Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has criticised the BBC over the footage of Danish footballer Christian Eriksen’s collapse and resuscitation that was shown during Saturday night’s Euro 2020 game.Over the weekend, the BBC faced a backlash after many felt they did not cut away from UEFA’s live feed – including footage of Eriksen’s distressed partner Sabrina Kvist Jensen as he received treatment from medics – quickly enough.Asked about the scene during an interview with LBC on Monday, Starmer said: “I watched this live and it was awful. There are those rare occasions where you know it’s serious from the start – the players’ expressions who are on the pitch, the fans’ expression – it becomes very sombre very, very quickly.“I really feared the worst. I thought I was watching something no football fan ever, ever wants to watch.”Turning his attention to the BBC, the opposition leader continued: “I thought they could have cut away sooner and I think his partner came onto the pitch at one point and I don’t know why they had the cameras on her at all.“They could have cut early, they should have cut out and I don’t think they… they certainly shouldn’t have shown his partner – I mean how distressing is that?”The BBC apologised on Saturday, insisting they “took our coverage off air as quickly as possible”.In a statement, a BBC spokesperson said: “Everyone at the BBC is hoping Christian Eriksen makes a full recovery.“We apologise to anyone who was upset by the images broadcast. In stadium coverage is controlled by Uefa as the host broadcaster, and as soon as the match was suspended, we took our coverage off air as quickly as possible.”After the incident, the BBC’s in-studio presenter Gary Lineker tweeted: “I understand some of you would have been upset with some of the images shown (we were too). Obviously these were the host pictures and out of our control.“They should have stayed on a wide [shot] of the stadium. Apologies.”He later added: “In 25 years of doing this job, that was the most difficult, distressing and emotional broadcast I’ve ever been involved with.“Thanks to [fellow pundits Cesc Fàbregas, Alex Scott and Micah Richards] for your professionalism, warmth and empathy. Get well soon, Christian Eriksen.”Christian Eriksen has since released his first public statement since suffering a cardiac arrest during Denmark’s Euro 2020 game with Finland, insisting he “feels better” and “won’t give up”.In a statement, he said: “Thank you, I won’t give up. I feel better now - but I want to understand what’s happened. I want to say thank you all for what you did for me.”READ MORE:Christian Eriksen Collapses On Field At The EurosBBC Issues Apology Over Christian Eriksen Footage During Euros Broadcast
Boris Johnson has defended flying to Cornwall for the G7 summit at which he is expected to urge world leaders to take more action against climate change.The prime minister spoke in Newquay having flown from London after PMQs on Wednesday.A journey to the region would take around four hours by rail, a much greener form of transport, or around five hours by car.I’ve arrived in Cornwall for this year’s @G7 where I’ll be asking my fellow leaders to rise to the challenge of beating the pandemic and building back better, fairer and greener.It will be a busy and important Summit, and I can’t wait to get started.#G7UKpic.twitter.com/H4VSQ2SCD6— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) June 9, 2021France has recently moved to ban short-haul internal flights where train alternatives exist in a bid to reduce carbon (CO2) emissions.Around 2.4% of the world’s CO2 emissions come from aviation.But Johnson defended his 250-mile plane journey as he arrived in Cornwall, where he is hoping to help pave the way for an ambitious climate deal at the key Cop26 summit in Glasgow later this year.The PM told reporters: “If you attack my arrival by plane. “I respectfully point out that the UK is actually in the lead in developing sustainable aviation fuel and one of the points in the 10-point plan for our green industrial revolution is to get to jet zero as well as net zero.”Johnson will meet US president Joe Biden for their first face-to-face talks on Thursday before the summit begins on Friday.Related...Award Of Contract To Firm Linked To Dominic Cummings Was Unlawful, Rules High CourtBoris Johnson Must Apologise 'Unreservedly' For Burka Comments, Says Keir Starmer5 Questions You Probably Have About June 21, Answered
A government decision to award a contract to a company whose bosses were friends of adviser Dominic Cummings was unlawful, a High Court judge has ruledCampaigners took legal action against the Cabinet Office over the decision to pay more than £500,000 of taxpayers’ money to market research firm Public First, following the start of the coronavirus crisis in March 2020, and questioned the involvement of Cummings.Lawyers representing the Good Law Project said Cummings, Boris Johnson’s then-chief adviser, wanted focus group and communications support services work to be given to a company whose bosses were his friends.Ministers, and Cummings – who left Downing Street late in 2020 – disputed the Good Law Project’s claim.Mrs Justice O’Farrell, who is based in London, considered rival arguments at a virtual High Court hearing in February and delivered a ruling on Wednesday.The judge said, in her ruling: “The claimant is entitled to a declaration that the decision of 5 June 2020 to award the contract to Public First gave rise to apparent bias and was unlawful.”Jo Maugham, director of the Good Law Project, said: “This is not government for the public good – it is Government for the good of friends of the Conservative Party.“We just don’t understand how the prime minister can run a ccabinet that acts without proper regard for the law or value for public money.“Government has claimed there was no favouritism in the awarding of contracts. But the High Court has held an informed observer would conclude otherwise.”A spokesman for Public First said: “We’re deeply proud of the work we did in the early stages of the pandemic, which helped save lives.“The judge rejected most of the Good Law Project’s claims, not finding actual bias in the awarding of this work, nor any problems with the pace or scale of the award.“Rather, the judge found that weak internal processes gave rise to the appearance of bias. The judge made no criticism whatsoever of Public First anywhere in the judgment.”Related...Boris Johnson Must Apologise 'Unreservedly' For Burka Comments, Says Keir Starmer
Piers Morgan’s wife Celia Walden has admitted that she used to “bitch” about her husband with his former Good Morning Britain co-host Susanna Reid.Celia also revealed that she thinks Susanna - who was often described as Piers’ ‘long-suffering on-screen wife’ - did “the whole wife thing” better than her because she knew how to “manage” the divisive presenter.Speaking to The Sun, Celia revealed: “We used to bitch about him behind his back together. In fact, I always felt she was better at the whole ‘wife’ thing than me. She was very good at managing him.”Celia, who married Piers in 2010, also revealed what it was like living with Piers since he was axed from his job on GMB.“Well, I always think of that famous quote, ‘Behind every great man, there’s a woman rolling her eyes’ — I am that woman,” she said.“Being married to Piers is basically one very long eye roll. But what people don’t realise about Piers is that he’s usually very quiet at home because he’s exhausted himself on whatever interview he’s been doing.“This is the only reason I am sad about him leaving GMB — well, that and the fact I wake up and there he is, staring back at me morning after morning.“But really, he used to come back and by 9am was absolutely flattened, lying there on the sofa, catatonic, not bothering anyone.”She added: “Unfortunately he’s got all his energy back now. Please, someone, just give him a job!“But what’s extraordinary is that before it really was that Marmite thing with him — a split between those who loved or loathed him.“But recently the attention has been 99.9 per cent positive. It’s been like walking around with a national treasure. Very odd.”READ MORE:Boris Johnson’s In A Holding Pattern On Covid, But Is Keir Starmer Too?Denise Welch Brands Piers Morgan A 'F***ing Disgrace' Over Naomi Osaka CommentsPiers Morgan Hints At Good Morning Britain Return
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.“Two down, one to go.” That’s how a Labour MP reacted this week to the news that moderate Gary Smith was just elected to lead the GMB union. It was a reference to the fact that this year’s general secretary elections for the UK’s ‘big three’ trade unions – Unison, Unite and GMB – have seen two victories for candidates seen as friendly to Keir Starmer.While Smith won the GMB contest on Thursday, earlier this year Christina McAnea saw off three more left-wing rivals in the battle to lead Unison. But although Unison is now the largest union in the country, it is the fight to succeed Len McCluskey that is seen as the race with the biggest prize. A clean sweep of ‘moderates’ would deliver for Starmer more union boss support than any Labour leader since the 1950s.Of course, the contests are often more than a straight battle between ‘left’ and ‘right’. As a former Communist, McAnea is hardly a Blairite. She was however seen as the most pragmatic of the contenders for the Unison top job. Crucially, she also became the first female leader of a ‘big’ union, which was fitting given just how many women NHS, council and social care staff make up Unison’s membership.Women make up more than half of the GMB’s membership and after an independent report found evidence of “institutional sexism” among its ranks, some had expected Rehana Azam to clinch the general secretary job. On his victory, Smith acknowledged the sexism findings and vowed to implement reforms. Still, some in the union claim the “women’s vote” was split after another candidate, Giovanna Holt, decided to stand.In fact, “splitting the vote” is often a feature, whether deliberate or unintentional, of general secretary elections. Why? Because unlike virtually every other internal election (say Tory and Labour leader elections), they are run under first past the post rules. When McAnea won the Unison post, her vote was less than the combined total of the three leftwingers who stood against her.And it’s that first past the post factor which is now very much in play in “the big one”, Unite. Centrist Gerard Coyne is up against three leftwing rivals (Steve Turner, Howard Beckett and Sharon Graham) and as a result could end up winning with less than half of the vote. As Turner conceded to me recently: “If we had the same turnout as last time, there ain’t enough votes to go round on a straight three-way [Left] split to defeat” Coyne.Turnouts tend to be low in union elections (the GMB’s this week was just 10.6%, Unite’s last time was about 12%). That’s in part because the Conservative government has refused to allow online balloting (something that’s allowed in political party elections), partly because of a lack of public profile and partly apathy among union members.But given the low turnouts, three Left candidates are often fishing in a small pool for the same votes. After Turner narrowly won last year the crucial nomination of the ‘United Left’ grouping in the union, Beckett opted to still stand. National organiser Graham was always going to stand in her own right too, which means the Left will indeed be split.I understand that all four candidates now have enough branch nominations to formally stand as candidates. With the final deadline for nominations due on Monday, Coyne and Turner are holding back details for now, possibly to gain even more backing over this weekend. Graham was the first to reach the threshold, and Beckett “smashed” through it this week. There are no signs that any will step aside to unite around a single Left candidate but bragging rights over who has most nominations will be valuable.Why does any of this matter beyond internal union affairs? Well, Unite has been Labour’s biggest donor in recent years and still retains a significant presence on the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC). Some even think the stakes are so high that this Unite election may have more long-term impact on the party than the May local elections, or even the forthcoming Batley and Spen by-election.Beckett, who has been suspended from Labour over a tweet about Priti Patel, is almost certain to be reinstated after a reprimand, insiders believe. His supporters think he has the momentum in the race. And if Beckett succeeds McCluskey “he’ll make Len look like a pussycat”, one union source told me. He has already threatened to pull funding for Labour, tweeting his warning just minutes after the party’s Unite staff branch voted to nominate Coyne. Turner, a collegiate trade unionist by nature, has said he would happily work with Starmer.Beckett’s Twitter controversy may well have helped him raise his profile in the Unite election. Similarly, Newsnight’s allegations of his role in moves to unseat Labour MPs may even boost his credentials among some left-minded union members. However, Coyne’s camp believe he’s the only candidate committed to introducing transparency in how Unite spends their money, be that on the £98m hotel complex in Birmingham or on paying more than £2m in libel costs to ex-MP Anna Turley.Coyne may also be boosted by the little-noticed fact that in the Labour leadership election, Starmer won a majority of Unite members’ votes. As Steve Turner, who backed Rebecca Long-Bailey, put it to me recently: “We didn’t win the argument inside our own union...We won it amongst the politicos and that group that loves to talk to themselves...But in the real world out there, where 99.9% of our members reside, they’re not.”And that’s really perhaps why the Unite contest matters. Many of its members, who like both Brexit and state spending, actually voted for Boris Johnson in 2019. If the new general secretary can somehow help Starmer reconnect with those voters, while somehow helping Labour to look more united (the clue is in the union’s name), many of his MPs would be grateful. For the party’s Left, unifying around a single candidate may be just as valuable a lesson too.Related...Here's What The Coronavirus R Rate Is Near YouIs Lockdown Over? When We’ll Know If Covid Rules Are ChangingBoris Johnson Urged To Meet Covid Bereaved Families About Public Inquiry
Portugal has been removed from the UK’s green list, as the government updated its international travel guidance.Grant Shapps confirmed on Thursday that the popular holiday destination would be moved to the amber list from 4am on Tuesday morning.The transport secretary said the decision was made to “make sure that we can do a domestic unlock”.No other countries have been added to the green list.In a broadcast interview, Shapps said: “I want to be straight with people, it’s actually a difficult decision to make, but in the end we’ve seen two things really which caused concern.“One is the positivity rate has nearly doubled since the last review in Portugal and the other is there’s a sort of Nepal mutation of the so-called Indian variant which has been detected.“We just don’t know the potential for that to be vaccine-defeating mutation and simply don’t want to take the risk as we come up to June 21 and the review of the fourth stage of the unlock.”He added: ”“Europe is probably 10 weeks behind but they will catch up and I don’t know exactly what that will mean in terms of the summer but the decisive action today is designed to protect the future, to make sure that we can do a domestic unlock or give ourselves the best possible chance of doing so and that will also help us to unlock international travel given time.”It comes amid fears the importation of new variants of Covid could derail Boris Johnson’s plans to end England’s lockdown at the end of next month.Countries are categorised as red, amber or green, with different Covid quarantine and testing requirements.People returning from green destinations do not need to quarantine, but those arriving from amber locations must self-isolate at home for 10 days.Arrivals from red list countries must enter a government-approved quarantine hotel.The decision is a huge blow for the travel industry, as Portugal was the only viable major tourist destination on the green list when it was announced last month.It is only 17 days since non-essential leisure travel has been permitted from Britain.Its seven-day rate of coronavirus cases per 100,000 people stands at 37.2, up from 30.7 a week earlier.Related...What To Do Now Portugal Is On The Amber Countries ListNo, You Shouldn't Be Taking Antibiotics For CovidWhy The Catch-Up Czar’s Resignation Is Boris Johnson’s ProblemBoris Johnson’s In A Holding Pattern On Covid, But Is Keir Starmer Too?
Boris Johnson has hinted some holiday destinations could be removed from the UK’s green list.There are currently 12 countries, including Portugal and Israel, which people cant travel to without having to quarantine when they return home.The government is expected to issue an update to its international travel rules on Thursday.Asked if more countries would be added to the green list, Johnson said he had to be “cautious”.He pointedly only mentioned countries being moved up a Covid risk level, not down.“We’ve got to continue to put countries on the red list, on the amber list, when that is necessary,” the prime minister said.“We will have no hesitation in moving countries from the green list, to the amber list, to the red list, if we have to do so.”He aded: “The priority is to continue the vaccine rollout, to protect the people of this country.”Travellers returning to Britain from an amber location must quarantine at home for 10 days and take a pre-departure test and two post-arrival tests.People arriving from a red list country have to quarantine in a government-approved hotel.The red list currently consists of 43 nations from which arrivals are deemed to present a high risk of importing Covid.Passengers arriving at Heathrow on direct flights from red list nations will be taken to a dedicated terminal.Johnson’s caution about international travel came as he said people in England would have to “wait a little bit longer” before finding out if lockdown will end on June 21 as planned.Related...Boris Johnson’s In A Holding Pattern On Covid, But Is Keir Starmer Too?Boris Johnson Says Covid Data Currently Suggests Lockdown Can End On June 21
When Boris Johnson unveiled England’s roadmap out of lockdown, he said every step the country took would be “cautious but irreversible”. The prime minister said, all going well, the government would end all restrictions on June 21 – a date newspapers dubbed “freedom day”. And with the highly successful vaccine rollout and the UK recording not one single coronavirus death on Tuesday, hopes are high that the government will not be knocked off course. But that was all before the highly transmissible Indian strain, renamed as the Delta variant by the World Health Organisation, had taken hold. Now, scientists are warning the UK could be in the early stages of a third wave of Covid. Here is everything you need to know. When will we know for sure if lockdown will end on June 21? Ministers are due to meet and review data relating to Covid and the spread of the Delta variant on June 14. Johnson and health secretary Matt Hancock have said on this date they will know enough about whether it is safe to press ahead with the ending of all restrictions. This is known as step four of the unlocking plan. It relates to the removal of social contact limits and the opening of nightclubs and large events. How will ministers decide what to do? The government has four key tests it says must be met before they push ahead with any easing of restrictions. They are: Is the vaccine programme on course? Does evidence show vaccines are reducing hospital admissions and deaths in those vaccinated?Do infection rates risk a surge in hospital admissions which would put unsustainable pressure on the NHS?Are the risks fundamentally changed by new variants of concern?What have scientists said? On Friday, scientists advising the government confirmed that the coronavirus R rate in England has risen slightly and is no longer below 1. If R is above 1, that means the pandemic is growing. But, ministers have always expected R would rise, their greater concern is about hospitalisations and the impact of the vaccines. Scientists are divided over what the data gathered do far can tell us. On Monday, the UK reported more than 3,000 new Covid infections for a sixth day in a row, with many fearing the Delta variant is driving this. Before this, the UK had not hit above that number since April 12.Ravi Gupta, of the University of Cambridge, however, has said although new cases were “relatively low” the Delta variant was fuelling “exponential growth”.The Sage expert added that he believed the UK is in the early stages of a third wave and called for the June 21 unlocking to be delayed. Neil Ferguson, of Imperial College London, said the reopening of society is now “in the balance”.And what about ministers? Vaccines minister Nadhim Zahawi said on Sunday that “very few” of those in hospital with the virus have had both doses of a vaccine, however. Environment secretary George Eustice was asked about a possible delay to the June 21 end-date and said ministers did not “rule anything out”. Johnson, who has reportedly been urged to “get on with” unlocking by senior Tories, said last week that he had seen nothing yet which would mean unlocking would be scrapped. But he did sound a note of caution about rushing out of restrictions, however, adding: “Now, as I’ve said many times, I don’t see anything currently in the data to suggest we have to deviate from the roadmap but we may need to wait.”Related...Boris Johnson’s In A Holding Pattern On Covid, But Is Keir Starmer Too?No Return To Local Lockdowns Or Tiers To Combat Covid Variant, No.10 Signals
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Just six days ago, Matt Hancock’s name was mud, his reputation ground into the dirt by Dominic Cummings’ onslaught. Today, the health secretary returned to his bouncy ways as he seized on the news that the UK reported not a single death from Covid for the first time since last July. “The vaccines are clearly working,” he said.Yet while it may look to some as if Hancock has gone from zero to hero in less than a week, he himself added a note of caution about “cases continuing to rise”. Although in Bolton there is early evidence of levelling off of cases of the ‘Indian’ variant, nearby Blackburn, Rossendale, Ribble Valley and Hyndburn are all seeing spikes.Although case numbers are low overall, it’s no wonder many in government are concerned. Week on week, cases have gone up more than 31% and, crucially, hospitalisations by more than 23%. That’s two of the lights on the government’s dashboard flashing red, just as the zero deaths figure is flashing a healthy green (down 10% on the week). Given the lags we are all by now familiar with, those deaths may not stay zero in coming weeks.Despite the concern, Boris Johnson is not worried enough to give anyone an update on whether his planned June 21 unlocking will go ahead as planned. In our Lobby briefing today, we learned he didn’t even brief his spokesman beforehand. All the spokesman would do was point us towards the PM’s cake-and-eat-it words on the pandemic last Thursday (the “current” data didn’t suggest any need for delay “but we may need to wait”).The problem with relying on the PM’s words from five days ago is that, well, a week is a very long time in Covid politics. Johnson got married on Saturday and spent Sunday and Monday on a “mini-moon” – a phrase that sounds like a brief display of his buttocks, but is a very short honeymoon, apparently (though perhaps it means both). It all feels a bit like the early pandemic, when his marital concerns (a divorce then, a wedding now) mean Covid is on the backburner.And in many ways, it feels as if the government machine is not very interested in saying much about Covid for the rest of this week. Grant Shapps has his travel update on Thursday but few expect much change. Michael Gove’s reviews of covid certification and social distancing look either dead on arrival or delayed to June 14. Jonathan Van-Tam said two weeks ago we would have a “ranging shot” of the transmissibility of the Indian variant by last week. It looks like that estimate may not materialise this week either.With the Commons in recess, there seems to be a generalised holding pattern going on, in political and policy terms. The public seemed to have more of a sense of urgency about Covid than the PM this weekend, with thousands of young people queuing for their jab outside Twickenham stadium when they could have just packed the pubs.But the virus doesn’t take a parliamentary recess or a bank holiday break. The rise in case numbers is concerning the most even-handed of scientists. The Bank of England hoped for a V-shaped economic recovery this year, but some current graph projections look worryingly V-shaped on Covid cases. Scotland and England are on the same trajectory, though Wales (which has 10% more people given first doses) is not.The uncertainty is perhaps why Nicola Sturgeon essentially paused her own roadmap today. While the public have not been told any updates on the Indian/delta variant’s transmissibility, maybe Sturgeon has? I understand Keir Starmer is currently holding off calling for any delay to the June 21 unlocking date, until after he gets a private briefing from Sage.Starmer’s main problem is that no matter what he says, or how correctly he calls it, the public may not be listening. “Keir’s first 16 months have been the politics of the pandemic, and his next eight months may be the politics of the pandemic. It’s very, very difficult,” one insider says. More than anything Labour says or does, Starmer’s team are acutely aware that the Batley and Spen by-election next month could reflect vaccine jab numbers, whether voters can order a drink at the bar and where they can go on holiday.In the meantime, what Starmer can hope to do is show the public what kind of man he is, as well as what kind of politician. His latest Piers Morgan’s Life Stories interview on ITV tonight shows him choking back tears as he talks about his disabled mum, his strained relationship with his dad, and the death of his wife’s mother. The New Statesman had some fascinating polling last week that 37% of voters say they just don’t know enough about him to make a judgement yet. His team see that as a huge opportunity, not a weakness, and believe interviews like this could shift that dial.Picking a popular ITV programme was a smart move for Starmer because he needs to reassure a key demographic that he’s a walking, talking human being. Moreover, Labour’s lingering problems with working class voters were highlighted not just in Hartlepool but in London on May 6. While Sadiq Khan made gains with some upper middle class voters, this fascinating breakdown by Lewis Baston points to swings towards the Tories in key council estate areas in deprived parts of the city.Like many working class kids who went on to do things their parents never dreamed of, he’s clearly uncomfortable with any idea he would exploit his private life for public consumption. Yet in many ways, Starmer embodies the aspiration story (dad a factory worker, son highest prosecutor in the land) that Labour needs to reconnect with voters it has lost.While the Covid narrative dominates all our lives, Starmer has to keep reminding us he’ll be ready for the moment the conversation moves on to something else. With politics more volatile than ever, it’s even possible he too could move from zero to hero if he can use this May’s election defeats to show a sense of urgency for change.Related...No Return To Local Lockdowns Or Tiers To Combat Covid Variant, No.10 SignalsPeter Andre Inadvertently Sends Boris Johnson A Very Rude Message After Wedding To Carrie SymondsIan Hislop Savages ‘Idiot’ Dominic Cummings In Brutal Have I Got News For You Takedown
Piers Morgan claims he has been approached about a potential return to Good Morning Britain.The TV presenter left the show in March following comments he made about the Duchess of Sussex.Good Morning Britain has reportedly suffered a decline in viewers since his departure and he said there had been contact from a third party over a comeback.He told The Sun: “I have had some quite random third-party feelers put out to see if I would consider a return to the show.“I don’t want to say on the record who, but a pretty close third-party.“As the Americans say, they reached out — there have been approaches to test the water in the wake of their obvious ratings issues.“It makes me sad to see all the hard work we did to beat the BBC in viewing numbers evaporate so fast.“It’s their problem to work out … but never say never.”ITV has been contacted for comment.The presenter said he did not believe what Meghan said during her headline-making interview with Oprah Winfrey.The duchess said she was ignored when raising concerns about her mental health and that racist comments had been made before the birth of her son, Archie.It later emerged Meghan made a formal complaint to ITV about Morgan.READ MORE:Susanna Reid Left Speechless After Bill Turnbull Jokes About Piers Morgan Live On GMBPiers Morgan To Grill Labour Leader Keir Starmer In Special Episode Of Life StoriesPiers Morgan Attempts To Give Alistair Campbell Advice After He Lands Good Morning Britain Role
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Debate rages over Dominic Cummings’ bombshell evidence to MPs and whether he, a man once at the very heart of power, is a trustworthy source on what went on in Downing Street. But when the former Vote Leave chief described his erstwhile boss Boris Johnson as “just like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”, it certainly had a ring of truth. And perhaps never more than today, as it was confirmed what has long been alleged: that the Conservative Party and Tory donors did indeed initially fund an expensive revamp of the prime minister’s Downing Street flat. A report by the government’s new ethics adviser, Christopher Geidt, said Johnson acted “unwisely” by embarking on the refurb without “rigorous regard for how this would be funded”. Johnson was not aware Tory donor David Brownlow and his party had settled the bill – said to be £200,000 – and the work began in April, when the PM was hospitalised with coronavirus. The PM has since made a declaration of interests and settled the bill. As such, Geidt ruled that Johnson did not breach the ministerial code. “Chaos isn’t that bad – it means people have to look to me to see who is in charge,” Cummings claimed was Johnson’s mantra. Separately, Geidt found health secretary Matt Hancock guilty in “technical terms” of a “minor breach” of the code, in that he failed to declare he had retained shares in his sister’s firm Topwood Limited when it won an NHS contract.Which, on a week filled with revelations about the government’s handling of Covid, rather begs the question: when, if ever, will chaos become a destructive force for Johnson’s administration? Keir Starmer vowed Labour would be a “constructive opposition” under his leadership. His cautious approach has not been rewarded by voters, however, with a recent YouGov poll putting the Conservatives nearly 20 points ahead of Labour. Our latest Westminster voting intention has the Conservatives leading by 18 points:Con: 46% (+1 from 11-12 May)Lab: 28% (-2) Lib Dem: 8% (+1) Green: 8% (n/c)SNP: 5% (n/c)Reform UK: 2% (n/c)https://t.co/FzsJEF0ro4pic.twitter.com/Hki2AM0ime— YouGov (@YouGov) May 22, 2021Despite Cummings’ many grenades this week, which included him confirming under oath he heard Johnson say that he’d rather see “bodies pile high” than order a third lockdown – something the PM denied in parliament – Labour has not called for anyone to resign. This has frustrated some on the left in the party, including MPs in the Socialist Campaign Group who could not hold back and defied Starmer with a statement of their own calling for ministers’ resignations. Those close to Starmer believe he looks across the despatch box at a PM complacent about the constant mayhem and how damaging it could be to his authority over time. But, however much Labour may wish to portray Johnson as a clown, it would be foolish of them to believe the PM is blind to threats. Despite the successful vaccine rollout, another ‘red wall’ victory in Hartlepool and him weathering all criticism of the government’s handling of Covid, Johnson has taken steps to maintain his position. As HuffPost UK reported last week, lockdown-sceptic Graham Brady could face a challenge as chair of the powerful 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs.The man vying to replace him, Robert Goodwill, is a noted ally of Johnson’s and believes the group should be less critical – something which would come in handy if the roadmap out of lockdown slips because of the India variant. And when it comes to Geidt’s role as adviser on ministerial standards, he has no power to launch investigations of his own and, Downing Street confirmed last month, the prime minister remains the “ultimate arbiter” of the ministerial code.Meaning that, when put under pressure over his or his ministers’ conduct, Johnson reserves the right to mark his own homework. Perhaps the only unknown factor after this extraordinary week is what level of chaos Cummings has unleashed. Related...Five Of The Worst Things Viktor Orban Has DoneFive Lessons Learned From Dominic Cummings’ Covid Testimony
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening. 1 No.10 was a Covid chaos zoneThe whole point of Dominic Cummings’ evidence was to provide the first draft of the history of the government’s handling of the pandemic. While his personal opinions on what went wrong can be dismissed, his eye-witness testimony cannot be easily shrugged off. And on that score, he didn’t disappoint, giving vivid accounts of the chaos in Downing Street as Covid hit landfall in March 2020.His description of the events of over two key days allowed the public a glimpse of just how Boris Johnson runs, or doesn’t run, his government. On the “insane day” of March 12, while the PM clearly had no choice but to deal with Trump’s plea to join a bombing raid on Iraq, Cummings implied that his boss allowed partner Carrie Symonds’ to waste valuable press office time with complaints about a story about their dog Dilyn.But it was the following day that was more telling and more worrying. First, a senior department of health official confided there was no plan for a pandemic. Then deputy cabinet secretary Helen McNamara allegedly said “I think we are absolutely fucked, I think this country is heading for a disaster. I think we are going to kill thousands of people.” Those words are sure to be pored over in any public inquiry.Just as concerning was the picture painted by Cummings of the lack of data available, with him having to scribble on a whiteboard and an iPad a rough model of how many hospitalisations were happening, based on snippets of early info from NHS chief Simon Stevens. So too was the revelation that the Cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill so misunderstood Covid that he suggested the PM go on TV to tell people to have ‘chickenpox parties’. 2 Hancock was to blame for virtually everythingIn what felt like a Whitehall version of the Assassin’s Creed video game, Cummings spent a lot of his time trying to eviscerate Matt Hancock’s reputation. The allegations were hugely serious, from lying about PPE stocks and testing in care homes to his decision to announce a 100,000 daily test target while the PM was “on his deathbed”. Yet the relentless nature of the onslaught (who cares how many times Cummings called for him to be sacked?) tipped from public interest to private vendetta.What also furthered the impression that this was about personalities was his huge praise for Rishi Sunak and Dominic Raab (who both happened to be Brexiteers, while Hancock was a Remainer). Cummings’ curious memory loss about discussions of the EatOutToHelpOut scheme, plus his failure to criticise any decisions by old boss Michael Gove, suggested chairman Greg Clark was right when he asked if this was about ‘settling scores’.Cummings also failed to fully credit Hancock for his strong push for a second lockdown in the autumn, while at the same time playing down the chancellor’s concerns about the idea. The lens was so skewed that he even said Sunak’s real worry was that the department of health could impose a circuit breaker but had no plan for what happened next. Most curiously, for a man who blogged at length about systems and processes, his real focus was on the central role of “brilliant” individuals, be they officials or ministers. 3 Boris Johnson was off his trolleyThe vituperative attacks on Hancock felt like a sideshow compared to Cummings’ cold, matter of fact descriptions of Boris Johnson as being “unfit” to be prime minister. This was the PM’s former chief adviser saying he was never really upto the job, but he was at least better than Jeremy Corbyn. Johnson changed his mind so much, on everything from Covid to free school meals, that he looked “just like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other.” Sunak was at his wits end about the trolley too, we learned.Funnily enough the trolley analogy was first used by former Cameron spinner Craig Oliver to describe how Johnson wrote two different Telegraph columns for and against Brexit. But Cummings’s more damning charge was that the PM was fundamentally unserious about Covid policy. Perhaps his most telling line was this: “There is a great misunderstanding people have, that because it [Covid] nearly killed him, therefore he must have taken it seriously.” Narrator: he didn’t.We heard of Johnson’s talk of injecting himself with Covid on live TV, his regret that he didn’t behave like the Mayor in Jaws and keep the beaches/shops/pubs open, his glib lines about letting ‘the bodies pile high’ and that the virus was “only killing 80-year-olds” (a charge pointedly not denied in PMQs). All felt like jokes that curdled quickly into a cold contempt for the very public he was meant to serve.Add the claim Johnson “changes his mind 10 times a day” and disappears on holiday at key moments, and that’s a withering verdict on any politician, let alone a PM in a pandemic. No Wonder Johnson looked distinctly rattled when Keir Starmer quoted Cummings central admission: “When the public needed us most, the government failed”. 4 Cummings sounded as unserious as JohnsonHaving learned from his Rose Garden press conference disaster, Cummings at least tried to open with an apology for his failures, including not hitting the “panic button” for lockdown earlier. Yet it felt like a strange humblebrag, that somehow he was a genius who spotted the problem but failed to convey that genius. It reminded me of the job interviewees who say their only flaw is that they are a perfectionist.In a similar vein, his line that it was ”completely crazy that I should have been in such a senior position...I’m not smart” was a laughable attempt at self-effacement. In the next breath he expressed frustration that he wasn’t running the country instead of the elected PM, saying he tried to “create a structure around him..to push things through against his wishes”. Yet this was a man who stuck to his ludicrous specsavers defence for his trip to Barnard Castle.Cummings’ line that Covid needed a “kind of dictator”, a scientist with “kingly authority”, just also proved how unserious he really is. So too were his references to Spider-Man memes and the film Independence Day (which the bereaved families group felt belittled the gravity of their loss). When he kept saying he felt like he was in a movie, he came across someone as woefully out of his depth as the boss he ridiculed. Asked if he too was unfit for No.10, he just sidestepped the question like a politician. And his charge that it was “crackers” that Johnson was in power suffered from the slight problem of his enthusiastic work to keep him there. 5 Governing properly is really hard, isn’t it?The lessons learned about Cummings’ own character were possibly just as telling as lessons learned about the pandemic. His own credibility as a witness may already be fatally undermined by his Durham drive. But his testimony had some clear contradictions too. Criticising Carrie Symonds’ “unethical” interference in No.10 appointments may have provoked a hollow laugh from Sonia Khan, whom he had frogmarched by a policeman out of Downing Street without due process.Most of all, when the crunch came, this would-be iconoclast, the arch-disrupter also revealed a telling lack of nerve in the real world: he revealed he didn’t push for lockdown earlier because he was “frightened” he would get it wrong. That in itself was a rare admission that running a government really is very different from running a referendum campaign. The stakes are all too real.Cummings’ most serious charge was left for the latter part of his nearly seven hours testimony: “Tens of thousands of people died, who didn’t need to die.” The irony is that Johnson seems to have finally learned the lesson of hard lockdowns and slow releases only since January – after his chief adviser left office. Cummings today got his blame game retaliation in first ahead of the public inquiry. As the PM copes with the new Indian variant, his best answer to the criticism would be to get the current unlockdown right.Related...8 News Stories You May Have Missed Because Of Dominic CummingsThe 14 Most Explosive Claims From Dominic Cummings’ Covid EvidenceBoris Johnson Does Not Deny Saying Covid Was 'Only Killing 80-Year-Olds'
Boris Johnson has been left licking his wounds after Dominic Cummings dropped bombshell upon bombshell on the prime minister over his handling of Covid. The former aide sent shockwaves through Westminster at his long-awaited Commons committee hearing, in which he called for health secretary Matt Hancock to be sacked over alleged lies and said the PM was “unfit” for office. In a frankly bizarre turn, the PM’s ex-adviser also claimed that in the early days of the pandemic, Johnson boasted he would have Covid injected into him live on television by chief medical officer Chris Whitty. Amidst all this, you may have missed some other important news.Let’s get you caught up with some of today’s other headlines. 1, The Hillsborough trial collapsed Two retired police officers and an ex-solicitor accused of altering police statements after the Hillsborough disaster have been acquitted. The trial against Donald Denton, 83, retired detective chief inspector Alan Foster, 74, and solicitor Peter Metcalf, 71, collapsed on Wednesday after a judge ruled there was no case to answer. The three men denied charges of perverting the course of justice after it was alleged they tried to minimise the blame on South Yorkshire Police.Mr Justice William Davis said the amended statements were intended for a public inquiry into safety at sports grounds, however, and that as such it was not a course of public justice.Ninety-six Liverpool fans died as a result of the crush at the FA Cup semi-final match at Sheffield Wednesday’s ground on 15 April 1989.Margaret Aspinall, whose son James was among them, said the ruling was “an absolute mockery” and a “shambles”.“We’re always the losers no matter what the outcome today,” she said. 2, Raab met Israeli and Palestinian leaders for peace talksPrime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu met this afternoon, at the Prime Minister's Office in Jerusalem, with British Foreign Secretary @DominicRaab.PM Netanyahu: "It's good to see you again in better times and we'll work together to make them even better. "https://t.co/9DnE1y1v79pic.twitter.com/guleNV5PwS— PM of Israel (@IsraeliPM) May 26, 2021Dominic Raab met with Israeli prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas as he reiterated the UK supports a two-state solution in the Israel-Gaza conflict. The foreign secretary called for a “lasting peace” on Wednesday and visited both Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories following last week’s ceasefire.The ceasefire was declared on Friday after 11 days of fighting killed more than 250 people, the vast majority in Gaza, in what was the worst violence in the conflict since 2014. Raab tweeted: “Vital we make progress towards a more positive future for Israelis and Palestinians.” 3, Five arrested after Black Lives Matter activist shotFive men have been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder over the shooting of black equal rights activist Sasha Johnson.The 27-year-old Oxford graduate is fighting for her life in hospital after being injured at a party in Peckham, south-east London in the early hours of Sunday.The Metropolitan Police said that officers detained three teenagers and two older men on suspicion of other offences, before they were all also arrested on suspicion of attempted murder.The first suspect, a 17-year-old boy, was held on suspicion of possession of an offensive weapon and drug dealing on Tuesday afternoon.Police then raided an address in Peckham where they arrested three men – aged 18, 19 and 28 – on suspicion of affray and possession with intent to supply class B drugs.A fifth man, aged 25, was arrested later that evening following a car chase, also in Peckham, on suspicion of affray and failing to stop for police.All five have also since been arrested on suspicion of attempted murder. 4, Disgraced MP Rob Roberts avoids by-election Disgraced MP Rob Roberts may escape a by-election despite breaching sexual misconduct rules. The MP for Delyn faces being suspended from the Commons for six weeks after repeated unwanted advances to a member of staff during which asked him to be “less alluring”. Roberts has been stripped of the Tory whip but the way recall laws are drawn up means he cannot face the prospect of losing his seat.The sanction was proposed by the panel set up in 2020 to deal with cases raised under the Independent Complaints and Grievance Scheme.But the Recall of Parliament Act was passed in 2015 and only allows the prospect of a by-election for sanctions imposed on the recommendation of the Commons Committee on Standards.House of Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg will invite the “relevant bodies” to consider whether the laws need to be changed to enable the recall process to be triggered.MPs need to approve the six-week suspension. 5, SNP in talks with Scottish Greens over ‘formal’ government Nicola Sturgeon has revealed her SNP government is in talks with the Scottish Greens over a formal co-operation agreement. The first minister has said that by working together the two parties “can help build a better future for Scotland” as she set out her priorities following the SNP victory in the Holyrood election earlier this month.She stressed discussions between the two parties – which are being supported by the civil service – will continue over the coming weeks, and said it is “not inconceivable” that they could see Green MSPs joining the SNP in the Scottish Government.Both parties support the case for Scottish independence. 6, ‘Super mutant’ virus fearsCoronavirus is going to do “weird” things going forward, and “super mutant viruses” may emerge, an expert has warned.Professor Ravi Gupta, professor of clinical microbiology at the University of Cambridge, said that while this would not necessarily be a bad thing, the virus would try to become more efficient at transmission as more people are protected.He added that coronavirus is unpredictable and we should not be overconfident at any stage.Asked about how to prepare for future variants, Gupta told a press briefing: “I think that we have good vaccines, now we need to keep the pressure on vaccine designers, manufacturers to adapt vaccines.” He added: “Secondly, the virus is going to do some weird things. I mean, this is just the beginning.“I think it’s going to recombine, you’re going to get super mutant viruses, I believe.“But that’s not not necessarily a terrible thing, but the virus is going to do very unexpected things because the amount of pressure on it is going to be severe, so it will adapt. 7, Chris Grayling makes plea over ‘tragic’ decline of hedgehogs Former Tory cabinet minister Christ Grayling has urged the government to do more to stop the decline of hedgehogsThe Epsom and Ewell MP said the “catastrophic loss” of the small, spiky mammals was due to a mixture of habitat loss, the reduction of wildlife and protections available.Speaking in a Commons debate on the Environment Bill, he said: “It is tragic, back in the 1950s there was something like 30 million hedgehogs in this country, now it’s estimated to be about 1.5 million, that is a catastrophic loss.”“When I was a child, hedgehogs were around in the garden all the time, I have never as an adult seen a hedgehog in my garden or anywhere near it, this is a tragic loss and one we have to work to reverse.”Too many species he said had declined in numbers, adding “we should be protecting them all”.Saying hedgehog numbers had declined by 95% in recent years, he asked the government to address “shortcomings” in current legislation, adding: “I hope we’ll all be hedgehog champions going forwards and I’d say to the minister we’re going to be holding her feet to the fire to make sure her department delivers.” 8, It’s Jeremy Corbyn’s birthdayAnd finally ... Jeremy Corbyn is celebrating his 72th birthday. The former Labour leader shows no sign of slowing down campaigning, however, as he plans on celebrating the milestone with an online event entitled ‘Happy Birthday Jeremy – Restore the Whip’. Corbyn sits as an independent MP after his successor Keir Starmer suspended him from the Parliamentary Labour Party following his claim that anti-Semitism in the party on his watch had been “overstated” by his opponents. He remains a member of the Labour Party, however. At the event will be comedian Alexei Sayle, as well as a number of left-wing MPs, including Richard Burgon and Zarah Saltana. There were no well wishes from Dominic Cummings, however, who told MPs as part of his marathon evidence session: “There’s a very profound question in the nature of our political system, any system that leaves people with the choice between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn is obviously a system that’s gone extremely badly wrong.” Related...The 14 Most Explosive Claims From Dominic Cummings’ Covid EvidenceDominic Cummings Stands By 'Testing Eyesight' Reason For Barnard Castle TripDominic Cummings Says Matt Hancock Lied And Should Be Sacked
Boris Johnson has not denied he said “Covid is only killing 80-year-olds” when arguing against imposing a second lockdown in the autumn of 2020.According to ITV, Dominic Cummings is set to use his appearance at a Commons committee on Wednesday to claim the prime minister made the comment.Speaking during PMQs, Keir Starmer asked Johnson if the allegation was true.“Can I remind the prime minister that over 83,000 people over 80 lost their lives to this virus,” he said.“Does the prime minister accept that he used the words ‘Covid was only killing 80-year-olds’, or words to those effect?”But in his reply, Johnson did not answer the question. Instead he said only: “I am absolutely confident that we took the decisions in the best interests of the British people.”In his evidence to MPs, Cummings, who was Johnson’s top adviser when the Covid pandemic hit, made a series of explosive allegations.He said ministers, officials and advisers had fallen “disastrously short” of the standards the public should expect in a crisis.Cummings suggested Johnson did not chair early meetings of Cobra because he did not consider the virus to be serious.He said the prime minister thought the issue was like “swine flu” and did not need to cause concern.And he said that Johnson had considered being injected with coronavirus by chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty to prove it was not that serious.Cummings also said Matt Hancock, the health secretary, should have been fired for having repeatedly “lied”.Related...Dominic Cummings Says Matt Hancock Lied And Should Be SackedNo.10 Believed UK Was 'Absolutely F***ed' By Covid, Reveals Dominic CummingsBoris Johnson 'Dismissed Covid As Swine Flu And Joked He Would Be Injected Live On TV'
It’s the moment Westminster has been awaiting for weeks - Dominic Cummings will this morning give evidence to MPs which is expected to be highly critical of the government’s handling of coronavirus.The appearance by Boris Johnson’s maverick former adviser is sure to offer political theatre.And the personal beef that has developed between the prime minister and his former Brexit brother-in-arms Cummings adds to the drama.Here’s what to expect from the lockdown-dodging ex-Downing Street supremo.What’s happening? Cummings is giving evidence on Covid to a joint committee of MPs from the science and health select committees, chaired by ex-cabinet minister Greg Clark and Jeremy Hunt respectively.The session is expected to last a mammoth four hours, giving TV broadcasters a tantalising dilemma over whether to switch away from Cummings to cover Johnson at prime minister’s questions.MPs will quiz Cummings on four areas:Pandemic preparedness and the first lockdown.Non-pharmaceutical interventions such as Test and Trace and the effect the ex-aide’s infamous Barnard Castle trip had on public policy.The vaccination programme.Decision-making and controversy around the second lockdown.Okay, sounds interesting, but why is everyone so excited?Well, ever since Johnson effectively provoked war with Cummings by phoning newspaper editors to blame him for leaks against the government, the former adviser has been sharpening his tongue for revenge.But many also feel that the testimony of such a senior figure in Downing Street’s response to the pandemic, who only left in December, could and should carry weight regardless of any ulterior motives.While Cummings’ verbal evidence is expected to be enlightening, many will be looking to the texts, emails and other documents he provides to the committee for corroboration of his claims, given he may not be exactly the most trustworthy witness following the Barnard Castle “eye test”.The ex-aide has promised to provide “the only copy of a crucial historical document from Covid decision-making”, and all eyes will be on this.What will Cummings say?Cummings’ communication skills are now well known, with his “take back control” mantra contributing to the Brexit campaign’s against-the-odds victory and being immortalised by Benedict Cumberbatch in a Channel 4 film.And true to form, the former Vote Leave chief has spent the days leading up to the inquiry seizing control of the news agenda with an interminably long Twitter thread of his gripes and concerns, so we sort of know what to expect.‘Herd immunity’ Sir Patrick Vallance, the govt chief scientific adviser, says the thinking behind current approach to #coronavirus is to try and "reduce the peak" and to build up a "degree of herd immunity so that more people are immune to the disease". #R4TodayMore: https://t.co/1FmqX3WPh7pic.twitter.com/pMHknCAobr— BBC Radio 4 Today (@BBCr4today) March 13, 2020On the first lockdown, Cummings is expected to argue that the UK should have followed the lesson of Asian countries and locked down much earlier.His central claim will be that government scientists like Patrick Vallance were instead pursuing a so-called “herd immunity” strategy to let the virus spread and minimise the chance of a second peak.In an example of how outspoken he is likely to be, Cummings tweeted that behavioural scientists influencing policy in February 2020 “disastrously” made arguments against a lockdown “based on nonsense memes like ‘Asians all do as they’re told, it won’t work here’”.Instead of locking down, the government wanted to allow Covid to spread but to “flatten the curve” of its growth in order to avoid a second peak, he will say.Blaming pandemic planning which was “AWOL” and a “disaster”, he said: “If we’d had the right preparations and competent people in charge, we would probably have avoided lockdown one, [and] *definitely* no need for lockdowns two and three”.‘Bodies pile high’"The PM said he would rather have... ‘bodies pile high' than implement another lockdown”Labour’s Keir Starmer asks Boris Johnson if he made the reported remarks?"No" says Boris Johnson, adding he had to make “very difficult decisions” on Covid#PMQshttps://t.co/AnMqhYH2fNpic.twitter.com/Xhew9y25br— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) April 28, 2021Perhaps Cummings’ most damaging testimony will centre on Johnson’s personal conduct in the autumn when he overruled official scientific advice and declined to impose a short “circuit-breaker” lockdown.ITV’s Robert Peston reported that Cummings will allege that Johnson said “Covid is only killing 80 year-olds” as he argued against imposing restrictions.Several reports also suggest the PM did not want to repeat what he felt was a mistake in March by bowing to pressure to impose the first lockdown.Cummings will allege that Johnson said he’d rather be like his “hero” – the mayor in the film Jaws who kept the beaches open despite evidence of a huge shark waiting in the water to eat people.Cummings is sure to be asked if the PM said he would “rather see the bodies pile high” than later impose a third lockdown - comments denied by No.10 amid the briefing war between Cummings and his former boss.But several journalists, including BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg, have said they have sources corroborating the account and calling into question No.10’s denial.There have also been suggestions that government officials are worried that Johnson will be accused of missing five key Cobra emergency committee meetings at the start of the pandemic because he was working on a book about Shakespeare – claims denied by No.10.Cummings has also already accused Johnson of lacking “competence and integrity”, citing a “possibly illegal” plan for Tory donors to pay for renovations of the Downing Street flat he shares with fiancee Carrie Symonds, although this may not come up in the committee.A hard rain’s a-gonna fallTrue to form for an adviser that once terrified civil servants by promising a “hard rain” would fall on them while he was in Downing Street, Cummings has repeatedly criticised Whitehall’s response to Covid.He has already blamed the “particularly awful” management of health officials for delays to mass testing despite clear advice from No.10 to treat it “like a wartime project”.Health secretary Matt Hancock has also been accused by the ex-aide of presiding over a “smoking ruin” of a health department.Not one to leave anyone out, Cummings has also turned his fire on the initial “secrecy” of advice from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), while suggesting that “deep institutional wiring” of political parties and the civil service “program destructive behaviour by putting the wrong people in wrong jobs with destructive incentives”.How will Johnson respond and what impact will he have?No.10 has so far been reluctant to engage with Cummings’ barbs, believing that the public are focused on the present success of the vaccine rollout and a future free of restrictions, rather than worrying about what happened in a year most want to forget.But Labour leader Keir Starmer is sure to seize on Cummings’ evidence at prime minister’s questions, and it remains to be seen whether Johnson will be able to resist having a dig at his now-nemesis while he continues giving evidence.Reports suggest Cummings wants Johnson out of No.10, but given a recent YouGov poll said only 14% of the public trust him to tell the truth about the pandemic response, he may have his work cut out.The key could be in the written evidence, or if Cummings has damning recordings of the PM’s comments at the time.But even then, the two select committees will control what is published and may hold back documents if they risk breaching the Official Secrets Act, or if they are unrelated to the inquiry.Many may also ask what exactly Cummings was actually doing himself during the pandemic, as the most senior adviser in Downing Street.And questions on whether his own lockdown-breaching trip to Barnard Castle undermined public compliance with restrictions could prove more than awkward.Related...Boris Johnson Accused Of ‘Utter Shambles’ Over New Travel Curbs For Covid HotspotsBoris Johnson's Burka Comments Gave Impression Tories Are ‘Insensitive To Muslims’Will Boris Johnson Weather The Cummings Storm?
Kim Leadbeater, the sister of murdered former MP Jo Cox, has been selected as Labour’s candidate for the Batley and Spen by-election.Cox represented the seat until she was shot and stabbed by a far-right extremist in June 2016.A by-election was triggered earlier this month by the decision of Tracey Brabin, who succeeded Cox, to step down as an MP following her election as the first mayor of West Yorkshire.Labour is desperate to hold on to the seat following the party’s crushing defeat in another “red wall” by-election in Hartlepool earlier this month.The result triggered a bitter round of recriminations, with the Labour left – marginalised under Sir Keir – gunning for the party leader.Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott – a close ally of ex-leader Jeremy Corbyn – said it could be “curtains” for Starmer if they lose again.No date has been been set for the contest. Labour is defending a majority of 3,525 from the 2019 general election. Related...Brexit Is Back, Whether Either Party Likes It Or NotWhy Union Boss Elections Are As Crucial As 'Red Wall' Votes For Keir Starmer
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.There were some truly concerning new figures on Covid today, confirming a sharp spike in cases of the Indian variant (a 160% increase over the past week). It appears that its doubling time is just five days, even scarier than the 14-day doubling time of the Kent variant that caused such devastation in January.But in No.10 and in key departments across Whitehall, it wasn’t the pandemic that was the hot political issue of the day, it was Brexit. Or rather, the post-Brexit trade deal with Australia that has caused a pretty tense turf war between international trade secretary Liz Truss and environment secretary (and erstwhile Cornish farmer) George Eustice.Earlier this week, the FT lifted the lid on the row over Truss’s tariff-free plan, revealing she was backed by Brexit minister Lord Frost, while Eustice had the support of Michael Gove. A clear-the-air meeting was held this morning to thrash things out, and early leaks suggest that Truss emerged the happier.The ultimate arbiter is of course Boris Johnson, who chaired the meeting. And he pretty much gave the game away in PMQs on Wednesday with his bold talk of UK farmers’ ability to “make the most of free trade”.That didn’t sound like the protective quotas that Eustice had been hoping for. The Sun’s Harry Cole has the scoop revealing the plan is for a 15-year transition to tariff-free status, which feels like a big win for Truss but may be enough to avoid Eustice having to resign.What’s striking about this particular row is that it’s not the classic Remainers v Brexiteers split that it might have been under Theresa May. It’s more like ‘Truss-tafarians’ versus ‘Cornish Georgians’. In fact, allies of Eustice acidly point out that Truss actually campaigned for Remain in the 2016 referendum (famously tweeting “I am backing remain as I believe it is in Britain’s economic interest”). She has since claimed she got it wrong.By contrast, Eustice himself has a long track record of wanting out of the EU, stretching back to his UKIP days. He even quit the May government in protest at her foot-dragging on the issue. Yet Eustice’s sin, like Michael Gove’s, is to be seen as too pragmatic a Brexiteer. Since the Leave vote he’s made no secret of wanting a workable exit that entails compromises. It’s not just about farmers’ interests, it’s about adaptable Toryism.Johnson, who famously wrote two columns for and against Brexit, perhaps now firmly sides with Truss because, like her, he has the zealotry of a convert. And that’s why a normally dull Whitehall turf war over agriculture really takes on significance: because it is a test case for Brexit itself, and how far the PM wants to go to get trade deals with other countries to send a message about buccaneering Britain.Even if this deal goes ahead, it will amount to a tiny portion over the UK’s overall trade. Instead, it is the signal a successful deal sends to the US and south America, where the big agriculture opportunities (and dangers) lie, that seems to matter most to the PM.The real issue is not hormones in beef or chlorine on chicken, but lead in Johnson’s pencil on Brexit. When Truss said negotiators were “in a sprint” to get an outline deal by June, it felt very much like a Brexit virility test, with the results read out at the G7 summit in Cornwall (ironically, Eustice’s backyard, and it now seems like a sprint followed by a marathon of transition).Some farmers, like some fishermen, will feel this wasn’t the Brexit they voted for. But it would be in keeping with Johnson’s act now-think later approach to try to secure a down-and-dirty trade deal that he hopes he can perhaps ameliorate later by chucking money at farmers (as he has with fishermen). Will he also think his Northern Ireland protocol problems can be solved by a similar 15-year transition?Meanwhile, more Labour MPs think it’s time their party grasped the nettle of this whole issue. In our latest Commons People podcast, Keir Starmer’s new PPS Sharon Hodgson told us: “We’ve got to stop being scared of poking the tiger, we’ve got to stop being scared that this will upset people to actually point out that his Brexit had holes in it, we’re not getting the best Brexit we could have got.”Hodgson, who has for years represented Sunderland, the crucible of the Vote Leave referendum victory, stressed there would be “freedoms and flexibility” from Brexit but said more Leave voters were now admitting there would be “short term pain”. Her case was similar to that of Rachel Reeves, who recently said Labour should point out the holes in Johnson’s exit deal.As ever, the key to this is how to frame the debate. Hodgson is north east born and bred and carries an authenticity that stems from being rooted in her local area. And when she says “we’re not trying to unpick the whole thing by saying actually this could be improved”, adding it’s time for a “better” Brexit, she is perhaps laying the groundwork for Starmer to be similarly candid.Honesty about the deal’s downsides and a willingness to make things better may resonate more than Labour silence, and certainly more than “we told you so” muttering.Starmer told the PLP this week: ”We need to build a post-austerity, post-Brexit, post-pandemic Britain.” We may not be fully free of austerity, let alone the pandemic, for a couple more years. And it’s likely we won’t be “post-Brexit” by the time of a general election in autumn 2023. Today suggests that both parties, in different ways, are preparing for that brute fact.Related...Keir Starmer Aide Says Labour Should Be ‘Braver’ On BrexitUK-EU Trade May Never Return To ‘Normal’, Brexit Minister AdmitsBucks Fizz's Cheryl Baker: 'We Won Eurovision By Four Points – That's Down To Velcro'
You’re reading The Waugh Zone, our daily politics briefing. Sign up now to get it by email in the evening.Boris Johnson’s carefully chosen words in prime minister’s question time were – like most of his Covid statements these days – part science, part politics. He said he had looked at the data again and he could tell the Commons “we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant.”That word “confidence” is beloved of statisticians (often followed by the word ‘interval’) precisely because it indicates degrees of probability, a range of outcomes, a mix of certainty and uncertainty. But in the hands of a politician it also signals reasons to be cheerful (parts one, two, three).The interval that matters most to the PM is the next seven to 10 days, during which the government will collectively hold its breath as more information is frantically gathered on just how the vaccines have coped with variant B.1617.2. In the latest Downing Street briefing, Deputy chief medical officer Jonathan Van-Tam said the data “will begin to firm up sometime next week”.In contrast to Matt Hancock trying to clarify the “crystal clear” clarity of ministers’ pick-n-mix pronouncements on foreign travel, it was Van-Tam who gave the most transparent and interesting answers.Calming fears that the Indian variant could spark a significant summer wave of Covid, he said “most people feel it is going to be somewhere in the middle” of a few per cent and 50 per cent more transmissible than the Kent variant.Van-Tam’s estimate suggests just over 25% extra transmissibility, a figure that some scientists think can be managed without totally tearing up the roadmap out of lockdown. Some social distancing measures, such as mask-wearing and working from home, may have to be maintained for a few weeks longer than the June 21 ‘final’ date.Note that the PM’s line since January has been that this roadmap is “cautious but irreversible”. Of course, real maps are neither reversible or irreversible, they just offer routes which can be travelled in either direction. But one consequence of his catchphrase is that, as long as he doesn’t re-impose restrictions, it allows him freedom to delay parts of his exit plans.It’s not just on Covid that Johnson is displaying a not-so-quiet confidence either. Emboldened by his May 6 elections triumphs in England, allies say he’s gearing up to take on his backbenches over planning reform.And on the vexed issue of farmers versus free trade, he made plain in PMQs he was backing Liz Truss’s plans to hatch new deals with countries like Australia (and the US?). Unless he agrees hefty quotas to protect the UK, this could be an historic, corn-laws style schism within his party, yet he sounded up for the fight.Keir Starmer, however, still looks bruised by his own recent internal battles. Political goal scoring, like real goal scoring, is often a matter of confidence. Starmer will know too well what happens when even a talented football striker just keeps missing. Watching him from the press gallery as he prepared to face Johnson today, I noticed for the first time he actually looked nervous. Although Starmer asked some pointed questions about the ministerial confusion over travel, he failed to hit the target because his own party policy seemed unclear. More importantly, a really confident Labour leader would have nailed the PM’s feet to the floor with the resignation of NHS nurse Jenny McGee.The very nurse who cared for Johnson in intensive care had quit because she felt her profession was not given enough respect or a real pay rise. When Andy Slaughter raised the issue later, Johnson’s jaw-droppingly lame reply (the government had asked for “an increase in pay for nurses”) would have been much more damaging if Starmer had asked the question.Instead, the leader of the Opposition had ploughed on with prosecutorial, building-the-case, step-by-step questions about travel policy. One insider told me recently that once Covid restrictions loosened and Labour MPs could crowd the chamber, Starmer could get a huge confidence boost from the cheers behind him. Yet in this PMQs, there was tumbleweed, not tumult, after each question.Johnson didn’t fail to show his own bloodlust, however, jibing his opponent to use “what authority he possesses” to back the government. The iron rule of PMQs, that there’s no prohibition on kicking a man when he’s down, was brutally observed.As Starmer walked out of the chamber alongside Angela Rayner later, he looked a slightly shrunken figure. Whether that was down to Rayner’s higher heels or his continued goal drought, he’s going to have to start scoring again. The question is how long his own confidence interval lasts.Related...UK Covid Vaccine Booster Trial Launched, Announces Matt HancockBoris Johnson Admits 'Huge' Debt To Covid Nurse – But Refuses To Budge On NHS PayHuge Rise In Child Poverty Despite Boris Johnson's 'Levelling Up' Agenda
Boris Johnson has said the government has “increasing confidence” that Covid vaccines are effective against “all variants” of the illness. Speaking during PMQs on Wednesday, the prime minister said the spread of the Indian variant was “one of the issues” that could stop the June 21 unlocking date being hit. “We’ve looked at the data again this morning and I can tell the House we have increasing confidence that vaccines are effective against all variants, including the Indian variant,” Johnson told MPs.Labour leader Keir Starmer said the government had been wrong to “weaken travel restrictions” given the threat from new variants.It comes as the government faces calls for clarity over where foreign holidays are allowed after ministers appeared to contradict themselves.There are green, amber and red lists for international travel. The ratings determine the quarantine and coronavirus testing requirements people face when returning home.Johnson has said countries on the amber list are “not somewhere where you should be going on holiday”.But environment secretary George Eustice said people could go to amber-listed countries as long as they observed quarantine rules on their return.Welsh secretary Simon Hart told Times Radio “some people might think a holiday is essential” and therefore would be allowed.And despite the presence of a green list comprising 12 countries and territories, health minister Lord Bethell said all foreign travel was “dangerous” and urged Britons to holiday at home this summer.Related...Will Boris Johnson’s Covid Caution Finally Snap This Summer?Here's What Awaits You At Green List Holiday Destinations
Nurse Jenny McGee, who Johnson singled out for praise last year, said NHS staff were "not getting the respect and now pay that we deserve."