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All eyes on Downing Street as Sue Gray’s report expected today

“Boris Johnson is facing demands to ‘end the circus’ on Partygate today as he braces for Sue Gray’s report – with allies hoping he has steadied the ship. The PM is gearing up for another brutal week with the senior civil servant expected to deliver her findings on lockdown breaches in Downing Street as early as tomorrow [now today]. Although Ms Gray is believed to be watering down her report at the request of Scotland Yard, any criticism could reignite the simmering revolt in the Tory ranks. The allegations before the inquiry include that Carrie Johnson’s friends held an Abba ‘victory party’ in the No11 flat after Dominic Cummings quit. In interviews this morning, Foreign Secretary Liz Truss insisted Mr Johnson will lead the party into the next election. Asked if she was tempted to challenge for the top job, Ms Truss said: ‘There is no contest. There is no discussion.’   The mood among MPs has cooled significantly over the past week, after the extraordinary ‘Pork Pie plot’ fizzled out. In another boost for the premier, there were more fledgling signs of a Tory poll recovery. The ongoing rows have taken a huge toll on the Conservatives’ popularity and that of Mr Johnson personally. But research for Opinium is the latest to suggest the party might be clawing back some ground.” – Daily Mail

  • Less than a third of voters trust government to do the right thing – The Times
  • Former aide to Johnson attacks No 10 over parties scandal – The Times
  • Johnson is ‘absolutely’ the best person to lead Tories into next election, says Truss – Daily Telegraph
  • We must fix the drains by ousting the PM, says Cummings – The Times

Nikki da Costa: No 10 failed us when we needed our leaders most

“Last Monday I was surprised to hear a Conservative MP dismiss the parties in No 10 on the grounds that “everyone was breaking the rules” and that these were the kinds of things punished with a fixed penalty notice, just like speeding. Then I heard that the prime minister’s chief of staff had made the same comment — that staff were not to worry as the worst that would happen was a fixed penalty notice. I realised that this might be a defensive line being promoted from within No 10 and that there might be those around the prime minister who feel this is something to be brushed under the carpet, rather than confronted head-on. Week by week I have felt more naive reading of further social events. Others in No 10 will have been as surprised as I was. By no means all will have known, or been comfortable with what has gone on. However, more than that I felt frustrated reading the official responses as they became more detached from public anger. When I returned from maternity leave in October 2020, I was surprised at what I found.” – The Times

Russia-Ukraine tensions: Oligarchs linked to Putin face crackdown on British wealth

“Ministers will target the British investments of oligarchs and businesses with links to the Kremlin as part of a tough new sanctions regime if Russia invades Ukraine. Under plans to be unveiled to MPs today, the government will impose asset freezes and travel bans on individuals and entities that have a “strategic significance” to the Russian government. The move is being announced before a trip to the region by Boris Johnson this week during which he is expected to underline the UK’s support for Ukraine and again call for President Putin to “step back” from conflict. The prime minister said yesterday that any Russian invasion of Ukraine would be “reckless and catastrophic”. Government sources suggested that the assets of Russian energy firms, a key source of revenue for the Kremlin, could be among those targeted. British law allows the imposition of sanctions only on companies and individuals with a direct involvement in destabilising Ukraine. The new powers will allow ministers to take action against those firms with a “direct interest” in the Russian state.” – The Times

  • Kyiv urges Russia to pull troops back from Ukraine border – The Guardian

Comment:

‘U-turn on mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care workers’

“Mandatory Covid jabs for NHS and social care workers are set to be scrapped, The Telegraph can reveal, after warnings of crippling staff shortages if the plan went ahead. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, will on Monday meet fellow ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee to rubber stamp the decision on the about-turn. Multiple government sources said ministers are expected to end the requirement because the omicron Covid variant, now dominant in the UK, is milder than previous strains. The move comes after warnings that almost 80,000 healthcare workers would be forced out of their jobs because they had declined to take two doses of a Covid vaccine. The Royal College of Nursing, the Royal College of Midwives and the Royal College of GPs have all pushed for the requirement to be delayed, with warnings it would have a “catastrophic” impact. The jab requirement for NHS workers was meant to come into force in April – making this Thursday, Feb 3, the last day on which staff could get their first jab in order to be fully vaccinated in time.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Covid fatality rate to fall as reinfections added to daily statistics – Daily Telegraph
  • Five billion surplus PPE items will go to waste – The Times
  • Young bounce back into work after lockdowns – The Times
  • Britain’s Covid vaccine drive moves to vulnerable children aged 5-11 – The Times

>Today:

Johnson to unveil Brexit Freedoms Bill to help UK break free from the shackles of EU laws

“Boris Johnson will announce a “Brexit Freedoms Bill”  on Monday as he urges Brussels to “abandon the punitive and zero-sum approach” it has taken to frustrate Brexit. The PM will also pledge to use powers available after the UK’s withdrawal to cut away a billion pounds’ worth of European Union-era “red tape”, though details are yet to be provided. Mr Johnson vowed to move “ever faster” to unshackle Britain, pledging to scrap thousands of EU laws still in place in the UK. The announcements have been timed to coincide with the second anniversary of Britain’s formal departure from the EU, at 11pm on Jan 31 2020. The drive will be seen as an attempt to refocus minds on one of his main feats as Prime Minister – securing a deal that delivered the UK’s EU exit. Writing in the Daily Mail, he said: “Our new Brexit Freedoms Bill will make it easier to get rid of retained EU law, the weird system by which EU legislation occupies a semi-sacred place on the UK statute book.” He wrote that Brussels will find it “impossible to hold back the UK and impossible to stop this country taking advantage of our new freedoms – and we will go ever faster”.” – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • Brexit helped us bounce back from Covid – now we’ll go faster with our freedoms and make it easier to get rid of retained EU law, Boris Johnson – Daily Mail
  • At last, Johnson is on the offensive over Brexit – Daily Mail Comment

>Today:

Senior MPs tell PM to rethink national insurance hike because it will hit workers during cost of living crisis

“Boris Johnson was urged to ‘think again’ after joining the Chancellor and vowing that the national insurance hike will go ahead in April. The Prime Minister and Rishi Sunak wrote a joint article defending the 1.25 percentage point increase in NI, saying it was vital to fund the Covid NHS backlog, as well as fixing the social care system. Foreign Secretary Liz Truss admitted that tax rises were ‘never popular’, but said the money needed to be raised. It came as research showed that the NI hike will clobber firms in the constituencies of Mr Johnson’s Cabinet. Senior Tory MPs called on the Prime Minister to reverse his decision because of the looming cost of living crisis. Robert Halfon, chairman of the education select committee, said: ‘All I can do as an MP, a backbench MP, is just to urge the Government to think again. I hope that the Government make cost of living the No 1 priority.’ He called on ministers to look at different ways to raise the money that the rise is forecast to produce, such as a ‘windfall tax on big business’. ” – Daily Mail

  • Treasury in storm over claim it sank attempts by ‘British FBI’ to investigate Covid fraud – Daily Mail
  • Middle class people now paying more than £1 million in tax during lifetime – Daily Telegraph
  • Sunak ‘pours taxpayer cash into online betting firm’ – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

Levelling-up plans target rogue landlords in the private sector

“Private landlords will be forced by law to bring their properties up to a set of national standards for the first time under plans to be unveiled in the government’s levelling-up strategy. Michael Gove, the housing secretary, will announce legislation that will require landlords to refit about 800,000 properties that don’t meet requirements to be “safe, warm and in a good state of repair”. The law will also introduce a register that anyone renting a house must join, with rogue landlords being ejected from the list. All tenants in the private rental sector would also gain a new right to redress for complaints about their homes. The moves, long demanded by campaigners, will bring the private rental sector into line with the obligations to rent out “decent” properties required of councils and housing associations. These are being reviewed by Gove with the intention that they be toughened and applied to the whole rented sector. This could include new measures on energy efficiency, as well as a minimum standard of fixtures and fittings for furnished accommodation. Ministers hope to halve the number of poor-quality rented homes by 2030.” – The Times

Comment:

Truss confirms inquiry into Pen Farthing email leak implicating No 10 in Afghan pet rescue…

“Ministers have launched an inquiry into the leaking of emails which appear to show that Boris Johnson personally intervened to ensure Pen Farthing and his animals were evacuated from Afghanistan. Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary, on Sunday confirmed that her department had launched an investigation into how government emails discussing the Nowzad charity’s evacuation found their way to journalists. The announcement came after Ms Truss was asked why a senior official in the Foreign Office believed Mr Johnson had intervened, despite his repeated claims to the contrary. Responding, Ms Truss told Times Radio: “That is currently being investigated, and I can’t comment on that. But the Defence Secretary has been very clear that he is the one that gave the order for that to happen.” Ms Truss later clarified that the Foreign Office was now investigating “how the email ended up in the public domain”, rather than to uncover whether Mr Johnson had intervened or not.” – Daily Telegraph

Afriyie investigated for not declaring drug firm job

“A senior Conservative MP is being investigated by the parliamentary commissioner for standards after The Times revealed that he had failed to declare a second job at a medical cannabis firm. Adam Afriyie, the MP for Windsor, is under investigation after potentially breaking the rules of conduct for members of parliament. It was reported in December that Afriyie, who had lobbied parliament about medical cannabis, had failed to declare his chairmanship of a distribution company for the drug. Elite Growth announced that Afriyie would take on the role on October 22. However, no record of his involvement with the company was disclosed on the Register of Members’ Financial Interests in four of its editions between November and December. Commons rules state a member must notify within 28 days any change in their registrable interests if they consider “that it might reasonably be thought by others to influence his or her actions or words as a member in the same way as a financial interest”.” – The Times

Brokenshire’s widow calls for lung cancer screening programme

“The widow of James Brokenshire has called for a national screening programme for lung cancer after the MP’s death at the age of 53. Cathy Brokenshire said she was determined to “pick up the mantle” and continue her husband’s campaign to raise awareness of the disease. The former government minister was first diagnosed with lung cancer after coughing up a small amount of blood in 2017 and advocated for better screening during a debate in parliament in April 2018. “I miss him on a daily basis, he was my best friend,” she told the PA news agency in her first public comments since her husband’s death last October. “But I’ve got no choice and I have to get on with it. “We’ve got three kids and I can either sit and cry my eyes out and be in a heap on the floor, or I can try and bring some positivity from what has happened to us as a family and help promote the cause.” Brokenshire said she wanted to help break down the stigma surrounding the condition, which many believe is only caused by smoking.” – The Times

News in brief: