Newslinks for Wednesday 2nd February 2022

2 Feb

The Government to unveil its Levelling Up White Paper

“The average adult will be able to enjoy five more years of healthy life under government plans to ‘level up’ Britain, Michael Gove said last night. Mr Gove will today unveil the long-awaited levelling up white paper, which aims to make a reality of the Prime Minister’s election-winning promise to improve life in left-behind areas of the North and Midlands. Boris Johnson yesterday pledged that the plan amounted to an eight-year ‘moral mission’ to spread opportunity across the country by 2030. The 400-page strategy covers almost every aspect of life from literacy levels and life expectancy to jobs, bus services and street cleaning, with detailed pledges and targets in each area.” – Daily Mail

  • Levelling-up blueprint devolves Whitehall powers to regions – FT

Rachel Wolf: Delivering levelling up is the only way to win the next election

“The Downing Street parties have unquestionably damaged this Conservative government’s reputation for competence and fairness. For the public, they do not follow the rules they require of others. The levelling up white paper is now the last chance to, at least, gain some reputation for delivery. Remarkable though Michael Gove and his team are, this is a tall order, particularly when money is tight (and to be fair will be needed in part to address the cost-of-living crisis) and the Treasury is firmly in the ascendency. I don’t mean the paper itself matters — Westminster will notice, no one else will — but the actions that flow from it really do. Making a success of this agenda will be central to any chance the Conservatives have of winning the next election in (presumably) 2024.” – The Times

>Today:

Sanctions will follow ‘one toecap’ in Ukraine, Johnson warns Russia

“Boris Johnson has warned Russia that it would face sanctions the moment the “first Russian toecap” stepped further into Ukrainian territory. Speaking on a visit to Kyiv where he held talks with President Zelensky of Ukraine, Johnson accused President Putin of trying to “redraw the security map of Europe”, adding that the continent was in a “critical” moment. In his first comments on the standoff with the West over Ukraine in more than a month, Putin said that the US was trying to goad Russia into war as an excuse to impose tougher sanctions on Moscow. The Russian president, who will speak to Johnson by phone tomorrow, claimed that Washington’s ultimate goal was to hinder his country’s development and that it was using Ukraine as an “instrument”.” – The Times

Comment:

Two more Tory MPs urge PM to resign over partygate…

“A senior Tory has urged Boris Johnson to find the “courage” to quit while another submitted a formal letter of no confidence in a sign that the prime minister has failed to stem anger over Downing Street parties in lockdown. Sir Charles Walker, a former acting joint chairman of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, said there was “a lot of grief and pain and anxiety” among the public about allegations of rule-breaking in Downing Street, while Peter Aldous, the MP for Waveney, said he wanted a confidence vote in Johnson’s leadership. Asked on Channel 4 News whether Johnson should resign, Walker replied: “I think people are angry. I think there’s a lot of grief and pain and anxiety out in the country, which was natural after 20 months’ lockdown.” – The Times

  • Lynton Crosby denied that he has been brought back into No 10 to help the prime minister reset his faltering leadership – The Times
  • Top civil servant rejects new No 10 job and Downing Street is ‘facing challenges to fill the position’ – Daily Telegraph
  • PM promises to reveal any party fine from police – The Times
  • Johnson was in his Downing Street flat the night of party being investigated by police – Daily Telegraph
  • ‘Prosecco-fuelled’ Downing Street party takes Johnson’s tally to six – The Times

Analysis:

  • Sue Gray report: What happens next? – The Times

Political sketch:

Comment:

Interview:

  • I’ll reveal if I get Covid fine says Johnson but PM refuses to say if he’d resign if it’s found he broke rules – The Sun

…. as he prepares billions in loans to help families with soaring energy bills…

“Boris Johnson is set to announce billions of pounds in state-backed loans to ease the cost of spiralling energy bills on families. The Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, have agreed to a scheme in which taxpayers will underwrite loans to energy companies, sources told The Times. The firms will give this money back to families as a rebate. Energy companies would then see the money returned by consumers in later years as energy prices decline. The scheme is designed to limit the impact of the predicted energy price rise in April – expected to see the average household paying an extra £620 per year. Government sources told The Times the proposals had been approved by ministers and would likely be announced in the next few days.” – Daily Telegraph

… and scraps Brexit bonfire of EU red tape in favour of net zero rules

“Boris Johnson appears to have scrapped Lord Frost’s plan to free the UK from EU red tape in favour of net zero regulations, The Telegraph can disclose. The Government watered down plans for a post-Brexit bonfire of Brussels regulations  – often cited as a major benefit of leaving the EU – and opened fresh divides between the embattled Prime Minister and his backbenchers. A plan devised by Lord Frost, the UK’s former Brexit negotiator, to cut two retained EU regulations for every rule written was dropped. It was said not to fit in with Mr Johnson’s ambitions to cut Britain’s carbon emissions to net zero by 2050, which some backbenchers claim will stifle innovation and increase the cost of living.” – Daily Telegraph

Electric cars might not be as green as you think because of polluting particles they produce, Environment Secretary warns

“Electric cars may not be as green as we have been led to believe, the Environment Secretary warned yesterday. George Eustice said this is due to the polluting particles produced by the heavier battery-powered vehicles. This means the gains from switching to electric cars from petrol and diesel ones ‘may be less than some people hope’ because of particles they create which do not come out of the exhaust. Wear from brake linings and tyres on the roads may be greater than with petrol and diesel vehicles because of the weight of the battery in electric cars, he suggested, which in turn generates more polluting fine particles. Electric cars are typically about 20 to 30 per cent heavier than their petrol or diesel counterparts.” – Daily Mail

Ministers write off £10 billion on lost, unusable or overpriced PPE

“About £10 billion of spending on PPE has been written off by the government, as auditors rebuke the health department for its management of taxpayers’ cash during the pandemic. Hundreds of millions were wasted on unusable equipment and supplies that have passed their expiry date, while taxpayers had to pay billions over the odds in the scramble for masks and gowns at the start of the pandemic. Officials are also unsure of the location of a further £3.6 billion in supplies, the National Audit Office (NAO) said, offering only qualified approval to the Department of Health and Social Care accounts. Gareth Davies, head of the NAO, said that Covid buying had significantly increased the risk of fraud and that officials have not provided “adequate assurance that the level of fraud losses are not material”.” – The Times

  • Covid pandemic cut poor pupils’ chances of passing GCSEs – The Times

Comment:

Afghan resettlement places filled by those already in UK

“More than 6,500 Afghans already in the UK are being diverted to a refugee scheme launched last month to resettle those fleeing the Taliban. After the militants’ takeover in August last year, Britain promised to resettle 20,000 refugees, with a commitment to bring 5,000 of them in the first year as part of the Afghanistan citizens resettlement scheme. Britain flew out 15,000 Afghans in the Operation Pitting evacuation under a separate programme, the Afghan relocations and assistance policy, for those in danger of Taliban reprisals because of their association with Britain’s military campaign. Victoria Atkins, minister for Afghan resettlement, has revealed that 6,500 of them have been transferred to the new scheme. Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, a Foreign Office minister, suggested in the Lords last week that the number was “nearer 7,000”.” – The Times

Create single body to tackle plague of fraud, MPs say

“Scammers are acting with “impunity” because law enforcement does not take fraud seriously, a committee of MPs has said. The Treasury select committee is calling for a single beefed-up anti-fraud body to replace a “bewildering” variety of government agencies with responsibility for fraud. Although incidents of fraud are rising fast, the government has not made progress in dealing with a problem that cost individuals and the taxpayer billions of pounds a year, according to the cross-party group. A crackdown on online scams is needed to make websites remove fraudulent advertising and regulate the sale of cryptoassets, the committee recommends in a report published today.” – The Times

  • Banks and tech firms should be made to refund victims of fraud on their websites – Daily Mail

Comment:

Khan threatens to shut the Tube for days on end as black hole hits £1.5bn

“Sadiq Khan is threatening to shut the Tube for days on end and close bridges and tunnels across the capital as a black hole in London’s transport budget balloons to £1.5bn. Introducing a road tax, increasing council tax and extending a congestion charging zone will not be enough to balance the books at Transport for London (TfL), board papers published on Tuesday reveal. Meanwhile, a programme to avoid road deaths will need to be put on hold, officials from the transport authority warned. TfL’s finances have been ravaged by sharp fall in fare revenue during the pandemic. Critics of the London mayor claim that his 2016 pledge to freeze fares contributed to the authority’s plight.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief:

Newslinks for Monday 31st January 2022

31 Jan

All eyes on Downing Street as Sue Gray’s report expected today

“Boris Johnson is facing demands to ‘end the circus’ on Partygate today as he braces for Sue Gray’s report – with allies hoping he has steadied the ship. The PM is gearing up for another brutal week with the senior civil servant expected to deliver her findings on lockdown breaches in Downing Street as early as tomorrow [now today]. Although Ms Gray is believed to be watering down her report at the request of Scotland Yard, any criticism could reignite the simmering revolt in the Tory ranks. The allegations before the inquiry include that Carrie Johnson’s friends held an Abba ‘victory party’ in the No11 flat after Dominic Cummings quit. In interviews this morning, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted Mr Johnson will lead the party into the next election. Asked if she was tempted to challenge for the top job, Ms Truss said: ‘There is no contest. There is no discussion.’   The mood among MPs has cooled significantly over the past week, after the extraordinary ‘Pork Pie plot’ fizzled out. In another boost for the premier, there were more fledgling signs of a Tory poll recovery. The ongoing rows have taken a huge toll on the Conservatives’ popularity and that of Mr Johnson personally. But research for Opinium is the latest to suggest the party might be clawing back some ground.” – Daily Mail

  • Less than a third of voters trust government to do the right thing – The Times
  • Former aide to Johnson attacks No 10 over parties scandal – The Times
  • Johnson is ‘absolutely’ the best person to lead Tories into next election, says Truss – Daily Telegraph
  • We must fix the drains by ousting the PM, says Cummings – The Times

Nikki da Costa: No 10 failed us when we needed our leaders most

“Last Monday I was surprised to hear a Conservative MP dismiss the parties in No 10 on the grounds that “everyone was breaking the rules” and that these were the kinds of things punished with a fixed penalty notice, just like speeding. Then I heard that the prime minister’s chief of staff had made the same comment — that staff were not to worry as the worst that would happen was a fixed penalty notice. I realised that this might be a defensive line being promoted from within No 10 and that there might be those around the prime minister who feel this is something to be brushed under the carpet, rather than confronted head-on. Week by week I have felt more naive reading of further social events. Others in No 10 will have been as surprised as I was. By no means all will have known, or been comfortable with what has gone on. However, more than that I felt frustrated reading the official responses as they became more detached from public anger. When I returned from maternity leave in October 2020, I was surprised at what I found.” – The Times

Russia-Ukraine tensions: Oligarchs linked to Putin face crackdown on British wealth

“Ministers will target the British investments of oligarchs and businesses with links to the Kremlin as part of a tough new sanctions regime if Russia invades Ukraine. Under plans to be unveiled to MPs today, the government will impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and entities that have a “strategic significance” to the Russian government. The move is being announced before a trip to the region by Boris Johnson this week during which he is expected to underline the UK’s support for Ukraine and again call for President Putin to “step back” from conflict. The prime minister said yesterday that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “reckless and catastrophic”. Government sources suggested that the assets of Russian energy firms, a key source of revenue for the Kremlin, could be among those targeted. British law allows the imposition of sanctions only on companies and individuals with a direct involvement in destabilising Ukraine. The new powers will allow ministers to take action against those firms with a “direct interest” in the Russian state.” – The Times

  • Kyiv urges Russia to pull troops back from Ukraine border – The Guardian

Comment:

‘U-turn on mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care workers’

“Mandatory Covid jabs for NHS and social care workers are set to be scrapped, The Telegraph can reveal, after warnings of crippling staff shortages if the plan went ahead. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, will on Monday meet fellow ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee to rubber stamp the decision on the about-turn. Multiple government sources said ministers are expected to end the requirement because the omicron Covid variant, now dominant in the UK, is milder than previous strains. The move comes after warnings that almost 80,000 healthcare workers would be forced out of their jobs because they had declined to take two doses of a Covid vaccine. The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs have all pushed for the requirement to be delayed, with warnings it would have a “catastrophic” impact. The jab requirement for NHS workers was meant to come into force in April – making this Thursday, Feb 3, the last day on which staff could get their first jab in order to be fully vaccinated in time.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Covid fatality rate to fall as reinfections added to daily statistics – Daily Telegraph
  • Five billion surplus PPE items will go to waste – The Times
  • Young bounce back into work after lockdowns – The Times
  • Britain’s Covid vaccine drive moves to vulnerable children aged 5-11 – The Times

>Today:

Johnson to unveil Brexit Freedoms Bill to help UK break free from the shackles of EU laws

“Boris Johnson will announce a “Brexit Freedoms Bill”  on Monday as he urges Brussels to “abandon the punitive and zero-sum approach” it has taken to frustrate Brexit. The PM will also pledge to use powers available after the UK’s withdrawal to cut away a billion pounds’ worth of European Union-era “red tape”, though details are yet to be provided. Mr Johnson vowed to move “ever faster” to unshackle Britain, pledging to scrap thousands of EU laws still in place in the UK. The announcements have been timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Britain’s formal departure from the EU, at 11pm on Jan 31 2020. The drive will be seen as an attempt to refocus minds on one of his main feats as Prime Minister – securing a deal that delivered the UK’s EU exit. Writing in the Daily Mail, he said: “Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will make it easier to get rid of retained EU law, the weird system by which EU legislation occupies a semi-sacred place on the UK statute book.” He wrote that Brussels will find it “impossible to hold back the UK and impossible to stop this country taking advantage of our new freedoms – and we will go ever faster”.” – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • Brexit helped us bounce back from Covid – now we’ll go faster with our freedoms and make it easier to get rid of retained EU law, Boris Johnson – Daily Mail
  • At last, Johnson is on the offensive over Brexit – Daily Mail Comment

>Today:

Senior MPs tell PM to rethink national insurance hike because it will hit workers during cost of living crisis

“Boris Johnson was urged to ‘think again’ after joining the Chancellor and vowing that the national insurance hike will go ahead in April. The Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak wrote a joint article defending the 1.25 percentage point increase in NI, saying it was vital to fund the Covid NHS backlog, as well as fixing the social care system. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss admitted that tax rises were ‘never popular’, but said the money needed to be raised. It came as research showed that the NI hike will clobber firms in the constituencies of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet. Senior Tory MPs called on the Prime Minister to reverse his decision because of the looming cost of living crisis. Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said: ‘All I can do as an MP, a backbench MP, is just to urge the Government to think again. I hope that the Government make cost of living the No 1 priority.’ He called on ministers to look at different ways to raise the money that the rise is forecast to produce, such as a ‘windfall tax on big business’. ” – Daily Mail

  • Treasury in storm over claim it sank attempts by ‘British FBI’ to investigate Covid fraud – Daily Mail
  • Middle class people now paying more than £1 million in tax during lifetime – Daily Telegraph
  • Sunak ‘pours taxpayer cash into online betting firm’ – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

Levelling-up plans target rogue landlords in the private sector

“Private landlords will be forced by law to bring their properties up to a set of national standards for the first time under plans to be unveiled in the government’s levelling-up strategy. Michael Gove, the housing secretary, will announce legislation that will require landlords to refit about 800,000 properties that don’t meet requirements to be “safe, warm and in a good state of repair”. The law will also introduce a register that anyone renting a house must join, with rogue landlords being ejected from the list. All tenants in the private rental sector would also gain a new right to redress for complaints about their homes. The moves, long demanded by campaigners, will bring the private rental sector into line with the obligations to rent out “decent” properties required of councils and housing associations. These are being reviewed by Gove with the intention that they be toughened and applied to the whole rented sector. This could include new measures on energy efficiency, as well as a minimum standard of fixtures and fittings for furnished accommodation. Ministers hope to halve the number of poor-quality rented homes by 2030.” – The Times

Comment:

Truss confirms inquiry into Pen Farthing email leak implicating No 10 in Afghan pet rescue…

“Ministers have launched an inquiry into the leaking of emails which appear to show that Boris Johnson personally intervened to ensure Pen Farthing and his animals were evacuated from Afghanistan. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, on Sunday confirmed that her department had launched an investigation into how government emails discussing the Nowzad charity’s evacuation found their way to journalists. The announcement came after Ms Truss was asked why a senior official in the Foreign Office believed Mr Johnson had intervened, despite his repeated claims to the contrary. Responding, Ms Truss told Times Radio: “That is currently being investigated, and I can’t comment on that. But the Defence Secretary has been very clear that he is the one that gave the order for that to happen.” Ms Truss later clarified that the Foreign Office was now investigating “how the email ended up in the public domain”, rather than to uncover whether Mr Johnson had intervened or not.” – Daily Telegraph

Afriyie investigated for not declaring drug firm job

“A senior Conservative MP is being investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards after The Times revealed that he had failed to declare a second job at a medical cannabis firm. Adam Afriyie, the MP for Windsor, is under investigation after potentially breaking the rules of conduct for members of parliament. It was reported in December that Afriyie, who had lobbied parliament about medical cannabis, had failed to declare his chairmanship of a distribution company for the drug. Elite Growth announced that Afriyie would take on the role on October 22. However, no record of his involvement with the company was disclosed on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in four of its editions between November and December. Commons rules state a member must notify within 28 days any change in their registrable interests if they consider “that it might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions or words as a member in the same way as a financial interest”.” – The Times

Brokenshire’s widow calls for lung cancer screening programme

“The widow of James Brokenshire has called for a national screening programme for lung cancer after the MP’s death at the age of 53. Cathy Brokenshire said she was determined to “pick up the mantle” and continue her husband’s campaign to raise awareness of the disease. The former government minister was first diagnosed with lung cancer after coughing up a small amount of blood in 2017 and advocated for better screening during a debate in parliament in April 2018. “I miss him on a daily basis, he was my best friend,” she told the PA news agency in her first public comments since her husband’s death last October. “But I’ve got no choice and I have to get on with it. “We’ve got three kids and I can either sit and cry my eyes out and be in a heap on the floor, or I can try and bring some positivity from what has happened to us as a family and help promote the cause.” Brokenshire said she wanted to help break down the stigma surrounding the condition, which many believe is only caused by smoking.” – The Times

News in brief:

Newslinks for Sunday 30th January 2022

30 Jan

Prime Minister and Chancellor jointly commit to National Insurance hike

“The Prime Minister and the Chancellor have vowed to push ahead with a £12 billion National Insurance hike amid pressure from Tory MPs to ditch the controversial move. In a joint intervention, Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak described the levy – which will fund sweeping social care reforms and aim to clear the NHS patient backlog caused – as “the right plan”. The planned 1.25 percentage point rise in National Insurance Contributions, which is expected to cost the average worker an extra £255 a year, is reported to have led to a Cabinet split. There has been mounting speculation that Mr Johnson was “wobbling” over the move as he fights to stave off a backbench uprising against his premiership in the wake of ‘partygate’, with Tory MPs urging him to delay or cancel the tax increase.” – Sunday Telegraph

More:

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak: We must stick to our recovery plan — tax will rise to pay for it

“We have a plan to sort it out — to do what no government has done for decades and to integrate health and social care. We want to stop the duplication in which the elderly or vulnerable can be asked the same question, five days running, by five publicly funded officials. We will use advances in data technology to cut costs and drive efficiency. But at the same time we must perform those operations and ensure that people see their GP and get scans and tests. We must clear the backlogs with our health and social care plan, and now is the time to stick to it. We must go ahead with the health and care levy. It is progressive: the burden falls most on those who can most afford it. Every penny of that £39 billion will go on crucial objectives — including nine million more checks, scans and operations, and 50,000 more nurses, as well as boosting social care.” – Sunday Times

  • The Prime Minister has to show why he’s fighting – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday
  • If partygate doesn’t kill the Tories, Sunak’s spending cuts might – Phillip Inman, The Observer

Scotland Yard sends letters to Downing Street party ‘suspects’ after receiving Gray dossier

“Scotland Yard has announced that it will start sending letters to Downing Street officials suspected of breaching lockdown rules after receiving a dossier of evidence from Sue Gray. The Metropolitan Police said those alleged to have broken Covid-19 laws at government parties would be told to provide a “reasonable excuse” or be fined. Those known to have attended events under investigation are expected to receive letters, raising the possibility Boris Johnson and his closest advisers will be contacted. Mr Johnson will this week attempt to refocus on the day job, which will include a string of domestic policy announcements on Brexit and “levelling up”, but this risks being undercut by the ‘partygate’ report.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • ‘Tipsy’ Downing Street official ‘taunted cops after leaving a lockdown-busting booze-up’ – Sun on Sunday
  • Chope claims Met is ‘abusing power’ – The Observer

More:

  • Here’s what Tory voters really think about Boris and ‘partygate’ – Sunday Telegraph
  • When is Gray’s report due and why is it delayed? – Sunday Times
  • Heavily censored version ‘will be released next week’ – Sun on Sunday

Comment:

  • Johnson could evade justice due to the Met’s disastrous move – Charles Falconer, The Observer
  • I supported Cressida Dick; now I feel betrayed – David Blunkett, Sunday Times
  • Have the Commissioner’s Cake Squad joined the drama because they too hate us being free? – Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday

>Today: ToryDiary: A majority of our Party member panel now believes that “partygate” is overblown

Gove’s Red Wall revolution – radical blueprint to help ‘reset’ struggling premiership

“Michael Gove today unveils a radical blueprint to turbo-charge the economy in deprived areas – and help ‘reset’ Boris Johnson’s struggling premiership in the process. The Levelling Up Secretary uses an article in today’s Mail on Sunday to vow that he will take ‘the steps necessary to power up every part of the country’ and stop the economy being ‘like a jet firing on only one engine’. In a new White Paper he will set out plans to deliver on Mr Johnson’s key policy commitment to unleash the ‘productive power’ of every corner of the country and answer the plea of Britain’s ‘left-behind towns’. The pledge is seen as critical to the Prime Minister’s hopes of holding on to the swathe of ‘Red Wall’ seats the Tories seized from Labour in the 2019 Election.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Nandy slams claim of boost for 20 towns, saying ‘new’ fund for poorer areas is recycled pledge – The Observer

Comment:

  • Britain needs to be firing on all its engines… not just the one in the South East and London – Michael Gove, Mail on Sunday

Leadership 1) Tugendhat ‘is the first Tory MP to admit openly his ambitions’

“Tom Tugendhat has become the first Tory MP to say he would run to replace Boris Johnson in a leadership contest. It comes less than 24 hours after reports that the Prime Minister will receive imminently the report from Sue Gray into alleged breaches of Covid restrictions during ‘partygate’. Mr Tugendhat, a former soldier and the current chair of the foreign affairs select committee, said: “I think I’m making it pretty clear that I think that it’s up to all of us to put ourselves forward. “And it’s up to the electorate, in the first case parliamentary colleagues, and in the second case the party, to choose.” He declined to say whether he had put in a letter of no confidence in Mr Johnson, despite the long-standing dislike between the two men.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • ‘Serving as PM would be a huge privilege. I don’t know why others are coy’ – Interview, Sunday Times

Leadership 2) Truss hires Johnson’s official videographer

“Liz Truss has recruited Boris Johnson’s official videographer to accompany her on overseas trips and overhaul her digital presence, The Telegraph can reveal. The Cabinet minister has hired Robert Midgley from Downing Street as her digital media adviser, in a move that will add to mounting speculation about the Foreign Secretary’s leadership ambitions. A Foreign Office source said that Mr Midgley, a civil servant who was the first in-house videographer at No 10, would advise Ms Truss and officials on digital media and “help raise the level and quality of the department’s output”. Ms Truss wants to boost the use of “digital diplomacy”, including through videos posted on Twitter and Instagram, according to the source, who suggested that the new role was the digital equivalent of her official press secretary.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Sunak ‘has already built a dummy campaign website’ – Mail on Sunday
  • Rees-Mogg: ‘He’s no Churchill, but Boris is an excellent, exceptional leader’ – Sunday Telegraph

Foreign Secretary ‘to risk trade war with EU’ by letting Belfast blow up Brexit border deal

“Liz Truss is set to risk a trade war with the EU by letting Belfast blow up the Brexit border deal. The Foreign Secretary, with one eye on the Tory leadership, is preparing for battle with Brussels. She has paved the way for Northern Ireland to defy Eurocrats and ditch hated red tape. Angry DUP chiefs are ready to order within days an end to EU checks on goods arriving from Britain. That would enrage Brussels, which would tell No 10 to reimpose controls or face the threat of trade reprisals. But Ms Truss dropped a heavy hint last night that she will side with Belfast in the brewing cross-Channel row, insisting she wants “significant progress” by February 21.” – Sun on Sunday

  • NFU president decries trade deal with Australia and New Zealand – The Observer
  • Civil servants hit out at Boris’ Brexit masterplan – Sunday Express

Comment:

  • Now is the right time to trigger Article 16 – Robin Millar MP, Sunday Express
  • Ignore the hysteria: Truss was right to use the Government plane – Henry Hill, Sunday Telegraph

Prime Minister set to double UK’s troop deployments to Ukraine’s borders…

“The Prime Minister is looking at doubling the number of troops deployed to strengthen Europe’s borders with another 1,000 troops, as he warns an incursion from Russia into Ukraine would be a “tragedy”. Boris Johnson said the new offer to Nato currently under consideration would “send a clear message to the Kremlin” that “we will not tolerate their destabilising activity”. In addition to bolstering troop numbers, No 10 said this could involve sending defensive weapons to Estonia. Fast jets, warships and military specialists could also be sent to protect Nato allies. The measures will see a squadron of RAF jets sent to Cyprus to patrol Romanian and Bulgarian air space.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Johnson to visit Ukraine region and hold call with Putin next week – The Observer
  • Defence Secretary warns that Russia ‘plans flood of kompromat’ to throw West off guard – Sunday Times

…as mandarin apologises formisleading MPs on dog airlift

“The most senior civil servant in the Foreign Office has apologised to MPs for “inadvertently” misleading them about Boris Johnson’s alleged involvement in the evacuation of more than 170 stray dogs and cats from Afghanistan. Sir Philip Barton, the permanent undersecretary, gave evidence to the foreign affairs committee in which he talked about the department’s handling of the airlift of Pen Farthing and his animals out of Afghanistan. His claims later proved inaccurate. Barton told MPs that Nigel Casey, the prime minister’s special representative for Afghanistan, had not received emails that referred to Johnson’s personal authorisation for the evacuation. However, it emerged that Casey had written to another official, requesting “clear guidance for us from No 10 asap”.” – Sunday Times

  • Prioritising animals over people in Afghan evacuation was ‘disgusting’, say ex-soldiers – Sunday Telegraph
  • BBC journalist ‘exposes Foreign Office Afghanistan whistleblower’ – Mail on Sunday
  • Johnson’s senior aide ‘watched cricket as Kabul fell’ – Sunday Telegraph

Health 1) Johnson had to be forced not to cancel Christmas, claim anti-lockdown ministers

“Boris Johnson was forced to abandon his plans to cancel Christmas after a revolt by furious Cabinet colleagues who warned that the idea was ‘insane’, anti-lockdown Ministers have told The Mail on Sunday. They described how a three-pronged attack by former Brexit Minister David Frost, Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg forced the Prime Minister to ignore demands by his scientific advisers for families to be banned from mixing over the festive period. Their account of how close the country came to another lockdown in December can be revealed now for the first time, at the end of a week in which the Cabinet’s anti-restriction Ministers have been vindicated.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Zahawi tells universities to come clean about face-to-face teaching – Sunday Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Did New Zealand’s Covid strategy work?

Health 2) GPs ‘nationalised’ in Javid plan to reduce hospital admissions

“GPs would be nationalised under plans from the health secretary to make them do more to keep patients out of hospital. Sajid Javid is considering radical changes to the 70-year-old structure of the NHS that could see many family doctors directly employed by hospitals instead of running their own surgeries. He has told Boris Johnson that there are “considerable drawbacks” to the system under which GP surgeries are in effect independent contractors paid per patient by the NHS. A review of primary care planned by Javid will look at how to better integrate GPs with hospital care as part of attempts to do more to stop people developing serious illness. Sources insisted there would be no forcible state takeover of GPs, who are likely instead to be given incentives to link up with hospital trusts.” – Sunday Times

Agnew says there is ‘zippo’ detail on how UK will deal with Covid fraud

“A Treasury minister who resigned over the government’s “schoolboy” handling of fraudulent Covid business loans has said there has been “not a zippo” of detail about how the chancellor plans to deal with the issue. Theodore Agnew of Oulton, who was the Tories’ anti-fraud minister, publicly resigned from his Cabinet Office and Treasury posts on Monday over the government’s decision to write off £4.3bn in fraudulent loans. He called the oversight of the scheme “nothing less than woeful”. Discussing his dramatic exit in an interview with the Times, Lord Agnew said: “I didn’t want to blow my top, but I was very angry.” Agnew accused the government of “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” in its attitude to tackling fraud estimated to cost £29bn a year.” – The Observer

  • Treasury ‘stopped Britain’s FBI from investigating Covid loans fraud’ – Sunday Telegraph

Tech giants Google and Facebook may be forced to pay newspapers for their stories

Shield“Tech giants such as Google and Facebook will be required to pay newspapers and other media outlets for using their stories, under new laws being drawn up by the Government. Under the plans, which are modelled on a system that has been introduced in Australia, the platforms will be encouraged to negotiate payment deals with news organisations. If the negotiations fail, an independent arbitrator would set a fair price. The move, being driven by Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries, comes amid growing concerns that the tech companies are dominating online advertising, to the detriment of consumers and businesses. The new regime will be regulated by the Digital Markets Unit (DMU), the digital watchdog that was set up within the Competition and Markets Authority (CMA) to rein in the power of the tech platforms.” – Mail on Sunday

>Yesterday: Matthew Lesh in Think Tanks: Woke organisations are letting their customers down

Newslinks for Saturday 29th January 2022

29 Jan

Downing Street parties: Sue Gray ‘frustrated’ by Scotland Yard’s intervention

“The senior civil servant investigating lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street was said to have been infuriated when Scotland Yard told her not to publish key aspects of her report. Sue Gray was frustrated and angered by the intervention, having shared details of her investigation with the force throughout her inquiry, The Times has been told. She is expected to submit a pared-back version of her report to Boris Johnson in the coming days and it could be published early next week. Yesterday the Metropolitan Police said that it had asked her to make “minimal references” to the events it is investigating. Gray had been under the impression that the force did not intend to stand in the way of publication of her full report.” – The Times

  • Scotland Yard sends letters to Downing Street party ‘suspects’ after receiving Sue Gray dossier – Daily Telegraph
  • Redacted version of report is imminent, say government sources – The Guardian
  • Met accused of ‘stitch-up’ over delayed Gray report – FT
  • ‘No one will accept a Westminster cover-up’ says SNP as Met denies delaying release of report – The Scotsman

Analysis:

  • When is Sue Gray’s report due and why is it delayed? – The Times
  • Why the Met Police suddenly changed its mind on redacting the Sue Gray report – Daily Telegraph
  • Scotland Yard crash the No 10 party and leave Gray red-faced – The Times

Matthew Parris: Spineless Tories know that Johnson must go

“Indulge my daydream. Strolling down Savile Row I chance upon a tailor I know. He looks depressed. Why the long face, I ask? “We make grey suits,” he replies. “Tory MPs of a certain vintage and standing were our most reliable customers. But there seems no call among them now for grey suits.” Though the language looks sexist today, “the men in grey suits” was a useful catchphrase for that loose and hard-to-define group within the parliamentary Conservative Party who today we might call the grown-ups. Mostly behind the scenes, such men and (later) women carried a certain, untitled authority. Call them “tribal elders”: they were not the noisy ones and your columnist was never of their number, but their often silent presence among us mattered greatly. In my youth when my family attended Friends’ (Quaker) Meetings, there were certain Friends who, when they rose to speak, were always listened to.” – The Times

  • It’s 2035: the Gray Report is a cake recipe and Sunak exists only on Instagram, Matt Chorley – The Times
  • Is Johnson the victim of an ingenious Left-wing plot? Michael Deacon – Daily Telegraph
  • Democracy itself is imperilled when the political sphere is invaded by officialdom, Charles Moore – Daily Telegraph
  • Does Captain Hindsight Starmer want cops involved over Downing Street parties or not? – The Sun
  • What a sorry shambles: The Met’s investigation of cheese and wine parties in Downing Street is a grotesque perversion of common sense – Daily Mail

More comment:

PM to visit Ukraine region and hold call with Putin next week

“Boris Johnson will visit the Ukraine region and hold crisis talks with Vladimir Putin next week amid fears of a Russian invasion. The British prime minister is determined to “accelerate diplomatic efforts” and “ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed” in the coming days, according to government sources. The planned trip to the region comes amid rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which is continuing to build up its forces on its neighbour’s border. However, it will not go unnoticed that the prime minister’s overseas visit comes at a time of rising tensions on the domestic front, with a redacted version of the long-awaited Sue Gray report expected to be published imminently. Johnson has faced widespread criticism that his government has been “paralysed” by “partygate” at a time when he ought to be focusing on other issues, such as the escalating Ukraine crisis, as well as the cost of living.” – The Guardian

  • Biden to send US troops to Eastern Europe to combat Ukraine crisis – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

I’m sorry for misleading MPs on dog airlift, says mandarin

“The most senior civil servant in the Foreign Office has apologised to MPs for “inadvertently” misleading them about Boris Johnson’s alleged involvement in the evacuation of more than 170 stray dogs and cats from Afghanistan. Sir Philip Barton, the permanent undersecretary, gave evidence to the foreign affairs committee in which he talked about the department’s handling of the airlift of Pen Farthing and his animals out of Afghanistan. His claims later proved inaccurate. Barton told MPs that Nigel Casey, the prime minister’s special representative for Afghanistan, had not received emails that referred to Johnson’s personal authorisation for the evacuation. However, it emerged that Casey had written to another official, requesting “clear guidance for us from No 10 asap”.” – The Times

National insurance: Johnson insists tax will rise in April… no ifs, no buts

“Boris Johnson has insisted that tax rises will go ahead in April, “no ifs, no buts”. The prime minister quashed speculation yesterday that the national insurance rise of 1.25 percentage points for employers and employees would not be imposed. Senior Tory backbenchers had been calling for its abandonment. In recent days Johnson had repeatedly refused to guarantee the increase. The Office for National Statistics said this week that borrowing in December was £13 billion less than forecast, which suggested that the government could afford to delay the rise. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has come under pressure from Conservatives to use the windfall to delay the tax rise but has pointed to the prospect of rising interest payments to defend the increase.” – The Times

Lord Agnew of Oulton attacks ‘cack-handed’ Covid-19 loans scheme

“The government’s “cack-handed implementation” of the pandemic loans scheme could be costing us “hundreds of millions of pounds a month”, Boris Johnson’s former anti-fraud minister has said. In an interview with The Times, Lord Agnew of Oulton, the Treasury and Cabinet Office minister who resigned at the dispatch box this week, lambasts the government’s “egregious” failure to tackle fraud in its bounce-back loan scheme to help struggling businesses. About £47.4 billion worth of credit was issued via 1.6 million emergency loans to small businesses. Official estimates suggest that £17 billion may never be repaid and as much as £5 billion may have been stolen by fraudsters — although many businesses have only just had to start repaying their loans so these figures are highly uncertain.” – The Times

Interview:

  • “Billions were written off and no one seemed to care but me” – The Times

Analysis:

  • How the UK government lost £4.9bn to Covid loan fraud – The Guardian

GPs nationalised in Javid plan to reduce hospital admissions

“GPs would be nationalised under plans from the health secretary to make them do more to keep patients out of hospital. Sajid Javid is considering radical changes to the 70-year-old structure of the NHS that could see many family doctors directly employed by hospitals instead of running their own surgeries. He has told Boris Johnson that there are “considerable drawbacks” to the system under which GP surgeries are in effect independent contractors paid per patient by the NHS. A review of primary care planned by Javid will look at how to better integrate GPs with hospital care as part of attempts to do more to stop people developing serious illness. Sources insisted there would be no forcible state takeover of GPs, who are likely instead to be given incentives to link up with hospital trusts.” – The Times

Government nudge unit ‘used grossly unethical tactics to scare public into Covid compliance’

“The Government’s “grossly unethical” uses of its “nudge unit” inflated fear among the public during the Covid pandemic, psychologists have said – prompting MPs to launch an investigation into scare adverts. A group of psychologists have written to Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, warning that a team of civil servants dedicated to “nudging” public behaviour during the pandemic were unaccountable and unethical. The letter’s 40 professional signatories – led by Dr Gary Sidley, a retired clinical psychologist – said they opposed the use of dramatic adverts, which included slogans such as: “If you go out you can spread it, people will die.” They also condemned the use of “images of the acutely unwell in intensive care units” on billboard and television adverts”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • We’ll never return to the office, say two fifths of staff – The Times
  • BA.2 variant of Omicron spreading fast in England – The Times
  • Boost for family holidays as Europe changes entry rules – The Times
  • Anti-viral pill Paxlovid that cuts risk of Covid-19 death available next month – The Times

>Today:

Rees-Mogg interview: ‘He’s no Churchill, but Boris is an excellent, exceptional leader’

“Jacob Rees-Mogg is so laid-back, he might as well be horizontal. Partygate has thrown a grenade under No 10, but as far as the Leader of the House of Commons is concerned, everything’s still tickety-boo. Displaying the casualness that saw him criticised for lounging in the Commons in 2019 (‘That was a mistake,’ he concedes), the 52-year-old appears convinced, like the parent of an unruly toddler, that Downing Street’s woes are just a phase. “One’s always got to see political problems in context, that actually government always has these squalls, it always has this excitement,” muses the MP for North East Somerset. Speaking as the Prime Minister awaits the findings of civil servant Sue Gray’s investigation into what Labour has depicted as a seemingly never-ending conga line in and out of No 10 during the pandemic, the cricket enthusiast’s slavish devotion to his Eton and Oxford contemporary is plain to see.” – Daily Telegraph

Zahawi tells universities to come clean about face-to-face teaching

“Universities will have to tell students exactly how much face-to-face teaching they will get, before they start their degrees, Nadhim Zahawi has told The Times. The education secretary will challenge vice-chancellors to give school-leavers detailed data, broken down by course, before they commit and pay for degrees and accommodation, rather than setting out vague intentions. He said there was no longer any excuse for teaching remotely and that online lectures should be scrapped. Several universities are continuing with a mixture of online lectures and in-person seminars this term, despite the easing of pandemic restrictions. Some students are still not having face-to-face lectures, or are on rotas where they attend in-person only once every three weeks.” – The Times

Tugendhat interview: ‘Serving as PM would be a huge privilege. I don’t know why others are coy about it’

“Tom Tugendhat has become the first person to declare his intention to run for the Tory leadership if Boris Johnson is deposed. The MP and chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee has told The Times he would mount a campaign because “it’s up to all of us to put ourselves forward”. The former army officer said it would be “a huge privilege” to serve as prime minister. Johnson is facing the imminent threat of a confidence vote over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and Tugendhat’s intervention makes him the first leadership contender openly to announce his potential candidature. Speaking to Times Radio’s T&G programme, the 48-year-old MP for Tonbridge & Malling was asked if he would run if there were a contest.” – The Times

Patel orders extradition of tech billionaire Mike Lynch

“Priti Patel has ordered the British tech billionaire Mike Lynch to be extradited to the US to face criminal fraud charges over the $11bn (£8.2bn) sale of his software company Autonomy. The Home Secretary approved a ruling that Mr Lynch should appear in a US court to face claims that he illegally inflated the former FTSE 100 company’s sale to Hewlett Packard in 2011. A Home Office spokesman said: “On January 28, following consideration by the courts, the extradition of Michael Lynch to the US was ordered.” Chris Morvillo of Clifford Chance, Mr Lynch’s lawyer, said that Mr Lynch “firmly denies the charges brought against him in the US and will continue to fight to establish his innocence”.  “He is a British citizen who ran a British company in Britain subject to British laws and rules and that is where the matter should be resolved. This is not the end of the battle — far from it,” he said.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief:

Newslinks for Friday 28th January 2022

28 Jan

Downing Street parties: Met embargo key parts of Sue Gray report

“The senior civil servant investigating Downing Street parties has been told by the Metropolitan Police not to publish key passages from her report in case it prejudices a criminal investigation. Scotland Yard said Sue Gray’s report should make “minimal reference” to the events it is investigating. In a statement this morning the Met denied it was trying to delay publication but confirmed it had been in talks with the Cabinet Office about how much of Gray’s inquiry could be made public. The intervention grants Boris Johnson a welcome reprieve after two senior Conservative backbenchers said yesterday the report must be published in full amid speculation that key information could be redacted. Mark Harper, a former cabinet minister, responded to a “heartbreaking” interview on Sky News in which a member of the public says he lost both his parents to coronavirus by saying that it would be “wrong” to suppress details about the parties.” – The Times

  • Fury at demand report is watered down with ‘minimal reference’ to criminal lockdown breaches – The Sun
  • What could her findings mean for Johnson? – The Times
  • Prime Minister ‘vows to publish Sue Gray report in full’ – The Sun

More:

  • Dozens who attended Downing Street parties can pay fines instead of being interviewed by police – Daily Telegraph

Prime Minister urged to sack more Downing Street staff amid fears ‘partygate’ reset will not be enough

“Boris Johnson is being warned by trusted allies that he must go further in his “reset” of Downing Street after the Sue Gray report by sacking more people – or risk the current crisis dragging on. There is concern among figures who have talked to the Prime Minister in recent weeks that the shake-up of Number 10 planned for next week does not go far enough. They have warned that failing to convince the public and Tory MPs that he has fully acknowledged problems revealed in the “partygate” scandal – and that he is delivering change – could backfire. One idea being pushed is that a permanent secretary be appointed for No 10 – a position briefly created for Simon Case before he became head of the UK Civil Service. The move would allow a new chief of staff to be appointed who could just focus on politics.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson must sack Number 10’s woke crowd, says Lord Frost… – The Times
  • …in attack on advisers and ‘apparent jab at Carrie’s influence’ – Daily Mail
  • Tories postpone plan to allow two confidence votes in PM in one year – The Times
  • Tugendhat: Tory centrist loathed by Johnson could be ‘a relief’ – The Guardian

Comment:

  • How the Prime Minister foiled a shotgun plot by his own rebel MPs – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Lord Ashcroft in Comment: Parties aren’t Johnson’s only problem – his voters are awaiting real, positive change

More emails emerge linking Johnson to ‘Pen’ Farthing animal evacuation

“Boris Johnson faced growing questions over official aid given to a charity that lobbied his wife today, as fresh emails linked him to efforts to extract from the fall of Afghanistan. The Prime Minister has been accused of authorising assistance to Paul Farthing and his Nowzad organisation as Kabul was abandoned to the Taliban last August. Internal Foreign Office emails from the time, published by MPs yesterday, showed that it was his decision to offer help amid chaos in the besieged city. Critics have raised concerns that animals were helped out of the country’s at the expense of locals who had worked for the UK and faced bloody retribution from the Islamic extremists. Mr Johnson today described the claims as ‘absolute rhubarb’ as he spoke to reporters on a visit to north Wales. But even as he was making the eccentric denial, fresh emails emerged linking him to the assistance.” – Daily Mail

  • Aide lobbied for Kabul pet rescue on behalf of ‘the boss’ – The Times
  • Johnson says it’s ‘total rhubarb’ that he personally intervened – The Sun

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: My godson, the whistleblower, and the Nowzad animals. If the Prime Minister didn’t authorise their removal, who did?

Johnson hails end of Plan B Covid measures today and booster rollout

“Boris Johnson hailed the end of Covid restrictions in England today as he looks to bolster his position ahead of a probe into No 10 parties. The PM said the scrapping of Plan B is testament to the success of the booster result and praised Brits for their “amazing response”. His allies are hoping that Britain becoming the first country to exit the pandemic will help save his premiership. Top civil servant Sue Gray has completed an investigation into lockdown-busting parties held in Downing St over the last two years. But the publication of her findings is being delayed by legal wrangling over how much information can be disclosed at the moment. The Metropolitan Police have launched a separate inquiry into some of the bashes that represent most serious potential breaches of Covid laws.” – The Sun

  • Work from home tax loophole to be closed after it cost Treasury £500 million – Daily Telegraph

Treasury unease over fears of No 10 U-turn on national insurance hike

“The Treasury is becoming increasingly alarmed that Boris Johnson may be preparing to scrap the national insurance rise in a desperate attempt to placate rightwing Tory MPs as he fights to save his job. The Guardian understands Rishi Sunak has privately stressed to MPs that the tax rise must go ahead as planned – with one frontbencher who has met him in recent days speculating the chancellor’s position could become untenable if Johnson seeks to overrule him. Treasury aides claim the embattled prime minister has not yet raised the prospect of cancelling or delaying the £12bn tax rise, with Johnson saying “there’s been no discussion at any level”. Yet speaking in Wales on Thursday, the prime minister again refused to commit to pressing ahead with the 1.25 percentage point rise in national insurance contributions (NICs), which will be badged a “health and social care levy”.” – The Guardian

  • Rise ‘will go ahead’ despite Johnson’s doubts over levy – The Times
  • ‘PM is wobbling’ – Daily Express
  • Minister hints Boris could cave to Tory rebels on multiple fronts – Daily Mail

>Today: David Willetts’ column: The case for the National Insurance increase

James Forsyth: Johnson is now held hostage by his own MPs

“The prime minister is a hostage of his own MPs. Boris Johnson sits in his Commons study and they come in and make demands. However brutal their assessment or sweeping their requests, he does his best to say he has heard them and will address their concerns. It is a bizarre situation for someone whose personal appeal was so key to the election victory just two years ago, but he can’t afford to make a single extra enemy. His MPs have his fate in their hands. Backbenchers speak even more bluntly to those arranging the “save Boris” operation. They demand changes to the No 10 team and say that these should come straight after the publication of Sue Gray’s report into the Downing Street parties. They are adamant they will brook no delay to this. If things don’t start to move, they warn that they will conclude Johnson isn’t serious about changing.” – The Times

Sunak accused of blocking Brexit progress by standing in the way of Article 16

“Rishi Sunak has been accused of blocking plans to invoke Article 16 by allies of the Prime Minister, who say he is a “nominal Brexiteer” who has stalled progress on the Northern Ireland Protocol. The claims come amid rising tensions over the Chancellor’s proposed 1.25 percentage point rise in National Insurance contributions (NICs) as Boris Johnson’s premiership continues to hang by a thread pending the publication of Sue Gray’s “partygate” report… One key Johnson ally said: “Rishi pushed the NI [National Insurance] increase, whatever he says. Boris told me at the time that the Treasury insisted. “The other thing is that he has been fighting hard to stop invoking Article 16, which has delayed sorting Northern Ireland. Rishi has fought to stop any action that would ‘upset the EU on trade’. He is a nominal Brexiteer and completely captured by the Treasury.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • Chancellor accused of wanting to avoid ‘upsetting the EU’ – Daily Express
  • DUP gives Truss February deadline to fix Brexit protocol row – The Guardian

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Another Cabinet clash with Gove over the Government’s pro-Union approach

Truss took £500,000 private flight to Australia

“Liz Truss used a government aircraft to fly to Australia at an estimated cost of £500,000 to the taxpayer instead of taking a scheduled flight. The foreign secretary declined to travel business class and instead used an aircraft leased by the government to make the 22,000-mile round trip last week. Truss and Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, met Australian ministers as part of a security alliance aimed at countering Chinese influence in the eastern Pacific. Government sources insisted that Truss had needed the chartered plane to work and rest, and said the flexibility of a chartered flight allowed her the option of returning to Europe quickly if the situation in Ukraine suddenly deteriorated. Truss used a plane leased by the government from Titan Airways, a company based at Stansted airport, according to The Independent.” – The Times

  • Allies say the Foreign Secretary could not fly commercial for security reasons – Daily Mail

>Today:

>Yesterday: Stephen Booth’s column: When it comes to Putin’s Russia, the UK remains the most important European player and NATO is the only game in town.

News in Brief:

  • Why Wales and Scotland are silent on Ukraine – Henry Hill, UnHerd
  • London is the key to levelling up – John Dickie, CapX
  • In Fortress New Zealand, faith in Saint Jacinda is starting to fade – David Cohen, The Spectator
  • Fighting about pronouns gets in the way of real feminism – Suzanne Moore, The Critic

Newslinks for Thursday 27th January 2022

27 Jan

Cries of ‘cover-up’ over Gray report, as unions call for redactions to protect civil servants

“Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street parties was being edited on Wednesday night amid suspicions that the new police investigation will mean names and key details are left out of her findings. Civil service unions are warning the Cabinet Office that government employees must not be “hung out to dry” by being named as party attendees. However, Labour claimed on Wednesday that unless all evidence gathered in the “partygate” investigation by Ms Gray was made public, then “it will reek of another Downing Street cover-up”. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Ms Gray’s findings would be made public in full, providing an “assurance” was given that the information would not undercut the police probe.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Document following inquiry by senior official has been delayed by dispute over its contents – FT
  • Johnson is expected to apologise once ethics chief Gray submits her report – Daily Mail

More:

  • Backlash over Met’s £1million inquiry as crime soars – Daily Mail
  • A barrister’s verdict on the parties at Downing Street – The Times
  • Rees-Mogg says Johnson would not need to resign if interviewed under caution – Daily Mail

Stand by me, Johnson tells MPs as he pins blame on ‘bad advice’

“Boris Johnson has told Tory MPs that he has received “bad advice” and warned that deposing him could result in a general election as Downing Street gets ready for the publication of a report into lockdown-breaking parties. The prime minister held 15-minute meetings with more than a dozen Tory MPs in recent days as he tries to shore up his support before a potential confidence vote. He has claimed that his successor would have to hold an election to legitimise their leadership and also argued that now is the wrong time to remove him given that Russia is on the brink of invading Ukraine. Johnson is said to have expressed contrition for mistakes that have been made but said he did not personally break the rules. “He said we’re going to get through it, I’m sorry about all this,” one Tory MP said.” – The Times

  • ‘Save Boris’ fightback gathers pace as contrite Prime Minister meets rebel MPs in private – Daily Telegraph
  • Tory MPs poised to send letters of no confidence in PM after ‘partygate’ report – The Guardian
  • Leader holds crisis meetings with rebel MPs as he enters ‘kill-zone’ – Daily Express
  • Government being immobilised by crisis, say sources – The Guardian

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: PMQs sketch: The underdog comes out fighting and attacks his opponent as a hypocrite for hire

‘Spike tax hike and we’ll back you’, Tory MPs tell Johnson

“Tory MPs are urging Boris Johnson to rethink the national insurance hike as he tries to win their backing over Partygate. The Prime Minister has met wavering backbenchers in a bid to shore up support ahead of the publication of Sue Gray’s report into claims of lockdown breaches at No 10. Sources say several have pressed him to delay the national insurance increase and ease the cost of living crisis facing millions of families. The MPs are thought to want Mr Johnson to be ‘more Conservative’ – in return for backing him to lead them into the next election. The campaign for Chancellor Rishi Sunak to put off the tax grab is rapidly gathering momentum. The British Chambers of Commerce and the Institute of Directors both yesterday called for it to be scrapped.” – Daily Mail

  • National Insurance rise will push up prices, Prime Minister is warned – Daily Telegraph

>Today: Lord Ashcroft in Comment: Parties aren’t Johnson’s only problem – his voters are awaiting real, positive change

>Yesterday:

MPs raise concerns about leak of hike in living wage in last budget

“MPs have expressed “deep concern” over the leaking of price-sensitive information before Rishi Sunak’s budget last year and warned the chancellor his package of measures risked adding to Britain’s already surging inflation rate. The influential all-party Treasury committee called for Sunak to investigate how details of a planned increase in the national living wage to £9.50 an hour were disclosed in the runup to the budget in late October. “We are deeply concerned that the rate of the national living wage was disclosed to ITV in an unauthorised fashion prior to the budget, and we agree with the Treasury that this could have caused confusion in the market as to whether the information was accurate,” the MPs said.” – The Guardian

  • Sunak’s tax-raising Budget helped drive up inflation, say MPs – FT
  • Knives out for Dishy Rishi as he is ‘captured by the Treasury’ on tax – Daily Telegraph
  • Sunak cannot afford a U-turn on social care levy, warn MPs – The Times

Agnew ordered action against banks over Covid loan scheme

“An anti-fraud minister who resigned at the dispatch box this week had ordered officials to take action against banks whose approach to a pandemic loan scheme may have put billions of pounds of taxpayers’ money at risk. Lord Agnew of Oulton, the Treasury and Cabinet Office minister who stepped down this week over what he called the Treasury’s “schoolboy errors” in countering criminals, demanded last month that a “strong line” be taken against errant lenders to mitigate losses. In a newly published letter to Lord Smith of Kelvin, the chairman of the state-owned British Business Bank, which ran pandemic credit schemes, Agnew expressed concern about whether banks “are genuinely doing all they can to fight fraud in these schemes”.” – The Times

  • UK faces unintended consequences of post-Brexit financial regulation – FT
  • Pressure grows on Britain to beef up measures to tackle economic crime – The Guardian
  • Target fraudsters or risk losing credibility on Russia, Johnson told – The Times

Ukraine: Wallace understood to have requested range of options from military chiefs

“UK warships and fighter jets could be on the move within days to help thwart a Russian invasion of Ukraine. Defence Secretary Ben Wallace is understood to have requested a range of options from military chiefs in a bid to match the build-up of Moscow’s forces. The move is significant because it was expected to come only after an attack on Ukraine. But following Nato talks yesterday, thousands of US troops are set to be deployed to Bulgaria, Romania and Hungary. Washington has asked its allies, including Britain, to help provide additional manpower. RAF pilots and crews have experience of policing the region’s airspace because Typhoons from the 121 Expeditionary Air Wing spent much of 2021 in Romania on manoeuvres.” – Daily Mail

  • ‘Very advanced’ talks of British deployment alongside other Nato allies – Daily Telegraph
  • Kremlin steps up its propaganda war – Daily Mail

>Today: Stephen Booth’s column: When it comes to Putin’s Russia, the UK remains the most important European player and NATO is the only game in town.

>Yesterday:

Email trail pins order for Afghan animal airlift on Johnson

“Leaked emails appear to contradict Boris Johnson’s claim that he did not authorise the evacuation of more than 160 stray cats and dogs from Afghanistan. The prime minister had said it was “complete nonsense” to suggest that he intervened to help Pen Farthing, founder of the animal charity Nowzad, secure safe passage out of Kabul in August. However, a Foreign Office whistle-blower released emails yesterday suggesting Johnson personally approved the rescue mission, which is said to have frustrated efforts to save Afghans. In the emails, submitted by Raphael Marshall, a former civil servant, to the foreign affairs committee, an official brought up Nowzad while discussing another animal charity that wanted special treatment.” – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: My godson, the whistleblower, and the Nowzad animals. If the Prime Minister didn’t authorise their removal, who did?

£100million of taxpayers’ cash to be used to turbocharge nuclear plant development

“Some £100million of taxpayers’ cash is to be used to turbocharge development of a nuclear plant. While the UK grapples with the energy crisis, the planned £20billion Sizewell C in Suffolk could produce 3.2 gigawatts of low carbon electricity. That is enough to power six million homes and support 10,000 jobs. The project is being developed by France’s EDF and a controversial Chinese partner. It is a near replica of Hinkley Point C in Somerset, which is more than five years into construction. And it would help to reduce Britain’s exposure to volatile gas prices. The £100million commitment to EDF from Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng will be revealed today.” – The Sun

  • Plan could see taxpayer take a stake in atomic power generation for first time in more than a decade – FT

Threat of benefit cuts to force unemployed into ‘any job now’

“Jobseekers will have their benefits cut sooner if they do not consider sectors battling staff shortages in a plan to get half a million more into work. Sanctions will kick in after a month for those who do not consider taking jobs in unfamiliar sectors to fill vacancies for delivery drivers, supply chain logistics and other roles affected by a lack of staff. At present people have three months to find a job in their preferred sector, but ministers are reducing this under an “any job now” plan that they say will help those on benefits as well as the wider economic recovery. Officials insist that they will work with companies to ensure that job centres get better at matching benefit claimants with local vacancies to give them the best chance of finding a suitable role.” – The Times

  • Street joins forces with Burnham to demand education powers – The Times

It’s not up to Dorries to scrap licence fee, says BBC

“The BBC has hit back at Nadine Dorries’s pledge to scrap the licence fee as it revealed that prosecutions for evasion would double this year. The culture secretary tweeted that last week’s licence fee settlement would be the last in the BBC’s 100-year history. But Tim Davie, the director-general, said Dorries did not have the power to unilaterally overhaul the funding model. “I don’t think it’s for one person to decide the funding model of the BBC,” Davie told the Commons public accounts committee yesterday. “We need to go through a disciplined process with the public involved.” Davie added that he had been blindsided by Dorries’s tweet. “More long-term observations about the future of the licence fee and our model, while utterly appropriate actually coming towards the end of the charter, were a surprise,” he told MPs.” – The Times

  • BBC spy story case will not be heard behind closed doors, Government warned – Daily Telegraph

‘Liz woos India’: Post-Brexit trade deal with India could be bigger than agreement with America

“A post-Brexit trade deal with India could be bigger and better than an agreement with the United States, experts have said. The Government is laying on the charm to try to seal a deal with New Delhi as part of a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. Boris Johnson has sent his senior lieutenants, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and trade chief Anne Marie Trevelyan, to charm the Indians in recent months. New analysis by the Resolution Foundation (RF) think-tank finds the UK stands to make more money with a tilt towards India than America. Sophie Hale, an RF economist, said a trade deal with India could bring in megabucks – but is also very risky… India is expected to become the world’s third biggest market for imports by 2050 – providing massive opportunity for British exports.” – The Sun

  • EU ready to sue Britain as furious Brexit trade row breaks out – Daily Express

Comment:

  • It’s time to turn Brexit to Britain’s advantage – Iain Martin, The Times

News in Brief:

  • Stop pretending the UK is transphobic – Debbie Hayton, UnHerd
  • The EHRC delivers – Olivia Hartley, The Critic
  • The phoney war: what’s really going on between Boris and Putin – Owen Matthews, The Spectator
  • ‘Learning for the Future’ is the product of an educational echo chamber – David James, CapX

Newslinks for Wednesday 26th January 2022

26 Jan

Johnson faces police interview over No 10 lockdown parties…

“Boris Johnson faces being interviewed by police after Scotland Yard said Downing Street parties crossed the threshold for a “serious and flagrant” breach of lockdown rules. Sue Gray, a senior civil servant who is overseeing an inquiry into the events, triggered the formal investigation when she handed evidence to detectives. The prime minister now faces being interviewed by the police, either under caution or as a witness. Officers are said to be investigating eight parties and could issue fines. Johnson is preparing to publish Gray’s report as soon as today before making a statement to the Commons.” – The Times

  • Detectives have power to force aides to give up phone records – The Times
  • Voters observed the rules and sacrificed celebrations – The Times
  • Covid rules broken in ‘most homes’, claims MP defending Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson left cabinet in the dark about Met’s investigation – The Times
  • Met Police were wary of a high-stakes pursuit of the PM … but then the evidence became impossible to ignore – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson’s hopes of respite from ‘partygate’ scandal are dashed – FT

Analysis:

  • As Blair will tell you, having the police in doesn’t help – The Times
  • How ‘partygate’ compares to cash for honours – the last time a PM faced police questions – Daily Telegraph
  • The ‘no nonsense’ Met police officers leading Downing Street parties probe – Daily Telegraph

Political sketch:

Comment:

>Today:

… as pressure grows on PM to release full Sue Gray ‘partygate’ report

“Boris Johnson is under mounting pressure to publish Sue Gray’s report into the “partygate” allegations in full, after the Metropolitan Police cleared the way for its release. Ms Gray is understood to have found evidence that eight gatherings may have broken lockdown rules and possibly the law, with Whitehall braced for the release of her findings as early as Wednesday. She reportedly expects the Prime Minister to publish her findings in the full form they are handed to him within hours of receipt. Dame Cressida Dick, the Metropolitan Police commissioner, revealed on Tuesday that officers were investigating “a number” of events “without fear or favour”, after concluding there appeared to be no reasonable defence.” – Daily Telegraph

Ukraine crisis: Britain readies troops and warns Putin of tough sanctions

“Moscow faces sanctions “heavier than anything” seen before if it invades Ukraine, Boris Johnson said yesterday as Russian troops around Ukraine began new exercises. The prime minister said Britain was preparing to deploy more soldiers in Europe in the event of conflict, raising the prospect of troops heading to Hungary to bolster defences there. In a statement to the Commons he warned that an invasion would turn Ukraine into a “wasteland” and risk the worst bloodshed since 1945. The resistance would be “dogged and tenacious” and “many Russian mothers’ sons will not be coming home”, he said. Johnson held video talks with western leaders on Monday. After the meeting, which lasted 80 minutes, President Biden said the US and its European allies were in “total unity”.” – The Times

  • Johnson warns Putin invading Ukraine would spark worst bloodshed since WW2 and many Russians ‘won’t come home’ – The Sun
  • Macron calls for ‘de-escalation’ of tensions in Ukraine as he prepares to speak with Putin – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

>Today:

Madeline Grant: The truth about Biden can no longer be ignored

“Over the years, shoals of public figures have fallen prey to the snare of the hot mic. Obama and Sarkozy were famously caught moaning about Benjamin Netanyahu in 2011. “I cannot stand him. He’s a liar,” muttered Sarkozy. “You’re fed up with him?” retorted Obama, “I have to deal with him every day!” Gordon Brown’s “bigoted woman” gaffe prompted a row that all but destroyed his political career, and who could forget Prince Charles’s comments about Nicholas Witchell on the ski slopes of Klosters? Yet such moments can be as revealing as they are funny – and often as destructive. This week provided another hot mic for the ages. On Monday, President Biden was addressing a meeting held by the White House Competition Council, a group that works, among other things, to help consumers deal with higher prices.” – Daily Telegraph

Lord Agnew says banks must answer for pandemic fraud losses

“The minister who quit over “schoolboy errors” in tackling fraud in a pandemic loans scheme has said the government must do more to hold banks to account to mitigate taxpayer losses. Lord Agnew of Oulton told The Times that as counter-fraud minister, the state-owned British Business Bank had failed to share with him the identity of banks that he said appeared to be linked to the majority of fraud losses on the Bounce Back Loan Scheme. The scheme gave £47.4 billion of credit via 1.6 million emergency loans, with about one in four UK companies receiving one. Official estimates suggest £17 billion may never be repaid, as much as £5 billion of which is thought to have been stolen by fraudsters. Banks who lent the funds benefit from a 100 per cent state guarantee to cover their losses once they have attempted recovery action.” – The Times

Javid ‘reflects’ on mandatory vaccinations for NHS staff…

“The government is “reflecting” on its policy of requiring NHS staff to be double jabbed against Covid-19, the health secretary told MPs last night, but said the patient safety reasons behind it remained unchanged. Sajid Javid also told the health and social care select committee that he wanted to establish a “national vaccination service” that would mean GPs did not have to stop doing other work in order to deliver jabs. All frontline health and social care workers must be double vaccinated by April 1 to keep their jobs, with a deadline for first jabs on February 3. Javid said he had had representations from people saying he should add boosters to the requirement because of evidence two vaccines were “not quite good enough” against the Omicron variant, while others suggested dropping it altogether.” – The Times

  • Record school infections mean national Covid cases no longer falling – The Times
  • Flight sales soar as Covid testing is dropped – The Times
  • Two thirds of people who catch Omicron have already had Covid, study finds – Daily Telegraph
  • Work from home advice to be phased out from Monday in Scotland as optimism continues – The Scotsman
  • Welsh Government changes rules on self-isolation for people with Covid – Wales Online

… as warns ‘there likely will be a variant that will be trouble in the future’

“The minister told MPs that the Government had to “stay on top of” the virus as new strains emerge in the months and years ahead. He warned that there would continue to be mutations in the future and pharmaceutical interventions such as vaccines may need to once again be rushed out in a bid to stay on top of the situation. The Bromsgrove MP confirmed planning was also underway to prepare the NHS for new surges of infections caused by variants in future. “It’s a reminder of the importance to stay vigilant but also to stay vaccinated,” Mr Javid told the health and social care committee. “I think there likely will be a variant that will be trouble in the future.”” – Daily Express

Sunak insists he won’t scrap National Insurance rise – despite pressure to delay

“Rishi Sunak insists he will not scrap the hated National Insurance rise — despite a £13billion “tax windfall”. The Treasury is under massive pressure to shelve the 1.25 percentage point hike to help families. Rosy economic figures out yesterday reveal Britain borrowed £13billion less than expected this year due to the booming economy — enough to cover the £12billion cost of the NI rise in the first year. But Chancellor Mr Sunak and PM Boris Johnson both doubled down on their plans. Mr Sunak suggested he wanted to give the UK wriggle room if the economy gets tight. He said: “Risks to the public finances, including from inflation, make it even more important that we avoid burdening future generations with high debt repayments.” And the PM quashed hopes of a delay to the April rise.” – The Sun

>Today:

Clampdown on late and absent pupils

“More parents could face fines for school absence as the government vows to clamp down on poor attendance. More than half a million children were persistently absent from school, according to the latest figures, but the Department for Education said that there was a “postcode lottery” of how local authorities tackled the problem. New measures will be included in a schools white paper expected in the spring. The department found that there was “a radically different approach to sanctions across the country, with some local authorities issuing no fines in 2020-21 to parents whose children did not attend school, while others issued more than 1,500.” – The Times

Post-Brexit trade deal with India could be bigger than agreement with America

“A post Brexit trade deal with India could be bigger and better than an agreement with the United States, experts have said. The Government is laying on the charm to try to seal a deal with New Delhi as part of a tilt towards the Indo-Pacific. Boris Johnson has sent his senior lieutenants, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss and trade chief Anne Marie Trevelyan, to charm the Indians in recent months. New analysis by the Resolution Foundation (RF) think-tank finds the UK stands to make more money with a tilt towards India than America. Sophie Hale, an RF economist, said a trade deal with India could bring in megabucks – but is also very risky.” – The Sun

News in brief:

Newslinks for Tuesday 25th January 2022

25 Jan

Crisis talks over Ukraine as US troops put on alert

“The prime minister has held crisis talks with his European counterparts, the United States and Nato after he warned that “gloomy” intelligence suggested Russia was planning a lightning raid on Kiev. Speaking as British diplomatic staff and their families left the Ukrainian capital, Boris Johnson said an invasion by President Putin would be a “disastrous step” that could leave Russia bogged down in a bloody and protracted conflict. Johnson added that he did not believe war was inevitable and there was a chance that sense could prevail. He took part in a video call with his US, French, Italian, German and Polish counterparts, as well as the president of the European Commission and the Nato secretary-general. The leaders agreed in the 80-minute meeting that should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen they must enact “swift retributive responses” including an “unprecedented package of sanctions”.” – The Times

  • America puts 8,500 soldiers on high alert as Nato reinforces its frontier – Daily Telegraph
  • Putin’s terrifying threat if West crosses ‘red line’ – Daily Express

More:

  • Johnson warns war would be ‘painful, violent, and bloody’ – The Sun
  • ‘Global Britain’ seeks to show its military worth in Ukraine – FT
  • Europe braces for higher gas prices as risk of Russian invasion grows – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Britain’s strong response to the Ukraine crisis cannot mask decades of strategic failure

Johnson rocked by new Downing Street lockdown party allegation

“Boris Johnson’s premiership was plunged deeper into crisis on Monday after it emerged that he had a birthday party during England’s first lockdown in 2020, despite Covid rules at the time banning indoor social gatherings. Johnson has consistently denied knowledge of parties in Downing Street, but he attended a surprise get-together in the cabinet room to celebrate his birthday in June of that year, along with up to 30 guests. The disclosure of the Downing Street celebration, first reported by ITV News and confirmed by the FT, will fuel concerns among Tory MPs that the prime minister disregarded Covid rules that he imposed on the rest of England. When the gathering took place pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and non-essential shops were closed, while outdoor gatherings were limited to the rule of six. Schools also remained closed to most pupils.” – FT

  • Indoor birthday bash at height of first lockdown – The Sun
  • About 30 guests sang and ate Union Jack cake – The Times
  • MPs expect even more revelations – Daily Mail

More:

  • Gray ‘partygate’ report will not be published in full, Cabinet ministers suggest – Daily Telegraph
  • Getting rid of the prime minister means a general election, Tory MPs told – The Times
  • How No 10’s alleged parties took place as UK Covid death toll rose – The Guardian
  • Culture of rule-breaking or just an extension of the working day? – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The pluses and minuses of working from home

Agnew quits over Treasury’s ‘schoolboy errors’ on Covid fraud

“Boris Johnson’s counter-fraud minister has quit at the dispatch box, attacking the government’s “desperately inadequate” efforts to stop taxpayers’ money being stolen during the Covid pandemic. Lord Agnew of Oulton, who has served as minister for efficiency and transformation since February 2020, accused the government of “schoolboy errors” such as giving Covid loans to companies that were not trading during the pandemic. He said that the Treasury appeared to have “no knowledge or interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society” and that the government machine had been “almost impregnable” to his “endless exhortations” to take the issue seriously. He added that the total cost of fraud to the taxpayer was estimated to be £29 billion a year but that “a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance freezes the government machine” in dealing with the problem.” – The Times

  • ‘It could cut tax by 1p if it took Covid loan fraud seriously’, says outgoing minister – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Former Tory minister, Brine, criticised for lobbying role on Covid contract – The Guardian

Theodore Agnew: Fraud is rampant, and no one in government is paying attention

“On Monday, I took the difficult decision to resign as a government minister in a slightly controversial way. It was a decision not taken lightly. In four and a half years as minister for efficiency and transformation in the Treasury and Cabinet Office, I have rarely been in the public gaze. But the failure of government in tackling fraud is, I believe, so egregious and the need for remedy so urgent that, in the end, I felt the only option was to smash some crockery to get people to take notice. Fraud in government is rampant. Public estimates sit at just under £30bn a year. There is a complete lack of focus on the cost to society, or indeed the taxpayer. The rapid roll out of the government’s bounce-back loan scheme was an important and successful intervention to protect the productive capacity of our economy in the worst peacetime crisis since the second world war. But the cack-handed implementation and catastrophic follow-through is costing us probably hundreds of millions of pounds a month.” – FT

Javid set to face questions over Ghani ‘Muslimness’ sacking

“Sajid Javid is expected to be questioned by the Whitehall investigation into Nusrat Ghani’s claim that her Muslim faith was cited as a reason she was sacked from the Government. The Telegraph has learned that Ms Ghani privately confided in the Health Secretary shortly after she alleged that the Chief Whip told her she was fired as a junior transport minister in part due to her “Muslimness”. Mr Javid acknowledged the seriousness of the claims and urged her to escalate the matter, while honouring her request to keep it confidential, it is understood. Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip, has hit back insisting he “never used those words attributed” by Ms Ghani after the February 2020 reshuffle. He said her claims were “completely false” and added that he believed they were defamatory.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sacking of Muslim MP could trigger equalities inquiry – The Times

>Today: Audio: The Moggcast on Islam and Muslims. “Being on the same side as people who believe in God is tremendously important.”

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Ghani, Spencer, Johnson, anti-Muslim prejudice, justice, the ’22, leadership unrest – and identity politics

Cabinet backs national insurance rise in April, No 10 insists

“Boris Johnson has insisted that his ministers support raising national insurance in April despite growing pressure for a delay. The prime minister insisted that “we’ve got to put the money in” to fund the NHS but would not confirm that the tax would increase by 1.25 percentage points in April as planned. MPs are increasingly nervous that this will coincide with big rises in inflation and energy bills, producing a cost-of-living crisis. Downing Street insisted that the cabinet stood by its plans. A senior minister told the Daily Mail yesterday that there would be “no objection” from anyone in the cabinet if the chancellor proposed a delay. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is reportedly calling the rise “the prime minister’s tax” after Johnson insisted on social care reform last summer. In a deal last September, Sunak agreed to fund a cap on the amount people pay for care on the condition that Johnson publicly accept a tax rise to pay for it.” – The Times

  • Johnson has ‘wiggle room’ to delay National Insurance hike, says top economist – Daily Telegraph
  • Prime Minister under pressure to scrap plans that will exacerbate looming cost of living crisis – FT
  • Frost urges Johnson to scrap planned NI rise, saying it was ‘never necessary or justified’ – Daily Mail

>Today: Gerry Lyons’ column: The Treasury should focus on going for growth as well as balancing the budget

Truss warns Brussels ‘urgent progress’ is needed in talks to end the Northern Irish border stand-off

“Liz Truss last night warned Brussels “urgent progress” is needed in talks to end the Northern Ireland border stand-off. The Foreign Secretary told EU boss Maros Sefcovic the situation is “very difficult” and must be resolved “in short order”. But after fresh negotiations at the bloc’s HQ both sides played down suggestions they’ve set an end of February deadline. Ms Truss said: “I’m absolutely determined to protect political stability and peace in Northern Ireland. “We believe there is a deal to be done. We need to make as much progress as we can in the next few weeks.” Mr Sefcovic said an agreement that would “immediately and significantly” help Northern Irish people and businesses is within reach.” – The Sun

  • EU’s veiled threat as it warns UK must maintain ‘political goodwill’… – Daily Telegraph
  • …and prepares to ‘cut off’ Brexit talks – Daily Express
  • …but ‘talks up prospects of deal’ – The Times

Major Tory donor threatens legal action over £1.2billion electricity cable between England and France

“A major Tory donor behind a £1.2 billion cross-Channel power cable project blocked by the Government is threatening to take legal action. Alexander Temerko said he plans to bring a judicial review against Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s decision against Aquind’s proposed electricity link between Portsmouth and Normandy. And Mr Temerko said he would bring unspecified legal action against trade minister Penny Mordaunt personally, describing her as the ‘biggest threat to security’ after she successfully campaigned against the project. Ms Mordaunt, a former defence secretary, had warned the Aquind link was a threat to Britain’s ‘energy security’ as she urged ministers to prevent the plans going ahead.” – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Kirsty Finlayson in Comment: For the planet’s sake, we need tariffs to boost consumption of British food

News in Brief:

  • The time Sue Gray fired me – Ryan Heath, Politico
  • Inside Operation Save Boris – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • Open lawfare – Elliot Hammer, The Critic
  • As others vacillate, we Ukrainians are grateful for Britain’s support – Aliona Hilvco, CapX
  • Scotland has lost its sense of humour – Daniel Kalder, UnHerd

Newslinks for Monday 24th January 2022

24 Jan

Britain pulls embassy staff out of Ukraine over invasion fears

“Britain has begun to withdraw some of its staff and their families from its embassy in Kiev in response to the mounting Russian threat to Ukraine. The move was confirmed by the Foreign Office after the United States ordered the families of its embassy personnel to leave the country for fear of an imminent invasion. In a statement, the Foreign Office said: “Some embassy staff and dependants are being withdrawn from Kiev in response to the growing threat from Russia. The British embassy remains open and will continue to carry out essential work.” Yesterday the US State Department announced that it had ordered diplomats’ family members to leave the country in a clear sign that the Biden administration is bracing itself for an aggressive Russian move in the region.” – The Times

  • Nato sends ‘ships and fighter jets’ to Eastern Europe as tension grows – Daily Telegraph
  • Biden is considering sending up to 50,000 troops – Daily Mail
  • How the west went public to stop a war in Ukraine – FT

Consequences:

  • Putin could cut UK’s Internet ‘in days’ – Daily Express
  • Britain may be forced to contend with record-breaking prices for gas and petrol – Daily Mail

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: Putin will never have another chance like this to overthrow the European strategic order

“If Mr Putin is to attack, he must act soon. He has a narrow window for a combined-arms invasion with tanks and towed-artillery before the infamous rasputitsa turns the ground into a bog. The military imperative is to lunge deep into Ukraine and deliver a knock-out blow before the mid-March thaw. That is not easy: it took six weeks for Russian forces to clear the Chechen capital of Grozny in urban fighting. Kiev, Kharkiv, Dnipro, Zaporizhzia, and Odessa are all larger. A team of ex-military officers and planners writing for the Atlantic Council say that Mr Putin has over the last week “set the conditions to execute a high intensity, multi-domain attack”.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Thornberry – Putin will take advantage of any weakness we show

No 10 police give ‘extremely damning’ evidence to Gray over ‘partygate’

“Police officers who guard Downing Street have been interviewed by Sue Gray for the “partygate” investigation, The Telegraph can disclose. Members of the Metropolitan Police’s Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Command who were on duty when a string of lockdown-breaking gatherings are alleged to have taken place have provided detailed testimonies about what they witnessed. The statements, described by one source as “extremely damning”, are expected to form a key part of Ms Gray’s report, which is due to be published within days. The senior civil servant has also spoken to the Prime Minister, civil servants and political advisers, and accessed security pass logs and even Boris Johnson’s official diary.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Cummings to be interviewed today – The Sun
  • Raab refuses to confirm full publication of report – The Guardian
  • Johnson still believes he broke no lockdown rules – The Times

Civil service to probe claims ex-minister was sacked in reshuffle over ‘Muslimness’

“Boris Johnson today ordered the Cabinet Office to investigate allegations an ex-minister was sacked over ‘Muslimness’. The PM has instructed the civil service to carry out a probe after the extraordinary claims from Tory MP Nusrat Ghani. The move came after Nadhim Zahawi and Sajid Javid joined calls for a ‘proper’ inquiry – with others suggesting it should be fully independent. A No10 spokeswoman said this morning that Mr Johnson took the allegations ‘very seriously’. ‘The Prime Minister has asked the Cabinet Office to conduct an inquiry into the allegations made by Nusrat Ghani MP,’ the spokeswoman said… Ms Ghani alleged that chief whip Mark Spencer said her faith was partly responsible for her getting the boot in 2020 – something he flatly denies.” – Daily Mail

  • Fresh row threatens to engulf Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Prime Minister  accused of not probing Islamophobia allegations – FT
  • Rayner urges Geidt to investigate – The Times

Comment:

  • Why I’m speaking out against my own party’s Islamophobia – Nusrat Ghani MP, Times Red Box
  • While Boris hangs on, poison is spreading through the Tory party – Nick Timothy, Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Ghani, Spencer, Johnson, anti-Muslim prejudice, justice, the ’22, leadership unrest – and identity politics

We must turn historic Cop26 words into action, says Sharma

“The deal agreed at the Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow is at risk of remaining “just words on a page”, according to the minister who brokered it. Alok Sharma will warn today that the promises made in November may “wither on the vine” unless countries act. The promises include a commitment by all countries to strengthen their climate change targets for 2030 by the end of this year. In a speech at Chatham House, the Cop26 president, will say “There is no doubt that the commitments we secured at Cop26 were historic. Yet at the moment they are just words on a page. “And unless we honour the promises made, to turn the commitments in the Glasgow Climate Pact into action, they will wither on the vine. We will have mitigated no risks. Seized no opportunities. We will have fractured the trust built between nations. And 1.5 degrees will slip from our grasp.”” – The Times

Pressure to scrap National Insurance tax hike as ‘entire cabinet backs delay’

“Boris Johnson is under pressure to scrap the hated National Insurance tax hike – with the entire cabinet backing a delay. They want the hike — set to pay for extra NHS funding and social care — to be shelved for a year to help hard-up Brits cope with rising bills. Brits are braced for a spring bombshell as taxes, energy costs and everyday prices are set to soar because of pandemic pressures. But now its thought the the cabinet as a whole are hoping that Chancellor Rishi Sunak will delay or scrap the plan… The national insurance hike will raise £12billion to £13billion a year for the Treasury. It was supposed to help fund health and social care – however most of the money will go toward clearing the post-Covid NHS backlog.” – The Sun

  • Johnson U-turns over VAT on energy bills – Daily Mail
  • Sunak tried to distance himself from ‘the Prime Minister’s tax’ – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Tax increases are essential to improve social care, says Raab – The Times

>Today: Julian Brazier in Comment: Meet a hidden driver of a bigger state, higher taxes and more regulation. The libertarian movement.

Labour plotting ‘eye-watering tax increases’ as Tories warn £30bn plans will cripple incomes

“Labour has been accused of plotting “eye-watering” tax rises on middle and high earners after analysis showed the party has made more than £90 billion of spending promises. Pledges made by Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, would amount to an extra £2,138 per household if all of them were paid for through general taxation. It comes despite Ms Reeves describing the Conservatives as “the party of high taxation” when she set out her economic policy in a speech earlier this week. She has made it clear that Labour would impose a raft of new wealth taxes if the party won an election, targeting property, shares, capital gains, higher earnings and private schools.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Starmer must be honest about the pain ahead – Clare Foges, The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Wakeford should resign and fight a by-election in Bury South

Newslinks for 23rd January 2022

23 Jan

UK accuses Russia of plotting to install a puppet leader in Ukraine

“Britain has accused Russia of plotting to install a puppet leader in Ukraine as President Putin considers an invasion of the country. Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, took the highly unusual step of declassifying MI6 intelligence that suggests Russian security agencies are seeking to replace the pro-western President Zelensky with Yevhen Murayev, a former Ukrainian MP. Secret intelligence released by the British government this weekend also suggests that four businessmen and former politicians, all from the pro-Kremlin ruling clique toppled by a revolution in Ukraine eight years ago, are working with Russian security officers involved in planning an attack on the country.” – Sunday Times

  • Confusion over UK claim that Putin plans a coup – Observer

Tom Tugendhat: We need to close Britain to Putin’s friends

“Putin’s corrupt acolytes have grown used to the luxuries of London, Paris, and Berlin. They have bought homes, educated children, and invested in businesses to secure their place, and voice, in society. We need to close them down. Golden visas and hidden assets have no place in free markets, and the troops encircling Ukraine should be a wake-up call. This isn’t just oligarchs hiding the profit of crime: our national security is on the line. Only Putin knows if he’s reckless enough to use the frozen ground and the distraction of the Winter Olympics to risk the lives Russian troops and Ukrainian civilians.” – Sunday Telegraph

Other comment

  • This could be Putin’s Afghanistan – Dominic Lawson, Sunday Times
  • Wallace and Truss give me hope – Arlene Foster, Daily Express
  • Johnson’s deceit leaves us weak when we need to be strong – Matthew Syed, Sunday Times
  • Utilising the UK’s oil and gas reserves is not inconsistent with Net Zero – Robert Jenrick, Sunday Telegraph

> Yesterday: ToryDiary – With Westminster fixated on Partygate, Wallace is doggedly ‘keeping his eye on Russia’

Sue Gray has “dialogue” with Scotland Yard and has Downing Street data logs. Her report is now expected later this week

“Sue Gray has had an “ongoing dialogue” with Scotland Yard about her investigation into alleged rule-breaking at Downing Street, but is yet to decide how much to disclose to the public or police amid suggestions her report will be harsher than predicted. The senior civil servant will publish her findings later this week into social gatherings attended by the prime minister and others. They are likely to determine the duration of Johnson’s premiership, with dozens of Tory MPs saying they will reserve judgment until Gray has completed her work.” – Sunday Times

  • Gray has Downing Street data logs – Mail on Sunday
  • Ghani says she was told by a whip that she was sacked after “Muslimness was raised as an issue” at a Downing Street meeting… – Sunday Times
  • …But Spencer says he was the whip in question and that Ghani’s claims are “completely false and I consider them to be defamatory” – Observer
  • Adams, Burns, Docherty and Pincher lead operation to stop a ballot or win it if necessary – Sunday Telegraph
  • The Prime Minister’s fightback campaign – Observer
  • Letters to Brady 1) Aaron Bell submits a no confidence letter – Sunday Times
  • At least one MP has withdrawn a letter, or claims to have done so – Mail on Sunday
  • Wragg takes no confidence letters in to Brady’s office – Sunday Express
  • Have fewer than a dozen MPs actually submitted letters – Observer
  • Johnson “wants Crosby back” – Sun on Sunday
  • Barclay reported to have told Rosenfield that “I wouldn’t piss on you if you were on fire” – Sunday Times
  • Wakeford claims Williamson threatened to cancel a new school in his seat – Sunday Times
  • Crabb, Martin Vickers and Selous suggest police action over parties – Observer
  • Sunak and Truss “on manoeuvres” – Mail on Sunday
  • Labour left horrified by Wakeford’s arrival and pressing for Cornyn’s return – Mail on Sunday

Nadine Dorries: The behaviour of attention-seeking backbenchers risks sabotaging magnificent achievements for Johnson and Britain

“Last week, sadly, a small minority of my colleagues spent their time chasing airtime and column inches because they are determined to remove from office our most successful Prime Minister since Margaret Thatcher. The same old names keep cropping up. As for allegations about threatening behaviour from the whips, I can only imagine what vapours some of them would have had during the long days and nights of the Maastricht vote in 1993, when the party machine went into overdrive to secure a pro-EU majority.  The truth is, the recent portrayal of our whips office is largely out of date and mostly fiction. There is no truth, for example, in lurid claims that dissenting MPs have had funding for their constituencies threatened. Whips simply have no say in what is spent or where.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Johnson 1) He deserves another chance – Andrew Roberts, Mail on Sunday
  • Johnson 2) He’s a Tory hero – Nadhim Zahawi, Sunday Express
  • Johnson 3) I don’t believe that he lied to Parliament – Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph
  • Johnson 4) His enemies are poised to strike – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday
  • Johnson 5) His real enemy: pro-lockdown fanatics – Peter Hitchens, Mail on Sunday
  • The drama in Number Ten needs a good ending – James Graham, Sunday Times
  • Don’t let the pork barrel roll into British politics – Sunday Times Editorial

Other comment:

  • There’s nothing special about the Red Wall – Rob Colvile, Sunday Times
  • Sunak should crush Johnson’s tax rises – Liam Halligan, Sunday Telegraph
  • A new conservatism must advance the working class – Phillip Blond and Matthew Goodwin, Sunday Telegraph

> Today: ToryDiary – Wakeford should resign and fight a by-election in Bury South

Johnson mulls delaying compulsory Covid vaccines for NHS workers

“Compulsory Covid vaccines for NHS workers would be delayed for six months, under eleventh-hour plans being considered by Boris Johnson to help quell a seismic revolt among Tory MPs. On Saturday night, just two weeks before the NHS is due to begin sacking staff who have not had a jab, a Whitehall source said that the requirement is likely to be “kicked down the road”, amid demands by Conservative backbenchers for it to be dropped entirely. The disclosures come ahead of a crucial fortnight for Mr Johnson, as disaffected MPs prepare to submit letters of no confidence if a report by Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, implicates the Prime Minister in wrongdoing over the alleged illicit parties held in Downing Street despite Covid restrictions imposed by No 10.” – Sunday Telegraph

Other political news:

  • “We are deeply concerned that the Government’s recent proposals could criminalise legitimate therapies for children who are suffering from gender dysphoria.” Green, Doyle-Price, Syms and Bradley raise concerns about conversion therapy bill – Sunday Telegraph
  • Tory MPs lobby Sunak to cancel national insurance rise – Sun on Sunday
  • Johnson and Barclay seek to force civil servants back to their desks – Daily Mail
  • Is Mordaunt on resignation watch over Aquind? – Mail on Sunday
  • We need to get the country back to work – Mail on Sunday Editorial
  • Percy wants fine rescinded for minor Covid offences – Mail on Sunday