Boris Johnson boosts ‘leveling up’ plan with yet another task force

New unit to make good on flagship promise is expected to report directly to the cabinet secretary.

Boris Johnson boosts ‘leveling up’ plan with yet another task force

LONDON — Boris Johnson will try to make good on his “leveling up” election slogan with a new dedicated team of civil servants, POLITICO has learned.

“Leveling up” has been widely used since Johnson’s 2019 election victory to frame the U.K. prime minister’s ambition to tackle regional inequality. It was placed front and center of Johnson’s latest legislative program in the Queen’s Speech Tuesday.

In an expanded take on its meaning, the government has badged much of its domestic policy agenda as part of the “leveling up” plan, including its housing, education and climate goals.

Neil O’Brien, a Conservative MP and former Treasury aide, was recently recruited to advise Johnson on honing a strategy some have accused of lacking focus. 

In the latest bid to drive the program, officials have confirmed that a new “leveling up” task force is being set up, with responsibility shared between No. 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

It is understood the unit’s director will report directly to Simon Case, the cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, and will lead a team of around 15 staff hand-picked from within the civil service, working in concert with O’Brien.  

One name being linked to the job of director is Tom Walker, currently director of environment strategy at the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and former head of cities and growth in the Ministry of Housing. 

One former colleague of Walker said: “He is one of the only ones at the top level who is both brilliant and able to work the machinery, respected by regional leaders and by the Tories.”

The move places yet another big policy conundrum under the remit of Michael Gove’s Cabinet Office, which has already claimed responsibility for a COVID-19 task force, a Union unit to try to stave off the threat of Scottish independence, and a review of vaccine passports.

A “delivery” unit was also added to No. 10 last month to oversee progress on manifesto policies.

The government on Tuesday spelled out its intention to publish a white paper this year with detail of how different policies under the “leveling up” umbrella are affecting living standards in the U.K.

A Whitehall official said the timing of the next election will depend on “defensible progress” made by O’Brien and civil servants against the agenda, which is perceived as key to cementing Conservative gains in traditional Labour-voting areas.

Source : Politico EU More   

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Barnier seeks limelight with pledge to shut borders

The former Brexit negotiator says France should press the pause button on immigration.

Barnier seeks limelight with pledge to shut borders

PARIS — In a shock pledge amid a stuttering presidential bid, former Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has told French TV he wants to suspend immigration to France for 3-5 years and toughen checks on the EU’s external borders.

“There are links between [immigration flows] and terrorist networks which try to infiltrate them,” he told RTL-LCI-Le Figaro on Sunday, adding that he didn’t think all immigrants “including those who are trying to cross the Mediterranean to find a better life, are major terrorists or delinquents.”

Barnier, a conservative former finance minister, said immigration was a threat to the stability of French society.

“There is a risk of an explosion, particularly on the topic of immigration,” he said. “We need to introduce a moratorium on immigration. We need to take time to evaluate, check and if necessary, change our immigration policies.”

The comments made Sunday come as Barnier, who represented the EU in Brexit negotiations from 2019 to 2021, seeks to drum up interest in a bid for the French presidency next year. So far the ex-minister, a member of the conservative Les Républicains party, is not considered among the main challengers to President Emmanuel Macron’s re-election bid.

“We need to take stock of the situation, stop family reunions,” he said. “We need to look at the way we give residency permits, health-related permits and the way we use the resources of our [benefits agency].”

“We need to take the time to build a national consensus on these issues.”

Barnier said refugees and students would still be allowed to apply for residency permits to come to France.

In a later interview, Barnier added that France should kickstart talks with neighbors on the Schengen area and push for stricter controls on the EU’s external borders.

The comments prompted outcry in the U.K., where Barnier has been the focus of intensive coverage throughout the Brexit negotiations.

Some commentators quipped that if Europe had taken a tougher stance on immigration as currently proposed by Barnier, Brexit may not have happened.

“Barnier advocating complete cessation of immigration for 3-5 years + suspension of Schengen. Ironic, because if the EU had allowed much milder restrictions on free movement of people, Brexit would probably never have happened. (And yes I know he probably means non-EU immigration),” tweeted Financial Times commentator Gideon Rachman.

Barnier has repeatedly hinted at his intention to run as a candidate for the presidential election next year, but his bid has so far failed to gather momentum. His party Les Républicains remains undecided on how to pick its candidate, whether to choose a primary-style system or simply back a so-called “natural” candidate. Conservative frontrunners include a former minister, Xavier Bertrand, and Valérie Pécresse, head of the greater Paris region.

In France, where Barnier is seen as a centrist, critics said the immigration pledge put him closer to the line of far-right National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who is campaigning for the French presidency with a pledge to halt immigration to France.

Barnier said he refused to be compared to Le Pen, but that his experience with Brexit warned him against complacency in politics.

“For four and a half years, I have been handling an unlikely event in Brexit,” he said, “you have to be careful of unlikely events. A [Le Pen] victory is possible if others remain weak.”

Source : Politico EU More   

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