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Monday briefing: Sunak accused of ‘smoke and mirors’

·8 min read

Top story: Rush of announcements before budget day

Hello, Warren Murray reporting for duty, and expecting to be with you at this time all week.

Labour has accused Rishi Sunak of presiding over a “smoke and mirrors” budget. On Sunday, Sunak conceded that of £7bn to be pledged in the budget for what could be the flagship announcement, part of the so-called levelling-up agenda, just £1.5bn is actually new money. Challenged on Sky News about the makeup of the money committed for rail, tram and bus projects outside London, Sunak accepted that most of it had already been announced.

Of a dozen Treasury trails for budget commitments, several others are not fully new spending, or involve money used to replace earlier commitments. The commitments already made by Sunak are nonetheless extensive, including an extra near-£6bn for NHS catch-up and diagnostics, and £5bn for genomic health research, £3bn on skills, and £850m for museums and galleries.

The Treasury has committed to almost £26bn of spending in a rush of announcements before Wednesday’s budget and spending review. Sunak faces a hugely tricky budget, trying to balance the worries of Tory MPs about what they see as an increasingly high-tax, high-spend government, and demands for new infrastructure.

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‘Mark is unaccountable’ – The Facebook whistleblower Frances Haugen is due to give evidence today to MPs and peers scrutinising the online safety bill. “Right now, Mark [Zuckerberg] is unaccountable. He has all the control,” Haugen has told the Observer. “He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety.”

The UK legislation places a duty of care on social media companies to protect users – with the threat of substantial fines. It has come into focus after the murder of Conservative MP David Amess. Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, has demanded criminal sanctions for bosses of digital platforms that fail to crack down on extremism; Boris Johnson initially pledged “tough sentences” but the government has since rowed back, instead suggesting criminal sanctions for executives who do not cooperate adequately with Ofcom, the regulator.

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Fauci: jabs for kids coming – Vaccines against Covid-19 for children aged five to 11 will be available in the US in early to mid-November, Dr Anthony Fauci has predicted. A review panel of the US food and drug administration has found the benefits of the Pfizer vaccine for the age group outweigh the risks. An advisory meeting on Tuesday of outside FDA experts is expected to recommend emergency use authorisation. In England, two million people who are eligible for a Covid booster vaccine should receive their invitation this week, as ministers seek to intensify the rollout.

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‘High and dry’ – UK scientists are being “frozen out” of the £80bn EU research programme Horizon Europe because of the ongoing dispute over the Northern Ireland Brexit protocol, a House of Lords committee has claimed. While a deal to include them was struck in the wider trade and cooperation deal in December, associate membership of Horizon Europe has still not been ratified. The European scrutiny committee chair, Sir Bill Cash, said: “British institutions are left high and dry while science marches on without them and the returns on our financial contribution edge lower.” The European Commission has insisted the UK is being treated like a full associate member of Horizon, but the UK is in effect being locked out because funding for UK participants “can only be signed once the association has come into force”.

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Tories’ petro-pounds – The Conservative party and its MPs have registered £1.3m in gifts and donations since the 2019 election from climate sceptics, oil companies, petrostates, airports and businesses linked with Russian energy tycoons – donors who have either made money from fossil fuels or stand to lose economically or politically from cutting emissions. The donations are legal and were declared to the relevant authorities. In the past two years combined, these donors have given about £812,000 to the Conservative party, compared with £18,400 registered by the Labour party. Separately, we have a new way to be confused about emissions targets after China said it would target getting less than 20% of its energy from fossil fuels by 2060.

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Farewell Gunther – James Michael Tyler, most famous for playing Gunther, the manager of Central Perk in the hit sitcom Friends, has died aged 59. Tyler had announced in June that he had stage 4 prostate cancer. “The world knew him as Gunther … but Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate, and loving husband,” his family said in a statement.

“If you met him once you made a friend for life.” In May, Tyler appeared on Friends: The Reunion via Zoom, saying the show was “the most memorable 10 years of my life, honestly. I could not have imagined just a better experience. All these guys were fantastic and just a joy to work with. It felt very, very special.”

Today in Focus podcast: Zero in

It’s the phrase that will be on every world leader’s lips at the Cop26 summit – and it summarises the ambitious plan that will be central to efforts to limit the ravages of the climate crisis. So what is net zero? What kind of world could it create? And what needs to happen to make it a reality?

Lunchtime read: Trainspotting behind the scenes

The bust-up with Harvey Weinstein, Irvine Welsh’s verdict on the script (“too effete”), the problem with the excrement scene … the cast and crew relive the making of the classic 1996 film.

Sport

A defiant Ole Gunnar Solskjær insisted he remains the best manager for Manchester United and is not considering leaving his position, despite their 5-0 home humiliation by Liverpool on what he described as his darkest day in charge. A thrilling finish at the US grand prix saw the Dutchman Max Verstappen prevail by 1.3sec and he now has a 10-point lead over Lewis Hamilton in the F1 title race. Unvaccinated tennis players could be allowed to travel to Melbourne and compete at the Australian Open, according to an email sent to WTA players. Emma Raducanu has said she was “optimistic” about finalising a partnership with a new coach before next year’s first grand slam in Melbourne.

Brilliant bowling by Shaheen Shah Afridi set up Pakistan for an emphatic 10-wicket victory against India in the T20 World Cup. Chris Silverwood has acclaimed England’s performance in emphatically routing the much-fancied defending champions West Indies in the opening game of their campaign as the most ruthless of his two years as head coach. Saracens followed up their 71-17 win in Bath with a comprehensive 56-15 victory against a weakened Wasps side. Two wins in two days gave Jamie Chadwick back-to-back W Series titles as the all-female competition made its US debut. And demonstrators supporting Brooklyn Nets guard Kyrie Irving, who has refused a Covid vaccine, gathered outside Barclays Center before the team’s home opener.

Business

Asian stock markets have been mixed after Wall Street slipped and China tightened travel controls in some areas in response to coronavirus infections. Shanghai, Hong Kong and Sydney advanced while Tokyo declined. Wall Street’s S&P 500 index declined 0.1% on Friday, weighed down by losses for tech companies after a seven-day streak of gains. This morning, futures trading suggests the FTSE will open higher. A pound is worth $1.378 and €1.181 at time of writing.

The papers

The Guardian’s top story in print this morning is “Chancellor accused of ‘smoke and mirrors’ over budget cash pledges”. Also on the front: “Maternity ward safety at risk from virus surge”. The NHS could soon be unable to deliver “the care it needs to” for women giving birth if the surge in Covid cases continues, the president of the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists has said.

The i says the autumn budget will deliver a “£6bn plan to clear NHS Covid backlog”. Much the same treatment in the Times, while the Express says: “Rishi – I’ll clear NHS Covid backlog for millions”. The Metro has “Rish v Rash clash over meal cash” – Marcus Rashford wants the chancellor to protect free school meals in the budget and let more children have them.

The Telegraph says “Covid cases to slump in winter” – it says plan B many not be needed, citing “modelling seen by the government” that the paper has been told about. But the Mirror says “Get booster and save Xmas” as it raises the spectre of “tough Christmas curbs”. The Sun has a “Royal exclusive – Now Queen misses church”. The Financial Times reports on the threat of Polexit: “Poland tells Brussels to stop the threats as EU tensions escalate”.

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