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Boris Johnson’s decision to “go to war” with his former adviser Dominic Cummings risks backfiring, senior Tories have warned.
The Prime Minister’s former right-hand man was last night named by Downing Street sources as the person suspected of leaking text messages, with sources telling the Telegraph they believed he was “bitter” about the Government’s success after his sudden exit last year.
But several Westminster figures questioned the wisdom of such a move, warning it had blown the story up and “put the PM more in the spotlight”.
“A fight to the death between Cummings and the PM could be a real ‘grab the popcorn’ moment,” said one former minister.
“Cummings is a proper nasty piece of work who will have stashed the location of all the bodies… if Cummings can release one text exchange you have to assume he was busy screenshotting anything incriminating.”
Another senior MP said it appeared to be a dead cat strategy, designed to distract attention from other allegations.
A former adviser who worked alongside Mr Cummings said Downing Street were “idiots… it’s a war they can’t win”.
He added: “Dom doesn’t care about all this stuff and they’re in gov. It’s like the Americans going into Vietnam – they may be able to drop big bombs but in a war of attrition, the rebel always wins.”
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Civil servants’ second jobs to be scrutinised after Greensill saga
Britain’s top civil servant has ordered senior colleagues to more tightly police officials who take second jobs after the Greensill saga, The Telegraph can reveal.
Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, also said behind closed doors that the current rules would be looked at again to see whether they should be changed.
The message was communicated by Mr Case at a meeting he held with the top civil servants in government departments on Wednesday morning.
Earlier this month it emerged Bill Crothers, a former head of Whitehall procurement, became an adviser to the lender Greensill Capital while still working in the civil service.
Timeline: The Downing Street leaks in the last few months
There have been a series of leaks coming out of Downing Street in recent months – some of them more damaging than others.
From the cost of the Number 10 refurb to the “chatty rat” who revealed plans for the second lockdown ahead of time, it is safe to say that Boris Johnson’s office is a leaky ship.
As the timeline below shows, the leaker (or leakers) have been very busy indeed…
Have your say: Is Boris Johnson right to blame Dominic Cummings for the leaks?
The behind-the-scenes battle between the Prime Minister and his former adviser has been blown up into open warfare – and Conservative MPs are concerned it will backfire.
Dominic Cummings has been named by Number 10 sources as being behind a series of hostile leaks that put Boris Johnson in the spotlight on the lobbying row.
But some Tories believe that far from exonerating the Prime Minister, it has put him more squarely in the spotlight, by dragging a household name like Mr Cummings into the row.
Others have warned that it will backfire for Mr Johnson because his former adviser knows the “location of all the bodies”.
So is Number 10 right to have named Mr Cummings – or will it come back to bite him? Have your say in the poll below.
Tom Harris: Keir Starmer’s hysterical sleaze hunting is no substitute for a proper strategy
Which Labour Party member wouldn’t want to revisit the period in the mid-90s when their new leader, Tony Blair, swept all before him? People forget and others are too young to remember, but the few years after Blair became leader were a joyful, incredibly exciting time, writes Tom Harris.
And not just for party members. The country at large saw something in Blair they had not seen in a politician before – or at least, not for many years. One part of Blair’s strategy to defeat the Conservatives was his focus on “Tory sleaze”, which reached its apogee in the “cash for questions” row and the withdrawal of all the opposition parties’ candidates from the “safe” Conservative seat of Tatton, allowing journalist Martin Bell to triumph over former minister Neil Hamilton.Who can blame Keir Starmer for yearning after those halcyon days and seeking to recreate them with a resurrection of the Tory sleaze accusation? He and his shadow cabinet haven’t missed an opportunity to repeat the phrase. And while national polling suggests this latest tactic hasn’t yet had any serious cut-through with voters, it’s early days yet.
Read the rest of Tom’s column here.
Minister admits she does not have Boris Johnson’s number
Culture minister Caroline Dinenage admitted during a live interview that she does not have Boris Johnson’s phone number, when quizzed about the controversy over the Prime Minister’s text exchanges with Sir James Dyson.
Asked why certain people have access to Mr Johnson’s number, she told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Of course they don’t hand them out willy-nilly, and I’m not even sure I have got the Prime Minister’s number, to be honest with you.
“We are talking about someone who is one of the top British business people in the world.”
Ms Dinenage then looked through her phone contacts to see if she does have Mr Johnson’s number, before saying: “No, I don’t have it.”
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Welsh First Minister denies lifting Covid restrictions to influence election
Mark Drakeford has denied bringing forward the easing of some restrictions in Wales by two weeks to improve his standing in the forthcoming Senedd election.
Indoor supervised activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults such as exercise classes, and the reopening of community centres are being brought forward from May 17 to May 3.
That has prompted the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru to accuse Mr Drakeford of seeking to unfairly influence the forthcoming election.
The Welsh Labour leader told Sky News on Friday: “If I had to be announcing more difficult news today, opposition parties would be demanding that I was there making that announcement.
“I make that announcement every three weeks. I’ve had to do it on some very difficult days when the news has not been good.
“Today I have to return to the podium, as I have every three weeks, to let people in Wales know the assessment of the current state of the virus in Wales, the decisions we’re able to make on their behalf, our assessment of what can happen in the future, and to remind people in Wales that coronavirus is by no means over.”
Government did not delay putting India on red list because of PM’s trip, says minister
A minister has rejected suggestions that the UK delayed putting India onto the red list until today because the Prime Minister was planning to visit the country.
Boris Johnson was forced to cancel his much-delayed trip on Monday – just a couple of hours before Matt Hancock announced the travel ban, which came into force this morning.
But Caroline Dinenage said the two things had no relation, insisting the decision had been taken because “thee situation in India has worsened an incredible amount over the last few days”.
Asked specifically if India had not been added because of the trip, she replied: “The Prime Minister didn’t go to India.”
She added: “We take advice from the health experts on this. We don’t want to add countries to the red list unnecessarily, but the priority is to protect people in the UK.”
Asked how many planes had arrived in the UK from India this week, she said: “I don’t know. I am a culture minister.”
India joins the UK’s red list
People arriving in the UK from India must now enter hotel quarantine as the country is officially added to the travel red list.
As of 4am on Friday, people returning from India must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days, while anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.
The restrictions come in response to mounting concern about the number of Covid-19 cases in India and the emergence there of a variant of the virus. The variant – also known as B.1.617 – was first noted internationally in October and first identified in the UK on February 22.
More than 100 cases have now been identified in the UK.
Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to India on Monday as the country struggles to cope with a dramatic surge in cases.
Was Dominic Cummings behind other leaks?
Number 10’s claim that Dominic Cummings was responsible for a series of leaks has got Westminster abuzz this morning.
The former chief adviser to Boris Johnson is the prime suspect in the leaking of messages which implicated the Prime Minister in two separate lobbying scandals. The leaks included messages sent between Mr Johnson and the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and separate texts between the Prime Minister and the businessman Sir James Dyson.
But one senior backbencher and former minister said there were now questions about his involvement in other leaks, including the ones putting David Cameron in the spotlight over his lobbying for Greensill.
“The whole thing looks like a Cummings hatchet job,” said the MP. “I presume Cummings is behind the flat makeover story too.”
Liaison committee will not ‘interfere’ in other MPs’ inquires
The chairman of the liaison committee, made up of select committee chairs, has defended his decision to reject calls by Labour to launch an investigation into Boris Johnson’s conduct.
“The Liaison Committee doesn’t have the remit to carry out its own inquiries,” Sir Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“The select committees themselves don’t much like the liaison committee interfering in their inquiries.
“There are a very comprehensive set of inquiries in progress and they are co-ordinating effectively together.”
New adviser on ministerial interests to be named ‘imminently’, says senior Tory
The chairman of the liaison committee said that the appointment of a new adviser on ministerial interests, a post which has been empty since November when Sir Alex Allan resigned, was “pretty imminent”.
Government sources had suggested the new name was going to be made public early on this week, amid pressure to demonstrate their commitment to standards, but the announcement appears to have been delayed.
However Sir Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “My understanding is that the appointment of a new adviser on ministerial interests is pretty imminent.
“The Committee on Standards in Public Life has been scrutinising that question and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister.
“It’s not as though the Prime Minister is not being addressed on these matters and I believe that the Prime Minister is actually addressing the question.”
We don’t do business by WhatsApp, minister says
A culture minister has pushed back against suggestions that Boris Johnson’s top team is governing via WhatsApp, amid ongoing allegations about lobbying.
Caroline Dinenage told Sky News that she did not give her phone number out “willy-nilly” – seemingly in contrast to the Prime Minister’s attitude.
Yesterday the Telegraph revealed that Boris Johnson had been told to change his number by the head of the civil service, because his current one is too widely known.
But Ms Dinenage said that was not the case.
“I don’t tend to massively interact with people by text but there are very clear rules about what to do if you are approached,” she said.
“We don’t do business via text or WhatsApp.”
Ministers must not be ‘locked away in ivory towers’, says senior Tory
Ministers should not be “locked away in ivory towers” with people unable to contact them, a senior Tory MP has said.
“The Government is now under intense scrutiny – every meeting, every conversation that ministers have had with their officials,” Sir Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.
“What’s got to come out of this is obviously a system of managing conflicts of interest, which commands more public confidence, and is more rigorous, but also, a balance, there has to be a balance.
“We don’t want ministers to be locked away in ivory towers, out of touch with the real world, with people unable to contact them. It is going to stifle proper conversation within government departments if all this is effectively a public conversation.
“Ministers and officials have got to be able to discuss policy options in private.”
Cummings accused of being ‘Chatty Rat’ leaker
Dominic Cummings has been named by Downing Street sources as the person suspected of leaking text messages sent by the Prime Minister.
The former chief adviser to Boris Johnson is the prime suspect in the leaking of messages which implicated the Prime Minister in two separate lobbying scandals.
Number 10 sources believe Mr Cummings, 49, is “bitter” that the Government has been “making great progress” since he departed in acrimonious circumstances last November.
The revelation that Mr Cummings may be behind the leaks threatens to reignite the damaging briefing war which erupted in Number 10 after the former adviser was forced out last year.
The Prime Minister and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have faced a wave of hostile leaks and briefings in the past six months.