Truss and Sunak face Tory hustings after both say Covid lockdown went too far – as it happened

Last modified: 08: 19 PM GMT+0

Latest updates: Tory leadership frontrunner reacts to Sunak comments, saying school closures went too far; pair meet Tory members in Norwich

A summary of today's developments

  • At the penultimate hustings in Norfolk, Liz Truss said she would prefer Boris Johnson be prime minister rather than Rishi Sunak.

  • Sunak said he would rather Truss be prime minister than Johnson, as he called for the country to “move forward”.

  • Truss said the “jury’s out” on whether France’s president Emmanuel Macron is “friend or foe” to the UK. The foreign secretary added that if she was prime minister she would judge him on “deeds not words”.

  • Truss said she questioned lockdown policy during the pandemic, and argued on reflection “we did do too much”.

  • Steve Barclay, the health secretary, was harangued by a passerby outside a hospital who demanded to know what he was going to do about the ambulance waiting time crisis. She said that during their 12 years in office the Tories had done “bugger all about it”.

  • Ipsos released some new polling that suggests that, by a margin of more than two to one, people do not trust Liz Truss to reduce the cost of living. Keir Starmer has the best ratings on this measure of the four politicians featured in the poll, followed by Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and then Truss.

  • Prof John Edmunds, head of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and one of the most prominent and influential figures on Sage during the pandemic, has responded to Rishi Sunak’s criticism of the pandemic scientists. He says that if Sunak thinks the economic consequences of lockdown did not receive enough attention, then Sunak himself is to blame, because as chancellor he should have been commissioning that analysis.

  • In his World at One interview, Rishi Sunak also ruled out leaving politics if he loses the leadership campaign. When it was put to him that Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, said today that Sunak’s Spectator interview read like something from someone “whose epicly bad campaign had melted his brain” and who was about to quit politics (see 12.11pm), Sunak laughed briefly and said this was “absolutely not” the case.

  • Albanian police could be brought to the UK to observe migrant arrivals and pass on intelligence in a bid to tackle Channel crossings, PA Media reports.

And that brings the hustings to an end.

The final one is in London on 31 August.


Truss is told by an audience member that one of the major benefits of Brexit was meant to be free trade and is asked whether she is a free trader or a protectionist.

She replies she is a free trader and has “scars on my back” from battles in Whitehall to get the Australian deal through.


Truss vowed to “take on” the so-called “Treasury orthodoxy” that means money is funnelled into areas already heavily invested in.

The foreign secretary told the audience: “I would level up in a Conservative way, by setting up low tax investment zones where local communities want them, driving business, growth and investment.

“And I’ll also take on the Treasury orthodoxy, the rules that currently mean that more investment goes into areas that already have the investment.”

Questioned about single-sex changing rooms, Truss said: “I am very clear and I have made this clear in parliament. Places absolutely have the ability to restrict access on the basis of biological sex.”

But she is asked about Marks & Spencer’s decision to allow shoppers to choose whether to use the men’s or women’s changing rooms.

She replies: “M&S is a shop, they can decide their policies as they see fit.”


When asked to name a single public service that works well, Truss says the education system has got a hell of a lot better in the last ten years.

Emmanuel Macron, friend or foe? Truss says the jury is out and she will judge the French president on deeds not words.

If not you, who would be a better PM, Boris Johnson or Sunak? Truss says Johnson.


Following on from Sunak’s comments to The Spectator about Sage advisers being empowered too much during the pandemic, Truss said she questioned the lockdowns.

She said: “Clearly in retrospect, we did do too much. It was too draconian. I don’t think we should have closed schools.

“A lot of children have ended up suffering.”

She added: “I can assure you that I would never impose a lockdown if I am selected as PM.”


Truss said she would fundamentally change the NHS culture of top-heavy management and review doctors’ pensions.

“It’s not about the money – it’s about the culture,” she said.


It is now Truss’s turn. She said she would introduce league tables of how long police forces spent on the beat and tackling crime.

She also said she supported stop and search.

Earlier, Sunak said it is “easy to bash the BBC”, but described it as a “proud British institution”.

Asked if the BBC has a Tory or Labour bias, or if it is neutral, he said: “There’s no woke bias option in there.”

He added: “I actually think the BBC is ... something that everyone in this country is actually proud of, but it’s right that it reflects the values of everyone in this country and that is what is not done.”


On energy bills, Truss says her approach is to cut taxes and she believes the UK has not been getting enough gas out of the North Sea nor going fast enough on nuclear or renewable energy.


Sunak responds to question about fishing by saying he acknowledges some fishing communities feel Brexit has not delivered the deal they thought it would.

He says there is a need to robustly renegotiate quotas.

Sunak says we need to overcome an aversion to “flat pack” housing and he wants to help young people get on the housing ladder much faster by “turbo-charging” a scheme that allows first-time buyers to purchase a home with a small deposit.


Sunak says he wants to look at the school curriculum as we are “pretty much” the only advanced economy in the world that allows children to give up maths by age 18.

He adds he also wants to improve apprenticeships.

Sunak says he will invest in the armed forces but says doesn’t believe in arbitrary targets.

Asked who he would rather be stuck in a lift with, Keir Starmer or Nicola Sturgeon, Sunak says he would take the stairs.

But the former chancellor says Truss would make a better prime minister than Boris Johnson.


The former chancellor claims a “woke” ideology is stopping police forces from doing what they want to do and cites stop and search as an example.


Sunak reaffirms that he would not abandon the UK’s net zero carbon policy.

He said innovation, such as small modular reactors, was key to reducing emissions, while also reducing bills and creating jobs.


During the Q&A session, Sunak reiterated promises to cut VAT on energy bills and target extra support to the poorest and the elderly, attacking Liz Truss’s tax-cut plans, which he believes would not benefit the latter.


Truss reiterates she would add 3% to defence spending by the end of the decade if she becomes PM.


Truss has vowed to remove top-down housing targets and create low-tax investment zones.

The foreign secretary adds it has taken “far too long” to get the A47 made into a dual carriageway and the Ely rail junction improved.


Protesters outside the Conservative party leadership election hustings at the Holiday Inn Norwich North, Norwich. A sign says 'Freeze bills, not people'.
Protesters outside the Conservative party leadership election hustings at the Holiday Inn Norwich North, Norwich. Photograph: Tolga Akmen/EPA


Liz Truss, who was introduced onto the stage by the work and pensions secretary Thérèse Coffey, argues that after two decades of relatively low growth, it could no longer be business as usual.

Truss said: “We shouldn’t have put up national insurance – we promised not to in our manifesto.”

She said she would legislate immediately to stop trade unions disrupting public services.


The former chancellor pledges to reward businesses which innovate and expand with tax cuts.

He added that he will not pursue policies that risk making inflation worse and longer lasting.


Rishi Sunak, who was backed by the health secretary Steve Barclay on stage, begins with familiar rhetoric about the NHS needing to be reformed, taking on “lefty woke culture”, and adding that he has “radical plans” to tackle illegal immigration to ensure “proper control of our borders”.


Supporters of the Conservative leadership candidates at the hustings event in Norwich.
Supporters of the Conservative leadership candidates at the hustings event in Norwich. Photograph: John Sibley/Reuters

We are underway in Norwich with the introductory speeches from chair of the national convention, Peter Booth.


Rishi Sunak and Liz Truss go head-to-head at 7pm

The penultimate Conservative leadership hustings will take place in Norwich shortly. You can follow all of the action here.

More than 1.1m visas were issued in the 12 months to June to people coming to the UK for work, study or family reasons, or through one of the government’s settlement schemes.

A total of 331,233 work visas were granted, along with 491,924 study visas and 36,470 family visas, plus 5,214 visas for dependents joining or accompanying others.

In addition, 133,854 were issued under the Ukraine visa schemes, 75,764 were granted to British National (Overseas) status holders from Hong Kong, 40,602 were issued under the EU settlement scheme, and 3,230 under other settlement schemes.

The combined total of 1,118,291 visas is the fourth successive record high for a 12-month period since current figures began in 2005.

Kevin Foster, the minister for safe and legal migration, said: “The government has delivered on its promise to the British people to take back control of our immigration system and bring the brightest and best skilled workers to grow our economy.”


The government will step up to help people more over the coming months, a minister has promised ahead of record energy bills set to be announced on Friday.

Will Quince, an education minister, said there was “no question” there would be further support on top of what was announced in May.

Energy bills are widely expected to top £3,500 per year for the average household from the start of October, compared with £1,971 today.

“There is no question in my mind whatsoever, both listening to the two leadership candidates but also just looking at our economy ... that the government is going to act and put in place a further package of support measures,” Quince told LBC radio.

“Now, we will have to wait a couple of weeks for a new prime minister to set out their agenda alongside a new chancellor, but both leadership contenders have been clear there will be a fiscal event and more help will be coming.”


Keir Starmer is planning a trip to Ukraine in the late autumn as he moves to cement his relations with the Kyiv government as it continues its fight against Russia, my colleagues Luke Harding and Rowena Mason report.

That is all from me for today. My colleague Nadeem Badshah is taking over now for the rest of the evening.

Truss says lockdown policy went 'too far', especially with school closures

Liz Truss has joined Rishi Sunak, her rival in the Tory leadership contest, in saying the Covid lockdown was too strict. Asked about Sunak’s comments in his Spectator interview (see 9.22am and 9.47am), she said:

I didn’t actually sit on the Covid committee during that time, I was busy striking trade deals around the world.

My view is we did go too far, particularly on keeping schools closed.

I’ve got two teenage daughters and know how difficult it was for children and parents and I would not have a lockdown again …

I was very clear in cabinet, I was one of the key voices in favour of opening up.

Liz Truss visiting Condimentum Ltd at the Food Enterprise Park in Norwich today.
Liz Truss visiting Condimentum Ltd at the Food Enterprise Park in Norwich today. Photograph: Getty Images


Health secretary harangued outside hospital by woman saying Tories have done 'bugger all' about ambulance waiting times

Steve Barclay, the health secretary, has been harangued by a passerby outside a hospital who demanded to know what he was going to do about the ambulance waiting time crisis. She said that during their 12 years in office the Tories had done “bugger all about it”.

"Twelve years – you’ve done bugger all about it."

This is the moment an angry member of the public interrupted a press interview with Health Secretary Steve Barclay to ask him why the Government has done “nothing” about lengthy waits for ambulances

— PA Media (@PA) August 25, 2022

Wes Streeting, the shadow health secretary, agrees.


— Wes Streeting MP (@wesstreeting) August 25, 2022


Truss brushes aside poll saying people trust Starmer, Sunak and Johnson more than her to cut cost of living

Ipsos has released some new polling that suggests that, by a margin of more than two to one, people do not trust Liz Truss to reduce the cost of living. Keir Starmer has the best ratings on this measure of the four politicians featured in the poll, followed by Rishi Sunak, Boris Johnson and then Truss.

Polling on cost of living and trust
Polling on cost of living and trust. Photograph: Ipsos

In an interview shown on Sky News Truss was asked about the poll. She brushed aside the findings, insisted that she understood the problem and that she would make sure people could “keep more money in their pockets”. She said:

I am somebody in every job I’ve done in government that’s followed through on what I promised, whether it’s delivering the trade deals at the trade department, delivering on the Northern Ireland protocol bill at the Foreign Office.

And I can assure people I understand the problem, I understand high energy costs, I will work to deal with the supply issues, and also make sure that people are able to keep more money in their own pockets.

The “money in pockets” line was a reference to Truss’s plan to cut national insurance. In its report today the Resolution Foundation says this would not address the problem. It says:

Whatever your view on the wider costs and benefits of large tax cuts proposed by Liz Truss, they are largely irrelevant to the problem facing the country this winter. Reversing the recent national insurance rise would see twice as much of the benefit go to the top twentieth (28 per cent) as the entire bottom half (15 per cent), and despite energy bills rising across the country it would raise incomes in London (£640) by twice as much as in the North East, Yorkshire & the Humber and Wales (£290 a year).

Liz Truss on Sky News
Liz Truss on Sky News. Photograph: Sky News


The Resolution Foundation thinktank has published a report today setting out two options for addressing the energy bills crisis. It says other proposals on the table to address the problem do not go far enough. It is particularly scathing about the plans for tax cuts from Liz Truss, who seems all but certain to be next prime minister. Her ideas are “largely irrelevant to the problem facing the country this winter”, the thinktank says.

My colleague Larry Elliott has a summary of the report here.

And Torsten Bell, head of the Resolution Foundation, has posted a good thread about the report on Twitter. It starts here.

The world has changed on energy bills so policy will have to too. We can wake up to that reality now or later, but either way we’ll be in a very different phase of this crisis policy wise by Christmas. A thread.

— Torsten Bell (@TorstenBell) August 25, 2022


Leading Sage scientists says Sunak to blame if economic case against lockdown overlooked, because he was chancellor

Prof John Edmunds, head of infectious disease modelling at the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine and one of the most prominent and influential figures on Sage during the pandemic, has responded to Rishi Sunak’s criticism of the pandemic scientists. He says that if Sunak thinks the economic consequences of lockdown did not receive enough attention, then Sunak himself is to blame, because as chancellor he should have been commissioning that analysis.

In a statement for the Science Media Centre, Edmunds said:

It is not well understood, but Sage’s role was quite narrow: to review and assess the scientific evidence to help inform the decision-makers. It did not consider the economic aspects – it was not asked to do so and was not constituted to do so.

There may be some truth to the argument that the scientific evidence often outweighed the economic data; however, the answer is not to get less scientific evidence (or ignore some scientific evidence), but to build up a clearer picture of the economic and wider impact of different policies, using the best evidence available at the time. I am not aware of this happening in a systematic, open, peer-reviewed way.

Where, for instance, was the equivalent of Sage and all its subgroups on the economic side? Was there an army of economists in universities and research institutes across the country working night and day to collect, sift, analyse and project the possible impact of different policies? And if not, why not? As the chancellor of the exchequer Mr Sunak could have set up such a system, but did not.

Prof John Edmunds
Prof John Edmunds. Photograph: Simon Dawson/Reuters


Tom Whipple, science editor at the Times, has joined those saying that Rishi Sunaks’s criticisms of Sage over Covid policy are unfounded. (See 9.22am and 9.47am)

The epidemiologists did explain how their modelling worked, Whipple says.

The Spectator Sunak interview is fascinating stuff. One bit that doesn't tally with my memory is when he says in the first year he wasn't told the assumptions underlying modelling. Didn't they come with academic papers?

— Tom Whipple (@whippletom) August 25, 2022

For instance, here's the famous Imperial report

— Tom Whipple (@whippletom) August 25, 2022

And there was intense debate about whether it was right to close schools, Whipple says.

Memory is fallible, but my recollection of early March is that the one area of real argument in Sage meetings was schools.

Documents show a lot of concern - I wrote at the time that discussion was "agonised". Eg.

— Tom Whipple (@whippletom) August 25, 2022

It came up regularly with people I chatted to, and was clearly a concern (to the extent I was surprised it happened, certainly the second time). I wrote about the state of evidence and how tough the decisions were here.

— Tom Whipple (@whippletom) August 25, 2022

Labour campaigners have been posing on Parliament Square as Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak relaxing in deck chairs on holiday, for a stunt photocall.

Labour’s stunt photocall in Parliament Square.
Labour’s stunt photocall in Parliament Square. Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images

They are out to make the point that the Tories are “chilling on the job” at a time of national crisis, while Labour has a plan to address the energy bills crisis.

🏖 Under the Tories: a government chilling on the job.

💵 With Labour: a fully costed plan to freeze your energy bill and save you £1,000.

— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) August 25, 2022

(You can see the point, and Labour is right to say that the government has been on autopilot in recent weeks, but visually it does not work because in one sense it is completely wrong; Truss and Sunak are probably about the only MPs who have not had a holiday this summer, because they have been participating in endless leadership hustings.)

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has signed a deal with his Ukrainian counterpart, Oleksandr Kubrakov, saying the UK will help Ukraine repair its transport infrastructure. The Department for Transport says:

After a presentation from Ukrainian officials on the true impact of the war to their train network, roads and bridges, the two transport leaders signed a joint action plan to help restore these vital links. It agrees to share expert advice from prestigious UK-based private-sector organisations. The UK will also send five buses from the Go Ahead Group to support reconnecting the Ukrainian public and buy equipment to repair routes which are crucial for the exportation of grain.

Experts will offer knowledge in airport, runway and port reconstruction, and will work with the Ministry of Infrastructure to identify training opportunities for airport staff, air traffic controllers and aviation security.

Grant Shapps during a virtual meeting with his counterpart in Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov, as they signed a UK-Ukraine action plan to rebuild transport infrastructure.
Grant Shapps during a virtual meeting with his counterpart in Ukraine, Oleksandr Kubrakov, as they signed a UK-Ukraine action plan to rebuild transport infrastructure. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA


A question from below the line.


What does Dominic Cummings' shopping trolley emoji mean?

Dominic Cummings regularly refers to Boris Johnson as the shopping trolley, or trolley, or just by using the emoji, because he says Johnson is indecisive and veers all over the place on policy, like a shopping trolley.

But, interestingly, it was not Cummings who coined this insult; it was Johnson himself. In the run-up to Brexit, before he had decided whether to back leave or remain, he described himself as “veering all over the place like a shopping trolley”.


Sunak denies planning to quit politics if he loses Tory leadership contest

In his World at One interview, Rishi Sunak also ruled out leaving politics if he loses the leadership campaign. When it was put to him that Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, said today that Sunak’s Spectator interview read like something from someone “whose epicly bad campaign had melted his brain” and who was about to quit politics (see 12.11pm), Sunak laughed briefly and said this was “absolutely not” the case.


Sunak says he will vote for Truss's emergency budget if she wins - after ducking question twice earlier this week

Rishi Sunak has said that he would vote for a Liz Truss emergency budget if she became prime minister. At the Conservative party hustings on Tuesday night, and again in a BBC interview yesterday, Sunak pointedly refused to answer when asked whether he would vote in favour of such a measure. He has repeatedly argued that Truss’s plan to reverse the national insurance increase in that emergency budget would be a mistake because it would be inflationary, unfunded and most beneficial to the rich.

But in an interview with Sarah Montague on the World at One a few minutes ago, Sunak said he would back a Truss budget. Asked about his refusal to say he would vote for it, he replied:

Of course I would. I would always support a Conservative government, of course I would. It goes without saying.

He claimed that, when he gave a different answer earlier this week, he did so because he was refusing to acknowledge the possibility that he might lose the contest. He was still fighting to win, he said. He went on:

But, of course, I’m going to support a Conservative government. I believe very strongly in the Conservative party, and I want it to do well and I will always – whether as a minister or as a backbencher – always support Conservative government because I believe that’s the best thing for this country. I want to make sure that we beat Labour at the next election.


Labour says today’s GCSE results show the Conservatives are failing to close the attainment gap in schools. The party says the results show that 53% of grades given to independent school pupils were at grade 7 or above, up from 47% in 2019. But for secondary comprehensive schools the figure was just 23.3%, up from 18.5% in 2019.

Labour also says the number of awards at grade 7 or above in London has risen 50% faster than in Yorkshire or the north-west.

Stephen Morgan, the shadow schools minister, said:

Students receiving their results today have worked incredibly hard through unprecedented disruption.

Yet the Conservatives are holding back our kids, enabling the gap in grades between state and private schools and across different parts of the country to grow.


Sunak wrong to say scientists given too much power over lockdown policy, Sage experts say

A leading member of Sage, the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, has criticised Rishi Sunak for suggesting it had too much power to determine policy during the pandemic. (See 9.22am and 9.47am)

In a statement for the Science Media Centre, Prof Graham Medley, a member of Sage and chair of SPI-M (the Scientific Pandemic Influenza group on Modelling – a Sage sub-group) said:

Government have the power, so if one member of cabinet thinks that scientific advice was too ‘empowered’ then it is a criticism of their colleagues rather than the scientists.

Prof Ian Boyd, another Sage member, also said Sunak was wrong to suggest the scientists took the decision. And he dismissed Sunak’s suggestion that Sage ignored the downsides of lockdown. He said:

Sage was established to provide advice based on scientific evidence and inference about how best to tackle the pandemic. The advice was based on the information available at the time.

Retrospective analysis of that advice needs to take account of what was known, and not known, at the time the advice was provided. Especially in the early stages of the pandemic, an immense amount was not known, and this meant that risks were high, and therefore precaution was called for.

Sage did not make decisions, it tried to reflect its uncertainties in its advice and it worked by consensus. Members were acutely aware of the trade-offs associated with implementing specific actions. To the extent that it was possible with the information available at the time, these trade-offs were included within the uncertainty expressed in the advice.


Sunak says he was 'starstruck' being interviewed by Laura Kuenssberg for first time

Mel Stride, the Tory MP and Rishi Sunak supporter, is hosting the Q&A. He ends with some quickfire questions.

Q: What does your wife make of you being called “dishy Rishi”?

“Mild amusement” is her reaction, Sunak says.

Q: Have you got favourite food from childhood?

Sunak mentions his mother’s chicken curry. And his dad was a master of the barbecue, he says.

Q: What would you like your children to learn from you?

Sunak says people try to bring up their kids with good values. From his own parents he learnt the importance of working hard, and treating everyone with respect. As a GP and pharmacist, they served the community. And the third thing is value for money, he says.

And he says he hopes, from seeing him in his job, his children have learnt the importance of perserverance.

Q: What was your favourite moment in the Commons?

Sunak says it was giving his maiden speech. But he also mentions taking Treasury questions with his daughter watching from the gallery.

Q: Have you ever been starstruck by someone?

Yes, says Sunak. He recalls meeting Matthew Le Tissier and Alan Shearer together. He also mentions meeting David Beckham and David Gower. And, admitting this may sound surprising, he admits he was “very starstruck” when he was interviewed for the first time by Laura Kuenssberg, the BBC’s then political editor, when he was chancellor.

Laura Kuenssberg – Rishi Sunak says he was starstruck the first time she interviewed him.
Laura Kuenssberg – Rishi Sunak says he was starstruck the first time she interviewed him. Photograph: Keith Larby/Alamy


In his Q&A, Rishi Sunak says that, if there are jobs that need to be filled, people who are unemployed should be doing those jobs. He says he wants to reform the welfare system. He wants to support people into those jobs, he says.


Sunak accepts trade intensity has fallen since Brexit, but claims pandemic could be major reason why

The Rishi Sunak Q&A has started. Sunak is now responding to a question from someone who says Brexit has clearly damaged the economy and should be reversed.

Sunak says we have to respect the result of the referendum and “move on”. He claims that he came up with the idea for freeports as a backbench MP, and he says that that is an example of a benefit of Brexit.

Responding to the claim that Brexit has reduced the intensity of trade with the EU, Sunak says the questioner is right to say it has fallen. But he says it is still not clear how much of that is due to the effects of the pandemic, and an increased focus on resilience (which would lead to people cutting their reliance on imports), and how much of that is due to a change in trading patterns.

But he says with Brexit the UK can negotiate new trade deals.

(In fact, the Office for Budget Responsibility says the evidence shows that it is Brexit, not the pandemic, that has reduced trade intensity.)

Rishi Sunak
Rishi Sunak Photograph: YouTube


Cummings says Sunak's lockdown policy comments 'dangerous rubbish'

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser, has described Rishi Sunak’s Spectator interview on lockdown policy as “dangerous rubbish”.

The Sunak interview is dangerous rubbish, reads like a man whose epicly bad campaign has melted his brain & he’s about to quit politics. Also pins blame *unfairly* on 🛒 & others. Will blog later

— Dominic Cummings (@Dominic2306) August 25, 2022

Also BTW his ‘science superpower’ article policy list yesterday is partly a list of stuff HMT blocked/delayed whilst he never showed up to NSTC

He seems to be suffering 🛒-like from rewrite-history-syndrome

Cf. for HMT/science

— Dominic Cummings (@Dominic2306) August 25, 2022

Cummings has revealed that he was one of the people in government arguing for a firmer lockdown policy. Since he left government, he has repeatedly criticised Boris Johnson for not imposing the lockdown more swiftly.

At the start of the leadership contest Sunak was accused of being in league with Cummings, a figure hated by Boris Johnson loyalists, and also by many MPs. Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary who is supporting Liz Truss, claimed Cummings was backing Sunak.

Monday's Mail: Rishi caught in Cummings 'toxic smears' storm #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyMail #Mail

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) July 10, 2022

At the time the claim was denied, and today’s tweets should quash it for good.


Rishi Sunak is about to do a live Q&A for Facebook and YouTube. There is a live feed here.

The Home Office has now released its news release on the announcement to fast track the removal of Albanian migrants who have no right to be in the UK. (See 10.33am.)

Daniel Sohege, director of Stand for All, a refugee rights advocacy organisation, says that the detail does not quite match up with the story as it has been reported on the basis of the overnight briefing. He explains why in a Twitter thread.

Thread: Okay, this doesn't exactly match up to what is being reported in the press about some new agreement between Albania and the UK. Looks like quite a lot of hedging and posturing, with none of the practicalities or legalities addressed. 1/

— Daniel Sohege 🧡 (@stand_for_all) August 25, 2022

First off, "pledged" in diplomatic terms is not the same as "signed a binding agreement". It's more like I pledged not to annoy my wife, and while I try not to it definitely hasn't held up. 2/

— Daniel Sohege 🧡 (@stand_for_all) August 25, 2022

Roughly 53% of Albanian asylum applications are successful, so this claim is automatically debunked by the Home Office's own statistics. Not being a war zone doesn't make somewhere defacto safe for everyone. 3/

— Daniel Sohege 🧡 (@stand_for_all) August 25, 2022

This doesn't seem to really match up with the "days" claim being reported in the press from Home Office sources. Processing an asylum claim takes time, and nothing in this release suggests they won't be processed. So this just reflects the existing agreement signed last year. 4/

— Daniel Sohege 🧡 (@stand_for_all) August 25, 2022

Obvious risks of asking the authorities of a country to someone is seeking asylum from to be involved in their asylum decision aside, again the text of the press release and what is reported in the press don't match up. 5/

— Daniel Sohege 🧡 (@stand_for_all) August 25, 2022

"Fast tracked" is mentioned only once in the press release, right at the start, and with a fairly large disclaimer of "wherever possible". There is nothing of substance in the rest of it to show how this would be achieved within the law though. It's all fluff. 6/

— Daniel Sohege 🧡 (@stand_for_all) August 25, 2022

Lee Cain, who was director of communications in Downing Street during the early phase of the Covid crisis, says Rishi Sunak’s comments about the lockdown policy (see 9.22am and 9.47am) are “simply wrong”.

Huge admirer of Rishi Sunak but his position on lockdown is simply wrong. It would have been morally irresponsible of the govt not to implement lockdown in spring 2020 - the failure to do so would have killed tens-of-thousands of people who survived covid 1/2

— Lee Cain (@MrLeeCain) August 25, 2022

In addition, without lockdown the NHS simply could not have survived & would have been overwhelmed. This would have seen an even greater backlog of excess deaths for missed cancer appointments etc

— Lee Cain (@MrLeeCain) August 25, 2022

But Sunak is not saying lockdown should not have happened, as Cain suggests. He is just saying that it was implemented too rigidly, and perhaps for too long, and that more consideration should have been given to the downsides.

John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, has insisted he has “no legal standing” to negotiate a deal to end strike action that has left rubbish piled up on the streets of Edinburgh, PA Media reports. PA says:

Swinney met union leaders on Wednesday evening after action by council cleansing staff spread from Edinburgh to other parts of the country.

He said afterwards that while he is “determined to be helpful”, a deal to end the pay row has to be reached by unions and employers at local government body Cosla.

Unions have warned their action will escalate if an agreement cannot be reached to increase workers’ wages.

Cleansing staff at 14 councils in Scotland are now out on strike, with unions targeting schools and early years centres next - with a three-day walkout planned for next month which could see some schools forced to close.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland this morning, Swinney said:

What I have encouraged Cosla to do is to enter into intense negotiations with the trade unions, the trade unions want those intense negotiations to help to resolve matters. I will be as helpful as I possibly can be to try to bring agreement together. …

I can’t negotiate this agreement, I am not the employer, I have no legal standing to negotiate.

Layla Moran, the Lib Dem MP and chair of the all-party parliamantary group of coronavirus, says that, contrary to what Rishi Sunak claims in his Spectator interview (see 9.22am and 9.47am), the government paid too little attention to the scientific advice during Covid, not too much. She says:

In his desperation to salvage his floundering leadership ambitions, the former chancellor’s post-match punditry ignores that it was his government’s indecisiveness and unscientific approach which gave us the worst of all worlds; the biggest economic hit in the G7, a tragically high death toll, enormous NHS waiting lists and ironically, more time in lockdown.

Having been responsible for this mismanagement and fined for breaking his own rules, Rishi Sunak has nothing more to say to us about the pandemic beyond apologising and submitting himself and all relevant evidence to the official Covid inquiry which must report before the next general election.

Moran is referring to claims that the Covid death toll would have much lower if the government had locked down earlier, in March 2020, and again at the end of that year.

These are from the Economist’s Matthew Holehouse on Rishi Sunak’s Spectator interview. (See 9.22am and 9.47am.)

Fascinating interview. Doubling down on lockdown scepticism does on some level appear to make sense, esp for a candidate that as Sunak’s own ad says “nothing to lose”. Except…

— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) August 25, 2022

It does risk reinforcing the overwhelming number top negative with Tory members: a perception of disloyalty to the Johnson admin, which gives him far less room to criticise than Truss enjoys…

— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) August 25, 2022

And there is an obvious risk of negating what Sunak has claimed as his strongest achievement - piloting the economy through Covid…

— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) August 25, 2022

It is not contradictory to say HMT did a fine job on furlough, but the advice to do so was wrong. But it makes for a muddy, even Cakeist, campaign. Running both on and against the govt’s record on covid. Mr Furlough to the public; Mr Lockdown-sceptic to the party.

— Matthew Holehouse (@mattholehouse) August 25, 2022

Mark Harper, a former Tory chief whip who is backing Rishi Sunak in the leadership contest, has welcomed Sunak’s comments about lockdown. Harper chairs the Covid Recovery Group, which represents lockdown-sceptic Conservatives, and he told LBC:

All that I was doing from outside government, Rishi Sunak was doing inside government, was asking some questions about how we balance these things, how you trade it off and make the choices?

And the government was not being honest about that publicly. It was setting out that there were no choices, that you had to follow ‘The Science’, capitalised T, capitalised S, and dissenting voices were not allowed.

When I raised questions – and we questioned the modelling – people in No 10 briefed out to journalists that we deliberately wanted to kill thousands of people which was clearly nonsense. We were simply asking questions to get better decisions, and I’m pleased that Rishi Sunak shone a bit of a light on what was going on in government at the time.


Patel announces plan to fast track removal of Albanian migrants as figures show small boat arrivals rising

Albanian police could be brought to the UK to observe migrant arrivals and pass on intelligence in a bid to tackle Channel crossings, PA Media reports. PA says:

The plan, part of a deal struck between Priti Patel, the home secretary, and the Albanian government, may see officers taken to the Kent coast to be present while migrants are processed and assist UK authorities with information, the Home Office said.

But it is yet to be confirmed when this could take effect.

Patel and Bledi Cuci, Albania’s minister for interior affairs, also pledged to speed up removals of Albanians with no right to be in the UK from next week when they discussed the situation on Tuesday night.

Checks on migrants arriving by boat who are suspected of being Albanian will be fast-tracked, it is understood.

Adverts in Albanian on Facebook and Instagram were also launched on Wednesday to try and deter people from making the journey.

According to the Home Office, Albania is a “safe and prosperous country” and many nationals “are travelling through multiple countries to make the journey to the UK” before making “spurious asylum claims when they arrive”.

The story was briefed last night and makes the Daily Mail splash this morning.

Thursday's Mail: Fast Track To Deport Albanian Boat Migrants #TomorrowsPapersToday #DailyMail #Mail

— Tomorrows Papers Today (@TmorrowsPapers) August 24, 2022

The Home Office briefed the initiative ahead of the publication this morning of figures on irregular migration to the UK in the year ending June 2022. It shows the number of people arriving by small boats across the Channel in the first six months of this year (12,747) was more than double the total for the same period last year (5,917).

Arrivals in the UK via small boats
Arrivals in the UK via small boats Photograph: Home Office

The Home Office report says that more than half (51%) of small boat arrivals in the first half of this year were from just three countries: Albania (18%), Afghanistan (18%) and Iran (15%).

It also says “the number of Albanians arriving on small boats has increased substantially over the last quarter”.

Dr Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University of London, has rejected Rishi Sunak’s claim that scientists were wrongly “empowered” during the Covid pandemic. (See 9.47am.)

Um, I have news for you... we weren't 'empowered'. The govt (which you are a part of) continued to make policies which had no basis in science, and killed >200,000 people & disabled hundreds of thousands while we screamed helplessly at every step.

— Dr. Deepti Gurdasani (@dgurdasani1) August 25, 2022

Do you remember when you invited Heneghan, Gupta and Tegnell to No. 10- where they advised delaying a lockdown advised by SAGE. An action that very likely cost tens of thousands of lives. That's on you. Do you think SAGE were 'empowered' then? They were dismissed. By you.

— Dr. Deepti Gurdasani (@dgurdasani1) August 25, 2022


GCSE results show fall in top grades and pass rate in England

The proportion of top grades among GCSE results for 16-year-olds in England has fallen since last year, with the overall pass rate also down, after pupils whose education has been disrupted by the pandemic sat the first examinations in three years. Our full story is here.


Sunak says politicians should not blame civil servants when things go wrong, in implicit jibe against Truss

And here is a full summary of what Rishi Sunak says about the handling of lockdown in his Spectator interview.

  • Sunak suggests Boris Johnson let lockdown go on for too long. (See 9.22am.)

  • Sunak says that, at the start of lockdown, he was not allowed to acknowledge that the policy involved a trade-off, with advantages and disadvantages. He says:

I wasn’t allowed to talk about the trade-off. The script was not to ever acknowledge them. The script was: oh, there’s no trade-off, because doing this for our health is good for the economy.

  • He claims that ministers were even discouraged in private from acknowledging in the problems generated by lockdown. This is how Fraser Nelson, who interviewed Sunak, summarises what Sunak said on this.

If frank discussion was being suppressed externally, Sunak thought it all the more important that it took place internally. But that was not his experience. ‘I felt like no one talked,’ he says. ‘We didn’t talk at all about missed [doctor’s] appointments, or the backlog building in the NHS in a massive way. That was never part of it.’ When he did try to raise concerns, he met a brick wall. ‘Those meetings were literally me around that table, just fighting. It was incredibly uncomfortable every single time.’ He recalls one meeting where he raised education. ‘I was very emotional about it. I was like: “Forget about the economy. Surely we can all agree that kids not being in school is a major nightmare” or something like that. There was a big silence afterwards. It was the first time someone had said it. I was so furious.’

In fact, officials did devote considerable time to analysing the impact of lockdown. In July 2020 a 188-page report was produced explaining how lockdown increase excess deaths and illness over the long term. The report was later updated.

  • He says that, if he had been in charge, he would “just have had a more grown-up conversation with the country” about the advantages and disadvantages of lockdown.

  • He claims that minutes of Sage minutes were misleading because they did not acknowledge how much disagreement there was amongst the scientists. In the article Nelson writes:

In the early days, Sunak had an advantage. ‘The Sage people didn’t realise for a very long time that there was a Treasury person on all their calls. A lovely lady. She was great because it meant that she was sitting there, listening to their discussions.’

It meant he was alerted early to the fact that these all-important minutes of Sage meetings often edited out dissenting voices. His mole, he says, would tell him: ‘Well, actually, it turns out that lots of people disagreed with that conclusion’, or ‘Here are the reasons that they were not sure about it.’ So at least I would be able to go into these meetings better armed.

Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, would probably challenge this. He did admit in public that the scientists did not always agree, and as one of the chairs of Sage his job was to produce a consensus view.

  • Sunak says Sage had too much power. “This is the problem. If you empower all these independent people, you’re screwed,” he says. Ironically, this is similar to Liz Truss’s stance on the Bank of England, which Sunak has criticised as a threat to the Bank’s independence.

  • Sunak says that at first he could not get Sage to explain the assumptions on which lockdown modelling was based. He says:

I was like: ‘Summarise for me the key assumptions, on one page, with a bunch of sensitivities and rationale for each one.’ In the first year I could never get this.

Sunak told Nelson the Treasury would never take decisions based on unexplained modelling of this kind.

  • Sunak says he implied he would resign in December last year if Johnson imposed another lockdown over Christmas. In his write-up Nelson says:

[Sunak] flew back early from a trip to California. By this time JP Morgan’s lockdown analysis was being emailed around among cabinet ministers like a samizdat paper, and they were ready to rebel. Sunak met Johnson. ‘I just told him it’s not right: we shouldn’t do this.’ He did not threaten to resign if there was another lockdown, ‘but I used the closest formulation of words that I could’ to imply that threat. Sunak then rang around other ministers and compared notes.

Normally, cabinet members were not kept in the loop as Covid-related decisions were being made – Johnson’s No. 10 informed them after the event, rather than consulting them. Sunak says he urged the PM to pass the decision to cabinet so that his colleagues could give him political cover for rejecting the advice of Sage. ‘I remember telling him: have the cabinet meeting. You’ll see. Everyone will be completely behind you … You don’t have to worry. I will be standing next to you, as will every other member of the cabinet, bar probably Michael [Gove] and Saj [Javid].’ As it was to prove.

  • Sunak says, if wrong decisions were taken, it was the fault of politicians (and the PM, he implies), not civil servants. He says:

All this blaming civil servants – I hate it. We are elected to run the country, not to blame someone else. If the apparatus is not there, then we change it.

[When things go well] it comes from the person at the top being able to make decisions properly – and understanding how to make good decisions.

The leader matters. It matters who the person at the top is.

This is the one passage in the interview that sounds most like implicit criticism of Liz Truss. She has repeatedly attacked civil servants, mainly for being in thrall to orthodox thinking and for being too “woke”.

The lockdown files: Rishi Sunak on what we weren’t told 👇👇

✍️ Fraser Nelson interviews Rishi Sunak in the latest Spectator magazine

— The Spectator (@spectator) August 25, 2022


Sunak suggests Johnson let Covid lockdown go on for too long

Good morning. When Rishi Sunak quit as chancellor in July, he cited in his resignation letter two reasons why he could no longer serve Boris Johnson: Johnson’s approach to standards (a reference to the Chris Pincher scandal); and their different views on economic policy (which Sunak implied was more important). The Conservative leadership contest has largely focused on economics, with Sunak attacking Liz Truss unremittingly on the grounds that she is advocating the “too good to be true” economic approach championed by Johnson.

But, in an interview published today in the Spectator, Sunak reveals that he also disagreed with Johnson on probably the most important decision taken by the government. Sunak says he thought the lockdown went too far. This was reported to some extent at the time, but until now Sunak has never spoken about this in detail.

Essentially, he is making three arguments.

  • Sunak suggests Johnson let the lockdown go on for too long. He does not argue that the lockdown was a total mistake, but he says that if the government had been more willing to acknowledge the pros and cons of the policy, “we could be in a very different place”. He goes on:

We’d probably have made different decisions on things like schools, for example.

Asked if Britain could have avoided lockdown completely, like Sweden, he replied:

I don’t know, but it could have been shorter. Different. Quicker.

  • Sunak says ministers were discouraged from acknowledging the problems created by lockdown.

  • He says the government’s scientific advisers, in particular Sage (the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), were given too much power.

My colleague Nadeem Badshah has a story on the interview here.

Fraser Nelson, the Spectator editor, has long been one of the media figures more critical of lockdown, and in particular the Covid modelling used by Sage, and the magazine has plugged the interview heavily. Given that many Tory members were also sceptical of lockdown, it is surprising that Sunak did not choose to make these points earlier in the campaign. In his London Playbook briefing Emilio Casalicchio says Sunak did not plan an intervention on this now; he just agreed to be interviewed by the Specator, and Nelson asked about lockdown. Casalicchio also quotes a former No 10 official saying Sunak’s account of what happened behind the scenes was broadly accurate. The ex-official said:

This is a pretty fair account of what Rishi said and thought at the time. Sometimes he’d very forcefully argue his case. Other times he’d know the machine had already decided the outcome, so he would say less, while Matt [Hancock] and Michael [Gove] pushed against an open door for a very hardcore approach. The PM and Rishi both hated lockdowns. Rishi always understood, though, that the blame would rest with Boris if we got it wrong. He was as forceful as he could be given the circumstances.

In response to Sunak’s comments a Downing Street spokesperson said:

Throughout the pandemic, public health, education, and the economy were central to the difficult decisions made on Covid restrictions to protect the British public from an unprecedented novel virus.

At every point, ministers made collective decisions which considered a wide range of expert advice available at the time in order to protect public health.

In his interview Sunak does not directly make the handling of Covid a leadership issue. He does not mention Liz Truss by name, although Fraser in his write-up says Truss “was silent throughout” (meaning that she did not join Sunak in speaking out against lockdown policy). But Truss was international trade secretary at the time, and so she was not part of the cabinet inner circle that decided Covid policy.

However Sunak does say in the interview that Covid was an example of why leadership matters. If things go well, “it comes from the person at the top being able to make decisions properly – and understanding how to make good decisions”, he says.

I will post more from the Sunak interview shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

12pm: Rishi Sunak takes part in a Facebook Q&A.

After 1pm: Sunak is due to be interviewed on Radio 4’s World at One.

7pm: The penultimate official Conservative party hustings takes place, in Norwich. TalkTV’s Julia Hartley-Brewer is hosting. It’s the 11th hustings. The final one takes place next Wednesday, in London.

I 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



Nadeem Badshah (now) and Andrew Sparrow (earlier)

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