Published:

Downing Street parties: Sue Gray ‘frustrated’ by Scotland Yard’s intervention

“The senior civil servant investigating lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street was said to have been infuriated when Scotland Yard told her not to publish key aspects of her report. Sue Gray was frustrated and angered by the intervention, having shared details of her investigation with the force throughout her inquiry, The Times has been told. She is expected to submit a pared-back version of her report to Boris Johnson in the coming days and it could be published early next week. Yesterday the Metropolitan Police said that it had asked her to make “minimal references” to the events it is investigating. Gray had been under the impression that the force did not intend to stand in the way of publication of her full report.” – The Times

  • Scotland Yard sends letters to Downing Street party ‘suspects’ after receiving Sue Gray dossier – Daily Telegraph
  • Redacted version of report is imminent, say government sources – The Guardian
  • Met accused of ‘stitch-up’ over delayed Gray report – FT
  • ‘No one will accept a Westminster cover-up’ says SNP as Met denies delaying release of report – The Scotsman

Analysis:

  • When is Sue Gray’s report due and why is it delayed? – The Times
  • Why the Met Police suddenly changed its mind on redacting the Sue Gray report – Daily Telegraph
  • Scotland Yard crash the No 10 party and leave Gray red-faced – The Times

Matthew Parris: Spineless Tories know that Johnson must go

“Indulge my daydream. Strolling down Savile Row I chance upon a tailor I know. He looks depressed. Why the long face, I ask? “We make grey suits,” he replies. “Tory MPs of a certain vintage and standing were our most reliable customers. But there seems no call among them now for grey suits.” Though the language looks sexist today, “the men in grey suits” was a useful catchphrase for that loose and hard-to-define group within the parliamentary Conservative Party who today we might call the grown-ups. Mostly behind the scenes, such men and (later) women carried a certain, untitled authority. Call them “tribal elders”: they were not the noisy ones and your columnist was never of their number, but their often silent presence among us mattered greatly. In my youth when my family attended Friends’ (Quaker) Meetings, there were certain Friends who, when they rose to speak, were always listened to.” – The Times

  • It’s 2035: the Gray Report is a cake recipe and Sunak exists only on Instagram, Matt Chorley – The Times
  • Is Johnson the victim of an ingenious Left-wing plot? Michael Deacon – Daily Telegraph
  • Democracy itself is imperilled when the political sphere is invaded by officialdom, Charles Moore – Daily Telegraph
  • Does Captain Hindsight Starmer want cops involved over Downing Street parties or not? – The Sun
  • What a sorry shambles: The Met’s investigation of cheese and wine parties in Downing Street is a grotesque perversion of common sense – Daily Mail

More comment:

PM to visit Ukraine region and hold call with Putin next week

“Boris Johnson will visit the Ukraine region and hold crisis talks with Vladimir Putin next week amid fears of a Russian invasion. The British prime minister is determined to “accelerate diplomatic efforts” and “ramp up deterrence to avoid bloodshed” in the coming days, according to government sources. The planned trip to the region comes amid rising tensions between Ukraine and Russia, which is continuing to build up its forces on its neighbour’s border. However, it will not go unnoticed that the prime minister’s overseas visit comes at a time of rising tensions on the domestic front, with a redacted version of the long-awaited Sue Gray report expected to be published imminently. Johnson has faced widespread criticism that his government has been “paralysed” by “partygate” at a time when he ought to be focusing on other issues, such as the escalating Ukraine crisis, as well as the cost of living.” – The Guardian

  • Biden to send US troops to Eastern Europe to combat Ukraine crisis – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

I’m sorry for misleading MPs on dog airlift, says mandarin

“The most senior civil servant in the Foreign Office has apologised to MPs for “inadvertently” misleading them about Boris Johnson’s alleged involvement in the evacuation of more than 170 stray dogs and cats from Afghanistan. Sir Philip Barton, the permanent undersecretary, gave evidence to the foreign affairs committee in which he talked about the department’s handling of the airlift of Pen Farthing and his animals out of Afghanistan. His claims later proved inaccurate. Barton told MPs that Nigel Casey, the prime minister’s special representative for Afghanistan, had not received emails that referred to Johnson’s personal authorisation for the evacuation. However, it emerged that Casey had written to another official, requesting “clear guidance for us from No 10 asap”.” – The Times

National insurance: Johnson insists tax will rise in April… no ifs, no buts

“Boris Johnson has insisted that tax rises will go ahead in April, “no ifs, no buts”. The prime minister quashed speculation yesterday that the national insurance rise of 1.25 percentage points for employers and employees would not be imposed. Senior Tory backbenchers had been calling for its abandonment. In recent days Johnson had repeatedly refused to guarantee the increase. The Office for National Statistics said this week that borrowing in December was £13 billion less than forecast, which suggested that the government could afford to delay the rise. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has come under pressure from Conservatives to use the windfall to delay the tax rise but has pointed to the prospect of rising interest payments to defend the increase.” – The Times

Lord Agnew of Oulton attacks ‘cack-handed’ Covid-19 loans scheme

“The government’s “cack-handed implementation” of the pandemic loans scheme could be costing us “hundreds of millions of pounds a month”, Boris Johnson’s former anti-fraud minister has said. In an interview with The Times, Lord Agnew of Oulton, the Treasury and Cabinet Office minister who resigned at the dispatch box this week, lambasts the government’s “egregious” failure to tackle fraud in its bounce-back loan scheme to help struggling businesses. About £47.4 billion worth of credit was issued via 1.6 million emergency loans to small businesses. Official estimates suggest that £17 billion may never be repaid and as much as £5 billion may have been stolen by fraudsters — although many businesses have only just had to start repaying their loans so these figures are highly uncertain.” – The Times

Interview:

  • “Billions were written off and no one seemed to care but me” – The Times

Analysis:

  • How the UK government lost £4.9bn to Covid loan fraud – The Guardian

GPs nationalised in Javid plan to reduce hospital admissions

“GPs would be nationalised under plans from the health secretary to make them do more to keep patients out of hospital. Sajid Javid is considering radical changes to the 70-year-old structure of the NHS that could see many family doctors directly employed by hospitals instead of running their own surgeries. He has told Boris Johnson that there are “considerable drawbacks” to the system under which GP surgeries are in effect independent contractors paid per patient by the NHS. A review of primary care planned by Javid will look at how to better integrate GPs with hospital care as part of attempts to do more to stop people developing serious illness. Sources insisted there would be no forcible state takeover of GPs, who are likely instead to be given incentives to link up with hospital trusts.” – The Times

Government nudge unit ‘used grossly unethical tactics to scare public into Covid compliance’

“The Government’s “grossly unethical” uses of its “nudge unit” inflated fear among the public during the Covid pandemic, psychologists have said – prompting MPs to launch an investigation into scare adverts. A group of psychologists have written to Parliament’s Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee, warning that a team of civil servants dedicated to “nudging” public behaviour during the pandemic were unaccountable and unethical. The letter’s 40 professional signatories – led by Dr Gary Sidley, a retired clinical psychologist – said they opposed the use of dramatic adverts, which included slogans such as: “If you go out you can spread it, people will die.” They also condemned the use of “images of the acutely unwell in intensive care units” on billboard and television adverts”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • We’ll never return to the office, say two fifths of staff – The Times
  • BA.2 variant of Omicron spreading fast in England – The Times
  • Boost for family holidays as Europe changes entry rules – The Times
  • Anti-viral pill Paxlovid that cuts risk of Covid-19 death available next month – The Times

>Today:

Rees-Mogg interview: ‘He’s no Churchill, but Boris is an excellent, exceptional leader’

“Jacob Rees-Mogg is so laid-back, he might as well be horizontal. Partygate has thrown a grenade under No 10, but as far as the Leader of the House of Commons is concerned, everything’s still tickety-boo. Displaying the casualness that saw him criticised for lounging in the Commons in 2019 (‘That was a mistake,’ he concedes), the 52-year-old appears convinced, like the parent of an unruly toddler, that Downing Street’s woes are just a phase. “One’s always got to see political problems in context, that actually government always has these squalls, it always has this excitement,” muses the MP for North East Somerset. Speaking as the Prime Minister awaits the findings of civil servant Sue Gray’s investigation into what Labour has depicted as a seemingly never-ending conga line in and out of No 10 during the pandemic, the cricket enthusiast’s slavish devotion to his Eton and Oxford contemporary is plain to see.” – Daily Telegraph

Zahawi tells universities to come clean about face-to-face teaching

“Universities will have to tell students exactly how much face-to-face teaching they will get, before they start their degrees, Nadhim Zahawi has told The Times. The education secretary will challenge vice-chancellors to give school-leavers detailed data, broken down by course, before they commit and pay for degrees and accommodation, rather than setting out vague intentions. He said there was no longer any excuse for teaching remotely and that online lectures should be scrapped. Several universities are continuing with a mixture of online lectures and in-person seminars this term, despite the easing of pandemic restrictions. Some students are still not having face-to-face lectures, or are on rotas where they attend in-person only once every three weeks.” – The Times

Tugendhat interview: ‘Serving as PM would be a huge privilege. I don’t know why others are coy about it’

“Tom Tugendhat has become the first person to declare his intention to run for the Tory leadership if Boris Johnson is deposed. The MP and chairman of the Commons foreign affairs committee has told The Times he would mount a campaign because “it’s up to all of us to put ourselves forward”. The former army officer said it would be “a huge privilege” to serve as prime minister. Johnson is facing the imminent threat of a confidence vote over lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street and Tugendhat’s intervention makes him the first leadership contender openly to announce his potential candidature. Speaking to Times Radio’s T&G programme, the 48-year-old MP for Tonbridge & Malling was asked if he would run if there were a contest.” – The Times

Patel orders extradition of tech billionaire Mike Lynch

“Priti Patel has ordered the British tech billionaire Mike Lynch to be extradited to the US to face criminal fraud charges over the $11bn (£8.2bn) sale of his software company Autonomy. The Home Secretary approved a ruling that Mr Lynch should appear in a US court to face claims that he illegally inflated the former FTSE 100 company’s sale to Hewlett Packard in 2011. A Home Office spokesman said: “On January 28, following consideration by the courts, the extradition of Michael Lynch to the US was ordered.” Chris Morvillo of Clifford Chance, Mr Lynch’s lawyer, said that Mr Lynch “firmly denies the charges brought against him in the US and will continue to fight to establish his innocence”.  “He is a British citizen who ran a British company in Britain subject to British laws and rules and that is where the matter should be resolved. This is not the end of the battle — far from it,” he said.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief: