‘Tax-raiding’ budget gives Conservatives 13-point poll lead over Labour

“The Conservatives have enjoyed a significant bounce in the polls since Wednesday’s budget despite announcing the biggest tax rises in 30 years. A survey by YouGov found that the Tories had established a 13-point lead over Labour. Their budget was the most popular in a decade, with 55 per cent of people describing it as “fair”. The combination of the continued success of the vaccine scheme, the well-received spending plans and the easing of lockdown restrictions was likely to lead to a “strong” Tory showing in the May local elections, the pollsters said. The news will raise pressure on Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, with one senior party member describing the outlook as “grim” and warning that matters are likely to worsen this summer.” – The Times

  • Investors lambast Sunak’s plans to raise corporation tax – FT
  • Corporation tax rise goes against Tory values, suggests former minister – Daily Telegraph
  • UK scraps EU cap on Covid grants for struggling businesses – FT
  • Councils to raise £7.5bn in stealth tax raid after Sunak relaxes threshold – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Our post-Budget Cabinet League Table. Sunak is still second – though his score is his lowest as Chancellor since Covid.


Prime Minister under pressure to publish ‘levelling-up’ fund criteria

“Boris Johnson is facing calls to publish the criteria by which £4.8bn of “levelling up” funds are being allocated, as Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed that Tory areas were being favoured in what felt like “pork barrel politics”. The row erupted after it emerged that Richmondshire in Rishi Sunak’s constituency in rural North Yorkshire was being treated as a “category one” area for receipt of money from the fund, while areas including Barnsley and Salford were in the second tier. “I think lots of people would scratch their heads and say ‘what is going on here?’” Starmer said, noting that 40 out of 45 towns receiving money from a separate “towns fund” were represented by Conservative MPs. In response to a question from the Financial Times on Wednesday Sunak said that the criteria for allocating money under the “levelling up fund” was based on “an index of economic need”.” – FT

  • Castle in Jenrick’s constituency to be restored using £25m handout – The Times
  • Tories accused of levelling up ‘stitch-up’ over regional deprivation fund – The Guardian


  • The Budget lays the ground for an early election the Tories may regret – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • Sunak has turned into a social media star, but who is he trying to influence? – Marie Le Conte, The Guardian

>Today: Local Government: Labour’s claim that the Towns Fund is skewed for partisan advantage lacks credibility

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The Budget. Sunak’s strong message that operation “level up” is under way.

Johnson faces Tory backlash over masks in classroom…

“The Prime Minister is facing a Tory backlash over face masks in the classroom as 32 MPs demand that the measure is dropped after Easter. Boris Johnson has been told in a letter from the MPs that it is “just not good enough” to impose the measure on millions of secondary pupils given that the evidence that it will help prevent the spread of coronavirus is “pretty thin”. It comes amid rising pressure on the Government over its latest guidance on masks, which says they should be worn by secondary pupils in lessons as well as anywhere indoors at school where it is not possible to socially distance. This goes much further than the earlier official recommendations on face masks in secondary schools.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Longer school years could be split into five terms, says Williamson – The Sun

…and wants ‘Fit Miles’ voucher scheme to help people lose weight

“Boris Johnson says he feels “full of beans” after losing a stone by cutting down on carbohydrates, chocolate and late-night cheese. The prime minister urged the nation to follow his example and lose weight to become happier as well as healthier. He is considering a “Fit Miles” scheme that gives people vouchers to lose weight and exercise after research linked Britain’s dire Covid-19 death rate to its high levels of obesity. Johnson was converted to the cause of interventionism on obesity after becoming convinced that his own experience with the virus was so bad because of his weight. He has promised £100 million to increase the prescription of diets and fitness apps in an expansion of NHS weight-loss schemes and is committed to banning advertisements and discount promotions for unhealthy foods.” – The Times

Brits ‘were misled’ about cost of May and Hammond’s net zero carbon target

“Brits were misled about the cost of the Government’s net zero carbon emissions target by 2050 after Whitehall officials played down the estimated £70billion annual hit. In bombshell emails released after a two-year FOI battle, Treasury civil servants admitted to then-Chancellor Philip Hammond that the cost of going green would likely be £20billion a year more than the £50billion figure they were told to champion publicly. Ex-PM Theresa May legally committed the UK to Net Zero by 2050 before Boris Johnson took over in 2019 – meaning any harmful gases and emissions will have be offset. Internal government modelling from the Department for Business showed it would be 40 per cent higher – reaching £1.275trillion by 2050.” – The Sun

  • UK lacks plan to reach net zero emissions by 2050, say MPs – FT


  • EU judges find Britain guilty of failing to tackle illegal pollution – The Times

Home Office 1) Rutnam, civil servant in Patel bullying row, awarded £340,000

“Ministers have signed off a £340,000 payment to the civil servant who blew the whistle on the Priti Patel bullying scandal. In one of the highest compensation awards made to a departing Whitehall official, the Home Office agreed to settle with Sir Philip Rutnam to avoid an employment tribunal hearing. He was suing the government for constructive dismissal under whistleblowing legislation after claiming that he was forced out of his job for defending his staff against the home secretary. Under the terms of the deal, it is understood that he is not allowed to speak about the allegations that would otherwise have been aired in public at a hearing in September. He resigned last February after The Times revealed details of the bullying allegations against Patel.” – The Times

  • Johnson has ‘full confidence’ in Cabinet Secretary as latter is dragged into royal bullying row – Daily Mail

Home Office 2) Immigration rules changed to help NHS plug vacancies gap

“Priti Patel tweaked immigration rules yesterday to make it easier for the NHS and social care providers to recruit staff from abroad after the Covid-19 crisis. Senior care workers, nursing assistants and pharmacists are among several professions that were added to the government’s list of occupations with labour shortages. It will be easier for foreign workers in these sectors to obtain a skilled work visa in the UK as long as they are offered a job with a salary of at least £20,000. The government also announced that its new two-year visas for graduates will open for applications in July. All international students will be able to stay in the UK for up to two years after completing their degree without having a job.” – The Times

  • Health minister sparks fury by claiming one per cent pay rise for NHS nurses is ‘most we can afford’ – The Sun


  • Brexit allows us to be immigration liberals – James Forsyth, The Times

Conservative rebellion grows over cuts to UK aid spending

“The government is facing a growing rebellion over cuts to aid spending and senior Conservatives say it is likely to be defeated if it asks MPs to vote on the issue. Cuts to UK aid to Yemen, which is facing a humanitarian crisis, are said to have galvanised backbench opposition to broader cuts, which is now enough to cause the government serious difficulty in passing a vote in the Commons or the Lords. The former international development secretary Andrew Mitchell said the government should bring a vote as soon as possible to test the view of MPs. “This week’s announcement on Yemen has shifted opinion yet further away from breaking a promise to the poorest and the manifesto commitment upon which we were all elected,” he said.” – The Guardian

  • Johnson ‘fears Carrie’s Number 10 makeover may cost £200,000’ – Daily Mail

EU will launch legal action against Britain ‘very soon’ over Northern Ireland

“Brussels has warned it will launch legal action “very soon” after Britain unilaterally delayed implementation of part of the Brexit deal relating to Northern Ireland. Maros Sefcovic, the European Commission vice-president, said the announcement by the Government on Wednesday was a “very negative surprise”. Boris Johnson has plunged deeper into the bitter row with the EU by announcing fresh measures in Northern Ireland, and the bloc on Thursday has threatened to hit Britain with trade tariffs if it fails to back down. Just hours after the UK moved to unilaterally extend grace periods for Northern Irish supermarkets by six months, the Government announced it would now seek to ease trade barriers on parcels.” – Daily Telegraph


  • Italy uses EU rule to stop the export of Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine – The Times

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Frost’s appointment shows the Government is not resigned to the Northern Ireland Protocol

Brandon Lewis: Our lawful steps are consistent with a good faith implementation of the Northern Ireland Protocol

“The temporary, pragmatic easements we have made do not change the legal obligations set out in the Protocol, and we will continue to discuss Protocol implementation in the Joint Committee. They are consistent with the common trade practice adopted by countries internationally – including by many EU Member States. It is vital the EU also recognise the serious, ongoing consequences of their actions in January when they sought to improperly invoke Article 16 – the emergency safeguards clause in the Protocol – seeking to introduce controls on vaccines to Northern Ireland. Not only did this action go right to the heart of the sense of identity for Unionist communities, it was also completely contrary to spirit of the Protocol, in breach of the balance provided by the Good Friday Agreement and continues to seriously undermine cross-community confidence in the Protocol’s operation.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Brexit risks pushing the Province to the brink – John Kampfner, The Times
  • The EU is jeopardising the Belfast Agreement – Kate Hoey, Daily Telegraph


>Today: Iain Dale’s column: The EU has no interest in Northern Ireland’s future prosperity. It just sees it as a mechanism to exert its power.

Drakeford says ‘remote’ Johnson is putting Union at risk

“The Welsh first minister has criticised how the UK government engages with the devolved administrations and suggested Downing Street’s approach is putting the union in peril. Mark Drakeford described his own relationship with Boris Johnson as “remote”, revealing he had only had one proper meeting with the prime minister. Giving evidence at the UK parliament’s Welsh affairs committee from an outbuilding in his garden because he is self-isolating, Drakeford said: “There is no institutional architecture to make the United Kingdom work. It is all ad hoc, random, and made up as we go along. And I’m afraid that really is not a satisfactory basis to sustain the future of the UK.” Drakeford said the lack of regular meetings made the “security of the future of the UK” more difficult.” – The Guardian

Sturgeon ‘will not pledge to resign’ if found to have breached ministerial code

“Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday suggested she will try to cling on as First Minister even if an independent inquiry finds she broke the ministerial code of conduct in the Alex Salmond scandal. Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader, used First Minister’s Questions at Holyrood to challenge Ms Sturgeon on whether she agreed that “any minister who is found in breach” of the code should resign – the usual sanction for such an offence. But the First Minister refused to provide any guarantee she would honour the convention, instead telling MSPs that “we can debate in this chamber” what her punishment should be if she is found to have flouted the code. She made clear she will lead the SNP into May’s Holyrood election – despite chastising the Tories for “prejudging” two inquiries that are yet to report back with their conclusions.” – Daily Telegraph

  • First Minister set to survive any confidence vote after Greens signal support – FT


  • Johnson must hold firm on refusing a Scottish independence referendum – Henry Hill, Daily Telegraph
  • There’s no such thing as true independence – Alexander Walker, The Times

>Yesterday: Profiles: Galloway, who “is going to vote for Beelzebub, I’m going to vote for a Scottish Tory”

Speaker outlines roadmap for MPs’ return to Commons

“A “roadmap” is being drawn up to steer the House of Commons back to normality as the coronavirus crisis eases and frustrations grow about most MPs having to participate virtually. Sir Lindsay Hoyle revealed to the Guardian he was putting together a plan that would retain the “bonuses” of parliament’s rapid modernisation, but drop some of the tough restrictions on proceedings. He said the document, due to be discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission next Monday, would follow the latest advice from Public Health England. Hoyle voiced hopes that it could follow the government’s roadmap to ease measures in England by 21 June – the earliest point that England can enter the final phase of unlocking.” – The Guardian

News in Brief:

  • Are loyalists plotting a return to violence? – Ian Acheson, The Spectator
  • Sunak kicks the welfare can down the road – James Heywood, CapX
  • The Pope can’t save Iraq’s Christians – Max Joseph, UnHerd
  • How is Labour shaping up under Starmer? – Tom Hamilton, The Critic