Boris Johnson questions flat refurbishment ‘nonsense’
SNP would ‘totally’ accept joining euro as price of EU membership
Social distancing not needed at big events, PM to be told
Coronavirus latest news: More than 20 million living in areas in UK with no Covid deaths
Boris Johnson may have been at risk from hostile actors, criminal gangs and lobbyists, an intelligence expert has warned, after it emerged the Prime Minister’s mobile phone number was freely available online.
Last night gossip blog Popbitch revealed that Mr Johnson’s number had been published at the bottom of a press release from when he was a junior shadow minister in 2006.
Attempts by the Telegraph to call it have been met with an automated message saying the phone was “switched off”, with an invitation to “please try later or send a text”.
Lord Ricketts, national security adviser under David Cameron, and former chair of the joint intelligence committee, told the Today programme: “If this same mobile phone number has been used for 15 or 20 years then hundreds, if not thousands, of people must have access to it and that gives them privileged access to him.”
That could pose security risks, he noted, as hostile actors and criminal gangs with “sophisticated cyber capabilities” may be among those with the details. It also meant he could be compromised by individuals seeking favours and policy changes.
It was the “equivalent of being able to walk into your office while you’re the prime minister”, he added.
Follow the latest updates below.
In the red corner: Sir Keir Starmer fights back on the campaign trail
A new poll this morning suggests Sir Keir Starmer is on the ropes, with the Labour leader yet to land a killer blow.
And with less than a week to go before the local elections, he might have boxed himself into a corner.
Minister questions Labour’s priorities after Keir Starmer’s wallpaper ‘stunt’
A minister has questioned Labour’s priorities, as she accused Sir Keir Starmer of “performing a stunt with wallpaper charts”.
After multiple days of attacks from the opposition over who originally made the donations for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister, told LBC radio that the photo opp “sums it all up”.
“The Leader of the Opposition is there, performing a stunt with wallpaper charts, while the Prime Minister is visiting a school to listen to the students about their experiences through the pandemic, but also to talk about how we can raise education and attainment.
“I think that absolutely sets out the priorities of our separate parties in the run up, of course, to some really important elections next Thursday both locally and in the by-election in Hartlepool.”
Asked what she thinks of John Lewis, following claims the flat was redecorated to get rid of the “nightmare” left by Theresa May, Ms Atkins said: “Oh my, I love John Lewis.
“I was in there last week [and bought] make-up actually.”
More than 21.5 million living in areas in UK with no Covid deaths, data suggests
More than 21.5 million people live in areas of the UK that have not reported a single coronavirus death in the last month.
In more than four in 10 council areas in April, nobody was recorded to have died within 28 days of a positive test.
The news has been hailed by Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Government’s Scientific Pandemic Influenza Group on Modelling (Spi-M) group, as “really good news”.
“We’ve seen several parts of the country where prevalence is really, really low. So, I think it gives us confidence,” he told BBC News.
The areas that reported no Covid deaths in April also tended to have fewer confirmed cases in March. On average, those places had 150 cases per 100,000 people in March.
Independent Scotland would ‘build infrastructure’ for QE, says Nicola Sturgeon
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted an independent Scotland would be financially secure in the event of a massive crisis, after she was challenged over how it would hold up if there were another pandemic.
The First Minister said Scotland was “perfectly capable of being independent”, claiming that while “in the first days of independence” the nation would continue to use sterling, it would use a transitional period to “move to our currency and build that infrastructure”.
Challenged over whether an independent Scotland could have the resources for a QE programme like the one the Bank of England has undertaken, she added: “We would use sterling, then we would set up our own central bank and perform the functions of a central bank.”
Scotland would “have a share” of the BoE’s reserves, she added.
Nicola Sturgeon offers weak rebuttal to NatWest over relocation claims
Nicola Sturgeon has said she does not accept “all of the case” made by NatWest, after the bank’s chief said it would have to relocate in the event of independence, because it is simply too big for the Scottish economy to support.
In her first substantive remarks on the potential break-up of the Union since taking charge of the bank in 2019, Alison Rose said: “In the event that there was independence for Scotland our balance sheet would be too big for an independent Scottish economy.
“And so we would move our registered headquarters, in the event of independence, to London.”
But the First Minister told the Today programme: “We heard this in the 2014 referendum.
“I am not complacent about any company based in Scotland who has concerns about their future, but to put in context, NatWest is talking about registered office, not operations, not jobs.”
Asked if she accepted the point made by Ms Rose, the SNP leader said: “I don’t necessarily accept all of that case. “I do accept that we have to engage constructively and responsibly with businesses of all shapes ad sizes.”
Nicola Sturgeon refuses to give timeline for Trident removal
Nicola Sturgeon has refused to say how long an independent Scotland would retain the Trident nuclear weapons system.
The SNP has a deep and long-held antipathy towards the programme, viewing nuclear weapons as ‘immoral, ineffective and expensive’.
When asked if it “could be years” after Scotland becomes independent before the missiles are removed from the Clyde Naval Base at Faslane, the First Minister said: “I want to see Trident removed from Scotland as quickly as possible, not least because I think there are many more important things we can do with the money that is invested in Trident.
“I’m not going to sit here right now and say exactly what that timescale will be other than I want it to be as quickly as is safely possible, and I’m saying to you very openly that safety is a priority.”
Nicola Sturgeon rejects Salmond’s call for ‘immediate’ action on independence
Nicola Sturgeon has insisted she will propose a referendum on Scottish independence “immediately” – putting her in stark contrast with her former friend and mentor Alex Salmond.
“I don’t believe we should propose a referendum right at this moment,” Sturgeon told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“I’m a lifelong believer in independence, I want Scotland to be independent, but firstly we’ve got to steer the country through the crisis.
“My focus if I’m re-elected next week is to steer us through Covid and into recovery. Some of my critics in the independence movement do say that I’m too cautious on that front, but actually I think it is a good thing to be cautious when we’re talking about a health crisis and of course the future of the country.”
That puts her at odds with Mr Salmond, whose new part Alba explicitly called for action to begin “immediately” if a coalition of pro-independence parties win a majority at next week’s election.
Fraser Nelson: Cummings’s new anti-Boris alliance aims to topple the Prime Minister
It’s amazing how many Westminster figures, who have been quiet for ages, are now popping up to offer commentary on the current political drama, writes Fraser Nelson.
Some might have given the impression, over the years, that Dominic Cummings was wicked and untrustworthy. But now, it seems, they see a man of principle and courage who cannot tell a lie. To those who always thought the Boris project defied gravity, this is an important and cathartic moment. Brexiteers are, at long last, at war with each other. Too late to destroy the mission, perhaps, but we may be about to see its architects tear themselves to pieces.Perhaps more importantly, the various enemies of the Prime Minister now have Britain’s most effective campaigner on their side. With more purpose, direction and ammunition than any of them could have mustered.
Read the rest of Fraser’s column here.
Independent Scotland would ‘totally’ accept joining euro as price of EU membership
The SNP’s policy on an independent Scotland’s currency has descended into further confusion after the party’s foreign affairs spokesman said it would “totally” accept joining the euro as the price of EU membership.
Alyn Smith, a former MEP, said a separate Scotland would be willing to join the single currency, subject to another referendum, as “we would want to participate in economic and monetary union”.
However, he admitted that Scotland’s huge public deficit of up to 25 per cent of GDP – around eight times the level required for EU membership – would be “too high to join the euro anyway” at the current time.
Read the full story here.
Sheepish Starmer to hit the campaign trail in Hull after photo op faux pas
Sir Keir Starmer is hitting the campaign trail again today, this time in Hull – but he might have his tail between his legs.
Yesterday the Labour leader posed for a photo opp in John Lewis as he sought to make a tongue-in-cheek jibe over the Prime Minister’s choice of decor.
However it resulted in Tories lining up to attack him, with Jacob Rees-Mogg likening to Ed Miliband’s ill-fated bacon sandwich moment, while party co-chairman Amanda Milling accused him of “playing party politics”.
A Labour spokesman has apologised “wholeheartedly to anyone caught up in a ‘cash for curtains’ sleaze scandal who may have been offended by this quick trip to John Lewis”.
No doubt the party leader will give his own explanation later today.
People getting ‘worked up over nothing’ on Downing Street flat refurb, claims Lord Lilley
Lord Peter Lilley has said people are getting “worked up over nothing” over the refurbishment of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat.
Talking to Times Radio, the former deputy leader of the Conservative Party said: “We are unique in that people get worked up where nothing bad has happened.
“In Russia, public money was used to build Putin’s Palace – public money on private property.”
He continued: “Here it is private money – Boris’s, ultimately – on public property, Number 10, And people are upset about it. I just think people have got things upside down.”
Lord Lilley continued: “The Labour Party is naturally trying to exploit this, but my point is nothing bad has happened, no public money has been siphoned off to private benefit.”
He added that any loan was “clearly temporary because the Prime Minister has ended up paying out of his pocket”.
Minister chastises journalists for highlighting Boris Johnson’s mobile phone breach
A Home Office minister has insisted that Boris Johnson was aware of his responsibilities on national security amid reports that his mobile phone number has been posted online for 15 years.
She also chastised journalists for publicising the story further.
“The Prime Minister, more than anyone, knows his responsibilities when it comes to national security,” Victoria Atkins told Times Radio Breakfast.
“I’m slightly surprised that a national broadcaster felt it appropriate to advertise the fact that that mobile phone is on the internet, if indeed it is.”
She added that she believed the public were not “particularly interested” in the issue.
Analysis: What does the revelation about Boris Johnson’s phone number actually mean?
Just over a week ago The Daily Telegraph revealed that Boris Johnson has been told to change his phone number by the head of the civil service, amid concerns it was too well-known.
Those concerns now appear somewhat understated, after it emerged last night that the Prime Minister’s number had been freely available online for the last 15 years. While it may have been active before the Popbitch newsletter went out, it’s been firmly switched off ever since.
While it’s accepted – and acceptable – that ministers’ numbers are made available to people, this security breach poses serious questions – first of which must be what it was that made Simon Case ask the PM to ditch his number.
Was he receiving calls that were flagged as a concern – and if so, why wasn’t further action taken?
Lord Ricketts has noted that people with “sophisticated cyber capabilities” may have happened across it, suggesting that the number could have opened the door to other, more compromising, communications.
Another investigation must be likely – but if one is launched, that just adds further weight to those arguing for an inquiry into the pandemic response.
Leading think tanks join calls for public inquiry into pandemic response
Two leading think tanks have said that a public inquiry into the country’s response to the pandemic should be launched immediately.
The Institute for Government (IfG) and King’s Fund both challenged the Government’s claims that it was the “wrong time” for an inquiry , saying the first steps could be taken without distracting civil servants from tackling the pandemic.
The IfG said that the inquiry should be established in May, giving it time to determine its terms of reference and complete preparatory work such as appointing a secretary and counsel before beginning its investigations in September after Parliament’s summer recess.
The King’s Fund’s director of policy Sally Warren said: “The suggestion that everyone in Government is too busy for an inquiry is a poor excuse.
“There are first steps that can be taken to establish the inquiry – such as appointing an independent chair or agreeing term of reference – that will not distract from the efforts of public servants responding to Covid-19.”
Boris Johnson not alone in redecoration costs spiralling, says former MP
A former Conservative MP has stressed people are not interested in the so-called “cash for cushions” row, as she defended Boris Johnson’s pricy refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
The Conservatives have increased their lead during the row over sleaze and lobbying, with a YouGov poll for The Times finding the Tories on an 11-point lead, after Labour slipped down a point.
Victoria Borwick, the former MP for Kensington, told Sky News: “Boris is still ahead in the polls, and the electorate I think are getting on with what matters to them.”
She added that inquiries should consider whether the PM was given enough public money to redecorate, noting: “These amounts are quite important when you consider you are decorating a home that receives international visitors.
“He can’t be the first person who’s needed to decorate and not necessarily known the total costs at the outset.”
Boris Johnson should pay as much attention to digital security as he does personal security
Boris Johnson should pay as much attention to his digital security as he does to his personal security, a former national security adviser has said.
Lord Ricketts told the Today programme: “You do have to accept, just as you do – you can’t just walk around on your own and talk to anyone you like – equally you shouldn’t be in a position where anyone who once had your phone number can get to you when you are a prime minister.
“And that’s one of the inconveniences of being prime minister but it’s for their own sake and their own protection really, that access to them ought to be controlled and monitored… I think it’s for the Prime Minister’s own interest to be much more digitally secure than seems to be the case now.”
Boris Johnson’s number may be known by ‘hundreds, if not thousands of people’
Boris Johnson’s mobile phone number may be known by “hundreds, if not thousands” of people, after it was discovered to have been left online for 15 years, a former national security adviser has said.
Lord Ricketts, a crossbench peer, told the Today programme: “It does matter, because access to the Prime Minister is a very valuable commodity.
“And if this same mobile phone number has been used for 15 or 20 years, then hundreds, if not thousands, of people must have access to it.
“And that gives them privileged access to someone who is no longer the MP for Henley, but the Prime Minister of the country.”
Ethics adviser must not have too much power, minister says
Giving Boris Johnson’s new ethics adviser greater autonomy would hand too much power to an “unelected, unaccountable” individual, a minister has said.
Labour is among those calling for Lord Geidt to be given greater independence, including being able to instigate his own investigations and not having to report his findings into the Prime Minister before they are made public.
Victoria Atkins told Sky News: “The consequences of some of these suggestions haven’t really been thought through.”
It would hand an “unelected, unaccountable adviser, impeccable though Lord Geidt may be” a significant amount of control, she added.
“I am not sure that is an addition to our constitution we want to see.”
‘I love John Lewis’, says Boris Johnson as he calls questions over flat refurbishment ‘nonsense’
Boris Johnson declared that he “loves” John Lewis and described questions about the funding of his Downing Street flat refurbishment a “farrago of nonsense”.
The Prime Minister sought to distance himself from criticism of the British retailer and insisted there was “nothing to see here or to worry about” regarding the refit of the quarters.
However, last night the prospect of a fourth inquiry into the luxury works commissioned on the flat loomed over him.
Labour sources disclosed that the party has asked Kathryn Stone, the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, to investigate whether the Prime Minister should have declared any benefit – including a loan or credit arrangement – linked to the refit.
Three probes are already underway on the funding behind the renovations. The Electoral Commission announced this week that it had launched a formal inquiry, while Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, is overseeing an internal investigation and Lord Geidt, Mr Johnson’s new adviser on ministerial interests, is also investigating.
Update your settings here to see it.