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The Prime Minister ‘will survive Gray’s report with a rap on the knuckles’

“An inquiry into allegations of lockdown parties in Downing Street is expected to conclude that there is no evidence of criminality but could censure Boris Johnson for a lack of judgment. The Times has been told that Sue Gray, a civil servant overseeing the inquiry, has not found sufficient evidence of criminality to refer the matter to the police. Scotland Yard said yesterday that unless she did so it would not conduct an investigation itself. Gray is also expected to avoid making a judgment over whether Johnson breached the ministerial code by attending a No 10 party on May 20, 2020, because it does not lie within her remit. Only the prime minister has the power to order an investigation into breaches of the ministerial code.” – The Times

  • Police will only investigate if report finds criminal wrongdoing – Daily Telegraph
  • Report will reveal ‘farcical’ culture, say Whitehall sources – The Guardian

Labour:

  • Starmer branded an ‘absolute hypocrite’ for drinking with staff during lockdown – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Grey suits wait for Gray, Sue

Johnson ‘plans big shake-up of Downing Street team’

“Boris Johnson was on Thursday planning a major overhaul of his Downing Street operation as part of efforts to save his job, as Rishi Sunak’s allies insisted the chancellor was backing the prime minister. Number 10 has been eyeing Sunak warily, and feared the chancellor’s silence for most of Wednesday — when Johnson admitted attending a Downing Street party during lockdown — was a sign of his wavering support… The changes are expected to focus on Martin Reynolds, the head of Johnson’s office, who invited 100 staff to the “bring your own booze” Downing Street garden party in May 2020, and chief of staff Dan Rosenfield, according to people briefed on the situation. Johnson hopes to combine personnel changes with a domestic policy reset — notably the launch of a white paper on “levelling up” left-behind areas — and an end to coronavirus restrictions in England.” – FT

  • Senior Tories hit out at ‘outrageous bias’ in Beeb’s ‘unbearable’ coverage of apology – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: James Frayne’s column: No one in control. No one taking responsibility. No one apparently in charge. Why these events are toxic for the Government.

‘Two parties held in Downing Street’ as Queen and country mourned death of Prince Philip

“Downing Street staff drank alcohol into the early hours at two leaving events the night before Prince Philip’s socially distanced funeral, The Telegraph can reveal. On the evening of Friday April 16 2021, Britain was in a period of public mourning. Union flags on Government buildings across Westminster hung at half mast to mark the passing of Prince Philip, Queen Elizabeth II’s husband, the previous week. With the country in step two of a strict lockdown roadmap, which barred indoor mixing, mourners were told not to leave flowers due to the Covid threat. A book of condolence was set up online to “reduce the risk of transmission” from physical signings. In a private chapel in Windsor Castle the Prince’s coffin lay overnight. The next day the Queen, her face covered by a black mask, would say farewell to her husband of 73 years. With social distancing rules in force, she sat alone.” – Daily Telegraph

  • If the reports are to be believed then this is the first gathering of 2021 – Daily Express

More:

  • Tories turn on each other as Boris Johnson faces pressure to quit – FT
  • Brexiteer becomes fifth Tory MP this week to submit no confidence letter – Daily Telegraph
  • We asked readers if Boris should resign over partygate – The Sun

Chancellor is warned he risks damaging leadership prospects by not standing by leader

“Boris Johnson’s ambitious chancellor Rishi Sunak was branded a ‘prancing pony’ over his late tweet of support for the embattled PM. Senior Conservatives warned Mr Sunak that he risks damaging his leadership challenge hopes by withholding support from his boss over ‘Partygate’. The Chancellor avoided Wednesday’s bruising PMQs, at which Mr Johnson admitted he attended a ‘BYOB’ garden party at Downing Street during the first national Covid lockdown, by visiting Devon more than 200 miles away. Eight hours after the stormy exchanges in the Commons, Mr Sunak then gave the PM tepid support — merely saying that Mr Johnson was ‘right to apologise’. One minister raged: ‘He’s a prancing pony — it’s completely unacceptable. He, and everyone in the Cabinet, should be rowing in fully behind the Prime Minister. It’s pretty overt.’” – Daily Mail

  • Sunak condemned as ‘prancing pony’ for late tweet of support – The Times
  • Sutton Coldfield Conservatives vote for Johnson to resign – Twitter

Comment:

  • Whether the Chancellor likes it or not, embittered Cummings is acting as his attack dog – Andrew Pierce, Daily Mail
  • Johnson can’t count on loyalty of his MPs – James Forsyth, The Times

>Today: Patrick Timms in Comment: There is a plot by persons unknown to remove Johnson, oust the Conservatives – and install Starmer

Johnson will not be involved in Scottish Tory conference, sources say

“The rebellion by Scottish Tories over Boris Johnson’s leadership erupted into open warfare on Thursday after it emerged the prime minister was not expected to speak at the party’s spring conference. The unprecedented absence, confirmed by several sources, came after Jacob Rees-Mogg was bitterly criticised for attacking the character of the Scottish Tory leader, Douglas Ross, on Wednesday night. Senior Conservatives in Scotland said the leader of the House of Commons had boosted the Scottish National party and undermined the union after he dismissed Ross as a “lightweight” and serial rebel following his call for the prime minister to quit. Scottish Tories were furious, accusing Rees-Mogg of being “pathetic” and urged him to “have a long lie down”. Rees-Mogg refused to back down on Thursday, stating: “If you take the king’s shilling you are beholden to the crown.”” – The Guardian

  • Tory civil war stokes talk of Scottish party breaking away – FT
  • SNP seize on row and claim Tories are ‘making the case for independence’ – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • Insults from Johnson’s friends suit Ross fine – Iain Martin, The Times

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Ross shows how the national party puts Scots in the thick of things

Prime Minister ‘must scrap Covid passports and ditch booze culture at No10 to save his career’

“Boris Johnson must scrap masks and Covid vaccine passports, ditch the booze culture at No 10 and have a staff clear out to save his career, Cabinet ministers demanded last night. The embattled Prime Minister must put Britain back on the road to freedom in two weeks to stand a chance of surviving, they warned. Their plan for Boris emerged as civil war broke out among the Conservatives over the Downing Street party scandal — with some calling for Mr Johnson’s head. Covid Plan B curbs — including vaccine passports, compulsory masks and work from home orders — are loathed by Tory MPs and due to be reviewed on January 26. One Cabinet minister told The Sun yesterday: “There’s a very easy way to get back into MPs’ good books, but there will be a fight.”” – The Sun

  • Cabinet minister suggests Covid curbs were ‘too hard’ – The Sun

More:

  • Van-Tam resigns, raising eyebrows in Whitehall – The Times
  • Shadow health secretary hints he quit over ‘partygate’ – Daily Mail

Javid to abandon Covid passes as the Omicron surge recedes

“Covid passes are to be abandoned this month after Sajid Javid effectively killed off the policy. The health secretary has concluded that Covid-19 certification is no longer needed as the Omicron wave eases. He told MPs that he shared their “instinctive discomfort” at the policy. With ministers keen to lift guidance on working from home when plan B measures are reviewed on January 26, it is increasingly likely that compulsory masks in enclosed spaces will be the only order remaining next month, if restrictions are not dropped entirely. Javid told MPs yesterday there were “encouraging signs that infections” were falling in parts of the country and that the NHS was coping. He acknowledged that hospitals remained under “significant pressure” and “we must proceed with caution”.” – The Times

  • Covid self-isolation period to be cut to five days in England – FT

Raab unveils new £93 million scheme to ‘expand chain gangs’

“Offenders will be forced to clean up more public spaces in a £93million scheme unveiled by Dominic Raab today. The Justice Secretary has signed the first ever deal with a national charity which will allow a massive expansion of unpaid work schemes for convicted criminals. Millions of extra hours will be carried out by litter-clearing gangs each year, with open spaces cleared of rubbish in support of the Daily Mail-backed Great British Spring Clean. Recruitment begins today of 500 extra staff to oversee work by teams of offenders, who have been ordered to carry out ‘Community Payback’ as part of their punishment.” – Daily Mail

Truss targets Northern Ireland Protocol deal by end of March

“Liz Truss on Thursday told the EU she wants a deal on the Northern Ireland Protocol by the end of March in her first face-to-face meeting with the bloc’s Brexit negotiator. The two sides are expected to agree a new timetable for intensive talks over measures to avoid a hard border in an attempt to broker a compromise before the forthcoming Stormont elections. After a slippery start to the talks when Maros Sefcovic, a European Commission vice-president, stumbled on an icy step while meeting Ms Truss at Chevening House, the Foreign Secretary’s country residence, the pair said a deal was needed to ensure peace and stability in the province. The UK and EU believe the best way to achieve this is by brokering a pact to reduce the number of trade checks between Northern Ireland and Great Britain before May’s ballot.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Foreign Secretary wants EU relations ‘reset’ – The Times

>Yesterday: Stephen Booth’s column: The EU also has an obligation to settle the Northern Ireland Protocol – and help keep the peace there

Mercer claims veterans are being ‘hounded by ex-IRA chiefs who entered politics

“Former veterans’ minister Johnny Mercer sensationally called for a public inquiry into prosecutors in Northern Ireland yesterday, claiming ‘extremists’ in government are using the ‘levers of state to re-write history.’ In a blistering speech to the Commons, the Tory MP accused former ‘IRA leaders’ who entered politics in the wake of the Good Friday Agreement of pursuing Troubles soldiers while ‘concealing their own murderous behaviour.’ Mr Mercer, an ex-Army captain, pointed to five prosecutions of ex-troops in Northern Ireland last year which collapsed or resulted in acquittals, including two former paratroopers cleared over the murder of IRA leader Joe McCann 50 years ago. Under parliamentary privilege, Mr Mercer named Barra McGrory QC as being Northern Ireland’s Director of Public Prosecutions ‘when the cases were decided upon.’” – Daily Mail

  • Kawczynski faces Commons suspension for undermining bullying apology – The Guardian

Labour MP ‘accepted £425,000 in donations from Chinese spy’

“A Labour MP accepted more than £425,000 in donations from a Chinese spy, it emerged on Thursday, prompting demands for an urgent probe into her links with Westminster. MI5 issued an interference alert to MPs about the activities of Christine Lee, a Chinese national who has donated hundreds of thousands of pounds to Barry Gardiner, a former shadow cabinet minister. She first began making financial contributions to British politicians 17 years ago. The Electoral Commission vowed to “undertake further checks” on the permissibility of the payments by Ms Lee, through her law firm Christine Lee & Co, to MPs and local parties. The regulator told The Telegraph that it would consider enforcement action if evidence emerged of breaches to political finance rules.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Solicitor accused of facilitating donations to politicians – FT
  • MI5 accuses lawyer of trying to influence politicians on behalf of China – The Guardian
  • ‘Spy’ gave £700k to Labour – The Sun

>Today: ToryDiary: There will never be a ‘good time’ for IPSA to increase MPs’ pay

Tom Tugendhat: Tawdry tale of Chinese ‘spy’ in Westminster shows life isn’t all le Carré

“Questions were first raised publicly in 2017 when The Times reported on the £180,000 that Lee had donated to Gardiner’s office but the warning did not dissuade co-operation. Nor, says the MP, did “liaising with our security services” for many years about her.This is not about which researchers were sponsored, nor the declaration of the donations, but simply that our democracy is vulnerable in a world where autocracy is growing in power and trying to hijack our institutions. Those of us who are privileged to pilot our nation through these dark days need to learn from the airline industry that we must do what we can to protect ourselves from outside influence and the least we can do is lock the door to the cockpit. Yesterday MI5 showed clearly that it had been wide open for years.” – The Times

Sunak ‘missing in action’ on UK energy crisis, Labour say

“Rishi Sunak has been accused of going “missing in action” on Britain’s unfolding energy crisis, as he faced claims he was positioning himself for a potential leadership bid. With pressure growing on the chancellor to act, Rachel Reeves, his Labour shadow, said urgent steps were needed to help hard-pressed families before an expected surge in gas and electricity prices from April… Sources close to the chancellor said he had returned to London to hold a raft of meetings at the Treasury on Thursday on how best to respond to the energy crisis, amid signs of the government beginning to ready a response after months of pressure from consumer groups, industry representatives and MPs.” – The Guardian

  • Heavy industry unlikely to get government help with high energy prices – FT

>Today: David Willetts’ column: Improving the energy performance of poorer peoples’ homes would help to cut the cost of living

News in Brief:

  • Scottish Tories should not bin Boris – Henry Hill, The Spectator
  • The inside story of Politics for All – Marie le Conte, Vice
  • We should aim for 100m Britons – Tom Harwood, CapX
  • How our universities became sheep factories – Arif Ahmed, UnHerd
  • When trans activists target your job – Jean Hatchet, The Critic



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