Here’s a round-up of today’s politics news in the UK, the night before it is expected that civil servant Sue Gray will publish her report into lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
- A BBC Panorama documentary has heard that parties in Downing Street were so cramped that at one point, people were forced to sit on each others laps.
- Officials, given anonymity, said Boris Johnson would “throw his entire team under a bus” if it meant he would get past the Partygate scandal intact.
- They said that they felt Johnson had implicitly given them permission to hold events, because of his attendance. “He was grabbing a glass for himself,” one said.
- The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has asked the Metropolitan police why Johnson was not fined for attending Lee Cain’s leaving drinks on 13 November 2020, from which photographs have emerged. Others who attended were fined.
- One rebel Tory thinks the number of letters submitted to the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee demanding a vote of no confidence in Johnson is now in the high 40s, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports. The threshold for a ballot to take place is 54.
And away from Partygate:
- Jonathan Brearley, the Ofgem chief executive, told MPs on the Commons business committee that he expects the energy price cap to rise to about £2,800 in October.
- The Resolution Foundation thinktank says raising the energy price cap to about £2,800, would almost double the number of families in fuel poverty.
- Former cabinet minister Robert Jenrick said he believed Rishi Sunak and the Treasury would come forward with another “significant” support package to help families through the cost of living crisis.
- Labour says it will vote against the Northern Ireland Troubles bill because it equated soldiers with terrorists.
- British officials did not require Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to sign a forced confession before her departure from Iran, but instead advised her that the Iranians would not allow her to leave unless she did so, the UK’s Middle East minister, Amanda Milling, told MPs.
That’s all for today, thank you for following.
Looking back, an official who worked in No 10 said: “I think for everybody it has been very distressing and shaming.
“The whole period was traumatic. It was very difficult to work on every single day. We were learning that people were dying in hospital beds and people were dying needlessly.
“We were worried about making mistakes and getting these big calls wrong and working through it.
“It was quite difficult to look back at that period now and thinking this is what will define it. Not the vaccine programmes, or food parcels for shielding people. It’ll be, what were you doing on 20 May in the garden?”
Afterwards, speaking to Kuenssberg, Iain Duncan Smith said Boris Johnson should survive the scandal because of the problems with the cost of living crisis and Ukraine and that there was a need for leadership.
And that’s it.
It’s now on to the unhappiness from staff at Downing Street after being fined.
“A lot of these young members of staff from across Downing Street that were fined feel that when they went to the events they didn’t think they were breaking the rules because the prime minister was at them. Some of the most senior civil servants in the country were at them, and were indeed even organising them,” said one official.
“I think it has been a big surprise for a lot of people, that after being told they would be protected by senior people, including the prime minister, he stood up in the House of Commons and essentially implied he was misled by essentially some very junior people, whose job it wouldn’t have been to police these events.”
Another said that they would come in to work sometimes and find bins overflowing or empty bottles left on tables.
The party in Downing Street on the night before Prince Philip’s funeral is now being discussed.
The official who was there said there were people from different departments, press, policy and speechwriters, with about 20-25 present in total.
“It was a general party, it just happened to have someone leaving at it.”
They then went into the gardens after the noise continued, with some staff ending up staying the night at No 10. “I think it’s unforgivable,” she added.
“It’s like sticking two fingers up to the British public,” Iain Duncan Smith said.
'Johnson would throw his entire team under a bus to survive Partygate'
After a clip about the reshuffle in Downing Street earlier this year, Kuenssberg is told by Will Walden, a former staff member of Boris Johnson’s when he was mayor of London says that he does “burn” people and because of his personality as a “loner” he finds “burning people” easy.
An official said: “He’s a nice guy, but he knows where the bodies are. He will be cut-throat to protect his own interests.”
When asked what he would do to protect his interests, she said: “I think he would throw his entire team under the bus to survive this.”
An official who was at the gathering pictured outside in the garden of 10 Downing Street said: “If the PM or his chief of staff set a rule for the building that there was to be no alcohol, then it wouldn’t have happened.
“In a way it happened because people were happy for it to happen.”
After a question by Kuenssberg about whether it struck people as odd that these events were taking place, the official adds: “I suspect it went through everyone’s minds because it was so different to what everyone else was doing.”
Another official told Panorama: “I think he [Johnson] is very adept at believing his version of the truth. Obviously he’s often referred to as a liar, but it’s more complicated than that. I think he’s very good at retrofitting events and genuinely believing the conclusion he has come to.
“I think he would pass a lie detector test asking: ‘Do you think you were breaking the rules?’ But I also believe he must have known that some of these events were not in the rules.”
An official said that Boris Johnson’s was slow to realise the danger of Covid. “He was even making jokes about kung flu,” and only shifted when he got Covid himself and he saw footage of people dying in Lombardy, Italy, before the virus got a grip on the UK.
“Trying to get him to wash his hands was hard enough.”
Another said “he was a freedom loving Conservative at his core and that became something he had to keep in check.”
“The majority of people need to follow these rules, and that’s the right message to send, but it stopped short of him almost seeing himself as part of that majority. In that building in his general interactions, it felt like business as usual.”
The official added that it was “business as usual” in Downing Street, with no extra rules including people wearing face masks or social distancing.
She said it felt like Johnson had given the events permission to take place. “He was there, he may have just been popping through on the way to his flat but that’s what would happen. He wasn’t there saying this shouldn’t be happening, or can everyone break up and go home, can everyone socially distance or put masks on, no he wasn’t telling anyone that.
“He was grabbing a glass for himself.”
In a clip that was released before it aired tonight, one former official said that they were in disbelief when Boris Johnson denied that there were parties. “We’ve been with him this entire time, we knew that the rules had been broken, we knew that these parties happened. It is quite clear that he lied to parliament.”
She mentions regular press office “wine-time Fridays” drinks at 4pm on a Friday.
Another ex-staff member said it was “pretty typical” for the press team to have drinks in the office with a lot of “young sociable people working there ... who lived alone.” Through an actor’s voice, he added that it “wasn’t unusual” for the prime minister to be there. “He seemed to be a believer in letting his staff let their hair down a bit. It speaks to his temperament and leadership style, he wants to be liked by everybody.”
The documentary hears that a security guard was laughed at when he tried to stop the party of 30 people who had gathered for former director of communications Lee Cain’s leaving party.
The Panorama documentary on Partygate, fronted by BBC’s former political editor Laura Kuenssberg is broadcasting now on BBC Two.
Several figures are set to appear including former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith, Conservative MP Caroline Noakes and Labour MP Wes Streeting. Former officials from No 10 will also be interviewed anonymously.
More on former cabinet minister Robert Jenrick’s comments to Andrew Marr on LBC this evening, where he suggested support for people faced by mounting costs will be forthcoming.
Marr asked whether VAT cuts, warm fuel allowances and increases to universal credit were being considered by Sunak and the Treasury.
Jenrick replied: “I think all of those things will be under active consideration now and given the scale of what we’re going to encounter, or many people in society going to encounter, it’s going to have to be an intervention of some significance, but you’ll have to wait days or a couple of weeks. I don’t think it’ll be very long before the chancellor will come back and set out his plans.”
Leaving drinks attended by PM so cramped people sat on other’s laps and bins overflowed with bottles, No 10 staff say
The latest reports about parties in Downing Street include that attendees ended up sat on each other’s laps because of how cramped it was inside the gatherings.
Officials who spoke to BBC’s Panorama programme, due to air at 7pm on BBC Two, said that they would sometimes arrive at work to find bins overflowing with empty bottles. A security guard who tried to stop one party taking place was laughed at.
Insiders inside Whitehall have said that there is an “awful atmosphere” in No 10 and upset after junior officials were fined for events that others, including Boris Johnson, avoided being penalised for.
The mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, has asked the Metropolitan police why Johnson was not fined for attending Lee Cain’s leaving drinks on 13 November 2020, from which photographs have emerged. Others who attended were fined.
After Scotland Yard confirmed last week how many fines had been given out, with the prime minister getting one fixed penalty notice, civil servant Sue Gray is expected to publish her report on Wednesday into parties in Downing Street during lockdown which is thought to be damaging for Johnson’s premiership.
Some Tory MPs, including Tom Tugendhat have declined to back Johnson this afternoon when asked by journalists.
Theresa May’s former chief of staff when she was prime minister, the ex-MP Gavin Barwell, has had this to say about the ongoing revelations about parties in Downing Street.
The Mirror’s Pippa Crerar who has an exclusive this evening on Rishi Sunak paying £10,000 of his own money for a helicopter to a Conservative party dinner in Wales at the weekend.
The chancellor, who is believed to be one of the richest MPs in the House of Commons, flew from Battersea heliport in south London to Newtown in mid-Wales.
The Mirror was told Sunak had a Q&A session with the former Tory leader William Hague.
On LBC, Andrew Marr has spoken to Morgan Wild from Citizens Advice about the cost of living crisis.
He says that it is seeing huge demand for its services as inflation rises and costs increase. Wild urged the chancellor to increase universal credit payments and other benefits.
He said: “We are running up to the limit on what [our] advice can achieve. Food bank referrals are at a record high and energy debt has reached the highest levels ever. More people are coming forward for support than since before the start of the pandemic.
“We are seeing the people at the real sharp end of the crisis, where they are struggling every day to keep a roof over their heads and make sure they are able to put food on the table.”
He added: “The support so far has been welcome but untargeted. The council tax rebate went to a wide group of households.
“We would want future support to be targeted to people who need it the most, through the benefits system. An uprate to universal credit and put direct grants through the legacy system and pension credits, this would help 10 million people who need it most.”
Marr then speaks to former cabinet member Robert Jenrick who says that the treasury is preparing plans to help with rising costs of bills.
These are from the Telegraph’s Dominic Penna on the mood in the Conservative party ahead of the probable publication of the Sue Gray report tomorrow.
And the Telegraph’s Camilla Turner has posted a thread on Twitter with more about what Tories are saying ahead of the Gray report. It starts here.
That’s all from me for today. My colleague Harry Taylor is now taking over.
Labour says it will vote against Northern Ireland Troubles bill because it equates soldiers with terrorists
In the Commons MPs are debating the second reading of the Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill. The legislation is intended to address the longstanding problem of how to deal with unsolved killings that occurred during the Troubles. Boris Johnson has been under particular pressure from Tory MPs angry about army veterans being investigated in relation to incidents that occurred decades ago.
Last year the government proposed what would have been an effective amnesty in relation to all offences committed during the Troubles. But that plan was widely criticised, and instead the new bill will only grant immunity from prosecution to people who cooperate with a new Independent Commission for Reconciliation and Information Recovery which will try to establish the truth behind unsolved killings from that period.
In his speech opening the debate Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, defended the plans on the grounds that the current system was not providing answers or justice for people who lost relatives during the Troubles. He said:
Every year that goes by the opportunity to obtain answers for those who lost loved ones in the Troubles diminishes further. We have a responsibility to ensure that children can grow up together, be educated together, and to understand all aspects of our shared past.
The current system is broken. It is delivering neither justice nor information to the vast majority of families. The lengthy, adversarial and complex legal processes do not offer the most effective route to information recovery. Nor do they foster understanding, acknowledgement or reconciliation.
It is arguably cruel to perpetuate false hope whilst presenting no viable alternative to deliver the information that so many families and their survivors seek.
But Peter Kyle, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said Labour would be voting against the bill because it equated those who served in the armed forces with terrorists. He explained:
My party will be voting against this bill today because of the equivalence that it gives to people who served in the armed forces to those who committed acts of terror.
For the incredibly low threshold, and remembering that 722 service people lost their lives by acts of terror and the people who committed [that] against our armed forces could get immunity from prosecution with the very lowest of possible thresholds, that is what we will be voting against today.
A former Nato commander has told MPs some statements by cabinet ministers on the Ukraine crisis could be “unhelpful”, PA Media reports. PA says:
Sir James Everard, former deputy supreme allied commander Europe, was appearing before the Commons defence committee.
Asked by Labour MP Derek Twigg how Nato regarded comments by the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, and the foreign secretary, Liz Truss, calling for Russia to be pushed out of the whole of Ukraine, Everard said: “The alliance view would be that it will be between Russia and Ukraine to determine the end state of this crisis and actually the fewer people that make statements that shape that [the better]. Inevitably certain statements can be unhelpful but actually there’s huge admiration for what the British and other nations did before the event.”
Everard said there might be a recognition that such statements were “stirring the loins and all that sort of stuff”.
One of under-rated skills required in political broadcasting is the ability to hurl provocative questions at politicians from a distance, normally as they are entering or leaving No 10. This is not the same as interviewing, when you expect and require answers. It is more akin to heckling and its main function is to provide useable footage of a politician turning to the camera and reacting. It is sounds easy but it isn’t, because unless you can think of suitable question to yell with conviction, you can easily end up sounding like a prat.
For years the master of the art was a BBC producer nicknamed Gobby, who was best know for yelling at people asking them when there were going to resign. But even Gobby at his best would find it hard to match Sam Coates from Sky News, who was on top form this morning when he was doorstepping cabinet. Here is a compilation.
Senior US congressman Richard Neal says it is up to UK to help find solution to 'manufactured' dispute about NI protocol
Richard Neal, the US congressman who chairs the powerful ways and means committee, has described the row about the Northern Ireland protocol as a “manufactured” dispute that could be solved with goodwill from the UK.
Neal has been leading a nine-strong delegation from his committee on a protocol fact-finding mission and, after a meeting with the Irish foreign minister, Simon Coveney, he said he and his colleagues had now heard views from Brussels, London and Dublin. He went on:
The protocol dispute seems to me to be a manufactured issue. I have on this delegation people who are experts at trade and they also would confirm that they think these issues on the trade front, if that’s really the dispute, could be ironed out quickly.
So, what we’ve heard so far, clearly from European Union, is they want to find a solution. What we’ve heard from the minister [Simon Coveney], the taoiseach and the president, they want to find a solution. We, the congressional delegation, want to find a solution. So, I think now it’s up to London to help us all find a solution.
Neal is seen as one of the most influential figures on Capitol Hill where Democrats have threatened to block any future UK-US trade deal if the UK were to act in a way that they perceived as likely to undermine the Good Friday agreement.
The British government has argued that it is the protocol itself that is undermining the Good Friday agreement, but this claim has not been widely accepted overseas.
Energy price cap rise could leave almost 10 million families in fuel poverty, says thinktank
The Resolution Foundation thinktank says raising the energy price cap to around £2,800, which is what Ofgem expects to happen in October, would almost double the number of families in fuel poverty.
Fuel poverty, or fuel stress, is defined as needing to spend at least a tenth of the household budget on energy bills. The Resolution Foundation says the number of families in this position would rise from five million to 9.6 million under the Ofgem projections.
Jonny Marshall, a senior economist at the thinktank, said:
The sheer scale and depth of Britain’s cost-of-living crisis means the government must urgently provide significant additional support.
The fact that the crisis is so heavily concentrated on low-and-middle incomes households means it’s clear how the government should target policy support.
The benefits system is clearly the best route to support those worst affected in the short term - be that via an early uprating or lump sum payments to help poorer households get through the difficult winter ahead.
Looking beyond this winter, these households will also benefit most from cheaper renewable energy and lower consumption from better insulated homes - showing why Britain needs to massively step up its retrofitting programme.
Sadiq Khan writes to Met asking for explanation for its decision not to fine Johnson over No 10 leaving drinks
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has written to the Metropolitan police asking for an explanation for its decision not to fine Boris Johnson for attending the Lee Cain leaving drinks at No 10 on 13 November 2020, the Telegraph’s Martin Evans reports. Others who attended were fined.
Earlier Khan said he thought the police should explain why they took that decision for the sake of “trust and confidence” in the force. (See 9.39am.)
As mayor of London, Khan is the police and crime commissioner for the capital. Ultimately, if he is not happy with the way the Met is operating, he can force the commissioner to quit. But the Met does not have a full-time commissioner at the moment, because Khan got rid of the last one (Cressida Dick), and so currently he has less leverage over the force than usual.
One rebel Tory thinks the number of letters submitted to the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee demanding a vote of no confidence in Boris Johnson is now in the high 40s, the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope reports. The threshold for a ballot to take place is 54.
Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, says the news that the energy price cap is now expected to rise to £2,800 in October makes an emergency budget even more necessary.
Amanda Milling, the Foreign Office minister, was also in the Commons to answer an urgent question about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being forced to sign a false confession before she was allowed to leave Iran.
Asked by Labour’s Tulip Siddiq if the government had authorised the UK official with Zaghari-Ratcliffe at the airport to advise her to sign the document, Milling said the official did not force her to sign. Milling said:
The Iranian authorities made clear at the airport that they would not allow Nazanin to leave unless she signed a document ... The UK official present passed on the message to Nazanin, and, given the situation Iran put her in, she agreed to sign it. The UK official did not force Nazanin to do so.
Milling also stressed that she did not view this as acceptable. “Nothing about the cruel treatment by Iran of detainees can be described as acceptable, including at the point of release,” she said.
In response to an urgent question earlier Amanda Milling, a Foreign Office minister, said the BBC revelations about China operating a shoot-to-kill policy against Uyghurs escaping prison camps amounted to “compelling evidence” of abuse. She said:
The reports suggests a shoot-to-kill policy was in place at re-education camps for detainees seeking to escape; this is just one of many details that fatally undermine China’s repeated assertions that these brutal places of detention were in fact vocational training centres or a legitimate response to concerns around extremism.
On the contrary, the compelling evidence we see before us reveals the extraordinary scale of China’s targeting of Uyghur Muslims and other ethnic minorities, including forced labour, severe restrictions on freedom of religion, the separation of parents from their children, forced birth control and mass incarceration.
Nusrat Ghani, the Conservative MP who tabled the urgent question, said the government should accept that what was happening to the Uyghurs amounted to genocide. But Milling said the government’s view was that it was for “a matter for a competent national or international court rather than for governments or non-judicial bodies” to determine when genocide was happening.
This is from Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, on the revelations in tonight’s Panorama from insiders about the drinking culture at No 10. (See 2.11pm.)
Boris Johnson is addressing the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee at 5pm tomorrow, Bloomberg’s Kitty Donaldson reports.
We are also expecting him to do a press conference tomorrow, but it is not clear when. If the Sue Gray report is published tomorrow, as expected, then the obvious time for PM to make his statement to MPs on it would be at 12.30pm, after PMQs.
No 10 insiders reveal new details of partying and extensive drinking in Downing Street during lockdown
Downing Street insiders have described chaotic mid-lockdown parties in No 10 they felt were condoned by Boris Johnson as he “was grabbing a glass for himself”, PA Media reports. PA says:
Three anonymous individuals have told BBC Panorama in detail what they witnessed at regular rule-breaking events during coronavirus restrictions.
Their evidence will heap further pressure on the prime minister ahead of the publication of the Sue Gray inquiry into “partygate”, which No 10 expects on Wednesday.
Party debris was left overnight for people arriving at work the next day to discover after staff crowded together and sat on each other’s laps at parties, according to the attendees.
One said they felt they had the permission of the prime minister as he was not telling them to break up the scenes when returning to his flat.
“No, he wasn’t telling anybody that. He was grabbing a glass for himself,” they said.
Days after ordering England’s second national lockdown, the pictures obtained by ITV News yesterday showed the PM giving a toast for departing communications chief Lee Cain on November 13 2020.
One witness described the party that night: “There were about 30 people, if not more, in a room. Everyone was stood shoulder to shoulder, some people on each other’s laps ... one or two people.”
“Unforgivable” scenes were described at the party on 16 April last year, which was the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.
They described a “lively event... a general party with people dancing around” that became so loud that security guards told them to go into the No 10 grounds.
Laura Kuenssberg, who made the programme for Panorama, has a much longer and more detailed account of the revelations on the BBC website here. It includes this account of how No 10 staffers reacted when Johnson told MPs that the rules had been followed at all times. Kuenssberg writes:
One staffer describes what happened when they watched the prime minister denying, in the House of Commons, that anything had gone wrong.
“We were watching it all live and we just sort of looked at each other in disbelief like - why?” they say.
“Why is he denying this when we’ve been with him this entire time, we knew that the rules had been broken, we knew these parties happened?”
Government lawyers have been told be less risk averse in their advice to ministers, No 10 says
And here is a full summary of the lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
- The prime minister’s spokesperson played down, but would not firmly deny, reports that Boris Johnson floated with Sue Gray the idea of shelving her Partygate investigation. (See 12.46pm.)
- The spokesperson did not offer a justification for Johnson’s attendance at the Lee Cain leaving event where he was photographed drinking. This morning Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, sought to justify it as a work event. (See 9.14am.) But the spokesperson did not use this argument. Instead he just stressed that Johnson would be making a statement to MPs following the publication of the Sue Gray report. “That’s where you’ll hear more from him,” the spokesperson said.
- The spokesperson suggested that public sector workers may have to accept “limited” pay restraint to avoid the risk of inflation spiralling. This was one of the topics discussed at cabinet today. (See 12.46pm.)
- Government lawyers have been told to be less risk averse in their advice for ministers, the spokesperson revealed. This was another item that came up at cabinet today. The spokesperson said:
The attorney general [Suella Braverman] updated cabinet on a review of the government legal department. She said overall performance was high, however there were incidences where advice was too risk averse or took a computer says no approach to dealing with challenging policy areas. Following the review the government legal department has received revised guidance to ensure they are more attuned to the government’s desire to tackle difficult and longstanding issues.
The spokesperson said Braverman did not give details of over-cautious legal advice, but she did say departments were getting legal advice that was “more risk averse than was needed and didn’t reflect the sort of risk appetite that ministers had”. Braverman may have been thinking in particular of legal advice relating to Brexit. The head of the government legal department resigned in 2020 when the government introduced legislation that would ignore parts of the Northern Ireland protocol, contrary to international law. Those clauses were later dropped from the internal market bill but the government has recently revived its threat to abandon parts of the protocol. Braverman told No 10 that this would be legal, but other lawyers take a different view.
- Government spending on rail services is due to be cut over the long term, the spokesperson signalled. This was the third item of substance raised at cabinet and briefed to the lobby. The spokesperson said:
Turning to reforming our railways, the transport secretary [Grant Shapps] set out a summary of the proposed changes that will improve services, protect timetables and ultimately reduce the burden on taxpayers.
He added that railways have lost a third of its passengers and without reform, we cannot maintain the current service and would have to raise fares and taxpayer support to levels that the public cannot bear.
He reminded cabinet that, on average, railway workers had enjoyed higher pay increases and higher median pay than the majority of other public sector workers, including nurses. And he said salaries of rail workers had increased by 31% in 10 years.
The PM concluded cabinet by saying that there is no justification for the proposed industrial action that would cause major difficulties for many people across the country and he urged all ministers to plan now to minimise disruption this summer
- The spokesperson said Boris Johnson retains full confidence in Sir Philip Barton, permanent secrtary at the Foreign Office, despite a report from the Commons foreign affairs committee today calling for Barton’s resignation.
- The spokesperson said Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, was the person who authorised the evacuation of staff from the Nowzad animal charity from Kabul last summer. He was responding to a journalist who said the foreign affairs committee report said there was no plausible explanation for this happening, other than Johnson getting involved, which No 10 denies. The report says:
Amid intense media attention, [Nowzad] staff were called for evacuation at the last minute, despite not meeting the FCDO’s prioritisation criteria, after a mysterious intervention from elsewhere in government. Multiple senior officials believed that the prime minister played a role in this decision. We have yet to be offered a plausible alternative explanation for how it came about.
Asked if he could provide a plausible alternative explanation, the spokesperson said:
The prime minister had no role in authorising individual evacuations from Afghanistan during that operation, that includes Nowzad staff and animals. At no point did the prime minister instruct staff to take any particular course of action. As the defence secretary and many others have said, he was the one who made that decision.
- The spokesperson said the government was “actively looking at what more could be done” to help people with energy bills. Asked about the Ofgem warning about the price cap going up in October (see 12.57pm), the spokesperson also said that some of the support already announced would be rolled out in the autumn.
This is from the Daily Mail’s Jason Groves.
Energy price cap set to rise by around £800, to around £2,800, from October, Ofgem says
Jonathan Brearley, the Ofgem chief executive, told MPs on the Commons business committee that he expects the energy price cap to rise to around £2,800 in October. He said:
I am afraid to say conditions have worsened in the global gas market since Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Gas prices are higher and highly volatile. At times they have now reached over 10 times their normal level.
I know this is a very distressing time for customers but I do need to be clear with this committee, with customers and with the government about the likely price implications for October.
Therefore later today I will be writing to the chancellor to give him our latest estimates of the price cap uplift.
This is uncertain, we are only part way through the price cap window, but we are expecting a price cap in October in the region of £2,800.
That would amount to an increase of more than £800 for customers on default tariffs who pay by direct debit, who now have a price cap of £1,971. In April it went up by almost £700, from £1,277.
As my colleague Heather Stewart points out, the Treasury has been waiting for this figure before deciding what to include in its emergency cost of living package which is now expected to be announced soon.
My colleague Phillip Inman has the full story here.
No 10 plays down, but does not firmly deny, reports PM floated with Sue Gray idea of shelving Partygate investigation
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. It was longer and more informative than usual, with a lot of questions on Partygate, but also plenty of exchanges on other topics too.
Here are two of the main lines.
- No 10 has played down, but not firmly denied, reports that Boris Johnson floated with Sue Gray the idea of shelving her Partygate investigation. (See 9.14am.) Asked if it was true that at, as the Times reports, Johnson suggested the idea when he met Gray several weeks ago, the PM’s spokesperson replied:
I don’t recognise that characterisation. This is a private meeting. This was a meeting about process, rather than the contents of the report. The prime minister wants the report to be published. He is looking forward to the conclusion of the report and it being put in the public domain.
Asked a second time if the PM made that suggestion, the spokesperson replied:
The prime minister did not ask her to drop the report or not proceed with the report. As you know, it’s the prime minister who commissioned the report.
But the Times did not say Johnson asked Gray to drop the report. Instead, it says he floated the idea more obliquely. It says:
“[Johnson] asked her, is there much point in doing it now that it’s all out there?” a Whitehall source said. “He was inferring that she didn’t need to publish the report.” Another added: “They were exploring this idea of not having any report. It was being talked about [in Downing Street]. But politically they realised they couldn’t do it.”
- Public sector workers may have to accept “limited” pay restraint to avoid the risk of inflation spiralling, the spokesperson hinted. Describing what was said at cabinet this morning, the spokesperson said:
Cabinet held a discussion on public sector pay. The prime minister said the public are understandably anxious about global cost of living pressures, and that the government will continue to support those most in need. The government has already pledged to increase public sector sector spending and is awaiting decisions by public sector review bodies. However, ministers made clear that the risk of triggering higher inflation must be part of considerations when deciding pay awards this year.
When asked if this meant the government would overrule recommendations from the public sector pay review bodies, the spokesperson said that that was not what he was saying. He went on:
The point that ministers were emphasising that spiralling inflation will do more to damage people’s take home pay than the limited pay restraint that we’ve seen previously.
Asked if public sector workers would have to accept below-inflation pay increases, the spokesperson replied:
Obviously, I can’t predict exactly where inflation will go. But with inflation running so high, it does present a significant challenge to things like public sector pay. That said, it would be entirely wrong for me to jump ahead of the process. There is an independent process ongoing, and the first stage of that is for [the pay review bodies] to make recommendations to government.
I will post a full summary shortly.
The Conservative MP David Simmonds, who has been critical of Boris Johnson over Partygate without directly calling for his resignation, told Times Radio this morning that it would be “very difficult” for Johnson to explain why he was not lying when he told MPs that a party did not take place in Downing Street on 13 November 2020 - when he was photographed drinking at a leaving do that night. Asked if Johnson was telling the truth, Simmonds replied:
That clearly is is the question. He said in his defence previously, that it hadn’t occurred to him that one or the other events could not be considered a work event.
Now, I’m very conscious, I’ve had colleagues move on from my office during the lockdown and we knew that we needed to defer leaving drinks, leaving lunches until the restrictions were lifted. And that certainly seems to be a widespread view. So clearly, it’s a very difficult question for the prime minister to answer but he clearly needs to set out his explanation for it ...
It sometimes has the feel of the old Blackadder thing about the explanation needs to be phenomenally good.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has said he was “gobsmacked” when he saw the photos obtained by ITV News yesterday of Boris Johnson raising a wine glass at a Downing Street party. Khan told the Guardian:
I literally couldn’t believe what my eyes were telling me ... I think it is right and proper that the Met police service explains how they drew their conclusions.
Yes, it is correct that there were record numbers of fines - no other property, no street in the country has had that number of fines issued.
But the public are asking questions of the police. I don’t like questions of integrity being raised around the police. That is why they should clarify those conclusions.
Real value of benefits set to fall by 5% this year because of inflation, OBR says
The Office for Budget Responsibility has published a report today on trends in welfare spending. It says that the real value of benefits is set to fall by 5% this year, or by £12bn, because they are being uprated by September’s inflation rate, which is much lower than the current inflation rate. But their value will largely be restored when benefits are uprated next year, the OBR says.
The precise timing of inflation changes this year and last is such that the lags to benefit uprating are particularly pronounced: benefits were uprated by 3.1% this April – in line with last September’s CPI – but inflation began rising rapidly just after that and is forecast to average 8.0% across fiscal year 2022-23 as a whole, meaning the real value of benefits falls by around 5%, or £12bn in total (including pensioner spending) this year.
Our forecast assumes that benefits will rise by 7.5% in April 2023 (our March forecast for the CPI inflation rate in September this year), whereas CPI inflation is expected to average 2.4% in 2023-24 as a whole. So the real value of benefits is expected to rise by around 5% in 2023-24 (£13bn in total), largely restoring their real value after the dip in 2022-23.
Tom Larkin from Sky News is keeping a tally of Tory MPs publicly saying Boris Johnson should resign. He says there are currently 15 in this category.
Lawyers for an 82-year-old Jewish woman who was investigated three times in three years by Labour for antisemitism have written to the party demanding that it carry out an independent investigation into what it alleges was a campaign of discrimination against her. They suggest her anti-Zionism was a protected characteristic under the Equality Act.
Labour dropped the latest investigation into Diana Neslen, who regularly attends her local synagogue and keeps a kosher home, after she threatened to sue the party for unlawfully discriminating against her based on her belief in anti-Zionism.
The party was investigating her for tweets she posted about Israel and Zionism. Her lawyers, Bindmans, had said the investigation was unjustified and disproportionate, with the only admissible tweet being one from 2017, in which Neslen said “the existence of the state of Israel is a racist endeavour and I am an antiracist Jew”.
A new letter sent to Labour by Bindmans says the party’s governance and legal unit (GLU) has “failed/refused to properly investigate and/or address our client’s complaints under the party’s own policies on bullying and harassment”. It continues:
Anti-Zionist (or indeed Zionist) beliefs that are strong enough to justify protection under the EA (Equality Act) 2010 are most likely to be held by those of Jewish or Palestinian ethnicities, given it is those ethnicities that are likely to be primarily affected by such beliefs. Accordingly, harassment based on anti-Zionist beliefs equates to harassment based on ethnicity, and it is therefore submitted that the party has subjected our client to harassment on the basis of ethnicity.
In 2018, Labour, under pressure to act on allegations of antisemitism. adopted the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s (IHRA’s) definition of the term. The IHRA definition of antisemitism includes as an example: “Denying the Jewish people their right to self-determination, eg by claiming that the existence of a state of Israel is a racist endeavour.”
Jewish Voice for Labour, of which Neslen is a member, says it knows of 52 Jewish Labour members, two of whom have since died, who have faced or are facing disciplinary charges relating to allegations of antisemitism.
There will be two urgent questions in the Commons at 12.30pm. The first, tabled by the Conservative MP Nusrat Ghani is on the BBC reports about China operating a shoot-to-kill policy against Uyghurs escaping prison camps, and the second, tabled by Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, is about Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being forced to sign a confession before she left Iran.
From the Sun’s Harry Cole
Sinn Féin's Michelle O'Neill says she will use meeting with Tory MPs to tell them to reject DUP's view on protocol
Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin leader in Northern Ireland, who is set to become first minister when (or if) the Northern Ireland executive is reconstituted, is due to meet Conservative MPs in the Commons later today.
Speaking on the Today programme, she said she wanted to tell them that there was clear support for the Northern Ireland protocol in the region – despite the DUP, and government ministers, claiming otherwise. She said:
I think it’s really important that ... we take this opportunity to put across the fact that, a number of things I suppose, firstly that the democratic outcome of the election must be respected, that the British government need to stop pandering to the DUP, that the DUP’s voice does not reflect the wider view at home.
The reality is that the protocol is working. The reality is the business community at home want to see economic certainty. They want clarity around what’s next.
And the fact that the approach of Liz Truss and Boris Johnson in terms of unilateral action is not what’s wanted. So I think it’s really, really important that we drive that message home, that we give that different perspective. And actually, I will go even further to say that true perspective actually of what’s happening on the ground.
O’Neill also said she was willing to use the term “Northern Ireland” to describe the region she represents – even though Sinn Féin normally refuses to use the term, because it does not like acknowledging the legitimacy of partition. Normally Sinn Féin politicians talk about the north of Ireland instead.
Asked if she was willing to use the expression Northern Ireland, O’Neill replied:
Yes, and I have done in the past week. And I think it’s important that also if the democratic outcome of the election is respected I would be the first minister of the Northern Ireland executive.
So I think we shouldn’t get hung up on those things. It’s the beauty of the Good Friday agreement: British, Irish or both or neither. So I think that that’s important. I think we should be a bit relaxed about those things.
At cabinet this morning Boris Johnson praised Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, for helping people get back into work. Johnson believes work is the best route out of poverty and, with unemployment at its lowest level for almost 50 years, he is using this as part of his attempt to show there is a Tory response to the cost of living crisis.
According to PA Media, Johnson opened cabinet by saying:
I want to give a special shout out to Thérèse Coffey, the secretary of state for DWP, because under her plans, the Way to Work scheme, since we launched it this year it has got 380,000 people off welfare and into work. That’s the way forward.
I want to see people not on benefits, I want to see them in work - that’s the Conservative answer and that is the answer we are offering to the people of this country.
As welfare experts and poverty campaigners regularly point out, for many people work does not provide a route out of poverty. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 75% of children growing up in poverty live in a household with at least one person working.
Johnson also said that some cabinet minsters were not even born when unemployment was last as low as it is now.
I want to remind you, in fact I don’t want a single cabinet to go by without repeating that unemployment is now down to its lowest level since 1974.
I look around this table and I realise there are probably members of this cabinet who weren’t even born then.
I think the chancellor of the exchequer wasn’t even born!
This is the lowest level of unemployment in the lifetime of the chancellor of the exchequer, which is a tribute to all he has done.
It is down at 3.7% and youth unemployment at or near record lows. These are incredibly important data and is incredibly encouraging.
These are from my colleague Jessica Elgot, with more detail of what happened at the Lee Cain leaving drinks in No 10 on 13 November 2020 (where Boris Johnson was photographed drinking).
Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney general who left the party over his opposition to Boris Johnson’s Brexit policy, told BBC News that the Metropolitan police’s decision not to fine Johnson over the leaving do drinks at No 10 was “incomprehensible”. He said:
I certainly think the police decision is incomprehensible. If, as suggested, they fined other participants attending this party then I just can’t see how the prime minister wasn’t fined as well. I would have to ask the police for their reasoning on this. I do find it extraordinary.
According to the Mail on Sunday’s Dan Hodges, Johnson was not even sent a police questionnaire about the leaving drinks event on 13 November 2020.
If this is true, this would support the claim from Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, yesterday that the police simply decided to ignore some of the allegations relating to Johnson.
Khan says it is important for 'trust and confidence' in police that Met explain why PM not fined over No 10 leaving drinks
On the Today programme this morning Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said the Metropolitan police should explain why Boris Johnson was not fined over the No 10 leaving do on 13 November 2020, where he was photographed drinking. Khan said:
I think it’s important, when it comes to trust and confidence, when it comes to policing by consent, when it comes to questions being asked about the integrity of an investigation, that the police explain why they’ve reached the conclusions they have.
Yesterday was the first time I saw the photograph of Boris Johnson raising a glass, clearly bottles of wine laying around, others with wine in their hand, on a day when he said in the House of Commons, and I speak as a former parliamentarian and I know the importance of not lying or misleading in the House of Commons, that there wasn’t a party.
So you know, of course, Sue Gray will publish her report this week and of course the prime minister will have to answer for himself, but I think the police should explain why they reached their conclusions and provide that clarity.
Khan also claimed that generally he had tried to stay “well away” from the Met investigation into Partygate, particularly because he was a Labour mayor, and a Conservative PM was being investigated.
But in December last year, as new allegations about Partygate emerged, Khan said he thought the Met should investigate them. At that point the Met was resisting pressure to launch an inquiry, and it did not change its mind and open an investigation until more than a month later.
Sir Roger Gale, one of the Conservative MPs most critical of Boris Johnson over Partygate, is urging his colleagues to back a vote of no confidence in him.
For a no confidence vote to take place, 54 Tory MPs (15% of the parliamentary party), have to write to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, calling for one. When the Partygate scandal erupted earlier in the year, before Russia invaded Ukraine, one report claimed that Johnson’s critics were only two letters short of the threshold. (Apart from Brady, no one knows, because the process is confidential.) But since then some MPs who submitted letters have withdrawn them, and now a leadership challenge seems unlikely.
Chris Mason, the BBC’s political editor, says the Sue Gray report may be published at lunchtime tomorrow.
Shapps refuses to deny Johnson suggested Sue Gray abandon publication of her report
Good morning. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, drew the short straw last night and he has been touring the studios defending Boris Johnson following the publication yesterday of photographs of the PM drinking at what has been described as the leaving party for his director of communications, Lee Cain, on 13 November. From the pictures, it certainly looks like a party. But when Johnson was asked, at PMQs a year later, if a party had taken place in No 10 on that date, he said no.
Shapps is probably the most accomplished media performer in the cabinet – he is certainly the most capable of sounding reasonable in the face of persistently hostile questioning – but even he was struggling this morning. On certain points he could not really defend Johnson at all. Here are the key lines.
- Shapps would not deny reports that when Boris Johnson met Sue Gray a few weeks ago to discuss her report into Partygate he suggested she should abandon plans to publish it. This claim is in a story by Steven Swinford and Oliver Wright in the Times who report:
The Times has been told that Johnson suggested Gray should drop her plans to publish her report during a secret meeting with him earlier this month. Steve Barclay, his chief of staff, was also said to have been present.
“He asked her, is there much point in doing it now that it’s all out there?” a Whitehall source said. “He was inferring that she didn’t need to publish the report.” Another added: “They were exploring this idea of not having any report. It was being talked about [in Downing Street]. But politically they realised they couldn’t do it.”
Asked if this was correct, Shapps told Sky News:
I wasn’t in the room so I don’t know that’s the case. Exactly what was discussed, I don’t know.
Occasionally things get reported that are not entirely accurate. The civil service were there to make sure that all the correct processes were followed so I have no particular reason for concern about the two of them meeting.
- Shapps refused to accept that the event where Johnson was photographed was a party. He told Sky News:
The question is, was [Johnson] down there partying? No, clearly not. He’d gone by to say thanks and raise a glass to a colleague who was leaving.
On BBC Breakfast, when asked to accept it was a party, Shapps said: “It’s certainly a leaving event.” And on the Today programme he explained why he did not think the picture showed Johnson partying:
It looks to me that he was asked to go and thank a member of staff who was leaving, raises the glass to them, and I imagine comes in and out pretty quick, which is presumably why the police have not issued a fixed-penalty notice to the prime minister for a moment.
Shapps also said the photographs showed Johnson standing by his ministerial red box. He went on:
Those are the boxes that ministers carry their work in. It rather suggests that he potentially left his office, came via that office, thanked a member of staff who was leaving [and left soon afterwards].
- Shapps could not explain why Johnson told MPs that there was no party in No 10 on 13 November 2020. Asked why Johnson said that, Shapps replied: “The prime minister will answer for himself. He has said that when the Sue Gray report comes out, he will come to the house and answer fully.”
- Shapps said Johnson would be “disappointed” by what happened and that he would now wish he had not attended the event. Shapps said:
I also accept the prime minister has long since apologised, has made fundamental reforms in No 10 and have no doubt if he had his time again he wouldn’t have dropped by to say thank you to a member of staff leaving.
- Shapps refused to back calls for the Metropolitan police to explain why Johnson was not fined over this event. Earlier Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, told the Today programme the Met should explain its decision-making. But, asked if he agreed, Shapps said:
I don’t think the police should fight running commentaries, no. They will have had access to all of the evidence, hundreds of photographs ... If you’re asking for transparency, there are lots of different ways for this to happen. But I wouldn’t expect the police, be it the Met or the Durham police [who are investigating Keir Starmer over an alleged breach of lockdown rules] to provide running commentaries either.
- He said the publication of the Sue Gray report was “imminent”.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
12pm: Ofgem officials give evidence to the Commons business committee about energy pricing. At 1pm Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, gives evidence.
After 12.30pm: MPs debate the Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill.
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 email@example.com.