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Crisis talks over Ukraine as US troops put on alert

“The prime minister has held crisis talks with his European counterparts, the United States and Nato after he warned that “gloomy” intelligence suggested Russia was planning a lightning raid on Kiev. Speaking as British diplomatic staff and their families left the Ukrainian capital, Boris Johnson said an invasion by President Putin would be a “disastrous step” that could leave Russia bogged down in a bloody and protracted conflict. Johnson added that he did not believe war was inevitable and there was a chance that sense could prevail. He took part in a video call with his US, French, Italian, German and Polish counterparts, as well as the president of the European Commission and the Nato secretary-general. The leaders agreed in the 80-minute meeting that should a further Russian incursion into Ukraine happen they must enact “swift retributive responses” including an “unprecedented package of sanctions”.” – The Times

  • America puts 8,500 soldiers on high alert as Nato reinforces its frontier – Daily Telegraph
  • Putin’s terrifying threat if West crosses ‘red line’ – Daily Express

More:

  • Johnson warns war would be ‘painful, violent, and bloody’ – The Sun
  • ‘Global Britain’ seeks to show its military worth in Ukraine – FT
  • Europe braces for higher gas prices as risk of Russian invasion grows – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Britain’s strong response to the Ukraine crisis cannot mask decades of strategic failure

Johnson rocked by new Downing Street lockdown party allegation

“Boris Johnson’s premiership was plunged deeper into crisis on Monday after it emerged that he had a birthday party during England’s first lockdown in 2020, despite Covid rules at the time banning indoor social gatherings. Johnson has consistently denied knowledge of parties in Downing Street, but he attended a surprise get-together in the cabinet room to celebrate his birthday in June of that year, along with up to 30 guests. The disclosure of the Downing Street celebration, first reported by ITV News and confirmed by the FT, will fuel concerns among Tory MPs that the prime minister disregarded Covid rules that he imposed on the rest of England. When the gathering took place pubs, restaurants, hairdressers and non-essential shops were closed, while outdoor gatherings were limited to the rule of six. Schools also remained closed to most pupils.” – FT

  • Indoor birthday bash at height of first lockdown – The Sun
  • About 30 guests sang and ate Union Jack cake – The Times
  • MPs expect even more revelations – Daily Mail

More:

  • Gray ‘partygate’ report will not be published in full, Cabinet ministers suggest – Daily Telegraph
  • Getting rid of the prime minister means a general election, Tory MPs told – The Times
  • How No 10’s alleged parties took place as UK Covid death toll rose – The Guardian
  • Culture of rule-breaking or just an extension of the working day? – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: The pluses and minuses of working from home

Agnew quits over Treasury’s ‘schoolboy errors’ on Covid fraud

“Boris Johnson’s counter-fraud minister has quit at the dispatch box, attacking the government’s “desperately inadequate” efforts to stop taxpayers’ money being stolen during the Covid pandemic. Lord Agnew of Oulton, who has served as minister for efficiency and transformation since February 2020, accused the government of “schoolboy errors” such as giving Covid loans to companies that were not trading during the pandemic. He said that the Treasury appeared to have “no knowledge or interest in the consequences of fraud to our economy or society” and that the government machine had been “almost impregnable” to his “endless exhortations” to take the issue seriously. He added that the total cost of fraud to the taxpayer was estimated to be £29 billion a year but that “a combination of arrogance, indolence and ignorance freezes the government machine” in dealing with the problem.” – The Times

  • ‘It could cut tax by 1p if it took Covid loan fraud seriously’, says outgoing minister – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Former Tory minister, Brine, criticised for lobbying role on Covid contract – The Guardian

Theodore Agnew: Fraud is rampant, and no one in government is paying attention

“On Monday, I took the difficult decision to resign as a government minister in a slightly controversial way. It was a decision not taken lightly. In four and a half years as minister for efficiency and transformation in the Treasury and Cabinet Office, I have rarely been in the public gaze. But the failure of government in tackling fraud is, I believe, so egregious and the need for remedy so urgent that, in the end, I felt the only option was to smash some crockery to get people to take notice. Fraud in government is rampant. Public estimates sit at just under £30bn a year. There is a complete lack of focus on the cost to society, or indeed the taxpayer. The rapid roll out of the government’s bounce-back loan scheme was an important and successful intervention to protect the productive capacity of our economy in the worst peacetime crisis since the second world war. But the cack-handed implementation and catastrophic follow-through is costing us probably hundreds of millions of pounds a month.” – FT

Javid set to face questions over Ghani ‘Muslimness’ sacking

“Sajid Javid is expected to be questioned by the Whitehall investigation into Nusrat Ghani’s claim that her Muslim faith was cited as a reason she was sacked from the Government. The Telegraph has learned that Ms Ghani privately confided in the Health Secretary shortly after she alleged that the Chief Whip told her she was fired as a junior transport minister in part due to her “Muslimness”. Mr Javid acknowledged the seriousness of the claims and urged her to escalate the matter, while honouring her request to keep it confidential, it is understood. Mark Spencer, the Chief Whip, has hit back insisting he “never used those words attributed” by Ms Ghani after the February 2020 reshuffle. He said her claims were “completely false” and added that he believed they were defamatory.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sacking of Muslim MP could trigger equalities inquiry – The Times

>Today: Audio: The Moggcast on Islam and Muslims. “Being on the same side as people who believe in God is tremendously important.”

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Ghani, Spencer, Johnson, anti-Muslim prejudice, justice, the ’22, leadership unrest – and identity politics

Cabinet backs national insurance rise in April, No 10 insists

“Boris Johnson has insisted that his ministers support raising national insurance in April despite growing pressure for a delay. The prime minister insisted that “we’ve got to put the money in” to fund the NHS but would not confirm that the tax would increase by 1.25 percentage points in April as planned. MPs are increasingly nervous that this will coincide with big rises in inflation and energy bills, producing a cost-of-living crisis. Downing Street insisted that the cabinet stood by its plans. A senior minister told the Daily Mail yesterday that there would be “no objection” from anyone in the cabinet if the chancellor proposed a delay. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is reportedly calling the rise “the prime minister’s tax” after Johnson insisted on social care reform last summer. In a deal last September, Sunak agreed to fund a cap on the amount people pay for care on the condition that Johnson publicly accept a tax rise to pay for it.” – The Times

  • Johnson has ‘wiggle room’ to delay National Insurance hike, says top economist – Daily Telegraph
  • Prime Minister under pressure to scrap plans that will exacerbate looming cost of living crisis – FT
  • Frost urges Johnson to scrap planned NI rise, saying it was ‘never necessary or justified’ – Daily Mail

>Today: Gerry Lyons’ column: The Treasury should focus on going for growth as well as balancing the budget

Truss warns Brussels ‘urgent progress’ is needed in talks to end the Northern Irish border stand-off

“Liz Truss last night warned Brussels “urgent progress” is needed in talks to end the Northern Ireland border stand-off. The Foreign Secretary told EU boss Maros Sefcovic the situation is “very difficult” and must be resolved “in short order”. But after fresh negotiations at the bloc’s HQ both sides played down suggestions they’ve set an end of February deadline. Ms Truss said: “I’m absolutely determined to protect political stability and peace in Northern Ireland. “We believe there is a deal to be done. We need to make as much progress as we can in the next few weeks.” Mr Sefcovic said an agreement that would “immediately and significantly” help Northern Irish people and businesses is within reach.” – The Sun

  • EU’s veiled threat as it warns UK must maintain ‘political goodwill’… – Daily Telegraph
  • …and prepares to ‘cut off’ Brexit talks – Daily Express
  • …but ‘talks up prospects of deal’ – The Times

Major Tory donor threatens legal action over £1.2billion electricity cable between England and France

“A major Tory donor behind a £1.2 billion cross-Channel power cable project blocked by the Government is threatening to take legal action. Alexander Temerko said he plans to bring a judicial review against Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s decision against Aquind’s proposed electricity link between Portsmouth and Normandy. And Mr Temerko said he would bring unspecified legal action against trade minister Penny Mordaunt personally, describing her as the ‘biggest threat to security’ after she successfully campaigned against the project. Ms Mordaunt, a former defence secretary, had warned the Aquind link was a threat to Britain’s ‘energy security’ as she urged ministers to prevent the plans going ahead.” – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Kirsty Finlayson in Comment: For the planet’s sake, we need tariffs to boost consumption of British food

News in Brief:

  • The time Sue Gray fired me – Ryan Heath, Politico
  • Inside Operation Save Boris – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • Open lawfare – Elliot Hammer, The Critic
  • As others vacillate, we Ukrainians are grateful for Britain’s support – Aliona Hilvco, CapX
  • Scotland has lost its sense of humour – Daniel Kalder, UnHerd