Politics latest news: Boris Johnson refuses to give David Cameron backing on Greensill Capital row

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David Cameron's defence is 'rather a line you would expect from a drug dealer who says 'I don't know what is in those pills',' Lord Myners said - AFP
David Cameron’s defence is ‘rather a line you would expect from a drug dealer who says ‘I don’t know what is in those pills’,’ Lord Myners said – AFP
  • ‘Extremist’ Salmond mocked for enlisting Robert the Bruce​

  • Cameron scandal puts spotlight on revolving door between politics and business

  • Sir John Major urges ethics rules overhaul after Cameron Greensill row

  • LibDems accused of breaking mourning pledge day after Prince Philip’s death

  • Coronavirus latest news: 1.3 million vulnerable people yet to take up offer of vaccine in England

Boris Johnson has refused to give David Cameron his backing over the Greensill Capital scandal, saying he has his own questions about what happened.

The Prime Minister yesterday ordered lawyer Nigel Boardman to head up an inquiry into how the finance firm secured state contracts for supply chain finance The probe will also look at how the lender’s representatives, including Mr Cameron, “engaged with Government”.

Asked what he made of his predecessor’s behaviour the Prime Minister told journalists: “That’s a matter for Nigel Boardman’s report.”

Pressed on whether he is attempting to “rough up a rival” with the review, Boris Johnson said: “I think people have got questions that they need to satisfy themselves about – including me – about how this supply chain finance stuff is meant to work.

“I don’t think it is going on at present anywhere in Government but we need to understand exactly what the intention was, how it came about, and that is exactly what Nigel Boardman is going to do.”

Meanwhile Kwasi Kwarteng, the recently-appointed Business Secretary, has told a committee of MPs that he “never received a phone call or WhatsApp” from Mr Cameron.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

02:20 PM

MPs urged to use parliamentary email system after Tory MP claims Gmail is ‘more secure’

MPs have been urged to use their parliamentary emails rather than commercial providers, after a senior Tory claimed he had been told Gmail was “more secure”.

Tom Tugendhat, who has been subjected to cyber attacks and hacking attempts, said he had been advised not to use his work email by “friends at GCHQ” (see post 8:53am).

But a parliamentary spokesman said: “We have robust cybersecurity measures in place and work closely with partners in the National Cyber Security Centre.

“In line with guidance from the NCSC we would always encourage MPs to use parliamentary emails, which offers significantly higher levels of security than external providers.”

An NCSC spokesman said the parliamentary system follows “best practice” and “MPs should continue to use it”.

02:07 PM

Covid vaccine slump continues with fewer than 200,000 jabs given yesterday

Fewer than 200,000 Covid vaccines were given out in England yesterday – of which the bulk were second doses – as the slump in supply continues.

A total of 33,637,546 jabs have been given since the programme launched on December 8, including first and second doses. That is a rise of 191,624 on the previous day.

NHS England said 27,132,941 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 25,351 on the previous day, while 6,504,605 were a second dose, an increase of 166,273.

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

01:59 PM

Goods must move ‘as easily from Liverpool to Belfast as to Birmingham’, says Tory MP

Sir John Redwood has called for the Government to ensure “a good can move as easily from Liverpool to Belfast as Liverpool to Birmingham”.

The Conservative MP said the protocol did “maintain Northern Ireland’s integrated place in the UK’s internal market”.

Goods “not at risk of going to the Republic” should be “under the direct control of the UK authorities,” he added.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, said this is “exactly” the position the Government is aiming to get to, in dialogue with partners in the EU.

01:50 PM

Boris Johnson is ‘not a casual observer’ to unrest in Northern Ireland, says Labour

Boris Johnson is “not a casual observer” to the growing tensions in Northern Ireland, Labour’s shadow Northern Ireland secretary has said.

Louise Haigh said he must “face up to the consequences of his own actions and show the leadership communities are crying out for”.

The Labour frontbencher claimed that the Prime Minister “made promises to the people of Northern Ireland that there would be no border with Britain, knowing full well his Brexit deal would introduce barriers across the Irish Sea”.

He did this because he knew “economic separation would be unacceptable”, but that has “squandered” trust, she says.

“He is not a casual observer in these events. He must step up and urgently convene talks with the political parties in Northern Ireland and all parties to the protocol to find solutions and political agreement,” she adds.

“Northern Ireland has been relegated to little more than an afterthought and the promise of peace allowed to stall.

01:41 PM

Northern Ireland violence ‘totally unacceptable’, says Secretary of State

Violence in Northern Ireland is “totally unacceptable” and attacks on police are “utterly reprehensible”, the Northern Ireland Secretary has said.

Brandon Lewis told the Commons it was “tragic and deeply concerning” that young people have been encouraged into it.

Highlighting the “economic uncertainty caused by the pandemic”, he says Northern Ireland’s post-conflict society retains “elements of fragility”.

Mr Lewis added that “some sections of the community feel their concerns are not understood”, and that “there is still work to do”.

The answer lies in “dialogue and engagement in democratic process”, he adds, stressing the need for parties to work together “to ensure that calm prevails”.

01:22 PM

Ross Clark: Boris Johnson’s Greensill plan could just backfire

Like the tango, it takes two to lobby: the lobbyist and the person who has allowed themselves to be lobbied, writes Ross Clark.

Therein lies the problem for Boris Johnson in calling an inquiry into David Cameron’s lobbying activities on behalf of the defunct Greensill Capital. While, in the reported words of one former minister Johnson might enjoy “throwing Cameron under a bus”, the more you dig deeper into the former Prime Minister’s activities, the more it will reveal about those who are currently in power.The Greensill affair is deeply embarrassing for Cameron. Surely he is rich enough not to have to bother with returning to the career in the grubby world of PR whence he came. He could be carving out a remunerative career as an elder statesman – or, failing that, sitting in his shepherd’s hut harmlessly listening to Mumford and Sons. But should the rest of us really care all that much what he gets up to? He is a private citizen and has been for over four years.Rather more concerning is the way that current ministers happily entertained him.

Read the rest of Ross’ column in full here.

01:19 PM

Some Liberty Steel UK plants may close, Business Secretary admits

Kwasi Kwarteng has warned there is a “danger” that Liberty Steel could be forced to close some of its UK plants following the collapse of its main financial backer GFG.

Giving evidence to the Commons Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Committee, the Business Secretary said: “I am very keen to see that these assets, which are good assets, continue to operate and the company continues to operate but we can’t strip Liberty Steel from the wider group under which it sits and, as Mr Gupta says, they have billions and billions of debt.”

“I think it can work but what I won’t rush into is giving any guarantees in this committee or in any other forum. It is a patient game.”

Mr Kwarteng again defended the Government’s decision to reject an appeal by GFG for a £170million bailout, saying there was no assurance the money would have stayed in the UK.

“We didn’t have those guarantees. It was a very opaque structure,” he said. “As officials and ministers we have a responsibility to taxpayers not simply sign off £170million without any knowledge of where that money might ultimately go.”

01:00 PM

Iain Duncan Smith calls for ban on ‘preferential trade deal’ with China over sanctions

Iain Duncan Smith has challenged the Government to join up with allies in Europe and the US to refuse to agree any trade deals with China until sanctions are lifted.

The former Conservative leader said ministers must take two-pronged action: ” Lead now those allies of ours in Europe and US to say there can be no preferential trade, economic or commerical deals while their own individuals are sanctioned, and resist any moves to water down anything in the new infrastructure bill going through this place.”

Nigel Adams reiterated the Government view that China’s “increasing assertiveness and scale is potentially the most significant geopolitical shifts in the 2020s”, but that the UK must continue to engage with the regime on issues such as climate change.

“We need to defend our values, but cooperate where our interests align,” he said.

12:53 PM

Senior Tory calls on Government to end ‘Project Kowtow’ over China sanctions

A senior Tory has called on the Government to “signal that Project Kowtow is over”, after a number of MPs were sanctioned by China.

Tim Loughton, one of nine individuals to have been hit by tit-for-tat measures, said he and colleagues had been “fortified to call out the abuses of this totalitarian government in China, but their badly thought out and counterproductive use of sanctions, which will wear as a badge of honour”.

Nigel Adams, a Foreign Office minister, said the sanctions were “unwarranted and unacceptable” and that the Government would not allow China to distract attention from the human rights abuses in Xinjiang.

12:42 PM

Have your say: Will the Greensill row tarnish Rishi Sunak?

The row over David Cameron’s lobbying for Greensill Capital shows no sign of blowing over yet, despite the Prime Minister yesterday announcing a probe into how the lender’s representatives, including Mr Cameron, “engaged with Government”.

This morning Rishi Sunak is back in the spotlight, with Labour attacking him for swerving questions in the Commons about his involvement in the matter, instead sending junior minister Paul Scully.

The opposition is also making much of his own admission that he “pushed” his officials to see what could be done.

The Chancellor has ridden high in the polls throughout the pandemic – but there are signs that his popularity is starting to wane. Could Greensill be about to tarnish his once bright star?

Have your say in the poll below.

12:41 PM

Labour MP harks back to ‘Dodgy Dave’ moment

Labour MP Emma Lewell-Buck reminds MPs that Dennis Skinner was booted out of the Commons for calling David Cameron “dodgy”.

She asks business minister Paul Scully if he agrees that “Dave was, and indeed remains, dodgy?”

Mr Scully replied simply: “No.”

Watch the moment again in the video below.

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12:32 PM

Labour MP compares Greensill to Enron collapse

A Labour MP has compared the Greensill scandal to the infamous Enron collapse as she warned it could leave “many German people facing bankruptcy”.

Stella Creasy, MP for Walthamstow, said: “Like other corporate financial scandals such as Enron, we need to follow the money.

“It was the German Greensill bank that made the loans to Sanjeev Gupta which also supported the use of private jets which the former prime minister made many journeys on and we know is now under criminal investigation as many thousands of German people face bankruptcy.

“So the minister tells us what conversations he has had with the German prosecutors about the CBILs loans schemes and if they will be invited to give evidence?”

Paul Scully reiterated that “the bank has opened investigation into Greensill’s compliance… and that is continuing.”

He adds that it “wouldn’t be appropriate to comment further”.

Ms Creasy could be seen mouthing something about “the Germans” as the business minister was speaking.

12:19 PM

Tory MP calls for Grant Thornton to be ‘properly investigated’ over Greensill scandal

A Conservative MP has called for Grant Thornton’s role in Greensill’s collapse to be “properly investigated”.

Kevin Hollinrake attacked the “blatant political opportunism” from opposition parties, but said “there is a scandal behind this”.

Greensill failed because it “over-extended” itself by borrowing hundreds of millions of pounds “based on the security of a very insecure, possibly non-existent, order book”, the MP adds.

He asks for reforms of the auditory system to be brought forward, alongside a full investigation of Grant Thornton.

Paul Scully says “in light of recent failures, it is absolutely right” that reforms are brought forward.

12:14 PM

MPs to decide whether to establish parliamentary inquiry into David Cameron

MP will vote on whether to establish a parliamentary inquiry into David Cameron’s lobbying activities.

A plan put forward by Labour would create a new select committee to investigate lobbying, including the former prime minister’s activities in support of collapsed lender Greensill Capital.

If MPs approve the motion, which will be brought tomorrow, the cross-party committee would investigate whether current laws are sufficient to prevent “inappropriate lobbying” of ministers and officials.

Shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Rachel Reeves urged Tory MPs to back the motion if they want to “stop the cronyism rampant in their party and in government”.

Opposition day motions are not usually binding on the Government, but because this is calling for Parliament rather than ministers to establish an inquiry it would lead to the creation of the Investigation Into Lobbying Of Government committee.

The proposed committee would have the power to “send for persons, papers and records” – giving it the ability to summon Mr Cameron and ministers including Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Health Secretary Matt Hancock to answer questions in public.

12:08 PM

Rishi Sunak ‘right to push officials’ on Greensill, says minister

Rishi Sunak: Junior minister Paul Scully was forced to defend the Chancellor, who did not appear to answer an urgent question today - Simon Walker HM Treasury
Rishi Sunak: Junior minister Paul Scully was forced to defend the Chancellor, who did not appear to answer an urgent question today – Simon Walker HM Treasury

Paul Scully has said MPs must let the inquiry announced by Boris Johnson yesterday have time to “do its work”.

The business minister says the Chancellor was “right to push officials, as we all have, to explore all ways of capital getting to businesses big and small”.

But he notes that Rishi Sunak rejected the idea that the scheme be adapted to allow any banks to take advantage of the CCFF scheme.

He notes that the CLBIL scheme is administered by the British Business Bank, which sits within Beis, and suggests she should rewrite her question if she wants Mr Sunak to appears.

12:04 PM

Labour accuses Rishi Sunak of ‘running scared’ over David Cameron

Anneliese Dodds says she welcomes the business minister’s appearance but it was “the Chancellor who told David Cameron he would pus his team to amend emergency loan schemes to suit Cameron’s new employer” who should have appeared.

She claims that Rishi Sunak is “frit of putting his name to those loan schemes today”, despite having touted them when they first launched.

“What was the alternative that the Chancellor pushed his team to explore after DAvid Cameron texted him? What discussions did the Government have with the British Business Bank about Greensill’s access to CLBILs after it had already been rejected for the CCFF? Were the criteria for CLBILs amended so that Greensill could access the scheme?

“And why was Greensill the only supply chain finance firm accredited, what due diligence was done?”

Thousands of jobs and hundreds of millions of pounds of public money have been used in this but the Chancellor is “running scared”. she adds.

12:00 PM

Greensill loan approved ‘independently’ of Government, says business minister

Greensill Capital were approved for the Covid loan schemes “in accordance with published guidance”, and “all decisions made independently” by the British Business Bank, a minister has said.

Paul Scully, answering an urgent question intended for Rishi Sunak, told MPs that the bank opened an investigation into Greensill in October last year and that investigation is continuing.

The Government’s obligations are “suspended on a precautionary basis”, he adds.

11:56 AM

Cameron scandal puts spotlight on revolving door between politics and business

The escalating scandal involving David Cameron’s ties to collapsed finance firm Greensill has put a spotlight on the often-lucrative afterlife that many politicians enjoy.

As Number 10 commissions an investigation into the former prime minister’s attempt to lobby ministers on Greensill’s behalf, calls are growing for more scrutiny on business appointments.

The row has put the activities of his former cabinet in the spotlight, with the class of 2016 attracting lucrative roles at major banks, technology firms and consultancies since leaving politics.

They are not accused of any wrongdoing, but the Greensill saga draws attention to the complex links between business and politics and raises wider questions about how ministers should use their contacts books after a political career ends and a business one begins. As Cameron said in 2010, this is a big issue that can no longer be ignored.

David Cameron-Greensill scandal
David Cameron-Greensill scandal

Read our analysis of the revolving door in full here.

11:53 AM

Lobby latest: Government disbands LGBT panel

The Government’s LGBT advisory panel has been disbanded, Downing Street confirmed.

The panel, established by Theresa May’s government, will be replaced with a new body, No 10 indicated.

Panellists’ terms were due to expire on March 31 but a series of members of the group had resigned earlier in protest at Government policies.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss had written to the remaining panel members to thank them for their service.

“The Prime Minister is immensely proud to live in a country that is one of the most progressive and liberal when it comes to LGBT equality,” the spokesman said.

“The LGBT advisory panel was created under the previous administration and the term of all panel members was always due to end on the 31st.

“The Minister for Women and Equalities has written to all panel members to thank them for their contributions and plans for a replacement to the panel will be set out in due course.”

11:50 AM

Sir Bernard Jenkin tears up as he praises ‘most trusted friend’ Dame Cheryl Gillan

Sir Bernard Jenkin has given an emotional tribute to Dame Cheryl Gillan, who became a Conservative MP in the same election.

The liaison committee chairman teared up as he praised her for being “gentle and polite”, saying she had become “one of my most trusted friends” over the years.

The former Welsh secretary was “terrific fun” and a champion of women in politics, he added.

Sir Bernard told colleagues that her failing health and cancer had been particularly “bitter for her” because of the ban on proxy voting for MPs who are “incapacitated by sickness”.

“Perhaps we should have a campaign to rectify this and call it Cheryl’s vote,” he added.

11:42 AM

Lobby latest: South African cluster being taken ‘very seriously’, says No 10

Downing Street has said the cluster of cases of the South African coronavirus variant was being taken “very seriously”.

Some 44 confirmed cases of the variant have been found in the south London boroughs of Lambeth and Wandsworth and residents have been urged to get a coronavirus test even if they do not have symptoms.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “I think this is something that we are taking very seriously and the effective surge testing processes that we have in place have been working well here.

“We know that variants do pose a risk, it’s one of our four tests for the progression of the road map.

“But… we have strong measures in place to find and isolate any new cases.”

11:41 AM

Speaker leads tribute to ‘doughty’ Dame Cheryl Gillan

Dame Cheryl Gillan who died last weekend after a long illness - PA
Dame Cheryl Gillan who died last weekend after a long illness – PA

The Speaker of the House has led tributes to Dame Cheryl Gillan, who died last weekend at the age of 68 after a long illness.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the former Welsh Secretary and Conservative MP was a “doughty defender of her constituents interests” and the “champion of private members bills which led to the Autism Act” in 2009.

“She will be remembered as a friend and mentor to many members,” Sir Lindsay added.

He also paid tribute to “five former members who passed away while the House was in recess”, including Baroness Williams of Crosby, who died yesterday aged 90.

11:31 AM

Matt Hancock admits meeting with David Cameron and Lex Greensill

Matt Hancock answering questions in the House of Commons - PA
Matt Hancock answering questions in the House of Commons – PA

Matt Hancock admitted meeting David Cameron and Lex Greensill, as he was accused of a “a pattern of behaviour”.

It emerged at the weekend that the former prime minister had lobbied the Health Secretary to use Greensill for an NHS pay scheme. Today Jon Ashworth asked why “that meeting was not declared”.

Mr Hancock said: “Absolutely, I attended a social meeting organised by former prime minster, and given that departmental business came up, I reported it to officials in the normal way.”

But his shadow said it was “cronyism and it stinks”, asking Mr Hancock to publish all the correspondence to the former prime minister and officials about Greensill “to see exactly what went on with the awarding of this contract”.

The Health Secretary said he would “participate in full” with the ongoing review, but stressed that it was “very important” that governments engaged with all stakeholders “within the rules, which is what happened in this case”.

11:22 AM

Nicola Sturgeon relaxes Covid restrictions after ‘significant progress’ made

Coronavirus travel restrictions within Scotland are to be eased from Friday and six adults from up to six households will be able to meet up outside, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

It comes as “significant progress” has been made in reducing the number of Covid-19 cases in Scotland.

Addressing the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, the First Minister said figures are now at their lowest since September, and have fallen by 40 per cent in the past two weeks.

But she warned against complacency as Scotland continues to tackle the virus, saying: “We’ve got to be careful not to do too much all at once, because we don’t want the virus quickly gaining ground again, particularly because this new variant is we know more infectious and setting us all back.”

11:20 AM

Covid, Price Philip and Northern Ireland on the Cabinet agenda

Boris Johnson chaired Cabinet this morning, in which he highlighted the tributes paid to the Duke of Edinburgh in Parliament yesterday, in which 136 MPs spoke.

He added that the reaction to the passing of the Duke of Edinburgh has shown the level of affection held for him across the entire country and around the world and that his thoughts remain with Her Majesty The Queen and her family.

Ahead of an oral statement in the House this afternoon, Brandon Lewis updated his colleagues about “the current challenges in Northern Ireland and the work the UK Government is doing to support the Northern Ireland political parties in their solidarity in rejecting violence and disorder”, a spokesperson said.

Ministers also discussed progress in the roadmap and vaccination programme, with the Prime Minister congratulating Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary on the success of the roll out.

11:09 AM

Boris Johnson: No reason to roadmap dates to change

Boris Johnson again insisted that “at the moment I can’t see any reason for us to change the road map, to deviate from the targets that we have set ourselves”, but he urged people to be cautious.

The next “waymarks” on England’s road map out of lockdown are due on May 17 and June 21.

He added: “But it is very, very important that, if we are to get there in the way that we all want, people continue to be cautious and they continue to exercise restraint and just do the basic things to stop the spread of the virus – washing your hands, giving people plenty of space, doing things in fresh air.”

His comments come amid another round of surge testing in South London, following an outbreak of the South African variant.

Timeline of restrictions - what opens and when
Timeline of restrictions – what opens and when

10:46 AM

Business Secretary has ‘never received phone call or WhatsApp from David Cameron’

Kwasi Kwarteng was made Business Secretary in January of this year - AFP
Kwasi Kwarteng was made Business Secretary in January of this year – AFP

Kwarsi Kwarteng has said he has never been contacted by David Cameron during his time as Business Secretary – although he has only been in the role since January.

Labour MP and business committee chair Darren Jones challenged the minister about the Chancellor’s no-show in the Commons this afternoon, but he stressed that Rishi Sunak was right “on a point of technical fact”.

Asked if Beis was being “pushed under a bus” by the Treasury, Mr Kwarteng said: “I don’t thin that is the case here at all.As a matter of fact the British Business Bank is one of 40 ARBs I am responsible for.”

Asked if he was contacted by David Cameron, he added: “I have never received a single phone call or WhatsApp from Mr Cameron.”

Asked the same question about Beis officials, he said: “As far as I understand they haven’t. We have this inquiry as you know, and I am sure inquiry will get to the bottom of exactly what messages Mr Cameron sent.”

10:33 AM

Boris Johnson refuses to give David Cameron his backing

Boris Johnson said ruling on David Cameron's actions was "a matter for Nigel Boardman" - AFP
Boris Johnson said ruling on David Cameron’s actions was “a matter for Nigel Boardman” – AFP

Boris Johnson has dodged a question about his view on David Cameron’s actions, saying it is a matter for the man charged with the independent review.

The Prime Minister also swerved a question about whether he was trying to “rough up” an old rival.

He told journalists: “I have asked Nigel Boardman to look at supply chain finance and giving him pretty much carte blanche to ask anybody whatever he needs to find out. I would like it to be done quickly, but he needs the maximum possible access so we can all understand what has happened, and it will be presented to Parliament in due course.”

Mr Johnson added: “We will make sure everybody gives him their time and sets out their thoughts and arguments.”

Asked his own view of Mr Cameron’s behaviour, he said: “That’s a matter for Nigel Boardman.”

He added: “People have just got questions they need to satisfy themselves – including me – about how this supply chain finances stuff is meant to work. I don’t think it is going on anywhere at present in Government but we need to understand how it came about.”

10:27 AM

Drop in rates and deaths ‘not achieved by vaccines’, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has stressed that the drop in infection rates, hospitalisations and deaths has “not been achieved by the vaccination programme”, but by lockdown.

The Prime Minister told journalists that “clearly everybody has been able to yesterday go to the pub… go shopping, get a haircut and so on.

“That is great… but it is very, very important for everybody to understand that a reduction in these numbers.. has not been achieved by the vaccination programme. It is the lockdown has been overwhelmingly important in delivering this improvement in… the figures that we are seeing.”

He added that while the vaccines have “helped”, the “bulk of the work has been done by the lockdown”, and there would “inevitably” be a rise in hospitalisations and deaths as the country unlocks.

“People have just got to understand that,” he added.

10:22 AM

Speaker stands by decision to grant Labour’s urgent question to Rishi Sunak

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the question was 'appropriate' - PA
Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the question was ‘appropriate’ – PA

Sir Lindsay Hoyle has backed his decision to grant Labour’s urgent question aimed at Rishi Sunak, despite the Chancellor deciding not to appear.

Instead, junior business minister Paul Scully will be grilled on the emergency Covid loan granted to Greensill Capital, in a debate that kicks off at 12:30.

The Speaker told Sky News he was “not going to prejudge” what will be said, but added: “I thought it was appropriate to grant the urgent question…. I will reflect on what the Government has to say, but I thought it was important to have an urgent question and that is what has been granted.”

Sir Lindsay, who took over from John Bercow on a pledge to end the bullying culture that has emerged in recent years, restated his commitment to a “nicer Parliament”, adding that transparency was critical to this.

“We need to rebuild trust and respect,” he added. “Quite rightly the Government has set up an inquiry, that is the right thing to do.”

10:16 AM

David Cameron had ‘informal meeting’ with most senior civil servant one day into the job

David Cameron met with the head of the civil service for an “informal catch up” just one day after he took on the job.

The BBC’s political correspondent Chris Mason has dug up the list of official meetings held by the Cabinet Secretary, showing that Simon Case’s very first engagement after taking over from Sir Jeremy Heywood was with the former prime minister.

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10:03 AM

Boris Johnson hails ‘hugely significant milestone’ as top nine groups get vaccine

Boris Johnson has hailed the “hugely significant milestone” reached, as the first phase of the UK’s vaccination programme concludes.

As of today, everyone in the top nine groups – those aged 50 and over and those with underlying health conditions – has been offered at least one Covid jab.

That means those aged 45-49 can now start to book their appointment.

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09:53 AM

Rishi Sunak to swerve questions in Parliament on Greensill, as lobbying row grows

Rishi Sunak will swerve a series of awkward questions in the Commons today, where he was to be grilled on his involvement in awarding Greensill Capital a Covid loan.

The Chancellor, who was sent private text messages by David Cameron last year to ask for help for the finance firm, had been expected to explain how it was accredited for the Coronavirus Large Business Interruption Scheme (CLBILS).

It would have been the first time he had spoken in the chamber since March 9, more than a month ago. However, small business minister Paul Scully is appearing instead.

Labour sources noted that Mr Sunak had only appeared once between the end of November and the Budget, dodging three Treasury questions.

They added: “The Chancellor is happy to stand in front of a camera when it suits him, but won’t answer questions about his involvement in the biggest lobbying scandal for a generation. What’s he got to hide?”

But a Treasury source explained “After a year of these schemes being in place and a very detailed letter last week setting out the difference between them, Labour still don’t get that CLBILS is not a Treasury lead.”

09:51 AM

Rishi Sunak’s refusal to answer questions on Greensill ‘laughable’, says Labour

Rishi Sunak’s insistence that he is not responsible for Covid lending schemes accessed by Greensill Capital is “laughable”, Labour has said, highlighting the various times the Chancellor has claimed credit for their creation.

Mr Sunak has ducked an urgent question granted to shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds, stressing that the Business Department is responsible.

But Bridget Phillipson, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “The Coronavirus Large Interruption Scheme literally had the Chancellor’s name all over it. He launched it and he took the headlines for it.

“But today he’s nowhere to be seen – missing in action and running scared of scrutiny for his decision to hand Greensill Capital access to hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer-backed loans.

“The Chancellor is happy to stand in front of a camera when it suits him and splash public cash on boosting his brand, but won’t answer questions about his involvement in the biggest lobbying scandal for a generation.”

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09:43 AM

Greensill ‘numbers simply didn’t add up’ but boss was ‘protected beast’ says former minister

Ministers did not “want to look too closely” at problems emerging at Greensill because the boss Lex Greensill was “a protected beast”, a former Labour frontbencher has claimed.

Lord Myners, City minster under Gordon Brown, said it would cost the taxpayer “up to a billion pounds”, and result in the loss of 50,000 jobs globally, with another 250,000 support jobs on top. The scandal has also left the “incompetency of the British Business Bank fully exposed to public challenge”.

The Labour politician, who has asked more than 40 questions in Parliament about the finance firm, said he did so because “the numbers simply didn’t add up” but ministers “didn’t want to look too closely”.

Lord Myners told Sky: “You could not produce the returns Greensill was offering investors while having a prudently leveraged business and only writing high quality, risk-free business. It just wasn’t possible.

“I saw that nearly two years ago and then I saw that Greensill wasn’t regulated, so I was trying to draw attention to that but no one was interested. Lex Greensill was a protected beast.”

09:33 AM

David Cameron went ‘way beyond what is appropriate’ in lobbying, says former minister

David Cameron has gone “way beyond what is appropriate” in his lobbying on behalf of Greensill Capital, a former City minister has said.

Lord Myners, who has raised questions about Greensill in Parliament multiple times, said the former prime minister had set the “legislation and rules which allowed him to do what he has done, and fall outside the scope of legislation”.

He told Sky News: “In my view no former minister should be allowed to do any lobbying at all with a continuing government until at least five years have elapsed.

“David Cameron must have known sending those messages, including telling Rishi Sunak the existing scheme was nuts, was really going way beyond what is appropriate.”

The current rules have “no force” and are “a complete waste of time and needs to be really toughened up”, he added. “In public life, we must set examples of correct behaviour.”

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09:25 AM

David Cameron did ‘just about everything’ wrong on Greensill, says former City minister

David Cameron did “just about everything” wrong in acting on behalf of Greensill Capital, a former City minister has said.

The former prime minister’s defence is “rather a line you would expect from a drug dealer who says ‘I don’t know what is in those pills’,” Lord Myners told Sky News.

“It was irresponsible to act as a spokesman for a business where he claims he knew next to nothing,” he added.

“He knew he shouldn’t be lobbying the Chancellor, he knew he shouldn’t be using private cell phones and text messages, he knew he shouldn’t be forcing the Treasury to arrange 10 meetings with senior civil servants, he knew he shouldn’t be speaking to Matt Hancock given all the sensitivity around PPE procurement.”

Lord Myners added: “At every point David Cameron made remarkably bad calls of judgement.”

09:15 AM

Lawyer leading David Cameron review is ‘compromised’, claims former City minister

A former Treasury minister has attacked the probe into David Cameron’s lobbying on behalf of Greensill, ordered by Boris Johnson yesterday, saying the man chosen to head it up is “compromised”.

Lord Myners, the City minister under Gordon Brown, told Sky News: “It will probably embarrass David Cameron and that might suit Boris Johnson, but it is not an independent review into one of the most significant financial scandals in the UK over the last 20 years.”

He noted that the terms of reference for the review have not been published, that evidence is not being taken in public and it is not clear if the review will be published.

He added: “Although Nigel Boardman is extremely decent and brilliant lawyer, he is compromised. He is a non executive director of the department of Business, which supervises the British Business Bank, which is very entity which lent money to Greensill.

“I don’t mean any disrespect to Nigel, but this is not really an independent review.”

09:00 AM

More than 151,000 Covid deaths registered in UK

A total of 151,313 deaths have now occurred in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, the ONS said.

The highest number of deaths to occur on a single day was 1,472 on January 19.

During the first wave of the virus, the daily death toll peaked at 1,461 deaths on April 8 2020.

08:57 AM

Covid deaths fall to lowest level since start of October

A total of 400 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending April 2 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) – the lowest number since the week ending October 2.

The figure is down 44 per cent on the previous week’s total, although the ONS said the number of deaths registered was affected by the Good Friday bank holiday.

Around one in 20 (4.9 per cent) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to April 2 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

Meanwhile total deaths have fallen below the five-year average for the fourth consecutive week, the ONS said.

Some 8,201 deaths were registered in the week to April 2, 19 per cent below the average for the corresponding period in 2015-19. The last time deaths had been below average was in the week to September 4 2020.

Coronavirus excess deaths - by UK region
Coronavirus excess deaths – by UK region

08:47 AM

‘Big third wave’ with up to 50,000 deaths still possible, despite vaccine success, warns JCVI member

Even with the UK’s vaccination programme there could be a “big third wave” of Covid-19, with potentially tens of thousands of deaths, a member of the JCVI has warned.

“I feel mighty relieved that we are now in a position where a very high proportion of the vulnerable population have been vaccinated so, if control of the virus is lost, then the damage it can do will be relatively restricted,” Professor Jeremy Brown told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“But when I say relatively restricted, what I mean is that a big third wave could still end up with 30,000 to 50,000 deaths, potentially, if it was a similar sort of size to the previous waves that we’ve had.

“So although the vaccines are important, there are the components to controlling this virus that are important and that is the social distancing measures that we have.

“Now, those will be less necessary the higher proportion of the population gets vaccinated, which is another reason why young people vaccination is important, is that for population control, the bigger the proportion of the population that the vaccinated, the less we will need in a way of social distancing.”

08:30 AM

Have your say: Will the Greensill row tarnish Rishi Sunak?

The row over David Cameron’s lobbying for Greensill Capital shows no sign of blowing over yet, despite the Prime Minister yesterday announcing a probe into how the lender’s representatives, including Mr Cameron, “engaged with Government”.

This morning Rishi Sunak is back in the spotlight, with Labour attacking him for swerving questions in the Commons about his involvement in the matter, instead sending junior minister Paul Scully.

The opposition is also making much of his own admission that he “pushed” his officials to see what could be done.

The Chancellor has ridden high in the polls throughout the pandemic – but there are signs that his popularity is starting to wane. Could Greensill be about to tarnish his once bright star?

Have your say in the poll below.

08:18 AM

Duke of Edinburgh ‘spanned the generations’ of MPs, says Speaker

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said MPs had been motivated to join in a day of tributes for the Duke of Edinburgh because his life had “spanned all the generations” in the Commons.

The Speaker told Times Radio: “It was a great reflection. People wanted to reflect their encounters, their meetings and how they had come across the Duke of Edinburgh.

“I think it was so important for people to express their views and their opinions in a very nice way.

“And it was a great reflection of his life, wasn’t it?

“Whether it was the older generation who served in the armed forces or whether (it was) the younger generation of MPs who had actually done the Duke of Edinburgh Award.

“So he spanned all the generations and that’s why I think so many people feel this real attachment and wanted to be part of yesterday.”

08:13 AM

Treasury hits back against Labour’s Rishi Sunak claims

Treasury sources are pushing back quite strongly against claims made by Anneliese Dodds this morning.

First is the explanation for why Rishi Sunak is not answering her urgent question – junior business minister Paul Scully is being sent because “Cbils and Clibils is not a Treasury lead – they are a Beis lead”.

A source adds: “If they [Labour] had asked about CCFF [Covid Corporate Financing Facility] that would have been HMT policy lead. This was made explicitly clear in the Chancellor’s response to Dodds last week in his letter, by the way.”

Speaking to the Today programme this morning, Ms Dodds said there were still questions about the text messages David Cameron sent to the Chancellor, and that Treasury officials held “far more meetings” with Greensill “than any other lender seeking access.”

Rishi Sunak: Treasury has rejected Labour's claims - PA
Rishi Sunak: Treasury has rejected Labour’s claims – PA

But the Treasury source told the Telegraph the texts are “already public knowledge because we published the two text messages Rishi sent back to Cameron, both of which were just reflecting official progress already ongoing”.

“And yes, officials met with Greensill. They also met with dozens of other financial companies/regulators/trade bodies at the time because we were trying to find ways of getting money to businesses”.

“It’s not true of [Dodds] to say that Greensill got any special treatment or access. It’s also very important to highlight that the proposals Greensill and Cameron were lobbying for were ultimately rejected by the Chancellor.”

07:56 AM

Boris Johnson dons Grimsby Town hat for morning jog

Boris Johnson Runs in St James Park this morning - Splash News
Boris Johnson Runs in St James Park this morning – Splash News

Boris Johnson might have had a haircut yesterday – but he’s also got a new running hat.

The Prime Minister was spotted running in a Grimsby Town FC hat during his morning jog through St James’ Park with Dilyn the dog.

07:53 AM

Gmail ‘more secure’ than Parliament’s email system, claims Tory MP

Tom Tugendhat has been sanctioned by China and faced cyber attacks - AFP
Tom Tugendhat has been sanctioned by China and faced cyber attacks – AFP

Gmail is more secure than the Parliamentary email system, a senior Tory has said.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee, has been subjected to several cyber attacks including last week an email being sent purporting to be from him, announcing his resignation from the committee.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme: “When I was told by friends at GCHQ – not formally I admit – but friends at GCHQ – that I was better of sticking to gmail rather than using the Parliamentary system because it was more secure, frankly that tells you the level of security and priority we are giving to democracy in the UK.”

Asked about what the UK should do, he said: “One way is to simply refuse to trade, that is true, although I would suggest that was a more extreme version. There are other ways of dealing with it.”

07:47 AM

UK not taking China’s attack on democracy seriously enough, says Tory MP

China’s decision to impose sanctions on British MPs is “an attack on UK democracy… and frankly we are not taking it seriously enough”, a senior Tory has said.

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the foreign affairs committee, is one of nine individuals to have been sanctioned in tit-for-tat measures announced last month.

He told Radio 4’s Today programme that while the UK’s sanctions addressed “violations of human rights – actions in other words… actually murdering people”, the Chinese retaliation was for “speaking – for calling out the violation of Chinese citizens”.

“Last week emails were sent around claiming to be from me claiming it had resigned from the foreign affairs committee, which of course I haven’t and many other cyber attacks have been perpetrated on me and others,” he added.

These actions were “undermining one of the basic freedoms of the British people – the right to elect representatives and express the views of those people they represent”, he noted.

07:36 AM

Phase two reached: Under-50s can now book Covid vaccine

The vaccine programme is reaching younger people - Getty
The vaccine programme is reaching younger people – Getty

People over the age of 45 can now book their Covid-19 jab.

The NHS booking website has updated to say that people aged 45 and over can now book a vaccine.

It signals the start of ‘Phase 2’ of the vaccination programme – which involves offering vaccines to healthy adults under the age of 50.

Until now the NHS in England had been focusing on offering vaccines to those at highest risk including people over the age of 50 and people deemed to be “clinically extremely vulnerable”.

07:31 AM

US might never use AstraZeneca jab, says Dr Fauci

AstraZeneca vaccine benefits outweigh the risk for most age groups
AstraZeneca vaccine benefits outweigh the risk for most age groups

The top US infectious disease expert has said the US might never use the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab, although he stressed it was “a good vaccine”.

Dr Anthony Fauci told BBC Radio 4’s Today: “I think the AstraZeneca vaccine, from a standpoint of efficacy, is a good vaccine and if the safety issue gets straightened out in the European Union – which I understand is still in a bit of controversy about how to use it and when to use and what age groups to use it – the efficacy of that vaccine is really quite good.

“The way the United States has made contractual relationships with a number of companies, we clearly have enough vaccine – or will get enough vaccine – that does not include AstraZeneca, which would be enough quantitatively to vaccinate everybody in the United States.

“Whether or not we ever use AZ is unclear but it looks right now at this point in time that we will not need it.

“It is not a negative indictment of AZ – it just possible that, given the supply we have from other companies, that we may not need to use an AZ vaccine.”

07:28 AM

JCVI member hails ‘culmination of phase one’ as under-50s start getting the jab

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

A member of the JCVI has hailed the “culmination of phase one” as the vaccination programme shifts to the under-50s.

Adam Finn, professor of paediatrics at the University of Bristol, told Sky News we are “halfway up the hill – we can look back and pleased with what we have achieved but need to look forward to the summit to really finish this off.”

He stressed the need for younger people who “perhaps have less fear of this disease” to come forward in similar numbers to older cohorts, saying “the ultimate exit to this catastrophe involves building up immunity in population”.

But with surge testing taking place in London yet again, he noted the ever-present concern that variants could still undermine the hard work.

“We can’t now relax and assume the problem is finished,” he said, pointing to the situation unfolding in Chile.

07:25 AM

Labour frontbencher’s Greensill plea ‘very, very different’, says colleague

Labour MP John Healey urged a minister to approve Greensill's Covid loan "without delay"  - Andrew Crowley
Labour MP John Healey urged a minister to approve Greensill’s Covid loan “without delay” – Andrew Crowley

Labour’s Anneliese Dodds has defended the party’s shadow defence secretary, who also has been dragged into the Greensill Capital scandal.

Last May John Healey wrote to then-business minister Nadhim Zahawi urging him to grant £200million in Covid-19 loans “without delay”.

But while attacking David Cameron and the Government, Ms Dodds insisted her colleague was acting “very much from the point of view of a constituency MP”.

She told Radio 4’s Today programme it was “a very, very different case”, adding: “John Healey was doing what we would expect any constituency MP to do – standing up for jobs in his constituency. It was a very different approach, it appears potentially in the Treasury, where a Conservative politician were able to leapfrog over others who were seeking meetings with the Treasury and potentially the Chancellor.”

Rishi Sunak was “not constituency MP for those working in the steel industry – he is custodian of public money”, she added.

07:20 AM

New lobbying legislation required to address ‘big gaps’ in system, says Labour

Anneliese Dodds has called for new laws to tackle lobbying - Getty
Anneliese Dodds has called for new laws to tackle lobbying – Getty

Labour’s Anneliese Dodds has said there “certainly” needs to be legislation to address lobbying brought forward in the Queen’s Speech – due to take place next month.

“We have seen the numerous holes in the system around lobbying,” she told Radio 4’s Today programme.

There are “big gaps” for large firms such as Greensill, who employ lobbyists directly rather than using a dedicated firm, the shadow chancellor added.

07:08 AM

Labour questions Rishi Sunak’s ‘objectivity’ on Greensill

Rishi Sunak had been expected to answer an urgent question in the Commons today - but instead it will be taken by Paul Scully - AFP
Rishi Sunak had been expected to answer an urgent question in the Commons today – but instead it will be taken by Paul Scully – AFP

The investigation into lobbying ordered by Boris Johnson yesterday “may be an attempt to kick the issue into the long grass”, Labour’s Anneliese Dodds has said, as she raised questions over whether Rishi Sunak broke the ministerial code.

She told Radio 4’s Today programme Rishi Sunak had released “only two text messages and it appears there may well have been phone calls – we don’t understand what he was pushing his team to do”.

The ministerial code calls for ministers “to act with objectivity – to treat lobbyists the same regardless of whether they have personal or political connections”, she added.

Mr Sunak appeared to be “open to have repeated” conversations with David Cameron and Greensill, while others were “shut out of Government support”, the shadow chancellor said.

“Why did there seem to be one rule for Conservative politicians and a different rule for those who desperately needed help?”

06:59 AM

Labour calls for more widespread inquiry into Greensill’s influence ‘right across Government’

Labour’s shadow chancellor has said she is “very concerned” about the possible involvement of Rishi Sunak in the Greensill scandal, as she calls for “a completely independent inquiry”.

Anneliese Dodds told Radio 4’s Today programme the probe ordered by Boris Johnson “seems to predominately focus just on the conduct of David Cameron himself, but we know that Treasury officials met with the company at centre of this scandal 10 times – far more meetings than any other lender seeking access.”

She added: “We also know that the Chancellor in his own words ‘pushed’ his team to explore an alternative that might have worked for Greensill.”

As a result the inquiry must “look at the influence of Greensill right across Government and doesn’t just restrict this purely to a few instances of lobbying”. u

06:42 AM

‘Extremist’ Salmond mocked for enlisting Robert the Bruce​

Alex Salmond has been accused of pandering to extreme Scottish nationalists after his new party released a campaign video which spoke of breaking “the spine of English superiority” and he claimed the support of a King who died nearly seven centuries ago.

The former First Minister’s Alba Party on Monday broadcast a supposed endorsement from Robert the Bruce, who successfully led Scotland during the first War of Independence against England in the fourteenth century.

In the clip, ‘The Bruce’, who actually died in 1329, predicts that Mr Salmond’s new rival party to the SNP would “unite the clans”.

The bizarre video was in fact voiced by Angus Macfadyen, an actor who played the Scottish King in the 1995 blockbuster Braveheart, and is a supporter of Mr Salmond’s party.

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