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The Tories have vowed to abolish the BBC licence fee by 2027 if they are still in power, as culture secretary Nadine Dorries unveiled a £2bn funding freeze for the broadcaster.
It comes amid a reported plot, dubbed Operation Red Meat, to stop Boris Johnson’s premiership being engulfed by the No 10 parties scandal, by announcing a raft of policies to assuage voters and Tory MPs, including a “booze ban” in No 10 – and a freeze on the BBC licence fee.
Also echoing a report in The Independent suggesting Mr Johnson is planning to oust members of his inner circle in a plan named Operation Save Big Dog, Tory Party co-chair Oliver Dowden insisted a “contrite” Mr Johnson will seek to “address the underlying culture in Downing Street”.
But Tim Loughton, the latest of six Tory MPs to publicly call for his resignation, warned a change of officials would not reverse the already “terminal damage”, while Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claimed the PM had not only “lost all authority”, but “broke the law” and then “lied about what had happened”.
Boris Johnson ‘broke the law’ amid ‘industrial-scale partying', Sir Keir Starmer says
Dorries attacks BBC licence fee as Dowden says NHS backlog needs ‘leadership’
PM reportedly planning No 10 ‘clear-out’ and raft of new policies
Labour asks Cabinet secretary to probe No 10 party ‘cover up’ allegations
No 10 apologises to Buckingham Palace over ‘parties’ night before Prince Philip’s funeral
Record 70% of voters tell Boris Johnson to quit as No 10 parties scandal grows with apology to Palace
Friday 14 January 2022 19:22 , Joe Middleton
Voters are deserting Boris Johnson over the scandal of No 10 parties, with 70 per cent calling for him to quit and almost as many dismissing his Commons apology as bogus, an exclusive survey for The Independent reveals.
The rejection is revealed amid criticism of the prime minister for failing to say sorry personally to the Queen for parties held in No 10 on the eve of Prince Philip’s funeral last April.
Instead, an apology was delivered by a member of staff in a telephone call – as Mr Johnson remained in his Downing Street flat, despite the extraordinary new evidence of Covid rule-busting, writes our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.
Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher mock PM on Friday Night Football
Friday 14 January 2022 19:57 , Joe Middleton
Gary Neville and Jamie Carragher this evening criticised Boris Johnson’s comment he thought he was attending a “work event” during a Downing Street party.
Former Manchester United star Neville said that at rivalries such as Crystal Palace versus Brighton the atmosphere always seems to be like a “party”.
“Let’s be straight though”, Carragher responded. “This is not a party tonight, this is about work.
“If you speak to Graham Potter, Patrick Vieira, there’s 22 players on the pitch. They’ve got to know the difference between work and a party.
“If they get that wrong, or think they’re in party mode, they’re going to be in big big trouble.”
The duo then burst out laughing after Friday Night Football presenter David Jones said felt like a “political broadcast”.
Labour shadow minister was part of delegation to China with ‘agent’ of the communist state
Friday 14 January 2022 20:19 , Joe Middleton
A Labour shadow minister was once part of a delegation to China led by a group founded by the lawyer accused by MI5 of being an agent of the communist state, The Independent can reveal.
Sarah Owen – considered a rising star in Keir Starmer’s party – was among a 20-strong delegation with Christine Ching Kui Lee, whose group, the British Chinese Project (BCP), organised the visit in 201, writes our chief reporter Simon Murphy.
The 58-year-old solicitor is the subject of a security services warning issued to parliamentarians, which alleges she has been seeking to improperly influence MPs on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party.
Owen, then a 30-year-old prospective parliamentary candidate, visited both China and Hong Kong as part of the group, meeting the British consul general among others.
Labour opens up 10-point lead over Tories, new poll shows
Friday 14 January 2022 20:37 , Joe Middleton
Labour has opened up a 10-point lead over the Conservatives and has risen to its largest predicted vote share in almost a decade, according to one polling company.
A Savanta ComRes survey, its first voting intention poll since the so-called partygate allegations broke, put Labour on 42 points, up by five, with Boris Johnson’s Tories on 32, down by one.
The Liberal Democrats are on 11 points, the SNP and the Green Party jointly on four, with “others” taking 7% of the predicted vote.
The polling outfit said 42% was the highest vote share for Sir Keir Starmer’s party since 2013, with its 10-point lead the best since April 2019.
Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta ComRes, said: “This bombshell poll comes with renewed calls for the Prime Minister to resign, with the vast majority of the public, half of 2019 Conservatives and even two in five people that would still vote Conservative now saying that Boris Johnson’s time is up.
“Ultimately, however, it’s his backbenchers most likely to remove him and, even though a Labour lead of this size would deprive Keir Starmer of an outright majority, many of the Conservatives who owe Boris Johnson their jobs for his remarkable 2019 result would probably be out of Westminster if these figures were to play out at a general election.”
🚨NEW Westminster Voting Intention🚨
📈Largest Labour figure since 2013.
🌳Con 32 (-1)
🌹Lab 42 (+5)
🔶LDM 11 (=)
🌍Grn 4 (-1)
🎗️SNP 4 (=)
⬜️Other 7 (-3)
2,151 UK adults, 13-14
(Changes from 7-9 Jan 2022) pic.twitter.com/QBbVbaxhSb
— Savanta ComRes (@SavantaComRes) January 14, 2022
No10 staff reportedly held ‘wine-time Fridays’ every week during Covid pandemic
Friday 14 January 2022 20:52 , Joe Middleton
Downing Street staff held “wine-time Fridays” every week during the pandemic that Boris Johnson encouraged, reports say.
The regular gatherings were encouraged by the prime minister who wanted aides to “let off steam”, despite harsh lockdown rules forbidding indoor socialising.
The Daily Mirror reports that the boozy meet-ups were scheduled into the electronic calendars of approximately 50 Downing Street staff between 4pm and 7pm.
They were organised by the No10 press office and would advisers from other parts of the building would regularly join in with the gatherings.
The latest revelations are sure to heap yet further pressure on the beleaguered prime minister who is facing the most serious challenge to his premiership after a series of alleged parties at Downing Street.
Should Boris Johnson resign over ‘partygate’? Have your say in our poll
Friday 14 January 2022 21:15 , Joe Middleton
Some senior Tory MPs are calling for PM to quit - but what do you think? Tell us in the poll below.
Bees will die as ministers approve toxic banned pesticide for second time, warn experts
Friday 14 January 2022 21:30 , Joe Middleton
Ministers have given the go-ahead for farmers to use a banned bee-harming pesticide in England for the second year running.
The government went against the advice of its own scientific advisers, who said they did not see the justification for applying the neonicotinoid to sugar beet this year, writes Jane Dalton.
A single teaspoon of thiamethoxam is toxic enough to kill 1.25 billion bees, according to biology professor and insect expert Dave Goulson, and wildlife chiefs warned the decision could devastate already-struggling bee populations.
Friday 14 January 2022 21:55 , Joe Middleton
Friday 14 January 2022 22:20 , Joe Middleton
A Sudanese man in his twenties has died trying to cross the English Channel in freezing conditions, French authorities say.
He fell overboard when a boat ran into trouble shortly after setting off from the coast south of Boulogne in the early hours of Friday morning.
He was found unconscious by French rescue teams and taken to shore, where he was declared dead.
So far this year, more than 450 people have made the life-threatening trip across the Channel in small boats.
Laurie Churchman reports.
Downing Street staff ‘held regular wine-time Friday’ drinks during lockdown
Friday 14 January 2022 22:49 , Joe Middleton
Downing Street staff reportedly held drinks on Friday evenings throughout the pandemic with Boris Johnson regularly seeing them doing so.
The prime minister encouraged aides to “let off steam” despite having banned indoor socialising during lockdown, The Mirror reported a source as saying.
The paper said the end of week “wine-time Fridays” became such a fixture that staff bought a £142 drinks fridge and would head to a nearby Tesco with a suitcase to stock up on wine and beer, writes Liam James.
Boris Johnson too ‘preoccupied’ by Partygate to fix NHS, says Keir Starmer
Friday 14 January 2022 23:20 , Joe Middleton
Boris Johnson cannot fix the problems facing the NHS because the Partygate scandal has left him “unable to lead”, Sir Keir Starmer is set to say.
The Labour leader is preparing to accuse the prime minister of losing his authority and being “too preoccupied defending his rule-breaking” to meet the huge challenges faced by the health service.
Mr Johnson is fighting to save his premiership after he admitted attending a “bring your own booze” event in May 2020, with further reports of leaving drinks at No 10 and Whitehall during the pandemic, writes Adam Forrest.
Saturday 15 January 2022 07:51 , Andy Gregory
Good morning, I’ll be picking up the liveblog from my colleague Joe Middleton this morning, as Downing Street seeks to weather a string of fresh revelations over the partygate scandal.
An exclusive Savanta poll for The Independent has found that 70 per cent of voters want Boris Johnson to resign, while 68 per cent did not believe his apology over the partygate scandal was genuine.
However, our economics editor Anna Isaac reports that battle plans have been drawn up within No 10, dubbed “Operation Save Big Dog” by the prime minister himself, in a bid to shore up support for the prime minister and settle upon individuals to take the fall over the row.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that Cabinet ministers who have publicly defended Mr Johnson are warning the situation for him appears dire, with one telling the paper: “This is the last chance saloon. More revelations of parties, and a pummelling at the local elections, and the party will rise up.”
Another cabinet minister told the paper that Mr Johnson “needs a complete clear-out” of his team, adding: “He's being served very poorly.”
Tory MPs must force out ‘worst PM of my lifetime’, leader of grassroots Conservative group says
Saturday 15 January 2022 08:26 , Andy Gregory
The leader of a grassroots Tory group has told The Independent that the party’s MPs must now find the stomach to force out “the worst prime minister of my lifetime”.
John Strafford, chair of the Campaign for Conservative Democracy, called the partying as the Queen prepared to mourn “disgraceful”, adding: “It is down to the arrogance of the prime minister that these things happen.”
And Andrea Thorpe, chair of Maidstone and The Weald Conservative Association, attacked “one calamity too many”, saying: “People have just now had enough. They feel let down.”
Meanwhile, the Sutton Coldfield Conservative Association unanimously passed a motion calling on the prime minister to stand down. A Tory has won the constituency in every election since its creation in 1945.
Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has more in this report:
Operation Save Big Dog: Boris Johnson plots to keep his job
Saturday 15 January 2022 08:36 , Andy Gregory
Here’s The Independent’s digital front page today, which splashes on Boris Johnson’s campaign to save his premiership
— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) January 14, 2022
Our economics editor Anna Isaac reports that Mr Johnson’s blueprint includes a drive to work out which heads should roll following the publication of senior official Sue Gray’s findings, as well as highlighting the prime minister’s achievements, according to sources.
Dan Rosenfield, Boris Johnson’s chief of staff, and Martin Reynolds, his private secretary and author of the “BYOB” email, are thought to be possible candidates for departure.
More broadly accepted is the idea that at least one senior political appointee and a senior official must be seen to leave Downing Street over the affair, as both groups share blame, two Whitehall sources said.
You can read the full report here:
Tories say inboxes flooded with complaints over parties scandal
Saturday 15 January 2022 08:45 , Andy Gregory
Several Tory MPs have told the BBC that their inboxes are filling up with angry complaints over the partygate revelations.
One “Red Wall” Conservative MP said “the inbox is bad, really bad”, while a senior backbencher told the broadcaster they had received more than 200 emails about the parties, with only five messages in support of the prime minister.
“Many colleagues now believe Boris won't be leader at next general election... for many of us this feels terminal,” the latter was quoted as saying.
Meanwhile, this was how protests unfolded outside Downing Street yesterday...
Bereaved minister warns PM ‘needs to change his ways'
Saturday 15 January 2022 08:52 , Andy Gregory
Boris Johnson “needs to change his ways”, pensions minister Guy Opperman has said, as he recalled how, in the same month when some in No 10 were “not behaving appropriately”, he was not able to support his children before they died.
Speaking to BBC's Politics North programme, the Tory MP said: “I feel pretty emotional about this because in May 2020 my wife and kids were unwell and they went to hospital. I was not able to go there to support them.”
He and his wife Flora’s newborn twin boys, Teddy and Rafe, died the following month.
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:00 , Andy Gregory
According to The Daily Telegraph, party insiders estimate that a maximum of roughly 20 Tory MPs have submitted letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson to the 1922 committee.
That number is less than half of the 54 letters required to trigger a leadership vote.
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:19 , Andy Gregory
Prominent Conservative MP Tobias Ellwood has warned that Boris Johnson must “lead, or get out of the way”.
Mr Ellwood, who chairs the Commons defence select committee, told The Times: “This sort of behaviour shouldn't be conducted at any time, let alone during a lockdown ... I say to the prime minister, ‘Lead, or get out of the way and step aside’.”
Exclusive: Immigration raids on care homes continued during lockdown
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:26 , Andy Gregory
Away from the No 10 parties row for a moment, The Independent can reveal that the Home Office continued to carry out immigration raids on care homes during the pandemic – prompting concern that ministers were pursuing the their hostile environment policies over public health.
Data obtained via freedom of information laws show immigration enforcement carried out a raid on average every three months in the 21 months to September 2021, including at least one last January, when there was a national lockdown in place.
Our social affairs correspondent May Bulman has the details in this exclusive report:
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:36 , Andy Gregory
In his daily “View From Westminster” newsletter, our chief political commentator John Rentoul focused on the “instantly historic” image of a No 10 staffer filling a suitcase with bottles of booze at the Strand Co-op, as reported by The Telegraph.
Referring to Times Radio host Matt Chorley coining the phrase getting “absolutely suitcased”, my colleague suggested: “This is how governments end.”
— John Rentoul (@JohnRentoul) January 14, 2022
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:41 , Andy Gregory
An emotional funeral officer has described feeling “like an idiot” as he discussed his role in barring people from entering funerals in line with the restrictions of the time, in light of the No 10 party revelations.
“I feel like I could have been more lenient, if the government was being that lenient at the time,” the caller told LBC.
Boris Johnson ‘commuted’ between No 10 and Chequers just after telling public to stay at home
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:49 , Andy Gregory
In addition to its apology to Buckingham Palace, No 10 also admitted yesterday that the prime minister “commuted” between Downing Street and his grace-and-favour mansion at Chequers during the first Covid lockdown period – even after telling the public to stay at home.
The prime minister travelled to and from his grace and favour mansion in Buckinghamshire for more than 10 days after he first asked country to stop non-essential travel on 16 March 2020.
Asked about the period between 16 March and 27 March 2020, following a report by Tortoise Media, a Downing Street spokesperson said: “At that time, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant and had been placed in a vulnerable category and advised to minimise social contact.”
No 10 added: “In line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her they were based at Chequers during this period, with the prime minister commuting to Downing Street to work.”
On 16 March 2020 Mr Johnson told the public to “stop non-essential contact and travel”. My colleague Adam Forrest has the details here:
Questions over party inquiry after investigators ‘completely blindsided’ by latest revelations
Saturday 15 January 2022 09:57 , Andy Gregory
Questions have been raised about whether Sue Gray’s inquiry into lockdown parties at Downing Street is getting the full story, after The Times said her probe had been taken off guard by new claims.
The senior civil servant leading the probe has felt “completely blindsided” by the new revelations, the paper was told.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the details here:
Saturday 15 January 2022 10:13 , Andy Gregory
Here’s a clip of the opening of yesterday’s Newsnight programme, which compiled a series of the twists and turns in the Partygate saga this week.
Boris Johnson ‘planning end to Plan B’ Covid restrictions as he fights to keep his job
Saturday 15 January 2022 10:24 , Andy Gregory
As he fights to save his premiership, Boris Johnson is reportedly expected to lift plan B coronavirus measures in the coming days, with a decision on the restrictions due on 26 January – by which time the report into allegations of lockdown breaches in No 10 is expected to have been published.
The restrictions are expected to be lifted – though mask rules may still remain, according to The Daily Telegraph, which quoted a source as saying: “There frankly doesn't seem to be any other expectation at the moment.”
Health secretary Sajid Javid is reported to have already decided that Covid passes are no longer necessary, as cases have fallen from their record peak.
Tory MP Mark Harper, a prominent lockdown sceptic, recently warned Mr Johnson that he would face the largest rebellion of his premiership to date were he to seek to extend Plan B measures, the vote on the introduction of which holds that current record, following a revolt of roughly 100 Tory MPs.
My colleague Liam James reports:
Sir Keir Starmer gives speech warning PM is ‘unable to lead'
Saturday 15 January 2022 10:41 , Andy Gregory
The Labour leader is currently giving his speech to the Fabian Society, in which he had planned to say: “We are witnessing the broken spectacle of a prime minister mired in deceit and deception, unable to lead.”
Sir Keir Starmer accused the Conservatives of having made a “mess” of the NHS and said he believed lives could have been saved by a “swifter” response at the outset of the pandemic.
Starmer gets applause as he says Tory MPs should have known from the start that Boris Johnson was not fit for office, and says they now "bicker and fight each other on WhatsApp" instead of addressing NHS challenges. #fepsfab22
— Sienna Rodgers (@siennamarla) January 15, 2022
Young school pupils ‘ask MP' about whether Boris Johnson will resign
Saturday 15 January 2022 10:53 , Andy Gregory
A senior MP has told the BBC of a school visit on Friday during which they were catcalled by teenage pupils about Boris Johnson’s behaviour and asked by a group of nine-year-olds whether the prime minister would resign.
Another senior MP, told the broadcaster that MPs will hear so much concern this weekend, “it could all be over on Monday”.
Labour ‘could win majority’ with current poll lead as Tories in ‘deep trouble’
Saturday 15 January 2022 11:02 , Andy Gregory
The Conservative Party is in “deep trouble” over the No 10 party scandal, a polling expert has warned, with Labour now an average of 11 points in front.
“With those kind of numbers, even though the electoral system works at the moment very heavily against Labour, we could not rule out the possibility that Labour would win an election with an overall majority,” Professor Sir John Curtice told LBC.
“So the crucial point is – last month, Partygate did a lot of damage. There were signs of recovery in the polls as it went out of the media sphere at the beginning of this month. It’s all come back again and the Conservatives are probably in an even worse position.”
He warned that Conservative voters are now “deeply divided” over the prime minister’s future, adding: “Once you reach those kind of levels of disaffection inside your own electorate, then you do have to ask yourself, ‘well, what are we going to do about it?’”
The Conservatives are in 'deep trouble' amid partygate, with polls suggesting Labour could win a general election outright, polling expert Professor Sir John Curtice declares.@mattfrei pic.twitter.com/oitFmtvXwD
— LBC (@LBC) January 15, 2022
‘Absent’ PM is ‘literally in hiding’ and ‘has got to go', Labour leader says
Saturday 15 January 2022 11:07 , Andy Gregory
It is in the “national interest” for Boris Johnson to resign, Sir Keir Starmer has argued.
Answering questions after a speech at the Fabian Society conference in London outlining his party’s plans to “clear up the mess that Tories have made of the NHS”, the Labour leader, said: “What we've now got to is a situation where you have a prime minister who has lost the moral authority to lead.
“And just when you need, because we are not out of the pandemic, a government that has that moral authority to lead, we've lost it with this prime minister.”
He added: “The moral authority matters of course in relation to Covid, but we've got other massive challenges facing this country. We've got a prime minister who is absent – he is literally in hiding at the moment and unable to lead, so that's why I've concluded that he has got to go.
“And of course there is a party vantage in him going but actually it is now in the national interest that he goes, so it is very important now that the Tory Party does what it needs to do and gets rid of him.”
The prime minister is “limiting contact with others” in line with government guidance after a member of his family tested positive for coronavirus, No 10 said this week.
Boris Johnson has ‘lost the moral authority to lead’, Tory MP says
Saturday 15 January 2022 11:15 , Andy Gregory
Conservative backbencher Andrew Bridgen said Boris Johnson has “lost the moral authority to lead” after presiding over a culture of “one rule for them and the rest of us do as we're told”.
The North West Leicestershire MP told BBC Breakfast: "[This is] not about one isolated incident, what we are seeing with these continued revelations coming out about what's been going on at No 10 is a pattern of behaviour, and ultimately the buck stops with Boris Johnson.
"What I've seen, to me it looks like Boris Johnson and those in his inner circle can do what they want and the rest of us have to do as we are told – that's not acceptable to me, it is not acceptable to my constituents or, I believe, most people in the country.
“And what that certainly isn't is 'levelling up' in my book.”
While several reports suggest that there is a general consensus among Tory MPs to wait for the findings of the inquiry into the party scandal, Mr Bridgen said he did “not need to see what Sue Gray says to know that for me Boris Johnson has lost the moral authority to lead the country”.
Boris Johnson ‘needed puppy gate’ to keep him in isolation
Saturday 15 January 2022 11:51 , Andy Gregory
One person who worked for Boris Johnson has claimed his staff were forced to go to extraordinary lengths to stop him from mixing with others during his second period in Covid isolation.
Speaking to The Times, the source said: “I remember we had to create a 'cat run' for him to get down from the flat to his office so he wouldn't come into contact with people.
"The idea was we could talk to him through the open door. But he kept on coming out so we put two chairs across the door like some kind of puppy gate.
“There was a pattern throughout. He just simply did not think about following the rules. They were not for him.”
Boris Johnson could still mount comeback, Tory MP suggests
Saturday 15 January 2022 12:15 , Andy Gregory
If anyone can turn a situation around, Boris Johnson can, a Tory MP has suggested.
Asked whether the PM is best-placed to lead the Tories into the next election, Colonel Bob Stewart said: “Right at the moment he is, because I can’t see anyone else doing it. The one thing about Boris Johnson is, if anyone can turn a situation around, he can, and he’s proved that in the past.”
Pressed on that assertion, he said constituents of varying political persuasions he had spoken to this morning had made a similar point, adding: “Look, we dropped – apparently – 10 or 11 points in the polls within the last week.
“The polls and public opinion is very volatile. It can swing the other way too. The question is, which I believe is possible, can Boris Johnson do it as prime minister? And I believe he quite possibly could change the polls back again. But what I think now is there must be no more mistakes. No more mistakes.”
— LBC (@LBC) January 15, 2022
Saturday 15 January 2022 12:22 , Andy Gregory
Amid calls for his resignation, one voter has given a less than favourable suggestion for the necessary course of action facing the prime minister.
Opinion | The Met is only investigating a Black politician’s lockdown party – why?
Saturday 15 January 2022 12:37 , Andy Gregory
Writing for Independent Voices, our race correspondent Nadine White points out that while more than a dozen rule-breaking parties have now been alleged to have taken place across Whitehall, the only one currently being investigated by the Metropolitan Police Service is that of Black politician Shaun Bailey.
She writes: “The point is that the Met cannot afford to erode the confidence of Black people – more than it already has – at a time when trust in policing is extremely low.”
Read her thinking in full here:
No 10 party revelations adding to mental health stress, Starmer claims
Saturday 15 January 2022 12:54 , Andy Gregory
The Partygate scandal has “added to mental health stress”, Sir Keir Starmer has suggested.
He said: “I think, by the way, the scandal of partygate, for want of a better word ... what's happened in recent weeks, where it has become obvious that while the vast majority of the British public were obeying the laws the government made, the government and the prime minister were partying in Downing Street.
“I think that has added to mental health stress because so many people are now asking themselves, ‘Why on earth did I do that then, while they were doing what they were doing?’.
“So I think that, before the pandemic, we had mental health issues which have got worse during the pandemic in greater ways than we've really understood, particularly in young people. And I think the last few weeks in relation to partygate has just made the situation worse.”
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more details on the Labour leader’s speech to the Fabian Society conference today:
NHS chief hits out at ‘club Downing Street'
Saturday 15 January 2022 13:10 , Andy Gregory
Stories of parties at No 10 during lockdown resemble “club Downing Street”, an NHS chief has suggested.
NHS Confederation chairman and crossbench peer, Victor Adebowale said: “At the end of the day, you know the NHS is something that we all protect, we all think it's the jewel in the crown of public services, and to find that what appears to have been going on is something along the lines of club Downing Street while we've all been protecting our loved ones is a huge shock.”
He told Times Radio: “Leadership in the time of crisis needs to be clear and it needs to lead by example and we haven't had that.”
He also suggested that comparing breaches of Covid rules by people who make the rules and by the general public was like “comparing apples with lemons”, adding: “I'm sure there were there were around the country, small breaches, many of whom actually got fined, and people were being fined – but this is very different from the people in No 10, the very seat of our government.”
Telegraph editorial suggests end of Boris Johnson’s premiership could be near
Saturday 15 January 2022 13:27 , Andy Gregory
An editorial in The Telegraph today – which, according to Dominic Cummings, is considered by Boris Johnson to be his “real boss” – points to a not-too-distant future in which Mr Johnson may no longer be in charge.
Citing an interview with recently resigned Brexit negotiator Lord Frost, the editorial states: “If the Conservatives are to come through, whoever is in charge, they must reaffirm and champion the principles of growth and, above all, liberty.”
Warning of “sensible Conservative instincts being jettisoned” it added: “Doing so comes at a very real cost, as the prime minister may be about to find out.
“It is clear he instinctively felt outside Downing Street parties were perfectly sensible. Ironically, he may now be punished not because he was wrong, but because he was right, but still imposed the wrong path on the rest of the country.”
Partygate ‘rage’ will be ‘nothing’ compared to cost-of-living crisis backlash, TUC chief warns
Saturday 15 January 2022 13:45 , Andy Gregory
The public “rage” over the Partygate scandal will pale in comparison to that felt over the intensifying cost-of-living crisis, the general secretary of the Trades Union Congress has told the Fabian Society, LabourList’s editor reports.
Frances O’Grady at #fepsfab22 describes the “rage” she is hearing about partygate but “that’s nothing compared to what he is going to face on the cost of living crisis” with UC, energy bills, etc. She says this will be “the perfect storm”.
— Sienna Rodgers (@siennamarla) January 15, 2022
Exclusive: Labour asks top civil servant to probe claims No 10 staff pressured to delete party evidence
Saturday 15 January 2022 14:10 , Andy Gregory
Labour has called for “urgent” answers about “unprecedented” allegations that No 10 staff were told to delete evidence of illegal parties in Downing Street, our economics editor Anna Isaac reports.
The party’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, has written to the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, asking him to confirm no records related to the Partygate investigation, including electronic messages, have been destroyed.
Her letter, seen by The Independent, also asks Mr Case to confirm if any request to remove evidence has been made by senior officials or special advisers of junior officials.
It follows a report in The Independent in which two sources claimed a senior member of staff told them to “clean up” their phones of anything that could “look like a party” after early reports of gatherings while Covid restrictions were in place in December last year.
You can read the full exclusive report here:
Majority of Tory Party members want Boris Johnson to go, poll suggests
Saturday 15 January 2022 14:37 , Andy Gregory
Some 53 per cent of Tory Party members want Boris Johnson to resign, according to a poll by the ConservativeHome website.
Just under 43 per cent of the more than 1,000 people surveyed believe he should not resign now, while less than four per cent said they didn’t know.
Tory MP accuses BBC of ‘coup attempt’ on Boris Johnson for reporting on No 10 parties
Saturday 15 January 2022 14:48 , Andy Gregory
Michael Fabricant has claimed that the BBC has launched a “coup attempt” against Boris Johnson, after hearing a news bulletin featuring criticism of the prime minister over lockdown parties at Downing Street.
BBC Radio 4 Bulletin leads this morning with a manufactured story of what some MPs have said to the BBC. This is not news reporting an event.
This relentless news creation is a coup attempt against the Prime Minister. https://t.co/O1oy1qVQCO
— Michael Fabricant 🇬🇧 (@Mike_Fabricant) January 15, 2022
One ex-Tory MP said his claims of a coup were “laughable” and “dangerous” while opposition figures accused him of being “upset” at hearing facts.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has the details here:
Analysis | Boris Johnson won by defying the rules – and that is how he has lost
Saturday 15 January 2022 15:11 , Andy Gregory
Our chief political commentator John Rentoul cites columnist Matthew Engel in the wake of Tony Blair’s landslide 1997 victory, as he writes: “Great electoral victories always contain the seeds of eventual defeat.”
He continues: No one else could have won the election two years ago, by which I mean no one else could have bounced the opposition parties into allowing the election to be held. Johnson’s refusal to accept the constraints of normal politics meant he could do a deal with Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, that was worse than Theresa May’s – and sell it to his party as an improvement.
His willingness to play fast and loose with convention on proroguing parliament, and to take the risk of offending the Queen, produced the amazing luck of the Supreme Court ruling against him. It had no practical effect, yet it dramatised the story that he was blocked by the Remainer establishment, and deprived his opponents of their critical faculties ... In the circumstances, an 80-seat majority was a poor return.
He adds: Now he is going to be forced out of No 10 because he thought the rules that he imposed on everyone else did not apply to him.
You can his thinking in full here:
Liz Truss urges Russia to ‘halt its aggression’ amid fears over potential invasion of Ukraine
Saturday 15 January 2022 15:23 , Andy Gregory
Away from the Partygate scandal for a moment, to a warning from the foreign secretary for Russia to “halt its aggression”, amid fears that Moscow is preparing to invade Ukraine.
Russia is waging a disinformation campaign intended to destabilise and justify an invasion of its sovereign neighbour Ukraine
Russia must halt its aggression, deescalate and engage in meaningful talks #StandWithUkraine
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) January 15, 2022
Watch: Boris Johnson has ‘lost the moral authority to lead’, Starmer says
Saturday 15 January 2022 15:40 , Andy Gregory
Here’s footage of Keir Starmer’s appearance at the Fabian Society conference earlier, where he claimed that Boris Johnson has “lost the moral authority to lead” the country.
On its front page today, the Daily Mail published an image of Sir Keir – which first emerged in spring last year – drinking a bottle of beer and talking to party staff in an office while on the local election trail last year, when indoor mixing was not permitted unless for work purposes.
Labour, who have been approached for comment, have previously said the picture was from a workplace event, with Sir Keir and “a local MP” having “paused for dinner as the meeting was during the evening”.
‘Kill the Bill’ protesters march on Downing Street
Saturday 15 January 2022 15:48 , Andy Gregory
Citizens are taking to the streets across the country in “Kill the Bill” protests, calling on the House of Lords to reject the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill – which critics warn amounts to an unprecedented crackdown on personal liberties, including the right to hold peaceful demonstrations.
Demonstrations are taking place today in cities including London, Bristol, Coventry, Newcastle, Liverpool, Manchester, Sheffield, Plymouth, ahead of a crucial vote on the bill by peers on Monday.
In London, many hundreds marched from Holborn towards Parliament Square in Westminster, chanting “kill the bill” and carrying banners reading “defend the right to protest” and “we will not be silenced”.
Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti told crowds in Westminster: “This government bangs on about free speech and whinges about cancel culture. It talks a good game about China and Russia and every other place in the world where fundamental rights are under attack.
“But ... free speech is a two-way street. And do you know what? The ultimate cancel culture, it doesn't come with a tweet – it comes with a police baton and a prison sentence for non-violent dissent.”
— Dr Louise Raw (@LouiseRawAuthor) January 15, 2022
Sue Gray: The civil servant who holds Boris Johnson’s future in her hands
Saturday 15 January 2022 16:08 , Andy Gregory
Our associate editor Sean O’Grady has this profile of Sue Gray, the the senior civil servant tasked with investigating “Partygate”, and who has the future of Boris Johnson in her hands. He writes:
The expectation is that she will declare that, although Johnson did nothing “criminal” – and what a low bar for probity our prime minister has been set! – he has poor judgement. Well, knock us down with a feather, etc.
Waiting has become the Tory watchword, the party being encouraged to say little until the publication of her “findings” – which may not be the full report. But, with ever more Partygate stories dancing onto the front pages by the day, it might turn out to be harsher than has been hinted at.
There is some suggestion (from Dominic Cummings) that Gray and the cabinet secretary, Simon Case, have briefed the PM on their findings thus far. In any case, Gray won’t be producing a “verdict” on whether Johnson should quit, which is beyond her remit. Nonetheless, the spin does have a plausible feel about it, and the chances are the report will be a nuanced, cautious affair, the product of the mind of a consummate civil servant.
Read his full analysis here with Independent Premium:
Rayner asks Cabinet secretary if No 10 has referred itself to ICO amid reports of partygate ‘clean up’
Saturday 15 January 2022 16:25 , Emily Atkinson
Angela Rayner has formally asked the cabinet secretary to confirm whether the Cabinet Office and Downing Street have referred themselves to the Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO).
It comes after two sources told The Independent that a senior member of staff urged them to “clean up” their phones of anything that could “look like a party”
In a letter to Simon Case, Ms Rayner said: “The British Civil Service is known around the world for upholding the highest standards and, as you are of course aware, the Civil Service Code is designed to ensure that officials can conduct their work without fear or favour.
“I am concerned that in order to move on from this raft of scandals that junior staff may lose their jobs in order to protect politicians or their appointees.”
Labour’s intervention also comes after a warning from the IOC in response to Anna Isaac’s report.
“Erasing, destroying or concealing information within scope of a Freedom of Information request, with the intention of preventing its disclosure is a criminal offence under section 77 of the Freedom of Information Act,” an ICO spokesperson said.
Russian invasion of Ukraine ‘inevitable and imminent’
Saturday 15 January 2022 16:45 , Emily Atkinson
Speaking on Friday, Tobias Ellwood, chairman of the Commons defence committee, said: “I am afraid an invasion by Russian forces is inevitable and imminent and we have allowed this to happen.
“We had the opportunity to place sufficient military hardware and personnel in Ukraine to make president Putin think twice about invading but we failed to do so.”
He added: “Only president Putin knows what he is going to do next, but next week would seem pivotal.
“He has negotiated himself into a corner and after Nato refused to bow to his threats seemingly only one option remains.”
Watch: Johnson has ‘lost moral authority to lead’ and ‘must go’, says Starmer
Saturday 15 January 2022 17:03 , Emily Atkinson
Boris Johnson too ‘preoccupied’ by Partygate to fix NHS, says Keir Starmer
Saturday 15 January 2022 17:20 , Emily Atkinson
The Labour leader is preparing to accuse the prime minister of losing his authority and being “too preoccupied defending his rule-breaking” to meet the huge challenges faced by the health service.
Mr Johnson is fighting to save his premiership after he admitted attending a “bring your own booze” event in May 2020, with further reports of leaving drinks at No 10 and Whitehall during the pandemic.
Adam Forrest has the story:
David Lammy says Nato and Europe ‘must stand firm and united’ over Russia’s potential invasion of Ukraine
Saturday 15 January 2022 17:40 , Emily Atkinson
Following talks in Kyiv with Ukraine’s minister for foreign affairs, the shadow foreign secretary has urged Nato and Europe to stand ‘firm and united’ against Russia’s threats of invasion and recent cyber attacks.
Two days in Kyiv has brought home the reality of Putin’s aggression and the determination of Ukraine’s people to stand up to it.
Amid cyber attacks and border threats, Ukraine needs our support more than ever. NATO and Europe must stand firm and united. https://t.co/nydJwbh69G
— David Lammy (@DavidLammy) January 15, 2022
Activists rally against ‘draconian’ police bill across Britain
Saturday 15 January 2022 18:00 , Emily Atkinson
Activists have taken to the streets across the country in “Kill the Bill“ protests, calling on the House of Lords to reject the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill which would restrict non-violent protest.
The action came ahead of a crucial vote on the bill by peers on Monday.
Watch: ‘Kill the bill’ protests take place across the UK
Saturday 15 January 2022 18:25 , Emily Atkinson
Plans for temporary return of ‘double-jobbing’ for Northern Irish politicians condemned
Saturday 15 January 2022 18:50 , Emily Atkinson
A Government plan to temporarily restore double-jobbing for Northern Irish politicians has triggered fierce opposition from four of the five Executive parties.
The return of the “dual mandate”, or double-jobbing, would allow DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson to contest the upcoming Assembly elections while also remaining MP for Lagan Valley at Westminster.
Dominic McGrath reports:
Furious Tory MPs put Boris Johnson on notice over No 10 lockdown party revelations
Saturday 15 January 2022 19:19 , Emily Atkinson
Boris Johnson was facing mounting fury from within his own party on Saturday as anger grew over the partygate scandal engulfing his premiership.
Former allies were among those calling on the prime minister to stand down as MPs’ inboxes filled with angry correspondence from constituents.
As Mr Johnson bunkered down in No 10 after another damaging week of revelations, ex-minister Tobias Ellwood was among those floating the prospect of a change at the top, saying Mr Johnson should “lead or step aside”.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone reports:
No 10 culture ‘set from top’, says Angela Rayner, amid rumours of Tory partygate ‘clean-up'
Saturday 15 January 2022 19:35 , Emily Atkinson
The deputy Labour leader has said that No 10 staff should not be “forced to take the blame” following reports that a senior member of staff had urged them to delete party evidence from their devices.
The idea that staff are being leant on to destroy evidence makes me so angry.
There is a culture in Number 10 set from the top. Staff should not be forced to take the blame. https://t.co/QzNVhrdUG0
— Angela Rayner (@AngelaRayner) January 15, 2022
Boris Johnson told to ‘lead or step aside’ as more partygate claims surface
Saturday 15 January 2022 20:04 , Emily Atkinson
Boris Johnson is facing mounting pressure to get a grip on the drip feed of revelations about No 10 rule-breaking as he fights to stay in office.
The comments by the chairman of the Commons Defence Committee came as further claims emerged of regular “wine time Friday” gatherings in Downing Street while coronavirus rules were in place.
Voices: ‘The threads of privilege and disgrace that connect Boris Johnson and Prince Andrew'
Saturday 15 January 2022 20:26 , Emily Atkinson
Britain’s two most powerful institutions are teetering — and the reason should be obvious for all to see, writes Andrew Buncombe.
PM’s approval rating drops nearly 20 points in one week, poll shows
Saturday 15 January 2022 20:39 , Emily Atkinson
The Prime Minister’s net approval rating has fallen to -42, down from -24 a week ago. This is same as the worst score we recorded for Theresa May in May 2019.
Approve 22% (-8)
Disapprove 64% (+10)
Changes on 5-7 January. pic.twitter.com/JcC4pHWc2E
— Opinium (@OpiniumResearch) January 15, 2022
Operation Red Meat: Boris Johnson reportedly planning raft of policies to save premiership
07:58 , Andy Gregory
Good morning, I’ll be back on our politics blog today to bring you live updates, as the fallout from the Partygate scandal continues.
Following the report from The Independent’s economics editorAnna Isaac this weekend suggesting that Boris Johnson is planning resignations within his inner circle so as to salvage his own position, dubbed Operation Save Big Dog, The Sunday Times reports this morning that he is planning a “mass clear-out” of No 10.
“Boris is preparing to lay down the lives of his staff to save his own ... It will be the Night of the Long Scapegoats,” an MP close to No 10 was quoted as saying by the paper, which also reported on a new plan named Operation Red Meat.
This could see the prime minister unveil a raft of new policies to get the public back on-side, including a two-year freeze of the BBC licence fee, military involvement in the Channel crossings effort, and a No 10 workplace “booze ban” to end the drinking culture in “club Downing Street”, according to the paper.
08:35 , Andy Gregory
Six Conservative MPs have now publicly called for Boris Johnson to quit over the way he has handled the Partygate revelations.
In a post on Facebook on Saturday, former children's minister Tim Loughton said Mr Johnson’s position had become “untenable” and that his “resignation is the only way to bring this whole unfortunate episode to an end”.
Apologising for the “great hurt” caused to his constituents by the allegations, the East Worthing and Shoreham MP added: “Frankly the issue for me is not how many sausage rolls or glasses of prosecco the prime minister actually consumed.
“The reason for my conclusion in calling for him to stand down is the way that he has handled the mounting revelations in the last few weeks. Obfuscation, prevarication and evasion have been the order of the day when clarity, honesty and contrition was what was needed and what the British people deserve.”
Mr Loughton said he knows “what I need to do” if the PM does not quit in the “next few days”, in an indication he could be prepared to submit a letter of no confidence to the chair of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs.
Carrie Johnson admits ‘lapse in judgement’ as picture shows her breaking Covid rules at West End club
08:40 , Andy Gregory
A photograph has emerged showing Carrie Johnson flouting social distancing rules despite the public being warned at the time that they should keep their distance from anyone they do not live with, my colleague Lamiat Sabin reports.
In the photo, the prime minister’s wife can be seen embracing old school friend Anna Pinder at a private members’ club in Covent Garden, where they were celebrating the latter’s engagement.
In the picture, published by The Telegraph, Ms Johnson is seen hugging her friend while they sat side-by-side on a sofa on the roof terrace of The Conduit.
A spokesperson for Ms Johnson told the paper that she was “one of a group of six seated outside celebrating a friend’s engagement” and that she “regrets the momentary lapse in judgement in briefly hugging her friend for a photograph”.
Minister defends Boris Johnson as having ‘made the right calls’ on pandemic
08:52 , Andy Gregory
Tory Party co-chair Oliver Dowden has been sent out to bat for the prime minister this morning, and is emphasising Boris Johnson’s role in the booster programme and in keeping England relatively free of restrictions in the face of the Omicron coronavirus variant.
Asked when he plans to tell Boris Johnson that he can no longer be PM, Mr Dowden told Sky News’s Trevor Phillips: “I think Boris Johnson should of course remain as our prime minister and I’ll tell you why ...I think when it comes to those big calls, he’s made the right calls.
“And of course, I don’t diminish for a second that the kind of events that we’ve seen were totally wrong. I was angered by them, my constituents were angered by them, the whole country was angered by them, and it’s absolutely right the prime minister’s said we’ll get to the bottom of them.”
He pledged that Mr Johnson will “make sure that we address the kind of culture that has allowed that to happen in the first place”.
Sources told The Independent this week that Mr Johnson’s Operation Save Big Dog plan included developing lines for supportive ministers to take in press interviews, emphasising a contrite prime minister and listing his achievements amid the difficult choices posed by the pandemic.
UK needs strong leadership to address ‘consequences of Covid’, minister says of PM
09:08 , Andy Gregory
Pressed that Boris Johnson had turned an 80-seat majority in 2019 into a consistent 10-point deficit in the polls, Oliver Dowden told Sky News: “Well we all know that opinion polls vary, what matters to me and to the British people is, first of all, they rightly expect us to get a grip of this situation.
“It was totally wrong, the events that happened. It’s absolutely right the prime minister has apologised and he will need to take further steps – and he will take those further steps when he makes a statement to the House of Commons.
“But it is also the case that we need to address not just Covid – and thank goodness we’re making progress as we come out of Omicron – but also on the consequences of Covid, whether that’s clearing the NHS backlog, or whether that’s rebuilding the economy.
“We need that kind of leadership to get us through it and that’s what people expect.”
The Sunday Times reported that as part of a plan named Operation Red Meat, Mr Johnson could seek to adopt a raft of policies to get voters urgently back on-side, including clearing the backlog of operations in the NHS.
Government ‘must improve the culture’ after Partygate, minister says
09:13 , Andy Gregory
Addressing the Partygate scandal, Tory Party co-chair Oliver Dowden told Sky News: “We need to get all the facts, that’s what Sue Gray’s doing through her report.
“We need to look at how that stacks up against the rules at the time, and then the prime minister needs to respond to that.
“Now you won’t expect me to get into the detail of that response, but what I can tell you from the many conversations I’ve had with the prime minister and what you saw from him in the House on Wednesday, is that he is committed to upping our game.
“We must improve the culture, we must do better, I hear people’s anger, I know it, and we’ve got to respond to that.”
PM’s apology in Commons was ‘genuine’, minister says
09:21 , Andy Gregory
Boris Johnson’s apology in the House of Commons this week was “genuine”, a minister has said, days after polling for The Independent found 68 per cent of voters believed the apology to be bogus.
Mr Dowden told Sky News that Sue Gray’s report into the Partygate allegations will “allow people to come forward and bring forward any further allegations, so they can properly be examined”, adding: “Once we’ve got a full picture of the facts, independently, that will then allow the prime minister to respond.
“Now of course, that is going to require a change of culture and I know the prime minister is committed to that, and … feels a sincere sense of regret and has apologised profoundly for what happened, and that is genuine.”
“But I think people need to hear that in the statement he will make in response to the Sue Gray report.”
How many MPs have submitted letters to the 1922 Committee?
09:33 , Andy Gregory
Boris Johnson’s fate as prime minister lies in the hands of Tory MPs – 54 of whom must submit letters of no confidence to the chair of the backbench 1922 committee in order to trigger a leadership contest.
So how many are estimated to have done so already? It’s impossible to tell for certain, although the rumoured number has risen significantly this weekend.
On Saturday, The Telegraph cited party insiders as suggesting that as many as 20 letters could have been submitted.
Now The Sunday Times reports that, according to a senior Westminster figure, the total number may have risen to 35 – at least seven of which are reportedly thought to have come from Tories in Labour’s former “red wall”.
Sky News host tells minister of his daughter’s death on same weekend No 10 held parties
09:40 , Andy Gregory
Sky News presenter Trevor Phillips has confronted the Conservative Party co-chair Oliver Dowden about parties being held in No 10 on the same weekend his daughter died, after sticking “to the spirit and letter of the rules”.
Speaking on his Sunday show, a visibly emotional Mr Phillips said: “We all stuck to the spirit and the letter of the rules. On the Saturday after watching the funeral of Prince Philip, I went to one of my friends’ 70th birthday party.
“He hired a tent, he has got loads of friends, but he hired a tent just for the six of us so that we could sit outside. He stuck to the spirit and the letter of the rules. At that dinner, I get a call, my daughter has collapsed. As you will know, for months she had been isolated, she was ill.
“By the following morning, she had died and she had stuck to the spirit and letter of the rules. Now, there are going to be thousands of people who have that story in their background. And if I may say so, you are in here telling me about a civil servant's inquiry. That will not answer that anger. Does the prime minister really understand why people are angry?”
Mr Dowden said, “I know how much you have suffered during this period”, adding: “What I'm trying to offer to you and to your viewers who may be watching this programme is to explain to you how the government is seeking to move forward through this.
“First of all, to establish all of the facts of what happened. And then the prime minister will be held to account in Parliament for what happened.”
Tories will be ‘knocked out at next election’ with Boris Johnson at helm, Labour MP claims
09:47 , Andy Gregory
Boris Johnson remaining in post “is great for the Labour Party”, Labour’s Wes Streeting has said.
“If I’m thinking purely through the prism of party politics, then my message is: ‘Keep him on, knock yourselves out, you’ll be literally knocked out at the next election’,” the shadow health secretary told Sky News.
“But we are still in the middle of a national crisis here and the prime minister’s actions and judgments matter.
“It comes back to the point I made about Plan B measures – if the prime minister or the health secretary from the Conservative Party is coming forward saying, ‘We’re going to remove Plan B measures’, I want to be absolutely confident they are making that decision in the national interest and not in the party interest, for party management reasons.
“I don’t have total confidence about that.”
No 10 parties ‘unforgivable’, former Tory leader says
09:58 , Andy Gregory
Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said lockdown-busting parties in No 10 were “unforgivable”, describing himself “as appalled as anybody else”.
He told Sky News' Trevor Phillips On Sunday programme: “This is unforgivable, there is no question that what has been going on and ... the culture has become lazy and slack about what happens after hours, what happens in offices.
“You know, most businesses wouldn't allow what was going on in the offices, even though people have been under pressure. This was in the middle of lockdown with oppressive rules about what people could and couldn't do.”
‘No comparison’ between Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer’s behaviour, Labour MP says
10:13 , Andy Gregory
Wes Streeting has insisted there is “no comparison” between the photograph of Sir Keir Starmer drinking a beer while talking to party staff in an office last year, and the allegations facing Boris Johnson from the year prior.
The image of the Labour leader – which first emerged in spring last year – was taken when indoor mixing was not permitted, unless it was for work. Labour has previously said it was from a workplace event, with Sir Keir and “a local MP” having “paused for dinner as the meeting was during the evening”.
The shadow health secretary told Sky News: “There is no comparison between Keir Starmer following the rules in 2021 and Boris Johnson breaking the rules in 2020, no comparison whatsoever.”
PM ‘broke the law’ amid ‘industrial-scale partying’ at No 10, Sir Keir Starmer claims
10:20 , Andy Gregory
Boris Johnson “broke the law” and then “lied about what had happened”, Sir Keir Starmer has claimed.
Speaking on BBC’s Sunday Morning programme, Sir Keir said: “I think he broke the law. I think he’s as good as admitted that he broke the law. And, after all, Downing Street has now apologised to the Queen for some of the parties that have gone on.
“I know that the government’s holding position is ‘let’s all wait for the Sue Gray report’. But I think it’s pretty obvious what’s happened, this industrial-scale partying had been going on at Downing Street, not much of it is really denied, and I think that the public have made up their mind.
“I think the facts speak for themselves. I think the prime minister broke the law, I think he then lied about what had happened.”
Asked if the Metropolitan Police are right to wait for the inquiry before investigating the No 10 parties, Sir Keir said: “Once Sue Gray has come to her findings, she will set out all the facts, she is very well respected, I think that all of those should be passed to the police to look at.
“I don’t go along with this idea that we’ve all got to wait somehow, I think it’s blindingly obvious what has happened.”
Boris Johnson may scrap Covid restrictions to distract from from Partygate, Labour suggests
10:46 , Andy Gregory
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more details on Labour’s claims that the Partygate scandal engulfing Boris Johnson’s premiership could impact upon his decision to lift Covid restrictions.
The prime minister may scrap his plan-B Covid restriction for “party management” reasons rather than because it is the right policy, shadow health secretary Wes Streeting suggested.
Also speaking to Sky News, Tory Party co-chair Oliver Dowden earlier suggested that Mr Johnson’s decision to keep England relatively restriction-free compared with the rest of the UK in the face of the Omicron threat was a key indication of why he should remain prime minister.
Nadine Dorries attacks BBC over licence fee
11:09 , Andy Gregory
It’s not just Oliver Dowden’s suggestion this morning that Boris Johnson’s leadership is needed to “clear the NHS backlog” which appears to marry with The Sunday Times’ report of a plan by the PM to win back voter support with a raft of new policies – dubbed Operation Red Meat (see post at 07:58).
Also mentioned in the report, alongside a supposed “booze ban” in No 10, is a two-year freeze on the BBC licence fee.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries has now shared a report in the Mail on Sunday which says that the government has concluded its negotiations with the broadcaster over the cost of the annual fee until the end of 2027.
You guessed it – the report suggests the licence fee will be frozen at £159 for the next two years, supposedly resulting in a £2bn hit for the BBC, with Ms Dorries herself echoing quotes within the article from an “ally” claiming that the recent talks will represent “the last BBC licence fee negotiation ever”.
This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors, are over.
Time now to discuss and debate new ways of funding, supporting and selling great British content. https://t.co/sXtK25q27H
— Nadine Dorries (@NadineDorries) January 16, 2022
Watch: Boris Johnson ‘broke the law’, Starmer says
11:30 , Andy Gregory
Here’s the footage of Sir Keir Starmer’s claim that Boris Johnson “broke the law” and then “lied about what had happened”.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more details in the following report:
‘A threat to the health of the nation’: Lib Dems push motion of no confidence in PM
11:34 , Andy Gregory
The Liberal Democrats are calling for Conservative MPs to back a motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson, signed by politicians from four parties.
The motion states that Parliament has no confidence in the prime minister as he has “broken the Covid lockdown laws his government introduced, misled both Parliament and the public about it, and disastrously undermined public confidence in the midst of a pandemic”.
It has been signed by 18 MPs from four parties, including all 13 Lib Dems, two Labour MPs – Paula Barker and Mick Whitley – two from Plaid Cymru, and Stephen Garry from the Alliance Party.
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said: “By remaining in Number 10, Boris Johnson is a threat to the health of the nation – no-one will take anything he says seriously and that is simply unacceptable during a pandemic.
“Conservative MPs should not only support our motion of no confidence but they should pressure Jacob Rees-Mogg to give the motion time for a vote and soon. The country deserves a chance to move on from this deceitful prime minister.”
Tony Blair on Partygate: ‘You can explain it, but not really excuse it'
12:00 , Andy Gregory
Sir Tony Blair has said he could “understand how these things happen” when asked about the Partygate allegations.
The former Labour prime minister, asked on Times Radio whether Boris Johnson should step down, said: “I don't get into questions of resignation or not. I'll leave that to the people in the front line of politics today.”
He added: “I understand people feeling enraged and very angry about it. I can also, from the perspective of Downing Street, understand how these things happen. You can explain it but not really excuse it.”
Sir Tony said he did not recall holding drinking parties during his 10 years in Downing Street, adding: “When you are there, it's such a pressured environment and you're usually working flat-out, so most people at the end of the busy day just want to go home.”
Some Labour staff with experience of No 10 are said to be bewildered by the party stories, according to The Sunday Times, which quoted one as saying: “The only thing that was thrown in Gordon [Brown]'s No 10 were mobile phones.”
Liam Fox defends Boris Johnson’s position as PM
12:18 , Andy Gregory
A former Cabinet minister who was sacked by Boris Johnson has said it is the “wrong time” for the Conservative Party to be considering changing its leadership.
Writing in the Mail On Sunday, former trade secretary Liam Fox said: “I did not vote for Boris Johnson in the last Conservative leadership election. He subsequently sacked me from the Cabinet, as he was perfectly entitled to do.
“So, I cannot be accused of being a sycophant in writing that this is absolutely the wrong time for the Conservative Party to think about a change of leader.”
The North Somerset MP said he was not suggesting “all is well in the Johnson premiership” and warned that the Sue Gray inquiry into whether Covid rules were broken has “opened a 'one rule for one and another rule for others’ narrative that is difficult to dispel”.
But he added: “We should defer judgment ... It is not a time for a leadership challenge.”
Conservative Party ‘definitely suffering’, former deputy PM says
12:34 , Andy Gregory
David Lidington, who served as deputy PM to Boris Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May, has warned the Conservative Party is “definitely suffering” as a result of the Partygate allegations.
“I will concede that he’s proved himself in the past a formidable campaigner, there’s things he’s doing on levelling up [and] on decarbonising the economy that I strongly support,” the former Tory MP told LBC.
“But you need a prime minister who’s got public confidence and trust, and I think it’s those things that have really been badly damaged.”
Tom Swarbrick: 'Do you feel Boris Johnson is doing irreparable damage to the Conservative party?'
Ex-Deputy PM @DLidington: 'The Conservative party is definitely suffering. MPs have got to make a judgement whether this is recoverable under the current PM.'@TomSwarbrick1 pic.twitter.com/tQ2ezP2oxp
— LBC (@LBC) January 16, 2022
Nadine Dorries reportedly inspired name of plan to save PM
12:52 , Andy Gregory
Here’s more detail on the supposed origins of Boris Johnson’s Operation Red Meat plan aimed at enticing disillusioned Tory MPs and voters back on-side with a raft of popular policies.
According to The Sunday Times, the name for the plan emerged after culture secretary Nadine Dorries had urged: “Stop talking about dead cats and start throwing some red meat on the green benches.”
This morning, Ms Dorries has lent heavily into her ongoing war on the BBC licence fee, sharing a report in the Mail suggesting she intends to freeze the payment at £159 for the next two years – echoing one plank of the supposed Operation to save the PM.
Exclusive: Home Office threatened to deport asylum seekers for crimes they did not commit
13:09 , Andy Gregory
Away from the Partygate scandal for a moment, to this exclusive report from The Independent’s home affairs correspondent Lizzie Dearden, revealing that the Home Office has been threatening asylum seekers with deportation for alleged crimes they did not commit.
A Court of Appeal judgment has revealed the existence of “notices of liability to detention”, which were handed to migrants crossing the English Channel on small boats and which claimed they were “illegal entrants” potentially “liable to removal or deportation” from the UK.
But judges said the Home Office had misinterpreted the law and that crossing the Channel by dinghy to seek asylum did not amount to illegal entry – a mistake passed on to prosecutors, defence lawyers and the courts, sparking several unlawful prosecutions.
Bella Sankey, the director of Detention Action, accused the government of misleading the public with a “campaign of misinformation” suggesting that all Channel crossings are illegal.
You can read more details here:
13:26 , Andy Gregory
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more details on Nadine Dorries’s £2bn assault on the BBC and pledge to scrap the BBC licence fee at the next opportunity – if the Conservatives are still in power.
‘No doubt’ No 10 team are working there ‘in the national interest’, Tory MP says
13:40 , Andy Gregory
The team in Downing Street are some of the “most dedicated and professional civil servants that you will find”, Treasury chief secretary Simon Clarke has said.
The Tory MP told LBC: “There is no question in my mind that the team in Downing Street, who are obviously not just senior politicians but also some of the most dedicated and professional civil servants that you will find, are working there in the national interest.
“There is no question that mistakes have been made and that is deeply regrettable, and obviously we are all, as I say, both frustrated and upset by what has happened.
“But, look, it should not be allowed to morph into a situation where we tarnish people who are doing their very best in incredibly difficult circumstances to deliver for this country.”
Starmer defends picture showing him drinking bottle of beer
13:55 , Andy Gregory
Sir Keir Starmer has defended a picture published on the front page of the Daily Mail this weekend showing him drinking a bottle of beer while with colleagues last year.
Speaking of the picture which first emerged last year, the Labour leader told the BBC: “I was in a constituency office just days before the election. We were very busy. We were working in the office.
“We stopped for something to eat and then we carried on working. No party, no breach of the rules and absolutely no comparison with the prime minister.”
He added: “It was perfectly lawful to meet for work, which is what we were doing. The party that was put to the prime minister on Wednesday happened because an invitation was sent to 100 people saying ‘let’s have some socially distant drinks in the garden and bring your own booze’. There is simply no comparison.”
14:20 , Andy Gregory
Here was the moment when an emotional Trevor Phillips, of Sky News, discussed the death of his daughter, who had “stuck to the spirit and letter of the rules” – while No 10 had apparently been throwing parties.
“There will be thousands of people who have that story in their background, and if I may say so, you are in here telling me about a civil servant’s inquiry – that will not answer that anger. Does the prime minister really understand why people are angry?” Mr Phillips asked Oliver Dowden.
Opposition parties condemn attack on BBC licence fee
14:59 , Andy Gregory
Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has criticised the government’s attack on the BBC’s licence fee, accusing ministers of doing so because they “don’t like the headlines” it broadcasts.
Slashing the funding of a beloved national treasure just because you don't like the headlines on the 6 o'clock news is no way for a responsible government in a democracy to behave.
— Ed Davey MP 🔶 🇬🇧 🇪🇺 (@EdwardJDavey) January 16, 2022
Lucy Powell, Labour’s shadow culture secretary, took a similar view, saying: “The cat is out of the bag. The prime minister thinks those reporting on his rule breaking should pay consequences, whilst he gets off free.
“We haven’t seen the full details of the licence fee deal, as it’s been leaked to the media before Parliament.
“The anticipated 5 year deal needs to be fair to the license fee payer while there’s a cost of living crisis, but also ensure the BBC is able to continue to do what it does best: making great programmes, providing local news, educating our children, and underpinning our creative industries in every part of the country.
“The prime minister and the culture secretary seem hell-bent on attacking this great British institution because they don’t like its journalism. British broadcasting and our creative industries are renowned around the world and should be at the heart of Global Britain.”
Scottish Conservatives ‘decline to appear’ on BBC show
15:21 , Andy Gregory
Martin Geissler, co-host of BBC Scotland’s Sunday Show, reported this morning that not a single Conservative invited on to the programme this morning chose to appear.
— Erik Geddes (@erikgeddes) January 16, 2022
It comes after Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross publicly called for Boris Johnson’s resignation over the No 10 parties scandal.
Analysis | Jacob Rees Mogg’s ‘lightweight’ jibe may have actually helped Douglass Ross
15:38 , Andy Gregory
In this editor’s letter, our chief political commentator John Rentoul suggests that by branding him a “lightweight” figure, Jacob Rees-Mogg may have helped Douglas Ross rather than hurt him. He argues:
A problem for the unionist parties in Scotland is that they are presented by the Scottish National Party as the puppets of their Westminster bosses. That may be a large part of the explanation for Ross's detachment from the prime minister in the first place.
... So Rees-Mogg's rudeness towards Ross is likely only to enhance the Scottish Tory leader's credibility in Scotland, allowing him to present himself, as Ruth Davidson did, as the leader of a distinct grouping that has nothing to do with those dreadful English Tories in London.
Read his full analysis here:
Boris Johnson’s current defence ‘may make things worse’, polling expert says
15:53 , Andy Gregory
After holding focus groups this week in which both first-time and longstanding Tory voters called the prime minister a “liar” – language he noted was “usually the reserve of Boris’ critics” – a polling expert has warned that Boris Johnson’s current defence is unlikely to work and “may even make things worse”.
“Criticism of lockdown parties is now spreading into a general view of Boris and his fitness to govern – perhaps irreversibly so,” said JL Partners co-founder, James Johnson. “This applies to both people who voted Tory for the first time in 2019 (a key group for the Conservatives to win) and long-term Tories.”
- For most, cover-up rather than the deed itself has done the most damage to Boris' personal brand.
This means the current defence (blame others / work party excuse) is unlikely to work with the public - and may even make things worse. (18/18)
— James Johnson (@jamesjohnson252) January 16, 2022
Explainer: What impact could the Lib Dems’ motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson have?
16:06 , Andy Gregory
A motion of no confidence in Boris Johnson has been laid down by the Liberal Democrats – so what precedent is there for such a move and what impact is it likely to have?
A confidence motion is a way of testing whether the prime minister and their Cabinet still has the support of the House of Commons – and it has the power to trigger a general election and could see a new prime minister appointed.
Under rules in place since 2011, if the government loses, it has 14 days to try to win back the confidence of MPs through another vote, while opposition parties can simultaneously try to form their own alternative government. After a fortnight, if no resolution is found, an election is automatically called.
Such votes have ended bringing down the government, most recently in 1979, paving the way for Margaret Thatcher’s 11-year reign.
But as evidenced in the case of Theresa May in January 2019, MPs tend to vote along party lines – and Labour’s Wes Streeting earlier suggested his party was wary of “galvanising” a divided Tory Party.
Given Mr Johnson has a working majority of about 80, even a noteworthy number of MPs rebelling against that norm over the Partygate scandal is unlikely to see him toppled.
Additional reporting by PA
‘P***ed up cultural vandals’ – anger over plan to axe TV licence
16:43 , Lamiat Sabin
Celebrities have hit out against the government’s newly-announced plans to abolish the BBC licence fee in the future.
Culture secretary Nadine Dorries said Boris Johnson’s government wants to scrap the licence – costing up to £159 a year – in 2027.
Nish Kumar, whose political comedy series The Mash Report was pulled by the BBC last year as the broadcaster attempted to get rid of shows perceived to have a “left-wing bias”.
He said: “This government is a pack of p***ed up cultural vandals.
“I know that it feels like absolutely everyone hates the BBC right now, and there are good reasons for that, but ending the licence fee is bad news.”
The announcement is part of Mr Johnson’s plan – dubbed ‘Operation Red Meat’ – to save his tattered reputation, after it was revealed that a number of parties were held at Downing Street during the pandemic.
Full story here by Isobel Lewis
Crossbench peer Lord Myners dies ‘peacefully’ in hospital
17:00 , Lamiat Sabin
Lord Myners, former City minister, died aged 73 in the early hours of this morning.
The crossbench peer “passed away peacefully” at Chelsea and Westminster Hospital, his children said – according to a statement released by communications company Edelman UK, where he served as chairman.
“He will be deeply missed and in our hearts forever,” his five children added.
Former prime minister Gordon Brown appointed Lord Myners services secretary in 2008, with the task of managing the national response to the banking crisis.
At the same time he was elevated to the House of Lords as Lord Myners of Truro, in the County of Cornwall, and later became a crossbench peer.
The full story here
Truss condemns terror act by British citizen in Texas synagogue
17:30 , Lamiat Sabin
Foreign Secretary Liz Truss has condemned the incident at a synagogue in the US where a British hostage-taker was shot dead in a stand-off.
The man was killed in a “shooting incident” after the FBI entered the building at Congregation Beth Israel in Colleyville, Texas, on Saturday.
All four hostages were unharmed.
Today, the Foreign Office confirmed the man was British and the Metropolitan Police said counter-terror officers were in contact with US authorities and colleagues from the FBI.
Ms Truss tweeted: “My thoughts are with the Jewish community and all those affected by the appalling act in Texas. We condemn this act of terrorism and anti-semitism.
“We stand with US in defending the rights and freedoms of our citizens against those who spread hate.”
My thoughts are with the Jewish community and all those affected by the appalling act in Texas. We condemn this act of terrorism and anti-semitism.
We stand with US in defending the rights and freedoms of our citizens against those who spread hate. 🇬🇧 🇺🇸 👇 https://t.co/36Eb8lRQTV
— Liz Truss (@trussliz) January 16, 2022
19:01 , Lamiat Sabin
That’s it for today’s live politics coverage. Thanks for following.