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Johnson must take ‘full responsibility’ for conclusions of ‘partygate’ inquiry, say ministers

“MPs and ministers are publicly warning the Prime Minister to take “full responsibility” for the findings of an inquiry into Covid rule breaches in Downing Street, as they face a tidal wave of anger from constituents. In one case Mims Davies, the employment minister, said it had been “very hard to see” the way the apparent rule-breaking had brought back painful memories from the last couple of years for so many, and of the sacrifices we’ve all made”. “Understandably, many constituents have been very greatly angered and deeply hurt by this reported ‘party’ in the garden on May 20 2020,” Ms Davies said. She was one of many MPs reporting voters’ anger to party whips at the weekend and said she understood the “extreme upset” the behaviour had caused.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Conservative MPs could force Prime Minister out within weeks – The Observer
  • Carrie pictured breaking Covid rules hugging friend at West End club – Sunday Telegraph
  • Minister whose newborn sons died in pandemic criticises No 10 parties – The Observer

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Over half of our panel of Party members want Johnson to resign now

Concerns grow that scale of ‘partygate’ is now too great for Gray’s investigation

“When the country was in lockdown in late March 2020 and members of parliament had returned to their constituencies for an early Easter recess, the then business minister Nadhim Zahawi set out the rules for businesses around the country to fight the pandemic. He urged them to help prevent the spread of disease by avoiding unnecessary mixing. “Workers should try to minimise all meetings and gatherings in the workplace,” he said in a written parliamentary answer. Across the country, businesses, charities and public organisations heeded the message. It now appears there was one address that was a notable exception to these guidelines: No 10 Downing Street. From the national lockdown announced by Boris Johnson on 23 March 2020 until April last year, there were at least 14 parties, leaving dos, quizzes and meetings-with-drinks at Downing Street, as well as other Whitehall offices.” – The Observer

  • Senior mandarin probing scandal once faced down an armed IRA gang who tried to hijack her car – Mail on Sunday

Alcohol will be banned in Downing Street as Johnson acts to end party culture

“Booze is to be banned in Downing Street as the PM acts to end the party culture threatening his premiership. Staff will be ordered to restrict their drinking to off the premises and outside working hours in future. Number 10 office areas will be declared “dry” under a plan being considered by Mr Johnson as he tries to clean up his government’s battered reputation. He is convinced that the only way is to ban all alcohol behind the famous black door – apart from at official receptions in state function rooms. It has been claimed that staff held “wine time Fridays” to let off steam while indoor socialising was banned under pandemic rules. Last month a £150 drinks fridge was delivered to keep bottles of white win, Prosecco and beer cool.” – Sun on Sunday

  • Fury at Downing Street staff as leader launches string of ‘red meat’ policies – Sunday Times
  • Johnson will establish No 10 ‘war room’ to lead the post-Covid rebuilding of the NHS – Mail on Sunday
  • Many think it is a case of when, not if, the Prime Minister falls – Sunday Telegraph

Tories demand probe after video showed Starmer drinking beer with colleagues

“Sir Keir Starmer should ‘stand up, shoulder it’ and refer himself for investigation after video footage emerged of him enjoying a drink with colleagues at the height of last year’s lockdown, Tories have said. The Labour leader has been accused of ‘brazen hypocrisy’ after he was caught drinking beer with several staff members on April 30 last year, when people were banned from socialising inside with someone from another household under ‘step two’ of the lockdown. Footage clearly shows Sir Keir holding a bottle while chatting with a woman – believed to be Labour MP Mary Foy – in her constituency office in Durham. At least five people appeared to be in the room, one of whom is eating what appears to be a meal of pasta.But yesterday, when quizzed about the evidence, his team insisted that Sir Keir had not broken any rules.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Labour leader: Johnson and his politics of cynicism are poisoning the well of our democracy… – Sunday Telegraph
  • …and the Prime Minister has ‘lost the moral authority to lead’ – Mail on Sunday
  • Premier dealt another crushing blow with Labour up ten points – Sunday Express

War of words breaks out between rival camps for potential Tory leadership successors

“Allies of Tory leadership favourite Rishi Sunak boasted he would ‘wipe the floor’ with rival Liz Truss yesterday, branding her backers ‘headbangers’. But furious supporters of the Foreign Secretary fired back, highlighting the Chancellor’s ‘so clever’ decision to miss last week’s Commons apology by Boris Johnson by going on a much-derided trip to Devon instead. The briefing war erupted as MPs close to the Prime Minister took aim at both potential contenders, claiming Mr Sunak resisted ‘huge pressure’ to back Mr Johnson but also casting doubt on Ms Truss’s leadership credentials. Tory insiders claim both have leadership operations ‘in all but name’ ready to go if Mr Johnson is forced out, with one MP noting how the Chancellor had only last week hastily arranged three meetings with Tory backbenchers to discuss ‘rising energy bills’.” – Mail on Sunday

Tim Shipman: Is Johnson finally sunk?

“For a prime minister who appeared to be unassailable three months ago, ministers and MPs can hardly believe how Johnson and his inner circle have imploded. From a steady lead in the polls, the Tories trailed by up to 14 points last week. Labour officials, preparing Sir Keir Starmer for prime minister’s questions on Wednesday, seized on another finding. “At the start of the week, more people believed the moon landings were faked than believed Boris Johnson’s explanations about these parties,” one said. “By Wednesday the figure was 6 per cent, which is about the same number who believe in the Loch Ness monster.” For those who had worked in No 10, the stories about parties were bewildering. “The only thing that was thrown in Gordon [Brown]’s No 10 were mobile phones,” said one.” – Sunday Times

  • Now is not the time for a Tory leadership contest and a new Prime Minister – Liam Fox MP, Mail on Sunday
  • Keeping the economy open and the recovery on track matters more than a drinks party – Daniel Hannan, Sunday Telegraph
  • If Cummings’ coup brings Boris down, it won’t be the end of the blood-letting but the start – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday

Johnson risks losing Tory voters by keeping VAT on energy bills, poll reveals

“Boris Johnson risks losing Tory voters by keeping VAT on energy bills, a decisive poll reveals today. A whopping 85 per cent of Brits who backed the PM in 2019 say ditching the 5 per cent levy would be a vital saving when heating costs rocket in April. Despite a crescendo of calls Mr Johnson is refusing to axe the tax, branding it a “blunt instrument” and instead opting for targeted support cash. But the Yonder poll for the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce (RSA) finds his support base wants him to do the exact opposite. Some 62 per cent of Tory voters want him to scrap the VAT, while just 26 per cent prefer the targeted approach. The RSA’s Alan Lockey said: “By not going with this hugely popular policy, Boris could see his 2019 majority melt away.”” – Sun on Sunday

  • Bereft without Brexit, the Tories have a new bone to fight over: net zero – Charlotte Ivers, Sunday Times

Culture Secretary takes the fight to the BBC over its ‘Left-wing bias’

“The war over the future of the BBC pits a working-class woman who grew up on a council estate against the heart of Britain’s liberal elite. As Nadine Dorries has told friends: ‘I’m from the roughest streets in Liverpool – they can come after me if they want, but I am resolute. It’s over for the BBC as long as I am in this job.’ The Culture Secretary’s decision to freeze the BBC’s £159 annual licence fee for two years comes after a series of fraught meetings with Director-General Tim Davie and other executives. They had argued bitterly that the Government should not link arguments about the Corporation’s pervasive, Left-leaning mindset to its funding levels – but Ms Dorries made clear that the issues were inextricably linked.” – Mail on Sunday

  • Dorries clobbers Corporation with a £2billion funding cut as she freezes the licence fee for two years – Mail on Sunday

Defence Secretary warns of ‘consequences’ if Russia invades Ukraine

“An incursion by Russia into Ukraine would violate the “most basic freedoms and sovereignty”, the defence secretary has said following a visit to Scandinavia. Issuing a second warning in a week to Moscow, Ben Wallace said there would be “consequences” for any Russian aggression towards Ukraine. On Monday, he fired a shot across the bows, telling an event in London that Britain would “stand up to bullies”, no matter how far away the conflict. Tensions on the Ukrainian border continue to be fraught, with the US suggesting Moscow is preparing for a “false-flag operation” in order to spark an incursion into neighbouring territory. The new US intelligence was unveiled after little progress was made in talks between the Kremlin and Washington and its western allies aimed at heading off the escalating crisis.” – The Observer

Ministers failed to act on Commons spy alert

“The former head of MI5 has accused ministers of failing to act on warnings that might have stopped an alleged Chinese agent infiltrating Westminster and described foreign interference as a “live and present threat” to democracy. Lord Evans of Weardale, chairman of the committee on standards in public life, said the case of Christine Lee, who was identified by the security services last week, demonstrated the need to address vulnerabilities in the political system. Lee, 58, “knowingly engaged in political interference” on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP), according to the warning circulated by MI5. She has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to fund staff in the parliamentary office of Barry Gardiner, formerly Labour’s shadow international trade secretary. She denies wrongdoing.” – Sunday Times

There’s ‘a deal to be done’ over Northern Ireland, says Truss

“Liz Truss said there was “a deal to be done” over the post-Brexit arrangements for Northern Ireland after “constructive talks” with her EU counterpart raised hopes of less rancorous relations with Brussels. The notably sunny prognosis followed a first meeting between the UK foreign secretary and Maroš Šefčovič, the European commissioner responsible for Brexit issues, at Chevening, the cabinet minister’s official country residence in Kent. In a joint EU-UK statement, a rarity in recent years, Truss and Šefčovič said intensive talks would begin next week to deal with the outstanding issues relating to Northern Ireland’s place within both the EU and UK’s internal market… The foreign secretary played down the previous threats of triggering article 16 of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol, under which the UK would suspend parts of the deal previously agreed with the EU.” – The Observer

  • Sturgeon slammed by Tory MP over ‘reckless’ IndyRef2 plan – Sunday Express

Eustice to kick off high-tech crackdown on fly-tipping

“Environment Secretary George Eustice will this week launch a crackdown on fly-tipping in an attempt to ensure no hiding place for ‘criminals who mindlessly dump waste’. He will unveil plans for a new digital tracking system and other checks to stop waste ‘cowboys’ playing the system. The moves mean illegally dumped rubbish could be more easily traced to the source. Mr Eustice said last night that the new plans would add to powers given to town halls to tackle the scourge of fly-tipping. He said: ‘Fly-tipping is a serious crime. I am determined to clamp down on it and ensure those responsible face the full force of the law.’ The Environment Secretary added that the latest plans would ‘ensure criminals have no room to hide when they mindlessly dump waste’. – Mail on Sunday

Plan B curbs are ‘set to be lifted’

“Fully vaccinated travellers will be able to go on half-term holidays in February without the need to take a test on their return, as the Government prepares to drastically reduce Covid restrictions. Transport Secretary Grant Shapps is said to support the move, which will bolster the travel industry and ease financial pressure on families. The change to the testing rules is expected to be announced on January 26, on the day the Prime Minister will likely lift Plan B restrictions. Health Secretary Sajid Javid expects almost all Covid curbs to end in a fortnight because ‘the data is moving in the right direction’. More families are booking half-term breaks since the end of PCRs means around a £300 saving for a family of four.” – Mail on Sunday

Comment:

  • For the sake of our children, we can never shut down our country again – Wes Streeting MP, Mail on Sunday

Javid plots vaping revolution to help poor live longer

“England will become the first country in the world to prescribe e-cigarettes on the NHS to help smokers quit as part of plans to increase life expectancy for the poorest. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, believes it is a “moral outrage” that England’s richest people are living for up to a decade longer on average than the poorest. He will announce plans to address the root causes when he unveils his health disparities white paper this spring. It is understood this will include a “vaping revolution” that will allow GPs to prescribe e-cigarettes on the NHS. The plans will be overseen by Javed Khan, former head of the children’s charity Barnardo’s, who will lead a review on smoking. The habit kills 64,000 people a year in England.” – Sunday Times

Starmer vows ‘great renewal’ of NHS in bid to make Labour a vote winner

“Keir Starmer is promising a “great renewal” for the NHS as he begins to sketch out Labour’s plans for government, capitalising on the scandals engulfing the Tory party. With Labour drawing ahead in the polls, party strategists are keen to point to what a Starmer government would aim to deliver were he to win the next general election. Setting out his expectations for the NHS in the Guardian, Starmer said: “Our focus will be on the sort of renewal that has only ever been possible under Labour governments… He also stressed the role technology had to play, such as “hospital at home” systems where patients can be monitored remotely, saying the answer to the health service’s challenges was not “simply throwing money at the problem”, but being “forensic with investment”.” – The Observer

>Yesterday: Andrew Haldenby and Nick Bosanquet in Comment: Building new hospitals is the wrong priority for the NHS

Bercow dismisses inquiry finding him guilty of bullying staff as a ‘kangaroo court

“John Bercow has denounced a parliamentary inquiry into his conduct a “kangaroo court”, as he reveals it will conclude that he bullied three House of Commons staff. The former Speaker has been found culpable on 21 counts of 35 brought by Lord Lisvane, the former clerk of the Commons, and private secretaries Kate Emms and Angus Sinclair, The Sunday Times reports. Accusations against him include throwing a mobile phone, swearing at an employee and making a racially and sexually discriminatory remark, he said. The 58-year-old, who stepped down as Speaker in 2019, said he would appeal the reported ruling of Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards. If his appeal fails, he could be banned from Parliament for life.” – Sunday Telegraph