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Senior Tory accuses ministers of ‘blackmail’ against rebel MPs

“A senior Conservative MP has accused ministers of breaching the ministerial code by making threats to rebel colleagues who are considering trying to topple Boris Johnson. William Wragg urged the MPs to go the police, saying: “The reports of which I’m aware would seem to constitute blackmail.” The sensational accusation comes after some MPs considering submitting letters demanding a vote of no confidence in the prime minister reported receiving threats. They were said to include pulling investment from their constituencies – even in target ‘Red Wall’ seats – or them losing out in boundary shake-ups. Mr Wragg, the chair of the public administration committee, protested about the tactics as he quizzed Stephen Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister.” – The Independent

  • Rebels threaten police action amid blackmail claims – Daily Telegraph
  • We have texts and a recording, say angry MPs – The Times
  • Prime Minister rocked by ‘sensational’ claims… – The Sun
  • …as he rips up diary to woo wavering MPs – Daily Mail

More:

  • Davison denies being part of the ‘Pork Pie Plot’ – Daily Mail
  • Who are the 2019 plotters? – FT
  • How flailing enforcers are pushing MPs away from Johnson – Daily Telegraph
  • Heseltine warns Brexit could be undone if Johnson resigns – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: Blackmail and misconduct. There’s no reason to doubt Wragg’s claims. Ministers, SpAds and whips are dangerously exposed.

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Wragg says that Ministers and Spads appear to have been blackmailing Conservative MPs

Fraser Nelson: Johnson deserves one last chance, but he may be incapable now of taking it

“Here’s my case. No leader, anywhere, has emerged from Covid-19 covered in glory. Britain ended up with a fatality rate around the European average but needlessly extended lockdowns gave us the worst economic damage. Such damage can be repaired, but the all-important question is whether it will be. This No 10 soap opera, dismal though it is, matters less than whether we can rebuild. And here, Johnson can ask to be judged by his achievements. It is starting to look like the pandemic left a smaller economic scar than anyone imagined, with recovery running about a year ahead of what was feared just after lockdown. The furlough scheme, while hugely expensive, seems to have worked. As have the jabs: Britain’s booster protection levels are now higher than any European country save for Denmark…” – Daily Telegraph

  • Tory civil war could drag on to the summer – James Forsyth, The Times

Hundreds of combat ready British troops could be sent to Ukraine’s Nato neighbours

“Hundreds of combat ready British troops could be sent to Ukraine’s NATO neighbours to bolster their security forces amid the threat of a Russian invasion. Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania and Poland could all see an increase in NATO personnel after its member states held talks over expanding their presence in the region. Britain already has 830 troops, tanks armoured military vehicles, self-propelled artillery, air-defence, intelligence assets and engineers in Estonia, where it is leading a battle group of 1,200. More than 300 French troops are set to join them… Meanwhile, British Foreign Secretary Liz Truss is expected today to urge the West’s allies to ‘step up’ in solidarity with Ukraine in the face of perceived Russian aggression, in a speech in Sydney.” – Daily Mail

  • Regular deployment in Estonia could be reinforced at short notice – The Times

More:

  • Biden hardens warning to Russia after Kiev says no attack is ‘minor’ – FT

>Yesterday: Garvan Walshe’s column: Ukraine, Putin, and Russia. It’s time for belligerency short of war.

Truss aims to agree NI protocol deal with EU by end of February

“Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, will travel to Brussels on Monday with a target of agreeing a deal with the EU on the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland by the end of February. The two sides have agreed that a window of opportunity for an agreement will close when campaigning starts for May’s elections to the Northern Ireland assembly. Maroš Šefčovič, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, who will host Truss in Brussels on Monday, told MEPs in a private briefing there had been a positive tone to his discussions with the foreign secretary at her official country residence last week. Truss took over responsibility for Brexit issues after David Frost’s resignation in January. But for all that Truss had expressed confidence she would be able to build momentum in favour of a deal, Šefčovič said there was as yet no sign of a change in the UK’s negotiating positions.” – The Guardian

  • Johnson ‘blew £900,000’ to find out bridge from Scotland to Northern Ireland is too expensive to build – The Sun

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Why does Truss say there is a ‘deal to be done’ on the Protocol? The fundamentals are unchanged

Wakeford must hold a by-election, demands Javid

“Tory turncoat Christian Wakeford must hold a by-election after switching to Labour, Sajid Javid blasted today. The Health Secretary threw down the gauntlet to the Bury South MP and urged him to put his defection decision to the voters. Mr Wakeford previously supported a law-change requiring MPs who cross the floor to fight a fresh ballot. Challenging him to stick to his word, confident Mr Javid said: “It should be up to the people of Bury South. Let them choose. Let them decide.” But senior Tories are privately petrified of the prospect of a by-election for fear of being hammered. Mr Wakeford only sneaked the uber-marginal Red Wall seat by 402 votes in 2019 for the Conservatives.” – The Sun

  • Rees-Mogg joins push for rule change – Daily Telegraph
  • ‘We don’t like turncoats!’ Tory MPs rally behind Johnson – Daily Express
  • Labour activists tell Tory defector they want a by-election – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • Bury South’s outrage at turncoat MP – Robert Hardman, Daily Mail

Gray ‘uncovers email warning on No 10 drinks’

“The senior civil servant who is investigating claims of lockdown-breaking parties in 10 Downing Street has found a crucial email from an official warning against a drinks event in May 2020. Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, has claimed that a “very senior official” warned a top civil servant that inviting more than 100 staff to a “bring your own booze” event in the Downing Street garden would break lockdown rules. The warning came in response to the invitation sent by Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary. When the invitation was leaked this month it sparked the gravest crisis yet of Johnson’s premiership. The fact that the response to Reynolds from a senior official has been uncovered by Sue Gray, who is conducting the internal inquiry, will buoy opponents of Johnson although it does not confirm that the prime minister was told in advance that the event breached lockdown rules.” – The Times

  • Discovery may not categorically undercut Boris Johnson’s defence – Daily Telegraph

Rule confusion as Johnson axes coverings, but Javid insists he will still wear one in shops

“Sajid Javid  today insisted he’ll carry on wearing a face mask when he goes shopping even after the legal requirement to do so is lifted. The health secretary was accused of sending out “mixed” messages to the public as he said he’ll still cover up when visiting local stores. Yesterday the PM announced that the rules requiring many people to wear face coverings in public places will be lifted from next Thursday morning. Under the Plan B measures to tackle the Omicron wave in England using face masks is still a legal requirement in many settings. These included trains and buses as well as supermarkets and high street shops, banks, post offices, cinemas, theatres, and during taxi rides.” – The Sun

  • Prime Minister hails ‘normality’ as commuters return to office after Omicron… – The Times
  • …but schools defy him as they insist face masks must stay in class – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Scrap the unreliable daily Covid data updates, say experts – Daily Telegraph
  • Drakeford announces lifting of outdoor restrictions – Daily Mail

>Today: Dr Sarah Ingham’s column: The Government’s Covid response could soon register as the biggest public policy disaster in Britain’s history

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Covid and restrictions – the end of an era?

Ministers and NHS bosses clash over surgery waiting list targets in England

“A “very tense” behind-the-scenes row over how quickly hospitals in England can be expected to reduce the massive backlog of surgery has broken out between NHS bosses and ministers. The dispute has delayed publication of the government’s “elective recovery plan”, which Downing Street had indicated would be part of Boris Johnson’s “Operation Red Meat” political fightback this week. Johnson’s plan for salvaging his premiership after revelations of lockdown-busting parties at Downing Street has been to announce a slew of populist policies, including freezing the BBC licence fee for two years. No 10, the Treasury and Department of Health and Social Care are pressing NHS England to ensure that hospitals do as many operations as they can, as quickly as possible, in order to tackle the backlog, which now stands at a record 6 million patients.” – The Guardian

>Yesterday: Dr Spencer Pitfield in Comment: The new polling that shows health and social care to be voters’ top priorities

MPs and campaigners blast Patel over bid to ‘cover up’ daily migrant figures

“Ministers were accused of ‘cowardice’ last night after plans emerged to conceal the number of migrants arriving each day. The Home Office currently issues the data after arrivals have been processed by the UK Border Force, typically on the following day, but this could stop when the Ministry of Defence (MoD) takes over operations to intercept migrants, it has emerged. Instead, a running total will be published just four times a year. It comes after the statistics watchdog raised concerns about the daily totals currently issued by the Government. The Home Office is now set to release the figures every three months, but the move has drawn criticism from Tory MPs – with one saying it ‘seems more like burying bad news than being transparent about crossings.” – Daily Mail

  • Raab’s £100m prison scanners worse than officers at finding contraband – The Times

‘Banal’ train messages to be dropped

“After years of ruined reading and punctuated podcasts, commuters can finally look forward to a truly quiet carriage. Under plans being drawn up by the Department for Transport, train operators will be forced to cut the “endless torrent” of announcements and recorded messages played to passengers. A “bonfire of the banalities” was pledged by Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, to bring down the number of announcements played over train loudspeakers, including banal or contradictory messages. The department will work with passenger groups to decide which can be cut and said that removal would begin in the coming months. However, one rail industry source pointed out that the government does not control what announcements are made by train operators, and that it would be “crazy for it to intervene at that level”.” – The Times

Kwarteng blocks £1.2bn subsea cable project backed by Tory donors

“Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng has rejected a controversial £1.2bn undersea cable project backed by two tycoons born in the former Soviet Union, who have given £1.5m to Britain’s ruling Conservative party. Aquind, the company behind plans for a 148-mile subsea, electricity cable linking the French and British power grids, said it would consider seeking a judicial review. The decision was made at ministerial level after the government designated the scheme, which would have had the capacity to import enough electricity to meet up to 5 per cent of UK demand, a “nationally significant infrastructure project” four years ago. The decision was greeted with jubilation by local opponents in Portsmouth, where the cable would have come ashore.” – FT

  • Britishvolt gets £100m boost to build UK’s first large-scale ‘gigafactory’ – The Guardian

We will not be silenced, vow peers who were labelled ‘bigots’ for speaking out over trans prisoners

“The Lords standards commissioner has been criticised over a “sinister” attempt to silence peers who spoke out in a debate about trans prisoners. Akbar Khan, one of two newly appointed commissioners, is said to have threatened parliamentary freedom of speech after he told four peers he has dismissed complaints about their speeches on a “technicality”. Lords have said that the complaints, believed to have come from transgender activists, should never have been entertained as they are covered by parliamentary privilege – a right dating back more than 300 years that views can be freely expressed in the upper chamber.The four members have now written to the watchdog, appointed to investigate alleged breaches of their code of conduct, to say they are “deeply concerned” as dismissal on a technicality may give the impression there was substance to the accusations.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The blue-on-blue row between Blunt and Townsend over trans – and big questions about free speech and public service.

Blair warns that Britain is heading for a 1970s-style decline

“Sir Tony Blair has called for the introduction of road pricing and a rethink of the NHS’s structure and funding, warning that Britain is heading for a 1970s-style decline. The former prime minister expressed frustration that neither of the main parties was thinking radically enough about the challenges. He advocated a string of contentious policies to deal with problems including “unacceptably poor” NHS care. Getting rid of Boris Johnson would not deal with the “gaping hole” in governance where ideas should be, he said… Blair said Labour was emerging from the “catastrophe” of the Corbyn era but that Sir Keir Starmer must have a plan for government.” – The Times

  • Reeves: It’s the wrong time to raise taxes … but I’m going after buy-to-let landlords anyway – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • State pension payment system ‘not fit for purpose’, MPs warn – FT

News in Brief:

  • Would Germany side with Russia in a conflict? – Wolfgang Münchau, The Spectator
  • Why is the Right so unattractive? – Douglas Murray, UnHerd
  • Eenergy crisis confronts Net Zero-loving elites with the stark reality – Andy Mayer, The Critic
  • Why Corbyn should never be let back into Labour – Nicole Lampert, CapX