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Prime Minister braced for big Tory rebellion over Covid measures

“Boris Johnson is facing a major Conservative rebellion over Covid-19 restrictions next week, as a “sulphurous” mood sweeps through Tory ranks over the UK prime minister’s leadership. Johnson is braced for a torrid seven days, with Conservative unrest playing out ahead of a highly problematic parliamentary by-election in North Shropshire, where the Liberal Democrats hope to overturn a 23,000 Tory majority. The prime minister has infuriated Conservative MPs with his handling of a row over Christmas parties in Downing Street last year when London was under stringent coronavirus restrictions. But Johnson was under fresh pressure on Thursday after ITV News reported that Jack Doyle, Johnson’s communications director, was present at an event attended by Downing Street staff on December 18.” – FT

  • Vaccine passports leave Johnson facing his biggest revolt yet – The Times
  • Leadership challengers begin to stir – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Ministers draw up proposals to reintroduce masks in all indoor spaces… – Daily Mail
  • …rule out further business support under new Covid restrictions – FT
  • How to get around new Covid rules – The Sun
  • Pfizer boss says fourth jab will be needed – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: Viva the vaccine passport rebellion

‘Pingdemic’ strikes as three ministers forced to isolate after positive Covid test

“Three Cabinet ministers were self-isolating on Thursday after the Australian deputy prime minister, who they met earlier this week, tested positive for Covid-19. Dominic Raab, the Deputy Prime Minister, Michael Gove, the Communities Secretary, and Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, were the three ministers. They all met Barnaby Joyce while he was visiting the UK. Mr Joyce tested positive after flying to the US. If Mr Joyce is found to have caught the omicron variant of Covid then, under the current rules, all three of the politicians may have to self-isolate for 10 days. Current rules in England state that if someone is deemed to have come into contact with a person who has omicron, there is a 10-day mandatory isolation which cannot be broken by a negative Covid test result.” – Daily Telegraph

  • It’s time to punish Britain’s five million vaccine refuseniks – Andrew Neil, Daily Mail

Johnson’s senior aide ‘gave awards at No 10 Christmas party’

“The prime minister’s now director of communications addressed staff and handed out awards at a party in Downing Street last Christmas that is now under investigation, it has been reported. Jack Doyle, who was then deputy director of communications at No 10, addressed up to 50 people at the gathering on 18 December 2020, ITV News reported. Doyle spoke to the press office to thank them for their work, as he did every week, and presented some awards to mark the team’s efforts, it has been claimed. Downing Street and Doyle have been approached for comment. Political commentators have said Doyle’s presence at the party is significant because as director of communications he would have been behind the government’s confused messaging since the revelations of the party surfaced in the Daily Mirror.” – The Guardian

  • Prime Minister launches probe into Christmas party he was accused of attending – The Sun
  • It had been ‘planned for weeks’; invitations sent in November – Daily Mail
  • Adviser silent as seen for first time since leaked video – The Sun
  • Two more aides under pressure – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Ross dials up the pressure on Johnson over ‘partygate’ and vaccine passports

Standards adviser Lord Geidt ‘on brink of quitting’ over Downing Street flat

“Boris Johnson’s standards adviser was on the brink of quitting on Thursday night following accusations that the Prime Minister misled him over the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat. The Telegraph understands Lord Geidt will consider his position if Mr Johnson does not satisfactorily explain why he did not share vital evidence with him when he investigated the affair earlier this year. On Thursday, the Electoral Commission fined the Conservative Party £17,800 for breaking rules on reporting donations after its own investigation – which included the “missing” evidence – found Mr Johnson had asked a Tory donor to fund the makeover. The potential resignation of Lord Geidt would put Mr Johnson’s leadership under even greater pressure.” – Daily Telegraph

  • WhatsApp message shows prime minister asked Tory donor for renovation cash – The Times
  • Labour accuses Johnson of lying over Downing St refurbishment donation – FT
  • The money trail, inquiries and questions still to answer – The Guardian
  • Can Boris survive? – Daily Mail

Poll blow for Tories as trust in Johnson falls

“The Conservatives have slumped to their worst poll rating in 11 months as the prime minister battles on several fronts. Tory MPs turned on Boris Johnson over plans for new Covid restrictions as a YouGov poll for The Times found that Labour had a four-point lead, its biggest since January when the country was in the middle of the winter lockdown. More than two thirds of voters are also now questioning Johnson’s integrity over his response to a Downing Street Christmas party held while London was, in effect, locked down. He has said he was repeatedly assured that there was no party and that no Covid rules were broken. The prime minister faces a rebellion next week with more than 50 Tory MPs expected to vote against his plans for vaccine passports in the biggest Commons revolt of his premiership. Some Tory MPs think that the number of rebels could be closer to 100.” – The Times

  • Conservatives now four points behind Labour – The Sun
  • Two thirds of voters question his integrity – Daily Mail
  • Tories lose three local by-elections – Daily Express

>Today: Dr Sarah Ingham’s column: Under Johnson, the Marie Antoinette of our times, a Labour government is no longer unimaginable

James Forsyth: Johnson-haters in the Tory party can smell blood

“In the aftermath of the Paterson affair, Downing Street talked about just getting to Christmas, thinking that would give them a chance to regroup. But they are now waiting nervously for the by-election result from Paterson’s old seat of North Shropshire next week. This is the kind of constituency where they normally weigh the Tory vote. Losing it would spark a mass panic among Tory MPs. But the party’s hopes of holding it are now dependent on the anti-Tory vote splitting between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. A consolation for Johnson is that he doesn’t face one concerted block of opposition in his parliamentary party. There is, unlike with Theresa May, no one organised faction trying to arrange the letters needed for a no- confidence vote in him. But the danger for him is that the anger in the parliamentary party is more diffuse than that, it is not confined to any one ideological grouping. “All the people who hate Boris now sense blood,” warns one pro-Johnson cabinet minister.” – The Times

  • This fractious Cabinet doesn’t want to topple Boris, it wants to control him – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: A vote of no confidence in Johnson has suddenly become more likely than not

Stuart to oversee senior civil servant appointments

“Boris Johnson is set to appoint the Brexiteer, Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston, to a role that would oversee the appointments of senior civil servants. As Gisela Stuart, she chaired the Vote Leave campaign in 2016, and is currently the Government’s preferred candidate to become the new Civil Service commissioner. The crossbench peer said that she was “very honoured” to have her name put forward for the role, which would scrutinise appointments to the Civil Service and ensure that they are made on merit and on the basis of fair and open competition. She tweeted: “Building on the important work done by my predecessors, I am committed to maintain the excellence and impartiality of our Civil Service.” The former Labour MP campaigned with Mr Johnson as part of the Vote Leave campaign and made headlines for urging Labour voters to switch allegiances to the Tories in the 2019 general election to “get Brexit done”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Critics say political figure who chaired Vote Leave should not head body ensuring impartiality of civil service – The Guardian

Britain must learn to fight in the Arctic in battle against Russia, says minister

“Britain must learn to fight in the Arctic as melting ice caps provide a new battleground with Russia, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace warned. Moscow has beefed up its brigade there and regularly uses its High North bases to threaten the heart of Europe, he said. Speaking on a visit to Swedish Lapland, inside the Arctic Circle, the former Army officer declared: “The Arctic is incredibly important. “Because of climate change, it’s growing as a place not only of dispute, but also of opportunity.” Britain needed to learn to “deploy rapidly to the High North if we need to support our allies”, he added, pointing to the threat from Russian long-range bombers and hunter killer subs based there. The Royal Marines are Britain’s specialist arctic troops but Wallace said a new Arctic Strategy, due next year, would see more troops spend more time in the High North.” – The Sun

>Yesterday:

Brexit fish wars could escalate after UK says France will not get all remaining 104 licences

“France will not get all the 104 remaining licences it has demanded in the Brexit fish wars, British government sources warned on Thursday. Britain is only asking French fishermen to prove that they have fished four days out of 1,460 over 2012 to 2016 to qualify for a licence to fish UK waters. Despite that, more than 100 boats have been unable to prove they have carried out historic fishing activity, which is a condition of the Brexit fishing agreement. France has set a deadline of Friday for a “significant” gesture in granting the permits or Paris would retaliate with port blockades and litigation. Downing Street said it did not recognise the deadline and has previously warned any blockades could draw legal action for breach of the Brexit trade deal.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Macron seeks March summit on EU fiscal rules – FT

Raab clashes with Patel over her call to reform Human Rights Act

“Dominic Raab is blocking Priti Patel’s demands for an overhaul of human rights laws amid a cabinet rift over the reforms, The Times has learnt. The home secretary is understood to be pushing for a wider reform of the Human Rights Act to make it harder for foreign criminals and failed asylum seekers to avoid deportation. Patel wants to make it more difficult for people to claim that they would face torture, inhuman or degrading treatment if they were deported to their home countries. Article 3 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), which the Human Rights Act enshrined in law in 1998, prohibits signatories from actions that would lead to people facing “torture, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment”. Patel wants to add a legal definition of Article 3 into the act to prevent judges making “subjective” decisions on what conditions may be faced after deportation.” – The Times

  • UK warned its new immigration rules will harden Irish land border – FT

>Yesterday: Dominic Raab MP in Comment: For too long, victims have been let down by the criminal justice system. Today’s proposals will change that.

News in Brief:

  • These Covid measures are a mess – Matthew Lesh, CapX
  • Agony of the anti-lockdown centrists – Daniel Hadas, UnHerd
  • Three problems facing Johnson – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • Revolving door ideologues – Caroline Ffiske, The Critic

And finally… Boris and Carrie Johnson announce birth of baby girl

“Boris Johnson’s wife, Carrie, has given birth to a baby girl, they have announced, a second child for the couple and at least the seventh for the prime minister. “The prime minister and Mrs Johnson are delighted to announce the birth of a healthy baby girl at a London hospital earlier today,” a statement said. “Both mother and daughter are doing very well. The couple would like to thank the brilliant NHS maternity team for all their care and support.” The girl is a sister to their son, Wilfred, born in April 2020. The couple were married in a secret ceremony in May this year. Johnson had four children, all now in their 20s, with his second wife, the barrister Marina Wheeler. The couple’s divorce was finalised in 2020 after 25 years of marriage. He also has at least one other child from an extramarital relationship. Johnson has repeatedly refused to say precisely how many children he has fathered, although in an interview with NBC in September he affirmed he had six.” – The Guardian

  • Prime Minister to take time off after birth of baby – The Times