London politics latest news:Boris Johnson insists he believed gathering was work event & ‘nobody told him’ it was party

·25 min read

Boris Johnson insisted that he believed a party held in lockdown by Downing Street staff was a work event as he declined to confirm whether he would resign if it emerged he had misled parliament.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, the prime minister denied he had been told of the gathering ahead of time.

It contradicts claims from his former adviser Dominic Cummings that he had been warned about the event in advance - but refused to take action.

“I’ve seen the email from Martin Reynolds. Clearly that was not phrased in a way that was right,” he told Sky News. “I only saw it when it emerged (in the press”.

Asked if he would resign if the report concluded he had misled MPs, he said: “We’ll have to see what Sue Gray says. She could be given the space to get on with her inquiry.”

The ministerial code states: “Ministers who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister.”

Earlier on Tueday, Chancellor Rishi Sunak insisted he “believes” the prime minister’s explanation.

Asked whether Mr Johnson would have to resign if it was proven he had lied to parliament, Sunak said: "I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. The ministerial code is clear on these matters.

"But as you know, Sue Gray is conducting an inquiry into the situation. I think it’s right that we allow her to conclude that job."

The Chancellor was not present at prime minister’s questions last Wednesday while Mr Johnson made his apology to MPs, fuelling speculation in Westminster that he was attempting to distance himself from the crisis.

20:40 , Matt Watts

That ends our live politics coverage for the day. Please check in tomorrow for Prime Minister’s Questions and much more.

Dominic Cummings has confirmed to Sky News that he will be providing evidence to Sue Gray

17:54 , Matt Watts

Sky News Political Editor Beth Rigby has said Dominic Cummings will provide evidence to Sue Gray’s Partygate inquiry.

Mr Cummings himself had tweeted seemingly at the beleaguered PM: “ Your best line of defence is ... catastrophic, and the more media you do defending yourself the more you destroy your own support & hasten the inevitable #regimechange.”

Mr Cummings has alleged the Prime Minister misled Parliament after being told an event on May 20, 2020 would breach coronavirus guidance.

The PM has denied this and earlier said "nobody told me that what we were doing was against the rules" to the "best of my recollection".

Even the Mary Rose is having a pop at the PM’s ‘Nobody told me this was a party' excuse

17:49 , Barney Davis

Has Boris Johnson been well and truly sunk by the favourite ship of King Henry VIII? A social media post for the Mary Rose, who herself sank off the south coast of England in 1545, couldn’t resist a dig at the Prime Minister from beyond her watery grave.

 (@MaryRoseMuseum)
(@MaryRoseMuseum)

Nicola Sturgeon: ‘Fall in cases gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave'

16:57 , Matt Watts

Here is some video of Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon earlier announcing that restrictions put in place to curb the spread of the Omicron variant of Covid are to be lifted from Monday.

She said more recent figures, showing a fall in infections, "gives us confidence that we have turned the corner on the Omicron wave".

As a result she confirmed the measures - a limit on the numbers at indoor events, table service only at bars and other places selling alcohol and the closure of nightclubs - will be lifted from January 24.

Guidance limiting gatherings to a maximum of three households will also end on the same date, Ms Sturgeon added, along with restrictions preventing adults from taking part in indoor contact sports.

She also said there would be no extension to coronavirus vaccine passports at the moment, stating: "Given that cases are now falling quite rapidly, and the current wave is receding, we decided that we will not at this stage extend the Covid certification scheme to other premises."

The announcement comes the day after the Scottish Government lifted its cap on numbers at outdoor events, with the First Minister saying the situation was now "much more positive" than it had been earlier in January, when cases had spiked.

Over 90,000 daily Covid cases recorded

16:27 , Daniel Keane

A further 94,43 Covid cases have been recorded in the UK as of 9am on Tuesday, the Government said.

The Government also said a further 438 people had died within 28 days of testing positive for the virus.

It brings the total to 152,513.

In full: Rayner calls on PM to resign

16:10 , Daniel Keane

Rayner: PM ‘lied to the British people and must resign’

15:58 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has lied to the British public and must resign, deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner has said.

Ms Rayner said the prime minister was “only sorry because he got caught” after he was forced into an apology over a party held in the Downing Street garden in breach of lockdown rules on May 20, 2020.

She told Sky News it is “now up to his MPs to show the public they put them first” by submitting letters of no confidence in his leadership.

Peers’ rejection of protest curbs ‘disappointing’, says No 10

15:47 , Daniel Keane

Downing Street defended measures to tackle protesters’ “guerrilla tactics” after peers gutted the legislation with a series of defeats for the Government.

In a series of votes on Monday night, peers rejected controversial measures in Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill designed to combat the tactics adopted by groups including Extinction Rebellion and Insulate Britain.

No 10 said it would reflect on peers’ votes but did not rule out using a Commons majority to overturn the defeats inflicted in the chamber.

The Prime Minister’s spokesman said: “It is disappointing the Lords did not back the public order measures that will ensure the everyday lives of the overwhelming majority are not disrupted by a selfish minority of protesters whose actions endanger lives and cost the public millions of pounds.”

The spokesman said policing Extinction Rebellion protests in April and October 2019 had cost £37 million, “more than twice the annual budget of London’s violent crime taskforce”, while Insulate Britain cost forces £4 million in three months last year.

Cummings is ‘completely discredited’, claims Tory backbencher

15:27 , Daniel Keane

Dominic Cummings is “completely discredited” after his own lockdown breaking trip in the early stages of the first lockdown, a veteran Tory backbencher has claimed.

“I don’t believe a word that Dominic Cummings says about anything,” MP Peter Bone told Sky News.

“When he drove from London to Durham with Covid. When he went to Barnard Castle to test his eyesight.

“He is completely discredited and I’m afraid if it’s a question of believing the Prime Minister or Dominic Cummings, it’s the Prime Minister every time.”

His comments follow Mr Cummings’ claim that Boris Johnson had been warned over a party held in May 2020 - contradicting the prime minister’s defence that he was not aware it was a social event.

Matt Hancock finds himself in cold water as he enjoys London’s Serpentine

15:06 , Daniel Keane

Matt Hancock has been captured enjoying an icy plunge into the depths of London’s Serpentine, writes Jonathan Prynn.

The 43-year-old Tory MP had been jogging in a foggy Hyde Park with members of the Parliamentary Running Club, including former Lord Chancellor Robert Buckland and former junior health minister Lord Bethell.

Mr Hancock, who has only just emerged from isolation after testing positive for Covid for the second time last week, swam for about 20 metres in water chilled by a frosty winter’s night before deciding that was enough.

Read our full story here.

 (Jeremy Selwyn)
(Jeremy Selwyn)

Sturgeon says restrictions brought in for Omicron will end next week

14:53 , Daniel Keane

Fresh restrictions introduced in Scotland to counter the wave of Omicron infections will be brought to an end next Monday, Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed.

In the Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said nightclub closures and the requirement for table service in hospitality will come to an end. Attendance limits on indoor events will also be lifted.

Ms Sturgeon said: “From Monday we will also lift the guidance asking people to stick to a three-household limit on indoor gatherings.

“However, it is important to stress this point: notwithstanding the improving situation, the level of Covid infection circulating in the community is still high.

“So to minimise the risk of us getting the virus it would be sensible for all of us to remain cautious in our social interactions at this stage.”

Baseline measures in place before the pandemic - such as vaccine passports and face coverings in public indoor settings - will remain.

Home Office had lockdown drinks

14:33 , Daniel Keane

The Home Office has admitted a “small number” of staff enjoyed a drink together while watching news coverage of an immigration policy launch during lockdown last year.

The department was responding to claims that some of its press and events team “mingled” and drank Prosecco in their office while Covid restrictions were in force on March 24 2021.

The Big Issue reported that around a dozen staff members gathered to celebrate an announcement on immigration rules leading the BBC News at Six.

A Home Office spokesman said: “In line with the guidance at the time, some members of staff came into the office to launch a major immigration policy.

“A small number had a drink whilst watching the broadcast coverage of their work on 6pm news bulletins before returning to work or going home.”

Labour calls for investigation into fraud linked to coronavirus help schemes

14:18 , Elly Blake

Labour has called on the Treasury to launch an investigation in to the “shocking degree” of fraud linked to funds allocated to coronavirus help schemes.

Asking an urgent question on the “levels of fraud uncovered” in coronavirus grant schemes, shadow Treasury minister Pat McFadden said: “Last week the Government confirmed it expects to write off around £4.3 billion of the funds allocated to Coronavirus help schemes.

“No press release, no Instagram video, no statement to this House, no sight of the vanishing Chancellor at all, just buried away on the Government website. If robust measures to prevent fraud were in place why did they fail to this shocking degree?”

He added: “So will the minister now launch an investigation into how this happened and do more to recover this money from the fraudsters who stole it in the first place?”

Responding, Treasury minister John Glen said: “The Government has taken the issue of potential fraud relating to Covid grants schemes extremely seriously. Robust measures were put in place to control error and fraud in the key Covid support schemes from their inception.”

‘Boris knows it’s the end of the road’ - Angela Rayner

13:52 , Elly Blake

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has reiterated her call for Boris Johnson to resign following his latest comments on the No 10 drinks party.

“Boris Johnson clearly knows it’s the end of the road,” she said.

“He’s the Prime Minister, he set the rules, he didn’t need anyone to tell him that the party he attended broke them.

“If he had any respect for the British public, he would do the decent thing and resign.”

PM ‘bitterly regrets’ No 10 party on eve of Prince Philip’s funeral

13:41 , Elly Blake

Boris Johnson appeared distressed as he faced questions about No 10 parties on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh’s funeral.

He could be heard breathing heavily behind his mask as he told reporters: “I deeply and bitterly regret that that happened.

“I can only renew my apologies both to Her Majesty and to the country for misjudgments that were made, and for which I take full responsibility.”

‘I thought it was a work event’, says PM

13:16 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson insisted that he believed a party held in lockdown by Downing Street staff was a work event as he declined to confirm whether he would resign if it emerged he had misled parliament.

Speaking to reporters on Tuesday morning, the prime minister denied he had been told of the gathering ahead of time.

It contradicts claims from his former adviser Dominic Cummings that he had been warned about the event in advance - but refused to take action.

“I’ve seen the email from Martin Reynolds. Clearly that was not phrased in a way that was right,” he told Sky News. “I only saw it when it emerged (in the press”.

Asked if he would resign if the report concluded he had misled MPs, he said: ““We’ll have to see what Sue Gray says. She could be given the space to get on with her inquiry.”

‘Of course I believe PM over lockdown parties’, says Sunak

12:39 , Daniel Keane

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has insisted he “believes” the prime minister’s explanation over a drinks party held in the garden of Downing Street.

Boris Johnson last week last week apologised to parliament for attending a "bring your own booze" gathering in the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020, claiming he believed it had been a work event.

Dominic Cummings, Johnson’s aide at the time of the event, on Monday claimed he told Johnson about the party in advance. Downing Street have said it is not true that the prime minister was told in advance.

Asked whether Mr Johnson would have to resign if it was proven he had lied to parliament, Sunak said: "I’m not going to get into hypotheticals. The ministerial code is clear on these matters.

"But as you know, Sue Gray is conducting an inquiry into the situation. I think it’s right that we allow her to conclude that job."

Putin ‘must not be allowed to rewrite rules’ on Ukraine, says PM

12:20 , Daniel Keane

Boris Johnson has warned that Russia’s president Vladimir Putin must not be “allowed to rewrite the rules” over Ukraine amid continued tensions.

Giving an account of Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “He said the UK is doing everything possible to support the Ukrainian people in the face of a disinformation campaign from Russia aimed at undermining its sovereign neighbour.

“The UK remains open to further talks with Russia.

“The Prime Minister said that President Putin must not be allowed to rewrite the rules and that as a free democracy must continue to be allowed to aspire to Nato membership.”

Worst polluters ‘should face fines and jail terms’, say Environment Agency

12:07 , Daniel Keane

The nation’s worst corporate polluters should face fines and should have their bosses jailed, the Environment Agency has said.

In a speech to the Westminster Energy, Environment and Transport Forum conference on Tuesday, chief executive Sir James Bevan argued for higher standards, tougher punishment for rule-breakers and industries shouldering more of the cost burden of regulation.

Sir James said: “In cases of extremely harmful and reckless pollution - and we’ve seen far too much of that in the last few years - that would include fines so large they would put a major dent in companies’ bottom lines and sentences that would put their bosses in jail.

“That would greatly concentrate the minds of boards and chief executives and have a powerful deterrent effect.”

Jeremy Hunt says it would ‘take a lot to persuade him from running again’

11:50 , Daniel Keane

Jeremy Hunt has said it will “take a lot” to persuade him to run to be Conservative leader again - but admitted his “ambition hasn’t completely vanished”.

In an interview with The House magazine, reported by Politics Home, the former foreign and health secretary said he had “enjoyed being on the backbenches more than I thought”.

Mr Hunt, who now chairs the health and social care committee, said he believed that the Government could “weather the storm” following reports of multiple parties held by Downing Street staff in breach of lockdown rules.

“I think the issues around ‘partygate’ are substantive issues,” he said.

“They are important issues and we’re now waiting for the results of the independent inquiry to get to the bottom of what happened.”

Read our full report here.

Sadiq Khan considers new daily ‘clean air charge’ for petrol and diesel cars in London

11:36 , Daniel Keane

A daily levy of up to £2 to drive a petrol or diesel car in London could be imposed by Sadiq Khan under radical options being considered to reduce toxic air pollution, writes Ross Lydall.

The Mayor is also considering expanding the ultra-low emission zone across all of Greater London’s 33 boroughs, well beyond the Ulez’s current boundary of the North and South Circular roads.

A third option would see both the Ulez expand and the “clean air charge” – which he said would cost a “small sum of money” but probably more than a bus ticket – being introduced.

A fourth option would see Mr Khan press ahead with already controversial plans to impose a Greater London boundary charge of about £3.50 a day on out-of-town motorists driving into the capital.

He wants to make the change before his second term of office ends in May 2024.

Read our full report here.

Weekly Covid deaths rise after Bank Holiday

11:18 , Daniel Keane

Weekly registered deaths involving coronavirus in England and Wales have risen after reporting delays over the Christmas period, figures show.

Some 922 deaths registered in the week ending January 7 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is up 58 per cent on the previous seven days, but the ONS said the number of registrations will have been affected by delays over the festive season.

Crossrail on track to begin in next six months, TfL announces

10:49 , Daniel Keane

Passenger services on Crossrail remain on track to start in the first half of 2022, Transport for London has announced.

The first phase of trial operations are coming to an end.

The next phase will involve thousands of staff from TfL, Network Rail and other organisations taking part in exercises on the railway to test timetables and trial scenarios such as evacuations.

Once the route is open, passengers will be able to travel from Heathrow Airport to Canary Wharf in just over 30 minutes.

Breaking: Government wins Court of Appeal ruling over Cummings-linked firm

10:33 , Daniel Keane

The Government has won its Court of Appeal bid to overturn a High Court rulingthat found a contract awarded to a firm with links to Dominic Cummings wasunlawful.Last year, the High Court ruled that the Cabinet Office’s decision to award a contract to market research firm Public First was unlawful as it gave rise to “apparent bias”.

The firm was given a contract for over £550,000 in June 2020 for focus groups and other research. This included testing public health slogans such as “Stay at home, protect the NHS, save lives”.

Campaigning organisation the Good Law Project brought a case over the links between the firm’s founders and the Prime Minister’s former adviser as well as then-Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove.

In the original ruling, Mrs Justice O’Farrell found that the “apparent bias” was not due to the existing relationships between Mr Cummings and Public First but because of a failure to consider any other research agency and record the objective criteria used in the selection.

However, in a judgment on Tuesday, the Court of Appeal overturned the previous ruling.

The Lord Chief Justice Lord Burnett, sitting with Lord Justice Coulson and Lady Justice Carr, found that the original judgment was an “unprecedented outcome”.

You can read our full report from our courts correspondent Tristan Kirk here.

Sadiq Khan: Partygate is ‘slam dunk’ for police

10:14 , Daniel Keane

London mayor Sadiq Khan has said the evidence in the party gate scandal appeared to be a “slam dunk” for police, writes Rachael Burford.

He told Sky News: “I’m quite clear, pausing for a second on this particular case because I don’t want to be accused of interfering with it, it is important that the public has confidence in policing. We police by consent, and policing an investigation should be done without fear or favour.

“Nobody is above the law and police should follow the evidence. From what I’ve seen as some outside the police, for me it’s a slam dunk.

“For me there has been an admission of liability by the Prime Minister. He’s been shown to be somebody who isn’t just arrogant and a liar, but hypocrisy as well.

“That’s one of the reasons why I think the prime minister’s job is untenable and he’s got to resign.”

But he added: “I’m not going to tell the police that they should investigate the prime minister. It’s for the police to have their operational independence to reach conclusions as they see fit.

“But I understand the importance to public confidence in the police demonstrating that they police without fear or favour.”

Scottish MPs urged to back calls for Boris’ resignation

10:05 , Daniel Keane

MSPs in Holyrood are being urged to back calls for Boris Johnson to resign over partygate.

The Scottish Liberal Democrats have filed a motion about the allegations of numerous government gatherings that broke coronavirus rules.

The parliamentary motion states: “Repeated breaches will erode both trust in Government and adherence to public health measures and as such calls on Boris Johnson to resign the office of Prime Minister.”

However, it would have no legal or constitutional effect on the prime minister’s position.

SNP: Sue Gray should interview Dominic Cummings

09:54 , Daniel Keane

Dominic Cummings must be interviewed by Sue Gray over claims that the prime minister knew about a party held at Downing Street during lockdown, the leader of the SNP at Westminster has said.

Ian Blackford claimed any report written by the civil servant without Mr Cummings’ testimony was “not worth the paper it is written on”.

“Lying to Parliament would be a clear breach of the ministerial code alone, and would require the Prime Minister to resign immediately,” he said.

“The Prime Minister must now confirm that Sue Gray will interview Dominic Cummings as part of her investigation.

“Mr Johnson must then come to Parliament and put on record whether he believes Mr Cummings is lying, or whether he will finally admit that he has repeatedly lied to Parliament and the people himself.”

UK moving to a situation where Covid ‘causes much less disruption’, says SAGE scientist

09:34 , Daniel Keane

Professor Andrew Hayward, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), has said he agrees that the “pandemic will end and we will move to a situation where we’re living with the virus continuing to transmit but causing much less disruption”.

He told Times Radio: “It will tend to, I think, settle into a seasonal pattern - we may still get quite big winters of infection but not the sort of level where we can justify wholesale societal closedown.

“So I think it is genuinely an optimistic picture, but we’re still not quite there yet.”

Prof Hayward said there are “very encouraging signs” of cases plateauing or dropping in some places, but nobody is sure whether they will stabilise at a very high level or dip down.

The latest analysis from the Standard showed Covid cases have plunged in London boroughs by up to 54 per cent in a week as the Omicron wave falls away, writes Nicholas Cecil.

Confirmed infections were down in all boroughs by at least a quarter in the seven days to January 12, compared to the previous week.

Read our full piece here.

Ministers to bring back protest measures after Lords defeat

09:11 , Daniel Keane

Deputy Prime Minister Dominic Raab suggested the Government would bring back controversial measures against noisy protest after a series of defeats in the Lords.

Asked if they would be reintroduced, the Justice Secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ll look very carefully at all of that, but, yes, absolutely.

“In relation to noise, of course we support the right to peaceful and rambunctious protest, but it cannot be allowed to interfere with the lives of the law-abiding majority.”

Change to subscription model would transform BBC content, says Davie

08:54 , Daniel Keane

Mr Davie says that a transformation to a subscription-based model, as suggested by some MPs, would require a radical overhaul of the BBC’s content.

Tim Davie told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Once you’re trying to serve a subscription base and a commercial agenda - and, believe me, I’ve run commercial businesses - it is a completely different situation, because suddenly you are doing things that are there to make profit and make a return to a specific audience.”

Asked if he agrees with the debate that the licence fee is “over”, he said: “I think the debate is more centred around ‘Do we want a universal public service media organisation at the heart of our creative economy, which has served us incredibly well?’

“And if we want that, we have to support a publicly-backed and not a fully commercialised BBC.”

Licence fee freeze will result in £285m funding gap, says director-general

08:34 , Daniel Keane

The BBC’s director-general has said the government’s two-year freeze of the licence fee will result in a £285 million gap in funding.

Tim Davie said there was “no doubt” that the lack of funds would impact the broadcaster’s content.

He told the Today programme on BBC Radio 4: “Our estimate is, and just to set this clearly for everyone, by the year in 2027, the licence fee income will be about £4.2 billion based on our assumptions around inflation.

“Guessing games around inflation are obviously difficult. We estimate our settlement gives a £285 million gap, but at the end of the period.”

Raab: Lying to Commons would ‘normally’ be resigning matter

08:22 , Daniel Keane

Dominic Raab has been speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Asked what the outcome should be if a prime minister lies to the House of Commons, he replied: “I’m not going to get into hypotheticals... If it’s lying and its not corrected immediately then it would normally under the ministerial code and the governance around parliament be a resigning matter.

“The standards are there for a reason and people in public office are meant to have high standards.”

But he added: “The important point is the categorical assertion that you conveyed from No10 that the suggestion that the PM was warned is not true.

“Forgive me if I don’t preempt the investigation Sue Gray is carrying out.”

Ministers ‘should resign’ if they mislead parliament, says Raab

08:03 , Daniel Keane

Justice secretary and deputy prime minister Dominic Raab said a minister should resign if they knowingly mislead Parliament.

Asked about the ministerial code stating that those “who knowingly mislead Parliament will be expected to offer their resignation to the Prime Minister”, Mr Raab told BBC Breakfast: “I think the ministerial code should be followed at all time.”

Pressed if a minister should resign if they lie to Parliament and fail to correct themselves, Mr Raab said: “Yes.”

Quizzed on whether Boris Johnson will continue to lead the party, he replied: “I’m confident he will carry on for many years and into the next election.”

Number of workers on UK payrolls rises by 0.6% in a month

07:51 , Daniel Keane

The number of workers on UK payrolls rose by 0.6 per cent, or 184,000, between November and December to 29.5 million, the Office for National Statistics (ONS) said.

Darren Morgan, director of economic statistics at the ONS, said: “New survey figures show that in the three months to November, the unemployment rate fell back almost to where it was before Covid-19 hit, and those reporting they’d recently been made redundant fell to their lowest since records began more than a quarter of a century ago.

“However, while job vacancies reached a new high in the last quarter of 2021, they are now growing more slowly than they were last summer.”

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said: “Today’s figures are proof that the jobs market is thriving, with employee numbers rising to record levels and redundancy notifications at their lowest levels since 2006 in December.”

PM has been ‘straightforward’ with parliament, says Raab

07:39 , Daniel Keane

Dominic Raab has insisted that Boris Johnson has been “straightforward” with Parliament following Dominic Cummings’ allegation that he lied about parties in Downing Street.

Asked if the prime minister should resign if he misled Parliament, the justice secretary told Sky News: “I’m not going to speculate on hypotheticals.

“I’m confident he’s been straightforward with the House of Commons.”

Pressed about Dominic Cummings’ claims, Mr Raab said: “The PM has been very clear that that’s not true or accurate.”

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