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Johnson warns ‘absolutely disastrous’ Ukraine crisis is reaching ‘most dangerous’ few days

“”Grim” intelligence shows Russia’s aggression against Ukraine is reaching its “most dangerous” moment yet, Boris Johnson warned today. At a press conference at Nato HQ in Brussels the PM warned Vladimir Putin to step back from the edge of war in Ukraine – or pay the price. The sabre-rattling Kremlin strongman is ramping up menacing military drills on the border… Mr Johnson has vowed to send 1,000 more troops to the frontline and will personally visit British soldiers in Poland following his TV address. He is imploring the Kremlin to keep diplomatic options alive to avoid “the blood-soaked tragedy of another Russian invasion of Ukraine”. The PM travelled on from Brussels to Warsaw this afternoon where he held a joint press conference with its leader Mateusz Morawiecki.” – The Sun

  • Foreign Secretary taunted by opposite number after Ukraine discussions – The Times
  • Wallace will warn Putin’s generals invading is ‘lose-lose’ for Russia – Daily Mail

More:

  • UK tables sweeping new sanctions to dissuade invasion – The Guardian
  • Ukrainian troops say British NLAW missiles are a ‘game-changer’ – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • If Putin is allowed to take Ukraine, what hope for the Falklands? – Ian Birrell, Daily Mail
  • Britain must be ready to defend free Europe – James Forsyth, The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: There is no public support for turning the Dnieper into Britain’s next Suez

Starmer accuses Stop the War coalition of siding with Nato’s enemies

“Keir Starmer has launched an outspoken attack on the Stop the War coalition, in which Jeremy Corbyn is a leading figure, effectively accusing the campaign group of siding with Russia against Nato. In an opinion article for the Guardian, written on the way to Brussels where he reaffirmed Labour’s staunch support for Nato, Starmer says Stop the War are “not benign voices for peace”. “At best they are naive, at worst they actively give succour to authoritarian leaders who directly threaten democracies. There is nothing progressive in showing solidarity with the aggressor when our allies need our solidarity and – crucially – our practical assistance now more than ever.”” – The Guardian

  • Under my leadership, Labour’s commitment to Nato is unshakable – Sir Keir Starmer, The Guardian

North Sea gas may be prioritised for British homes over businesses abroad…

“North Sea gas could be prioritised for British homes and businesses ahead of being sold abroad under new plans. Senior government figures have ordered officials to look at ways of prioritising UK energy suppliers over foreign customers, as global prices rocket. Britain exports enough gas in three months to heat 8.5million homes for a year — 32,000 gigawatts to countries like Belgium and the Netherlands. But with a new Cold War with Russia looming, secret plans are being drawn up to protect the UK’s energy. PM Boris Johnson has told ministers increasing energy extraction in the North Sea could help drive down gas bills. But some still want to go further and give UK energy firms supply priority.” – The Sun

  • SNP copies Sunak with new council tax discount for 1.85m Scottish people – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • Tory group fighting net zero ‘a small minority’, say parliamentarians – The Guardian

>Yesterday: Virginia Crosbie MP in Comment: Nuclear is key to securing the UK’s energy future

…as UK seeks ‘investment big bang’ with Solvency II reform

“Ministers are closing in on a deal with City watchdogs to unleash what Boris Johnson has called an “investment big bang”, as the prime minister seeks to prove that post-Brexit regulatory changes can boost the economy. Johnson and Rishi Sunak, chancellor, want to reform so-called Solvency II rules, adopted while Britain was in the EU, to allow insurance companies to invest billions of pounds more in infrastructure, including green energy projects. “We have been working with regulators and they have moved significantly,” said one government source close to the talks. “We are confident it will end up in the right place.” Another official said: “Ministers are engaged and keen to make progress.”” – FT

  • £4 billion of Covid loans and grants swindled by fraudsters will be written off, MPs warn – The Sun

More:

  • Conservative donor suing former MP over handling of his personal data – FT

>Today: Dr Liam Fox in Comment: Spurred by industry expertise, the Government is ready to unleash the power of Global Britain

>Yesterday: Stephen Booth’s column: The Government’s regulatory reform plans. We know a lot about the principles…but not much about the practice.

Patel vs Khan: Mayor ‘did not warn the Home Office or Queen he was going to get rid of scandal-plagued Commissioner’

“Dame Cressida Dick’s bombshell resignation has sparked a war of words between Sadiq Khan and Priti Patel amid allegations that the Mayor of London failed to warn the Home Secretary or the Queen he was going to get rid of the Scotland Yard chief. The beleaguered Met chief quit Britain’s biggest police force after losing Mr Khan’s support over her plan to implement major reforms to Scotland Yard following a string of scandals and accusations of a ‘toxic’ working culture… But there is a huge row between City Hall and Whitehall over the Mayor of London’s sudden decision to pull the plug – three weeks after Dame Cressida claimed Mr Khan had said he had ‘total confidence’ in her.” – Daily Mail

  • Turmoil as Met chief leaves job within hours of vowing to stay – The Times
  • Country’s most senior police officer says he ‘left her with no choice’ but to quit – Daily Telegraph

More:

  • The charge sheet of failure and incompetence – Daily Mail
  • Police scandals and political scrutiny hastened exit – The Guardian
  • Who will become the next Met commissioner? – The Times

Nick Bowes: Dick’s resignation is proof the Met must be scrapped

“Whether a change in leadership alone is enough is a critical question that needs asking. Some of the cultural and institutional problems are so engrained that more fundamental reforms are going to be necessary if public confidence is to be restored. In the coming weeks and months, nothing should be ruled out, and that includes the option of starting afresh. Although the circumstances differ, the Royal Ulster Constabulary was discredited in the eyes of the Catholic community and was abolished by the Good Friday Agreement. In 2001, it was replaced by the Police Service of Northern Ireland. Creating a new police service for London should come with a series of reforms to drag the city’s policing into the 21st century.” – The Times

  • Dick could not solve the Met’s problems. She could barely admit they existed. – Sandra Laville, The Guardian

Covid 1) Johnson pushes for the ‘big bang’ lifting of Covid curbs across the UK

“Ministers are pushing for a ‘big bang’ lifting of Covid restrictions across the UK this month amid fears different rules in Scotland and Wales will fuel ‘confusion and division’. Whitehall sources said talks had been opened with the devolved administrations in Cardiff, Edinburgh and Belfast about co-ordinating the lifting of coronavirus rules. Boris Johnson announced this week the Government is on course to lift all remaining Covid restrictions a month early, with February 24 pencilled in as ‘Covid Freedom Day’. The Scottish government gave a hostile reaction to the Prime Minister’s decision yesterday, with health minister Humza Yousaf describing it as ‘an attempt to distract and deflect scrutiny over the Prime Minister’s behaviour’.” – Daily Mail

  • Scotland’s chief medical officer apologises after Tories accuse him of breaking civil service code – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Living with Covid. What does the future look like for England?

Covid 2) Face masks will not return to schools as they harm learning too much, vows Zahawi

“Face  masks will return to the classroom as they cause enormous damage to kids’ learning, Nadhim Zahawi vowed today. The Education Secretary resisted calls to bring back Covid measures in lessons as the rest of the country unlocks. The former vaccine supremo said Britain should continue down the path of freedom after Boris Johnson vowed to rip up all remaining pandemic laws in a fortnight. Masks were dropped from schools last month but today Mr Zahawi came under pressure from a parent to reinstate them… The Sun revealed last month that Mr Zahawi has demanded a final say over any schools wanting to reimpose masks. He added that if the data continues to “move in the right direction” all restrictions will be removed a month early.” – The Sun

  • Vaccines saved my life, says Education Secretary – Daily Mail

Prime Minister to face confidence vote if fined over ‘partygate’, say Tories…

“Senior Conservative MPs said Boris Johnson would face a vote of no confidence in his leadership if the UK prime minister was fined for breaking coronavirus restrictions. Johnson is expected to be among more than 50 people sent questionnaires by the Metropolitan Police as part of its investigation into 12 in Downing Street and Whitehall held during Covid-19 restrictions. Former prime minister Sir John Major on Thursday accused Johnson of breaking the law and undermining public trust in the so-called partygate scandal. “At Number 10, the prime minister and officials broke lockdown laws,” Major said. Downing Street said Johnson had not been contacted by the Met over its investigation into government parties, but his allies believe his attendance at several events means it is likely.” – FT

  • Johnson to get private lawyer for questions on Downing Street parties – The Times

Comment:

  • Whisper it, but I’m beginning to see how Boris just might survive this – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

…as he hits back at Major’s ‘demonstrably untrue’ attacks over Partygate…

“Boris Johnson today hit back at Sir John Major’s “demonstrably untrue” attacks that he has shredded Britain’s reputation. Sir John stuck the knife into the PM by declaring him guilty for Partygate even before the Met probe wraps – but ran away from questions about his own chequered career. The ex-Tory PM ramped up his long-standing criticism of his successor with a blistering speech accusing him of dreaming up “brazen excuses” for lockdown flouting. He said BoJo’s “shifty” government had dragged trust in politicians to a “low ebb, eroded by foolish behaviour” in No10. But critics were quick to point out Sir John’s own period in office in the 1990s – tarnished by sleaze and his own notorious affair.” – The Sun

  • Tory grandee lambasts ‘shifty’ government in wide-ranging attack” – The Times
  • Furious senior Tories round on former Prime Minister over his own record – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • This government’s failings imperil us all – Sir John Major, The Guardian
  • Who is Major to preach to anyone? – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail

…and brings in Queen’s ex-aide for his new No10 team

“A former close aide of the Queen is expected to become Downing Street’s new ‘gatekeeper’ in a bid to bring order to No 10. Samantha Cohen, who worked as Her Majesty’s assistant private secretary for eight years, will control access to the Prime Minister in a role which has not been filled since David Cameron’s premiership. The 50-year-old, nicknamed ‘Samantha the Panther’ due to her no-nonsense, professional approach, also acted as the Duchess of Sussex’s private secretary for 18 months to help prepare Meghan for royal life. Mrs Cohen, who left the Palace in 2019 after 18 years there, will take over the management of the Prime Minister’s diary as the director of government relations.” – Daily Mail

>Today: David Willets’ column: Johnson’s reorganisation of Number 10 and the Cabinet Office hints at bigger problems than partygate

Give one offender a chance, employers urged

“Prisoners will get access to apprenticeships for the first time to help plug labour shortages across England and Wales, Dominic Raab has announced. The justice secretary said the change in the law would provide a “missing link” between the qualifications that prisoners can attain while serving their sentence and getting the crucial experience that they do not have access to at present. The government will change the law to allow offenders at open prisons in England and Wales to apply for apprenticeships in sectors that have not been able to fill vacancies during the past year, including hospitality, construction, HGV driving and agriculture. It is hoped that opening up apprenticeships to prisoners will provide a more direct route into employment.” – The Times

Union 1) UK to make new offer on Northern Ireland in talks with EU

“Liz Truss, UK foreign secretary, is to make new proposals to break the deadlock over post-Brexit trading arrangements in Northern Ireland on Friday, saying that resolving the row with the EU was “an absolute priority”. Truss’s allies said both sides wanted to bridge their differences, although Boris Johnson, the prime minister, warned this week that Britain could still unilaterally suspend parts of the so-called Northern Ireland protocol if no deal was reached. British ministers have been drawing up fresh contingency plans in recent weeks in the event that Johnson activates the Article 16 override mechanism, possibly plunging the UK into a trade war with the EU.” – FT

More:

  • Bailey calls for indefinite waiver on EU lenders’ access to London clearing – FT

>Yesterday:

Union 2) Opperman throws out SNP pension claim

“Nicola Sturgeon’s insistence that UK taxpayers will fork out for an independent Scotland’s state pension fund has been shot to smithereens. This week the SNP leader repeated claims by the party’s Westminster leader Ian Blackford that Scottish pensioners would not lose out on the benefit if it left the union. Both nationalist politicians made the claim as Ms Sturgeon’s party prepares to hold a second referendum on independence – dubbed Indyref 2 – before the end of next year. But when UK Pension Minister Guy Opperman was asked about their bold statements during a Q&A earlier today he gave rather a different answer. The Tory MP rubbished their claims saying “it’s not going to happen under any circumstances whatsoever”.” – Daily Express

Starmer accuses Unite leader of threatening Labour Party

“Sir Keir Starmer has accused one of Labour’s biggest trade union backers of “threatening” him, amid suggestions that it could pull its party funding. Sharon Graham, general secretary of Unite, said that she was considering withdrawing the union’s funding of Labour because of a dispute between a Labour-run council and bin collectors. About 75 refuse workers in Coventry began a two-month strike over pay at the start of February. Graham said: “Let me be very clear: the remaining financial support of the Labour Party is now under review. Your behaviour and mistreatment of our members will not be accepted. It’s time to act like Labour, be the party for the workers.” … Despite a deteriorating relationship between Labour and Unite since Starmer succeeded Jeremy Corbyn in 2020, the union remains a significant funder. ” – The Times

  • Labour MP faces racism claims for ‘linking journalist to Chinese spy’ – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • Johnson’s squandered chance – Aris Roussinos, UnHerd
  • Could fracking really rescue Britain from high gas prices? – Karl Williams, CapX
  • The EV delusion – Brian Clegg, The Critic
  • Anti-police spin is tearing the force apart – Kevin Hurley, The Spectator