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Covid 1) Sunak backs call for Covid isolation to be cut to five days

“The Chancellor is among Cabinet ministers backing calls to cut the Covid isolation period to five days amid growing pressure for the UK to shift to living with the virus. Rishi Sunak and ministers from the main economic ministries believe cutting isolation from seven days could help reduce staffing shortages caused by the omicron variant, the Telegraph understands. One government source suggested 60 per cent of the Cabinet were in favour of the move, although they stressed that such a move would have to be sanctioned as safe by scientists. It comes as Covid cases fell for the fifth day in a row, to 141,472, with data also showing that cases have started to fall in some areas outside London, suggesting omicron may be reaching its peak across the country.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Zahawi breaks ranks over quarantine – Daily Mail
  • Pressure on scientists as calls grow to end isolation at 5 days – The Times

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: Cutting the Covid isolation period to five days would ‘certainly help’, says the Education Secretary

Covid 2) MP talks of revolt if Johnson doesn’t axe Covid curbs

“Boris Johnson has been urged by an influential Conservative MP to end all Covid-19 restrictions in England by the end of this month, or face a massive revolt within his party and the prospect of a leadership challenge later this year. Mark Harper, chair of the lockdown-sceptic Tory Covid Recovery Group, said Johnson should announce by January 26 — when most current rules expire — that he will end them and never bring them back. The former Tory chief whip told the Financial Times that Johnson could face a leadership challenge after May’s local elections unless he changes the way he operates and proves he is still an electoral asset. Harper said that upon the expiry of existing plan B rules — notably work from home guidance, mask-wearing in public places and Covid passes -Johnson should vow they will never return, even if new variants emerge.” – FT

Comment:

  • Ministers have a responsibility to lead the charge back to normality – Nick Timothy, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Stewart Jackson in Comment: A reshuffle that moved some of the Prime Minister’s critics into the Cabinet would be prudent

Zahawi promises school exams will go ahead…

“The education secretary made an “absolute commitment” yesterday that exams would go ahead this month and during the summer despite the spread of Omicron. Nadhim Zahawi acknowledged that the next two weeks would be “bumpy” in terms of staff absences but said contingency plans would be in place. He told Sky News: “My absolute commitment is that exams are going ahead both this January and for the summer, for GCSEs and A-levels, but we’re putting in mitigations to make sure that we recognise who have had their education disrupted.” Vocational and technical exams are scheduled for this month and the government wants to avoid cancelling GCSEs and A-levels for a third year.” – The Times

  • This is the last year we’ll go easy on exam marking because of Covid, promises Education Secretary – Daily Telegraph
  • No return to the pre-Covid grading system for two years – Daily Mail

…and says universities have no excuse for cancelling face-to-face teaching

“Universities have no excuse for cancelling face-to-face teaching and students should complain to the watchdog if they feel short-changed, the Education Secretary has said. Nadhim Zahawi said higher education students who are paying £9,250 in annual fees should complain to the Office for Students to get an ‘explanation’ because schools and colleges are being taught in person. Durham university announced labs and practical classes will continue in person, but all other teaching will take place online and Queen’s University Belfast has also told students that most lectures, seminars and tutorials are also being moved online. Mr Zahawi said he has an ‘expectation’ for universities to ‘deliver face-to-face education’ as it emerged more than 100 institutions have also moved their lectures online.” – Daily Mail

  • Employers look to hire school leavers as skills shortage bites – FT

Johnson headed for Red Wall bruising over cost of living and fuel bills, poll shows…

“Boris Johnson is cruising for a Red Wall bruising because of his dithering on the rising cost of living and soaring energy bills, new polling shows. As Labour ups the pressure on the PM’s broken promise of slashing VAT on fuel bills, data shows the row is hitting the PM in the ballots. Some 79 per cent of those in key northern seats say Boris’s Government does not understand their economic woes, the YouGov research for the Energy and Utilities Alliance found. And 83 per cent of new Tory voters in seats such as Workington and Wakefield back a VAT cut on energy bills.” – The Sun

  • Senior Tories urge action on cost-of-living crisis – Daily Mail
  • Third of voters are living in fear of energy bills they can’t afford to pay – The Times
  • Families are hammered as new year food bills rocket – Daily Mail

…as half of Tory members believe Sunak would be a better Prime Minister…

“Nearly half of all Conservative members believe Rishi Sunak would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson, a poll has revealed. The survey of 1,005 Tories found that 46 per cent think the chancellor would win more seats at the next election than the current party leader. A third of the membership said they think Johnson should even stand down as leader, with four in ten saying he is doing a bad job. The YouGov poll carried out by Sky News took place between December 30 and January 6. The findings show a marked slump in support for Johnson since a similar poll was carried out in July 2020. Only a quarter of Tory voters believe he would be more successful than Liz Truss at the next election, with just 16 per cent say he is a better choice than Sunak.” – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: YouGov, ConHome, polls, surveys – and who Tory activists think should succeed Johnson

…and Labour plans one year VAT cut and new windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers

“Labour piled pressure on Boris Johnson to act over energy bills today  after claiming it would cut bills by up to £600 for the worst off if it was in power. Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves said the party would scrap VAT for a year and impose a windfall tax on north sea producers to tackle the emerging cost of living crisis. The £6.6 billion plan would include removing VAT on domestic energy bills for a whole year, as well as expanding and increasing the warm homes discount for those most at risk. Boris Johnson previously used cutting VAT as a reason to leave the EU, but has since opposed it as a ‘blunt instrument’ that does not help those most in need. The tax would reduce average bills by £200, with targeted support for low earners, pensioners and the ‘squeezed middle’ adding £400.” – Daily Mail

  • Greedy oil giants ‘adding to cost of living crisis by not passing on falling wholesale prices’ – The Sun
  • …only possible because we’ve left the EU! – Daily Express

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: ‘We are uniquely exposed’ to the energy crisis, claims Reeves

Ben Houchen: Johnson can’t afford to let down northern voters

“Boris still has highly tuned political antenna — it’s what’s made him the great survivor in the brutal world of Westminster politics — but he needs to remember what will decide people’s votes when election day next comes. They’ll see the government has had some real successes, especially in its truly world-leading vaccination and booster programmes. But they’ll be looking forward and looking for proof that they were right to back him and this government to deliver a better life for them and their families. Most of them voted for Brexit, and they want to be proven right on that, too. People like to be proven right and those who voted Conservative for the first time in 2019 are looking for an excuse to do so again, but they will punish a government which makes them regret their choices.” – The Times

Prime Minister expected to face questions over No 10 garden parties

“Boris Johnson is expected to be hauled in for questioning as part of the “party-gate” probe, amid claims he and his wife attended a second gathering in the Downing Street garden. Multiple government sources have told The Telegraph they believe the Prime Minister will be interviewed as part of the official inquiry into allegations that parties were held while the country was in lockdown. Alongside Mr Johnson, some of his most senior serving and former aides are also understood to have been quizzed by the investigation team, which is being headed by Sue Gray, a veteran civil servant in Whitehall… While Downing Street refused to comment on the claims – or whether Mr Johnson had already been interviewed – a senior insider said that he had previously given evidence in other Whitehall probes.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Private secretary ‘will take blame’ – The Times

Developers resist Gove plans to meet bill for fixing cladding crisis

“Developers have hit out at the government’s latest plans to resolve the cladding crisis, which could see them landed with a bill of as much as £4bn. Michael Gove, the housing secretary, is looking to housebuilders to stump up the costs of fixing fire-safety issues on tens of thousands of properties in England. Developers will face the prospect of legal action if they do not. But builders claim they are being unfairly singled out and argue that others, including the building safety regulator and the manufacturers of cladding materials, should also be held responsible. “You can’t keep putting all the responsibility on developers,” said Matthew Pratt, chief executive of housebuilder Redrow. “There’s still too much ambiguity and we would love the government to clarify what’s going on,” he added.” – FT

  • Cladding profiteers have no place to hide, says Housing Secretary – The Times
  • Crackdown on landlords – The Sun
  • Gove must spend ‘billions more’ to end building fire safety crisis – The Guardian

More:

  • Help to Buy has pushed up house prices in England, says report – FT

Malthouse says he wishes jury in trial of Colston Four had made a ‘different decision’

“The Policing Minister has hit out at the not guilty verdicts handed to the ‘Colston Four’ who threw a statue of slave trader Edward Colston into Bristol Harbour in 2020. Rhian Graham, 30, Milo Ponsford, 26, Sage Willoughby, 22, and Jake Skuse, 33, were prosecuted for pulling the statue down during a Black Lives Matter protest on June 7 2020 in Bristol while a huge crowd was present. The prosecution said it was ‘irrelevant’ who Colston was and the case was one of straightforward criminal damage, but the defendants were acquitted by a jury at the city’s Crown Court on Wednesday… Amid claims that the verdict had created a ‘vandals’ charter’, Attorney General Suella Braverman is considering referring the acquittal to the Court of Appeal so the law can be ‘clarified for future cases’.” – Daily Mail

>Today: Ryan Stephenson in Local Government: There should be no lawful excuse for the criminal damage of statues

Threat to trigger Article 16 is unhelpful, says EU ambassador

“The European Union has hit back at Liz Truss, saying Brussels is unimpressed with the foreign secretary’s threats of unilateral action to suspend the post-Brexit agreement on Northern Ireland. Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU ambassador to the UK, said it was “not very helpful” to be talking about emergency action before talks this week on the Northern Ireland protocol. Vale de Almeida said Brussels was willing to show a “certain degree of flexibility” in the application of border checks and wanted to find compromises to make the agreement work. He urged Britain to find “concrete and practical solutions” and insisted it was a “huge opportunity” for Northern Ireland to have access to both Great Britain and the EU single market.” – The Times

  • ‘Take control of internal trade!’; Redwood hails Truss – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Lord Frost spoke for Tories up and down the land – Andrew Neil, Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Video: WATCH: ‘We are not surprised or impressed’. The EU’s ambassador to the UK responds to Truss on Article 16.

Johnson ‘captured’ by woke warriors as row erupts over moves to ban fur and foie gras import

“Boris Johnson has been “captured” by woke warriors and needs to be more Tory, senior Conservatives have warned. The alert comes as a Cabinet row erupted over moves to ban fur and foie gras imports. Former Brexit chief Lord Frost launched a stinging attack on the PM at the weekend — blunting telling his old boss he needs to return to True Blue values… Meanwhile, The Sun can reveal Cabinet ministers are bickering over a new animal rights bill that could criminalise bringing fur and foie gras to the UK. Some say the proposals are too vague and that certain exemptions are needed. And one minister said: “The PM seems captured by people who think pleasing those that will never vote for us anyway is a good strategy.”” – The Sun

  • Anderson ‘will not be missed’ after leaving equalities committee – The Guardian

Corbyn could establish own party as hopes fade of being reinstated as Labour MP

“Jeremy Corbyn is considering establishing his own political party after privately accepting he will never be reinstated as a Labour MP, The Telegraph understands. The former Labour leader has been urged by many in his inner circle, including his wife Laura Alvarez, to upgrade his charity into a political party, and run under its banner at the next election. If the party is established, it could tempt the defection of Left-wing MPs who are disaffected with the leadership of Sir Keir Starmer, and could take the name of the Peace and Justice Project, which Mr Corbyn established to coordinate his political activities after he was suspended from Labour… Although he has since been reinstated as a Labour member, Sir Keir Starmer has said he will not readmit him to the parliamentary party unless he apologises publically for his comments.” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • Toppling law and order – Robert Poll, The Critic
  • Colston and the problem with the ‘right side of history’ – Patrick West, The Spectator
  • The importance of being British – Nigel Biggar, UnHerd