LIVE – Updated at 15:27
Latest updates: deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner says Geidt’s letter shows Johnson did break rules as PM offers ‘humble’ apology to standards adviser.
My colleague Jessica Elgot has posted the new exchanges between Boris Johnson and Lord Brownlow, the Tory donor who initially funded the Downing Street flat refurbishment, that are revealed in the correspondence out today.
And here is a comment from the Institute for Government’s Catherine Haddon.
Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s health secretary, has paid tribute to health workers and the general public after the country recorded its millionth positive Covid case today, and another 18 Covid-positive people died.
The latest daily Covid statistics suggests the sharp surge in cases may be peaking, with 11,360 cases reported for the last 24 hours, but Scotland’s total number of confirmed infections reached 1,010,660. That total does not include cases which were not detected or reported.
Joined by Sir Gregor Smith, Scotland’s newly-knighted chief medical officer, Yousaf said:
The past two years have undoubtedly been some of the toughest this country has faced in peacetime and as we hit the one millionth confirmed Covid-19 case in Scotland, it is important to acknowledge the huge toll the pandemic has had on us all.
We have all been affected by the Covid crisis in some way or another and my thoughts remain with everyone who has lost a loved one. The immense pressure the virus has also put on our NHS [should not be] be understated and I’d like to thank every single person across our health and social care sectors who have worked so hard to look after us.
Johnson offers ‘humble and sincere’ apology to his standards adviser, Lord Geidt
Boris Johnson is famous for his reluctance to apologise, but in his letter to Lord Geidt (pdf) released this afternoon he delivers a “humble and sincere” apology – about as strong an apology as possible.
New evidence shows Johnson did break ministerial code, Labour claims
Labour claims the Geidt correspondence (see 3pm) shows that Boris Johnson did break the ministerial code. In a statement Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, said:
Boris Johnson has little regard for the rules or the truth. The ministerial code requires ministers to act with transparency and honesty. It is simply impossible to read these exchanges and conclude that the prime minister has not breached these aspects of the code.
Once again, by attempting to hide the truth, Boris Johnson undermines his own office. The prime minister’s pathetic excuses will fool no one, and this is just the latest in a long line of sorry episodes.
This matters because it matters who has influence on our government in a democracy. The British public can’t WhatsApp a wealthy donor to open their wallets on request, and the least they deserve is transparency about who’s bankrolling their prime minister.
Scotland may be close to Omicron peak, latest data suggests
The latest Covid data for Scotland suggests the Omicron-fuelled surge in cases may be nearing or past its peak, after daily figures showed the lowest number of new infections for a week and hospitalisation rates only grew slightly in the last 24 hours.
The potentially reassuring slow-down in cases was qualified by the news that 18 fatalities involving Covid-positive people had been reported over the last 24 hours, taking the total by that measure to 9,890.
Data released at 2pm showed 11,360 new infections were reported over the last 24 hours, 23% of those tested, following a five-day peak where between 14,000 and 20,000 new cases were detected each day and positivity rates hit 36%. It is thought the peak figure of 20,217 on Monday 3 January was driven by late registration of positive results over the New Year holiday weekend.
Those new cases took the total number of Scots infected by Covid-19 since the start of the pandemic over the 1 million mark, to 1,010,660.
Hospitalisation rates for people with Covid also slowed markedly: after patient numbers doubled in under a week from 528 on Boxing Day to 1,033 on 3 January, daily patient figures have since crept up by a far slower rate, reaching 1,267 in the latest data.
Intensive care hospitalisations also remain comparatively low but rising slightly, up from 53 on Wednesday to 57 in the latest data.
Critical questions have been raised by opposition MSPs over the lack of detailed data on the proportion of hospital patients admitted because they were ill with Covid rather than for another medical reason. English data suggested about a third were hospitalised for another reason. Scotland’s figures are expected to be released by Public Health Scotland.
There is still no data in Scotland on the numbers hospitalised or in intensive care with Omicron, or who have died infected by the Omicron variant. It is unclear when that will be published, if at all.
Cabinet Office publishes Geidt’s findings into claims he was mislead during flat refurbishment inquiry
The Cabinet Office has now published correspondence between Lord Geidt, the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, and Boris Johnson over the claims that Johnson misled him during his original investigation into the Downing Street flat refurbishment. They are here.
Here is my colleague Aubrey Allegretti’s story.
And here are some highlights from what has been revealed.
Johnson claims toppling historic statues like editing your own Wikipedia entry
In his pooled TV interview Boris Johnson also criticised (again) the removal of toppling of the Edward Colston statue in Bristol on the grounds that it was like editing your own Wikipedia entry. Asked about the acquittal of the Colston four, he replied:
I don’t want to comment on that particular judgment – it’s a matter for the court.
But what I would say is that my feeling is that we have a complex historical legacy all around us, and it reflects our history in all its diversity, for good or ill.
What you can’t do is go around seeking retrospectively to change our history or to bowdlerise it or edit it in retrospect.
It’s like some person trying to edit their Wikipedia entry – it’s wrong.
And I think if people democratically want to remove a statue or whatever, that’s fine. But I think that, in general, we should preserve our cultural, artistic, historical legacy – that’s my view.
(I presume many people do edit their own Wikipedia entries, although I’ve always taken the Johnson view and not touched my own, very modest, one. But I’d be grateful if someone else would, because it wrongly says I’m the author of a 2007 book on media law. That was another Andrew Sparrow. The rest of it’s fine.)
Johnson accuses anti-vaxxers of spreading ‘complete nonsense’ and ‘mumbo jumbo’
Boris Johnson has condemned anti-vaxxers for spreading “complete nonsense” and “mumbo jumbo” about vaccines. In a pooled broadcast interview during a visit to a vaccination centre, he stressed the importance of vaccination, saying 30 to 40% of patients going to hospital with Covid had not been vaccinated. He went on:
I want to say to the anti-vax campaigners, the people who are putting this mumbo jumbo on social media: they are completely wrong. You haven’t heard me say that before, because I think it’s important we have a voluntary approach in this country and we’re going to keep a voluntary approach …
What a tragedy that we’ve got all this pressure on the NHS, all the difficulties that our doctors and nurses are experiencing and we’ve got people out there spouting complete nonsense about vaccination.
They are totally wrong, and I think it’s time that I, the government, call them out on what they’re doing. It’s absolutely wrong, it’s totally counterproductive, and the stuff they’re putting out on social media is complete mumbo jumbo.
Johnson ducks question about whether ‘new phone’ excuse for undisclosed evidence to standards inquiry is plausible
In his TV clip Boris Johnson was also asked if he really expected the public to believe that he did not disclose key evidence to Lord Geidt, the standards adviser investigating his flat refurbishment, because he had a new phone. (See 11.35am.) All Johnson said in response was:
I followed the ministerial guidance at all times, and yes.
When it was put to him that it was unlikely that he would have forgotten the incriminating exchanges on his old phone, even if he had acquired a new one, Johnson just repeated his claim that he had followed the ministerial guidance at all times.
‘Always easy to duck difficult decisions’ – Sunak hits back at Rees-Mogg over national insurance hike
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has recorded a TV clip on a visit to a vaccination centre this morning and he pushed back a bit more firmly than No 10 against the Jacob Rees-Mogg faction in the party hoping to reverse the national insurance increase. No 10 said there were “no plans” for a U-turn. (See 12.31pm.)
Asked about Rees-Mogg’s intervention in cabinet yesterday (see 10.50am), Sunak started by saying he had “enormous respect” for all his colleagues (which, when said by politicians, is almost always untrue, and just a polite precursor to an attack). Sunak went on to imply that Rees-Mogg was irresponsible. He said:
We’re facing an unprecedented level of backlogs in the NHS. And we as a government don’t think it’s acceptable. We don’t want families to be waiting years and years to get the treatment they need. We want investment in more doctors, more nurses, more operations.
We’re also doing the thing that governments before us have not done and that is to finally fix social care.
And, look, it’s it’s always easy to duck difficult decisions, but I don’t think that’s the responsible thing to do. I think people’s priorities are for us to invest in the NHS, to invest in social care. We need to make sure that those investments are funded sustainably. That’s what we’re doing.
Sunak was also asked about the cost of living crisis. He highlighted the various measures already in place that would help people – the rise in the national living wage, the cut to the universal credit taper rate, and energy bill measures – but he also said he was “always listening”.
Rees-Mogg tells MPs he does not like government spending being called ‘investment’
In his TV clip this morning Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, talked about the need for the government to “invest” in the NHS and in social care. (See 1.11pm.) The wording sounded unremarkable, but earlier in the Commons Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, told MPs that he was very wary of this sort of language. He was responding to a question about local government spending, and Warrington council in particular, but it is hard to listen to his words without thinking he had someone else in mind too.
I have a great quibble about using this word ‘investment’ for government expenditure, because actually government is spending taxpayers’ money. It shouldn’t be talking about investing; it should recognise that it is using other people’s money and therefore has a great fiduciary duty to spend it wisely.
Johnson reportedly braced for fierce criticism in report over claims he misled standards adviser
Some papers have been briefed on what Lord Geidt, the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, will reveal in his forthcoming report on the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat. Geidt has been considering whether he was misled by the PM when he conducted his initial investigation into the refurbishment of Downing Street flat. It was reported last week that Geidt will conclude Johnson did not break the ministerial code. But at the weekend the Sunday Times said the new Geidt report would be more critical than those reports implied.
The Sun’s Harry Cole says Johnson has made a grovelling apology to Geidt. Cole reports:
Boris Johnson has made a “humble and sincere” apology for the furore over his Downing St flat refurb.
The Sun understands the PM has grovelled to No10 sleaze-buster Lord Geidt over missing text messages crucial to the probe …
The Sun understands Mr Johnson has blamed a security breach – resulting in him changing his mobile phone – for the inadvertent non-disclosure of a crucial WhatsApp exchange.
But upon reviewing the new evidence, sources say Lord Geidt – though livid and “gravely concerned” – has concluded the exchange did not fundamentally alter his findings that Mr Johnson did not break the ministerial code but had behaved foolishly.
And Harry Yorke has a similar story for the Telegraph. He says:
The Telegraph understands that the prime minister has convinced Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial standards, that he did not mislead him over his personal involvement in the controversy.
It is understood that Mr Johnson’s defence for failing to disclose a message between himself and a Tory donor who funded the works was that he had changed his mobile number.
This meant that previous exchanges on his old device, including a crucial Whatsapp message which was later unearthed by the election watchdog, were not transferred over to his new one.
Sebastian Payne at the FT says the full report will be out this afternoon. He quotes a Whitehall official saying Geidt’s “language about the PM’s conduct is coruscating, even if he accepts he was not willingly misled”.
Rees-Mogg accuses SNP MP calling for revival of semi-virtual sittings of not wanting to do his job
Earlier in the exchanges during business questions Pete Wishart, the SNP spokesperson on House of Commons matters, said that his estimate was that 50 MPs were now isolating with Covid. He urged Rees-Mogg to bring back hybrid proceedings (allowing MPs to participate in debates virtually) and proxy voting. And he contrasted what was happening in Westminster with practice in the Scottish parliament. He said:
Yesterday was the Scottish parliament sat in an emergency session to discuss cases the Omicron crisis in Scotland. It was all virtual. All elected MSPs could participate and its sitting provided absolutely no risk whatsoever to the staff on the Holyrood estate.
Yesterday this house also met for the first time after the Christmas recess. It was entirely in person in 19th century building with practically no social distancing measures in place. All 650 members could attend if they wanted to. And a good portion of them decided to come here to a packed chamber to listen to PMQs and a prime ministerial statement.
Next week, of course, we will find out the true consequences of this and how many people were infected on this journey down to the Commons.
In response, Rees-Mogg said:
I am sorry that [Wishart] doesn’t like doing his job, that he wishes to enjoy himself sitting at home, and that he doesn’t want to do what members of parliament are expected to do, and turn up in the House of Commons.
A family court judge has drawn the marriage of Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, and Sarah Vine, a journalist, to a close, PA Media reports. At a hearing in the central family court in London this morning, Judge Lynn Roberts granted Vine a divorce decree on the grounds that the marriage had irretrievably broken down. Neither Vine nor Gove were present.
No 10 fails to deny report PM has apologised to his standards adviser over flat refurbishment disclosures
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. Boris Johnson is visiting a mass vaccination centre in Northampton, where he is doing a TV interview. It will run around lunchtime.
The PM’s spokesman would not discuss the latest reports about the latest inquiry by Lord Geidt into the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat, and whether the PM misled him during the first inquiry, but the full findings are due to be published later this afternoon.
But the spokesman did not deny the Sun report saying Johnson has apologised tob Geidt. (See 11.35am.)
I will post more from the lobby shortly.
No 10 says there are no plans to shelve national insurance increase coming into force in April
Here are the main points from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
- The prime minister’s spokesman failed to deny reports that Boris Johnson has apologised to Lord Geidt, his standards adviser, for not fully disclosing information relevant to Geidt’s original inquiry into the Downing Street flat refurbishment. (See 12.05pm.) The full exchanges between Geidt and the PM are due to be published this afternoon.
- The spokesman said there were no plans to shelve the national insurance increase due to take effect in April. Asked to rule it out, the spokesman said:
There are no plans to do that, no … The cabinet collectively agree with that approach and recognise the priority of the public in ensuring our NHS has the funding it needs to tackle the backlog, which has been exacerbated by Covid.
“No plans” is not a firm denial, and sometimes it can be a hint that a U-turn is on the way. But there was nothing in what the spokesman said at the briefing that made that sound particularly likely. The spokesman also refused to discuss the reports that at cabinet yesterday Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Commons leaders, argued for such a U-turn. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, reportedly argued back forcefully, saying the money for health and social care was needed.
- The spokesman restated the government’s determination to toughen penalties for people who damage memorials. Asked about the acquittal of the “Colston four”, the spokesman said:
Rightly we would never comment on individual jury decisions, which we respect. But we expect the police to take all crimes seriously, including vandalism or public damage to property.
We’ve been clear it’s always legitimate to examine and challenge Britain’s history but we should retain and explain our heritage so more people can understand our nation’s past to its fullest.
Vandalism of any sort remains a crime, we expect police to take all crimes seriously. You’ll know that we are changing the law to ensure those found guilty of desecrating or damaging a memorial face a punishment that better reflects the high sentimental and emotional impact these actions can have.
- The spokesman would not say when the government might change the definition of fully vaccinated so that people have to have had a booster jab to qualify. Such a change would affect twice-vaccinated people without a booster travelling abroad or using Covid passes to enter large venues. Boris Johnson indicated earlier this week that at some point in the future people will need to have had a booster to count as fully vaccinated.
Scottish health board urges patients to avoid A&E unless they have life-threatening injuries
Scotland’s busiest health board has urged injured people to avoid emergency departments across the greater Glasgow area unless they have a life-threatening injury.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said it was facing “unprecedented and unsustainable demand on emergency services” at its four accident and emergency units, which were working well above normal capacity.
The Herald reported the A&E department at the Queen Elizabeth University hospital in Glasgow, Scotland’s largest hospital, was closed for up to eight hours earlier this week because it hit full capacity. Ambulances waited for hours to hand over patients, and were then diverted to another hospital.
Ambulances in Ayrshire were also diverted from University hospital Crosshouse after its emergency department was overwhelmed to University hospital Ayr for a short period of time on Wednesday “in the interests of patient safety”.
NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said patients should first call the NHS 24 medical helpline on 111 to get advice on which service to use. The board said many patients could go to its three minor injuries units, including those with broken limbs, or easily be treated by a GP or local pharmacy in less serious cases.
Dr Scott Davidson, the board’s deputy medical director for acute services, said:
Our A&Es remain open and continue to assess, treat and admit emergency patients, however they are extremely busy and staff are facing huge challenges to ensure we’re able to treat patients safely and as quickly as possible.
[As] a result of current demand at A&E, people are facing long wait times and our staff are under severe pressure. [Unless] very urgent or life-threatening, please do not attend our A&Es unless you are referred.
Rees-Mogg defends jury system as one of ‘great glories of this nation’ when asked about ‘Colston four’ verdict
Apsana Begum (Lab) asks Rees-Mogg to congratulate the “Colston four”. And she asks about reports that the Home Office discussed the case with the Crown Prosecution Service and the local police.
Rees-Mogg replies by saying that the jury system is “one of the great glories of this nation”. He says juries are free to come to a decision, based on the facts put before them, and he says that is one of the foundations of our liberty.
Peter Bone (Con) told Rees-Mogg that Labour was now adopting Conservative views, because they believe in lower taxation and leaving the EU. He asked if the government would adopt Conservative views too, and remove VAT on fuel bills.
In response Rees-Mogg said that Conservatives believed in “fiscal good sense”. He said public services had to be paid for, because there was “no magic money tree”. He said it was easy for the opposition to call for specific tax cuts because it had no overall responsibility for funding services. But the government had to ensure the country can live within its means, he said.
Rees-Mogg ducks chance to deny reports he told cabinet national insurance increase should be abandoned
Jacob Rees-Mogg is responding to Debbonaire. He says the idea that he has been converted to Labour thinking is “wishful thinking”. He commends Debbonaire for talking about “taxpayers’ money”, saying this is Tory language, because it reflects the Tory view that there is no government money, only people’s money.
He also claims that Labour’s call for VAT on fuel bills to be cut shows that it has changed its view on Brexit.
But he does not mention the health and social care levy, or deny the reports that he told cabinet yesterday it should be abandoned.
Here is an extract from the FT’s story (paywall) about Rees-Mogg’s intervention yesterday.
One government insider briefed on the cabinet meeting said Rees-Mogg felt that “finding savings would be more frugal and responsible” than raising taxes to fund improvements to health and social care.
And here is an extract from the Times’ story (paywall).
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, told the cabinet that the rise should be shelved as inflation and energy bills are rising significantly.
He also questioned the productivity of civil servants who are working from home and suggested that significant savings could be made by reducing the number of officials, a source said.
Shapps suggests ‘Colston four’ acquittal exposes loophole in law that should be closed
In his morning interviews Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, expressed concern about yesterday’s acquittal of the four people on trial for pulling down the statute of slave trader Edward Colston in Bristol. Shapps suggested the verdict exposed a loophole in the law that should be fixed. He told Times Radio:
I don’t want to be seen to be commenting on an individual case, it had a jury, they made the decision, they would have seen all the facts.
But as a broader point, I would say we’re not in a country where destroying public property can ever be acceptable.
I’m aware they were tried under a particular piece of legislation, a particular aspect of that legislation, which the new police, crime, sentencing bill will provide other routes.
We live in a democratic country. If you want to see things changed you can get them changed, you do that through the ballot box, or petitioning your local council, etc. You don’t do it by going out and causing criminal damage.
We’ll always be on the side of the law and when necessary we will fix any loopholes in the law to make sure that’s always the case.
Robert Jenrick, the former communities secretary, went further last night when he posted a tweet suggesting the verdict undermined the rule of law.
That prompted this reponse form the lawyer and legal commentator David Allen Green.
ONS says number of people suffering long Covid for more than year has now passed 500,000
The Office for National Statistics has published its latest data on the prevalence of long Covid. The figures, which are in line with previous survey, suggest that 2% of the population – or 1.3 million people – had long Covid in early December, defined as symptoms lasting for more than four weeks. Some 70% of those (892,000 people) had had it for at least three months and 40% (506,000 people) had had it for at least a year, the ONS says.
This is the first time the number of people suffering long Covid for more than a year, according to this long-running survey, has passed half a million.
24 hospital trusts have now declared critical incidents, Shapps says
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was on interview duty for the government this morning. He said 24 hospital trusts have now declared critical incidents. He told Sky News:
There are 137 trusts, there are 24 which are critical, it’s not entirely unusual for hospitals to go critical over the winter with things like the flu pandemic. But there are very real pressures which I absolutely recognise.
Plans to tackle 5.8m NHS waiting list backlog in doubt as Omicron cases rise, say MPs
Good morning. One of the biggest issues worrying government at the moment is what is happening in the NHS. It is often presented as a simple question, will or will not the NHS be “overwhelmed”? (a binary framing for which the government itself is largely responsible, because it made this a key criterion for Covid alert levels), but, as we found out on Tuesday, Boris Johnson cannot define what the NHS being “overwhelmed” means, and that’s because there is no yes-or-no answer. Chris Hopson, chief executive of NHS Providers, made this point well in the course a long thread he posted on Twitter last night.
The Hopson thread, which is well worth reading in full, starts here.
But people will make a judgment about how well the NHS is doing, and whether the government is running it well, regardless of whether or not some notional tipping point has been reached, and a report (pdf) out this morning from the Conservative-dominated Commons health committee should make sobering reading for ministers. Its title is “Clearing the backlog caused by the pandemic”, and its key message is that this may prove impossible. It says that, partly because of Omicron, and partly because of long-term staffing problems (a particular obsession of Jeremy Hunt’s), the government’s plans to tackle the backlog are in jeopardy.
This is from Hunt, the former Tory health secretary and committee chair, summing up his committee’s findings.
The NHS faces an unquantifiable challenge in tackling a backlog of cases caused by the pandemic, with 5.8m patients waiting for planned care and estimates that the figure could double by 2025.
However, our report finds that the government’s recovery plans risk being thrown off course by an entirely predictable staffing crisis. The current wave of Omicron is exacerbating the problem, but we already had a serious staffing crisis, with a burnt-out workforce, 93,000 NHS vacancies and no sign of any plan to address this.
Far from tackling the backlog, the NHS will be able to deliver little more than day to day firefighting unless the government wakes up to the scale of the staffing crisis facing the NHS, and urgently develops a long-term plan to fix the issue.
I will be focusing a lot more on Covid and the NHS today.
And the other main worry for Johnson, of course, is the cost of living crisis. Overnight it was reported that Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, wanted the planned national insurance increase to be shelved. We will be hearing from Rees-Mogg himself in the Commons later.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes its latest data on long Covid.
10.10am: George Eustice, the environment secretary, gives a speech to the Oxford Farming Conference.
10.30am: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, takes questions in the Commons on next week’s business.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
Around 11.30am: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, makes a statement in the Commons about Russia.
Around 12.30pm: Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister, makes a statement to MPs about the Afghan resettlement scheme.
2pm: The UK Health Security Agency publishes its weekly Covid surveillance report.
I will covering UK Covid developments in this blog today, but for wider coronavirus coverage, do read our global live blog.
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Jeremy Hunt, the Conservative chair of the Commons health committee, has been talking about his committee’s report (see 9.40am) in interviews this morning. He told LBC that major staffing shortages across the NHS were not due to money but “finding the staff to spend the money on”. He explained:
Right now, across the NHS, if you ask the people running hospitals, they will not say money is the big issue, it’s finding the staff to spend the money on. We have not just the Omicron staff absence issue but we have permanent staffing shortfalls in every major specialty now across the NHS.
Source: Thanks msn.com