Here is a round-up of the day’s main politics stories:
- The Conservative MP Aaron Bell, who won Newcastle-under-Lyme from Labour at the last election, has announced that he has submitted a letter to the chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for a no confidence vote in Boris Johnson.
- The government has been forced to publish documents that reveal how the disgraced former Conservative MP Owen Paterson directly lobbied a senior minister for a healthcare firm that was paying him to be a consultant
- Boris Johnson has promised Conservative MPs a “direct line” to No 10 as he seeks to dissuade them from demanding a vote of no confidence in his leadership. The Prime Minister wrote to them on Friday insisting he was committed to change after five advisers resigned from Downing Street within 24 hours, according to PA Media.
- Boris Johnson told No 10 staff this morning that “change is good”, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists at the Downing Street lobby briefing this morning. Johnson was delivering a pep talk in the light of the announcements yesterday that four of his most senior aides were leaving.
- Michael Gove ignored repeated warnings that the “Trojan horse” allegations of an extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham was “bogus” and pressed ahead with divisive interventions, according to evidence revealed in a New York Times podcast.
- Brexit checks on food and farm products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain must continue pending a judicial review of the order made by Stormont’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, the high court in Belfast has ruled
- Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has announced two reviews tackling health disparities. One relates to medical devices and another relates to smoking.
- More than one in eight primary schoolchildren in England were infected with Covid during the last week of January, the highest prevalence for any age group at any stage during the pandemic.
Well, that’s it from me, Tom Ambrose, and indeed the UK politics live blog for today.
Thanks for following along. Remember, you can stay across all the headlines and breaking news from Westminster here. Goodbye for now.
David Jones, the Conservative MP for Clwyd West, has this evening described the clearout of senior staff at No 10 as “welcome”.
But he said on Twitter that it has to go further and deeper. He stops short of saying whether he thinks that ought to include Boris Johnson though...
Boris Johnson’s inner circle imploded so spectacularly in recent days that only one close political confidante from the early days of No 10 remains: his wife, Carrie Johnson.
The most powerful prime ministerial spouse in recent memory, the 33-year-old Johnson has a job of her own for a wildlife charity, but multiple sources from Downing Street past and present say her influence on the prime minister’s operation is undeniable.
In the recent clearout, two of her allies, Henry Newman and Simone Finn, appear – so far – to have kept their jobs.
And those who know her say she is determined to keep Johnson in Downing Street, despite the scandals over No 10 parties – some of which she attended – and the funding of No 11 flat refurbishment, which was her project with celebrity designer Lulu Lytle.
The flat refurb, involving gold wallpaper and a £112,000 price tag, has seen critics brand her “Carrie Antoinette”, a label she is known to dislike. But one former Downing Street insider says there was a different nickname for her – Ann Boleyn.
Her rivals cast her as the much younger wife trying to have too much political say and manipulate an egotistical leader.
The former Conservative minister Rory Stewart has certainly been pulling no punches in recent weeks when it comes to his stinging criticisms of Boris Johnson.
And he’s been at it again this evening as he challenges one of the prime minister’s most vocal defenders, the MP Michael Fabricant, over his somewhat generous take regarding the resignations at Downing Street.
Fabricant had tweeted:
The PM promised changes to the No10 operation at the 1922 on Monday, and it’s good to see action is now swiftly being taken.
Regular readers of the blog will recognise the language used by Fabricant as being mighty similar to that used in tweets by other Johnson loyalists last night. Almost as if it had been coordinated on the Tory MP WhatsApp group. Surely not?!
Anyway, the former London mayoral candidate Stewart retorted:
Would you sack your four most senior staff with no successors in place? And if you claimed you had, would people not reasonably assume that you had lied, and that they had in fact resigned?
Once again Northern Ireland is in the headlines. Stormont is on the brink of collapse and the febrile politics of orange, green and everything in between is exposed to all who do not live there.
An election for the Stormont assembly looms in May and on Friday the Democratic Unionist party raised the stakes again.
If the withdrawal of the first minister and an order to halt Brexit food checks mandated under the Northern Ireland protocol was not enough to convince voters it was serious in its battle against the EU and its “cheerleaders” on local territory, it also made veiled threats about its ability to return to power-sharing after the polls if the Brexit issues it is fighting are not resolved.
But behind all of the melodrama lie several basic issues: the DUP is battling to recover support in the polls and Boris Johnson’s promises to address the party’s concerns over the checks are stalling.
The DUP’s leader, Jeffrey Donaldson, revealed on Friday that the prime minister had told him it would take just three weeks to get a new deal on the protocol last October. More than three months later, Johnson is still arguing the case but is not cancelling the protocol.
Yes Johnson has shown he likes to keep the Brexit pot boiling, recently accusing Brussels of implementing the Northern Ireland protocol in an “insane and pettifogging way”.
The PM also told Donaldson last week that there was only a 20-30% chance of a new Brexit deal in the next few weeks, so the party may have been wise not to heed his earlier promises. By walking out of Stormont’s first minister’s office, the DUP is signalling that it wants the protocol to be centre stage for the approaching election.
In British politics, and nowhere more so than in Downing Street, trust between political advisers and their principals is at a premium. Once advisers have hitched themselves to a star, they tend to stay hitched.
The sense of being bound by a common cause, jointly confronting an unsympathetic media, unresponsive institutions, a cynical party and unforgiving events is a powerful glue.
There is no substitute for being up close and personal when a prime minister faces agonising choices for which there is no easy answer.
Here is a curious spot from Civil World Service’s co-editor Jess Bowie.
It seems that the Tories suddenly realised at some point this week that they still own the website domain name for Christian Wakeford, the MP who defected Labour in protest over partygate.
When you click on the Bury South MP’s website - christianwakeford.org.uk, for those wondering - it automatically redirects to the Conservative party sign-up page. Complete with Johnson pointing at you, like some cheap Lord Kitchener tribute act.
Unfortunately for Wakeford, this is the top result on Google when you search his name. Better get his new party’s IT bods on it pronto!
Michael Gove ignored repeated warnings that the “Trojan horse” allegations of an extremist takeover of schools in Birmingham was “bogus” and pressed ahead with divisive interventions, according to evidence revealed in a New York Times podcast.
A briefing in February 2014 for Gove, then education secretary, by Birmingham city council, said it had found “a serious credibility gap” regarding the anonymous letter, saying it contained “serious factual inaccuracies and, in a number of areas, contradictions”, in allegations of an Islamist plot to subvert state schools in the city.
The evidence collected by Hamza Syed and Brian Reed, two journalists working on the podcast, reignites the controversy surrounding the alleged plot, which triggered a series of raids, takeovers and turmoil in schools in central Birmingham with high proportions of Muslim pupils.
But despite investigations made by the government, Ofsted and Birmingham council – including one by Peter Clarke, a former national head of counter-terrorism, commissioned by Gove – the origins of the letter have never been discovered, and little or no evidence of a concerted plot or radicalisation of pupils was ever established.
Hello, I’m Tom Ambrose and I’ll be bringing you the latest news from Westminster over the next couple of hours.
Here is some more detail on the HuffPost story (see 16.12) that Boris Johnson has promised Conservative MPs a “direct line” to No 10 as he seeks to dissuade them from demanding a vote of no confidence in his leadership.
The Prime Minister wrote to them on Friday insisting he was committed to change after five advisers resigned from Downing Street within 24 hours, according to PA Media.
But the number of rebels publicly demanding a vote of no confidence grew when Tory MP Aaron Bell submitted his letter to the chairman of the backbench 1922 Committee.
Addressed “Dear colleague”, Johnson says in the letter he is “committed to improving the way 10 Downing Street, and Government more broadly works”, promising further updates in the coming days.
This will include working with Sir Graham Brady, the 1922 chair, and his colleagues to re-establish backbench policy committees. Johnson wrote:
I want these policy committees to play an important role in generating ideas and discussion and so I encourage colleagues from across the party to get involved.
I understand the deep importance of engaging with colleagues in Parliament and listening to your views and that is why I want colleagues to have a direct line into 10 Downing Street.
He said Andrew Griffith, the MP who is taking over as director of policy after the resignation of Johnson’s long-time adviser Munira Mirza, will provide “whatever engagement and support is necessary to make this a success”.
The government has been forced to publish documents that reveal how the disgraced former Conservative MP Owen Paterson directly lobbied a senior minister for a healthcare firm that was paying him to be a consultant, Rob Evans, Felicity Lawrence and David Pegg report.
Commenting on this story, Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, said:
These documents have blown apart months of denial, revealing a government that is awash with sleaze from the prime minister down, and simply incapable of governing in the public interest.
That’s all from me for today. My colleague Tom Ambrose is taking over now.
On Monday, when he spoke to Tory MPs at a private meeting in the evening following the publication of the Sue Gray report, Boris Johnson said he wanted to ensure the government took more account of the views of backbenchers. As Sophia Sleigh reports at HuffPost, Johnson has now written to them confirming that he intends to re-establish backbench policy committees. He said he wanted to ensure his MPs have “a direct line” into Downing Street.
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has announced two reviews tackling health disparities. One relates to medical devices and another relates to smoking.
Explaining the reviews in a news release, the Department of Health and Social Care said:
A review into potential ethnic bias in the design and use of medical devices will be led by Professor Dame Margaret Whitehead, professor of public health at the University of Liverpool. The way medical devices and technologies are designed and used has raised concerns about the impact of ethnic background on a patient’s diagnosis and treatment, exacerbating existing inequalities in healthcare.
Separately, Javed Khan OBE, former CEO of children’s charity Barnardo’s, will lead an independent review of the government’s bold ambition to make England smoke free by 2030. Whilst the government has made good long-term progress in reducing smoking rates to their lowest ever level, there are an estimated 6 million smokers in England and smoking is still one of the largest drivers of health disparities.
More than one in eight primary schoolchildren in England were infected with Covid during the last week of January, the highest prevalence for any age group at any stage during the pandemic, my colleagues Hannah Devlin and Richard Adams report.
Tory MP Aaron Bell says he has submitted letter calling for no confidence vote in PM
The Conservative MP Aaron Bell, who won Newcastle-under-Lyme from Labour at the last election, has announced that he has submitted a letter to the chairman of the 1922 Committee calling for a no confidence vote in Boris Johnson.
He says that he wrote his letter after PMQs on 12 January, which was the one where Johnson apologised for the No 10 garden party he attended during lockdown, (but claimed he thought it was a work event). Bell says he did not find Johnson’s account plausible. He says he can now confirm that he has submitted the letter following conversations with councillors and council candidates in his constituency.
Bell’s announcement will not come as a huge surprise. On Monday, during the Commons statement on the Sue Gray report, he delivered one of the harshest attacks from a backbencher on his own prime minister heard in the Commons in recent years. He told Johnson:
It seems that a lot of people attended events in May 2020. The one I recall attending was my grandmother’s funeral. She was a wonderful woman. As well as her love for her family, she served her community as a councillor and she served Dartford Conservative association loyally for many years. I drove for three hours from Staffordshire to Kent. There were only 10 people at the funeral; many people who loved her had to watch online. I did not hug my siblings. I did not hug my parents. I gave a eulogy and afterwards I did not even go into her house for a cup of tea; I drove back, for three hours, from Kent to Staffordshire. Does the prime minister think I am a fool?
Bell is the 12th MPs to confirm he has submitted a letter, according to the Spectator’s tally.
Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has played down the significance of the crisis in Downing Street. Speaking on a visit to Sunderland, he said that he wanted Boris Johnson to continue in office and that what really mattered was what the government did in terms of delivering for voters. He said:
I believe that the best thing for the country is for the prime minister to continue. I think he is doing a great job.
Ultimately what happens in Westminster will interest those who are watchers of politics, but what really matters in a week’s or in a month’s or in a year’s time is are we bringing investment, jobs, and a brighter future for the people of Sunderland.
Boris Johnson has had a call with Olaf Scholz, the new German chancellor, about Ukraine, No 10 says. In a readout of what was discussed, a Downing Street spokesperson said:
The prime minister and chancellor Scholz underlined the need for allies to deliver a clear and consistent message to Russia, including on the repercussions of a further Russian invasion of Ukraine.
They agreed to continue working together and with other international partners on a comprehensive package of sanctions. The prime minister stressed that those sanctions should be ready to come into force immediately in the event of further Russian incursion into Ukraine.
The polling company Redfield and Wilton Strategies says for the first time since it started tracking these questions a year ago, Labour is ahead of the Conservative party on every issue on which it polls which party is trusted most.
Unfortunately for Labour, this might be a less useful indicator than one might imagine. In their new book The Modern British Party System (written for academics, but stuffed with interesting material) Paul Webb and Tim Bale point out that that being ahead on the issues is not what determines which party wins an election. They say:
Heath and his associates, for example, pointed out that the clear victor of the 1983 general election, the Conservative party, actually held no clear lead over the Labour party on any of the five issues that electors felt were most important during the campaign. In 1987 Ivor Crewe estimated that, if voters had supported the party they considered best able to handle the issue most important to them, Labour should have won 2 percentage points more of the vote than the Conservatives, rather than 11 points fewer. And in 1992 David Sanders noted that Labour was strongly favoured by the electorate on the three issues most frequently picked as being important by electors (the NHS, unemployment, and education), and estimated that, had people voted exclusively on the basis of issue preferences, Labour would have polled around 44 per cent of the vote to the Conservatives’ 33 per cent. Again, this estimate bore no resemblance to the actual election outcome.
Perhaps more encouragingly for Labour, Redfield and Wilton Strategies say Labour is developing a clear lead on the economy - the one issue that is often seen as decisive.
Chris Patten says Johnson is 'moral vacuum'
Chris Patten, the former Conservative party chair and former European commissioner, is one of those pro-European Tory grandees (and he’s a proper grandee – he was governor of Hong Kong once too) who have always been rather appalled by Boris Johnson. In an interview with Radio 4’s World at One, he described the Johnson administration’s current difficulties with what sounded like a mixture of horror and glee.
Describing Johnson as a “moral vacuum”, Patten said:
I’ve always thought the show was likely to end in disaster and I fear that that’s what’s happened. It’s been particularly scarred in the last act by this scurrilous attack on Keir Starmer for which there was no purpose other than to try to get a few members of the rightwing of the Conservative party in the House of Commons excited. He must have known that it wasn’t true.
Patten said that he did not consider the government a proper Conservative one, and he said the problem with the party went beyond Johnson’s leadership. “Part of it has turned into a sort of English nationalist, populist Johnsonian cult,” he said. He went on:
The problem isn’t just Boris. The problem is the party which chose him. Now, who are they said to want next? They are said to want Liz Truss, which I don’t think would be a frightfully good idea, to put it mildly. But there’s a real danger now of the government again playing to the right and doing stupid things about the Northern Ireland protocol. So there are all sorts of problems which involves standing up to the right wing of what was the Conservative party, and that’s going to have to be done anyway if we’re to save the union and stabilise the economy.
Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said he has tested positive for coronavirus.
Yesterday Shapps was in the chamber at the Commons for transport questions.
On Monday Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, said she had tested positive.
Brexit checks on food and farm products entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain must continue pending a judicial review of the order made by Stormont’s agriculture minister, Edwin Poots, the high court in Belfast has ruled. My colleague Lisa O’Carroll has the story here.
No 10 implicitly rebukes Bank of England chief over his call for wage restraint
Here is a summary of the main points from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
- The prime minister’s spokesperson said that Boris Johnson quoted the Lion King this morning as he addressed No 10 staff and told them “change is good”. (See 12.11am.) Commenting on what the PM said at the meeting, the spokesperson said:
[Johnson] reflected on the privilege of working in No 10 in order to deliver for the British people and reiterated his and No 10’s commitment to serving the public by keeping people safe, improving lives and spreading opportunity.
As he reiterated to the team today, there is an important job to do, the public expects us to be focused on it, whether it is the situation in Ukraine, recovering from the pandemic or, as the chancellor was setting out yesterday, on issues such as cost of living.
- No 10 implicitly rebuked Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank of England, for saying that people should show restraint when asking for pay rises to control inflation. Asked if the PM agreed, the spokesperson said:
It’s not something that the prime minister is calling for. We obviously want a high-growth economy and we want people’s wages to increase.
We recognise the challenge of the economic picture which Andrew Bailey set out but it’s not up for the government to set wages or advise the strategic direction or management of private companies.
As Graeme Wearden reports on his business live blog, trade unions are also dismayed by the governor’s comments.
It is not hard to see why Johnson would have found Bailey’s comments alarming; last year, in an interview ahead of the Conservative party conference, Johnson said that for him “wage growth” would be the most important measure of whether his levelling up policies were succeeding. But the Bank of England has said families are about to experience the biggest fall in living standards for three decades.
- The spokesperson confirmed that Elena Narozanski has resigned as an adviser in the No 10 policy unit. (See 9.16am.)
- He said that the departures of Dan Rosenfield, Martin Reynolds and Jack Doyle (announced yesterday evening) were agreed before the resignation of Munira Mirza (announced yesterday afternoon). Because of the timings, there has been speculation that the later resignations were brought forward to distract attention from Mirza’s much more damaging one. The spokesman also said that Rosenfield, Reynolds and Doyle are all leaving by mutual agreement.
- The spokesman declined to say Johnson would be apologising for his comment about Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile on Monday. The spokesperson said Johnson set out his position yesterday.
- The spokesperson said the government shared the US assessment that Russia plans to fake an attack as a pretext for an invasion of Ukraine. The spokesperson said:
We have high confidence Russia is planning to engineer a pretext blaming Ukraine for an attack in order to justify a Russian incursion into Ukraine.
The details in the specific reports today are credible and extremely concerning. We’ve conducted our own analysis on this intelligence and share the US’s conclusion.
This is from Peter Cardwell, a former Tory special adviser, on the Boris Johnson pep talk for staff this morning.
Johnson tells No 10 staff 'change is good', quoting Lion King, amid resignations turmoil
Boris Johnson told No 10 staff this morning that “change is good”, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists at the Downing Street lobby briefing this morning. Johnson was delivering a pep talk in the light of the announcements yesterday that four of his most senior aides were leaving.
As the Mirror reports, Johnson quotes from the Lion King when trying to persuade his team that the staff shake-up would be beneficial. He said:
As Rafiki in the Lion King says, change is good, and change is necessary even though it’s tough.
Johnson also told his team to think of their current difficulties as a half-time moment in a rugby match. He said:
This is like a half-time pep talk ... This is the moment when you spit out the chewed up slice of orange. You put the gum-shield back in and then you get back on the pitch. That’s what we’re doing.
I will post more from the lobby briefing shortly.
Javid joins Sunak in disassociating himself from PM's anti-Starmer Savile smear
Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has this morning become the second cabinet minister to disassociate himself from Boris Johnson’s Jimmy Savile smear about Keir Stamer. Echoing the line taken by Rishi Sunak (see 10.41am), Javid said:
Keir Starmer, when he was running the DPP, did a good job and he should be respected for it. It is a tough job and he deserved absolute respect for that.
But the prime minister has also come out and clarified those remarks, and that is important.
NI first minister's resignation 'doesn't change much' with regard to protocol talks, says Dublin
Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, said this morning that the resignation of Paul Givan as Northern Ireland’s first minister yesterday was “very unwelcome”. But, in an interview with RTÉ, Coveney said Givan’s resignation “doesn’t change much” with regard to the ongoing UK-EU negotiations about the future of the Northern Ireland protocol.
To be fair to the DUP, they’ve been saying for some time, that if they didn’t get what they were asking for in relation to the protocol that they would do this. And now they’ve gone ahead and done it. But it’s certainly very unwelcome.
It doesn’t change much actually, in the context of the negotiations that are going on between Liz Truss and Maroš Šefčovič – the two key negotiators who are trying to find common ground on how we implement the Northern Ireland Protocol in a way that everybody can accept. Those discussions and negotiations continue and were continuing yesterday.
Coveney also said that those on the EU side of the negotiation were “listening to unionism” and “working night and day to respond to legitimate unionist concerns and anxieties”.
Here is my colleague Lisa O’Carroll’s analysis of what Paul Givan’s resignation means.
At his press conference last night Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, delivered a subtly crafted diplomatic put-down to Boris Johnson over the Jimmy Savile smear. Asked about the comment, he said:
Being honest, I wouldn’t have said it and I’m glad that the prime minister clarified what he meant.
This was not a direct criticism, which would have sounded overtly disloyal (a line ministers tend not to want to cross when talking about their boss). But it signalled his disapproval very strongly, and that “being honest” aside was a helpful reminder of how a Sunak premiership would be quite different from the Johnson one.
Sunak has an article in the Sun today about the energy bills support package announced yesterday and it includes another dig at his Downing Street neighbour. Sunak says:
We have always been the party of sound money – we will always continue to be on my watch – and that is the only kind of party I am interested in.
Sunak also ends the article saying he wants to take the right economic decisions “to ensure I – and future chancellors after me – can respond in emergency situations and in the best interests of the country”. The reference to “future chancellors” is a sign that he has been giving some thought to the time when he might have moved on to perhaps a bigger government job.
Brexit: ‘30% chance’ of new deal for Northern Ireland – Johnson
Boris Johnson privately conceded that there is less than a 30% chance of negotiating a new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland this month, it has emerged. As my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the Democratic Unionist party, said the prime minister made the admission during a private meeting last week. Lisa has the full story here.
Minister refuses to rule out further help for consumers with fuel bills later this year
Greg Hands, the energy minister, also refused to rule out offering consumers further help with their fuel bills later this year. Asked if that would happen if the energy price cap goes up when it is reviewed in October, Hands replied:
It is too early to say what the price cap will be.
We keep these things under constant review. Of course we won’t hesitate to act if we need to to defend consumers.
But of course we have to recognise the UK is not in any way exempt or immune from high global energy prices.
Yesterday the National Energy Action, the fuel poverty charity, said that it thought a further support package for consumers was inevitable later this year because the measures announced yesterday were “inadquate”.
'You don't have to have opinion on everything', says minister as he dodges question on PM's Savile smear
Greg Hands, the energy minister, was doing broadcast interview round on behalf of the government this morning. But, for some questions, he did not have an anwer. Here are the main points on No 10/partygate matters.
- Hands refused to say whether or not Boris Johnson was right to say what he did about Keir Starmer and Jimmy Savile on Monday. Asked about this on the Today programme, he repeatedly sidestepped the question, eventually saying:
My job is the energy minister, that is a big job. In politics you don’t have to have an opinion on everything.
A reminder: on Monday Johnson said, as director of public prosecutions, Starmer “spent most of his time prosecuting journalists and failing to prosecute Jimmy Savile”. This clearly implied that Starmer was involved in decisions not to prosecute Savile, which is untrue.
- Hands said some of the resignations last night showed Johnson was “taking charge” in No 10. He said:
The prime minister was absolutely clear on Monday that there would be changes at the top of No 10 and that is what he has delivered. The Sue Gray report update said that there were failings at the top of the operation. This is the prime minister taking charge.
But Hands accepted the resignation of Munira Mirza was “a little bit different”.
In his Today interview the Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chair of the transport committee, said he agreed with what Munira Mirza said about why she was resigning over Boris Johnson’s failure to apologise for his anti-Starmer Jimmy Savile smear. Merriman said:
I agree with [Mirza]. It’s not right, when we expect a full apology [from Johnson], and it should be all about the issues and correcting it, to then go on the attack and making points that just clearly aren’t accurate, that doesn’t help us restore trust with the public.
Merriman also said Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, was right to say last night that he would not have said what Johnson said about Starmer on Monday. Other cabinet ministers, like Michael Gove, Nadine Dorries and Jacob Rees-Mogg, have been defending the smear this week.
Boris Johnson given fresh ultimatum to ‘shape up’ or go as another No 10 staffer reportedly quits
Good morning. Yesterday four of Boris Johnson’s most senior aides announced they were leaving Downing Street, but the resignations fell into (at least) two categories.
The decision of Munira Mirza to quit as head of the policy unit, in protest at Johnson’s smear about Keir Starmer, was a shock, and about as damaging as the resignation of an official could be. She started working for Johnson when he was mayor of London, and had been utterly loyal, and many Tories will conclude if she can defend him no longer, then his situation is terminal.
The depature of Martin Reynolds, Johnson’s principal private secretary, and Dan Rosenfield, his chief of staff, announced later in the day, were more akin to sackings, and potentially more helpful. Both had been expected to go as part of the long-promised shake-up in response to partygate and, while mass sackings never look savoury, some Tory MPs were happy to peddle the No 10 line that this showed Johnson was serious about change.
Jack Doyle’s departure as press secretary – also widely expected – falls into the second category too, although he may have had more say over the timing of his exit than Reynolds and Rosenfield. Their resignations were only announced a bit later, as No 10 sought to convert the “Mirza quits” story into a “PM orders staff shake-up” one.
And it is not over. This morning Paul Goodman, editor of ConservativeHome, says another member of the No 10 policy unit, Elena Narozanski, has resigned. Narozanski has been an adviser on women and equalities.
All this means that the threat level for Johnson within the Conservative party, which has wavered between high and off-the-scale in recent weeks, is edging up again. This morning, in an interview on the Today programme, Huw Merriman, the Conservative chair of the Commons transport committee said that Johnson had to shape up or go. Mangling the familiar phrase (it was early in the morning), he said:
I’m deeply troubled by what’s going on. We all know that if the prime minister doesn’t ship up, then they have to shape out [sic], and that’s exactly what happened when this prime minister took over.
Interestingly, Merriman also claimed that he was probably talking for a silent majority of Conservative MPs.
I think there are a large group of Conservative MPs who are being loyal, focusing also on the prime minister’s positives and are not either eulogising with tweets, copy and paste, or going on the attack because they’ve never liked the prime mnister. That’s why you don’t hear from a lot of us, because we want this to work.
When it was put to Merriman that he was saying it was “shape up or ship out” for Johnson, Merriman replied:
It is for very single leader of any party, and certainly any prime minister, because it is all about winning elections and having a mandate to deliver.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
12pm: The ONS publishes the results of its latest weekly Covid infection survey in full.
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