Afternoon summary

  • Keir Starmer has said Labour would streamline planning rules to enable more houses to be built. (See 9.02am.) In a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce, he said current planning laws were a brake on productivity. (See 3.41pm.) In response to Tory suggestions that this was hypocritical, because shadow ministers have regularly blocked housing developments in their own constituencies, Starmer said that, unlike Rishi Sunak, he would press ahead with housebuilding reform even in the face of objections from MPs. (See 5.21pm.)

Keir Starmer speaking at the BCC conference this afternoon.
Keir Starmer speaking at the BCC conference this afternoon. Photograph: Jordan Pettitt/PA


Starmer says he will be 'tougher' than Sunak on housebuilding and not be put off by objections from his MPs

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has released an open letter to Keir Starmer asking questions about his plans to reform planning and promote housebuilding. He claims that three-quarters of members of the shadow cabinet have in the past blocked developments in their own constituencies.

Does anyone know what @Keir_Starmer’s latest position is on housing? I hope he can clear up these important questions👇

— Michael Gove (@michaelgove) May 17, 2023

Starmer is being interviewed by Evan Davis on the PM programme, and Davis asked him about this claim. Starmer said he had not seen Gove’s questions, but he acknowledged that implementing his plans would be difficult because MPs would say: “Not here.”

But he said, unlike Rishi Sunak, he would not back off in the face of pressure from his party. He went on:

The prime minister backed off. He admitted it was the challenge within his own party, his own backbenchers, that forced him to [scrap the targets]. He didn’t say: ‘Look, it’s good for housing or good for growth.’ He just [backed down] because he was too weak to press on. We’ve got to be tougher than that and push forward.

In so far as people object because they want to protect the green belt, that’s right. Of course, we want to protect the green belt. But we need to recognise we do build on bits of the green belt and we don’t build on the right bits.


Government has seen 'no evidence of corruption, illegality or wrongdoing' in Teesside freeport development, says minister

At PMQs Oliver Dowden, the deputy PM, rejected suggestions that there was anything improper about the funding of the Teesside freeport scheme. (See 12.31pm.) Dehenna Davison, the levelling up minister, has defended the project in more detail in a letter to the Labour MP Andy McDonald. She says the government has seen “no evidence of corruption, illegality or wrongdoing” in the project. Sam Coates from Sky News has a copy of her letter.

As previewed in PMQs, the reasoning behind the government’s decision to rebut allegations about Teeside - and firmly stand by Ben Houchen - is outlined here in a ministerial letter.

They think they want this fight:

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) May 17, 2023

McDonald has called for an independent inquiry.

You do talk nonsense Simon.

What is needed is openness & transparency.

Or, as your friend Rishi promised us, “integrity, professionalism and accountability” but has been so sadly lacking.

Let’s have that independent inquiry that people can trust.

— Andy McDonald MP (@AndyMcDonaldMP) May 17, 2023

Ben Houchen, the Conservative Tees Valley mayor, has called for the National Audit Office to carry out such an inquiry. Davison says in her letter the government is considering this request.

No 10 confirms Sunak has dropped plan to close all Confucius Institutes in UK - as Truss says they should all shut immediately

Downing Street has confirmed that Rishi Sunak has abandoned a proposal to close all 30 of the Confucius Institutes operating in the UK.

Funded by the Chinese government, Confucius Institute are units operating within universities teaching Chinese language and culture. China hawks are criticial of them because they promote Chinese soft power.

During the Tory leadership contest last summer (which he lost to Liz Truss, who is particularly hawkish on China), Sunak said:

Enough is enough. For too long, politicians in Britain and across the west have rolled out the red carpet and turned a blind eye to China’s nefarious activity and ambitions.

I will change this on day one as PM. I will stop China taking over our universities, and get British companies and public institutions the cybersecurity they need.

2/ I would close all 30 of China’s Confucius Institutes in the UK - the highest number in the world.

Almost all UK government spending on Mandarin language teaching at school is channelled through university-based Confucius Institutes, thereby promoting Chinese soft power.

— Rishi Sunak (@RishiSunak) July 25, 2022

Today, at the post-PMQs briefing, No 10 confirmed that Sunak no longer plans to close the Confucius Institutes. Confirming a TalkTV story, the PM’s spokesperson said that the government was removing government funding from Confucius Institutes, and that they had to operate them within the law. But the government judged it would be “disproportionate” to ban them, the spokesperson said.

In her speech in Taiwan delivered early this morning, Truss said Sunak should keep the promise he made last summer and close the institutes. She said:

Last summer, the new British prime minister described China as the biggest long-term threat in Britain and he said that the Confucius Institutes should be closed. He was right and we need to see those policies enacted urgently. The UK’s integrated review needs to be amended to make it absolutely clear that China is a threat. Confucius Institutes in the UK should be closed down immediately. Instead, the service could be provided by organisations with the support of Hong Kong nationals and Taiwanese nationals who’ve come to the United Kingdom freely.

Liz Truss delivering her speech in Taipei, Taiwan, earlier today.
Liz Truss delivering her speech in Taipei, Taiwan, earlier today. Photograph: Annabelle Chih/Getty Images


Rishi Sunak speaking to journalists on his flight to the G7 summit in Hiroshima.
Rishi Sunak speaking to journalists on his flight to the G7 summit in Hiroshima. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA


In response to a question about leasehold reform, Keir Starmer said he thought the Law Commission recommendations in 2020 were about right. As my colleague Kiran Stacey says, that means Labour favours abolishing new leaseholds, but not existing ones.

Keir Starmer has spent the last few days attacking Michael Gove for not abolishing leaseholds. But he has just clarified to me he won't it abolish either. Labour policy is an end to new leaseholds, but not existing ones.

— Kiran Stacey (@kiranstacey) May 17, 2023

Starmer says tax is high in UK because it has low growth

Q: What assurances can you give that Labour will allow investment to thrive?

Starmer says this is vital. The UK will not get growth without investment. They want long-term stability and planning.

He says having four chancellors in a year is politically funny, but it is hopeless for investment.

And he says tax is high because the UK has low growth. Low growth leads to high tax. We have to break out of that cycle, he says.


Starmer says, if local authorities have more powers, they may be able to speed up building. At the moment land owners and developers have too much power over where housing goes, he says.

And he says he wants to look at giving authorities the power to take housing decisions together.

Starmer is now taking questions.

Q: Is building on the green belt really the answer to England’s housing needs?

Starmer says so many people want to own their own homes. This is about security too, he says. He knows how important that is, because his family owned their home with a mortgage.

For many people, that is not possible now.

He says Labour would reintroduce housebuilding targets. But it would fix planning too, and use development corporations.

He says he values the countryside and protecting the green belt. But sometimes there is building on the green belt. It needs to be done properly.

He cites a recent example where there was a choice between building on a field or a car park. But the car park was green belt, so the building went ahead on a field. That should not have happened, he says.


Starmer stresses Labour’s commitment to business.

We’re not just a pro-business party, we’re a party that is proud of being pro-business, that respects the contribution profit makes to jobs, growth and our tax base, gets that working people want success as well as support.

Understands that robust private sector growth is the only way we pay our way in the world.

Starmer delivers the line briefed overnight (see 9.02am) about Labour being “the builders, not the blockers”. He goes on:

In this new, more volatile economic era, businesses need a government that gets involved.

There’s no future in a stand-aside state. That won’t deliver the stability and the certainty, won’t manage the tide of change that is coming.

It’s simple really: every business in this room has a strategy for growth, a nation needs one too.

Starmer says planning laws are holding back Britain's productivity

Starmer says problems with the planning system are a key reason for Britain’s low productivity. He says:

Some nation will lead the world in offshore wind, why not Britain?

I’ll tell you one reason why not: our planning system.

I met the people running the National Grid recently and you know what they said to me, they said: if we want to get anywhere near our goals on net zero, we need to build more infrastructure in the next seven years than we have in the last 30.

Let that sink in.

And yet – what’s the average time it takes to build an off-shore windfarm? Thirteen years … an entire Tory government.

And now housebuilding – crashing to a record low. Onshore wind – just two turbines built last year.

Critical infrastructure like HS2, built more slowly and expensively because of the red tape.

And the net result, an economy stuck in second gear. A doom-loop of low growth, low productivity and high taxes. A generation and its hopes – an entire future – blocked by those, who more often than not, enjoy the secure homes and jobs that they’re denying to others.

The evidence could not be clearer. There are 38 countries in the OECD, and we are the second worst when it comes to the effectiveness of our planning system.

And just think, some people still call our problems the “productivity puzzle. We know the problems, we’ve just got to show a bit more bottle to fix them.


Starmer tells the BCC that the future is full of opportunities as well as risks.

We’ve got to navigate our way through revolutions in technology, in energy, in medicine and, with an ageing society, even in who we are.

Climate change is a recipe for global instability. The shape of power in the world is changing, there is war on our continent, and because of all of this, we must square up to a new economic era.

Where the old assumptions – on labour, on energy, on trade and goods – no longer apply. No doubt about it, your company risk registers will be long, but the way I see it there are also opportunities to be seized, new markets to open up, a more prosperous future that can be won.


Starmer tells BCC why he is prioritising GDP, saying growth is 'better jobs, public services, holidays, meals out, more cash'

Keir Starmer is addressing the BCC conference now. He starts by talking about growth, and explaining why one of his “missions” for Labour is for the UK to have the highest sustained growth in the G7 in the next parliament. He says:

I know what a lot of people in Westminster say about growth. They say it’s an abstract concept, doesn’t resonate, doesn’t connect with peoples’ lives, I don’t accept that.

Growth is higher wages. Growth is stronger communities. Growth is thriving businesses. It’s more vibrant high street, less poverty, more opportunity, warmer homes, healthier food, better jobs.

It’s public services that are well funded. It’s holidays, meals out, more cash in your pocket - an end to the suffocating cost of living crisis, our ticket to win the race for the future and the biggest single thing we need to lift our sights, raise our ambitions, and get our hope, our confidence and our future back.

Andy Burnham claims Labour advisers have been briefing against him

Andy Burnham, the Labour mayor of Greater Manchester, has accused advisers working for the party of briefing against him.

In an interview with Times Radio, Burnham said that he was not accusing Keir Starmer, members of his shadow cabinet, or Labour HQ, of being responsible for negative stories about him.

But he implied that some of Starmer’s younger aides were to blame. He said:

Whenever I go out there with something positive, the negative Westminster briefing machine somehow flicks into gear. All that I’d say is, leave me alone.

I’ve been out there being supportive of the party and working for a majority Labour government as everyone is, but I’m doing my thing. I’m building a really powerful positive agenda for Greater Manchester, and to have the kind of old ways of Westminster trying to cut across that with their negative briefing – you know, their insecurity - I honestly don’t know what purpose they think it serves.

Burnham did not name any of those he believed were responsible for those briefings in the interview. But he said:

It’s not Keir or the shadow cabinet or the party, but it’s those people – I know who they are and you know who they are – the unelected people in their 20s or 30s who think they know it all and they’re the kind of bee’s knees etc. And they go around sort of briefing against elected politicians.

Andy Burnham outside Westminster Abbey on the day of the coronation, which he was attending.
Andy Burnham outside Westminster Abbey on the day of the coronation, which he was attending. Photograph: Reuters

PCS leader Mark Serwotka says he will retire at end of year

Mark Serwotka has announced that he will retire from his post as general secretary of the Public and Commercial Services union at the end of the year. The PCS is the biggest civil service union and Serwotka has led it since 2000, being re-elected four times.

In a statment he said:

Today PCS is in the best place it has been for many years. We have withstood attacks on our union from Conservative governments and we are now growing.

Government making 'strong representation' to EU about Brexit trade rules affecting car exports, MPs told

Nusrat Ghani, a business minister, told MPs that the government is making “strong representation” to the EU about the Brexit trade rules that could make car exports to the EU prohibitively expensive from 2024.

In response to an urgent question on the issue, she said:

I can provide assurances that I and the business and trade secretary [Kemi Badenoch] have raised these issues with our colleagues across government and had productive conversations with our counterparts in the European Union.

We are aware of the concerns from the UK car makers about the challenges and of course we continue to make strong representation.

But Ghani would not say whether this meant the UK was seeking to reopen the Brexit trade deal.

Asked about the issue, Downing Street said raw material costs had increased for all car manufacturers. (The rise in costs means UK manufacturers are having to source more components from outside the UK, which means higher tariffs apply, which means exports may no longer be viable.) A No 10 spokesperson said:

We recognise that for a number of reasons raw material costs for manufacturers have spiked since we signed the [trade and cooperation agreement]. That’s a problem for manufacturers across Europe not just here in the UK …

That’s why the business secretary has raised this already with the European Commission. It’s been raised at official level as well and we hope to come to a resolution with the EU on this.

Asked whether the January 2024 deadline (for when the new tariffs will apply) could be pushed back, the spokesperson said:

We’re looking to what solutions we can put in place to a problem that we know exists. I’m not going to get ahead of the conversations we’re having with the EU.

DfT says bus fares in England outside London will continue to be capped at £2 until October

The Department for Transport has announced that the government will spend up to £200m ensuring that single bus fares in England continue to be capped at £2 outside London until the end of October 2023, and then at £2.50 until 30 November 2024.

In a statement to MPs about this, Richard Holden, a transport minister, said: “Since the £2 cap was introduced it has saved passengers millions of pounds, boosted businesses and put bums on bus seats right across the country.”

Here is a Guardian video showing some of the highlights from this morning’s home affairs committee hearing where Matt Twist, the temporary assistant commissioner for Met operations, and Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, were giving evidence about the policing of the coronation.

At a visit to Glasgow Girls FC this morning, Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, was asked about Humza Yousaf’s Today programme interview, in which he was probed about the latest revelations around the police investigation into SNP finances – that it took two weeks for the Crown Office to sign off on the police warrant to search the home of former first minister Nicola Sturgeon and her husband, former SNP chief executive Peter Murrell.

Yousaf told Today that, when he was knocking doors recently, “nobody mentioned to me the police investigation ... they did mention how high their energy bills were.”

After meeting the coach and players at Budhill Park in the east end of Glasgow, Sarwar said:

What he’s hearing on the doorsteps is up to him. Individual households right now are thinking about how to put food on the table for their kids. They’re thinking how they’re going to pay the next energy bill. And instead they see a SNP that is mired in scandal and division, financial mismanagement, dysfunctional government, and they see a Tory party that’s going more and more down towards a divisive culture war, using often racist rhetoric.

Sarwar said voters were concluding “these people are deluded, they have no understanding of what happens in our lives”.

Asked about Keir Starmer’s comments earlier today about the possibility of renegotiating Brexit (see 11.31am), Sarwar was clear:

I would not have any credibility had I said, ‘Let’s not re-open the yes/no question, but let’s reopen the leave/remain question. But do we recognise that it’s a mess? Absolutely. Do we have to fix the mess? We do.

Meanwhile the Scottish Convervatives are demanding that the police probe into the SNP finances should be investigated by a parliamentary inquiry.

Anas Sarwar alongside Emma Strathdee during a vist to Budhill Park in Springboig, Glasgow, this morning.
Anas Sarwar alongside Emma Strathdee during a vist to Budhill Park in Springboig, Glasgow, this morning. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA

And here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story about PMQs.

PMQs - snap verdict

When Rishi Sunak was doing an MBA at Stanford business school, he took a course called Paths to Power. According to one account, one of the aims of this course is to ensure that students “never have to leave a position involuntarily” and they are taught to avoid grooming potential successors. Sunak seemed to have absorbed this lesson well. This was Oliver Dowden’s first outing as deputy prime minister at PMQs and one bonus for No 10 is that – on the basis of this outing, at least – Sunak (unlike Keir Starmer) is never going to have to worry about being outshone by his deputy.

Dowden started with a half-decent joke about Ed Davey. (See 12.05pm.) But after that it was downhill all the way. The humour got worse, the attack lines were at best stale, at worst ancient, at times he sounded tone deaf (Dowden is working class, but it was a mistake to try playing this card against Angela Rayner, who had a much more deprived childhood than he did), and he did not have good answers to what she was saying about poverty, or the NHS. The best measure of how poor it was was that he resorted to banging on about Jeremy Corbyn, not just once, but twice. Sunak has stopped doing this at the dispatch box now, because attacking the last Labour leader is a giveaway about the lack of dirt on the current one.

Rayner is now now shadowing her third deputy PM (Thérèse Coffey, in case you’ve forgotten who the other one was), and her experience showed. This was by no means her best PMQs, but she was in control throughout. Her best material came when she was talking about this week’s National Conservatism confernce. She said:

The Tories have picked their side, there for the vested interests, for oil companies and the bankers, for those that are profiting from the crisis and not suffering from it. Whether it’s failing the millions of people anxiously waiting for treatment or overseeing a rise in child poverty, and while his colleagues spout nonsense at their carnival of conspiracy, I want to know when will his party stop blaming everybody else and realise that the problem is them?

Sunak’s main achievement as PM, in party terms, has been to give the impression that the Conservative party is no longer in operating in lunatic mode. Three days of NatCon have left that more open to question.

Does it matter that Dowden as a deputy PM, at least at the dispatch box, sounds like a bit of a dud? Probably not much, but sometimes a deputy can enhance the appeal of a party, because they possess attributes that complement the leader. Tony Blair benefited hugely from having John Prescott, someone with a very different background, and a reach into a different wing of Labour, by his side. Rayner is an asset to Starmer for the same reason (although in private their relationship may be more fragile than the Blair/Prescott one – Prescott had no ambitions to be PM). Dominic Raab may have been of less use to Boris Johnson, but by most accounts he did a good job standing in for Johnson when he was ill with Covid. Perhaps Dowden is playing a valuable role behind the scenes? Another potential benefit he brings is that he is not privileged (his dad worked in a factory, and he went to a comprehensive school) and so his class outlook is different from Sunak’s. But he sounds relatively posh, and so unless voters actually know something about him, many will assume he is just another privileged Tory.


Virginia Crosbie (Con) says this week is Wales tourism week. Will Dowen thank all those working in the sector. And doesn’t the tips bill show the government is supporting this sector?

Dowden says he has spent many happy family holidays in Wales, and will go again next year.

And that’s it. PMQs is over.

Chi Onwurah (Lab) says half the children in her constituency are growing up in poverty. Why is the government making it so hard for children?

Dowden says the government has lifted 1.7 million people out of absolute poverty.

(Absolute poverty is a measure of poverty based on what the poverty level was at the start of a government’s period in office. Over time, because of inflation, absolute poverty almost always declines.)


Simon Clarke (Con) says Labour should apologise for talking down the Teesside freeport project. He says it was always meant to include private sector involvement.

Dowden defends the project, and says Labour’s decision to talk it down is inexcusable.

This may be a hostage to fortune. This week the Financial Times published the results of an extensive investigation by Jennifer Williams suggesting there are serious questions to answer about how this project has been funded, and whether it has been a good use of public money. The National Audit Office has been urged to investigate.

Matt Western (Lab) says Rishi Sunak had to be airlifted to a pharmacy in Southampton recently after suffering from electoral misfunction.

Sir Desmond Swayne (Con) aks what reason there might be for giving EU nationals the right to vote in UK elections. Their numbers are equivalent to the population of Wales, he says.

Dowden says while the Tories will stop the boats, Labour will rig the votes.

Dowden says the government remains committed to reforming the leasehold system. Plans will be set out later in this parliament.

Dowden gives DUP leader assurance about government acting to guarantee Northern Ireland's access to UK market

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader at Westminster, says the Westminster framework could create further barriers to trade between Britain and Northern Ireland. Will the government legislate to ensure Northern Ireland’s access to the British market?

Dowden says the government is willing to legislate to ensure Northern Ireland has unfettered access to the UK market.

There are local elections in Northern Ireland tomorrow, and so that is a valuable assurance for the DUP.

UPDATE: Donaldson said:

The deputy prime minister will be aware of the ongoing concerns of unionists in Northern Ireland about our ability to trade freely within the United Kingdom and its internal market given the continued application of EU law on the manufacture of all goods in Northern Ireland.

We now have proposals for a future border operating model that could potentially create further barriers to trade between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

Will the deputy prime minister give me an assurance that the government will in law protect Northern Ireland’s ability to trade freely within and with the rest of the United Kingdom?

And Dowden replied:

We have already shown a willingness to legislate to protect Northern Ireland’s place within the union.

We are committed to providing exactly the protections that the right honourable gentleman refers to around Northern Ireland’s unfettered access to the whole United Kingdom market.

So I can give those assurances and of course we stand ready to work with the right honourable gentleman and representatives across unionism to reflect the further steps required to protect our precious union.


Esther McVey (Con) says Travellers are causing a problem in her constituency.

Dowden says unauthorised encampments can cause misery. The home secretary will have heard McVey’s comments, he says.

Mhairi Black, the deputy SNP leader at Westminster, asks why Dowden ignores all the downsides of Brexit.

Dowden claims the UK has had one of the fastest growth rates in the G7 since Brexit. The SNP want to undo Brexit. But they should undo the mess the SNP has left Scotland in.

Black says the only thing more deluded than Dowden’s defence of Brexit is Labour’s support for it. Even Nigel Farage can admit Brexit has failed. Why can’t Dowden?

Dowden says the SNP should support the government’s trade deals. The SNP has been in power for 13 years, he says.

Rayner says child poverty is almost back to the level it was when Labour last inherited a mess from the Tories. The Tories have been staging a “Trump tribute act” this week, she says. They have been spouting nonsense at their “carnival of conspiracy”. When will the Tories stop blaming everyone else, and realise they are the problem?

Dowden says he will proudly defend his party’s record. But Labour has lost four elections, Starmer has broken 30 promises, and under Corbyn the party let antisemitism run wild, he says.


Rayner says Tories are on track to make child poverty worse

Rayner says they all want minimum service levels. It is the government that is failing to provide them, because it has run services into the ground. She says the government is on track to make child poverty worse. When she was a young mum, she remembers the sick feeling in her stomach worrying about meeting her bills. What level of poverty does Dowden consider a success?

Dowden says, as a comprehensive school boy, he won’t take lectures from Labour. He says the Tories have taken more than a million people out of poverty.


Rayner challenges Dowden over length of NHS waiting lists

Rayner says waiting lists were going up before the pandemic. Waiting lists are higher than when Rishi Sunak made his promise five months ago. Sunak has a private GP, so perhaps he does not appreciate the urgency. But she mentions a constituent who has repeatedly had an appointment delayed. When will waiting lists fall?

Dowden says, if Rayner cares that much about access to healthcare, Labour should be supporting the minimum service levels in the anti-strike bill.


Rayner says Dowden should spend more time following what is happening in his party, not making up what is happening in hers. She asks why the government has not met its latest target on waiting lists.

Dowden says the government had to deal with the pandemic. And he says in Labour-run Wales waiting lists are also a problem.

Rayner says the Tories are starting to prepare for opposition. She refers to speeches at the NatCon conference, and says Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Tories were gerrymandering with the Elections Act. She says Dowden, when he was working in No 10, said he had to listen to the radio to find out what was going on. She says, 11 years on, nothing has changed.

Dowden says Rayner and Starmer are at each other’s throats. They are the Phil and Holly of British politics.

(Colleagues tell me he should have said Holly and Phil.)


Angela Rayner starts by saying Dowden is the third deputy she has faced in three years. And Rishi Sunak finally has a working-class friend. Pointing out that Dowden resigned as Tory chair after byelection losses, she asks who is to blame for the Tory local election results.

Dowden says he was expecting to face Keir Starmer’s choice for deputy PM today, and so he thought Ed Davey would be here.

In the spirit of her opening remarks, can I just say, it really is a pleasure to see her here today. I was, though, expecting to face the Labour leader’s choice for the next deputy prime minister if they win the election. So I’m surprised that the Lib Dem leader isn’t taking questions today.

And he criticises Rayner for backing Jeremy Corbyn when he was party leader.


Craig Mackinlay (Con) says Amazon is allowing people to buy counterfeit stamps from China. Will the government tackle this?

Dowden says if fraud is being perpetrated, the police should take action.


Cat Smith (Lab) says the Royal Lancashire Infirmary was meant to be one of the 40 hospitals being refurbished by the government. Is that still the case?

Dowden says the government is still committed to the programme.

Oliver Dowden starts by saying the PM is travelling to Japan for the G7 summit.

He congratulates Liverpool for its staging of Eurovision.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question at PMQs.

PMQs Photograph: HoC

Oliver Dowden faces Angela Rayner at PMQs

Oliver Dowden is about to get his first outing at PMQs. He was made deputy PM when Dominic Raab resigned, and he is facing Angela Rayner because Rishi Sunak is flying to the G7 summit in Japan.

Former Brexit minister Lord Frost criticises Gove's bill to ban no-fault evictions

Lord Frost, the Tory former Brexit minister, was the key speaker at the National Conservatism conference this morning. He used his speech to criticise the plans being announced by Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, today to stop landlords evicting tenants with no reason. Frost said:

The right thing to do is to reverse the powers of government in our everyday lives. The politicisation of every activity and every choice. Let’s not forget what that means. The endless hectoring. The constant suggestion that the government has the right to dictate how you behave when it has socialised the costs. The dangerous and counter-productive intrusion into private property – as Michael Gove’s renters bill will do this morning. The seeming determination to remove risk from every aspect of daily life. The belief that the government can dictate what your children are taught. The establishment of DEI [diversity, equality and inclusion] as something close to a state ideology that you must sign up to if you want to work in the public sector. The growing assumption that the government has the right to know where you are, what you spend your money on, and increasingly what you read and think.


As mentioned earlier (see 9.02am), Keir Starmer’s decision to depict Labour as “builders” and the Tories as “blockers” seems to be inspired by a Bagehot column in last week’s Economist. It’s a very good read. Here’s an extract.

Housing policy divides the country in odd ways. Britain has fewer houses than it needs, if its European peers are anything to go by. England has fewer homes per person than every other big rich European country. Yet Britons are split on whether to catch up. According to a study by Ben Ansell, an Oxford academic and author of Why Politics Fails, an average of 37% of people in each constituency support building more local housing. But an average of 39% oppose the idea. Britain is a country of Builders and Blockers – and its political parties have each decided which group to pursue …

Housing is one of the few areas in British politics where there is fundamental disagreement. Topics where voters are totally split, such as whether to leave the EU, are rare. On the big problems facing Britain – whether lousy public services or the cost of living or cutting emissions – Britons are largely agreed on what to aim for, if not on how to get there. Housing is more binary. Some voters want it; others do not. When Britain is divided, the party that can maintain its block of voters wins. In 2019 the Conservatives were able to marshal the support of “Leave” voters, while the “Remain” vote split among Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and the Scottish National party. Come the next election, Builders have few places to go. Blockers have plenty of choice.


At 12.30pm, after PMQs, there will be an urgent question in the Commons about the car industry and Brexit. Labour has tabled the UQ, and a minister from the Department for Business and Trade will respond.

Starmer plays down prospect of Labour committing to giving EU nationals right to vote in general elections, saying it isn't priority

Although Keir Starmer used his Times interview to defend Labour’s plans to legislate to allow employees to work from home (see 10.56am), he was much less keen to defend the proposal to allow EU nationals to vote in general elections. On Monday Starmer told LBC that he could see the case for this idea (not yet party policy). But when asked about Michael Gove’s attack on the plan, Starmer implied he was having second thoughts. Steven Swinford and Henry Zeffman report:

Starmer said Gove was being “hysterical” and hinted that the idea would not make it into the manifesto. “This isn’t policy,” he said. “We will debate a number of things. But … I know that because of the damaged country we’ll inherit I have to be laser-focused in government on the missions I’ve said we will deliver. We’ve got five missions. None of them involve electoral change.”


Starmer confirms Labour wants 'better Brexit deal' with EU

Keir Starmer has confirmed that Labour would seek to improve the Brexit deal that the UK has with the EU. Asked about the reports that the car manufacturer Stellantis wants the trade and cooperation agreement renegotiated because it believes that in its current form it puts manufacturing jobs in the UK at risk, Starmer told BBC Breakfast the UK needed “a better Brexit deal”. He said:

Look, we’re not going to re-enter the EU. We do need to improve that deal. Of course we want a closer trading relationship, we absolutely do. We want to ensure that Vauxhall and many others not just survive in this country but thrive.

This has been Labour’s position for some time. Last year Starmer set out a five-point plan setting out changes he wanted to see to the Brexit settlement.

If Labour wins the next election, Starmer will have the opportunity to review the TCA anyway, because the treaty includes a provision for its terms to be reviewed in 2025.

CPRE says Starmer is 'absolutely right' about giving councils more control to direct housebuilding

The CPRE, which used to be the Campaign for the Protection of Rural England, but which now calls itself the countryside charity, has given a qualified welcome to Keir Starmer’s comments about building on the green belt.

It is not a full endorsement. But, given the fact that for years the CPRE has been at the forefront of protecting the green belt, Labour may have been expecting something a lot more hostile. The CPRE seems to have some reservations about what the Labour leader is saying (see 9.59am), because it says brownfield development should be prioritised. But it agrees with much of what Starmer is proposing.

This is from Tom Fyans, its director of campaigns and policy.

Keir Starmer is absolutely right to say developers and landowners need to be prevented from deliberately slowing the rate at which they build houses to drive up prices – local authorities need more control to direct housebuilding where it is most needed.

And he’s bang on when he says targeting the green belt for ‘expensive executive housing’ upsets local communities because that’s not the homes that are needed. We’re facing a bona fide housing crisis, with an entire generation effectively priced out of home ownership. What’s more, far too many people are barely able to afford their rent.

A sustained period of social housebuilding is the only practical way to deliver the truly affordable homes we so desperately need, including in rural areas.

To boost economic growth, regenerate towns and city centres, and fix the housing crisis, hundreds of thousands of genuinely affordable homes need to be fast-tracked on brownfield sites, in particular land that has been previously developed and needs regeneration within the green belt. A sensible brownfield first planning policy not only protects the countryside, it offers the convenience of living near public transport, jobs and shops, meaning reduced carbon emissions and thriving urban centres.

Roger Harrabin, the leading environmental commentator and journalist, is more positive about the Starmer announcement.

So, Labour will allow building on green belt. Thank goodness for that. Some sections of greenbelt are really valuable, but others are not

Tile Hill station in my home city Coventry, sits right on the edge of the greenbelt. It’s a good place for a village with homes and pub/shop

— Roger Harrabin (@RHarrabin) May 17, 2023

Starmer defends Labour's plan to give employees right to work from home, dismissing claims it would harm productivity

Last week the leak of a report to Labour’s national policy forum confirmed that the party intends to legislate to give people the right to flexible working, which would include the ability to work from home some of the time for many employees. In its news story on the proposal the Daily Mail said “increasing the likelihood of people working from home could jeopardise the push to improve the UK’s productivity, which trails behind some of the other major economies and is seen as vital for securing improved growth in the long term”.

But this has not discouraged Keir Starmer. In his Times interview he said giving people the right to work from home was “very important to use”. He went on:

Security, dignity and respect at work matters to working people. And because every good employer will tell you and every good business will tell you that if you want high productivity, if you want a well-run business, then how you treat your workforce is part of that.

When it was put to Starmer that Tories claim working from home is bad for productivity, he replied:

Yeah, well they voted against the minimum wage back in the day on the same basis. And now they claim it as their own.

Hunt tells BCC it is for businesses to 'find their own way through' how much working from home to allow

Businesses and public bodies are under constant pressure from the Jacob Rees-Mogg wing of the Conservative party to stop employees working from home and to get more of them back into the office. (The cause is also popular with some of the rightwing papers, perhaps worried that working from home is not good for sales.)

But when Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, was asked about this at the BCC conference, he refused to be too prescriptive. He said it was up to businesses to “find their own way through”. He said:

I think it’s something for businesses to find their own way through.

There are some very exciting opportunities created by the fact that we’ve all learned to use Zoom in teams for meetings.

On the other hand, there is nothing like sitting around the table, seeing people face to face developing team spirit – and I worry about the loss of creativity.

When people are permanently working from home and not having those water cooler moments where they bounce ideas off each other.

Met was not under 'political pressure' over coronation policing, senior offficer tells MPs

A senior officer in the Metropolitan police has rejected claims that the force come under political pressure to ensure protests did not disrupt the coronation.

As PA Media reports, a report in the i newspaper quoted an anonymous source saying that there had been “a very firm instruction [to the police] not to damage the reputation of the UK” by allowing disruptive protests. The Met was criticised in particular for using new powers in the Public Order Act to arrest and detain six activists from the group Republic who had been liasing with police for weeks in advance about what protest activity would be allowed.

Giving evidence to the Commons home affairs committee, Matt Twist, the temporary assistant commissioner for Met operations, said:

I felt under no pressure politically, I felt pressure to deliver a safe and secure operation, but that was because of the fact that it was a once in a lifetime event for so many people and there would be hundreds of thousands of people in London to celebrate it and also and importantly, this was the biggest protection operation we have ever run.

There were 312 protected people that we managed to get in and out of the Abbey and across the footprint in about 90 minutes. So the stakes were enormously high, so I absolutely felt pressure to deliver a safe and secure operation. but that wasn’t political pressure.

Hunt tells BCC that bringing down inflation will take priority over cutting taxes

Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has said that the government will prioritise bringing down inflation over cutting taxes. In his speech to the British Chambers of Commerce conference, he said:

What I would say to people worried about levels of taxation is: I agree with that, we have to get our taxes down, particularly our business taxes down.

But the worst tax of all is inflation, because inflation is tax which you get nothing back for in return.

On inflation, Hunt said that although it was for the Bank of England to control it through interest rates, the government had a role to play too. He said:

There’s nothing automatic about bringing down inflation. There’s a plan, we are going to stick to it.

The Bank of England has a role through monetary policy and interest rates, we support them 150% with that.

But we have our role in government, what I do on the fiscal side in terms of tax and spend has an influence and if markets judge that we are not getting our borrowing under control they will punish us with higher interest rates.

Starmer says Labour would give local authorities power to allow more building on green belt

In his Times interview Keir Starmer said that Labour would give councils and residents more power to approve housebuilding on green belt land. He suggested this would lead to more homes being built (even though it is often local objections that halt development).

Starmer told the Times that one problem is that often the housing that does get approved under the current system is “expensive executive housing” that might not suit local needs. He said restoring the housebuilding targets abandoned by the government would not, on its own, be enough. More building on the green belt should be allowed too, he said.

But he stressed the importance of consulting communities. He said:

We need to have that discussion [about building on the green belt]. But it cannot be reduced to a simple discussion of will you or will you not build on the green belt. This is why it’s important for local areas to have the power to decide where housing is going to be.

Very often the objections that people have to housebuilding on the green belt are valid because the control by landowners and developers mean that the houses are proposed in areas where it’s quite obvious that there’s going to be a local concern.

Give local authorities, local areas more power to decide where it will be and you alleviate that problem. So it’s not as binary or straightforward as ‘green belt, not green belt’. It’s how you direct where the housing will be.


Minister defends Tories' record on housebuilding in face of criticism from Starmer

Richard Holden, the transport minister, was on the broadcast interview round this morning on behalf of the government. Asked to respond to what Keir Starmer is saying about building houses, he told Talk Radio that the Tories had a record of building homes, because 2.2m houses had been built since 2010.

He also implied Starmer was being hypocritical. He said:

I’m always interested to hear what the Labour leader has to say because it usually changes on a daily basis. You’ve got to keep following him closely …

Like any good barrister, what we see is Keir Starmer attempting to make a different case to a different audience every time he’s got a different case in front of him.

Holden did not flesh out this claim in the interview, but in their Times story Steven Swinford and Henry Zeffman quote a government source giving an example of Labour opposing housebuilding. They report:

A government source highlighted the fact that Lisa Nandy, the shadow secretary for levelling up, housing and communities, recently opposed the building of homes on green belt land in her Wigan constituency. “You can’t trust a word that Starmer says on housing,” the source said. “These are more empty promises from Labour.”

In her London Playbook briefing for Politco, Rosa Prince also points out that in 2021 Labour opposed the planning changes being proposed at the time by the then housing secretary, Robert Jenrick, on the grounds that they were a “developers’ charter”. Jenrick was later sacked and those changes, which would have liberalised planning rules, were abandoned because Tory backbenchers opposed them.


Vauxhall maker says Brexit deal must be renegotiated or it could shut UK plant

The Vauxhall and Fiat manufacturer Stellantis has urged the government to renegotiate rules in the Brexit deal that it says could force it to shut some of its UK operations, putting thousands of jobs at risk. Mark Sweney has the story here.

Labour are ‘builders’, Tories are ‘blockers’, says Starmer as he promises planning reform to boost housebuilding

Good morning. Keir Starmer has given an interview to the Times published this morning, he is doing a media round, and he is giving a speech to the British Chambers of Commerce this afternoon. And he has got a big message to publicise: Labour will go on a building spree, and it is willing to relax planning restrictions to do so.

This is what he will tell the BCC:

You can’t be serious about raising productivity, about improving the supply-side capacity of our economy and about arresting our economic decline, without a plan for the windfarms, the laboratories, the warehouses and the homes this country so desperately needs.

Mark my words: we will take on planning reform. We’ll bring back local housing targets. We’ll streamline the process for national infrastructure projects and commercial development and we’ll remove the veto used by big landowners to stop shovels hitting the ground.

This is what he told the Times:

[The Conservatives] have killed the dream, the aspiration of homeowning for a whole generation. It will fall to us to deal with that.

And he has summed it up with a slogan that he has pinched wholesale from a Bagehot column in the Economist last week: Labour is on the side of the builders, not the blockers. He will tell the BCC:

We choose the builders, not the blockers; the future, not the past; renewal not decline. We choose growth.

In policy terms, this is not new. Starmer has been talking about the need to build more homes, and the need for planning reform, for ages. But this has become a better issue for Labour since the government abandoned plans at the end of last year to impose mandatory housebuilding targets on councils. And Rishi Sunak’s admission, in an interview last month, that he had to abandon the targets because they were too unpopular with Conservative party members, has made it easy for Labour to depict the Tories as “blockers”.

I will post more from the Times interview, and the speech preview, shortly.

And the Tories are accusing Labour of hypocrisy. I will post on that shortly too.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.40am: Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, speaks at the British Chambers of Commerce conference.

10am: Matt Twist, the Metropolitan police’s temporary assistant commissioner, and Chris Noble, the chief constable of Staffordshire police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council’s protest lead, give evidence to the Commons home affairs committee about policing protests. At 10.45am Graham Smith, the chief executive of Republic, gives evidence.

11am: MPs start voting in the election for a new chair of the Commons culture committee. The three candidates are Damian Collins, Damian Green and Dame Caroline Dinenage.

11am: Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, gives a speech to the final day of the National Conservatism conference. At 5.45pm Lee Anderson, the Conservative party’s deputy chair, is speaking.

12pm: Oliver Dowden, the deputy PM, faces Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, at PMQs. Sunak is flying to Japan for the G7 summit.

3.20pm: Starmer speaks at the BCC conference.

Also, at some point today Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, is publishing the renters (reform) bill.

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 PC or a laptop. (It is not available on the app yet.) 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.



Andrew Sparrow

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