Good morning. Archie loves early mornings so much he is having a baby, so I’ll be bringing you this email, with Nimo, for the next few weeks while he’s on paternity leave.
As you read this, Rishi Sunak has just landed at Andrews air force base ahead of a whirlwind two-day visit to Washington DC, in which he will discuss trade with Joe Biden and seek investment from US business leaders – but sadly not humiliate himself on the baseball field (of which more below).
It’s Sunak’s first trip to the White House as PM, and he is also expected to discuss the two countries’ cooperation on Ukraine, while pitching for a role for Britain in regulating AI – all part of a bid to prove Britain still has a place on the global stage following Brexit and its turbulent aftermath.
The Guardian’s Peter Walker is travelling with the prime minister; he spoke to me about Sunak’s ambitions for the trip – and why he’ll be the first PM since David Cameron to stay in one of Washington’s most palatial residences (or as Sunak might call it, “slumming it”). That’s after the headlines.
Five big stories
Ukraine | Russia’s UN envoy was accused of floundering in a “mud of lies” after he claimed at an emergency session of the security council that Ukraine destroyed Kakhovka dam in a “war crime” against itself. Sergiy Kyslytsya, Ukraine’s ambassador, said the Russians were resorting to “flooded earth tactics” because “the captured territory does not belong to them, and they are not able to hold these lands”.
Media | The parent company of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph faces the threat of being put into administration by lenders. Lloyds Banking Group has threatened to put Press Acquisitions, the company controlled by the Barclay family that owns the newspapers’ parent company, Telegraph Media Group (TMG), into administration after a breakdown in talks over loans the business has racked up over the years.
Health | Cases of syphilis were at their highest level in 75 years in England last year, rising to almost 8,700, while diagnoses of gonorrhoea rose by 50% in just 12 months – the most since records began in 1918, according to the UKHSA figures.
UK news | The Confederation of British Industry (CBI) said it has won a confidence vote put to its members after sexual misconduct allegations. A majority of its members backed its proposals to overhaul its culture and governance, with 93% of votes cast in favour of continuing to support the CBI.
Environment | Research has found that it is now too late to save summer Arctic sea ice. Scientists say preparations need to be made for the increased extreme weather across the northern hemisphere. The study also shows that if emissions decline slowly or continue to rise, the first ice-free summer could be in the 2030s, a decade earlier than previous projections.
In depth: ‘It’s the lesser cousin visiting the rich uncle – the power is very much on their side’
There’s a remarkable video of a speech made by Joe Biden last October, on the day Rishi Sunak became prime minister. To guffaws of laughter from his audience, the president said news had come from Britain of Sunak’s elevation – or as he called him “Rashi Sanook”.
“As my brother would say, ‘Go figure!’,” grinned the president. Biden didn’t refer explicitly to the chaos that had preceded the latest PM; with a smirk that wide, he didn’t have to.
Seven and a half months later, Sunak (pictured above, with Biden) will be hoping Britain is no longer such a laughing stock in Washington – and that the president can at least pronounce his name. The PM has certainly put the miles in – this will be the pair’s fifth meeting in Sunak’s short premiership and their fourth since March.
Sunak’s focus this week is on trade, but with a looming election at home, the symbolism of a statesmanlike “bilat” promoting Britain’s interests on the world stage may be just as important.
What is No 10 hoping for?
“This is a heavily business-focused trip,” says Peter Walker, the Guardian’s deputy political editor. Sunak will meet with senators and members of Congress today at Capitol Hill, and tomorrow he will address a major meeting of US business leaders, hosted by the CEO of General Motors. Their investments already account for thousands of British jobs, and Sunak will be hoping for more.
“They’ve given up on the idea of a full post-Brexit, UK/US free-trade agreement,” says Peter – much vaunted by Brexiteers, but abandoned as a short-term goal by Downing Street – “but they’re trying to just get lots of kind of mini deals done.”
That could mean concessions to help the British car industry, for example, and deals in the digital and technology sectors.
Is Britain back?
Given that it’s only weeks since Biden had to deny being “anti-British”, it’s fair to say the much-vaunted “special relationship” has had a bumpy time of late, particularly through the Boris Johnson years (and Liz Truss weeks).
“As with any British prime minister visiting the US, it’s the lesser cousin visiting the rich uncle: the power is very much on their side,” says Peter. That said, Sunak’s achievement in securing the Windsor agreement in Northern Ireland – an area of British politics to which Biden pays close attention – impressed the White House.
With cooperation over Ukraine and Nato critical, too, “having someone in Downing Street, at least for the next year, who they believe is reasonably stable, will say the right things on Ukraine and not do anything completely bonkers over Brexit, is actually quite important [for Washington]”, says Peter.
And Sunak is getting the red carpet treatment. Unlike Theresa May, Johnson and Truss, he is being put up in Blair House, a palatial residence opposite the White House that has been described as “the world’s most exclusive hotel”.
He will also give a joint press conference with Biden – relatively rare for the US president – and this evening will attend a baseball game between the Washington Nationals and the Arizona Diamondbacks, billed as a “friendship event” between the US and UK and featuring joint military bands and a flyover.
Alas, however, reported discussions over Sunak throwing the ceremonial have come to naught – despite the PM fancying himself as a rather handy bowler in cricket.
“At the very best, you get an OK photo opportunity,” says Peter. “But if it goes even slightly wrong, that will dominate the trip. That’s very much No 10’s mindset – to play it as safe as they possibly can.”
What else will Sunak be hoping for?
Amid tricky headlines at home over Covid and immigration and determinedly dreadful polling figures, a trip that cast the prime minister as a bold statesman, out there lobbying for Britain, would be hugely welcomed by his allies, says Peter.
“Talking to Tory MPs and to ministers, some of them think their only election hope is to have Sunak travelling around the UK and the world seeming broadly competent and not openly mad while, in the meantime, they hope inflation goes down, growth goes up and the number of small boats goes down.
“If everything goes right, they think there is a small chance they could be the biggest party after the election – but it all depends on him plugging on in quite a managerial way. So he doesn’t want to rock the boat. He’ll just want to go out there, be sensible and strike trade deals if he can.”
What else we’ve been reading
Melissa Jeltsen’s report into the growing tension between some independent abortion clinics (pictured above) and Planned Parenthood, the US’s largest single abortion provider, is enlightening. Jeltsen reveals how the deteriorating relationship between the abortion providers is impeding patient care. Nimo
More than 10 years ago, Stuart Jeffries’s car was towed to the pound, and when he realised it would cost more to release it than it was worth, he decided to leave it there. In this lovely piece, he talks about a decade of happy car non-ownership – but recognises going car-free not as easy for everyone. Esther
Jason Okundaye’s compelling analysis on the rise of Mizzy, an 18-year-old TikToker who found fame online by filming himself terrorising strangers or trespassing (sometimes both at the same time), is worth a read. In pursuing this “cloutrage”, Okundaye writes, Mizzy is gaming the “amoral, algorithmic universe that rewards anything that garners attention – he is engaging in a twisted form of online entrepreneurship”. Nimo
I know, I know, you’ve read everything you could possibly ever want to about Phil and Holly. Make an exception for Marina Hyde. Her column is worth the price alone for her joke about This Morning editor Martin Frizell and a warder from HMP Full Sutton. Esther
ICYMI: This week’s edition of the How we survive series is a must-read. Jonathan Freedland spoke with Ivor Perl about the year he spent, from the age of 12, as a prisoner in Auschwitz and the eight decades since. It is a remarkably moving story on survival, luck, hope and compassion. Nimo
Football | Chelsea midfielder N’Golo Kanté is reportedly being offered a salary that could reach €100m (£86.2m) a year to join a club in Saudi Arabia. Kanté’s Chelsea contract expires this month and emissaries from Saudi Arabia are in London to present their proposal. His salary would include image rights and commercial deals.
Golf | PGA Tour, DP World Tour and Saudi backed LIV Golf have agreed to merge, ending a bitter split in the sport. The shock announcement will mean that the Saudi public investment fund will pour money in a new company that will effectively control top-level golf. Litigation between long-term rivals LIV and the PGA Tour has come to an abrupt end.
Tennis | Aryna Sabalenka, the second seed, defeated Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina 6-4, 6-4. The win has moved her to the French Open semi-finals for the first time. Novak Djokovic will also be at the semi-finals after his 4-6, 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-4 win against Karen Khachanov, the 11th seed, and confidently passing his biggest test of the tournament so far.
The front pages
“‘Environmental disaster:’ floods hit Ukraine as dam is destroyed”. That’s the Guardian lead today, as it is in some other papers. “Bombing of dam ‘a new low’ for Russia” says the Daily Telegraph and the i has “40,000 fleeing ‘war crime’ after dam blown up”. “Russia set off ‘environmental bomb’ by breaching dam, Zelenskiy claims” – that’s the Financial Times. It’s on the front of the Times as the picture but the lead is “Duke launches political attack”. For others it’s less about the constitutional implications – the Sun goes with “Harry’s day in court – Me, Hewitt … and that two-faced s**t Burrell”. The Daily Mail taunts: “He must have longed for the schmaltzy embrace of Oprah!”. The page one splash in the Daily Express is “‘Game-changer’ new drug to slim down nation”. The Metro leads with assaults on ambulance crews: “999 heroes under attack”. “Knight these heroes” – the Daily Mirror has a call to “Make it Sir Rob & Sir Kevin” about ex-rugby league player Kevin Sinfield’s motor neurone disease campaigning. His fellow star Rob Burrow has the condition.
Today in Focus
How to develop artificial super-intelligence without destroying humanity
Sam Altman, the founder of the revolutionary application ChatGPT, is touring Europe with a message: AI is changing the world and there are big risks, but also big potential rewards
Cartoon of the day | Ella Baron
A bit of good news to remind you that the world’s not all bad
It has been 25 years since Sex and the City debuted and became an instant classic. While the show has clear, and at points painful to watch, flaws (namely its focus on white cis, mostly heterosexual women with lots of disposable income), it is still one of the best female-led series that centres sisterhood, friendship and romantic love. SaTC successfully reimagined the single woman, portraying her not as a desperate spinster or an ice queen but as a complicated, messy and (gasp) unlikable figure who is still deserving of whatever kind of love she desires. The protagonists spoke frankly and openly about sex and relationships in a way that still defines the genre. In commemoration of the anniversary, perhaps it’s time for a rewatch.
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Bored at work?
And finally, the Guardian’s puzzles are here to keep you entertained throughout the day – with plenty more on the Guardian’s Puzzles app for iOS and Android. Until tomorrow.
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