Politics latest news: ‘Nothing to see here’, says Boris Johnson over Downing Street flat donations probe

0

Sir Keir Starmer browses wallpaper in 'nightmarish' John Lewis - Getty
Sir Keir Starmer browses wallpaper in ‘nightmarish’ John Lewis – Getty
  • Allister Heath: The EU’s stupidity will spark a new Brexit war

  • Madeline Grant: Ikea Starmer uses furniture row as an excuse to send in the removal van ​

  • Copying Biden’s capital gains raid won’t solve Rishi Sunak’s problem

  • Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: An independent Scotland could flourish ​

  • Covid roadmap can’t be safely accelerated despite vaccine success, says minister

Boris Johnson has claimed there is nothing “to see here, or to worry about”, amid a trio of investigations into the funding of his refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

The Electoral Commission yesterday announced a formal probe, saying there were grounds to suspect an offence may have been committed. Separately, the new ethics adviser Lord Geidt is undertaking a review, which will run in tandem with one being carried out by Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary.

During a trip to a London school, Mr Johnson said: “We will comply with whatever they want, and I don’t think there is anything to see here, or worry about.”

Mr Johnson has said he covered the cost of the refurbishment, but has not answered directly whether the costs were initially covered by someone else and later repaid.

He also insisted he was a fan of high street bellwether John Lewis, saying: “The one thing I object to in this whole farrago of nonsense is I love John Lewis.”

​​Follow the latest updates below.

03:07 PM

That’s it for another day…

Nothing to see here – that’s the message from Boris Johnson. But is it getting through to the public?

Labour is pressing the “cash for cushions” row on two fronts: firstly, the question of where the initial donation for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat came from, and secondly, what it says about the Prime Minister that he considered John Lewis furniture a “nightmare”.

Mr Johnson today insisted “I love John Lewis” – which begs the question why he had to spend nearly £100,000 getting rid of it.

Sir Keir Starmer might not be a natural comedian, but someone is directing him towards the humour in this story, without which it is unlikely to cut through.

And our readers seem to side with Labour on this one, with 69 per cent saying they would prefer wallpaper from the high street bellwether over the £840-a roll golden alternative ordered by the PM and his partner.

But that’s not all that happened today – read on for the rest of the day’s news.

02:57 PM

An independent Scotland could flourish – as long as it doesn’t join the EU

Nicola Sturgeon cannot have her cèic and eat it. She cannot proceed with a unilateral vote on Scottish independence and then join the EU as a sovereign state, writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

The two are incompatible. The only circumstances in which Spain would lift its veto on EU accession is if Scotland secured independence by proper constitutional process, and even that would be uncertain under the hardline Rightist constellation of parties likely to win the next Spanish election.

For Scotland to go unilateral is to become a pariah state, shut out of the global capital markets, and forced by events into scorched-earth retrenchment. But to argue that Sturgeon’s threat lacks credibility is not to argue that her request for an IndyRef2 should be rejected, if pro-independence parties win a majority in the Scottish parliament.

Read Ambrose’s comment piece in full here.

02:37 PM

Transport Secretary accuses London Mayor of ‘tyranny’ over ‘border tax’ plans

Grant Shapps has accused London Mayor Sadiq Khan of “tyranny” over his “border tax” plans for motorists driving into London.

Commuters could find themselves paying up to £5.50 to enter Greater London, which the Transport Secretary has said poses a “threat” to non-Londoners.

Mr Shapps told MPs that through the “taxation”, the Mayor is forcing commuters to pay for his “financial mismanagement”.

A spokesman for the mayor said Mr Shapps should focus on funding Transport for London (TfL) properly “rather than spouting baseless political attacks in the House of Commons”.

The Greater London Boundary Charge would levy a fee of £3.50 a day on motorists driving into the capital between 6am to 7pm each day from October 2023.

This charge would rise to £5.50 for drivers of more polluting vehicles.

02:19 PM

EU has still not come to terms with Brexit, says minister who negotiated trade deal

The minister who negotiated the trade deal has said the EU has still not come to terms with Brexit and is struggling to accept that Britain is no longer a member state, writes Tony Diver.

Lord Frost told peers that recent language from Brussels should be “toned down” and called for the “process of accepting that the UK is no longer a member of the European Union” to be “completed as soon as possible”.

The European Parliament ratified the Brexit deal on Wednesday, but Ursula von der Leyen, the Commission President, warned that the agreement had “real teeth” if the UK breaches its terms.

Ms von der Leyen’s words were widely interpreted as a threat of introducing trade tariffs if there is dispute over the UK’s behaviour in future.

European Parliament Votes On Post-Brexit EU-UK Relationship - Thierry Monasse/Bloomberg
European Parliament Votes On Post-Brexit EU-UK Relationship – Thierry Monasse/Bloomberg

This afternoon Lord Lamont, one of the Conservative Party’s earliest Eurosceptics, said the speech was “deeply disappointing, not to mention rather unfriendly”.

Lord Frost replied that both sides should “now begin to move forward on a new chapter together as Europeans”.

“I noticed that the EU’s Head of Mission said a few days ago that ‘we are still in the process of accepting that the UK is no longer a member of the European Union’,” he said.

“I hope that that process can be completed as soon as possible, that process of adjustment. The language on the EU side can be toned down and we can move forward together.”

02:02 PM

Will wallpaper-gate really ‘cut through’ – or will Boris continue comfortably unscathed?

The critics are still furious about Johnson’s many political victories - Shutterstock
The critics are still furious about Johnson’s many political victories – Shutterstock

The first thing we need to know about any political scandal is whether it is a fabrication, a revelation or confirmation, writes Tom Harris.

Only by applying the correct label to whatever is exciting the Westminster media can we start to see how likely it is to result in a spectacular top-level resignation. And let’s face it, that’s all anyone wants to know, isn’t it?The fact that of all the accusations levelled at the Prime Minister since last week, the one we’re talking about most is the refurbishment of his Downing Street flat, can be chalked up as a significant victory for Boris Johnson.So is there any truth in the claim that a private donor’s money was used, perhaps illegally and without the knowledge of the Electoral Commission, to refurbish the flat where the prime minister and his partner, Carrie Symonds, live? Given Johnson’s reluctance to address the question, we should perhaps conclude that this is one scandal that cannot be allocated to the “fabrication” column.

Read the rest of Tom’s article here.

01:54 PM

Going prorogue: Parliament officially closed until Queen’s Speech

Prorogation ceremony in Parliament with Black Rod
Prorogation ceremony in Parliament with Black Rod

The progoration ceremony – the formal closing of Parliament ahead of the Queen’s Speech on May 11 – has taken place.

Black Rod Sarah Clarke, the senior House of Lords officer, was called into the Commons to request MPs attend the Lords.

She announced that Royal Assent had been granted for a string of laws, including the National Security and Investment Bill and the Domestic Abuse Bill.

The Commons chamber contained approximately 20 mask-wearing MPs, who were led out by Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle.

Social distancing measures were observed as MPs left the chamber in single file rather than side-by-side.

01:29 PM

Boris Johnson leads tribute to NHS England boss as he steps down

Sir Simon Stevens has received plaudits for his work as the head of NHS England - Getty
Sir Simon Stevens has received plaudits for his work as the head of NHS England – Getty

NHS England boss Sir Simon Stevens is to step down as chief executive at the end of July, and will be made a peer.

Boris Johnson said the health chief had led the NHS “with great distinction”, adding: “I want to thank him for his dedicated service throughout – but especially when facing the extraordinary pressures of the past year, and for his huge contribution to our vaccine rollout.”

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, thanked Sir Simon “personally” for his work during the pandemic, saying: “Throughout his tenure Sir Simon Stevens has been a steadfast and sage leader for our National Health Service, and that has been especially true during this most testing period in NHS history.

“His leadership has helped NHS staff to overcome unprecedented adversity and keep services open for millions of patients in the face of this global pandemic.”

01:24 PM

Standards tsar calls for new ethics adviser to have ‘full independence’

The public standards tsar has called for Boris Johnson’s new ethics adviser to have “full independence” to instigate investigations.

Lord Evans, chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that it was a long-standing recommendation made “to the Labour government some years ago”.

He said: “The adviser should have the right to initiate investigations and then to report the facts to the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister has not accepted that recommendation on this occasion, although he has said the adviser can recommend to him that there should be an investigation.

“We still believe that full independence so that an adviser can advise the Prime Minister on the basis of his own initiative is valuable and we will continue to keep that under review.”

The former MI5 chief added: “We accept entirely that the decision on whether the code has been broken in the sense of what needs to be done by way of sanction needs to rest with the Prime Minister…

“I’m not sure in fact whether there would be a problem with the investigation being at the initiative of the adviser.”

01:09 PM

Publish Downing Street flat findings in full, Labour demands

Labour has insisted the Geidt report into the Downing Street refurbishment must be published “in full”, after Boris Johnson refused to confirm whether he intends to do so today.

Asked about his new ethics adviser’s investigation, the Prime Minister said there was nothing “to see here, or worry about”, but did not answer set out whether he would make the findings public, or accept any recommendations.

Rachel Reeves, shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: “This is exactly why the independent adviser for ministers’ interests needs to have the power to trigger and publish investigations into breaches of the ministerial code.

“The Prime Minister must publish the Geidt report into the Downing Street refurbishment in full, otherwise he is once again marking his own homework, and seriously driving down standards and accountability.

“The Tories are playing a dangerous game by not halting the sleaze engulfing their government, and distracting from important issues like clearing the backlog of operations facing our NHS and reducing crime.”

12:57 PM

In pictures: Election campaigning is well and truly under way

With a week to go until the local elections, campaigning is well and truly under way.

Cue pictures of politicians with children, enjoying local produce and a somewhat less orthodox cheeky roll-up.

Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner enjoy non-alcholic drinks during a visit to a temperance bar - Getty
Sir Keir Starmer and Angela Rayner enjoy non-alcholic drinks during a visit to a temperance bar – Getty
Run for the hills: Nicola Sturgeon campaigns with local candidate Fergus Mutch at the Benachie Leisure Centre - Getty
Run for the hills: Nicola Sturgeon campaigns with local candidate Fergus Mutch at the Benachie Leisure Centre – Getty
Lawrence Fox, Reclaim party Mayor of London candidate, is seen during a campaign event - Getty
Lawrence Fox, Reclaim party Mayor of London candidate, is seen during a campaign event – Getty
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross during a visit to Henderson Park in Coldstream - PA
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross during a visit to Henderson Park in Coldstream – PA
Priti Patel stops off in Peterborough to talk with Local MP Paul Bristow, Mayor James Palmer and Councillors - THA
Priti Patel stops off in Peterborough to talk with Local MP Paul Bristow, Mayor James Palmer and Councillors – THA

12:52 PM

EU ambassador row not yet resolved, No 10 insists

Negotiations are still ongoing over whether to grant full diplomatic status to the European Union’s ambassador to the UK, Downing Street has stressed.

Joao Vale de Almeida took up his post as the bloc’s first ambassador to London last spring after Brexit but was denied formal recognition because the EU is not a country.

However, it was reported overnight that Mr Vale de Almeida is to be given full diplomatic status, following a thawing in tensions.

“Negotiations on this issue are ongoing, so I’m not going to pre-empt that,” said the Prime Minister’s spokesman.

“We are engaging with the EU on the long-term arrangements for the delegation.

“It is important to say that, regardless of the agreement reached, the EU, its delegation staff, will continue to receive the privileges and immunities necessary to enable them to carry out their work in the UK effectively.”

12:36 PM

Former Tory No 10 director of communications Robbie Gibb joins BBC Board

Robbie Gibb, a former Number 10 communications director under Theresa May and vocal critic of BBC bias, has been appointed to the BBC’s board, writes Ben Riley-Smith.

Mr Gibb had a 25-year career in the BBC before moving into political communications, having held roles including the editor of Daily Politics and head of BBC Westminster.

He will take up a three-year term as the England representative on the BBC Board, which is responsible for ensuring the BBC delivers its “mission and public purposes”.

Mr Gibb was selected by the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, part of Boris Johnson’s government.

Read Ben’s full report here.

12:31 PM

Schools minister hopes face masks in class will no longer be needed from May 17

The schools minister has said he is hopeful that pupils will no longer have to wear face masks in class from mid-May, after MPs raised concerns about face coverings disrupting pupils’ learning and wellbeing.

Nick Gibb told the education select committee that pupils in secondary schools and colleges in England may see the precautionary measure lifted after May 17, but that the decision will ultimately depend on “the data”.

Conservative MP Caroline Johnson told the committee that she had heard many stories of children “really suffering” as a result of wearing face coverings.

She said: “Particularly as we’ve entered hayfever season and the pollen can lodge in the mask as the extra heat contributes to children who have skin conditions like teenage acne.

“So the mask wearing is becoming more difficult for young people particularly on top of the communication skills issue.”

Students of Rosshall Academy in Glasgow, Scotland, wearing face masks - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
Students of Rosshall Academy in Glasgow, Scotland, wearing face masks – Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

12:12 PM

More data needed to sign-off on vaccinated people socialising, No 10 says

No 10 said more data was required before signing off on fully-vaccinated people meeting up.

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman was asked whether Boris Johnson agreed with England’s deputy chief medical officer Professor Jonathan Van-Tam’s suggestion it would be safe for two inoculated people to meet up.

The spokesman said: “I think JVT made two points yesterday.

“Firstly he said that if two people who had been fully vaccinated meet, then he would be confident that it would be safe for both of those individuals.

“He then went on to make the point, which I think is important, that we still need further data to understand whether these vaccines work as well for people who are frail and elderly as they do in fit and young people…and that only 64.5% of the population have had their first dose, so we are still a way off the full population having been fully vaccinated.

“The point he was making is that we are close but it is right that we continue to be cautious and follow the steps set out in the road map.”

Read the full report of Professor Van-Tam’s comments from Wednesday’s Downing Street press conference.

12:05 PM

Government failure to answer Covid questions ‘totally unacceptable’, says Speaker

Ministers have been blasted for failing to answer questions over opinion poll spending connected to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it was “totally unacceptable” for the Government to not supply details to MPs.

The Procedure Committee is expected to be asked to look into it.

Conservative former cabinet minister David Davis told the Commons: “This Government spends more money on polling and focus groups than any government in history.

“There may be good reason for that but for the last year they have resisted adamantly all Freedom of Information requests about that subject.”

Sir Lindsay, in his reply, said: “It is totally unacceptable. We’re elected by our constituents, our constituents expect a service and that service is being denied by ministerial departments.

“It is not acceptable, we will continue to take it up.”

He added: “I am dissatisfied. The message needs to go to the heart of Government: Take MPs seriously from all sides, they deserve the service, so do their constituents, it’s not acceptable.”

11:50 AM

Have your say: Is John Lewis furniture a ‘nightmare’?

The “cash for cushions” row is not just about where the initial donation came from – it’s also a question of taste.

The Downing Street flat is said to have required a nearly £100,000 upgrade because of the “John Lewis nightmare” left behind by Theresa May.

Labour has made much of this, arguing that it shows how out of touch Boris Johnson and the Tories are that they turn their noses up at something the majority of the country would consider quite high-end.

But it’s not just the opposition who are making those claims – others, including Samantha Cameron’s sister Emily Sheffield, have suggested it is “very out of touch indeed”.

Tackling those claims, the Prime Minister today said “I love John Lewis.”

So is John Lewis nice or a nightmare? Desirable or dreary? Have your say in the poll below.

11:35 AM

Boris Johnson: Public understands need to cut overseas aid

Boris Johnson has been criticised by several Conservative politicians for his decision to cut the overseas aid budget - Reuters
Boris Johnson has been criticised by several Conservative politicians for his decision to cut the overseas aid budget – Reuters

Boris Johnson has said that the public “will understand” the cuts to overseas aid due to the pressures of the pandemic, after it emerged the UK’s contribution to a United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency had been cut by 85 per cent.

This morning Baroness Sugg, the former Foreign Office minister, suggested the move could harm the UK’s global ambitions, and called on the Government for greater transparency (see 8:55am).

But the Prime Minister told reporters people should be “proud” of the £10bn budget.

“I also think that they will understand, and I know that other countries around the world understand, the particular pressures of the pandemic that mean we have to economise in that way.

“You ask me if we will go back to 0.7 per cent – the Government has always been clear that we will when it is fiscally prudent to do so, when we have the headroom to do so.”

11:33 AM

Lobby latest: No 10 rejects claim that Boris Johnson dodged bereaved families

Downing Street has denied that Boris Johnson visited the Covid Memorial Wall in central London in the evening to avoid meeting bereaved families (see 12:03pm).

His spokesman insisted that the Prime Minister wanted to visit the wall late on Tuesday evening so he could make it a “private visit” for “quiet reflection”.

The spokesman said: “He went on Tuesday evening for a private visit. As many others have done, he visited the memorial wall in private for quiet reflection.

“The Prime Minister has spoken to a number of families bereaved by Covid, both in person and virtually.

“With regard to the Bereaved Families for Justice group, the Prime Minister has said he is happy to meet them at an appropriate time to do so and once the legal proceedings have concluded.”

11:06 AM

‘I love John Lewis’, Boris Johnson insists

Boris Johnson during a visit to a school in London today - Getty
Boris Johnson during a visit to a school in London today – Getty

Boris Johnson has insisted “I love John Lewis”, amid the ongoing row over the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.

The Prime Minister and his fiance Carrie Symonds have reportedly spent nearly £100,000 upgrading their residence to get rid of the “John Lewis nightmare” left behind by Theresa May.

Asked what was wrong with the department store, he told journalists: “Absolutely nothing.

He added: “The one thing I object to in this whole farrago of nonsense is, I love John Lewis.”

11:03 AM

Boris Johnson accused of ‘dodging’ bereaved families with ‘private’ visit to memorial wall

"Our invitation for him to walk the wall with families who've lost loved ones is still open" - AP
“Our invitation for him to walk the wall with families who’ve lost loved ones is still open” – AP

Boris Johnson has been accused of trying to “dodge meeting bereaved families” after he visited the National Covid Memorial Wall late on Tuesday.

Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice is considering legal action against the Government as it demands ministers set a date for an independent, judge-led inquiry into the crisis.

Co-founder Matt Fowler said: “For weeks we’ve asked him to come to the wall and meet bereaved families. He’s refused to even acknowledge our request.

“Then, the day after it’s revealed he said he’d let ‘bodies pile high’, he makes a late evening visit under cover of darkness, just so that he can dodge meeting bereaved families.

“This is a cynical and insincere move that is deeply hurtful. Our invitation for him to walk the wall with families who’ve lost loved ones is still open, and we await a response.”

But No 10 defended Mr Johnson’s “private” visit to the site opposite the Houses of Parliament as being for “quiet reflection”, and said he “offers his deepest condolences” to those who have lost a loved one.

10:57 AM

Nicola Sturgeon and Anas Sarwar go head-to-head for Glasgow Southside

It is the first time in British political history that the leaders of two major parties have stood for the same constituency seat  - PA
It is the first time in British political history that the leaders of two major parties have stood for the same constituency seat – PA

It has been Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s mantra ever since it was confirmed that he would go head-to-head with Nicola Sturgeon in Glasgow Southside – the first time in British political history the leaders of two major parties have stood for the same constituency seat.

“Glasgow Southside is Nicola Sturgeon’s constituency, but it’s my home.”

The new Scottish Labour leader is “not going to pretend” that he’s the favourite to win the seat, which Ms Sturgeon won with considerably more votes than all other candidates combined in 2016 with 61 per cent of votes cast and a majority of 9,593.

However, despite the SNP’s enormous lead – Glasgow Southside is its safest seat in a city where the party has won every constituency in the most recent Holyrood and Westminster elections – it has become one to watch because it is being contested by two party leaders.

Read our profile of the key battleground in next month’s vote here.

10:46 AM

Tory MP calls for Great North Road to be renamed after the Queen

A Queen's Highway? One could be amused - AFP
A Queen’s Highway? One could be amused – AFP

It’s not quite a Royal Yacht – but a Conservative MP has launched a campaign to rename the A1 the Queen’s Highway to mark the monarch’s Platinum Jubilee.

Sir Edward Leigh, the MP for Gainsborough, told the Commons the “beautiful” Great North Road should be renamed after the Queen to celebrate her 75 years on the throne next year.

Transport minister Rachel Maclean said she agrees “fully” with Sir Edward’s suggestion, adding that she is sure Grant Shapps will “consider” the proposal.

10:33 AM

Back to school for Boris and Rishi

Boris Johnson doing his bit for science - Getty
Boris Johnson doing his bit for science – Getty
 Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak take part in a science lesson at King Solomon Academy in Marylebone
Boris Johnson and Chancellor Rishi Sunak take part in a science lesson at King Solomon Academy in Marylebone

10:19 AM

Boris Johnson should answer question on Downing Street flat donation ‘this morning’

Starmer is hoping voters will look left on May 6 - PA
Starmer is hoping voters will look left on May 6 – PA

Sir Keir Starmer has said Labour will “clean up Westminster”, as he argues Lord Geidt’s investigation into the Downing Street flat refurbishment was inadequate.

The Labour leader said: “The idea of having an adviser who can investigate only if the Prime Minister says so just shows how weak the system is. That’s why what we are proposing is that we clean up Westminster. We have a proper, independent commission.”

He added: “We’ve got the Prime Minister on WhatsApp messages about tax arrangements and now we’ve got this ridiculous farce of the Prime Minster not being even prepared to answer a simple question about who paid for the redecoration of his flat. We need to clean this up.”

He called on Boris Johnson to “set up a camera pool and take the question and answer it”.

“The Prime Minister should do that this morning, then we can move on and concentrate on things that matter most to people.”

10:00 AM

Have your say: Is John Lewis furniture a ‘nightmare’?

The “cash for cushions” row is not just about where the initial donation came from – it’s also a question of taste.

The Downing Street flat is said to have required a nearly £100,000 upgrade because of the “John Lewis nightmare” left behind by Theresa May.

Labour has made much of this, arguing that it shows how out of touch Boris Johnson and the Tories are that they turn their noses up at something the majority of the country would consider quite high-end.

But it’s not just the opposition who are making those claims – others, including Samantha Cameron’s sister Emily Sheffield, have suggested it is “very out of touch indeed”.

So is John Lewis nice or a nightmare? Desirable or dreary? Have your say in the poll below.

09:49 AM

Boris Johnson ‘farcical’ for silence on Downing Street flat, says Labour leader

Sir Keir Starmer: Most people would say 'about time he concentrated on what really matters' - Getty
Sir Keir Starmer: Most people would say ‘about time he concentrated on what really matters’ – Getty

It is “farcical” that Boris Johnson won’t explain who first covered the cost of the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, Sir Keir Starmer has said.

The Prime Minister has insisted he has paid for the works carried out on his residence – but has failed to respond to questions about the original loan.

During an election campaign visit in Manchester, the Labour leader said: “The Prime Minister could actually deal with this very, very quickly. All he’s got to do is answer a very simple question; which is who paid, initially, for the redecoration of your flat?”

He added: “The Prime Minister could actually end this now, tell us who paid for it in the first place, answer the question, it would take him about one minute and then he can get back on with the day job…

“The question’s really moved on… the bigger question is now: why is the Prime Minister not prepared to just answer that question? What is he hiding?”

09:34 AM

Government working to drive down costs of airport testing

Tests have come down in price - but still cost £44.90 a pop - Bloomberg
Tests have come down in price – but still cost £44.90 a pop – Bloomberg

The Government has been working with companies to “drive down the cost” of PCR tests to make them more widely accessible as international travel returns, Grant Shapps has said.

The Transport Secretary told MPs: “I know that the House is interested on the update with regard to travel returning internationally over the coming months and I wanted to provide a very quick update to say that although PCR tests may be required from a medical, scientific point of view, we have been working with private laboratories, pharmacies, supermarkets and other companies to encourage them to deliver on their logistical expertise and enter the market and drive down the cost.

“We’ve seen some success so far. Because, as I mentioned earlier, the cost of a single PCR day two test now has come down to £60 from one of the large providers on the Government linked site, with a new entrant now at £44.90 – enabling more people to access PCR tests as international travel returns.”

09:28 AM

Watch: Matt Hancock gets the jab from Jonathan Van-Tam

09:20 AM

Covid cases fall below 50 cases per 100,000 in vast majority of UK

Covid-19 case rates have dropped below 50 cases per 100,000 people in more than 95 per cent of local areas of the UK, new analysis shows.

It is the first time since the start of September that as many as 19 in 20 areas have seen their rates plunge below such a symbolic level.

Around one in 10 areas are even recording rates in single figures.

It is almost a complete turnaround from how the data looked three months ago, when the second wave of coronavirus had just peaked.

However this morning Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, stressed there would be no acceleration of the Prime Minister’s roadmap out of lockdown, emphasising the need for caution.

09:18 AM

Matt Hancock and JVT celebrate as Health Secretary gets the jab

Matt Hancock is never one to hide his Tiggerish enthusiasm for life – and it seems getting the Covid jab (and a sticker for being brave) might have tipped him over the edge.

The Health Secretary was vaccinated by deputy CMO Jonathan Van-Tam this morning – causing the pair much jubilation.

Matt Hancock gets the jab - and a sticker - Evening Standard / eyevine
Matt Hancock gets the jab – and a sticker – Evening Standard / eyevine
Matt Hancock beams after getting his jab - Evening Standard / eyevine
Matt Hancock beams after getting his jab – Evening Standard / eyevine
Matt Hancock and JVT celebrate as the Health Secretary gets the jab - Evening Standard / eyevine
Matt Hancock and JVT celebrate as the Health Secretary gets the jab – Evening Standard / eyevine

09:11 AM

Government ‘very out of touch’ on John Lewis claims, says Sam Cam’s sister

It might not be the biggest issue in the “cash for cushions” row, but the Prime Minister and his fiance’s apparent besmirching of John Lewis is gaining traction.

Labour has made much of the claim that Boris Johnson and Carrie Symonds sought donations for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat to get rid of the “John Lewis nightmare” left by Theresa May. Middle England’s go-to department store even fired off a cheeky tweet.

Yesterday Michael Gove’s wife Sarah Vine said they shouldn’t be expected to “live in a skip” – prompting Samantha Cameron’s sister to wade in.

A regular visitor to the flat, Emily Sheffield tweeted: “What with insulting John Lewis and now referring to a stunning, only recently refurbished vast apartment as a skip… this government (and their wives) sounding very out of touch indeed!

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.

Update your settings here to see it.

08:48 AM

Planet Normal: ‘The President doesn’t yet know who he is’

Sunday Telegraph columnist Janet Daley says that Joe Biden’s first 100 days in office as President have been marked by an identity crisis.

Speaking to Allison Pearson on this week’s Planet Normal podcast, the American-born journalist said: “[Biden] doesn’t seem to know whether he is the reincarnation of Franklin Delano Roosevelt or a Hillary Clinton type focused on identity politics.

“He’s not a far left politician of the kind that does exist now in the Democratic Party. He seems to be trying to create the kind of unity that Franklin Roosevelt managed to create around the reinvention of the state. But he’s also got all tied up in this identity politics stuff. “

Listen to the interview in full below – then join Allison and Liam in a discussion from 11am here.

08:36 AM

Matt Hancock gets the Covid jab from Jonathan Van-Tam

Matt Hancock has said it is a “privilege” to have received his first dose of the Covid vaccine at the Science Museum, as the 42-year old Health Secretary joins the millions of Britons in getting the jab.

Deputy CMO Jonathan Van-Tam administered the dose.

He said it “felt fitting to be at the museum”, where the team are documenting the national pandemic response and preserving items like the first Covid vaccine vial to be used anywhere in the world.

“I was very excited when my call came, and I’d urge everyone to take up the offer when it comes, and become part of history in the UK’s biggest ever vaccination programme,” he added.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.

Update your settings here to see it.

08:32 AM

Something for the Weekend: Rishi Sunak gets a trim

Dishy Rishi’s keeping up appearances with a trip to the barbers.

The Chancellor has visited a string of small businesses in Wembley including hairdressers Chop Chop, where he got his hair trimmed,

Rishi Sunak gets a trim  - Simon Walker HM Treasury
Rishi Sunak gets a trim – Simon Walker HM Treasury
Something for the weekend: Rishi Sunak gets a trim -  Simon Walker HM Treasury
Something for the weekend: Rishi Sunak gets a trim – Simon Walker HM Treasury

08:26 AM

In depth: The gilded makeover of the No 11 flat and Boris Johnson’s battle to pay for it

The Prime Minister had been complaining about money for some time  - AFP
The Prime Minister had been complaining about money for some time – AFP

Nothing flatters Boris Johnson quite so much as comparisons to his great hero Winston Churchill, and in one respect the two are undeniably alike: their troublesome struggles with their own finances.

Churchill constantly had to turn to wealthy friends for help when he overstretched himself, whether it was to cover debts on his country home, Chartwell, vast invoices from his shirt makers, or the astronomical costs of his champagne and cigar intake. In the pre-war years, he was repeatedly attacked by opposition MPs over the gifts and loans he needed to stay afloat.

Mr Johnson inadvertently emulated his wartime predecessor when he and his pregnant girlfriend (now fiancée) Carrie Symonds decided to embark on a lavish redecoration of the grace and favour flat they share above No 11 Downing Street.

Read our deep-dive into the row that is engulfing the Prime Minister here.

08:07 AM

Scientists to decide on single jab for Project Cov boost

Zahawi: There is a big piece of research which will be done in June called 'Cov boost' - Jeff Gilbert
Zahawi: There is a big piece of research which will be done in June called ‘Cov boost’ – Jeff Gilbert

Scientists are considering which single jab will offer the best protection against Covid as part of a piece of research being carried out this summer called ‘Cov boost’.

Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that decisions about how best to use the 60m Pfizer doses unveiled yesterday would be down to scientists and clinicians as part of the “future-proofing the vaccination booster campaign”.

On the booster jab, he said: “Novavax looks pretty good because it works against the current dominant virus in the UK, the Kent virus, and the South Africa virus. Pfizer looks good, we are talking to AstraZeneca about their vaccine variant, Valneva as well.”

He added: “We want to give as much optionality to the clinicians to be able to make the decision of how they want to offer that additional protection for the most vulnerable cohorts.”

The Covid jab would hopefully “dovetail with the flu vaccination programme in the autumn and then the annual vaccination programme next year”, he added.

08:02 AM

Joe Biden attacks ‘trickle-down economics’ as he hikes top tax rate

Joe Biden has attacked the idea of “trickle-down economics”, in a speech on the eve of his 100th day in office.

Speaking to Congress last night, Mr Biden called for trillions of dollars to rebuild the post-pandemic US middle class and give new life to “forgotten” workers.

He unveiled a $1.8 trillion American Families Plan to pour money into early education, childcare and higher education, which will rely on pushing the top income tax rate from 37 percent back to its pre-Trump 39.6 percent.

Americans earning less than $400,000 a year, however, would face no extra taxes.

“My fellow Americans, trickle-down economics has never worked. It’s time to grow the economy from the bottom up and middle out,” Mr Biden said. “What I’ve proposed is fair.”

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.

Update your settings here to see it.

07:55 AM

Former minister calls for transparency on overseas aid cuts

Baroness Sugg quit as a Foreign Office minister after the Government cut overseas aid last year - PA
Baroness Sugg quit as a Foreign Office minister after the Government cut overseas aid last year – PA

A former minister has called on the Government to be fully transparent about where its cuts to overseas aid are being made.

Conservative peer Baroness Sugg, who resigned in protest at the cuts last year, told the Today programme there must be a clear timetable for when ODA would return to 0.7 per cent of GDP – the level committed to in the party manifesto.

“Until then, I think we need transparency so we can understand where these cuts are being made, the budgets obviously exists, they’ve been published in the past, so we need to see a full breakdown,” she added.

“We also really need to see an explanation of how the Government’s going to make this action lawful.

“When they announced the cuts they confirmed they needed to bring forward legislation but five months on from that we still haven’t heard what they plan to do and this really needs to come before Parliament for a vote.”

07:46 AM

Minister grilled over ‘John Lewis nightmare’ comment

The controversial refurb was reportedly inspired by a desire to get rid of the "John Lewis furniture nightmare" left over by Theresa May - PA
The controversial refurb was reportedly inspired by a desire to get rid of the “John Lewis furniture nightmare” left over by Theresa May – PA

Asked why John Lewis furnishings were “not good enough” for Boris Johnson, Nadhim Zahawi said the company or person behind the renovations does not matter, but who paid for the revamp.

According to Tatler magazine, the Prime Minister’s fiancee, Carrie Symonds, felt the lavish Downing Street overhaul was necessary to rid the 11 Downing Street flat of the “John Lewis nightmare” left behind by former occupant Theresa May.

The vaccines minister told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Whether it is John Lewis or Lulu Lytle, the important thing for your listeners is that the Prime Minister paid for this, not the taxpayer.”

07:41 AM

ICYMI: Rewatch last night’s Downing St press conference

If you missed last night’s briefing, rewatch it in full here.

07:40 AM

Festival bookings ‘carry some risk’, minister warns

If you have booked a ticket to a festival in the UK, “you carry some risk”, a minister has warned.

Despite the Government vowing life will return to normal on June 21 according to its roadmap, this is the latest hint that all restrictions will not be lifted on that date.

Vaccines Minister Nadhim Zahawi was repeatedly asked on the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme whether or not people should be booking tickets for festivals in July or August.

While he said there was “no evidence” that the Government would miss the May 17 and June 21 milestones, Mr Zahawi insisted “we have to remain cautious”.

Pressed repeatedly on whether or not people should be booking a ticket, he said: “If you are now booking, you do carry some risk, clearly because we have to follow the data.”

07:38 AM

Minister refuses to confirm if Boris Johnson will accept findings of flat probe

A minister has refused to answer whether Boris Johnson would accept it if Lord Geidt’s investigation into the Downing Street flat donations concludes that he broke the code.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, was challenged over the fact that the Prime Minister did not accept the findings of a report by the ethics adviser’s predecessor into bullying allegations against Priti Patel.

He told the Today programme: “The Prime Minister has answered umpteen questions on this, including saying that if Lord Geidt finds the Prime Minister needs to make other declarations he will… Through this whole process, he has been advised by his officials.”

But asked directly if “Lord Geidt finds the Prime Minister has broken the code, will he accept that finding?”, Mr Zahawi did not answer.

“He has followed the ministerial code, Lord Geidt will obviously look at how the process has been followed,” he replied.

“You can hear the frustration in my voice. So many questions have been asked about this. The important one is who paid for this – did the taxpayer? No, they didn’t, the Prime Minister did.”

07:24 AM

Vaccine passports could be required for pubs later this year, minister hints

A minister has stressed that vaccine passports will not be required “to go to pubs or restaurants on May 17” – opening the door to their possible usage thereafter.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, told Sky News that work was underway to make vaccine passports “operationally possible by May 17” for international travel.

Meanwhile the work “exploring them for mass events” is ongoing, he added, highlighting their use in large venues such as Wembley Stadium.

“If you want to go to 100 per cent seat capacity at Wembley you have to look at all technologies available to you,” he said. “It is only responsible.”

He noted there were “issues around discrimination, hence why domestically it is something we have to explore, ask those questions,”

07:10 AM

Allowing Boris Johnson final say over Downing Street probe is ‘only right’, says minister

Lord Geidt is a "really creditable individual", says Nadhim Zahawi - Chris Jackson Collection
Lord Geidt is a “really creditable individual”, says Nadhim Zahawi – Chris Jackson Collection

Allowing Boris Johnson the final say over whether he personally breached the ministerial code over donations used for the Downing Street flat refurbishment is “only right”, a minister has said.

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, said the newly-appointed independent adviser on ministerial standards Lord Geidt was a “really creditable individual”.

He told BBC Breakfast: “All ministers serve with the confidence of the Prime Minister – I think that’s right, that is the right system to have.

“So it is only right that the adviser on ministerial conduct has to be able to report to the Prime Minister.”

Mr Zahawi added: “Ultimately the individual tasked with this has to report to the Prime Minister because we as ministers only are able to do our job because we carry the confidence of the Prime Minister.

“When that confidence goes, when Lord Geidt finds against a minister in terms of breaking the code, then in terms of my role I would obviously step away from being a minister because I no longer have the confidence of the Prime Minister.”

07:06 AM

Support for Scottish independence ebbs

Support for Scottish independence has dropped to the lowest level since the last general election, with a new poll suggesting just 42 per cent back breaking with the Union.

The Savanta Comres survey, for the Scotsman, suggests that if a referendum were to be held tomorrow the results would be similar to the 2014 poll when No took 55.3 per cent of the vote.

It comes at a critical juncture for the SNP, who will claim a mandate for a second referendum if pro-independence parties win a majority in May’s elections.

Chris Hopkins, associate director at Savanta ComRes told the Scotsman: “The direction of travel has been clear in the last few polls, with support for both independence and the SNP dropping ahead of the May elections. What this is down to remains unclear.

“It seems that the two major unionist parties, the Conservatives and Labour, have somewhat – but by no means completely – got their act together.

“This, coupled with a potentially more fragmented pro-independence List vote, means the SNP may fall short of their majority and not give Nicola Sturgeon the unequivocal mandate for a second independence vote that she so clearly craves.”

07:05 AM

Roadmap will not be fast-tracked despite vaccine transmission impact, minister says

Nadhim Zahawi ruled out speeding up the roadmap, despite new evidence showing the impact the vaccine has on transmission.

The vaccines minister told Sky News that while the “data is looking good” for the next stages in May and June, Number 10 was fearful that another surge could take off if restrictions were lifted too soon.

“If the vaccines have 85 per cent efficacy and we vaccinate fully 85 per cent of the adult population, that is still only 72 per cent protection.

“That is still quite a sizeable percentage for the virus to go after and infect.”

06:02 AM

Boris Johnson may be forced to hand over emails about Downing Street flat refurbishment

A Downing Street spokesman said: "The Prime Minister has not been asked for any information, but he and the Government will be happy to assist if asked.” - Reuters
A Downing Street spokesman said: “The Prime Minister has not been asked for any information, but he and the Government will be happy to assist if asked.” – Reuters

Boris Johnson could be interviewed by the Electoral Commission and forced to hand over text messages and emails after it launched a formal investigation into payments for the Downing Street flat refurbishment.

Conservative Party chiefs and Government advisers could also be ordered to share communications and financial documents to the watchdog, with inspections of the party’s headquarters a possibility.

The dramatic escalation in the furore about declaring the payments came on Wednesday when the Electoral Commission released a statement saying “there are reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence or offences may have occurred”.

The news dropped around 11am on Wednesday, blinding the Prime Minister – who Number 10 claims was not given prior notice – just an hour before he faced Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister’s Questions in a fiery exchange.

LEAVE A REPLY

Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

All the data shown above will be stored by www.rajpostexam.com on https://www.rajpostexam.com/. At any point of time, you can contact us and select the data you wish to anonymise or delete so it cannot be linked to your email address any longer. When your data is anonymised or deleted, you will receive an email confirmation. We also use cookies and/or similar technologies to analyse customer behaviour, administer the website, track users' movements, and to collect information about users. This is done in order to personalise and enhance your experience with us. Click here to read our Cookie Policy.