Politics latest news: Tories surge ahead in Hartlepool with biggest poll lead yet

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Boris Johnson brought some of his star power to Hartlepool yesterday - PA
Boris Johnson brought some of his star power to Hartlepool yesterday – PA
  • Hartlepool by-election ‘is the Conservatives’ to lose’ ​

  • Michel Barnier attacks EU vaccine ‘bureaucracy’

  • The key Red Wall battlegrounds to watch this week

  • Tory staff angry over flat refurbishment after being denied pay rises

  • Coronavirus latest news: British tourists may be welcomed to Balearics this month

The Conservatives appear on course to steal Hartlepool from Labour in this week’s by-election, with a poll out this morning giving them the largest lead yet.

With just 48 hours to go until the ballot box opens, Tory candidate Jill Mortimer is in the lead with 50 per cent, while Labour’s hopeful Paul Williams has slipped nine points to 33 per cent, giving the former a 17 point lead.

The same poll showed a 4 per cent bump in personal favourability for Boris Johnson in Hartlepool, with Sir Keir Starmer sliding the same amount.

The Labour leader was in full damage limitation mode this morning, telling ITV’s GMB, which commissioned the poll, he was “climbing that mountain” to reconnect with voters.

Asked if he would resign if the Red Wall seat turns blue, he added: “I never thought, and I don’t think anyone realistically thought, we could go from devastating defeat in 2019 and mend all that in a year and a half.”

However the fieldwork for Survation’s poll took place between April 23-29, mostly before the “cash for cushions” row blew up.

This morning Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, claimed this was “frankly a distraction from the issues people really care about”.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

08:12 AM

Dominic Raab welcomes Anthony Blinken for G7 summit

Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, greets Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State - Bloomberg
Dominic Raab, the Foreign Secretary, greets Antony Blinken, US Secretary of State – Bloomberg

Foreign ministers from the G7 group of industrialised nations have arrived at Lancaster House in London for their first summit in more than two years.

The meeting, which has strict coronavirus protocols, will consider some of the major issues facing the world, including how to deal with China, Russia and Iran.

Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab, wearing a face mask, welcomed counterparts from France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Canada, the US and EU, with awkward forearm bumps replacing the usual handshakes.

Along with the problems of coronavirus, the blustery weather also posed difficulties for the Foreign Office, with the red carpet rolled out for the visiting diplomats initially refusing to stay in place in the gusts whipping across the Lancaster House courtyard.

08:06 AM

More bad new for Labour in West Midlands mayoral race

West Midlands mayor Andy Street is on course to defeat Labour rival Liam Byrne - PA
West Midlands mayor Andy Street is on course to defeat Labour rival Liam Byrne – PA

There is more bad polling news for Labour as Andy Street, the Conservative West Midlands mayor, looks set to be returned with a larger lead than he enjoyed last time.

Mr Street, a former John Lewis head honcho, was elected in 2017 with 41.9 per cent of the vote in the first round, increasing to 50.4 per cent in the second.

But a new Opinium poll for The Times has him winning by 17 points on first preferences, on 54 per cent of the vote, leaving Labour hopeful and former minister Liam Byrne trailing on just 37 per cent.

07:54 AM

Chopper’s Politics: Could the Hartlepool by-election see another brick in the Blue Wall?

Was the last general election the start of an enduring rewiring of British politics? To answer that, look first to Hartlepool, where voters will be deciding their next MP on Thursday.

It’s a seat never before held by the Tories, and it’ll provide the first hint of whether the fall of the Red Wall in 2019 was merely a temporary, Brexit-driven hiccup for Labour.

The Telegraph’s chief political correspondent, Christopher Hope has jumped on a train to meet co-chair of the Conservative party Amanda Milling, to find out why she believes the opposition has taken the area for granted, whether a candidate from Yorkshire is truly the best person to take the seat, and why she’s confident the Downing Street refurbishment row hasn’t stretched beyond “the Westminster bubble”.

07:50 AM

Third wave caused by vaccine-beating variant still main concern, says Prof Ferguson

The risk of vaccines being less effective in the face of variants was “the major concern” that could still lead to a “very major third wave in the autumn”, a senior scientific adviser has said.

Professor Neil Ferguson, from Imperial College London, who advises the Government, said it was “essential we roll out booster doses, which can protect against that, as soon as we’ve basically finished vaccinating the adult population, which should finish by the summer.”

He told Radio 4’s Today programme it was “much better to be vaccinating people than shutting down the whole of society”, adding he was “feeling fairly optimistic that we will be not completely back to normal, but something which feels a lot more normal by the summer”.

07:40 AM

India deal is ‘tip of an iceberg’, says Liz Truss

Liz Truss has said the 6,000 UK jobs created through a preliminary trade deal with India are the “tip of an iceberg”.

The jobs, which come as part of an enhanced trade partnership that includes £533 million of new Indian investment into Britain, focused on the health and technology sectors, will come into force “over the next year or so”, the International Trade Secretary said.

She told Radio 4’s Today programme: “That’s very different to a free trade deal which is what we are commencing this autumn, which is all about lowering trade barriers, gaining more agreements in areas like digital and data. This 6,00 jobs today is just the tip of an iceberg

“We are going much wider and deeper over time.”

The UK is hoping to double bilateral trade with India over the next decade through the removal of trade barriers.

07:26 AM

Brexit did not boost UK vaccine programme, Sir Keir Starmer claims

Sir Keir Starmer has claimed the success of the UK’s vaccine rollout is “really tribute to the frontline NHS” as he argued that Brexit did not hand ministers the advantage.

The Government is reaping the benefit of the so-called vaccine bounce in the polls, with the UK well ahead of its European counterparts thanks to having gone in alone rather than join the EU-wide procurement scheme.

But the pro-Remain Labour leader insisted this was not the case, noting that “the programme of purchasing was during the transition period, so I don’t think that argument takes us very far”.

He added: “Of course we would have set up a taskforce, of course we would have got on top of it – everybody knows vaccine is light at the end of the tunnel.”

07:18 AM

Labour is not losing Hartlepool because of Brexit, Sir Keir Starmer suggests

Sir Kier Starmer and Dr Paul Williams, Labour Party candidate for Hartlepool, on the campaign trail - Getty
Sir Kier Starmer and Dr Paul Williams, Labour Party candidate for Hartlepool, on the campaign trail – Getty

Sir Keir Starmer has rejected the suggestion that Labour is on course to lose Hartlepool because of Brexit.

Labour had hoped that NHS frontline worker Dr Williams would win over the Leave-voting constituency, but it appears that he is struggling to shake off his tag as a one-time Remain backer.

Asked about this, the Labour leader said: “In Hartlepool the issue that comes up over and over again is jobs… what is needed more than anything is a powerful voice for Hartlepool.

“That is what Dr Paul Williams will be, and that is what matters above all else.”

He also insisted the party had been an effective, but “constructive”, opposition during the pandemic.

07:16 AM

Sir Keir Starmer: I will take full responsibility for election results

Starmer admitted Labour was fighting an uphill battle in Hartlepool - Getty
Starmer admitted Labour was fighting an uphill battle in Hartlepool – Getty

Sir Keir Starmer has said he takes “full responsibility for the results” on Thursday’s series of elections and the key race in Hartlepool.

The Labour leader told Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hope we won’t lose Hartlepool”, but admitted they are facing an uphill fight.

“I take full responsibility for the results, just as I take full responsibility for everything that happens in the Labour party under my leadership,” he said.

“I know every vote has to be earned. My job as Labour leader was to rebuild the party out of that devastating loss in 2019 and put us in position to win the next general election,” he added.

“I said on the day I was elected that was a mountain to climb, it is and we are climbing it… I don’t think anybody realistically thought it was possible to turn the Labour party around… to a position where we could win the next general election within a year.”

07:11 AM

Sir Keir Starmer begins damage limitation as Hartlepool lose looms

Sir Keir Starmer is in full damage limitation mode, after a new poll suggested Labour would lose its Hartlepool seat at this week’s by-election.

It’s a critical race – on one hand, it is the first test of his work a year into being Labour leader. But equally it is a test of whether Boris Johnson’s Red Wall victory in 2019 was a fluke or a genuine breakthrough.

The Survation poll giving Tory candidate Jill Mortimer a 17 per cent lead suggests the latter.

Asked about the findings this morning, Sir Keir told Sky News: “There is no getting away from the fact that we lost the last general election in 2019 very badly – the worst lost since 1935.

“My job is to rebuild the party, reconnect with the public, rebuild that trust but that will take time.”

Thursday’s vote was “the first opportunity to take a step towards that” but it “will take time”, he added.

07:05 AM

Minister refuses to say if Boris Johnson should resign over potential ministerial code breach

Liz Truss refused to "answer hypotheticals about what might happen at some future date" - Reuters
Liz Truss refused to “answer hypotheticals about what might happen at some future date” – Reuters

A Cabinet minister has refused to comment on whether Boris Johnson should resign if he is found to have broken the ministerial code over the so-called “cash for cushions” row.

Pressed on the Downing Street flat renovations, Liz Truss told Sky News: “Well the Prime Minister is very clear that he’s covered the cost of these refurbishments, that he’s been working with officials, that he’s declared in line with the appropriate rules, but I’m not going to answer hypotheticals about what might happen at some future date. What the Prime Minister has made clear is he has covered the cost.

“I think the British public understand that, they want us to get on with the job which is delivering the vaccine programme and making sure we recover our economy after Covid, and that we have the jobs and growth we need across the UK,” the International Trade Secretary said.

Scottish Conservatives leader Douglas Ross said on Sunday that Mr Johnson should “of course” quit if he is found to have breached the ministerial code.

07:03 AM

No green light on the green list – but here’s what is being planned

British holidaymakers are expected to be freed to travel to Europe’s top holiday destinations next month after Brussels opened the door to vaccinated travellers from the start of June.

Spain, Greece and France are among countries that could be added to the safe “green list” by the end of June under the traffic light system being drawn up by Downing Street for international travel, The Telegraph can disclose.

Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, gave nothing away during her interview with Sky News this morning, saying people “will have to wait a bit longer, I’m afraid”

“I fully understand it has been a very tough year for people… people are looking to book a holiday but i would encourage people to wait until we can make that announcement.”

However you can get a taste of what is to come in our exclusive story here.

07:00 AM

UK to send further oxygen supplies to India this week, minister says

The UK will send further oxygen supplies to India this week – but there is no sign of any help on vaccines.

Liz Truss told Sky News it was “a heart-breaking situation in India and my heart goes out to the people of India and the severe problems they’re facing”.

The International Trade Secretary added: “The UK has already sent 600 pieces of equipment out, we’re sending oxygen out and we’ve got another shipment going out this week as well, and we’re working very, very closely with partners across the world to make sure India has the supplies it needs.

“And of course India was of huge help to the UK last year, making sure we had the paracetamol we need, they’re a close ally of the UK and we… really are working hard to make sure that we can help as much as possible.”

Challenged over the lack of support on vaccine supplies, she said: “The immediate issue is oxygen – that is our focus, that is the product we are getting out as quickly as possible.”

06:52 AM

Exclusive: Tory staff furious over flat refurb amid pay freeze

Tory officials have not had pay increase since Boris Johnson swept to victory in 2019 - Getty
Tory officials have not had pay increase since Boris Johnson swept to victory in 2019 – Getty

Conservative Party staff are in uproar over the costly revamp of Boris Johnson’s Downing Street flat after officials were told there was no money for pay rises.

Party officials were “furious” to discover that almost £60,000 from Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) funds was channelled to pay an invoice for the flat refurbishment while at the same time staff were informed their pay was being frozen.

Officials at CCHQ and at regional offices have not had a pay rise since Boris Johnson swept to victory in 2019. The Telegraph understands that in February, Aimee Henderson, the Conservative Party’s finance director, told employees the party was in no position to “splash the cash”.

Ms Henderson said a pay rise even linked to inflation inflation would not be possible this year.

Read the full story here.

06:50 AM

Britain and India ‘fire starting gun’ on post-Brexit trade deal

Britain and India have “fired the starting gun” on a full trade agreement, with the announcement on Tuesday of a preliminary deal worth £1 billion.

Boris Johnson and Indian premier Narendra Modi have secured fresh cooperation and investments that will help create 6,500 jobs in the UK.

The two prime ministers will host a virtual meeting Tuesday afternoon, following the cancellation of Mr Johnson’s trip to New Delhi last month amid soaring Covid cases. Trade, health, climate change and defence are set to be discussed.

They will unveil an enhanced trade partnership that includes £533 million of new Indian investment into Britain, focused on the health and technology sectors. More than a third of the cash will support low carbon growth, underscoring Mr Johnson’s green industrial agenda.

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