Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer clash over China and Westminster … – The Guardian

Foreign secretary raised spy allegations with China, Sunak says

Starmer turns to the Chinese spy story. He says Sunak was evasive on Monday when asked if the foreign secretary raised the spying case on his trip to China.

Sunak claims he said very clearly the foreign secretary raised “these issues” with the Chinese.

He says he has put in place the most robust policy ever towards China. What would Labour do differently?

Updated at 07.35 EDT

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Starmer says that was not a yes. And he says the intelligence and security committee says the government has no clear strategy towards China. Will he commit to a full audit of UK-China relations that MPs have demanded?


Sunak says the ISC report related to 2019-20. Since then the government has put in place a new China strategy, he says.


If Starmer wants to talk about foreign policy, he should remember he was 100% behind Jeremy Corbyn, who wanted to scrap the army and withdraw from Nato. Starmer put his career first.

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Starmer turns to the Chinese spy story. He says Sunak was evasive on Monday when asked if the foreign secretary raised the spying case on his trip to China.


Sunak claims he said very clearly the foreign secretary raised “these issues” with the Chinese.


He says he has put in place the most robust policy ever towards China. What would Labour do differently?

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Yesterday it emerged that ministers are mulling over a plan to tweak the triple lock for pensions so that what might be a bumper 8.5% increase in its value next year ends up being marginally less generous, at 7.8%.


As Pippa Crerar and Larry Elliott report in their story, ministers would justify the move on the grounds that under the triple lock pensions should rise in line with earnings next year but that the official figure for earnings inflation (8.5%) has been artificially inflated by one-off pay settlements in the public sector.

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There is precedent for a one-off suspension of the normal triple lock uprating formula, which says pensions should rise in line with price inflation, earnings inflation or by 2.5% – whichever is higher. (For 2024-25, it is almost certain the earnings figure will be highest.) After Covid the government decided to ignore earnings for a year because the post-Covid bounce back in earnings created an anomaly.


But if the briefing yesterday as a kite-flying exercise – an attempt by No 10 to gauge quite how unpopular a policy would be, were they to implement it – then the kite came close to being shot down.


Two of the main rightwing papers splashed on the story. The Daily Mail focused on comments suggesting the that Conservatives may drop their commitment to the triple lock in the long term, but it also quoted campaigners attacking the proposal to tweak the rules for 2024-25. The Daily Express focused mainly on what it described as a possible “sneaky” change to the rules.




The Sun and the Daily Telegraph also both carried stories saying the triple lock increase for next year might be watered down, with quotes from people critical of the idea. But they did not publish editorials on the topic.


Rishi Sunak is taking PMQs soon. This topic may come up although, with Labour’s Angela Rayner refusing yesterday to say Labour would keep the triple lock after the general election, it may not be a topic for Keir Starmer.

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Social housing tenants were viewed by some in the Conservative party as “second-class citizens”, Theresa May has said, reflecting on the Grenfell Tower fire. Aletha Adu has the story here.

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Keir Starmer’s Labour must accept it will not be able to tax and spend its way out of financial trouble, Tony Blair has warned. Tom Ambrose has the story here.

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Angela Rayner and Steve Reed have set out Labour’s alternative approach to the nutrient neutrality issue in a joint article for the Times. Here are the main points.



  • Rayner, the deputy leader and shadow levelling up secretary, and Reed, the shadow environment secretary, accept that the nutrient neutrality rules are causing problems for housebuilders. They say:

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It is not in dispute that nutrient neutrality rules are making it challenging to secure consent for new housing development. The status quo is clearly not an option.




  • But they argue that the Tories are wrong to weaken environmental laws as a solution. “We must build the homes people need while also protecting the environment we live in. The two are not mutually exclusive,” they say. Echoing a line used by Keir Starmer to criticise the government’s approach across a range of policy areas, they accuse the Tories of adopting a sticking plaster approach to this problem. They say:

  • n



Like always this is the Tory solution, a quick sticking plaster here, no sense of what the impact is on the future. We do not accept this, and nor do we believe people want to see further harm caused to precious waterways the Conservatives have already flooded with raw, untreated sewage.




  • They say the government plan (getting rid of nutrient neutrality rules for developers, while boosting spending on the nutrient mitigation scheme) would “fatally undermine the emerging market in nutrient pollution reduction that developers are already making use of”.

  • n



  • They propose an alternative, compromise approach – allowing developments held up by nutrient neutrality restrictions to go ahead, on condition that mitigations are in place by the time the homes are occupied. They explain:

  • n



We know there are far better ways to build the new homes we desperately need than green-lighting water pollution. To give just one example, the government could direct local authorities to approve planning applications held up by nutrient neutrality rules, subject to so-called Grampian conditions.


This would allow developers to start building homes that are stuck in the planning pipeline but would require them to put in place measures to counteract any environmental harm before those homes are occupied. Such an approach would allow time for Natural England’s nutrient mitigation scheme or other off-site mitigation schemes to bed in, while also providing certainty to the housebuilding industry that the wait would not be indefinite.



These Grampian conditions could lapse after a certain period of time, they say.




We fully appreciate the concern among housebuilders about the need for an adequate supply of mitigation credits to make it work. It is indeed a failure on the part of the government that more has not been done to identify and bring forward sufficient suitable sites to enable the credit market to flourish.


To ensure that enough mitigation schemes are available, the government would need to provide Natural England and local authorities with support to identify suitable sites and bring more credits to market.


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Good morning. Politics is about choices, and yesterday, after equivocating for a fortnight, the Labour party made a choice. It has decided to vote against Michael Gove’s plan to get rid of a legacy river pollution law (nutrient neutrality, in the jargon) in the hope that this will lead to thousands more homes being built.


Ministers are now at risk of losing when peers vote on the issue later today. Defeat is not inevitable – the Conservatives have more peers than Labour and the Liberal Democrats combined – but crossbenchers have the swing votes in debates like this, and the Lords has consistently voted for measures to protect the environmental protections that came with membership of the EU.


If the Gove proposals are defeated in the vote on the levelling up and regeneration bill, the government will not be able to reinsert them when the bill returns to the Commons because the relevant amendment was only introduced when the bill was in the Lords.


Here is Helena Horton’s overnight story about the move.

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Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader and shadow levelling up secretary, and Steve Reed, the shadow environment secretary, announced the move in an article for the Times in which they accuse the government of “conjuring up a false narrative that pitches housebuilding against protecting our natural environment”.


The danger for Keir Starmer is that, having worked hard to present Labour as being on the side of “the builders, not the blockers”, this will allow the Tories to say the opposite. We’ve got PMQs today and it would be surprising if Rishi Sunak does not spend his time accusing Labour of blocking development (because of this) and encouraging strikes (because of what Rayner told the TUC yesterday).


In truth, both parties are being a bit cakeist on nutrient neutrality; they both want more housing, and cleaner rivers. As the government announced when it set out its plans, it thinks it can offset the impact of getting rid of the nutrient neutrality rule with other measures to tackle river pollution. Labour also says “the status quo is clearly not an option”, and it has its own plan to stop nutrient neutrality holding up housebuilding (involving what are called “Grampian conditions” – more on this shortly).


But public debate is often shaped by headlines, not nuance, and Labour wants to cast the Tories as the party of river pollution.


Here is the agenda for the day.


9am: Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, and other rail industry figures give evidence to the Commons transport committee about accessibility and the proposed ticket office closures.


9.45am: Jonathan Brearley, chief executive of Ofgem, gives evidence to the Commons energy committee about preparing for winter.


11am: Peers debate the levelling up and regeneration bill. It is the seventh day of the report stage debate, and at some point (the debate will continue in the afternoon) there will be a vote on the government’s proposal to get rid of EU-era nutrient neutrality regulations – rules to prevent river pollution, which ministers say are holding back housebuilding.


11am: Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary, gives evidence to the Lords communications committee.


12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.


Afternoon: Starmer is travelling to The Hague for a meeting with Europol about how Labour would deal with small boats.


Also, at some point today, Steve Barclay, the health secretary, is hosting a roundtable at No 10 on NHS preparations for winter.


If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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Key events

Richard Graham (Con) asks about government work promoting democratic values abroad.

Sunak says a white paper on international development is coming, and it will cover promoting democracy.

That’s the end of PMQs.

Lilian Greenwood (Lab) asks why the government is going ahead with cuts to the army.

Sunak says the government has put record sums into the armed forces. It is for the armed forces to decide how they spend the money, he says.

Updated at 07.48 EDT

Brendan Clarke-Smith (Con) asks about the closure of Wilko stores. It has been mismanaged for years, he says. Recenty £77m has been paid out to shareholders. Will the government do all it can to support those affected by the closures?

Sunak says some of these are commercial matters. The government stands ready to support those affected.

Philip Davies (Con) says the government should ensure that any prisoner who assaults a prison officer cannot be released early.

Sunak says people who assault prison officers should face full consequences of their actions.

Florence Eshalomi (Lab) asks if there is Raac in military buildings. Can the PM guarantee the safety of people in the armed forces?

Sunak says people are following guidance on this across the public sector. The government has invested record sums in defence, he says.

Emma Hardy (Lab) asks when the government will take energy security seriously and protect the UK from fossil fuel autocrats.

Sunak says he does take this seriously. He says that is why he set up a new department to deal with this. Labour would make the UK more dependent on autocrats because it would stop new drilling in the North Sea, he says.

Updated at 07.34 EDT

Michael Fabricant (Con) asks about road closures in his Lichfield constituency, caused by work on HS2. HS2 “is the most dysfunctional organisation I have ever had to deal with”, he says. He says HS2 should stop at the end of phase 1.

Sunak says he understands the disruption HS2 is causing.

Derek Twigg (Lab) asks if Sunak is ashamed that people are dying needlessly on his watch.

Sunak says the pandemic has made it harder to deal with waiting lists. But strikes have not helped. He says Labour has been supporting the strikers. And Labour is opposed to the government plan to limit the impact of strikes in public services.

Stephen Hammond (Con) asks about dementia, and recent progress on a new diagnostic test. Will the government convene a dementia taskforce to look at developments in this area?

Sunak says the government wants patients to benefit from new developments. He lists some government initiatives in this area.

Kate Hollern (Lab) asks about a headteacher in her Blackburn constituency who needs help because his schools Raac survey was incomplete. Will the DfE investigate this?

Sunak says he is sorry to hear about the disruption. Schools are being rapidly inspected, he says.

Daisy Cooper (Lib Dem) says her St Albans constituents will be affected by the expansion of Luton airport. Is it true that the government will ignore calls to block new airports?

Sunak says that story was not true. But it is true that he does not think the route to net zero should involve stopping people doing things they want, he says.

Sunak says AI can transform the way services are delivered, but we need guardrails. He says he looks forward to the upcoming AI summit.

Ashley Dalton (Lab) asks if the government remains committed to the triple lock.

Sunak says the government is committed to it. He says Dalton should speak to Angela Rayner, who did not sound committed. And, on pensions, we all remember Labour 75p per week increase, he says.

Chris Green (Con) say his local custody suite is always full because the police are catching criminals. He praises Greater Manchester police for this.

Sunak says he is pleased about the improvements in Manchester policing. They are a model for police forces across the country, he says.

Updated at 07.31 EDT

Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says last year 22,000 people waited more than four months to start treatment for cancer. The cancer waiting time target has not been met since 2015. Waiting reduces the chance of survival. When will the target be met?

Sunak says the government wants to speed up diagnosis. The pandemic held this up. There are hundreds more oncologists working compared with last year. And more early diagnostic centres are opening. The 62-day backlog is falling, he says.

Updated at 07.22 EDT

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