Early evening summary

  • Lord Frost, the former Brexit minister, has said that he is not surprised that people feel disappointed by what has been achieved since the UK left the EU three years ago today. (See 5.43pm.) The anniversary has prompted much comment on what has been achieved, with Tories who strongly supported it still talking up the advantages, but opinion polls showing that a majority of Britons now view it as a mistake. In his own statement on the anniversary, Rishi Sunak did not acknowledge any drawbacks, but was notably less upbeat about the potential gains than Boris Johnson and Liz Truss used to be when they were in Downing Street.

Lord Frost says he's 'not surprised' people disappointed by Brexit, and some Brexiters weren't 'honest' about its impact

Yesterday UnHerd published polling suggesting that in almost all parts of Britain people are more likely than not to think that Brexit was a mistake. As Freddie Sayers explains in his write-up, Boston and Skegness in Lincolnshire is the only parliamentary constituency where a majority of people disagree that the UK was wrong to leave the EU. He says:

Three years after we officially left the European Union, respondents were asked whether they agreed or disagreed with the statement, “Britain was wrong to leave the EU”.

The headline result suggests the country has dramatically changed its view since 2019. Focaldata estimates that in every constituency in the country except three, more people agree with the statement than disagree — i.e. tend to think that Brexit was a mistake. The only three outliers are all located along the Wash in Lincolnshire: Louth and Horncastle, Boston and Skegness and South Holland and the Deepings. Of these, only Boston has more people disagreeing than agreeing: it is the only place in the country which doesn’t feel regretful about Brexit.

Startling polling from @Unherd, on the eve of the 3rd anniversary of Brexit. In all 650 UK constituencies apart from three (all in Lincolnshire), more people now agree than disagree that Brexit was a mistake. Biggest movement in left leaning areas.https://t.co/tkb239vrTl pic.twitter.com/hZnu3NuAZl

— Tom Newton Dunn (@tnewtondunn) January 30, 2023

Lord Frost, who was Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator for the Brexit deal and then served as Brexit minister in 2021, has given an interview to the News Agents podcast and he said he was not surprised people were disappointed by what had happened since the UK left the EU. Asked about the UnHerd poll, he said:

I’m not surprised that people feel a bit disappointed with what’s happened over the last two or three years. I think the government hasn’t done as much as they could to push forwards the benefits, to get growth coming back to the economy and so on, has made a few mistakes.

And I think what we’re seeing in that poll is not regret about the decision but regret about what we’ve made of it so far, but that is still in our hands, and it’s still can be changed and I hope the government will.

Frost also said that some Brexiters had not been honest about the economic impact of Brexit. He said:

I always said that there would be a small trade effect from Brexit and a lot of Brexiteers have not been honest enough to acknowledge that. I always have.

But I also believe that domestic reform and change and productivity growth is going to take us beyond that.


Michel Barnier praises Starmer as a 'European'

To mark the anniversary of Brexit, Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, has given an interview to Andrew Marr for his LBC show at 6pm. The interview was pre-recorded and in it Barnier said he thought that a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol was now possible because Rishi Sunak is willing to take responsibility for what the UK agreed, unlike Boris Johnson and Liz Truss.

Speaking about the prospects of a deal, Barnier said:

Why I think there is a way today is because it seems to me that there is, for the first time in three years, [there is ] a common willingness to take the responsibility on both sides. It was not the case in the last three years, in particular, because the UK government made the mistake to present these several laws to be able to withdraw unilaterally of the agreement. We are speaking of an international agreement; we have to respect it. And now I think there is a way.

Barnier also said that he thought Keir Starmer had the capacity to be prime minister and that he regarded him as a “European”. Asked what he meant by that, Barnier said:

I think that Keir Starmer, as many, many politicians, even in the Tory party, know that to face some global challenges, we have to work at a European level. Even if UK or Norway or Switzerland ... we need to work as a continent to face some global challenges. Better together than alone.


Sky’s Jon Craig has more from the room where Jeremy Hunt’s meeting with Tory backbenchers is now getting under way.

Ritual banging of desks by Tory MPs packed in Ctte Room 9 as Jeremy Hunt introduced. Room only holds 80, much smaller than Rm 14, where ‘22 normally meets.

— Jon Craig (@joncraig) January 31, 2023


Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, was due to be addressing a meeting of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee at 4.30pm. But the hearing has been put back because MPs are voting on the opposition day crime motion, Sky’s Jon Craig reports.

Jeremy Hunt has arrived; all smiles, for his grilling by Tory MPs at the ‘22, but been sent away, as there are about to be two votes in chamber on Labour motion on crime & neighbourhood policing.

— Jon Craig (@joncraig) January 31, 2023

Suella Braverman and Yvette Cooper in personal clash as MPs debate crime

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, and Yvette Cooper, her Labour shadow, traded insults in their speeches in the crime debate this afternoon. Ministers and their shadows are always combative, but these exchanges were more abrasive than usual.

Cooper said Braverman was a “shadow shadow home secretary” because she did so little. She said:

It’s good to see the home secretary here today because we don’t see her that much and, if I’m honest, I don’t really know what she does.”

The DLUHC secretary [Michael Gove] has been put in charge of doing anti-social behaviour. The prime minister has taken charge on small boats.

The navy has been in charge of patrolling the Channel – it didn’t work, did it? No. That much-vaunted policy that they announced a year ago has ended up with record high levels of dangerous boat crossings.

The DLUHC Secretary is also deciding on the Prevent review and running Homes For Ukraine while the education secretary [Gillian Keegan], the work and pensions secretary [Mel Stride] and the Treasury have taken over deciding legal migration policy, and have cancelled the home secretary’s plan to bring back the net migration target or cut student numbers.

The immigration minister [Robert Jenrick] has taken over asylum accommodation because when the home secretary was in charge she broke the law. The security minister [Tom Tugendhat] has taken over security policy because she can’t be trusted not to leak …

She doesn’t get let out much, she doesn’t even do TV or radio interviews, I don’t think we’ve heard her in the morning for months or on a Sunday for months.

Because she is the shadow of a home secretary. She is a shadow shadow home secretary, so why doesn’t she just get out of the way and let somebody else do the job?

In her speech, Braverman claimed that Cooper could not define a woman. She said:

The shadow home secretary was asked last year to define a woman – she likes touring the media studios – something she just couldn’t do, saying it was a rabbit hole she didn’t need to go down. Let me help her, the answer is an adult human female. How can she even begin to fight for the safety of women when she can’t even define one?

This prompted Jess Phillips, a shadow Home Office minister, to say a woman was a female adult, and to challenge Braverman to commit to ensuring that every call by a woman to the police about domestic violence should get a response.

Braverman did not respond to Phillips’s challenge, but Chris Philp, the Home Office minister winding up the debate, has just told MPs that official guidance says every call about domestic violence should normally generate a police response.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, did a rather better job than Boris Johnson of naming Brexit benefits when he was on Sky News this morning – although, rather bizarrely, he included Britons no longer having to pay for lawnmower insurance as a Brexit bonus.

Asked if he thought Brexit was going well, he replied:

I think Brexit is going well for a whole range of reasons. I can give you one to start with – £192bn that we’ve saved by not being part of the EU’s Covid bailout. That would have been our share of that £2tr scheme.

I’ll give you another one – insurance is cheaper because we’re no longer subject to the Vnuk regulation, which was an extra charge on insurance for lawnmowers, which was quite unnecessary.

Solvency II, potentially £100bn of extra money going into the UK economy, the gene editing bill passing through parliament at the moment to make our agriculture more efficient, a 63% increase in the catch of cod in the last year.

The benefits keep on [coming].

On the subject of Brexit “gloom mongering” (see 3.50pm), Joe Mayes from Bloomberg has more on the Bloomberg Economics analysis saying Brexit is costing the economy £100bn a year in lost output.

If it had tracked the G-7 average since the referendum, the UK economy would be 4% larger than where it currently stands 2/ pic.twitter.com/cI6D5RrYHd

— Joe Mayes (@Joe_Mayes) January 31, 2023

At about 9% of GDP, UK business investment lags the G7 average of 13% 3/ pic.twitter.com/VZ9jR2QfmR

— Joe Mayes (@Joe_Mayes) January 31, 2023

The UK economy continues to be blighted by shortages of workers — and Brexit has played no small part. “Scarcity of labor adds to inflationary pressure in the short-term and constrains potential growth further out,” according to @Economics 4/ pic.twitter.com/nerv826G7l

— Joe Mayes (@Joe_Mayes) January 31, 2023

There's also been a hit to trade, with UK-EU trade now facing the extra burden of customs paperwork and more red tape. But the impact hasn't been as bad as feared 5/ pic.twitter.com/SugOocnaao

— Joe Mayes (@Joe_Mayes) January 31, 2023

Boris Johnson marks 'happy Brexit day' with false claim about vaccine rollout

Boris Johnson has posted a video on Twitter to mark “happy Brexit day”.

Time to turn the tables on the gloom-mongers, and exploit the benefits of Brexit. Remember that vaccine rollout! Happy Brexit Day! pic.twitter.com/kiRbCFcQFW

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) January 31, 2023

If Brexit day does become a regular feature of the British calendar, perhaps, like April Fool’s day, it may end up being being a day most notable for the telling of untruths. Johnson certainly seems to be up for that because, in his video he has rolled out one of the most hoary Brexit myths.

He says:

There was another reason why we were able to do that vaccination rollout so fast, and that was because we took back control of our Medical Health Regulation Agency. We were able to licence that vaccine, to approve it, faster than any other European country. And that gave us a crucial edge.

It was brave of Johnson to mention the MHRA at this point because Dr June Raine, head of the MHRA, is on record as saying that Brexit did not speed up the process. The UK formally left the EU on 31 January 2020 but was bound by EU law for the rest of that year because of the transition process. But EU law allowed the MHRA to authorise a Covid vaccine on public health grounds.

What is true is that EU countries were under political pressure to support the EU’s joint vaccine strategy and that, if the UK government had been led by someone more pro-EU than Johnson in 2020, it might have decided to stick with the collective Brussels effort. But in legal terms Brexit made no difference – and even the most Europhile PM might have been minded to put saving British lives ahead of EU solidarity.

In his video Johnson also urges people to “shrug off all this negativity and gloom mongering that I hear about Brexit”. He doesn’t mention the IMF.


MoJ permanent secretary sidesteps questions from select committee about Raab's alleged bullying

The chief civil servant in Dominic Raab’s department has rebuffed an attempt to discover if the justice secretary’s alleged bullying has affected staff, telling MPs she cannot comment while an inquiry into the claims continues.

Rishi Sunak ordered the investigation by Adam Tolley KC after a series of allegations about Raab’s behaviour, which he denies.

Appearing before the justice committee, Antonia Romeo, the permanent secretary in the justice department, declined to engage with questions on the issue by Bob Neill, the Tory MP who chairs it.

“What’s the state of morale in your department at the moment among staff?” Neill began in a slightly loaded opening question, answered by Romeo with a bland answer about staff survey results.

When asked about whether she had needed to support Raab’s private office staff, Romeo said:

I’m sure you’ll understand that while there’s an independent process ongoing, which is KC led, it wouldn’t be appropriate for me to make any comment on that.

Neill had one final try, asking her if the private office had seen a particular turnover of staff. “Well, there’s always a flow,” Romeo answered, again dead-batting the question.


Labour has accused the government of a “lack of respect” to the families of Hillsborough victims because it has yet to publish its full response to the 2017 report into the way they were led down by the investigative process.

As part of its own response, published today, the National Police Chiefs’ Council has issued its own apology on behalf of police officers for failings that contributed to 97 people dying in the 1989 football stadium disaster. My colleague David Conn’s story about the apology is here.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, welcomed the move during a Labour debate on crime. But she asked why the government had yet to respond to the 2017 report. She told MPs:

They promised nearly 18 months ago we would have a response by the end of 2021 but the months and the years keep rolling by …

“And I just say to the home secretary that her predecessor but four [Theresa May] did take this seriously, we welcomed that, but it shows a lack of respect to the families who have endured so much and the communities who have supported and fought for them to have no response right now.

In response, Suella Braverman, the home secretary, said the publication of the government’s response had been held up “by the need to avoid the risk of prejudice during any criminal proceedings which related to Hillsborough”.

She also said the government wanted to engage “in a meaningful way with the bereaved families” before publishing an over-arching response “as soon as practicable”.


Labour has urged Rishi Sunak to disown what Jacob Rees-Mogg said about the need not to take a “snowflakey” approach to bullying claims. (See 10.37am.) Florence Eshalomi, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, said:

It speaks volumes that Jacob Rees-Mogg is seeking to belittle the serious claims of bullying and intimidation that have been made against the deputy prime minister.

He should be ashamed of himself. If Rishi Sunak was serious about his zero-tolerance approach, he would distance himself and his party from Jacob Rees-Mogg’s remarks.

Braverman says Tories need to stop small boat crossings to win next election

Suella Braverman, the home secretary, has an interview in the Daily Telegraph today where she says her party will not be forgiven if it fails to stop small boat crossings. She tells the paper:

I think we need to stop the boats to win the election. No ifs, no buts. That’s why the prime minister has made migration one of the five priorities.

The main objective is that there is no excuse any more. The government needs to deliver on the promise. The British people are rightly fed up with this problem that has now gone on for years, and I really do think that it’s the last chance for the government to get this right.

It is strong language, which is why the Telegraph has got it on its front page. It is also rather odd, because this is the sort of thing an MP says when they are lobbying a minister to act. But Braverman is the minister in charge in this instance, and so why is she lobbying herself?

The answer probably has something to do with Glen Owen’s story in the Mail on Sunday at the weekend. Rishi Sunak has promised to legislate to stop people arriving in the UK illegally from ever being allowed to claim asylum in the country. According to Owen, Sunak has been told that that, given the UK’s current international legal obligations, this is a non-starter. He reports:

Sources say that attorney general Victoria Prentis has warned No 10 that moves to allow migrants to be detained without having their case heard for three months – when the maximum permitted for terrorism suspects is 28 days – would ‘never get through the courts’.

Separately, Home Office officials are understood to have argued that plans to disapply the right of migrants to claim asylum when they have arrived here illegally would break international laws established with the 1951 Refugee Convention.

This defined ‘refugee’ as someone unable or unwilling to return to their country of nationality ‘owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group, or political opinion’.

‘Rishi’s determined to push this through, but with judges and civil servants so opposed it could turn into civil war,’ the Home Office source added.

In the light of this, Braverman’s comments start to look much more like an intervention in an internal, and as yet unresolved, Whitehall battle about whether the government should abandon laws like the European convention on human rights.

Asked about the ECHR by the Telegraph, Braverman said that her views were a matter of record (she thinks the UK should withdraw), but would not comment further.

Suella Braverman leaving No 10 after cabinet this morning.
Suella Braverman leaving No 10 after cabinet this morning. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images


Rachel Reeves says Tory government has been 'drag anchor on prosperity' in UK for 13 years

Tory government has been “a drag anchor on prosperity” for the UK for the past 13 years, Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, told MPs.

In her urgent question on the IMF report, Reeves said:

Britain has huge potential but 13 years of Tory failure has been a drag anchor on prosperity. Today’s IMF assessment holds a mirror up to the wasted opportunities and it is not a pretty sight.

The UK is the only major economy forecast to shrink this year. Weaker growth compared to our competitors for both of the next two years. The world upgraded, Britain downgraded. Growth even worse than sanctions-hit Russia.

Referring to the Jeremy Hunt’s decision not to respond to the UQ in person, she went on:

If the chancellor had ideas, answers or courage, he would be here today. But he is not.

The question people are now asking is this: are me and my family better off after 13 years of Tory government? The answer is no. And as the IMF show today, it doesn’t have to be this way.

In response, James Cartlidge, a junior Treasury minister, said the IMF was endorsing the approach taken by the government. He said:

We agree with the IMF’s focus on the high level of inflation in our country, which is why it’s our top priority.

Inflation is the most insidious tax rise there is and so the best tax cut now is to reduce inflation; it will help families across the country with the cost of living.

As the chancellor has said, short-term challenges, especially ones we’re focused on tackling, should not obscure our long-term forecast. If we stick to our plan to halve inflation, the UK is still predicted to grow faster than Germany and Japan in the coming years.


The National Education Union has told its members they do not need to tell the schools where they work whether or not they will be participating in the strike tomorrow. In an interview with Sky News this morning, Kevin Courtney, the NEU’s joint general secretary, defended this approach, saying that a strike was meant to be disruptive. He explained:

There is disruption every day in our schools because the government isn’t investing in our schools or the people who work in them. The point about tomorrow is that it is a strike. We want our strike to be effective in order to concentrate the government’s mind.

It is not the same as a natural phenomenon like Covid where we would be doing everything we could to make sure schools were running as well as possible.

No 10 warns public will face 'significant disruption' tomorrow because of mass strikes

Downing Street has warned that the mass strikes tomorrow, with teachers, train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards all taking action), will be “very difficult” for members of the public. The PM’s spokesperson told journalists:

We know that there will be significant disruption given the scale of the strike action that is taking place tomorrow and that will be very difficult for the public trying to go about their daily lives.

We are upfront that this will disrupt people’s lives and that’s why we think negotiations rather than picket lines are the right approach.


Passengers have been told to expect delays if they arrive in the UK tomorrow because of the strike by Border Force staff at airports.

Speaking at an aviation conference, Phil Douglas, director general of the Border Force, said:

All PCS [Public and Commercial Services Union] members are full out on strike tomorrow. But we’ve been planning for this for weeks and months.

Of course there’s going to be some disruption and some queues.

He also said there could be further strikes because the union had a strike mandate until May.

No 10 says UK not supplying jets to Ukraine because of time it would take to train pilots

At the No 10 lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson explained why, like the US, the UK is not supplying jets to Ukraine. He said:

The UK’s Typhoon and F35 fighter jets are extremely sophisticated and take months to learn how to fly, given that we believe it is not practical to send those jets into Ukraine.

We will continue to provide and accelerate our military support to Ukraine and listen carefully to their requests.

It is the length of time it takes to learn how to use what are very complex pieces of equipment that is the limiting factor in this case but we will explore what more we can do to support Ukraine.

In the Commons, James Cartlidge, a junior Treasury minister, is responding to the Labour urgent question on the IMF growth forecast for the UK. At the Downing Street lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson played down the significance of the prediction that the UK’s growth would be even worse than Russia’s this year. He said:

The IMF themselves have said that UK economic policy is now on the right track.

When it comes to Russia, specifically, my understanding is that their numbers are boosted largely due to oil and gas windfall, but December’s sanctions on Russian crude oil and upcoming sanctions on refined oil have the potential to severely constrain revenues needed to finance its war in 2023.

A thousand businesses have left or are leaving Russia, undoing significant foreign investment made since the fall of the Soviet Union. They are starved of key goods and technology.


UK to 'accelerate' support for Ukraine after review, Sunak tells cabinet, because stalemate 'would only benefit Russia'

Before Christmas it was reported that Rishi Sunak had ordered an audit of the war in Ukraine. This led to concerns that UK support for Kyiv might not pass Sunak cost-benefit analysis, although at the time No 10 insisted that support for the war effort was unwavering.

At cabinet this morning Sunak told his ministers that he had reviewed the war, and that he wanted to “accelerate” UK support for Ukraine because he had concluded a prolonged stalemate would only help Russia. In its readout, Downing Street said:

The prime minister said that approaching the anniversary of the start of the full-scale Russian invasion, the UK continued its leadership role, demonstrated most recently by the provision of 14 Challenger 2 tanks, which had been followed by other allies taking the same approach.

He said that since becoming prime minister he had reviewed the UK’s approach and concluded that a prolonged stalemate in the conflict would only benefit Russia, which was why he had decided there was an opportunity to accelerate UK support, working closely with our allies, to give Ukraine the best chance of success and make the most of the window of opportunity where Russian forces were on the back foot.

He said the new strategy would also see greater diplomatic efforts and planning work with the Ukrainians on how to rebuild once the conflict had ended.

According to the readout, a national security official told the cabinet that the Russians were “suffering from shortages of equipment and munitions” and that they had seen “significant attrition among some of their most capable fighting forces and officer corps as well as division among the leadership of their military”.

And Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, told cabinet that 188,000 Russian soldiers had been killed or injured during the war, according to US estimates. He also said that the Russians had lost two-thirds of their tanks.


Downing Street says union announcement about more ambulance strikes 'deeply concerning'

At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson said the Unison announcement about a further strike by ambulance staff on 10 February (see 11.48am) was “deeply concerning”. He said:

Ongoing strike action is deeply concerning and will worry the public.

We are putting in place significant mitigations that have previously helped reduce some of the impact from these strikes.

But first and foremost we would ask the unions to reconsider that approach and continue discussions.

Ahead of what will be a day of mass strikes tomorrow, with teachers, train drivers, civil servants, university lecturers, bus drivers and security guards all taking action, the spokesperson said 600 military personnel as well as civil servants and volunteers across government had been trained to support public services during strikes.


University staff to strike tomorrow, union confirms

In the absence of any last-minute breakthrough, the University and College Union (UCU) has confirmed that lecturers and other university staff will walk out tomorrow in the first of 18 days of strike action which could affect up to 2.5m students.

The union said 70,000 staff at 150 universities across the UK will strike in the latest round of a long-running dispute over pay, working conditions and pensions, and blamed the disruption on university bosses “who have refused to make staff fair offers”.

The UCU said members were being consulted on a 5% pay award offered by employers last week, but are expected to reject it. UCU general secretary Jo Grady said:

University vice-chancellors have been given multiple opportunities to use the sector’s vast wealth to resolve these disputes. Instead, they have forced staff back to the picket line and brought disruption to students.

There are 17 further days of strike action planned but it can be avoided. For that, we need university bosses to get serious and make much improved offers. If they don’t any disruption that takes place is entirely their responsibility.

Universities UK said its members were well prepared for the strikes. A spokesperson said:

It is disappointing to once again be facing industrial action and the top priority for universities will be putting in place a series of measures to protect students’ learning.

However, we expect action to again be limited and the action faced in recent years means universities are well prepared to manage any pockets of disruption.

The universities strike comes on the day teachers and train drivers also strike. Our strike calendar shows the latest planned strikes:


Leading MEP suggests without Brexit Russia might not have invaded Ukraine

Guy Verhofstadt, the MEP, former Belgian prime minister and chair of the European parliament’s Brexit steering group when Brexit was being negotiated, has suggested that if the UK had not left the EU, Russia might not have invaded Ukraine last year.

He made the comment in an interview with LBC. After criticising Nigel Farage for arguing that EU and Nato expansion provoked the war (an argument used by the Kremlin), Verhofstadt said:

[The war] has nothing to do with the extension of Nato, has nothing to do with, in my opinion, even the European Union. It’s really an attempt by Putin to restore, I should say, the old Soviet Union. The only difference is that the Communist party is then replaced by his cronies. That is what he is trying to do.

And a united Europe, certainly on defence matters, would make an enormous difference. I think maybe without Brexit, maybe it was no invasion. I don’t know. I guess that [he would have seen] certainly a far more stronger and united Europe at the other side.

The claim that the Russian invasion would not have happened without Brexit is probably a minority view. But it is no more of a minority view than the assertion, made by Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading Tory Brexiter, that Putin would have already won the war if it had not been for Brexit, because being outside the EU made it easier for the UK to arm Ukraine.

The number of excess deaths in England and Wales has fallen from a near-two-year peak, though levels remain high, PA Media reports. PA says:

A total of 15,804 deaths were registered in the seven days to January 20, 1,568 above average for the time of year, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is down from 2,837 excess deaths in the previous week, which was the highest since February 2021 when the UK was still in lockdown during the second wave of Covid-19.

Excess deaths, sometimes known as extra deaths, are the number of deaths that are above the average for the same period in previous years.

This winter has seen a sharp spike in the figures, with more than 10,000 excess deaths registered in England and Wales between December 17 2022 and January 20 2023.

Deaths were particularly high in the last two weeks of December, at 21% and 20% above average.

In the most recent week, to January 20, deaths were 11% above average.

A number of factors are likely to be behind the increase in excess deaths, though Covid-19 has played only a small part.

This is from Adrian Wooldridge, the Bloomberg business columnist and former auther of the Economist’s Bagehot column, on when the benefits of Brexit might materialise.

A Brexiteer recently said to me that judging the results of Brexit today is like trying to judge the results of the Henrician Reformation in 1540. We will have to wait at least until the beginning of the 18th century!

— Adrian Wooldridge (@adwooldridge) January 31, 2023

Unison announces further strikes by ambulance staff on 10 February

Unison has announced that its ambulance staff members will go on strike on Friday 10 February across five services in England in the long-running dispute over pay, PA Media reports.

Rees-Mogg says Sunak doing 'perfectly competently' as he criticises government over NI protocol and anti-strikes bills

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, was not exactly on message in his Sky News interview with Kay Burley this morning. As well as implying that he thought the bullying inquiry into Dominic Raab was a mistake (see 10.37am), he made at least three other comments that suggest Rishi Sunak does not have the enthusiastic support of all his backbenchers.

  • Rees-Mogg said that Sunak was performing “perfectly competently” as PM. Asked how he was doing, Rees-Mogg replied: “I think he’s doing perfectly competently.” When Burley put it to him that that was not much of an endorsement, Rees-Mogg went on: “I made no bones about the fact I thought Boris Johnson was a better prime minister and I wanted him to remain.”

  • Rees-Mogg criticised the government for stalling the Northern Ireland protocol bill. The bill, which is popular with hardline Brexiters but widely seen as contrary to international law, because it would allow the UK to unilaterally ignore some of the provisions in the protocol treaty, passed through the Commons when Boris Johnson was PM. But it is stuck in the Lords, where it has not been debated since October and where a date has not been set for its report stage. Sunak has shelved it because he wants to negotiate a compromise on the protocol with the EU, and passing the bill would make agreement much harder. But Rees-Mogg said the government should pass it. He said:

The government has just got to get on with it. There’s a bill that has been through the House of Commons that is waiting its report stage in the House of Lords and I don’t understand why the government hasn’t brought it forward.

  • He renewed his criticism of the strikes (minimum service levels) bill. When MPs debated it last night, Rees-Mogg said he agreed with Labour criticisms of the Henry VIII powers in the bill.

Stopping strikes in essential services is reasonable but the bill is poorly written. pic.twitter.com/I10V16etCi

— Jacob Rees-Mogg (@Jacob_Rees_Mogg) January 31, 2023

On Sky News this morning he repeated the argument, saying the bill contained a “very wide Henry VIII power” and that this was “not good legislative practice”.

Rees-Mogg is right about this. This is what the legal commentator Joshua Rozenberg said in a good blog about the bill.

The government doesn’t know what changes it will have to make once this bill is passed. Under clause 3, the secretary of state would be able to make regulations that “amend, repeal or revoke provision made by or under primary legislation passed before this act or later in the same session of parliament as this act”. This is a supercharged Henry VIII clause. Why should MPs or peers pay any attention to any related legislation that may be brought before them later in this session when they know that, unless they object, a secretary of state may simply amend, repeal or revoke it?

Jacob Rees-Mogg
Jacob Rees-Mogg Photograph: Sky News

Dominic Raab leaving Downing Street this morning after cabinet.
Dominic Raab leaving Downing Street this morning after cabinet. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

The Treasury will have to answer an urgent question from Labour on the economy at 12.30pm. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, will be hoping to get Jeremy Hunt to the dispatch box, but she may get a more junior Treasury minister.


Urgent Question granted to @RachelReevesMP to ask the Chancellor for a statement on the IMF Economic Outlook

— Labour Whips (@labourwhips) January 31, 2023


Faisal Islam, the BBC’s economics editor, says that while Brexit may be one reason why the IMF growth forecast for the UK is so poor, other factors may be more significant.

much feedback saying “Brexit”

1. The IMF dont say that themselves.
2. A forecast is a forecast, hasn’t happened yet.

But…worse inflation & growth performance & trade off between them, was predicted by most economists, with less competition/ more barriers for trade & workers

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) January 31, 2023

Ie this the sort of pattern Brexitsceptics predicted.

But still likely so far impact of pandemic/ lockdowns/ russia energy shock towers over as immediate economic performance driver

If inflation stickier and growth more sluggish this year onwards Brexit impact plausible reason

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) January 31, 2023

Eg Bank of England publicly asking why workforce has not fully returned after pandemic, unlike other major econs… that certainly would dampen growth & leave inflation stickier… & while fewer EU workers in relevant industries is a factor, not the only one, may not be the biggest

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) January 31, 2023

Civil service morale declining, says thinktank, as Rees-Mogg says dismisses 'snowflakey' approach to bullying claims

Jacob Rees-Mogg, the former business secretary, told Sky News this morning that people should not be too “snowfakey” about the claims that Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy PM, bullied civil servants in three of his previous ministerial appointments. Those allegations are now the subject of an investigation that could lead to Raab losing his job.

Rees-Mogg said:

We have to be slightly careful around the bullying allegations but also we mustn’t be too snowflakey about it. People need to be able to say this job has not been done well enough and needs to be done better.

My colleague Jamie Grierson has the story here.

Rees-Mogg spoke at the Institute for Government thinktank published its annual Whitehall monitor, which monitors the performance of the civil service and suggests that it would be a mistake for ministers to get complacent about the morale of civil servants. Here are some of the key findings.

  • Turnover in the civil service has reached its highest level for at least a decade, the report says. It says between March 2021 and March 2022 13.6% of civil servants either moved between departments or left the civil service entirely.

  • The morale of the civil service workforce declined in 2021 and 2022 for the first time since 2015, the report says. It says:

The civil service goes into 2023 with record levels of turnover, declining morale and disrupted by widespread industrial action. Much is to be done to repair the relationship between ministers and officials, still strained by unresolved disputes over pay and the workforce, hostile press briefings against civil servants and the reverberations of the ‘partygate’ scandal that erupted a year ago. Public trust in both ministers and civil servants continues to get worse.

  • Fewer than half of civil servants say their organisation motivates them to help meet its objectives, the report says. In 2021 51% said they were motivated, but last year that figure went down to 41%.


Hancock flounders in TV interview as he claims lockdown embrace that led to his resignation wasn't breach of law

Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, gave an interview to Good Morning Britain this morning. As my colleague Jessica Elgot reports, he claimed that he did not “primarily” go on I’m a Celebrity … Get Me Out of Here! for his £320,000 fee.

But the highlight of the interview came when Susanna Reid, the presenter, put it to him that the embrace with Gina Coladangelo (at the time his adviser, now his partner) in his office that led to his resignation was not just against Covid guidelines at the time, but against the law too. Hancock refused to accept this, but he floundered badly, and could not refute what Reid was saying. Here is the clip.

'The guidelines were in place and I accept that I broke the guidelines. But I didn't break the law.' @MattHancock @susannareid100 questions the former Health Secretary on whether he broke the law when he breached Covid rules. pic.twitter.com/QlbO3knUWZ

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) January 31, 2023

Adam Wagner, the barrister and expert in Covid lockdown law, says Reid was right.

I hadn’t realised, as Matt Hancock seems to have just admitted on @GMB, that the image of him was taken on 6th May 2021, when we were still in step 2. This w meant any gathering of more than one person indoors for social purposes was prohibited by law https://t.co/NbVmWzxhnk

— Adam Wagner (@AdamWagner1) January 31, 2023


Of course, the consensus amongst economists is that Brexit has been harmful to the UK economy. An analysis by Bloomberg Economics says it is costing the economy £100bn a year in lost output.

Brexit is costing the UK economy £100 billion a year, with the effects spanning everything from business investment to the ability of companies to hire workers https://t.co/AlquaJzcwT

— Bloomberg UK (@BloombergUK) January 31, 2023

And my colleague Polly Toynbee has a withering assessment of the decision to leave the EU in her Guardian column today. Here’s an extract:

Look what Brexit has done: a 4% shrinkage in long-run productivity relative to remaining in the EU, expects the Office for Budget Responsibility, inflation and energy prices are higher than in the EU, trade has fallen by almost a fifth, while the government itself says the much-trumpeted Australian deal will raise GDP by less than 0.1% a year by 2035. Brexit has raised food prices by 6% says the LSE, while draining the workforce. Eurostar also deliberately leaves a third of seats empty due to crippling EU/UK border delays.

The Brexit press can’t hide these inconvenient truths. Jeremy Warner, the Telegraph’s associate editor, challenges Jeremy Hunt’s bizarrely Pollyanna-ish assessment of the economy, writing “trade with our European neighbours is faltering badly,” due to Brexit, with “the rather awkward fact that the UK is the only G7 economy yet to recover to its pre-pandemic size”. “The grim reality is that the country seems to be falling apart on almost every front” and “car production has fallen to its lowest since the 1950s”.

And you can read the full column here.

Why No 10 claims Brexit contributing to growth agenda

In its statement about the Brexit anniversary released overnight, Downing Street says Brexit is “a huge opportunity to deliver on the prime minister’s priorities to the British public”. And it identifies five areas where it claims Brexit is contributing to the growth agenda. It says:

Freeports: From Plymouth to Teesside, eight freeports across England are now open for business, galvanising emerging sectors from manufacturing to renewable energy and delivering jobs and prosperity in areas that need it the most. Crucial to the ambitious levelling up agenda, two new green freeports will be established in Scotland – expected to bring £10.8 billion of public and private investment and creating over 75,000 high-skilled jobs – while we will announce plans for at least one freeport in Wales in the coming months.

Edinburgh Reforms: In addition to the financial services and markets bill and reforming Solvency II, the government is taking advantage of the UK’s position outside the EU and going further through the Edinburgh Reforms to ensure the UK’s financial services sector is dynamic, sustainable and globally competitive – supporting businesses and powering growth right across the country.

REUL [retained EU law]: Regulatory reform is a key area where the UK can develop a competitive advantage in order to grow the economy. That’s why the prime minister recently reaffirmed the government’s commitment to review, reform, repeal or replace all retained EU law – as part of a collective cabinet drive – to boost innovation, accelerate our economic recovery and deliver tangible benefits to businesses, whilst maintaining world-leading workers’ rights and environmental protections.

R&D: While the UK continues to push for association to the Horizon Europe, we are working hard on developing a domestic alternative to progress the UK’s key strategic priorities for science and technology and to enhance collaboration with science superpowers around the globe, such as Japan and Switzerland.

UK Subsidy Regime: A new system to regulate the award of subsidies to business came into force at the start of the month. This represents the most significant change in subsidy administration in over 40 years and gets rid of unnecessary EU bureaucracy.

Brexit is a ‘complete disaster’ and ‘total lies’, says Tory billionaire

Guy Hands, a leading financier and a former Tory donor, gave a very different take on Brexit to Rishi Sunak’s in an interview on the Today programme this morning. He said:

It’s been a complete disaster. The reality is it’s been a lose-lose situation for us and Europe. Europe has lost more [in financial services] but we’ve lost as well. And the reality of Brexit was, it was just was a bunch of complete and total lies.

The only way that the Brexit put forward by Boris Johnson was going to work was if there was a complete deregulation of the UK and we moved to a sort of Liz Truss utopia of a Singapore state and that was just never going to happen.

My colleague Julia Kollewe has the full story here.

Sunak marks Brexit anniversary by claiming benefits 'empower communities' as IMF delivers damning growth forecast

Good morning. At 11pm the UK will mark the third anniversary of the moment that it left the European Union. Increasingly, by a margin of around 60% to 40%, Britons are saying that this was a mistake, but in the Conservative party conceding anything like this would amount to a thought crime, such is the grip the Brexiters have on the party, and instead ministers are marking the anniversary by talking up the supposed benefits.

Polling on Brexit
Polling on Brexit Photograph: Polling on Brexit/What UK Thinks

Still, what the government is saying about Brexit is still considerably less upbeat than what Boris Johnson and his colleagues were saying, or promising, this time three years ago. This is what Rishi Sunak said about the anniversary in a statement released overnight.

In the three years since leaving the EU, we’ve made huge strides in harnessing the freedoms unlocked by Brexit to tackle generational challenges. Whether leading Europe’s fastest vaccine rollout, striking trade deals with over 70 countries or taking back control of our borders, we’ve forged a path as an independent nation with confidence.

And in my first 100 days as prime minister, that momentum hasn’t slowed – we’re cutting red tape for businesses, levelling up through our freeports, and designing our own, fairer farming system to protect the British countryside.

This is just the beginning of our plans to deliver on our five priorities, including growing the economy so we can create better paid jobs, and I’m determined to ensure the benefits of Brexit continue to empower communities and businesses right across the country.

But it is not a good day to be going on about growing the economy, with the IMF saying it expects the UK to be the only G7 country where the economy will shrink this year. My colleague Graeme Wearden has been covering the reaction to this on his business live blog.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Rishi Sunak chairs cabinet.

10am: Philippa Hird, chair of the NHS pay review body, gives evidence to the Commons health committee.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

After 12.30pm: MPs debate Labour motions, first on neighbourhood policing, and then on a binding demand for the government to publish whatever analysis it did before the autumn statement on the case for abolishing non-dom status.

2.30pm: Antonia Romeo, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Justice, and other officials give evidence to the Commons justice committee on the work of the department.

4.30pm: Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is due to speak to Tory MP at the 1922 Committee.

I’ll try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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