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By ALEX WICKHAM
Good Monday morning.
DRIVING THE DAY
ROYALS’ WAR: The news cycle in Britain for the next 24 hours — and possibly a lot longer — is going to be dominated by Oprah Winfrey’s overnight interview with Meghan and Harry. It is no exaggeration to say the two-hour broadcast was a news-creating exercise of historic proportions, with bombshell line after line that could make front pages for weeks, and genuinely extraordinary allegations and revelations that may have devastating consequences for the royal family. The interview will air on ITV at 9 p.m. tonight, but Playbook will take you through the top lines below — so if you want to save it for this evening then scroll down to find your usual political news. Here goes …
IT’S A GIRL! Let’s start with the happy news … Meghan and Harry will be having a baby girl in the summer, the couple revealed, and she’ll be their last child. Take Playbook’s word for it, this was by absolutely no means the only massive Oprah scoop of the night.
RACIST ROYAL: The most incendiary claim was that a member of the royal family made racist comments about Archie’s skin color. Meghan alleged that in conversations between Harry and an unnamed royal, the person expressed concerns about “how dark the baby’s going to be potentially and what that would mean or look like.” Meghan declined to name the royal because it “would be very damaging to them.” Asked by Oprah for further details, Harry confirmed the conversation took place, saying: “At the time it was awkward, I was a bit shocked,” but “that conversation I’m never going to share.”
ARCHIE VICTIMIZED: Meghan suggested Archie’s race was a factor in him not being made a prince or given security by the institution of the monarchy. She asked why the “convention” would be changed for “the first member of color of this family.”
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FAMILY IGNORED RACISM: Both Harry and Meghan accused the British press of racist coverage, with Meghan claiming it resulted in the level of threats against her life increasing. Harry accused his family of failing to stand up to the racist abuse Meghan had received: “No one from my family ever said anything over those three years. That hurts.”
MEGHAN WAS SUICIDAL: Meghan revealed she contemplated suicide. Recalling telling Harry that she wanted to end her life, Meghan said: “I just didn’t see a solution. I was really ashamed to say it at the time and to have to admit it to Harry, especially because I know how much loss he has suffered. But I knew that if I didn’t say it, I would do it. I just didn’t want to be alive anymore. That was a very clear and real and frightening constant thought.” Ahead of one public engagement Harry told Meghan she didn’t have to attend, but Meghan insisted because, she told her husband, “I can’t be left alone.”
FIRM ‘STOPPED’ HER GETTING HELP: Royal courtiers prevented Meghan from seeking help for her mental health, she claimed. Meghan said when she was suicidal she went to “one of the most senior people” in the “institution” to ask if she could seek help, but was told she couldn’t as it wouldn’t look good for the family.
KATE MADE MEGHAN CRY: Meghan said that relations first soured following a Sun front page story which claimed “Meghan made Kate cry” over the choice of bridesmaids’ dresses at her wedding. Meghan denied this happened, claiming that in fact “the reverse” was true and that Kate was “upset” about the dresses and made Meghan cry. Meghan said Kate — whom she called “a good person” — later apologized for her behavior and bought her flowers, but that the Palace wouldn’t deny the Sun story, or allow Meghan to deny it.
‘SILENCED’ BY ‘LIARS’: Meghan claimed she was “silenced” by royal courtiers, with her, her friends and family told they had to “no comment” untrue stories. She said those in the Firm “were willing to lie to protect other members of the family, but they weren’t willing to tell the truth to protect me and my husband.” She also alleged she was stopped from seeing friends and essentially lived in “lockdown,” with her passport, driver’s licence and keys turned over to the institution.
FAMILY VS. THE FIRM: Meghan was keen to separate the queen and other members of the royal family from the institution of the monarchy — royal courtiers and aides. “The queen has always been wonderful to me … she’s always been warm and inviting.”
CHARLES STOPPED TAKING HARRY’S CALLS: Harry revealed he was “cut off” financially by the royal family “in the first quarter of 2020,” and is living off his inheritance from Diana. He denied reports he didn’t tell the queen about his plans to leave, but revealed Charles cut off communication when he told him. “I’ve never blindsided my grandmother, I’ve too much respect for her,” he said. “I had three conversations with my grandmother and two conversations with my father before he stopped taking my calls.”
HARRY ON CHARLES: “I feel really let down because he’s been through something similar, he knows what pain feels like, and Archie’s his grandson … I will always love him but there’s a lot of hurt that’s happened. I will continue to make it one of my priorities to heal that relationship.”
TRAPPED: Harry on Charles and William: “I was trapped, but I had no idea I was trapped … Trapped within the system … My father and my brother, they are trapped. They don’t get to leave, and I have huge compassion for that.”
WHY DID THEY LEAVE? Harry says because of the lack of support from his family and because of the British press.
ON PHILIP: When the duke of Edinburgh went to hospital, Meghan revealed she picked up the phone and called the queen.
ROYAL WEDDING JUST FOR SHOW: The couple were actually married by the Archbishop of Canterbury in a private ceremony “in our backyard” three days earlier, Meghan disclosed.
MEGHAN’S 1 REGRET: “Believing them when they said I’d be protected.”
HRH HR PR ARGH: Good luck to the royal family’s press and human resources teams responding to all that today.
BACK TO SCHOOL
THIRD TIME LUCKY: Millions of children across England begin to go back to school this morning, with Boris Johnson yesterday declaring “we are ready” and “the risk is actually in not going back to school given all the suffering, all the loss of learning we have seen.” The prime minister says he’s “very hopeful” that things will go “according to plan,” but if any one of several potential nightmare scenarios arise then this could easily become a huge political story that knocks the government off course. After all, we’ve been here before: Johnson sent kids back last summer only to have to shut schools again in the run-up to Christmas, before the debacle of the ultimately aborted attempt to reopen schools in January.
Who’s going back: “All children in England” is the government’s promise, and schools have been told to reopen to pupils in every year and that attendance is mandatory. But in reality not everyone is going back today, and quite possibly not even this week. Secondary schools are staggering returns of different year groups on different days so the required testing can take place. The BBC reports some secondary pupils may not go back until next week. POLITICO’s Annabelle Dickson has the story of why Johnson hopes this will be the final time he has to reopen schools.
What could possibly go wrong? The main potential problem worrying Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is if the government’s plan for mass testing descends into a logistical nightmare. Pupils will initially be swabbed three times at school testing facilities, before parents are provided with two tests a week for their kids going forward. Some teachers have warned that making sure pupils take three tests on their return could easily become a chaotic failure. Playbook hears some schools were yet to receive guidance from the government on how to manage the tests as late as last week.
What if they say no? The next issue is that the tests aren’t mandatory. The Mail’s Josh White says problems with getting consent are already cropping up — one headteacher in Halifax says only a quarter of parents have agreed to have their children tested, and a school in Tower Hamlets says the “vast majority” opted out. It goes without saying that the government has gone all-in on mass testing to unlock schools, so if uptake is low then the whole thing becomes a pointless exercise.
How long will masks be needed? One of the most controversial aspects of the reopening is mandatory masks for secondary pupils. The BBC’s Nick Triggle says ministers know the science behind masks making a huge difference in preventing transmission in schools is flimsy and the requirement could be dropped after Easter — and Tory MPs are not happy about the idea of forcing children to wear face-coverings for hours on end, and again whether that is practical in the real world. It could well be that masks are only mandatory for a few weeks.
Problem is … as Camilla Turner and Ben Riley-Smith write in today’s Telegraph splash, teaching unions are saying schools should be shut if not enough children agree to wear masks. They report that last night, the Association of School and College Leaders sent a letter to members warning that if compliance is low then it would have “ramifications” for schools’ insurance.
Waiting at the school gates: The Times’ Nicola Woolcock has details of a survey of 3,500 parents that has found they are more worried about the virus spreading through mingling at the school gates than any other aspect of the school return.
The end of R: If mass testing and masks fail to prevent the spread of infection in schools, it’s clear any spike would have to be pretty major for ministers to consider ever shutting schools again. The Times’ Tom Whipple has a good analysis piece on why the “era of R” is coming to an end, writing: “Privately, figures in government believe that R will get very close to 1, and quite likely tip past it. But the key measure will be whether coronavirus is filling up our hospitals, not whether it is filling up our testing laboratories.”
GAV VS. OFSTED: Williamson was embroiled in a fresh row with schools inspectorate Ofsted last night over his plan to extend the school day and change holidays in order to help pupils catch up. Ofsted boss Amanda Spielman told Sky’s Sophy Ridge that similar “experiments” in the past had failed: “If children simply don’t turn up for extra time, or summer schools for example, you could end up putting a lot of effort into something that doesn’t achieve the objective. So my concern is to go with the grain of what parents will embrace.” Quotes via the Guardian’s Peter Walker.
WHAT LABOUR’S SAYING: Labour leader Keir Starmer is this morning calling for breakfast clubs to give every child a healthy morning meal and for extra time at school to recover lost learning. Labour is putting about new analysis that shows that kids have lost an average of 109 face to face school days each. The Mirror’s Ben Glaze has the story. Alongside Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green, Starmer is launching a “bright future task force” to develop a plan to help children recover over the longer term. They’re on a visit to a school in East London this morning and Starmer will do a clip around lunchtime, before the Labour leader has a big interview with Jeremy Vine on Radio 2 at 1 p.m.
What he’ll be asked: What he thinks about Meghan and Harry, obvs.
TODAY IN WESTMINSTER
HOUSE OF COMMONS: Sits from 2.30 p.m. with an hour of work and pensions questions, followed by any ministerial statements or urgent questions … and then later MPs will continue to debate the budget (4 p.m.).
YESTERDAY’S UK STATS: 5,177 new cases, ⬇️ 863 on Saturday. In the past seven days, the U.K. has recorded a total 41,968 new cases, ⬇️ 19,077 on the previous week … 82 new reported deaths within 28 days of a positive test, ⬇️ 76 on Saturday. In the past seven days, the U.K. has recorded a total 1,480 deaths within 28 days of a positive test, ⬇️ 790 on the previous week.
VAX STATS: A total 22,213,112 people have received the first dose, ⬆️ 416,834. A total 1,122,402 people have received the second dose, ⬆️ 31,562.
KERRY IN TOWN: U.S. Special Presidential Envoy for Climate John Kerry is in London today and tomorrow. It looks like he’ll be meeting COP26 President Alok Sharma and Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng, among others. Apparently Kerry requested the 1-2-1s.
IN FOR A PENNY: Scoop from Rosa Prince in the House magazine — Paymaster General Penny Mordaunt reveals she’s been appointed as the Commons minister for EU negotiations. Playbook is told that while Mordaunt will only be in charge of parliamentary business rather than any actual negotiating (which is down to Cabinet Office Minister David Frost), her appointment has left many of her colleagues extremely miffed. Not just because of her infamous truth-stretching remarks about Turkey during the Brexit referendum, but because many in government had hoped she’d soon be leaving following a series of controversies including meeting the Muslim Council of Britain, which the government is boycotting.
FROM TODAY … one-on-one social meet-ups are allowed outside, meaning you can sit down for a coffee with a friend in a park. Not that most of London was ever keeping to that rule. The Telegraph’s Ben Riley-Smith says children under five are exempt from the new rule, so grandparents can see their grandchildren.
INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY: The government is launching a new strategy to address the gender health gap — Stylist has a write-up. Labour has some more analysis showing 76 percent of NHS workers — nearly 1 million staff — affected by the government’s 1 percent pay rise (or real-terms pay cut) are women.
Watch this space: After the PM insisted the 1 percent rise was “giving them as much as we can,” the Sun’s Harry Cole reckons Education Secretary Gavin Williamson paved the way for a U-turn yesterday.
Care concerns: “NHS chiefs have warned that they will have to start cutting patient care unless Rishi Sunak finds £8 billion this week for extra COVID-19 costs,” Chris Smyth reports on the front page of the Times. Smyth also reveals Jenny Harries, the controversial deputy chief medical officer who has been haunted by her unfortunate comments on testing at the beginning of the pandemic, has been chosen to lead … Boris Johnson’s new pandemic-fighting program.
YEMEN LATEST: Ministers have decided to “balance the books on the backs of the starving people of Yemen,” the head of the U.N.’s Office for Humanitarian Affairs has said. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour has the story.
OUCH: The U.K. lost market share in the U.S., Germany and China during the coronavirus pandemic due to global trade chaos, Brexit and poor productivity, according to a report by Aston University’s Lloyd’s Banking Group Centre for Business Prosperity, published this morning. Reuters has a write-up.
COMMONS COMMITTEES: Public accounts opens the week’s committee action with a session on the government’s environmental tax measures — senior HMRC and Treasury officials attend (2.30 p.m.) … Elsewhere the Treasury committee begins its budget scrutiny with witnesses today from the Office for Budget Responsibility, including Chair Richard Hughes (3.30 p.m.) … and the HCLG committee takes evidence on the government’s cladding crisis proposals from Building Safety Minister Stephen Greenhalgh (4 p.m.).
HOUSE OF LORDS: Sits from 1 p.m. with the introduction of Eddie Lister — the PM’s senior adviser and oldest ally — to the chamber as a Tory peer. He’ll sit as Lord Udny-Lister … Followed by questions on Pension Credit, care for teenagers and the steps being taken to increase the number of women holding elected office … After that, Crossbench peer David Alton will use a PNQ to ask the government about the mass arrests in Hong Kong (2 p.m.) … and then peers will begin the first day of the Domestic Abuse Bill’s report stage (2.30 p.m.).
STATE OF THE UNION
SCOTTISH OPPOSITION DAY: New Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar has promised to give the SNP the backing needed for its (Scottish) budget, if pay rises for NHS and social care staff are given in exchange. The unusual intervention in a normally charged Scottish political scene represents his first noteworthy one, since winning the leadership last weekend on a platform of trying to “focus on what unites us, not what divides us.” Writing for Times Red Box this morning, Sarwar made the direct offer to Kate Forbes, the finance secretary. Holyrood votes on the budget tomorrow — in the meantime, opposition party leaders will spend today attempting to make deals with the SNP, which needs the backing of at least one of their parties to get it through the parliament.
Look out for news lines: Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has his first big policy speech of the year this morning at center-right think tank Onward, where he’ll set out his union-defending stall as May’s election looms. Watch from 10.30 a.m. here.
TURNING GREEN: One of the background stories of the upcoming Scottish Holyrood election comes in the shape of an expected Scottish Green surge, as pro-independence sentiment and climate fears look likely to drive support. Writing for POLITICO, Jamie Maxwell looks at the changing party and its aims ahead of May.
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Children Minister Vicky Ford broadcast round: Sky News (7.05 a.m.) … Times Radio (7.20 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (7.30 a.m.) … LBC (7.50 a.m.) … Today program (8.20 a.m.) … talkRADIO (8.50 a.m.).
Shadow Education Secretary Kate Green broadcast round: talkRADIO (7.20 a.m.) … Sky News (7.40 a.m.) … LBC (8.10 a.m.) … BBC Breakfast (8.35 a.m.).
Also on the Today program: Harper’s Bazaar Royal Editor Omid Scobie (6.50 a.m.) … Vanity Fair journalist Erin Vanderhoof and Daily Mail royal watcher Robert Hardman (7.10 a.m.) … Mike Padgham, chair of the Independent Care Group (7.15 a.m.) … Head Teacher Pepe Di’Iasio (7.30 a.m.) … Former senior diplomat Simon Macdonald and Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe (7.50 a.m.) … Former Special Forces soldier Dean Stott and Charles Anson, the former press secretary to the queen (8.10 a.m.).
Also on Sky News at Breakfast: NEU Joint General Secretary Mary Bousted (8.20 a.m.) … Former Education Secretary Justine Greening (9.40 a.m.).
Also on Nick Ferrari at Breakfast (LBC): Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman (8.05 a.m.).
Also on Times Radio breakfast: UCL President Michael Spence (7.40 a.m.) … Former BBC Royal Correspondent Jennie Bond (8.05 a.m.) … Royal College of Paediatrics President Russell Viner (8.15 a.m.).
Also on Julia Hartley-Brewer breakfast show (talkRADIO): Ofsted Chief Inspector Amanda Spielman (7.45 a.m.) … Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s husband Richard Ratcliffe (8.20 a.m.) … Former Reform U.K. leader Nigel Farage (9.06 a.m.).
Reviewing the papers tonight: BBC News (10.40 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): The Times’ Henry Zeffman and Daily Mirror’s Lizzy Buchan … Sky News (10.30 p.m. and 11.30 p.m.): ConservativeHome boss Mark Wallace and columnist for the Irish News Allison Morris … Times Radio (10.30 p.m.): Former adviser to Boris Johnson Kulveer Ranger and LabourList Editor Sienna Rodgers.
TODAY’S FRONT PAGES
(Click on the publication’s name to see its front page.)
Daily Express: All care homes must open up to loved ones.
Daily Mail: Queen tells Commonwealth what real service is — Duty means everything.
Daily Mirror: Charles & William’s ‘immense sadness.’
Daily Star: Fights … Camera … Action.
Financial Times: ECB banking watchdog quizzes lenders over Greensill exposure.
HuffPost UK: Is Europe really going to be ready for summer holidays?
i: U.K.’s vaccine creator calls for caution as pupils return.
Metro: On your marks, get set.
POLITICO UK: Greens eye kingmaker role after Scottish election.
The Daily Telegraph: Union’s school masks threat.
The Guardian: U.K. cutting aid ‘on backs of the starving,’ says U.N. chief.
The Independent: Teachers warned over pupil mental health crisis.
The Times: We’re close to cutting care, NHS chiefs warn.
Westminster weather: ☁️☁️☁️ Cloudy and breezy. Highs of 10C.
Vaccinated over the weekend: Unaffiliated peer Ian Austin … Lib Dem MP Christine Jardine … Shadow Trade Secretary Emily Thornberry … GMB’s Piers Morgan … Shadow Treasury Minister Pat McFadden … Tory MP Tim Loughton … Labour MP Dawn Butler … and the Dalai Lama. Let us know if you’ve got or are getting yours.
New hires: The Policy Exchange think tank has two new recruits … Peter Clarke, who recently stepped down as Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Prisons, will work on counter-extremism, prison reform and wider criminal justice policy … John Larkin QC, former Attorney General for Northern Ireland, will contribute to PX’s Judicial Power Project.
For a good cause: Tory MP Guy Opperman, supported by over 50 cross-party colleagues, has launched the 10for10 fitness campaign to challenge people in multiples of 10 to walk or run 10 kilometers, or do 10 star jumps or 10 sit-ups, to raise a tenner or more for their charity of choice. You get the idea. Sign up here.
Birthdays: Shadow Employment Rights Secretary Andy McDonald … Glasgow North East MP Anne McLaughlin … Leicester East MP Claudia Webbe … Tory peer Greg Barker … The U.K.’s former Permanent Representative to the EU Ivan Rogers … Tory peer and former ITV boss Michael Grade … Former Foreign Secretary Douglas Hurd … Former Tory MP Gyles Brandreth … Former U.K. Ambassador to Ireland Robin Barnett … SNP MSP Ash Denham.
PLAYBOOK COULDN’T HAPPEN WITHOUT: My editor Zoya Sheftalovich, reporter Andrew McDonald and producer Miriam Webber.
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