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Prime Minister pushes for Plan B restrictions to be lifted from end of this month…

“Covid restrictions could start to be lifted this month, after Michael Gove said Britain was moving towards a situation where it could ‘live with’ the virus. The Plan B measures were imposed last month in response to the Omicron variant and include guidance on WFH and legal requirements for masks and Covid passes in certain venues. Downing Street is examining options to lift them in stages if cases remain too high to remove them all in one go. Extending Covid passes, due to expire on January 26, would require another bruising clash with Tory backbenchers, which No10 wants to avoid. But some ministers are pushing for the WFH guidance to be removed first, arguing that it causes the most damage to the economy.” – Daily Mail

  • Government hopeful many Covid restrictions in England will end this month – FT
  • End working from home to fire up economy, ministers urge – The Times

More:

  • Cabinet anger over misleading Covid isolation guidance – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson tells advisers to look again – Daily Mail

…and says number of people catching Covid in hospital is ‘unacceptable’

“The proportion of people catching Covid in hospital is “unacceptable”, Boris Johnson has said after data showed the virus has reached almost half of all patients in some regions. Mr Johnson said the number of patients in hospital with the virus was “massively up” but that many were contracting it after they had been admitted for other reasons. The latest figures show the proportion of “iatrogenic” patients may be as high as 45 per cent, although Downing Street has quoted the figure as being around 30 per cent. More than 20 hospital trusts have declared critical incidents, with thousands of staff having been forced to isolate after coming into contact with patients with the virus. On Monday, Mr Johnson warned that NHS staff must be “properly protected” against Covid, especially where it can be proven that it is circulating widely in hospitals.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson ramps up booster calls warning ‘Omicron is still out there’ – The Sun

>Yesterday: Dr Rob Sutton in Comment: The Health and Care Bill is Javid’s chance to ensure that doctors complete their training

Scots could wear face masks for years under Sturgeon’s plan for living with Covid

“Scots will be have to wear face coverings in public places for years to come under Nicola Sturgeon’s long-term strategy for living with Covid, she has indicated. The First Minister said Scotland had to ask itself “what adaptations to pre-pandemic life” might be needed and said face coverings “might be required in the longer-term to enable us to live with it with far fewer protective measures”. She insisted the tough measures she had imposed on hospitality and large events from Boxing Day had worked, despite government figures showing that Scotland has a higher Covid rate than England. Speaking ahead of her announcement on Tuesday about extending the restrictions beyond next Monday, she argued that “we would be in an even more challenging situation right now” if she had not introduced them.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Labour’s plan for more devolution is exactly what Britain doesn’t need – Henry Hill, Daily Telegraph

Sarah Vine: Rage doesn’t even begin to cover how I feel about No.10’s damn stupidity

“Sometimes people do things that are so unutterably stupid, so determinedly idiotic, so spectacularly self-sabotaging and counterproductive one is lost for words. When all you can do is stare, open-mouthed and aghast, at the catastrophe unfolding in front of you. This is precisely how I feel about this latest ‘partygate’ revelation, an email – there it is, in black and white – from Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, inviting No 10 staff to a booze-up in the grounds of Downing Street on May 20, 2020. It makes me want to bang my entire head against the nearest wall in fury and frustration. And, frankly, bang all their stupid heads together while I’m at it. I don’t need to point out what kind of a state the country was in at the time. We all know, we all remember. Families divided, businesses on the brink of collapse, children stuck at home, parents juggling work and home-schooling, the elderly locked up in care homes.” – Daily Mail

  • The post-Covid revolution has been cancelled – James Kirkup, The Times

>Today: Audio: WATCH: The Moggcast. “You’re not going to resign, are you?” “I’m fully supportive of the Prime Minister.”

Downing Street ‘staff gatherings’ 1) Johnson’s Private Secretary organised a ‘bring a bottle’ party – which flouted Covid rules despite the law

“An email sent by the civil servant who runs the Prime Minister’s private office was leaked to reporters on Monday, in a move that has placed Mr Johnson under renewed pressure. The Metropolitan Police confirmed it was “in touch with the Cabinet Office” over the gathering, prompting speculation it could open a formal investigation into an alleged breach of lockdown rules. The email, sent by Martin Reynolds, the Prime Minister’s Principal Private Secretary, invited staff to “make the most of the lovely weather” by attending a “socially distanced drinks” reception in the Number 10 garden. Attendees were asked to join the gathering from 6pm, with the email sent on Mr Reynolds’ behalf encouraging them to “bring your own booze!”, as first revealed by The Telegraph.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Ex-ambassador mandarin who sent ‘BYOB’ partygate email fights for his job – Daily Mail

Downing Street ‘staff gatherings’ 2) Was the Prime Minister there?

“About 40 people are thought to have joined the party, which took place when people in England could meet only one other person outside and large gatherings were banned. Witnesses have told The Times that Johnson and his fiancée Carrie, who is now his wife, attended the party, an accusation that the prime minister failed to deny yesterday. The latest claims of rule-breaking in Downing Street while the public was locked down threaten to derail Johnson’s attempt to use the new year to move on from rows over alleged Christmas parties… On the same day as the party Oliver Dowden, then culture secretary, reminded the public in a press conference broadcast from Downing Street: “You can meet one person outside of your household in an outdoor, public place provided that you stay two metres apart.”” – The Times

  • Leaked email about drinks event at No 10 explodes Johnson’s defences – The Guardian
  • Police are ‘liaising’ with Cabinet office probe – Daily Mail

More:

  • Johnson dodges new probe into flat refurb by Parliament’s sleaze watchdog – The Sun

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

Johnson and Sunak meet for crisis talks on living costs to plan slashing VAT on energy bills…

“Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak met for crisis talks on the cost of living yesterday to plot slashing VAT on energy bills. Despite publicly talking down the prospects of a cut, The Sun can reveal it is high up on a list of possible fixes to lessen the blow of soaring bills this spring. The PM and Chancellor held meetings with officials following a private dinner on Sunday evening where they agreed to take significant steps to reduced energy bills for struggling Brits. Last week Mr Johnson seemed to rule out a VAT reductions on energy bills that are set to soar to £2,000 for the average household when the price cap is adjusted in April. But he previously backed using the freedom of Brexit to remove the 5 per cent levy on energy bills saying it hit the poorest hardest.” – The Sun

  • Chancellor will hold summits this week to try to reduce tensions in the party – The Guardian
  • Green insulation levy may fall to reduce the cost of energy bills – The Times
  • Downing Street considers emergency loan scheme for energy companies – Daily Mail
  • Labour to force parliamentary vote on whether to remove VAT from household fuel bills – FT

>Today: Gerry Lyons’ column: How to tackle the cost of living crisis

>Yesterday: Sam Hall in Comment: The solution to a gas crisis is not to deepen our dependence on gas

…as Prime Minister urges restraint on MPs’ pay

“Boris Johnson has urged “restraint” from the body that sets MPs’ salaries, paving the way for a second year of pay freezes. The prime minister suggested that salaries should remain at £81,932, citing the cost-of-living pressures felt by families across the country. The Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority (Ipsa), which sets MPs’ pay, is expected to make its recommendations shortly. They will be based on average earnings increases in the public sector, calculated by the Office for National Statistics. This year public sector salaries have risen by an average of 2.7 per cent, suggesting MPs’ earnings could increase by about £2,200. Before the decision, Johnson’s official spokesman urged Ipsa not to recommend a large rise.” – The Times

Gove 1) Clashes with Treasury over bid to boost manufacturing

“Michael Gove has clashed with the Treasury over plans to overhaul British manufacturing because of concerns about the costs involved, in a blow to his levelling up agenda. The Housing Secretary has been warned not to go ahead with a White Paper meant to map out the future of the industry as this would suggest new investment that is not coming, The Telegraph understands. The stand-off reflects a wider tension between Tories calling for more spending to deliver change in former Labour-held “Red Wall” seats and those with traditional constituencies pushing for tax cuts. A government source said: “The Treasury don’t like it because it would involve a lot of money.” The position was made clear during a meeting of the Cabinet sub-committee working on levelling up agenda in early December, with the differences dragging on into the new year.” – Daily Telegraph

Gove 2) Attempt to fix UK cladding crisis looks set to end up in court

“Housebuilder shares tumbled on Monday and executives warned of a legal quagmire after the government gave the industry in England a two-month deadline to find a £4bn fix for the Grenfell cladding crisis. Michael Gove, the housing secretary, told MPs that he would ensure leaseholders would not have to pay a penny to fix unsafe cladding on all residential buildings taller than 11 metres. “Innocent leaseholders must not shoulder the burden,” he said. Gove said he would use all the tools at the government’s disposal to force developers, contractors and cladding materials suppliers to cover the costs of fixing buildings in England between 11m and 18m tall. But campaigners warned the intervention on cladding meant thousands of leaseholders were still potentially liable to cover the cost of fixing other fire-safety issues affecting their buildings.” – FT

  • Leaseholders will not have to pay to fix any fire risks, government pledges – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Government’s plan won’t fix cladding scandal – Helen Thomas, FT

Police chiefs urged to act over rising murder rate

“Chief constables must do more to tackle the “worrying” rise in the murder rate after it bucked the downward trend in most crimes during pandemic, the policing minister said. Kit Malthouse has met police leaders to demand “robust plans” to drive down the murder rate. Lockdowns suppressed rates in most categories since the pandemic began — with the overall crime rate down 14 per cent — but the levels of murder and manslaughter between April and June last year were the highest they had been for three years. During the pandemic there was also a rise in reports of domestic abuse, antisocial behaviour — thought to be linked to people spending more time at home — and rape. Malthouse announced the move after London had its worst year for teenage murders on record.” – The Times

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

EU slaps down Truss ‘masterstroke’ hours before talks

“Liz Truss has been slammed by an EU official hours before resuming talks to solve the trading arrangement problem in Northern Ireland. The UK foreign secretary will resume talks between the British Government and the EU after taking over from her predecessor Lord Frost, who resigned late last year. Ms Truss has opted for a warmer approach and has invited Maros Sefcovic, the EU’s Brexit commissioner, to discuss the issue at a mansion in Chevening, Kent, with the promise of “constructive proposals” to break the deadlock. While the EU has welcomed this new approach, one official close to the talks sniped: “We will not be seduced by a night in a country house.” Officials on both sides admit their positions on how to proceed with border checks in Northern Ireland remain very different.” – Daily Express

  • Will the UK and EU agree a deal on Northern Ireland? – FT

More:

  • Truss phones Indian minister as Britain eyes huge £100bn trade deal – Daily Express

>Today: ToryDiary: Johnson needs a plan for triggering Article 16, whether he wants to do it or not

Tory MPs demand better facilities for Special Boat Service

“MPs have warned of the plight facing the Special Boat Service (SBS) after revealing it does not have an adequate pool to train in, despite being Britain’s elite waterborne force. Richard Drax, the Conservative MP for South Dorset, told the Commons during defence questions on Monday that he was “shocked” to discover that the service does not have a proper aquatic centre. He asked Jeremy Quin, the minister for defence procurement, when they would get something suitable, but he was unable to say. Mr Drax told The Telegraph that he had made the revelation during a visit to the SBS site in Poole last month… The Telegraph understands that SBS personnel are disgruntled with the situation.” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • Brown’s plans for the United Kingdom are as abysmal as ever – Henry Hill, CapX
  • Will Maréchal-Le Pen join Zemmour’s campaign? – Jonathan Miller, The Spectator
  • T. S. Eliot would despair at this year’s shortlist for the prize in his name – Francesca Peacock, The Critic
  • Allowing pro-independence candidates would backfire on Labour – Henry Hill, UnHerd