Published:

Rising Conservative pressure on Johnson over Downing Street parties…

“Boris Johnson has been urged by ministers and Tory MPs to apologise for a party in the Downing Street garden during the first lockdown at which he is said to have “gladhanded” guests. Johnson and Carrie Symonds, his fiancée at the time, are both said to have attended the event in May 2020 and mingled with 40 Downing Street officials and advisers as people drank wine, gin and beer. The Times has been told that one member of the government at the party joked about being caught breaking lockdown rules, asking how it would look if a drone photographed the garden. At the time people in England could meet only one other person outside and large gatherings were banned.” – The Times

  • Spotlight on Johnson’s private secretary intensifies amid claims of another boozy lockdown gathering – Daily Telegraph
  • Scottish Tory leader says Boris should quit if he was at No 10 ‘BYOB’ party – Daily Mail
  • Garden party hangover might explain why Johnson didn’t sack Cummings straight away – Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson losing Tory support as storm grows over Downing Street garden party – Daily Telegraph
  • Scotland Yard under fire over failure to launch ‘partygate’ investigation – Daily Telegraph
  • MP breaks down in tears as he reveals mum-in-law died alone of Covid as No10 aides partied – The Sun
  • Johnson faces Tory mutiny as mood turns ‘sulphurous’ – FT
  • Davidson blasts Downing Street lockdown party after leaked email – The Herald

Analysis:

  • Inside the Downing Street lockdown party: Tesco rosé and jokes about drones – The Times

Political sketch

Comment:

>Today:

…as he faces Prime Minister’s Questions today. Will he apologise?

“Boris Johnson was last night engulfed by the worst crisis of his premiership over the Downing Street party scandal, with one Cabinet minister warning ‘we’re f***ed unless we resolve it’. On a day when his future as Prime Minister was being openly questioned, Tory MPs broke ranks to demand he urgently address claims of a lockdown-busting gathering in the No 10 garden. Mr Johnson failed to appear before the cameras or make any public comment yesterday – despite explosive allegations that he and his wife attended the event at a time when all parties were illegal. No 10 also refused to deny he had been at the ‘bring your own booze’ bash on May 20, 2020. The Prime Minister is expected to make a statement at the start of PMQs today in a bid to quell mounting anger from the public and his own party. Yesterday he faced a ferocious backlash from families who were prevented by lockdown rules from saying a proper farewell to loved ones.” – Daily Mail

Philip Johnston: This time, Johnson may not survive the fury at No 10’s flagrant rule-breaking

“Can you remember what you were doing on May 20 2020? In normal circumstances we would have to rack our brains, consult diaries, dig out old calendars and rummage around for credit card statements. But most of us can recall precisely where we were because we were stuck at home under virtual house arrest decreed by the Government and Parliament. I had a message from my son that day, informing me that he, his wife and our baby grandson would be appearing at the end of our path to say a socially distanced hello. No contact, no hug, no kiss allowed. I also noted in an email to a colleague how there had been no cases of Covid recorded in London for 48 hours on that day, so why were we still locked down?” – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 1) Shorter isolation is worth the gamble, ministers decide…

“Covid isolation is likely to be cut to five days after ministers concluded that easing a staffing crisis was worth the extra risk as the Omicron wave starts to ease. Boris Johnson was told yesterday by government scientists that he would have to accept a slightly increased risk of people leaving isolation while still infectious if he wanted to get people back to work sooner. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is among ministers to have concluded that the policy makes sense as infections start to peak but workplace absences continue. A shorter isolation period is expected to be signed off at a meeting of the government’s Covid-O committee tomorrow.” – The Times

  • Javid ‘backs slashing self-isolation periods from seven days to five’ – and is ‘increasingly of the view’ it is sensible – Daily Mail
  • Teacher absence at new high despite Christmas ‘firebreak’ – The Times
  • Just two in 100 more people ‘would be infectious if Covid isolation ended on day five’ – The Sun
  • Businesses ‘very worried’ over possible extension to vaccine passport scheme in Scotland – The Scotsman

Coronavirus 2) … as an expert predicts Britain ‘will be among first’ to emerge from Covid pandemic

“Britain will be one of the first countries in the world to emerge from the pandemic, according to a leading public health expert. Professor David Heymann of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine said that Britain’s very high levels of immunity seem to be “keeping the virus at bay” as he predicted coronavirus would soon settle down to normal patterns of spread seen with other infections. Hospital admissions have stopped rising across most of England. The northeast and Yorkshire is the only part of England where admissions are still clearly rising, with London seeing falls and the rest of the country broadly level or starting to decline, adding to confidence in weathering the Omicron wave.” – The Times

  • Scientists believed Covid leaked from Wuhan lab – but feared debate could hurt ‘international harmony’ – The Times

Comment:

Coronavirus 3) ‘We’ll look to relax Covid restrictions next week if Omicron wave peaks in Wales’, says Drakeford

“Welsh Government will look to relax restrictions in Wales next week if Covid cases continue to fall, the First Minister said. Wales’ First Minister Mark Drakeford offered the prospect of a easing of Covid restrictions in the Senedd as he faced questions from Welsh Tory leader Andrew RT Davies. It came as Scotland announced it was lifting all crowd restrictions at sports games outdoors. A review of lockdown restrictions in Wales is due to be held again this Friday, 14th, with another review a week afterwards on Friday 21st, which Mr Drakeford appears to be focusing on as a potential point when restrictions could be eased. “Next week will be the end of a three week review period,” said Mr Drakeford.” – Wales Online

Truss plans rare visit to Moscow

“Liz Truss wants to travel to Moscow for talks with her counterpart amid mounting concern in government that Russia could invade Ukraine. The foreign secretary wants Russia to “stop its unprovoked aggression”, The Times has been told. One government source said that Truss could go there early next month, although sources close to the foreign secretary said that there were no plans in place at the moment. Truss would be the first foreign secretary to visit Russia since Boris Johnson in 2017. Few ministers from countries that are Nato members have visited recently as tensions escalate.” – The Times

  • Foreign Secretary ‘definitely thinks deal can be done’ over the NI Protocol – Belfast Telegraph

Sunak is told those in North deserve more help with energy bills as it’s colder

“Tory MPs last night demanded more financial support with energy bills for colder parts of the country as well as cuts to VAT and green levies. One backbencher said it was wrong for politicians earning more than £80,000 to legislate to push up heating costs for the poorest in society. Another questioned why Britain was so reliant on Putin’s gas rather than building up its own reserves. Rishi Sunak continued to hold meetings with rebellious Tory backbenchers who urged him to tackle the cost of living crisis. One MP urged the Chancellor to consider giving more money to areas with colder weather. The Treasury said that the idea would be looked at.” – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • The cost of living crisis will hammer Brits – but we could all save hundreds if Johnson did these three simple things, Jake Berry – The Sun

Smart motorway rollout paused amid safety fears

“The government will pause the rollout of all future smart motorways for at least two years following concerns about their safety. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said no new smart motorways, on which the hard shoulder is used as a permanent live traffic lane, would be built until a full five years of safety data had been collected on stretches introduced before 2020. The announcement was welcomed by motoring groups as a “watershed decision” in halting the spread of the roads, although 100 miles that are 50 per cent complete will still open. Shapps told The Times: “What I can assure people is that all these stretches will open with the full stopped vehicle detection in place.”” – The Times

News in brief: