A summary of today's developments
- David Wolfson has resigned as a justice minister saying he can no longer serve in the government because of its disregard for the rule of law. The distinguished lawyer who joined the government in 2020, said he was shocked not just by the extent of law breaking at No 10, but by the “official response” to it.
- Tory MP Craig Whittaker has called for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to quit after they were fined for breaching coronavirus laws. According to the Halifax Courier, the Calder Valley MP said during a Facebook Q and A: “I not only think that the prime minister should resign but I also think that Rishi Sunak should resign as well.
- A former deputy assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan police, Stephen Roberts , told Sky News that officers have a “huge amount” of Partygate evidence that they still have not reviewed. Conservative MP Nigel Mills told the World at One that he thought there were worse revelations yet to come.
- Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, has renewed her calls for Boris Johnson to quit over the Partygate scandal as she accused him of “traducing” the office of prime minister. The Tory peer said the prime minister had “made a mockery” of the British public’s sacrifices during the pandemic, opening up a split with Douglas Ross, her close ally and successor as Scottish Conservative leader.
- One of the most senior Cabinet Office directors is a non-dom, the Guardian can reveal. Anand Aithal, a former Goldman Sachs managing director, is the lead non-executive director at the Cabinet Office. A Cabinet Office spokesman said Aithal, who is domiciled in India, paid “all taxes on all of his income, both from the UK and abroad, in the UK”.
- The Information Commissioner’s Office said there is not enough evidence to prosecute two people suspected of leaking footage of former health secretary Matt Hancock kissing his then aide in his office in the Department of Health last year.
- Chris Mason has been named as the BBC’s new political editor, replacing Laura Kuenssberg.
One of the most senior Cabinet Office directors is a non-dom, the Guardian can reveal, in a disclosure which comes as Labour vowed to crack down on the favourable tax status.
Anand Aithal, a former Goldman Sachs managing director, is the lead non-executive director at the Cabinet Office, a role which a Whitehall source said meant he had significant responsibilities in the department and a close relationship with the Downing Street chief of staff, Steve Barclay.
A Cabinet Office spokesman said Aithal, who is domiciled in India, paid “all taxes on all of his income, both from the UK and abroad, in the UK”. Aithal was born in the UK but acquired the status through his Indian-born father.
Last week it was revealed that Rishi Sunak’s wife Akshata Murty, who receives about £11.5m in annual dividends from her stake in the Indian IT services company Infosys, declares non-dom status. She has since said she will pay tax on all overseas income in the UK.
Tory MP Craig Whittaker has called for Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak to quit after they were fined for breaching coronavirus laws.
According to the Halifax Courier, the Calder Valley MP said during a Facebook Q and A: “I not only think that the prime minister should resign but I also think that Rishi Sunak should resign as well.
“Through this whole process it hasn’t been particularly clear that the prime minister broke any rules until of course he’s been issued with a fixed penalty notice this week.
“My expectation is that he and the chancellor should do the right thing and resign.
“The reality is that they’re not going to resign. We’ve seen that from the press and they’ve both issued apologies so I suspect we’ll end up where we are and moving on.”
The MP said he will not be submitting a letter to the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, saying he expects the prime minister would win the vote which would detract from the government’s “day-to-day” business.
Responding to David Wolfson’s resignation, Liberal Democrat justice spokesperson Wera Hobhouse MP said: “Lord Wolfson’s resignation shows that, just like many lifelong Conservative voters up and down the country, he has had enough of Boris Johnson acting as though he is above the law.
“We cannot have a situation where there is one rule for Boris and his mates, and another for everyone else. “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak should both go, so we can focus on what really matters - giving families the support they need to weather the cost of living crisis.”
Marine Le Pen’s plan for a new partnership with a post-Brexit Britain is dangerous for France, ignorant and completely misunderstands the basis of British alliances, Peter Ricketts, the former UK national security adviser and UK ambassador to France, has told the Guardian.
He said the far-right presidential hopeful’s proposals represented a plan for French isolation from its main strategic partners, the US, Germany and the UK.
In her defence manifesto, Le Pen held out the hope of a restored Lancaster House treaty, the Franco-British defence cooperation treaty first signed in 2010, and underlined this by illustrating her defence plans with a picture of the union jack and tricolour flags.
The government has announced conditional allocations for the UK’s shared prosperity fund, saying it has matched previous EU funding but with less bureaucracy and more local control.
The fund will provide £2.6bn by 2025, and the government says it will be “a central pillar” of its “levelling up” agenda. With conditional allocations available for each area of the UK, local authorities will be able to put forward investment plan submissions from June to receive the money, PA reports. However, the Scottish government said the fund fell short of what was expected to replace EU structural funds. The fund includes £559m for Multiply, a UK-wide adult numeracy programme, to offer maths courses for adults with no or low maths skills, including a digital learning platform.
The Welsh secretary, Simon Hart, indicated Boris Johnson would not resign even if he was fined multiple times in the Metropolitan police’s Operation Hillman probe.
On Tuesday, Johnson did not rule out the prospect he could be fined again for further events. Hart told Times Radio: “I don’t necessarily see the difference between one or two [fines], for example, the principle is the same.” He said: “I personally don’t think that for people in public life - or any other walk of life, for that matter - that should necessarily be accompanied by another penalty, which is the removal of your job or similar.”
From my colleague Aubrey Allegretti
David Gauke, the former secretary of state for justice, said he is “not surprised” by the resignation of Lord Wolfson as a justice minister.
He told BBC Radio 4’s PM programme:
[I’m] not altogether surprised, I think it’s a particularly uncomfortable issue for anybody in the Ministry of Justice or for that matter the law officers.
Or at least it should be an uncomfortable situation, because you can’t have those who are making the law breaking the law. Particularly if it’s happened on repeated occasions.
Of course we’ve only had one fixed penalty notice for the prime minister so far, but frankly expectations are that there will be more. It is a very difficult situation … if you have particular responsibility for the rule of law, if you see rule makers breaking it.”
Lord Wolfson resigns as justice minister over PM's conduct and his approach to rule of law
David Wolfson has resigned as a justice minister saying he can no longer serve in the government because of its disregard for the rule of law. In his resignation letter Lord Wolfson, a distinguished lawyer who joined the government in 2020, said he was shocked not just by the extent of law breaking at No 10, but by the “official response” to it. He said:
I regret that recent disclosures lead to the inevitable conclusion that there was repeated rule breaking, and breaches of the criminal law, in Downing Street. I have again, with considerable regret - come to the conclusion that the scale, context and nature of those breaches mean that it would be inconsistent with the rule of law for that conduct to pass with constitutional impunity, especially when many in society complied with the rules at great personal cost, and others were fined or prosecuted for similar, and sometimes apparently more trivial, offences. It is not just a question of what happened in Downing Street, or your own conduct. It is also, and perhaps more so, the official response to what took place. As we obviously do not share that view of these matters, I must ask you to accept my resignation.
Here is his letter.
My colleague Nadeem Badshah is taking over now.
This is a striking sign of how much Rishi Sunak’s reputation has suffered since the spring statement three weeks ago – he is now even less popular than Boris Johnson, according to this Savanta ComRes poll.
Commenting on the findings, Chris Hopkins, political research director at Savanta ComRes, said:
While the Partygate fines may have changed the headline here, in that the prime minister’s favourability may too have taken a tumble had fieldwork been delayed another week, the fact we’ve seen such a drop in favourability during a tumultuous month for the chancellor ultimately points to the fact that all public goodwill he may have built up during the pandemic has all but evaporated. For context, even during the Partygate scandal, the PM’s favourability took two months to drop by a similar margin.
Of course, the Partygate scandal was leaked over a longer period, while a Christmas recess and the fact that Sunak has simply a greater height from which to fall will contribute to these numbers, a 26pt drop in one month feels unprecedented - and had it been conducted after being issued a fixed penalty notice, it could have been even more severe.
Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, has complained about Tories using Ukraine as a “shield” to protect Boris Johnson, the BBC’s Andrew Kerr reports.
Police have 'huge amount' of Partygate evidence yet to be reviewed, says former senior Met officer
A former deputy assistant commissioner for the Metropolitan police has told Sky News that officers have a “huge amount” of Partygate evidence that they still have not reviewed. Asked if it was correct that the Partygate investigation has further to go, Stephen Roberts said:
Yes, that’s my understanding as well. There’s a huge amount of material that the team still has to sift through and collate and then submit to lawyers, to be absolutely certain that they have a cast iron case and are able to prosecute if needs be.
This backs up Nigel Mills’ claim that future revelations could be worse for the PM. (See 1.52pm.)
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is facing the sack in the coming months, Harry Lambert claims in a good article for the New Statesman. Lambert says he has heard this from three high-placed Tory sources. He writes:
Inside No 10, I am told that Johnson has become openly contemptuous of Sunak, referring to him disparagingly by at least two expletive-laden nicknames. Both convey the sense of betrayal that Johnson feels after Sunak failed to offer his full support to Johnson at the peak of the partygate crisis in February.
At Chequers 10 days ago – prior to the damning tax revelations that have scuttled Sunak’s national standing – Johnson was already delighting in the blowback Sunak was facing after his spring statement fell flat three weeks ago. Nadine Dorries, a cabinet colleague of Sunak’s and a long-time Johnson loyalist, was a guest that weekend.
Perhaps most fatally, Lynton Crosby – the most trusted political strategist in the Tory party, who is informally advising Johnson in No 10 – is also gunning for Sunak. He has let it be known that he intends to finish the chancellor off. And a senior cabinet minister who has not always opposed Sunak now thinks that the he “deserves everything he gets”.
And this is from the former Lib Dem leader Tim Farron on the same topic.
A majority of the public think it would be acceptable to change the prime minister now, a YouGov poll suggests. But, by two to one, Conservatives supporters do not think it would be acceptable.
Some Tory MPs have been saying that, even though there may be a case for replacing Boris Johnson, doing so now would be wrong because of the war in Ukraine.
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has not joined other cabinet ministers in tweeting support for Boris Johnson since he was fined over Partygate yesterdday. But that should not be taken as some sort of snub, according to a Home Office source. The source said Johnson had Patel’s full support, but that it was difficult for Home Office ministers to comment on ongoing police investigations.
The UK is imposing sanctions on 178 individuals who are deemed to be “propping-up the illegal breakaway regions” in eastern Ukraine, Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, has announced. Another 28 Russians have also been sanctioned, including six oligarchs. The Foreign Office says this means more than 100 oligarchs and their relatives have been sanctioned since the war in Ukraine started.
Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, has used Twitter to deliver a message to the Extinction Rebellion activists who glued themselves to the front of his department today, telling them the government will not abandon domestic oil and gas production.
Commenting on the ICO’s decision to end its criminal investigation into the leak of the Matt Hancock CCTV footage (see 2.44pm), the Department of Health and Social Care said:
We note the outcome of the ICO’s investigation and will continue to work with them to learn any lessons from this incident.
We take the security of our personnel, systems and estates extremely seriously.
Since this incident, we have worked with security specialists from across government to review procedures and will keep them continually under review.
Ruth Davidson campaigns alongside Douglas Ross - as they disagree about whether PM should resign
Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, has renewed her calls for Boris Johnson to quit over the Partygate scandal as she accused him of “traducing” the office of prime minister.
Now a Tory peer, she said the prime minister had “made a mockery” of the British public’s sacrifices during the pandemic, opening up a split with Douglas Ross, her close ally and successor as Scottish Conservative leader.
Ross was the first Tory MP to publicly urge Johnson to quit in January but has since withdrawn his no confidence letter to the 1922 Committee, arguing it would boost Vladimir Putin if the British prime minister was forced out of office during the war in Ukraine.
Speaking as the pair campaigned together in Edinburgh before May’s local council elections, Ross hinted his support for the prime minister was temporary and conditional, but refused to discuss what action he might take in future.
A series of Scottish opinion polls this year uniformly put the Tories third behind Labour for the first time in five years, threatening to end the Tories’ series of strong Scottish election results.
Opposition parties believe the Partygate scandal has significantly dented the Conservative’s popular support; both Labour and the Liberal Democrats claim they are picking up votes across Scotland.
If true, that implies Davidson’s decision to publicly disagree with her close ally’s stance on the prime minister has tactical value for the Tories, by signalling to disillusioned voters the Conservatives remain unhappy and critical of Johnson’s conduct.
Downplaying the polls, Ross said that if Johnson resigned that would “create a void, would create instability … Allies around the world would know he’s about to leave. And the most important person is all of this – Vladimir Putin – would know he’s about to leave and that instability would undermine everything the west is trying to do to help President Zelenskiy and the people of Ukraine.”
Davidson said that if Johnson was sincere about wanting to uphold the law over Ukraine, he should start with his own conduct. She said:
I don’t think the prime minister’s apology last night [over being fined] was anything other than contrite and a meaningful and I’m sure he is very sorry for what’s happened but I believe that the prime minister should lead by example.
I believe that the office of the prime minister is traduced when you’ve got somebody that breaks the laws that they himself have brought in and I completely understand that there are really big geopolitics happening. Right now. There are big international issues. But I still believe that when it comes to supporting a country fighting for freedom and democracy, you have to uphold your own rules. You have to.
Inquiry closed into leak of Matt Hancock CCTV footage after ICO rules evidence against two suspects too weak
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has said there is not enough evidence to prosecute two people suspected of leaking footage of former health secretary Matt Hancock kissing his then aide in his office in the Department of Health (DHSC).
The footage was leaked to the Sun and led to Hancock’s resignation, on the grounds that his behaviour was in breach of government social distancing rules. Hancock subsequently left his wife to continue with relationship with Gina Coladangelo, who had been his adviser.
The ICO launched a criminal investigation after it received a report of a personal data breach from DHSC’s CCTV operator, EMCOR Group plc. Last year two homes in the south of England were raided as part of the investigation.
The ICO said in a statement:
The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) has found insufficient evidence to prosecute two people suspected of unlawfully obtaining and disclosing CCTV footage from the Department for Health and Social Care (DHSC) ...
Given the seriousness of the report and the wider implications it potentially had for the security of information across government, the ICO had a legal duty to carry out an impartial assessment of the evidence available to determine if there had been a breach of the law.
Forensic analysis revealed that the leaked images were most likely obtained by someone recording the CCTV footage screens with a mobile phone.
Six phones retrieved during the execution of search warrants did not contain the relevant CCTV footage. After taking legal advice, the ICO concluded that there was insufficient evidence to charge anyone with criminal offences under the Data Protection Act 2018.
The ICO has therefore closed its criminal investigation.
Chris Mason to take over from Laura Kuenssberg as BBC political editor
Chris Mason has been named as the BBC’s new political editor, replacing Laura Kuenssberg in one of the most prominent and powerful roles in British journalism, my colleague Jim Waterson reports.
Future Partygate revelations may be even worse for PM, says Tory MP now backing calls for his resignation
Nigel Mills, who has been the only Conservative MP today publicly calling for Boris Johnson to resign after been fined (see 9.10am and 10.37am), told the World at One that he thought there were worse revelations yet to come.
Asked whether Johnson should really be resigning over such a short and relatively minor breach of the rules, Mills said that the police thought it serious enough to merit a fine and that Johnson had chosen not to appeal. He went on:
My fear for him, actually, is that the remaining parties that are being investigated actually do sound to be a lot worse transgressions of the law than the one he’s just fined for. It does not strike me that this is the end of the situation. If he’s been fined for this, then you’ve got to think that some more are going to come.
Mills also said that he would “very shortly” be writing to the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee requesting a vote of no confidence in Johnson. Although Mills have been criticising Johnson today, he is not one of the MPs who submitted a letter earlier this year. He said he saw himself as a support of Johnson’s. He said:
I’ve not been campaigning against the prime minister. I’m a supporter of the prime minister. I think he’s done great things and I really regret that it’s come to this.
Mill said that he did not think there would be a no confidence vote (54 letters have to go in for one to take place, and several MPs who confirmed that they had written letters earlier this year withdrew them last month after the war in Ukraine started). Even if there were a ballot, Mills said he would be “very surprised” if Johnson lost.
But he said that, on principle, he could not support Johnson staying.
I just I can’t get myself past the idea that a prime minister in office can be fined and can stay there. I just think that is not a possible position to sustain.
And he said Rishi Sunak should resign too.
I just think that people have the right to expect that when laws are being put in place, for various serious reasons, the people at the top have to follow them.
I’m not saying that the chancellor should be barred from high office for life. But I think this is a line that we can’t cross.
PM should consider early publication of Sue Gray report to provide 'transparency', Lord Frost says
David Frost, the former Brexit minister, has suggested that Boris Johnson should bring forward the publication of the full Sue Gray report to clear up exactly what did happen over Partygate.
The report is not due to be published until the police investigation is over, and with the Met police saying yesterday that more fines may be issued, that could take some time. The police are investigating 12 events but there only seem to be four events in relation to which it is known that people have already been fined (these three, and the surprise birthday party).
Lord Frost told LBC:
I think it’s not possible just to say, ‘That was then, this is now, let’s move on, the world is different’, as the government is trying to this morning ...
We don’t yet know what other penalties may be issued, and to whom. I think, as a source suggested this morning, if there’s some thought about bringing forward the Sue Gray report, I think there’ll be a good idea. I think it’s important to bring transparency, to be clear what’s happened, for the prime minister to make his case and people to judge him. I don’t think it’ll be enough just to say nothing.
Frost was referring to this Telegraph story, by Martin Evans, the paper’s crime correspondent, saying the Gray report could now be published as early as next week.
Frost also told LBC that Johnson should correct the record, and tell MPs when parliament returns next week that parties did take place at No 10, contrary to what he told them previously. Frost said:
The prime minister is on record saying to parliament that all the rules were observed, and there were no parties, that’s obviously not the case. And I think it is very important in our constitutional system that correct information is given to parliament. So I hope the prime minister will come to the house on Tuesday and make it make it clear what the actual position is.
Labour would tighten rules on non-dom status, says Reeves
Keir Starmer has been criticised by some on the Labour left for shelving the party’s commitment to abolish non-dom status. Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, was asked about this in her Today programme interview this morning and, although she would not commit to getting rid of non-dom status altogether, she did say the party would tighten the rules. She said:
I’m very clear, if you live in this country, you should pay your full taxes here and that goes on non-dom status, tax havens, trusts and all the rest of it ...
Gordon Brown cracked down on some of these rules and an incoming Labour government would go further. If you live in this country, you should pay your full taxes here, not just some of your taxes, and Labour would change the rules so that was the case.
The Chartered College of Teaching, the professional body for teachers, has joined the chorus of voices rejecting Michael Fabricant’s claims that teachers enjoyed a quiet drink in the staffroom at the end of a long day during lockdown and demanded a retraction. (See 11.21am.)
CEO Dame Alison Peacock said throughout the pandemic teachers followed the rules to the letter and did everything that was expected of them and more. She said:
Our teachers showed calm professionalism amidst impossible circumstances ... Spending just a short amount of time with teachers would prove how obvious that point is. Any attempt to suggest otherwise shows a complete lack of knowledge about our wonderful profession and should be retracted.
GHB, a drug that is used to spike drinks, has been reclassified as a class B drug, meaning that people convicted of possession face tougher penalties, Priti Patel, the home secretary, has announced.
Previously it was a class C drug but it has been reclassified following a recommendation from the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. The ACMD was asked to review the issue by Patel in the light of concern about a rise in the incidence of spiking.
Two other drugs, GBL and 1,4-BD, have also been reclassified.
These drugs have been used to commit too many heinous crimes and it is right that sentences for those caught in possession of them reflect the damage they do.
I welcome the tightening of restrictions around these dangerous substances, introducing tougher penalties for possession sends a clear message to those who think they can get away with using it.
The Conservative MP Philip Davies has been telling constituents who have been asking him about the PM being fined for breaking lockdown rules that the real problem is that the rules were too strict in the first place. This is from one of his constituents.
The Conservative MP Simon Hoare has also joined those criticising Michael Fabricant for his claim about teachers and nurses. (See 11.21am.)
Unions condemn Tory MP Michael Fabricant for 'insulting' claim about teachers breaking lockdown rules
Yesterday the Conservative MP Michael Fabricant claimed that “many teachers and nurses” broke lockdown rules with postwork drinking, like Boris Johnson. His comment angered members of both professions who insisted he was wrong. The Royal College of Nursing wrote to him last night to say hospitals do not even allow alcohol on the premises for staff to drink in working hours.
Teachers unions are also protesting. The NAHT union for school leaders has sent a letter to the education secretary, Nadhim Zahawi, saying Fabricant’s comments were “wholly inaccurate and deeply insulting” to teachers as a profession. “I cannot overstate the hurt and anger these comments have caused,” said Paul Whiteman, the NAHT general secretary.
The National Education Union has also called Fabricant’s claims insulting. In a statement Mary Bousted, its joint general secretary, said:
Michael Fabricant’s attempt to defend the indefensible actions of the prime minister and chancellor are as insulting as they are offensive.
Teachers, nurses and the vast majority of the British public followed the rules set by Boris Johnson and his government. NEU members have gone above and beyond during the pandemic to keep the education system running and will be furious at this attempt to tar them with the same brush as law breakers in Downing Street.
And Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said that he would be writing to Fabricant to formally complain about the interview. He said:
Mr Fabricant’s remark is both factually incorrect and insulting. Unlike what seems to be the case in Downing Street, alcohol is not a feature of the working day in schools, and teachers do not drink in staff rooms.
On the Today programme Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was also asked about travel. Holidaymakers were likely to face some disruption this weekend, he said.
I think certainly this weekend will be extremely busy on our roads, potentially at our ports – of course, particularly at Dover, where P&O disgracefully sacked all of their staff and then attempted to run ships which wouldn’t have been safe with the replacement below minimum wage staff they tried to hire quickly – and we know that none of their ships are running at the moment. So I do expect there to be disruption, with no thanks to P&O there ...
I am very concerned that the operators – I’m talking about the airlines, the airports, the ports – do ensure that they get back to strength and quickly.
They lost a lot of people during the pandemic. We have been warning them for a long time that they would need to gear up again and I’m very keen to make sure that they do everything possible to manage what I realised will be – and always is in fact, the Easter weekend – a very busy weekend on our transport system.
This is from my colleague Jessica Elgot. Please help if you can, because we would like to know more about what Conservative MPs are telling their constituents about Partygate.
Homebuilders agree to put £2bn towards fixing unsafe cladding on high rises in England
More than 35 homebuilders have agreed to put £2bn towards fixing unsafe cladding on high-rise buildings in England identified in the aftermath of the Grenfell Tower disaster, Michael Gove, the housing secretary, has said. My colleague Rowena Mason has the story here.
The Conservative MP Nigel Mills has told PA Media more about why he thinks Boris Johnson should go now (see 9.10am) and why he does not accept that this would be a mistake because of the war in Ukraine. He said:
I have two comments on that. The first one is, when will Ukraine be any better than it is now? If you told me this crisis would be over in three months’ time, then you might say, ‘well OK, let’s get this done [then] the prime minister can meet his fate’.
But the Ukraine crisis could last for a very, very long time. Are we saying there’s no chance of a change of prime minister for years?
The second thing I’d say ... France are having an election – and they’re one of the three biggest parts of Nato. So if they can have an election with the alternative candidate being someone who probably [has] a radically different policy in relation to Ukraine than President (Emmanuel) Macron, whereas I don’t think any of the leadership contenders we would have would have a different policy to the prime minister.
So there wouldn’t really be any uncertainty that we would keep sending them as many weapons as we can and they want, and as much aid as we can, but we’re not going to be intervening. So I’m not convinced.
Mills is not alone in thinking the Ukraine war might go on for a very long time. At the start of the conflict Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said it could go on “for a number of years”. She said: “This is not going to be, I fear, over quickly. We need to be prepared for a very long haul.”
IFS warns interest rates on some student loans for graduates could hit 12%
The government needs to act quickly to avoid interest rates on post-2012 student loans for graduates soaring to 12% in England and Wales, according to the Institute for Fiscal Studies.
Based on today’s inflation figures, the IFS said graduates earning more than £49,000 will see interest rates of 12% on their loans while lower earners face 9% rates, from September this year.
The IFS says the rise will mainly affect higher earning graduates because they are more likely to repay their loans in full, while lower earners will have their remaining balances wiped 30 years after graduation.
A graduate earning more than £49,000 will have to repay an extra £3,000 on student loan balances of £50,000, the IFS estimates. But it says graduates face a rollercoaster of steeply rising and falling interest rates over the next few years.
Ben Waltmann, senior research economist at the IFS, said:
Unless the government changes the way student loan interest is determined, there will be wild swings in the interest rate over the next three years. The maximum rate will reach an eye-watering level of 12% between September 2022 and February 2023 and a low of around zero between September 2024 and March 2025.
There is no good economic reason for this. Interest rates on student loans should be low and stable, reflecting the government’s own cost of borrowing. The government urgently needs to adjust the way the interest rate cap operates to avoid a significant spike in September.
Replacing PM would help, not hinder, government efforts to support Ukraine, says Labour
Conservative MPs backing Boris Johnson have argued that it would be wrong to replace the prime minister while the war in Ukraine is taking place. But, in an interview with the Today programme this morning, Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, argued that having a new PM would help Britain show support for Urkaine. She explained:
The House of Commons, the Conservative party, the Labour party, are united in our support and solidarity with Ukraine, and our opposition to the aggression that we see from Russia in Ukraine. So changing the Conservative leader would not change our resolve in terms of the conflict in Ukraine.
What you would get is leadership that could concentrate on the job in hand. There was talk earlier this week about parliament being recalled to discuss the use of chemical weapons in Ukraine. That talk of recalling parliament has now disappeared because the prime minister knows if parliament is recalled, he will be asked about the parties and the fines and he doesn’t want to do that.
And so I would argue the exact opposite to what [Tory MPs are saying] – actually, fresh leadership would mean that we would have a government that could concentrate on the issues that we need to focus on as a country, including the cost of living crisis.
The former Conservative minister Edwina Currie told ITV’s Good Morning Britain earlier that she did not care if Boris Johnson broke the ministerial code by knowingly misleading parliament about the No 10 parties. What counted was the “results” produced by politicians, she said:
I don’t care, I really don’t care.
What matters for me and what matters for millions of people in this country is the results we get from our politicians. The results we get from Boris are pretty good ...
Last week we had a by-election here in the High Peak and we took a seat from Labour which means we’ve taken control of the borough from Labour.
Everybody had an opportunity to express their viewpoint. And what happened was we won the seat, we actually won it, that’s what’s happening.
Johnson has not accepted that that he intentionally misled parliament on the many occasions that he told MPs there were no parties at No 10, or that the rules were always followed. His argument is that he was not aware of some of the events, and that the ones he was aware of he thought were allowed under the rules.
Given what we now know about what took place, including the warnings issued to Johnson about at least one of the parties and No 10 staff joking privately about how others were impossible to justify, it is hard not to conclude that Johnson was at times lying to MPs.
Shapps refuses to say parties took place at No 10 – saying that is judgment for police
Here is a summary of the main points from Grant Shapps’ morning interviews.
- Shapps, the transport secretary, refused to confirm that parties took place at Downing Street in breach of lockdown rules. On the Today programme the presenter, Nick Robinson, said that Boris Johnson told MPs that there were no parties are No 10, after the surprise birthday event Johnson attended and after multiple other parties that have been reported. Asked if the government now accepts that there were parties at No 10, Shapps at first said Johnson did not set out to break the law. When pressed, Shapps said it was for the police to decide if parties took place. Asked why Johnson was not prepared to admit that parties took place at No 10, Shapps replied: “The police are the right people to rule on this, and they said that the gathering in the cabinet room where they wished the prime minister happy birthday breached the rules.”
- Shapps claimed that Johnson did not knowingly break the rules and that he was “completely mortified” about the fact that he did so unintentionally. (See 8.50am.)
- He said there was “clearly something wrong with the way that No 10 was operating at that time”.
- He said that he considered Johnson to be an honourable man and that he thought his record should be judged “in the round”. He said:
People judge somebody in the round, how they do the job overall. I’m not saying that the prime minister isn’t a flawed individual. We are all flawed in different ways. We all err.
The question is did someone set out to do these things with malice and overall is he doing a good job as prime minister? Which is why I do think it’s relevant how he performs the rest of his job, the rest of his task.
My colleague John Crace says that judging Johnson “in the round” might not help him very much.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, told BBC Radio Scotland this morning that he thought Boris Johnson told the truth. Asked if he thought Johnson was a truthful man, Ross replied: “Yes, and he’s dealing with the situation in Ukraine and he’s dealing with the situation at home here.”
But Ross admitted that Johnson claims about there being no parties at No 10 were not accurate. Asked if those comments were true, he replied:
Clearly not, because the Met police have decided that fixed penalty notices had to be issued.
Ross said that he supported Johnson staying in office because it would benefit Vladimir Putin if he were to go. Ross said:
Anything that would destabilise the UK government at this time would be a bonus to Vladimir Putin. He is indiscriminately killing innocent people and I will do nothing to support a war criminal like Putin.
Ben Houchen, the Conservative Tees Valley mayor, has told LBC he thinks Boris Johnson should be judged “in the round” and not on the basis of Partygate. He said:
I think as with everything in life, the prime minister has apologised.
Obviously, it’s a very, very serious issue. He has clearly made a very serious and grave mistake, but I’m a big believer in life, as we all should be, [that] we all make mistakes.
We have all done things that we regret. We have all done things that we get wrong, but I’m a big believer of looking at people in the round and judging them in the context of all of their actions, and not just on a single action.
Nigel Mills becomes first Tory MP to publicly call for PM's resignation since fine issued
Nigel Mills has become the first Conservative MP to say publicly, since Boris Johnson was fined, that he should no longer remain as prime minister. The BBC’s Georgia Roberts has his quotes.
Mills is only being consistent. In January he said that, if Johnson were shown to have attended a party in breach of lockdown rules, he would have to resign. But many of Mills’ colleagues who were saying similar things at the start of the Partygate scandal are now saying the Ukraine war has changed their thinking.
The Spectator is keeping a tally of what Tory MPs have been saying about whether Johnson should stay or go since the news that he was being fined broke yesterday. They have 69 MPs backing him, and only one (Mills) saying he should go. That’s a very positive ratio, but it also means that almost 300 Tory MPs have yet to express a view. Some of that can be explained by the (understandable) reluctance of some of them to feel the need to tweet about everything, but it also may be because some of them have considerable reservations about the PM, which for now they are keeping to themselves.
Boris Johnson ‘completely mortified’ at being fined for breaking lockdown rules, says Shapps
Good morning. Boris Johnson has now been fined for breaking the Covid lockdown rules that he drew up and ordered the nation to obey, but Conservative MPs are happy for him to remain as prime minister - at least for now. Although no one would claim this is a triumph, his survival prospects now look much better than his colleagues thought they would be at this point. Crucially, the Tory press, which came close to giving up on him when the Partygate scandal first erupted, is broadly supportive, as my colleague Warren Murray shows here.
Here is our overnight story about Johnson, his wife Carrie and Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, all being fined for lockdown breaches - and paying them - yesterday.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, and one of the best media performers in the cabinet, has had the awkward job of defending Johnson on the media this morning. His argument has been that Johnson made a mistake, but that he’s only human, it wasn’t intentional, and that he’s truly sorry. He told Sky News:
The one thing I know – and I spoke to the prime minister – is he is completely mortified by this happening ...
He didn’t knowingly break the law. He didn’t do it deliberately. He didn’t come to parliament and having knowingly done this. He thought in fact that the same people who wished him happy birthday, who he had already been meeting with earlier that day, was not breaking the law.
The police take a different view. He absolutely accepts that and has paid the fine ...
The question I suppose, your question goes to the heart of, you know, did he set out to do this? Was it something that was done with malice, with intent?
And the answer of course, is no. It’s something that happened in error, and as I have said, I’ve spoken to him, he is incredibly embarrassed by the whole thing.
He knows that it was stupid, indefensible. But he didn’t set out to break the law, and he has paid the fixed penalty notice fine, and has a very big job to do.
I will post more from the Shapps interviews shortly.
Yesterday Tory MPs weren’t calling for Johnson’s resignation. Today we will see whether that changes. Parliament is not sitting, and many MPs are on holiday, but there is a campaign event in Scotland where Ruth Davidson, the former Scottish Tory leader, and Douglas Ross, the current one, are appearing together. Davidson wants Johnson to resign, but Ross doesn’t, and so message discipline might get tricky.
Otherwise the only thing we are expecting is an update from Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, on his plans to get the housing industry to fund the removal of unsafe cladding from flats.
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