre crash-it-through philosophy … [And a] Cabinet which is the most right-wing Cabinet any Conservative Party has ever produced. They’re not in control of events. The prime minister comes and talks total rubbish to us, and is planning to hold a quick election and get out, blaming parliament and Europe for the shambles.”

Rebel Watch III: Rory Stewart seemed a little less concerned last night — heading over to the Tate Modern to collect the GQ “Politician of the Year” award from ITV star Susannah Reid (pic). David Gauke was also taking it all in his stride with a nice bit of Twitter snark.

How the war was lost: By all accounts Boris’ meeting with rebels in No. 10 yesterday morning did not exactly go well. “It was mostly cordial but there were a couple real moments of tension,” one source in the room tells Playbook. “One was when Philip Hammond basically told Boris he couldn’t be trusted. Boris started chuntering away — it was all very difficult. And the other was when Anne Milton told him the Tories would lose her seat in Guildford if he continued on this path. She kept going at him, and in the end he sort of shrugged and said — ‘and so we lose Guildford.’ A Tory PM saying that!” The Mail’s Jack Doyle has a good color write-through with all the details of the blazing row with Hammond — it’s well worth your time. The Times’ lobby team describes how Johnson’s strategy was to confront Hammond while picking off less committed rebels “with a mix of charm and threat.”

So much for that: It looks like the timing of Peter Foster’s big Telegraph story on Dominic Cummings describing the Brexit negotiations as a “sham” was also pretty disastrous for No. 10. (Downing Street, it’s important to say, is hotly denying the story, with one official saying they had checked with four people in the room who all say Cummings made no such comment.) But at least one rebel — Margot James — says she was directly swayed by the article. “Thank you so much @pmdfoster for your brilliant journalism yesterday,” James tweeted at Foster late last night. “The article you wrote and insights you shared on Twitter were hugely valuable to me as I made my decision.”

Cox fighting: Playbook notes that amidst all the noise about Cummings, Downing Street is not denying another key part of Foster’s story – that Attorney General Geoffrey Cox told Johnson it was a “complete fantasy” to think the EU would drop the backstop. “I will stand with you,” Cox is quoted as telling the PM, “but you should know this is the path to no deal.” A Downing Street source tells Playbook: “I am not going to deny there was an exchange with Cox.”

Cummings Watch: To his credit, Cummings is not exactly hiding, despite becoming the lightning rod for Tory discontent. He was merrily wandering around the press gallery yesterday, listening in to the lobby briefing after the PM’s statement — “I just want to see how these things work,” he smiled politely when journos spotted him in the corner — and later roaming the Burma Road (where lobby hacks have their offices) with a glass of red wine in his hand. He even stopped to admire the Daily Mirror’s famous inflatable seagull (don’t ask.) Over-excited reports on Twitter that Cummings later had a face-to-face encounter with Jeremy Corbyn in Portcullis House have been dismissed by Labour as untrue, however. But in a sure sign that Cummings has now very much become “the story,” the Mail carries a papped picture of what it calls Boris Johnsons’s “attack dog” in Green Park yesterday, “smooching with his wife.” I know, I know.

A note on that Tory membership: Cummings declined to answer when asked by hacks yesterday if it’s true, as his Tory rivals are saying, that he’s not actually a Conservative Party member. But it may go considerably further than that — Playbook hears he may not even be a Tory voter. Cummings told friends that the 2016 referendum was the first time he’d voted in his life … And it’s kind of hard to imagine him rushing out to back Theresa May the following year. Presumably all this will change next month, when he gets to vote for himself as de-facto prime minister.

So is there any way back for the rebels? Hammond has vowed to fight tooth and nail to avoid deselection, though this blog from ConservativeHome’s Mark Wallace suggests he has little hope of success. The Times’s Francis Elliott, however, reckons an obscure appeals procedure could yet save the rebels’ bacon if they wish to stand again. “Mr Hammond and other rebels can appeal against their suspension under procedures agreed by David Cameron in 2006 but so far unused,” he reports. “Senior figures on the 1922 Committee acknowledged that the procedures could be used to reinstate candidates even without a whip. A three-person tribunal, comprising representatives chosen by the MPs’ body and grassroots representatives, would hear any cases of those who wanted to stand.” Elliott wonders if this might not offer a neat way out for No. 10.

Pushback: One senior government minister tells Annabelle the deselections were absolutely the right thing to do, however. “The bottom line is if you vote to take authority away from a Conservative government and hand it to a party led by someone who has flirted with terrorists, facilitated anti-Semitism, you have the whip removed,” they said. “What we have been doing is the normal stuff — what the people trying to stop Brexit are doing is the weird constitutional vandalism stuff.”

And there’s more: The minister also predicted the opposition parties are playing straight into Cummings’ hands — and that the Tories are now on course to win a snap election. “I’ve seen the numbers from CCHQ, it really is black and white,” they said. “People want it done. They love it when we talk about schools, hospitals and police; they love it when we talk about broadband; they hate it when we talk about Brexit — and these people have just voted to talk more about Brexit. Nobody wants to spend three, six months rowing about Brexit.” To repeat, this may well prove to be the case.

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ELECTION FEVER

DECISION TIME: Labour will not vote in favor of Boris Johnson’s plan for a snap election tonight, senior party officials have confirmed to Playbook. Speaking in the Commons last night, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn made clear no deal must be taken off the table before Labour will countenance an election. “He wants to table a motion for a general election — fine,” Corbyn said, gesturing to Boris Johnson. “Get the bill through first in order to take no deal off the table.” The only question unresolved is whether Corbyn prefers his MPs to vote against or to abstain — and that’s going to be “all about the optics,” one party source says. Either way, Johnson is not going to get the 424 votes he needs for a two-thirds majority.

But but but: Don’t think for one minute that this means there won’t be a general election. Boris Johnson had already lost his majority by the time he sacked 21 MPs last night — now this parliament is not going to prove governable. The only question is how we get there, and how long Labour leave him sitting in Downing Street before they trigger the inevitable vote.

One idea: One source tells Playbook that Labour might just sit it out until the Benn bill has passed into law on Friday night. They would then signal to the government they would back a motion under the FTPA next Monday, allowing ministers to dissolve parliament later that day and go to the polls in mid-October. But other options are also being explored. The Guardian says Corbyn and his Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer were consulting lawyers last night on how to fix an election for a specific date, as there is no trust in Labour circles that Johnson would stick to his word of an election on October 14. Indeed, government sources were last night briefing the target date has already been shifted to October 15 to avoid the Jewish holiday of Sukkot. “Fine — but this kind of proves the point, doesn’t it?” one Labour aide said drily.

And there’s more: The Telegraph’s Harry Yorke has the scoop on some of the ideas under consideration. “Party insiders told the Telegraph they were confident they had found a solution,” he writes. “According to Whitehall sources, one plan being considered by opposition MPs would be to deny Mr Johnson support for an election under the Fixed Term Parliaments Act, forcing him to resort to ‘Plan B,’ which would see the government try to override the Act with new legislation requiring a simple majority for an election to be approved. Opposition MPs would then be able to amend this to specify that the election date of October 15 could not be changed, giving Labour the guarantees necessary to vote for it.”

And still more: A Tory source texts Playbook to say one idea under consideration in No. 10 is to get a “friendly foe” to amend tonight’s FTPA motion, explicitly ruling out leaving the EU without a deal. The idea would be to show Labour all its concerns were now met and it was time to vote for an election. It all sounds a bit far-fetched, to be honest — but whatever the means, we will get there in the end.

Erm, about that majority: A Times-YouGov poll in Scotland suggests the SNP is set to almost sweep the board north of the border, with the Tories losing 10 of their 13 Scottish MPs. Among those in trouble are the new Scottish Secretary Alister Jack, according to analysis by polling guru John Curtice. The big question is where Cummings and co. think they are going to pick up all the extra seats to counterbalance the SNP and Lib Dem losses in Remain areas.

Also important: The poll also finds majority support for another Scottish independence referendum within five years, with the nation split on a knife edge 51-49 against leaving the U.K. It really is all to play for for the future of the union.

ELSEWHERE IN BREXIT

TODAY IN BRUSSELS: Senior EU officials will hold further Brexit talks in Brussels today as the bloc gloomily braces itself for a no-deal Brexit. POLITICO’s David Herszenhorn and Jacopo Barigazzi have the latest on the European Commission’s thinking. For all the brief moments of optimism last month, officials say the talks are going nowhere. “It seems we’re stuck,” one EU diplomat told David and Jacopo on Tuesday. “But I would not call it a surprise.” Still, keep a close eye on Britain’s latest proposals on the Irish border, which are at least offering something slightly new. Johnson is due to (finally) meet Irish PM Leo Varadkar next week.

Back home in Blighty: Bank of England Governor Mark Carney is before the Commons Treasury committee this morning, and you can probably guess what they’re going to be discussing. Excitingly, maverick Labour MP John Mann will be chairing the session following the promotion of Nicky Morgan to Cabinet. What could possibly go wrong?

Meanwhile in Scotland: A decision is due this morning in the court case over the proroguing of parliament.

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MEDIA ROUND

Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer broadcast round: BBC Radio 5 Live (7 a.m.) … ITV Good Morning Britain (7.20 a.m.) … Sky Sunrise (7.35 a.m.) … LBC Radio (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.10 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (8.30 a.m.).

Also on the Today program: Labour MP Hilary Benn (6.50 a.m.) … Former Tory MP Rory Stewart (7.10 a.m.) … Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng (7.30 a.m.) … Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson (7.50 a.m.) … Former German MEP Elmar Brok (8.30 a.m.) … Tory peer and former leader Michael Howard (8.40 a.m.).

Also on BBC Breakfast: Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng (7.10 a.m.) … SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (7.30 a.m.) … Lib Dem MP Phillip Lee (8.10 a.m.) … Debate with MPs John Mann, Lucy Powell, Ben Bradley and Ian Paisley Jnr.

Also on Sky Sunrise: Tory MP Andrew Bridgen debates Lib Dem MP Phillip Lee (7.15 a.m.) … SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford (8.05 a.m.).

Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC Radio): Energy Minister Kwasi Kwarteng and Lib Dem MP Phillip Lee (7 a.m.) …Tory London Mayoral candidate Shaun Bailey (7.20 a.m.) … British Chambers of Commerce boss Adam Marshall (7.40 a.m.) … Former Tory SpAd Chris White and Brexit Party MEP Annunziata Rees-Mogg (8 a.m.) … Former Tory MP Rory Stewart (8.50 a.m.) … Former Tory MP Nicholas Soames (9.30 a.m.).

Also on Breakfast with Julia Hartley-Brewer (TalkRADIO): Former Tory MP Alistair Burt and Tory MP Paul Sweeney (7.05 a.m.) … Tory MP (and birthday boy) Shailesh Vara (7.45 a.m.) … Tory MP Owen Paterson (8.05 a.m.) … Lib Dem MP Phillip Lee (8.30 a.m.) … Tory MEP Dan Hannan (8.45 a.m.) … Brexit Party Chairman Richard Tice and Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury Peter Dowd (9.05 a.m.) … Author Jeffrey Archer (9.30 a.m.) … Former Tory MP Rory Stewart.

All Out Politics (Sky News, 9 a.m.): Tory MP Victoria Prentis (9 a.m.) … Former Tory MP Rory Stewart (9.10 a.m.) … Guardian columnist Polly Toynbee and the Spectator’s Katy Balls review the newspaper comment sections (9.15 a.m. & 10.15 a.m.) … Former Tory MP Victoria Borwick and former Labour aide Tom Hamilton look ahead to PMQs (9.30 a.m.) … Brexit Party MEP Alex Phillips (9.45 a.m.) … Labour MP Lisa Nandy (10 a.m.) … Tory MP Harriett Baldwin (10.10 a.m.) … Former Treasury SpAds Poppy Trowbridge and Catherine Macleod look ahead to the spending review (10.30 a.m.) … Brexit academic Anand Menon (10.45 a.m.).

The Emma Barnett Show (BBC Radio 5 Live, 10 a.m.): Presented today by Adrian Chiles … Former Tory MP Rory Stewart (10 a.m.) … MPs’ panel with Shadow City Minister Jonny Reynolds, Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine plus an as-yet unnamed Tory (11 a.m.) … The Speccie’s Isabel Hardman and the Guardian’s Jessica Elgot review PMQs (12.40 p.m.).

Politics Live (BBC2, 11.15 a.m.): Guests t.b.c., but the show will have live coverage of PMQs and the spending review.

The Andrew Neil Show (BBC2, 7 p.m.): Launches tonight. No guests confirmed as yet.

Peston (ITV1, 10.45 p.m.): Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell, with further guests t.b.c.

Reviewing the papers tonight: (BBC News, 10.40 p.m. & 11:30 p.m.): The Spectator’s Katy Balls and former Blair spinner Lance Price … (Sky News, 10.30 p.m. & 11.30 p.m.): The Mirror’s Kevin Maguire and Spiked Online’s Ella Whelan.

TODAY’S FRONT PAGES

(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)

City A.M.: Backed … Sacked … Cracked?

Daily Express: Parliament surrenders to the EU.

Daily Mail: Now you decide, Britain.

Daily Mirror: Boris loses control.

Financial Times: Johnson’s Brexit strategy in ruins as anti no-deal MPs inflict defeat.

HuffPost U.K.: Parliament 1, Johnson 0.

i: Johnson loses control.

Metro: Now the MPs take control.

The Daily Telegraph: Johnson demands election.

The Guardian: Humiliation for Johnson as Tory rebels turn against him.

The Independent: Johnson loses control.

The Sun (not online): Over to you, Britain!

The Times: PM loses historic vote.

LONDON CALLING

Westminster weather: 🌧⛅️🌤 Morning rain should clear before lunchtime to leave a warm and sunny day. Highs of 21C, albeit with a fair old breeze.

Travel: Severe delays on the Metropolitan line Harrow on the Hill to Aldgate. Northern line suspended.

Happy birthday: Tory Party Chairman James Cleverly, who turns 50 … Ilford South MP Mike Gapes … North West Cambridgeshire MP Shailesh Vara … Former Gower MP Byron Davies.

PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich and producer Miriam Webber.

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