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Johnson to be cleared of breaking rules over Downing St flat refurbishment

“Boris Johnson is set to be cleared of breaking the ministerial code by an internal Whitehall inquiry into a loan to redecorate his Downing Street residence but his conduct will be criticised, according to senior officials. Lord Christopher Geidt, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, has exchanged a series of letters in recent weeks with the prime minister over further revelations about a £58,000 donation from Lord David Brownlow to refurbish Johnson’s Number 11 Downing Street flat. Although Geidt previously cleared Johnson of breaking the ministerial code over allegations of soliciting a donation from Brownlow, a recent Electoral Commission investigation revealed WhatsApp messages between Brownlow and Johnson.” – FT

  • Geidt ‘re-examined circumstances behind Tory donor’s gift after new details emerged’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Ethics adviser to stay on – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Geidt clears Johnson – and so offers him a glimpse of recovery

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: How our ConHome panel of Tory members divides on Downing Street parties

No need for more Covid curbs, say NHS chiefs

“NHS chiefs do not believe that the threshold for new Covid-19 restrictions has been crossed despite a surge in hospital admissions. The number of patients with the coronavirus on wards in England rose to 11,452 yesterday, the highest since February and up 61 per cent in a week. While concerned by the increase in admissions, NHS leaders have been reassured by the fact that serious illness among the elderly has not risen significantly… Boris Johnson is expected to decide next week whether to implement limits on people mixing indoors. His decision to allow New Year’s Eve parties to go ahead has been condemned by the government’s own senior scientific advisers as No 10 resisted calls to prioritise key workers for Covid-19 tests.” – The Times

  • NHS staffing crisis sees ambulances taken off the road – Daily Mail

More:

  • Johnson says UK doing ‘incomparably better’ against Covid in new year message – The Guardian
  • Wales eases self-isolation rules from 10 days to seven a week earlier than planned – Daily Mail

Javid warns test kits could be rationed

“Lateral flow tests are set to be in short supply for another two weeks as officials grapple with ‘huge demand’, Sajid Javid has admitted. In a letter sent out to all MPs in England last night, the Health Secretary warned supplies would have to be prioritised for vulnerable groups, such as care home residents. He also revealed the UK had trebled its order of lateral flows over January and February, from 100 to 300million. It came as many Britons were left unable to get kits for the third day running — despite ministers urging people to take the swabs before heading out to New Year’s celebrations. The Government website was offering lateral flow tests at 1pm today, but by 1.15pm it was once again telling people none were available.” – Daily Mail

  • Critical workers could be prioritised for Covid tests as cases hit another record high – Daily Telegraph
  • Shortages highlight pressure on supply chain as demand surges – FT

More:

  • Patel slams anti-vaxxers as police investigate mob who stormed Covid testing centre – Daily Mail

Consumers may be spared energy levy to ease pain of soaring bills

“Huge increases in energy bills could be slightly less than feared under proposals to delay charging consumers for the costs of suppliers going bust. Households could be spared from paying a £65 levy that was due to be added to their annual bills from April to cover £1.8 billion of costs stemming from more than 20 supplier failures, under the plans from Ofgem. Energy bills are forecast to rise by as much as 50 per cent, or £700 to a typical £2,000 a year, when the regulator next updates the price cap for 15 million households in April. The expected increase is driven primarily by record high wholesale gas and electricity prices but the costs of supplier failures were due to add to the pain. The government and regulator are looking for ways to reduce the scale of the bill increase amid warnings of a cost of living crisis that will push many households into fuel poverty.” – The Times

>Yesterday: Ed Birkett in Comment: The Energy Price Cap has made the current crisis worse

Workers should get limited pay rises to protect elderly from inflation, says Tory MP

“Workers should be given limited pay rises this year in order to protect pensioners from inflation, a Tory MP has said. Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the Commons, urged restraint in salary increases for working age Britons to help prevent a plunge in the purchasing power of the elderly. Sir Peter’s intervention came amid warnings of a looming cost of living crisis, with soaring energy bills and tax increases next year. His call may raise eyebrows given that workers are set to shoulder the burden of the Government’s funding increase for social care when National Insurance is increased in the spring… While the state pension is protected by a “lock” that means it rises by at least the rate of inflation each year, many supplementary pensions and savings are not linked to inflation.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Six million workers have no savings to buffer against hikes in energy bills and tax – The Sun

‘Cowards’ send ‘traitors hang’ death threat to Tory MP

“A Conservative MP has shared a “traitors hang” death threat that she received and pledged to call out “cowards” seeking to intimidate her. Virginia Crosbie warned that “corrosive behaviour” was driving women out of politics after an image of a noose and a handwritten note were delivered to her constituency office in Holyhead, North Wales. Mrs Crosbie, the MP for Ynys Môn, said the note had been opened by a member of staff two days before Christmas. North Wales Police and parliamentary liaison officers have launched an investigation. Recently, Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, revealed details of the abuse he had suffered both during and after his time in office. In an interview with The Telegraph, Mr Hancock said people had called for his “public execution” and he had been targeted by anti-vaxxers online.” – Daily Telegraph

Dublin urges UK to end deadlock with EU over Northern Ireland

“Gridlocked negotiations between Britain and Brussels over post-Brexit trading arrangements for Northern Ireland should not drag on past February and it is time for the UK to make concessions, Ireland’s foreign minister has said. “We all know that we need to bring this discussion and negotiation to an end,” Simon Coveney told the Financial Times in an interview, highlighting the record of the UK’s new chief Brexit negotiator, foreign secretary Liz Truss, in concluding trade deals. “We have elections in Northern Ireland in May. Those elections will begin in earnest really from the end of February. So this can’t drift on for months,” he said. Truss, who took over the Brexit portfolio this month after the surprise resignation of Lord David Frost, is expected to visit Northern Ireland early next month but has signalled no change in the UK’s stance yet.” – FT

  • Truss urged to make breakthrough on hated Brexit deal – Daily Express
  • Stormont elections must not become referendum on Protocol, warns Coveney – Daily Telegraph
  • Brexit boom as Britain poised to join £9tn trading bloc – Daily Express

Anne-Marie Trevelyan: Next year is Brexit Britain’s year

“We put rocket boosters under our exporters, with our new Made in the UK – Sold to the World export strategy, targeting £1tn of international sales by the end of the decade.   And we’re only just getting started – 2022 is going to be the year when we really get down to business as we open up even more opportunities across the world. It’s going to be a five-star year for international trade, where we will be working on deals with India, the Gulf states, Mexico, Canada, and the 500bn consumers of the huge Trans-Pacific Partnership. And that’s not even including New Zealand, where I’m looking forward to putting pen to paper on the final deal, after reaching agreement in principle in October. And I am determined that the full force of my department will be brought to bear in driving economic growth, creating and supporting highly-paid jobs, and helping to level up the country.” – Daily Express

  • Risk-averse Tories are squandering its new freedoms – Jeremy Warner, Daily Telegraph

‘Thin-skinned’ Raab has snubbed us, say barristers

“The justice secretary Dominic Raab has been branded “thin-skinned” for refusing to meet the representative of 16,000 barristers in England and Wales. Derek Sweeting QC, the head of the Bar Council, said that he has been snubbed by Raab and has not been granted a face-to-face meeting. Since taking over in September, Raab has been under fire from parts of the profession over critical comments about defence lawyers as well as missing the Bar Council’s first physical conference in two years to attend a festival in his constituency… Last month Raab, who is also deputy prime minister, said in the Commons that it was “widespread practice” for defence lawyers to encourage their clients to wait until being in court before pleading guilty or not guilty. This was rejected by lawyers with one accusing Raab of “an attempt to play to the anti-lawyer gallery”.” – The Times

Sturgeon’s war on drugs deaths hit by resignation of key advisers

“Nicola Sturgeon’s war on drugs deaths has descended into chaos after two key advisers quit, blaming pressure from SNP ministers. Catriona Matheson, an expert in substance misuse, and Neil Richardson, a former deputy chief constable, resigned from their roles leading a task force set up to help reverse a trend which has seen Scotland become Europe’s drug deaths capital. They claimed a “demand for speed” from SNP ministers could backfire and suggested that rushing through far-reaching reforms without proper evidence could be unsafe. The First Minister, who has previously admitted her government “took our eye off the ball” as drug deaths spiralled, has said addressing the situation would be her “national mission”.” – Daily Telegraph