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SNP divisions grow as Sturgeon enrages former deputy leader by ‘questioning Salmond trial verdict’

“Nicola Sturgeon was on Thursday struggling to contain a growing SNP rebellion after she was accused of using “weasel words” to question the innocence of Alex Salmond. Jim Sillars, a former deputy leader of the party, lodged a formal complaint that the First Minister had breached the ministerial code with comments she made in a press briefing on Wednesday. Ms Sturgeon launched an outspoken attack on her predecessor, claiming his conduct towards women, rather than the conspiracy he has alleged, were the “root” of claims against him. She added that just because he had been cleared of criminality, “that doesn’t mean that the behaviour [women] complained of didn’t happen.”” – Daily Telegraph

  • He will give evidence to Holyrood inquiry today – Daily Mail
  • She is accused of trashing Scotland’s reputation to ‘save her own skin’ – The Sun
  • First Minister takes aim at predecessor’s ego – The Times
  • Sturgeon accused of presiding over ‘culture of secrets and cover up’ – FT
  • SNP at risk of ‘splintering’ before independence – Daily Express
  • Scotland is being run like a ‘tin-pot dictatorship’, says Fox – The Sun

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: The SNP’s disdain for MSPs is discrediting the Scottish Parliament

Johnson to lead ‘new committee’ on Union

“Boris Johnson will lead a new cabinet committee on the Union after a month of tumult in the government’s efforts to combat Scottish nationalism. Downing Street said that the prime minister would chair regular meetings of a “Union strategy committee”, less than a week after his handpicked chief of the Downing Street Union unit quit a fortnight after his appointment. Oliver Lewis, a former head of research at Vote Leave who was Dominic Cummings’s most senior remaining ally in No 10, left Downing Street last Friday amid claims that he had been accused by the prime minister and his fiancée of briefing against Michael Gove. His predecessor, Luke Graham, a former MP for Ochil & South Perthshire, was sacked earlier this month after less than a year in the job.” – The Times

  • Prime Minister reshapes chaotic strategy to combat Scottish independence – FT
  • He rules out second independence referendum – Daily Mail

More:

  • Scottish Tories to portray new Labour leader as soft on separatism – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The Union policy Lewis wanted, why he left – and how his unit will replaced by a Cabinet committee

Fraser Nelson: The Salmond scandal has shattered my belief in devolution

“Devolution now looks like a chimera. Power was never really devolved to the people: it has instead been hoarded by politicians in Edinburgh. Powers to choose or even set up state schools, granted in England, have been denied to Scots. Patient power, another Blair-era reform, was confined to England. There is no Scottish Andy Burnham figure, no city mayor, challenging government. Even the regional police forces have been merged into Police Scotland. At every stage, power has been centralised. The SNP’s grip over that system – formal and informal – is amazing to behold. In London, some ministers are now talking about what can be done about Scotland.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Feud could derail Scottish independence – Martin Kettle, The Guardian

>Today: ToryDiary: The red white and blue archipelago: how localism can sustain the Union.

>Yesterday: Roderick Crawford in Comment: Northern Ireland. The Belfast Agreement gave it a stability which this Brexit protocol threatens to undermine.

Tories ‘face losing the whip’ if they rebel on the Budget

“The chancellor is facing a mounting backlash over his plans to raise taxes as he seeks to stabilise the public finances. The Times disclosed last week that Sunak will use his budget to announce plans to increase corporation tax from 19 per cent to 25 per cent over the course of this parliament. The move, which will raise £3 billion for every 1 per cent rise, has prompted an outcry from Tory backbenchers. Downing Street has made clear that any MPs who vote down the budget will be stripped of the whip. David Cameron, the former Conservative prime minister, warned Sunak that tax rises “wouldn’t make any sense at all” as he compared the coronavirus crisis to wartime. He said that “piling [on] tax increases” before the economy had fully reopened would be the wrong approach.” – The Times

  • Sunak ‘plans tax raid on pensioners’ – Daily Mail
  • Chancellor will call for ‘honesty’ about spending as he is warned against tax rises – Daily Telegraph
  • Sunak to unveil new business loan and scrap emergency schemes – FT
  • Dozens of Tory MPs urge him to slash beer duty – The Sun

>Today: Ben Houchen in Comment: The Budget. On Wednesday, Sunak must hear the voice of the North – and kickstart a new era of job creation.

>Yesterday: James Somerville-Meikle in Comment: Sunak should make supporting families a priority in his Budget

Johnson promises parents teacher grading system for A Levels and GCSEs will be ‘fair’

“Boris Johnson today promised parents the new teacher grading system for A Levels and GCSEs this summer will be “fair” and “durable”. The PM admitted it would have been better if students were able to take exams but that wasn’t possible because the pandemic forced school closures. He made the remarks after meeting Year 7 students during a visit to the Accrington Academy, in Lancashire, this morning… It comes with teens set for a record haul of GCSEs and A levels this year with officials abandoning trying to control soaring grades. Normal summer exams have been ditched and teachers will instead decide what results students get, with the help of voluntary “mini” subject tests.” – The Sun

  • Teachers and education experts warn new A-Level and GCSE plan will be ‘wide open to abuse’ – Daily Mail
  • Universities brace for A-level grade inflation – FT

More:

  • Masks and tests not compulsory at English schools, says minister – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Teachers deciding pupils’ final exam grades is another blow for underdog children – Sarah Vine, Daily Mail

>Today: Iain Dale’s column: Teaching unions are loud but wrong on vaccines. Besides, what about those without powerful public advocates?

>Yesterday:

Aloof’ Civil Service needs private sector overhaul, says Finn

“The civil service needs to recruit more from outside of London to overhaul a perception the political system is “aloof, arrogant, remote”, the Prime Minister’s new deputy chief of staff has said. Baroness Finn has also called for Whitehall to draft in more expertise from the private sector as part of a drive to boost commercial awareness and risk appetite at the heart of Government. A veteran ally of Michael Gove, the peeress has been a non-executive board member at the Cabinet Office since last May and was promoted this month to become a senior aide in No 10. She is well-versed in the mechanics of Government, having previously worked as a special adviser to Lord Maude, the architect of a proposed civil service overhaul during David Cameron’s administration.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Success of ‘levelling-up’ depends on Civil Service drawing on talent from across UK – Simone Finn, Daily Telegraph

UK lowers Covid alert level as hospital admissions fall

“The UK has lowered its Covid-19 alert status from the highest possible level for the first time since early January, reflecting a sustained reduction in the number of people being admitted to hospital with the disease. The department of health said on Thursday that “following advice from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and in the light of the most recent data”, the four UK chief medical officers including Chris Whitty, UK chief medical adviser, and Stephen Powis, NHS England national medical director, “agree that the UK alert level should move from level 5 to level 4 in all four nations”. Level 5 denotes a “material risk” of the NHS being overwhelmed, while level 4 means the Covid-19 epidemic “is in general circulation” and “transmission is high or rising exponentially”.” – FT

  • Hancock press conference: Vaccine victory as under-50s to receive jab – Daily Express
  • Vaccine may ease long Covid suffering – The Times
  • Many millenials ‘will only get Covid jab if vaccine passports are brought in for gigs and festivals’ – The Sun
  • Vaccination passports ‘will be here by summer’ – The Times
  • Scotland ‘not close’ to eliminating Covid-19 despite Sturgeon claims – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Queen says refusing vaccine is selfish – Daily Telegraph
  • Merkel refuses AstraZeneca Covid vaccine amidst calls to lead by example – The Times
  • France jab crisis ‘makes third wave inevitable’ – The Sun

Cabinet Office dismisses complaint about minister over ‘Twitter tirade at journalist’

“The Cabinet Office has dismissed a complaint about the equalities minister by arguing her tirade at a journalist was issued from a personal Twitter account. Kemi Badenoch was criticised for accusing Nadine White of “creepy and bizarre” behaviour after the HuffPost reporter sent a standard request for comment to a government press office. The minister published correspondence between the journalist and officials in launching the attack, which led to an alert about the risk to media freedom being registered with the Council of Europe. The Cabinet Office permanent secretary, Alex Chisholm, responded to a formal complaint from HuffPost by saying Badenoch is responsible for her own conduct on her social media account.” – The Guardian

MoD faces exodus of young soldiers ‘because of shabby accommodation’, warns Francois

“The MoD is facing an exodus of young soldiers because of shabby accommodation without hot water for showers, MPs have heard. Concerns about the Armed Forces’ single living accommodation were raised by Mark Francois MP, the former Armed Forces minister, and Sir Geoffrey Clifton Brown, MP for the Cotswolds, who questioned the quality of housing and highlighted the lack of available hot water. Mr Francois told the Public Accounts Committee that soldiers were regularly returning from exercises without the ability to have hot showers afterwards due to “inadequate” living quarters. As a result, Mr Francois said this was “directly undermining our operational capability”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Royal Marine Commandos to take on special forces roles – The Times

More:

  • Army sends drones to France to catch migrants crossing Channel – The Times

Labour to state ‘non-negotiable’ support for UK’s nuclear weapons

“Labour’s commitment to maintaining the UK’s nuclear weapons is “non-negotiable”, the party’s shadow defence minister, John Healey, is expected to say in a speech on Friday, emphasising a deliberate shift in tone from the Jeremy Corbyn era. In a speech that implicitly acknowledges the perception by some within Labour that Corbyn’s public doubts over nuclear weapons and Nato helped damage the party’s reputation with certain voters, Healey will also stress the party’s commitment to the North Atlantic alliance, and to maintaining a viable UK defence industry. While Labour’s 2017 and 2019 manifestos both pledged to support the renewal of the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine system, and to back multilateral rather than unilateral nuclear disarmament efforts, these were very obviously compromises accepted by Corbyn.” – The Guardian

MPs to hold inquiry on smart motorways

“The government may have to consider reforms to smart motorways because public confidence in them has been dented by a rise in deaths, MPs said. The cross-party transport committee said that there were “genuine worries” about the operation of motorways without a hard shoulder after a number of deaths in live vehicle lanes. The committee said it was beginning an inquiry into whether there were better alternatives. Last night Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, welcomed the inquiry and called on the government to reinstate the hard shoulder on all stretches until it had been completed.” – The Times

  • Shapps told MPs earlier this year that smart motorways ‘should be safer’ – The Sun

News in Brief:

  • Sunak should think twice about any rise in corporation tax – John Ashmore, CapX
  • The spectre of totalitarianism in our universities – Edward Skidelsky, The Critic
  • In defence of moral panics – Niall Gooch, UnHerd
  • Why I joined the trans debate – James Kirkup, The Spectator