Scottish Tories set to deliver snub to Johnson by not inviting him to spring conference – as it happened
Early evening summary
- The Scottish Conservatives are set to deliver an unprecedented snub to Boris Johnson by not inviting him to their spring conference, it has emerged. (See 4.43pm.) Johnson’s leadership remains in peril, although there have been no more high-profile calls for his resignation from Conservatives today and many MPs seem happy to wait until the Sue Gray report into all the party allegations – and until they have had more time to digest the public reaction to Johnson’s apology yesterday – before deciding whether or not to actively push for his removal. But the controversy has already caused a deep split between the UK party and its Scottish branch. Tory MSPs were outraged when Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, said last night that Douglas Ross, the leader of the party in Scotland, was “lightweight”. The remark has offended non-Tory Scots too, who took it as a dismissal of Scottish people generally, and this morning one prominent Scottish Conservative, the academic and constitutional expert Adam Tomkins, said the Scottish party might want to start thinking about loosening ties with its London HQ. (See 10.19am.)
- The Metropolitan police has signalled that it will not decide whether to launch a formal investigation into the lockdown-busting party at Downing Street last May, attended by Johnson, until Gray has concluded her inquiry into all the party allegations. This is from ITV’s Paul Brand.
- Johnson is unlikely to be seen in public for the next week after a member of his immediate family tested positive for Covid, Downing Street has said.
- Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, has insisted Johnson was “very, very sincere” when he apologised for attending a BYOB gathering in the Downing Street garden, but did not believe he had broken the rules.
- Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has confirmed that the minimum time people with Covid in England have to spend in self-isolation is to be cut to five full days.
- Jonathan Van-Tam, the deputy chief medical officer for England whose knack for analogies helped convey the twists and turns of the Covid crisis, is stepping down from his government role.
- A security warning from MI5 has been circulated to MPs and peers accusing the lawyer Christine Lee of seeking to improperly influence parliamentarians on behalf of China’s ruling Communist party.
The UK has recorded 109,133 new cases and 335 further deaths, the government has revealed on its Covid dashboard. The total number of new cases over the past week is down 23.9% on the total for the previous seven days. But deaths are up 67.1% week on week.
Scottish Tories set to deliver unprecedented snub to Johnson by not inviting him to spring conference
The civil war between the Scottish Tories and Downing Street has deepened after it emerged that Boris Johnson will not be invited to address this spring’s Scottish Conservative conference – an unprecedented snub for a UK leader of the party.
Several Tory sources have told the columnist and Reform Scotland thinktank director Chris Deerin it would be “inconceivable” for Johnson to speak at the event, due to be held in March, assuming he is still the UK party leader then.
Another source has confirmed the story. The Scottish Tories are still planning what form and shape their spring conference will take – whether it can happen in person or remain online-only due to whatever Covid restrictions will be in force then.
But “it seems highly unlikely that he will, although no decisions have been taken yet”, one said. “I don’t see a way he could be involved really.”
No Conservative MP has been more supportive of Boris Johnson over the No 10 party affair than Michael Fabricant, who represents Lichfield. On Tuesday Fabricant gave a series of interviews in which he defended the party, on the grounds that it was a work gathering to thank people who had been working exceptionally hard. If Johnson had a fault, it was that he was too decent a boss, said Fabricant. “One of Boris’ weaknesses, if you like, is being very loyal to his workers and to his friends,” Fabricant told BBC Radio 5 Live.
Not everyone agrees. Alastair Little, a councillor on Lichfield district council, has resigned from the Conservative party, Lichfield Live reports, because he is outraged by evidence of senior people in the party ignoring Covid rules. In an email to party members, Little wrote:
After many months of rolling stories of breaches of Covid rules if not laws by the national Conservative party I can no longer remain a member of this embarrassment show.
Little is particularly angry about the conduct of his local MP. “Our MP ... has been a fawning backbench embarrassment,” he said.
Covid situation in Northern Ireland 'encouraging', says first minister
Paul Givan, Northern Ireland’s first minister, said that the executive would next week consider how Covid restrictions could be eased. At a briefing for reporters, after the executive received a Covid update, he said the picture was positive. He said:
It was a very encouraging report. We believe that we’re at the peak now in terms of the transmission rates within the community and we’re looking at the admission rates within our hospitals and they are starting to decline already and so the modelling that we’re following now is a very optimistic scenario.
We don’t believe there will be a breach of over 500 people being admitted into our hospitals. That is a much better picture than what it had been anticipated just before decisions were taken on 23 December.
That gives the executive now more headroom to develop how we can reduce measures in the coming weeks, and so work will now take place for the executive to consider next week what measures we could look at trying to remove that had been brought in, to get us back to at least the pre-23 December position as soon as possible within the prevailing environment that we’re operating in.
Deleting messages about lockdown parties would be offence, data watchdog warns No 10 staff
The UK data watchdog has warned Downing Street staff that deleting messages related to lockdown parties could be a criminal offence.
The Information Commissioner’s Office issued a statement following a report by the Independent that No 10 staff were advised to “clean up” their phones by removing information that could suggest lockdown parties were held in Downing Street.
An ICO spokesperson said it was an “important principle of government transparency and accountability that official records are kept of key actions and decisions”. The spokesperson added:
Relevant information that exists in the private correspondence channels of public authorities should be available and included in responses to information requests received. 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.
The Royal College of Nursing has called for its members to be exempt from the latest change to isolation rules. (See 2.37pm.) Nurses should remain covered by the existing rules (described as seven-day isolation, although in reality six full days minimum). The RCN general secretary and chief executive, Pat Cullen, said:
Health and care workers must be exempt from a reduction of the seven-day self-isolation. By the government’s own estimate, almost a third of individuals are infectious five days after symptoms starting. Health and care workers will fall into that group in large numbers and there can be minimal room for error or complacency. Current and growing workforce pressures must not drive a reduction in isolation requirements in an unsafe way.
Lammy and Healey fly to Kyiv to show Labour support for Ukrainian sovereignty
In the first overseas trip by a shadow foreign secretary for two years, David Lammy chose to fly to Ukraine in a show of defiance against the Russian leader Vladimir Putin.
Lammy flew with the shadow defence secretary John Healey to Kyiv today to meet ministers, officials, and civil society activists.
His choice contrasts markedly with the ambivalence about Putin shown by Labour during periods of Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership of the Labour party. Corbyn was sharply criticised for his response to the Salisbury poisoning seeking more evidence that Moscow was behind the attack.
Allies of Lammy said it was vital that Ukraine understood there was cross-party support across the UK for its sovereignty.
The two shadow cabinet members will not be visiting the areas of conflict in the east of the country.
Due to the Covid restrictions Lammy’s predecessor Lisa Nandy, now transferred to the brief of levelling up, did not make any overseas visits, but as travel restrictions lift Lammy is determined to show his face abroad as much as possible. He already has strong personal contacts with White House Democrats built up since the Obama presidency.
To the extent there are any differences between Labour and the Conservatives on Ukraine, they centre on concerns the government’s integrated review on foreign policy placed too much emphasis on the Indo-Pacific region, as opposed to defence of the Euro-Atlantic area. Labour is also pressing the Conservatives to do more to close down the loopholes that allow post-Soviet oligarchs to store their cash in the UK.
Last week in the Commons Lammy defended Nato’s strategy on expansion saying:
The truth is that Nato and the European Union’s enlargement was not the west moving east, but the east looking west. These were free, sovereign states seeking a future of security, prosperity, co-operation and peace in a democratic Europe.
A security warning from MI5 has been circulated to MPs and peers claiming that a lawyer has been seeking to improperly influence parliamentarians on China’s behalf, my colleague Dan Sabbagh reports.
7% of people released from isolation on day 6 under new rule will still be infectious, DHSC says
The Department of Health and Social Care has sent out its news release about the decision to cut the minimum isolation period to five days, and it says that it could result in 7% of people leaving isolation when they are still infectious.
That sounds worrying, but DHSC says that under the current rules, the figure is already 6%.
Although the way the government is presenting the new rule makes it sound as if the minimum isolation period is being cut by two days, in fact it is only a one day cut.
In December DHSC headlined its news announcement by saying the isolation period was being cut from 10 to seven days for people who do two negative lateral flow tests. But in fact the rules meant people would only have to spend six full days in isolation; if they did the second negative test early on day seven (a minute after midnight is theoretically allowed), they could spend the rest of day seven out of isolation.
Today DHSC has headlined its announcement as minimum isolation being cut to five full days. If the second negative lateral flow test takes place early on day six, the rest of day six is isolation-free. So it is only a one-day change.
DHSC says that after five full days of isolation, between 20% and 30% of people will still be infectious. But if they have to get two negative lateral flow tests before being allowed out of isolation on day six, UK Health Security Agency modelling suggests 7% of them will still be infectious.
Under the current rules, the same modelling says 6% of people are still infectious when released from isolation on day seven.
Because of the infection risk, people who leave isolation after two negative tests are still “strongly advised to wear face coverings and limit close contact with other people in crowded or poorly ventilated spaces, work from home if they can do so and minimise contact with anyone who is at higher risk of severe illness if infected with Covid”.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, justified the move as “balanced and proportionate” taking into account the need for people to be in work.
Caroline Slocock, a former civil servant who worked in No 10 as a private secretary to Margaret Thatcher and John Major, has posted a good Twitter thread on what the Sue Gray report might say. It starts here.
And this is her main point.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leader, delivered a snub to another senior Tory in the devolved legislatures in the chamber earlier when he was unable to name the Welsh Conservative leader.
Labour’s Kevin Brennan asked him if he thought the leader of the Welsh Conservatives was a lightweight figure too, and if he could name him. After remaining silent for a moment, Rees-Mogg replied: “The secretary of state for Wales is called Simon Hart.”
The Welsh Conservative leader is Andrew RT Davies.
Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, has told ITV Border that he does not agree with Jacob Rees-Mogg about Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, being a lightweight.
No 10 does not deny reports Johnson has told MPs he thinks he did nothing wrong personally
At the Downing Street lobby the PM’s spokesman refused to back Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comment about lockdown rules potentially going too far. Here are the main points from the briefing.
- No 10 declined to back Rees-Mogg’s suggestion that lockdown rules went too far. (See 11.33am.) Asked about Rees-Mogg’s comment, the PM’s spokesman said:
We think we have sought throughout to strike the right balance when introducing regulations and guidance. Clearly this was a unique situation in which we were required to move at speed, oftentimes while the evidence base was continuing to grow ... We’re confident we sought to strike the right balance throughout.
- The spokesman would not deny reports that Boris Johnson told MPs privately yesterday that he did not think he had done anything wrong personally. (See 9.40am.) Asked about reports that Johnson said this to colleagues in the Commons tearoom after PMQs, the spokesman said those were “unsourced claims”. He referred journalists to what Johnson said in his statement to the Commons. When it was pointed out that Douglas Ross had said Johnson told him he did not think he had done anything wrong, the spokesman again referred to Johnson’s statement. He said Johnson said at PMQs “there were things we simply did not get right and I must take responsibility”. Critics have pointed out that the “we” in that sentence implied Johnson was not accepting he was at fault personally.
- The spokesman suggested Johnson was not being distracted by calls for his resignation, saying he was “focused on the public’s priorities”. Asked if the PM thought he was a good prime minister, the spokesman replied:
I don’t think self-reflection is his priority, I think his focus is on delivering for the public.
- The spokesman said Johnson would be limiting contact with other people because a family member had tested positive. The spokesman said:
The PM is following the guidance to do daily tests and limit contact with others ... [The] positive test was Wednesday so the PM will continue following this guidance up into ... including Tuesday of next week.
For reference, the guidance is to take an LFD [lateral flow device] test every day for seven days, or until 10 days after the household member who has Covid-19 started their self-isolation period if this is earlier and, in this instance it’s not, so it’s seven days ...
In line with the guidance, he’s reducing contacts, he’ll be working from No 10, doing the daily tests, and limiting contact with others both outside No 10 and indeed inside No 10 as well.
The spokesman said the close family member tested positive yesterday. He did not say who the family member was.
- The spokesman rejected claims that Jacob Rees-Mogg’s comment about the Scottish Tory leader being “lightweight” undermined the union. Asked if that was the case, he said:
No, I think you can see what we’re doing on the union by what Michael Gove has set out just today on the review into inter-government relations, which seeks to take tangible action to strengthen our union. That’s very much been our focus.
Sturgeon says Rees-Mogg's jibe at Ross shows 'Westminster establishment's utter contempt for Scotland'
Westminster Tories’ dismissal of the Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, after he called for Boris Johnson to resign is emblematic of their “utter contempt for Scotland”, Nicola Sturgeon has said at this week’s first minister’s questions session.
Despite her obvious political differences with Ross, she said, “even I’m not as derogatory about him as his own Tory colleagues are being”.
Quoting back to Ross the comment by Jacob Rees-Mogg that he was a “lightweight”, she went on:
These might be personal insults directly to the leader of the Scottish Conservatives. But actually this says something much deeper about the Westminster establishment’s utter contempt for Scotland. If they can’t even show basic respect for their own colleagues, what chance do the rest of us have?
Westminster thinks Scotland doesn’t need to be listened to, can be ignored, and now we’ve been told we have to thole [a Scots word meaning put up with] a prime minister that his own colleagues think is not fit for office.
Sturgeon concluded that independence would give Scotland the “added benefit of no longer [having] to put up with being treated like something on the sole of Westminster’s shoe, and I suspect even Douglas Ross finds that a really attractive proposition”.
An hour before the Holyrood session, the UK government announced a “landmark agreement” (pdf) setting out how the UK and devolved governments will work together “based upon the existing values of mutual respect, maintaining trust and positive working”.
This post-Brexit upgrade of the joint ministerial committee set up by Tony Blair’s Labour government in 1999 has been spearheaded by Michael Gove, who said today it would build on “the incredible amount of collaboration already taking place between the UK government and the devolved administrations”.
Given the ongoing rows between the UK government and its Scottish and Welsh counterparts over the post-Brexit internal market framework, and the repeated concerns raised during the pandemic by Nicola Sturgeon and Mark Drakeford about their involvement in decision-making, the devolved administrations might query that description of “incredible collaboration”.
In the Scottish parliament Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, has used FMQs to take a swipe at Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, saying she is not as derogatory about her Tory opposite number, Douglas Ross, as Rees-Mogg. This is from the BBC’s Jenni Davidson.
As Javid started to reply to Streeting, Streeting said Boris Johnson was not fit to lick the boots of NHS staff. Given the chance, he intervened while Javid was speaking to repeat what he had said, prompting a rebuke from the deputy speaker, Nigel Evans.
Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, is responding to Javid.
He starts by paying tribute to Jonathan Van-Tam, although it was not the government resignation Labour wanted. He says Van-Tam already has a knighthood; working with Boris Johnson, Van-Tam must also have the patience of a saint, he says.
He says Labour backs the cut in the minimum isolation period. But he criticises Javid for reportedly blaming a UK Health Security Agency error for the delay in doing this.
And he criticises Javid for defending Boris Johnson yesterday, saying Johnson’s behaviour has undermined public health policy. He says NHS workers would not have been allowed to hold a party during lockdown.
Javid confirms minimum isolation period in England being cut to five full days
Javid ends by saying curbs should not be in place any longer than necessary.
With this in mind, we’ve been reviewing the isolation period for positive cases to make sure the measures we have in place maximise activity in the economy and education for example, but also minimise the risk of infectious people leaving isolation.
UKHSA data shows that around two thirds of positive cases are no longer infectious by the end of day five and we want to use the testing capacity that we’ve built up to help these people leave isolation safely.
After reviewing all of the evidence, we’ve made the decision to reduce the minimum self-isolation period to five full days in England.
From Monday, people can test twice before they go, leaving isolation at the start of day six.
These two tests are critical to these balanced and proportionate plans and I’d urge everyone to take advantage of the capacity we’ve built up in tests so we can restore the freedoms to this country, while we are keeping everyone safe.
Javid says UK is 'leading world in learning to live with Covid'
Javid says the UK is the the freest country in Europe. It is “leading the world in learning to live with Covid”, he says.
Javid says the 1.3 million people most at risk from Covid have been sent a PCR test. If they test positive, they can get an antiviral treatment, he says.
Javid says the government remains committed to ensuring all frontline NHS staff have been vaccinated from 1 April.
The proportion of NHS trust patients who have had at least a first dose has gone up from 92% to 94%, he says.
Javid says he will be speaking about pharmaceutical interventions.
He says more people have had a booster jab in the UK than in any other country in the world, relative to population.
Javid, the health secretary, says there are almost 17,000 Covid patients in hospital.
But he says there has not been an increase in intensive care patients, and there are early signs that the rate of hospitalisation is starting to slow.
Sajid Javid's statement to MPs on Covid
Sajid Javid is making his Commons statement now.
He starts with a tribute to Jonathan Van-Tam. (See 9.55am.)
Nearly 6m people waiting for routine hospital treatment in England
The number of people in England waiting to start routine hospital treatment has risen to a new record high of almost 6 million people. We have a full story here.
Earlier in the Commons Steve Barclay, the Cabinet Office minister, refused to back Jacob Rees-Mogg’s assessment of the Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross. Asked by the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman if he agreed that Ross was a “lightweight”, Barclay replied:
I think he is a hugely talented colleague, I work extremely closely with him and I look forward to doing so.
The Conservative MP Daniel Kawczynski faces suspension from the Commons after the standards watchdog found he undermined a formal apology over intimidatory behaviour towards staff by indicating in media interviews he did not fully mean the gesture. My colleague Peter Walker has the story here.
Javid expected to announce isolation period to be cut to five days
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, is expected to confirm that the time Covid cases have to spend in self-isolation is to be cut, PA Media reports. PA says:
Javid will update MPs in the Commons, a day after Boris Johnson said a decision would be made on the issue “as fast as possible”. The government has been under pressure to bring the situation in England into line with the United States, where the isolation period has been cut to five days.
The current UK Health Security Agency guidance is for cases to isolate for at least six full days from the point at which they have symptoms or get a positive test, whichever is first, with release from self-isolation after two negative lateral flow test results on days six and seven. People can leave self-isolation on day seven.
The changes are expected to see people being allowed to leave self-isolation after completing five full days, with negative tests on days five and six.
The Javid statement is due to start within the next few minutes.
Pete Wishart, the SNP’s spokeperson on House of Commons matters, told Jacob Rees-Mogg in the Commons that his comment about Douglas Ross (see 10.19am) showed how little respect Westminster Tories had for Scotland. He said:
The Scottish Tories know exactly how the rest of Scotland feels, as the leader of the house poured his scorn and contempt upon them last night. According to him, the democratically elected Scottish Tory leader is an insignificant figure, a lightweight, a nobody – presumably just like every single Tory MSP who agrees with their Scottish leader.
The Scottish Tories are supposed to be the Praetorian guard of the precious union and the leader of the house has just undermined them and thrown them under the proverbial bus. If this is how the government even treats the Scottish Tories, why should the Scottish people even entertain being any part of their useless union?
Rees-Mogg suggests lockdown went too far and restrictions 'too hard on people'
In the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the house, was also asked about the Downing Street party, and Boris Johnson’s apology, by his Labour opposite number. He said that Johnson understood why people who had made sacrifices following Covid rules were so angry, but he went on to make an entirely new argument in part-defence of what happened. Perhaps the lockdown restrictions were too strict in the first place, he said.
He told MPs:
Everybody understands, on all sides of the house, that people were obeying the rules and that these rules were very hard for people to obey. I received a message last night was from a friend of mine who was unable to go to the funeral of his two-year-old granddaughter. One cannot hear these stories without grieving for people who suffered. Decisions were taken at the beginning of the pandemic that affected people up and down the country and they were very hard.
And we must consider, as this goes to an inquiry and we look into what happened with Covid, whether all those regulations were proportionate, or whether it was too hard on people.
This is potentially incendiary. Public health experts are adamant that the restrictions imposed last year were necessary to prevent even more deaths.
Rees-Mogg suggests Scottish Tory leader not being 'honourable' in calling for PM's resignation
In the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, is responding to questions on next week’s business.
Thangam Debbonaire, his Labour opposite number, asked him about his attack on Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, on Newsnight last night. (See 10.19am.) She said that Rees-Mogg was sounding like an SNP politician, only the SNP were less harsh about Ross than he was, she said.
In response, Rees-Mogg effectively stood by what he said on Newsnight. He did not repeat his point about Ross being “lightweight”, but he did not retract his comment either, and instead he implied it was not “honourable” for Ross to call for Johnson’s resignation. He said:
[Ross] holds office within the Conservative party. It seems to me that people who hold office ought to support the leader of the party. That is the honourable and proper thing to do.
Some Conservative councillors are considering denouncing Boris Johnson in their campaign literature to boost their election chances, my colleague Aubrey Allegretti reports.
Almost seven out of 10 voters think Johnson's apology not sincere, poll suggests
An overnight poll has given Labour a 10-point lead over the Conservatives, their highest for eight years (see 9.40am), and there are some even worse findings in a poll out this morning from Focaldata.
Focaldata, which has shared the results with the Guardian and which is due to publish them later today, has been asking respondents about Boris Johnson. Here are the key findings.
- Almost seven out of 10 voters (68%) think Johnson’s apology yesterday was not sincere, the poll suggests.
- Keir Starmer has opened a huge lead over Johnson on the question of which leader is more trustworthy, the poll suggests. In April last year Johnson was ahead of Starmer (by 4 points - 38% to 34%). By mid December Starmer was well ahead (by 20 points - 44% to 24%). Since then the gap has got even larger; 51% say Starmer is more trustworthy, and only 16% say Johnson, giving Starmer a 35-point lead on this measure.
- Starmer has also developed a clear lead over Johnson on who would make the best PM. In mid December Starmer had a four-point lead on this measure (38% to 34%). Now 40% of respondents say Starmer would make the best PM, and 30% Johnson.
- Some 64% of voters think Johnson should resign, the poll suggests. And even amongst people who voted Tory in 2019, more think he should resign (46%) than think he should stay (43%).
Focaldata collected data from a nationally representative sample of 1,003 adults yesterday and today, and the results have been weighted by age, gender, region, education and 2019 voting.
Justin Ibbett, Focaldata’s CEO, said:
The findings of this poll mark a new low for Johnson. If the prime minister thought December was bad, then this poll suggests that January is going to be even rockier.”
The level of trust in Johnson has completely collapsed. Back in April 2021, four in ten (38%) said that he was more trustworthy than Starmer. This figure now stands at 16% - a remarkable drop of 22 points in less than a year.
What should really worry Johnson is that it’s not just his usual detractors that are driving the stark findings of this poll. Even 2019 Conservative voters are turning against him - remarkably, more think that he should resign than not.
Rees-Mogg 'rude' and 'wrong' to call Scottish Tory leader 'lightweight', says former Conservative MSP
A former Conservative MSP has said that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, was “wrong” to dismisses Douglas Ross, the Scottish Tory leader, as “quite a lightweight figure” in an interview last night.
Rees-Mogg made the comment on Newsnight in response to questions about Ross saying that Boris Johnson should resign. Most Conservative MSPs have publicly backed Ross, and Newsnight said in private all 31 of them agree that Johnson should go.
Adam Tomkins, who was a Scottish MSP until the election last year, told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland that Rees-Mogg was rude and wrong. He said:
There’s a ‘Save Boris’ operation going on at the moment, which you would expect Jacob Rees-Mogg to be ... at the head of. That explains why Jacob Rees-Mogg was very rude and dismissive about Douglas yesterday.
Jacob’s got this wrong - I don’t agree with anything that Jacob said about this matter.
Douglas is a man of principle and a man of steel, and he will lead the Scottish Conservatives in the direction he thinks he needs to lead them in order to secure that credible fighting voice for centre-right ideas in Scottish politics.
Tomkins also said the episode also illustrated why the Scottish Tories might want to loosen links with the UK party. He explained:
I think there will always be ties but I think that Douglas and his team need to do some deep and serious thinking about exactly what the nature of those ties should be.
All of the bad days the Scottish Tories have in Holyrood are not caused by the Scottish Tories in Holyrood, they are caused by events 400 miles south. And they need to reflect on that ...
The Scottish Conservative party have a range of really important, substantive ideas to bring to the table in Scotland about economic policy and about social policy, and they are being drowned out because of the pantomime of the politics of Boris Johnson.
Boris Johnson has also paid a tribute to Prof Jonathan Van-Tam too following the news that he is leaving his post as England’s deputy chief medical officer. (See 9.55am.)
Van-Tam praised as 'one of best public health communicators in history' as he quits as England's deputy CMO
Prof Jonathan Van-Tam is leaving his post as England’s deputy chief medical officer, it was announced this morning. He is returning to a post at the University of Nottingham, in what is said to have been a long-planned move.
Van-Tam was probably the most lively and compelling of the many scientific experts who have graced the Downing Street Covid press conferences, and he became famous for his often-elaborate metaphors.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, paid tribute to him this morning.
Matt Hancock, Javid’s predecessor, described Van-Tam this morning as “one of the best public health communicators in history”.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’ss first minister, has paid tribute too.
Here is the story about Van-Tam’s departure.
Johnson cancels clinic visit after family member tests positive for Covid
Here is the full story on Boris Johnson pulling out of a visit today because a family member has tested positive for Covid.
Minister fails to deny reports that privately Johnson has told MPs he did nothing wrong
Good morning. Boris Johnson’s position as Conservative party leader and prime minister is more perilous than ever before but, after a wretched and humiliating day – which also saw open warfare break out between the party in Scotland and the UK national leadership – his future is unclear, because the parliamentary party collectively is still making up its mind about what to do next.
We were due to hear from him this morning, because he had a visit planned in Lancashire. But that has been cancelled “due to a family member testing positive for coronavirus”, Downing Street says. A No 10 spokesperson said:
The prime minister will no longer be visiting Lancashire today due to a family member testing positive for coronavirus. He will follow the guidance for vaccinated close contacts, including daily testing and limiting contact with others.
Most Tory MPs who have commented on Johnson’s leadership say they want to wait until they read the findings of Sue Gray’s report into all the partygate allegations. But Gray is a senior civil servant, which means that she probably takes the view that ultimately whether or not the PM stays is a political judgment that ought to be taken by politicians (his colleagues). Last night Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary at the Treasury, posted this on Twitter.
The Gray report may come next week, but if Macpherson and others are right, it won’t clearly settle the issue of whether or not the PM should go.
Although many Tory MPs are privately saying that Johnson’s position is untenable, but there is little evidence that they are working actively to get rid of him. Last night Kitty Donaldson, Bloomberg’s political editor, said she thought only four of them have written letters to the 1922 Commitee chairman asking for a confidence vote.
And so far only four Tory MPs (Sir Roger Gale, Douglas Ross, William Wragg and Caroline Nokes) have called for Johnson’s resignation. The Spectator is keeping a tally.
MPs will making a judgment about the impact Johnson’s leadership will have on their chances of re-election, and this morning a new YouGov poll gives Labour its biggest lead over the Conservatives since 2013.
But even polling figures like this won’t necessarily settle the issue for the parliamentary party. MPs will remember that being 10-points behind Labour in 2013 did not stop the Conservatives winning the subsequent election, and there is no consensus over who would succeed Johnson if there were a contest, and whether they would definitely do much better.
So the party seems stuck at the moment. But that does not make Johnson’s position safe and his difficulties were illustrated this morning when the cabinet minister doing interviews this morning failed to deny reports that privately Johnson has been telling colleagues he has done nothing wrong.
Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s political editor, picked this up yesterday.
And several papers report the same thing today. “MPs were also irritated by the prime minister appearing less contrite in private conversations after his Commons appearance than he had been in public,” the Guardian reports.
The Times (paywall) reports the same thing. It says:
Within minutes of delivering a “heartfelt” apology to the Commons for attending a drinks event in the garden of No 10 during the first lockdown, Boris Johnson had a somewhat different message for Tory MPs in the tearoom.
The prime minister was, according to those present, far from contrite. He told colleagues that “we have taken a lot of hits in politics and this is one of them”, adding: “Sometimes we take the credit for things we don’t deserve and this time we’re taking hits for something we don’t deserve.”
Douglas Ross, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, said that Johnson took a similar tone when he spoke to him yesterday afternoon. He said that the prime minister told him that he “believes he didn’t do anything wrong”.
And here is an excerpt from the FT’s story (paywall).
Several MPs said Johnson was still in denial. “He said that sometimes in life you get the credit for things you don’t deserve, while sometimes you get the blame for something you don’t deserve, too,” said one Tory MP. “He goes through his life thinking he doesn’t deserve the blame.”
Asked about these reports on the Today programme, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, dismissed them as “tittle tattle that may or may not have come out of the [Commons] tea room”. He said he had not heard Johnson himself say that he was not to blame for what happened, and he said Johnson was “very, very sincere” in his apology.
I will be focusing mostly on the fall-out from this crisis today. Johnson is not doing his visit, but we will get a No 10 lobby briefing, and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, will be taking questions in the Commons.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at firstname.lastname@example.org