Evening summary

Here is a quick recap of some of the main developments from today (you haven’t missed much):

  • An intense and chaotic session of PMQs was often overshadowed by doubts over the prime minister’s future, encapsulated by the Tory grandee David Davis calling on Boris Johnson to resign: “In the name of God, go,” he said. Davis told the Guardian that the interview given by the prime minister to Sky News on Tuesday was “not what I expect from a leader”. “Up until now I had been supporting him … but it’s not leadership,” he said. “Yesterday’s interview was an attempt to escape responsibility, not to shoulder it. And that is a test of leadership.” Earlier in the session, the Labour leader Keir Starmer had lambasted Johnson for what he called “absurd and frankly unbelievable” explanations over Downing Street parties. Story here.
  • Minutes before PMQs, the Bury South MP Christian Wakeford defected to Labour, blaming Johnson’s “disgraceful” conduct. The move piled furhter pressure on the PM as growing numbers within his party want him to go. Wakeford – elected in 2019 – crossed the floor to sit with Keir Starmer’s party moments before the session, declaring in a letter to Johnson resigning the Conservative whip that he was “incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”. Story here.
  • Plan B restrictions are to be scrapped in England from 26 January, along with compulsory self-isolation for people with Covid from 24 March, Boris Johnson announced. Mandatory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, guidance to work from home and vaccine certificates will all come to an end from next week. While the announcement pleased a number of Johnson’s backbenchers, it has prompted concern from teaching and health unions, and from NHS and public health representatives. Keir Starmer responded saying he would back the change as long as it was supported by evidence, saying Johnson must “reassure the public he is acting to protect their health, not just his job”. Story here.

Q What is your response to people who feel the government has lost all credibility leading the country through the pandemic?

Javid says it’s right that the PM has accepted there were mistakes and asked for a proper investigation to establish the facts and then come back to parliament.

Q Will you be publishing an impact assessment of the lifting of restrictions e.g. on the NHS?

Javid says evidence has been shared throughout the pandemic and the government will continue to be as transparent as it can be.

Q When will the government be updating the definition of “fully vaccinated” to two jabs and a booster?

Javid says it is now known that two vaccines are not enough against Omicron but three can give 88% protection against hospitalisation, so it’s right to keep updating the definition of “fully vaccinated”.

Please get vaccinated if you’re eligible, he says to end.

Q Can you rule out a return to Plan B if another variant of concern emerges?

Javid says we have to remain vigilant as there will be many future variants, and learn from what has worked.

Q How can the PM claim to have strong leadership when he was stopped from bringing in tougher measures in England against Omicron before Christmas by his cabinet?

Javid did not appear to answer this question.

Q What is the scientific evidence and assessment for scrapping self-isolation in March or even earlier?

Hopkins says over time they have looked at the evidence to reduce the self-isolation period using daily lateral flow tests.

She adds that they will continue to monitor the impact of the virus in the population.

Q The latest daily deaths figure is 359 and you’re now lifting restrictions. Is this the kind of daily death toll the country has to be comfortable with in shifting to living with Covid?

Javid says the death rate has fallen dramatically thanks to the vaccine. That is how we can keep deaths low, he says.

Some 40% of people with Covid in hospital are there not because they have Covid, but they happen to have Covid - almost double the number we saw with Delta, he says.

So many people who have died within 28 days of a positive test did not die would not have necessarily died of Covid, he says.

Hopkins adds the daily death figure quoted doesn’t account for people who died with Covid rather than of Covid.

Q Is the PM living on borrowed time and will you be throwing your hat into the ring in the leadership contest again?

Javid says we have a leader in the prime minister.

Q Is the UKHSA completely comfortable with the decisions taken today and what will happen to cases?

Hopkins says case numbers have declined and people’s behaviour will determine whether it rises or declines.

Q Are you personally frustrated that you have to keep defending the PM’s actions whilst delivering important public health advice?

Javid says we’ve all been pained and angered by the photos and videos that have come out in recent weeks.

It’s right for the PM to come back to parliament when the investigation is complete, he says.

Q Are you saying that by the end of March we will effectively be living with no restrictions whatsoever?

Javid says we got the big decisions right throughout the pandemic and that’s why we can take these steps today.

He says he will come back in the spring to update on the remaining restrictions, including the self-isolation requirement and testing requirements related to travel.

Q What is the public health justification for ending the requirement to self-isolate if infected, and is the government prepared to bring that forward against the guidance of the World Health Organization in a global pandemic?

Javid says there is still a high rate of prevalence and it’s therefore important at the moment to keep the rules in place.

But we will eventually have to find a way to live with Covid as we do with flu, he says.

Q Do you as health secretary offer the PM your unqualified support or are you, like Rishi Sunak, reserving judgement ahead of the Gray report?

Javid says he fully supports the PM, who has apologised.

When the facts are established through the report, the PM will answer further questions, he says.

Q Can you hand on heart say that you’ve never bent the rules?

Javid says with full confidence he has absolutely observed the rules at all times.

It hasn’t been easy, he adds, but it was the right thing to do.

They are now taking questions from the media.

Q How can the PM continue to lead the country when one of his most senior MPs has called on him to resign?

Javid says there was a huge amount of support for the prime minister’s announcement today.

He says he understands people’s pain and anger.

The PM has apologised and asked for the time and space for the investigation to be completed so the facts can be established and he can be scrutinised in parliament, he adds.

Q Do you expect cases to continue falling quite quickly?

Hopkins says cases have been falling now for the last two weeks all across the country.

How people react to the removal of Plan B will determine how fast infection can spread in the population, she says.

We must take our personal behaviour seriously, she adds.

Michelle from Lincolnshire asks why the self-isolation period has changed to 5 days with a negative lateral flow test when since the pandemic began it’s been advised that tests can return a false result within 90 days of the infection.

Hopkins says PCR tests can return positive for quite some time, so aren’t advised repeatedly unless there are repeat symptoms.

However, the evidence for lateral flow has come hard and fast over the last 6-9 months, showing that once individuals have finished their infectious episode, those lateral flows become negative and remain negative for the vast majority of people, she says.

That is why individuals who have two negative lateral flows can be released from isolation early, she says.

The earliest that can be is day five or six, she says, allowing people to get back to work or school.

They are taking questions now.

Christina from Berkshire asks if there are plans to vaccinate children under 12, given high levels of hospitalisations of children with Covid.

Javid says vaccination programme is currently focused on over-12s.

He says the JCVI has said we should vaccinate under-12s who are at-risk and that will start this month, but this is being kept under review to see if this should be expanded.

Over half of ICU admissions in last 8 months are unvaccinated

More than half the people being admitted to ICU with Covid over the last 7-8 months are unvaccinated, she says.

In the general population, only 10% are unvaccinated, she says, but those individuals are disproportionately represented in ICU.

The greatest thing you can do to protect yourself against hospitalisation and ICU is to get vaccinated, she says.

More than 52 million people have had their first dose, over 48 million their second dose and over 36 million their booster/third dose, she says.

That is two-thirds of the eligible population, she says, adding we need individuals who haven’t been jabbed to come forward as soon as possible.

We have reached case numbers of less than 20,000 cases in hospital across the UK, less than half the peak we saw in December-January 2020/21, she says.

There are only 703 patients in mechanical ventilator beds, which is as low as last July, she says.

It is also much lower than the wave last January, she says, reflecting high levels of vaccination in the population and the reduced severity of Omicron.

Dr Susan Hopkins, chief medical officer of the UKHSA, is speaking now.

The number of cases in December-January, there was a three-fold higher caseload than in the same period last year during the Alpha wave, she says.

The most recent 7-day average is 93,210 cases per day, a substantial come-down from a peak on 29 December of almost 220,000 cases, she says.

Return to Plan A is 'milestone, not finish line', Javid says

This is a milestone, not the finish line, Javid says, as we cannot eradicate the virus and future variants.

The government will set out its long-term plan for living with Covid in the spring, he says.

A pandemic is a marathon, not a sprint, he says.

Updated

The government is also looking to replace legal requirements on self-isolation with guidance and advice, Javid says.

In the coming days, he will set out plans to further ease restrictions on visits to care homes, he says.

Sajid Javid confirms face mask mandate and working from home guidance will end in England

This data supports a return to Plan A, he says.

Effective immediately, the government has ended its guidance on working from home, he says.

From next Thursday, mandatory certifications based on vaccines and tests will end, but organisations can still choose to use the NHS Covid pass voluntarily, he says.

Also starting next Thursday, the wearing of face masks will no longer be mandated, but the government will continue to suggest that they are worn in enclosed and crowded places, especially where you come into contact with people you don’t normally meet, he says.

From tomorrow, face coverings will no longer have to be worn in classrooms, and the Department for Education will shortly remove the guidance on their use in communal areas, he says.

Updated

The plan has worked and Omicron is in retreat, Javid says.

ONS data shows a fall in infections and hospitalisations, he says.

The number of patients in ICU with Covid is now at the same level as it was back in July, he says.

Instead of another lockdown, we put in place Plan B contingency measures, he says, leaving us with far fewer restrictions that most of Europe and buying us time against Omicron.

Since then, 15 million people have been boosted, he says.

Testing capacity has also been expanded, he says.

We’ve also secured more antiviral treatments, he says.

Reopening during the warmer weather back in July showed us how to live with Covid, he says.

Four months later, when Omicron was identified, case numbers rose to record levels - over a third of the UK’s total number of confirmed Covid-19 cases happened over the last 8 weeks, he says.

Javid is speaking now.

Thanks to the progress we’ve all made, he says, we’ll be lifting Plan B restrictions and returning to Plan A.

Sajid Javid's press conference

The health and social care secretary, Sajid Javid, is holding a press conference at 4pm to outline the latest update to Covid guidelines in England as Plan B restrictions are set to come to an end.

The final nail-biting episode of the sixth series of Line of Duty was watched by 12.8 million people last May, the biggest audience for a television drama for 20 years.

Now more than 5 million people have watched a four-minute clip of AC-12’s feared officers interrogating the man at the heart of a real-life scandal gripping the nation: Boris Johnson.

The spoof video was posted on Twitter by its creators, the satirical artists Led By Donkeys, on Tuesday and was swiftly retweeted by the Line of Duty writer Jed Mercurio with the words “brilliant work”.

Using clips from the television series cut with excerpts of Johnson’s statements on so-called “partygate”, it purports to show the prime minister being questioned by AC-12 investigators Ted Hastings, Steve Arnott and Kate Fleming as part of Operation BYOB.

Read more here:

Updated

In case you missed it, my colleague Simon Hattenstone interviewed the Labour leader, Keir Starmer.

In the interview, Starmer said:

The cover-up isn’t worse than the crime, but the cover-up compounds the crime.

Johnson’s now on his third defence. His first defence when we tackled him on this at the beginning of December was: ‘I’ve been assured there were no parties,’ and his second defence when the video came out was: ‘I’m furious there have been these parties; I’ve only just found out.’ And if the third defence is true, then obviously the first two are false – and that’s a major problem for him.”

Updated

Christian Wakeford said “compromise isn’t a dirty word, but it is possible to compromise too far”.

He told broadcasters:

There’s been far too many issues where I’ve felt we’ve been on the wrong side.

And compromise isn’t a dirty word, but it is possible to compromise too far.

And when it’s getting to a point where it’s difficult to explain some of these issues then you know it’s wrong.

At the moment we [have] a party trying to defend the indefensible and they are doing so gladly.

Updated

Christian Wakeford said defecting from the Tories to Labour was “the most difficult decision I have ever had to make”.

The Bury South MP told broadcasters:

This isn’t a matter of just deciding this morning, you know, I want to be a Labour MP – this has been many months in the build up.

And whether it goes back to the issues over free school meals and Dominic Cummings, or over universal credit and the cost-of-living crisis... the Owen Paterson affair or now partygate, there has been a lot of... build up to this and a lot of soul searching that’s taken many sleepless nights.

He added:

This is something that has taken many months to come to and it’s not been an easy decision, if anything it’s been the most difficult decision I have ever had to make. But I do think it’s the right decision for me, I think it’s the right decision for Bury South.

He said he was elected as a centrist and remains a centrist following his defection to the Labour party.

He told broadcasters:

I was elected as a moderate and as a centrist and I am still a moderate and a centrist. I’m just wearing a different rosette.

On whether there should now be a byelection in Bury South, he said:

I think it was quite clear that even the prime minister wasn’t calling for a by-election today, and I think it’s been quite clear that they know they’d lose.

I want to get on with the day-to-day job of representing the people who elected me as a centrist.

Updated

With a Conservative leadership campaign appearing imminent, hopeful Tory MPs are checking their contacts and quietly ringing colleagues to gauge support – and not just the ones everyone expects.

Away from Rishi Sunak, Liz Truss and the other perceived favourites, here are some others who could also give it a try:

Conservative MPs have called on Boris Johnson to rethink plans for the Covid-19 vaccine to be compulsory for NHS workers.

PA Media reports:

Danny Kruger, Desmond Swayne, and former ministers Esther McVey, Mark Harper and Andrew Murrison called in the Commons for the policy to be reviewed after advice to ministers was leaked suggesting evidence for its effectiveness is weak.

The prime minister said the plan is supported by the NHS, has increased vaccine uptake amongst NHS staff, and that healthcare workers have a “professional responsibility” to get the jab.

But Johnson also said: “We will reflect on the way ahead. We don’t want to drive people out of the service.”

Frontline staff must be fully vaccinated against Covid-19 with two jabs by 1 April – meaning they must have had their first vaccine by 3 February. Healthcare employers have been told that from the following day – 4 February – unvaccinated staff should be invited to a meeting and told that a potential outcome may be dismissal.

Former minister Esther McVey said: “Over the last two years, these people have worked tirelessly on the front line and we have clapped these key workers. Can the prime minister now make sure he doesn’t sack them? It is utterly unjustifiable.”

Johnson said: “It is a very difficult point when it comes to patients who have contracted fatal Covid” in hospital.

Updated

Boris Johnson will challenge any no confidence vote launched against him by his own MPs and expects to fight the next general election, according to the No 10 press secretary.

PA reports that Johnson’s press secretary said he would have further meetings with MPs on Wednesday to shore up support on his backbenches.

Referring to the Bury South MP, Christian Wakeford’s defection to Labour, the press secretary said: “I think we’re obviously sorry to see a colleague - who was elected by constituents, who voted for a Boris Johnson-led government - leave and attempt to put Keir Starmer into No 10, which will be a disaster for the country.”

She added that she was not aware of any further impending defections of Tory MPs.

Setting out what the PM had been saying to MPs he had met with, she said: “The broad message of all of these meetings is to focus on what we’ve delivered for the country so far since we were elected, from getting Brexit done to record investments in local transport and infrastructure, to tackling this unprecedented pandemic, and we’ve consistently made tough decisions which have resulted in us being in the position we’re in now.”

Updated

The deputy Labour leader, Angela Rayner, said she “welcomes” Christian Wakeford joining the Labour party.

PA reports:

Speaking to media as she left parliament, she said: “I welcome it, I really welcome it.”

She did not answer any questions about his previous voting record.

The shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, said: “We’re really pleased, it just shows the support there is for the Labour party and we’re being an alternative government, so it’s really good news.”

Asked her thoughts on doubts about his voting record, she said: “We’re welcoming people because we want to show how the Labour party is an alternative government to the country.”

She added that the party would welcome hearing from any other defectors. “We’d love to talk to people who want to join us.”

Cooper also described Boris Johnson’s appearance at PMQs as “chaotic”.

She said: “I don’t think he’s taking seriously how angry people are about what’s happened. You just can’t behave like that.”

Updated

Shadow health minister and A&E doctor Rosena Allin-Khan has lambasted the Downing Street parties as “an insult to all the [healthcare] staff who made sacrifices”.

She told PoliticsHome:

It’s an absolute joke. It’s an insult. It’s like a slap in the face to everybody who has put their lives at risk – some of whom lost their lives – and risked harming their loved ones.

I remember going to shifts and coming back and shouting at my young children not to run up to me and hug me, so I could take my clothes off, shower, wash my hair, everything so as not to have them catch Covid. That was what people were going through on a daily basis.

We saw our colleagues die, some of my colleagues were in intensive care for months. I will not buy for a hot second that a bunch of civil servants felt so stressed that they thought it was okay to break the rules, that they took suitcases to local supermarkets, filled it with bottles of wine, and then came back and decided which civil servant was going to be the DJ.

When the NHS was on its knees, Downing St was having a knees-up. It's an insult to all the staff who made sacrifices.https://t.co/NhSaGDu7Zp

— Dr Rosena Allin-Khan 💙 (@DrRosena) January 19, 2022

Updated

Downing Street has said it will review the rules on testing for travel within 48 hours of arriving in England in January.

PA reports that the prime minister’s spokesperson defended the decision not to ease travel rules on grounds it is important to maintain “that extra layer of surveillance” at this point in the pandemic to watch out for the emergence of new variants.

Professor Martyn Bennett, an expert in history at Nottingham Trent University, has got in touch to give a bit of background to MP David Davis’ quote imploring the prime minister to “in the name of God, go”.

He said:

Davis credited the statement to Sir Leo Amery who said these same words to Prime Minister Neville Chamberlain in May 1940. It was part of the pressure put on Chamberlain in the wake of his failure to prevent war. Within days, Winston Churchill was the Prime Minister.

However, these words were spoken in parliament almost 300 years earlier. Amery was quoting Oliver Cromwell from 20 April 1653 when with armed guards he burst into the one chamber parliament and turfed it out after it had failed to reform government and set new elections to replace itself. Cromwell effectively closed parliament, thus opening the way for the establishment of a reformed government and later the Protectorate eight months later.

These are truly dramatic words, with a long history and one which herald great change. Will they do so again?

Updated

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis has told Sky News that MPs are withdrawing letters of no confidence from Sir Graham Brady, but when pressed on who and how many, he said he didn’t know and hadn’t spoken to anyone who intended to do so.

Tory MP Jonathan Gullis claims on @skynews that MPs are withdrawing letters from Sir Graham Brady

But admitted on air to me he doesn’t know who those individuals are or how many there are and says he hasn’t spoken to any such individuals directly

— Sam Coates Sky (@SamCoatesSky) January 19, 2022

Rachel Hall here taking over from Nicola Slawson. I’ll be keeping an eye on everything that’s happening on this tumultuous day in Westminster so you don’t have to. If you’ve got any tips, queries or general thoughts I’d love to here them, you can reach me at rachel.hall@theguardian.com.

Following David Davis’ plea for Boris Johnson to ‘in the name of God, go’, Conservative Sir Edward Leigh (Gainsborough) told the prime minister “for God’s sake, keep going”.

He said:

But for this Prime Minister we would have had far more severe lockdowns and restrictions, so may I say to him, please prime minister remain true to your instincts, please sweep away all these remaining controls like isolation which are crippling the NHS and may say to him lastly to paraphrase Leo Amery for God’s sake, keep going.

Johnson replied:

That’s right, I haven’t sat here quite long enough, indeed nothing like long enough in my view ... I think that masks do erode our ability to educate properly and to learn properly, and I’m glad that they’re going.

To laughter in the chamber, SNP Stephen Flynn asked:

Can I have confirmation from the prime minister, is he getting rid of the Covid rules simply because he doesn’t understand them?

Johnson replied:

We’re able to make progress on the Covid rules and to get rid of them because of our deep understanding of the pandemic.

Treasury chief secretary Simon Clarke has brushed off a call by David Davis for Boris Johnson to resign as prime minister.

Clarke said Johnson was focused on leading the country out of the Covid pandemic.

He told BBC Radio 4’s The World at One:

The prime minister was very clear we will get on with the job of getting the country through the pandemic.

I disagree very strongly with David Davis, I disagree very strongly with Christian Wakeford.

The priority now is to make sure that this country which has, like much of the world, gone through such difficult times in the last two years is now in a position to come out of the pandemic really strongly. We have the strongest economic growth in the world.

I am fully supportive of the prime minister.

Boris Johnson is sorry to see former Tory MP Christian Wakeford defect to Labour, No 10 has said.

The Prime Minister’s press secretary said:

I think we’re obviously sorry to see a colleague who was elected by constituents who voted for a Boris Johnson-led government leave and attempt to put Keir Starmer into No 10, which will be a disaster for the country.

What the people of Bury South and the whole country need is a strong Conservative government making tough decisions to deliver for them, and as you heard the PM say in the house the Conservative Party won Bury South on an agenda of uniting and levelling up and delivering for the public.

The press secretary was asked about reports that Wakeford had been threatened by Tory whips with having his seat boundary changed, but she said: “I’m not aware of that.”

Asked whether there should be a by-election in Bury South, she added: “I think that that is up to the constituents of Bury South.”

A Labour spokesman said he would be “very happy” for Boris Johnson to call a general election and put his claims that the Tories would win again in Bury South “to the test”.

At Prime Minister’s Questions, Johnson said:

As for Bury South, let me say to him, the Conservative Party won Bury South for the first time in a generation under this Prime Minister on an agenda of uniting and levelling up and delivering for the people of Bury South. We will win again in Bury South.

The Labour spokesman told a briefing for journalists:

I’m very happy for him to call a general election and put that to the test.

The Tory grandee David Davis told Boris Johnson: “In the name of God, go,” during an often chaotic prime minister’s questions overshadowed by intense doubt about Johnson’s future.

After a fierce set of exchanges between Johnson and Keir Starmer, Davis rose to tell Johnson that he had spent weeks defending him from “angry constituents”, but that repeated reports about lockdown-breaching parties were too much.

The former Brexit secretary said:

I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that. So I will remind him of a quotation which may be familiar to his ear, Leopold Amery to Neville Chamberlain: ‘You have sat too long here for any good you have been doing. In the name of God, go.’

Asked by the Guardian afterwards what had motivated him to make an intervention, Davis said the interview given by the prime minister to Sky News on Tuesday was “not what I expect from a leader”.

He said:

Up until now I had been supporting him … but it’s not leadership.

Yesterday’s interview was an attempt to escape responsibility, not to shoulder it. And that is a test of leadership.

It is understood junior colleagues had been pressing Davis to make a statement publicly calling for the prime minister to go, saying the situation needed a “big figure” to intervene.

Read more from my colleagues Peter Walker and Rowena Mason here:

A cross-party committee of councillors is to decide the future of the Sheffield city council chief executive, Kate Josephs, a week after she apologised for having leaving drinks in Whitehall during lockdown.

Josephs led the government’s Covid-19 taskforce from July to December 2020. After details of the gathering emerged in the media she released a statement admitting it took place and saying she was “truly sorry”.

Sheffield city council, her current employer, said a committee of councillors would be set up “to consider what steps, if any, should be taken next”.

Terry Fox, the leader of Sheffield city council, said:

I have heard strong and emotional views from across the city. I absolutely understand the reaction after all that Sheffield has been through these last couple of years.

We now need to let the committee carry out this work and we also continue to await the outcome of the Cabinet Office’s wider report. There is nothing further to add at this time.

The council said there was a prescribed statutory procedure for roles at this level in local government, which meant it had to be dealt with by a cross-party committee. Josephs, it said, had this week taken a short period of annual leave.

There is no deadline for the committee to report.

The council said:

We expect the committee to begin work in the coming days.

While we cannot yet know how long it will take, we expect it to move at pace. We expect that it will also take in the findings of the Sue Gray report.

Read more here:

Asked if Labour are in talks with any more Tory MPs who might be considering defecting, a spokesman for the Labour party said: “I am not going to get into that.”

Speaking during a briefing for journalists, he said:

What you’ve seen today is a decision from Christian Wakeford that shows his confidence in the Labour Party led by Keir Starmer and we are very pleased to welcome him to the Labour Party today.

Christian Wakeford’s defection did not come as a surprise to Labour who said it has been on the cards for a while

A Labour spokesman said the party had been in talks with the former Tory MP for “some time”.

Asked if he could be more precise, the spokesman added: “A while.” He said the contact pre-dated the Downing Street party allegations.

The spokesman said:

As he says in his letter today ... there are a number of issues that he’s highlighted in his letter, whether it’s the cost-of-living crisis or the government’s failure on levelling up, that have led him to this decision. It’s a decision that he’s been thinking about for some time.

He added that Keir Starmer had met with Wakeford personally on Monday evening.

Not everyone in the Labour party is impressed with the new MP in their ranks.

The left-wing Momentum campaign group said Christian Wakeford “should be nowhere near the Labour Party”.

A Momentum spokesman said:

Christian Wakeford has voted with this hard-right Tory government almost 400 times in just two years - voting against measures to stop climate change and tax avoidance and against enabling domestic abuse victims to have access to benefits.

He should be nowhere near the Labour Party and the decision by Starmer to accept him is an insult to the millions of working people who want to see a fairer country.

Wakeford should be booted out of Labour and a by-election called immediately. Labour must back a candidate that will stand up for the people of Bury South and against this Tory government.

Other members of the party have also been raking over the MP’s voting history with journalist Owen Jones suggesting Wakefield needs to explain the political journey he has been on and if he now embraces progressive values.

Agreed: and also given his absolutely atrocious voting record, Christian Wakefield should explain what political journey he has been on and if he genuinely now embraces basic progressive values. https://t.co/bRmEFXEb4q

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) January 19, 2022

I get it! For some of you, politics is a football match, not about transformative change, and a raging Tory who has voted for appalling things swapping seats for career reasons is unambiguously a good thing. I guess some of us see things differently!

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) January 19, 2022

Six months ago, Christian Wakeford backed the Tories’ Nationality and Borders Bill by describing refugees as “having a shopping trolley as to what they want in this economic migration.”

He’s an odious Tory and he should not be in a Labour Party that claims to be progressive. pic.twitter.com/SDtc29Rz6i

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) January 19, 2022

Updated

A Labour spokesman indicated the party’s leader believes there will be no need to hold a by-election in Bury South following Christian Wakeford’s defection.

Asked if, as far as Keir Starmer is concerned, there is no principle requiring anyone who defects from one party to another to stand for re-election, the spokesman said: “Correct.”

On whether Wakeford will face a trigger ballot in the coming months, the spokesman said:

We’ll set out all of the process, obviously, once we’ve had a chance to speak to people, the relevant people that vote in the local party and nationally, and we’ll happily set out the process at that point. But I don’t want to pre-empt that now.

Awkwardly, Wakefield previously co-sponsored a bill mandating by-elections for MP who defect.

Linked to the announcement that Plan B measures will be dropped in England from next week is falling infection levels across most of the country, writes our science editor Ian Sample.

Covid infections are falling across most parts of the UK, according to the latest official data which suggest that the winter wave driven by the Omicron variant has passed its peak.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) estimates that infections in the community fell in England, Wales and Scotland in the week ending 15 January, with the trend in Northern Ireland still uncertain.

The figures mark a turning point in the latest phase of the epidemic which has seen weeks of record-breaking infections in the UK fuelled by Omicron. While infection levels are still high, the ONS estimates that they fell in England from 3,735,000 in the first week of January, with 1 in 15 people testing positive, to 2,984,200 or 1 in 20 testing positive last week.

Similar declines were seen in Wales and Scotland where the ONS estimates that 1 in 25 and 1 in 20 people, respectively, had the virus in the week ending 15 January. Infections may be approaching a peak in Northern Ireland too, where a further 1 in 20 were estimated to have the virus last week.

The interim data from the ONS, which will be followed by a full report on Friday, show Covid infections declined in all regions of England in the most recent week, except the north-east and the south-west where it was unclear whether cases had peaked for now.

While infections decreased in most age groups in England in the latest week of the survey, they rose in young children aged two years old to year six of primary school.

Sarah Crofts, the head of analytical outputs for the ONS Covid-19 infection survey, said the latest figures showed “a welcome decrease in infections across most parts of the UK and among all age groups apart from younger children”.

Updated

Boris Johnson scraps all Plan B Covid restrictions including mask wearing

Boris Johnson has announced the end of all Covid measures introduced to combat the Omicron variant from next week, including compulsory mask-wearing on public transport and in shops, guidance to work from home and vaccine certificates.

The prime minister also said the legal requirement on people with coronavirus to self-isolate would be allowed to lapse when the regulations expired on 24 March, and that date could be brought forward.

Responding for Labour, Keir Starmer said he would back the move as long as it was supported by evidence, saying Johnson must “reassure the public he is acting to protect their health, not just his job”.

Updating MPs in the Commons, Johnson said so-called plan B restrictions would be lifted on 26 January, the review date for the measures introduced in December as Omicron swept across the UK.

Johnson argued that he had taken a “different path” to much of Europe, but that Covid data was “showing that, time and again, this government got the toughest decisions right”.

The swift change has been seen as an attempt by Johnson to placate Conservative MPs angry with him over reports about lockdown-breaching parties in No 10 by introducing a move demanded by many backbenchers, including the Covid Recovery Group.

However, there is concern among some directors of public health that ending all restrictions immediately could be too soon, especially in the north of England, where the Omicron wave hit slightly later than in London.

To cheers from some on the Tory benches, Johnson also announced an immediate end for the need for secondary pupils to wear masks at school.

Read more here:

Updated

MPs and pundits have been sharing their views on the performances of Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer at that dramatic and very noisy PMQs.

Here’s a selection of tweets:

A former minister believes @borisjohnson put in a better performance this week than last but still puts his chances of survival at 60/40. Doesnt think David Davies will bring many others with him but says the PM has 'put all his eggs in the Sue Gray basket'

— iain watson (@iainjwatson) January 19, 2022

Boris Johnson’s shockingly bad performance at PMQs, plus a Tory defection to Labour, makes it ever clearer that Britain’s worst PM is about to be turfed out. And Keir Starmer looks increasingly like an election winner. Bring it on

— Mary Riddell (@MaryRiddell) January 19, 2022

“In the name of God go” is one of the most famous parliamentary quotes of all time. David Davis just aimed it at Johnson at #PMQs Johnson responded by saying he didn’t recognise the quote. Yet another lie. His default setting is to lie.

— JOHN NICOLSON M.P. (@MrJohnNicolson) January 19, 2022

it is ENTIRELY in keeping that he would have written a book about Winston Churchill but not recognise the line with which a Conservative MP ushered Churchill into power https://t.co/9K8eqrn4HD

— Dr Charlotte Lydia Riley (@lottelydia) January 19, 2022

Superb performance from @Keir_Starmer at #PMQs. PM completely demolished

— Peter Stefanovic (@PeterStefanovi2) January 19, 2022

What the @Conservatives are doing to themselves is madness.

— Henry Bolton OBE 🇬🇧 (@_HenryBolton) January 19, 2022

Johnson now faces a potentially deadly coalition of angry & frustrated Brexiteers - who feel he has failed to deliver a Brexit dividend &, worse still, has curbed freedom & hiked taxes - together with angry & fearful new MPs who think Boris has turned from a winner to a loser

— Nick Robinson (@bbcnickrobinson) January 19, 2022

“Irrelevant old fool” adds another minister on DD. It’s getting spicy in central Lobby.

“Very uncharitable” adds Tory MP.

“One less letter” says cabinet minister on Wakeford.

— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) January 19, 2022

Overall I had thought PM had a much better #PMQs than last week (low bar), tallying troops worked to a degree even if it was very messy but David Davis intervention has largely blown that out of the water

— Darren McCaffrey (@darrenmccaffrey) January 19, 2022

.@jessphillips gives her verdict on @Keir_Starmer's performance in #PMQs: "Keir had obviously had his Weetabix today. It’s the first time I’ve felt like he really enjoyed it. You could see the confidence in his demeanour."

— City Journalism (@cityjournalism) January 19, 2022

Updated

And here’s Keir Starmer’s full statement in response:

I would like to welcome Christian Wakeford to the Labour party. He has always put the people of Bury South first.

As Christian said, the policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.

People across Britain face a cost of living crisis but this incompetent Tory government is asleep at the wheel, distracted by a chaos of its own making. Meanwhile families, businesses and pensioners are suffering from the Conservative failure to tackle rising food, fuel and energy prices.

Labour are the only ones who have put forward a plan to help people through the Tory cost of living crisis.

I’m determined to build a new Britain which guarantees security, prosperity and respect for all and I’m delighted that Christian has decided to join us in this endeavour.

Updated

Here’s Christian Wakeford’s letter to Boris Johnson in full:

Dear prime minister,

I am writing to inform you of my decision to resign from the Conservative party and apply to join the Labour party.

From today I will be sitting as the Labour MP for Bury South because I have reached the conclusion that the best interests of my constituents are served by the programme put forward by Keir Starmer and his party.

I care passionately about the people of Bury South and I have concluded that the policies of the Conservative government that you lead are doing nothing to help the people of my constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.

Britain needs a government focused on tackling the cost of living crisis and providing a path out of the pandemic that protects living standards and defends the security of all. It needs a government that upholds the highest standards of integrity and probity in public life and sadly both you and the Conservative Party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves.

Being elected as MP for Bury South was the proudest day of my life. I care passionately about the area and will always be grateful to those who have supported me. Today, however, I am in no doubt that they will be better served by my joining a party that genuinely has their interests at heart.

I have wrestled with my conscience for many months, and you will know that I have made my policy misgivings clear on many occasions in private and sometimes in public. I can no longer support a government that has shown itself consistently out of touch with the hard working people of Bury South and the country as a whole.

Under Keir Starmer, the Labour party is back firmly in the centre of British politics, in touch with working people, and ready to provide an alternative government that this country can be proud of, and not embarrassed by.

My decision is about much more than your leadership and the disgraceful way you have conducted yourself in recent weeks. However, I don’t believe all politicians are the same and I do believe in the power of politics to be a force for good. So does Keir Starmer. He has shown that integrity in the way he has led his party on issues that matter to me, not least the vital challenge of combatting antisemitism.

I will always put the people of Bury South first and will continue to speak out for the changes the area needs. Changes that can only be delivered by a Labour government with Keir Starmer.

Yours,

Christian Wakeford

Updated

The SNP Westminster leader, Ian Blackford, told the Commons during PMQs:

Will the prime minister finally take responsibility, resign, go, prime minister.

This week was supposed to be ‘Operation Save Big Dog’ but it’s quickly become ‘Operation Dog’s Dinner’.

Over the past few days we’ve had more damaging revelations about Downing Street rule-breaking, more evidence that parliament has been misled and an even longer list of ludicrous, absolutely ludicrous, excuses from the prime minister.

First he claimed there were no parties, then he wasn’t present, then he admitted he was at them but he didn’t know it was a party and then the latest sorry excuse is really them most pathetic of them all, nobody told me ... nobody told the prime minister he was breaking his own rules. Absolutely pathetic.

The prime minister laughing once again, laughing at the British public. The prime minister is taking the public for fools, nobody believes him. Will the prime minister finally take responsibility, resign, go, Prime Minister.

Boris Johnson replied:

No, but I thank him for his question again and let me just remind him that there’s an inquiry that is due to conclude. I believe he is wrong in what he asserts, but we’ll have to wait and see what the inquiry says.

The most important thing from the point of view of the UK government is that we’re coming out of the restrictions that we’ve been in. I’m delighted to see that that’s happening in Scotland as well.

Updated

Keir Starmer concluded his questions by raising soaring energy bills, insisting Labour has a plan to respond while the government is offering “nothing” and “too distracted by their own chaos to do their job”.

He said:

While Labour was setting out plans to heat homes, he was buying a fridge to keep the party wine chilled.

While we were setting out plans to keep bills down, he was planning parties. And while we were setting out plans to save jobs in the steel industry, he was trying to save just one job - his own.

Doesn’t the country deserve so much better than this out-of-touch, out-of-control, out-of-ideas and soon to be out-of-office prime minister?

Boris Johnson defended the government’s record during the pandemic and beyond, adding:

When the history of this pandemic comes to be written and the history of the Labour party comes to be written - and believe me, they are history and will remain history - it will show that we delivered while they dithered, and we vaccinated while they vacillated.

He went on to hail the booster jab programme and praised staff in Whitehall, the government and the NHS, adding:

I am intensely proud of what this government has done.

Updated

Keir Starmer said during PMQs that the prime minister’s defence requires the public to believe that “as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party”.

Starmer said:

The prime minister’s account gets more extraordinary with each version of his defence. If the prime minister’s new defence were true, it requires him to suggest that his staff are not being truthful when they say they warned him about the party.

It requires the prime minister to expect us to believe that whilst every other person who was invited on 20 May to the party was told it was a social occasion, he alone was told it was a work meeting.

It also requires the prime minister to ask us to accept that as he waded through the empty bottles and platters of sandwiches, he didn’t realise it was a party.

Does the prime minister realise how ridiculous that sounds?

Boris Johnson said “lots of people are interested in the exact legal justification” for the picture of the Labour leader “drinking a pint of beer, of a bottle of beer”.

The prime minister added:

Perhaps he can tell the house about that in a minute. But what I can tell the house is that throughout the pandemic, people across government have been working flat out to protect the British public.

Updated

PMQs is over for another week. There have been a few questions about whether or not the royal family can be discussed in the house of commons.

It is actually the case as Alice Lilly of the Institute of Government points out:

Yep https://t.co/9DCbEyRy6I

— Dr Alice Lilly (@aliceolilly) January 19, 2022

The rules say:

No question can be put which brings the name of the Sovereign or the influence of the Crown directly before Parliament, or which casts reflections upon the Sovereign or the royal family.

A question has been altered at the Speaker’s direction on the ground that the name of the Sovereign should not be introduced to affect the views of the House. Questions are, however, allowed on such matters as the costs to public funds of royal events and royal palaces.

A little refresher on why this came up, if you missed it:

Keir Starmer told the Commons:

Last year Her Majesty the Queen sat alone when she marked the passing of the man she’d been married to for 73 years, she followed the rules of the country that she leads.

On the eve of that funeral, a suitcase was filled with booze and wheeled into Downing Street, a DJ played and staffed partied late into the night.

The prime minister has been forced to hand an apology to Her Majesty the Queen. Isn’t he ashamed that he didn’t hand in his resignation at the same time?

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle, intervening, said:

We normally would not, quite rightly, mention the royal family. We don’t get into discussions on the royal family.

Boris Johnson added:

Well in that case, Mr Speaker, I must ask (Sir Keir) to withdraw it.

Hoyle said he had dealt with it before Johnson got back to his feet but was pulled back to his seat by Chancellor Rishi Sunak tugging on the prime minister’s jacket.

Updated

David Davis tells Johnson 'in the name of God, go'

In a dramatic moment to match Christian Wakeford defecting, Tory MP and former minister David Davis has urged Boris Johnson to go.

He told Johnson he had spent weeks defending him from “angry constituents”, including by reminding them of the “successes of Brexit”.

I expect my leaders to shoulder the responsibility for the actions they take. Yesterday he did the opposite of that.

Davis then raised the roof by concluding with a quote from Leo Amery to Neville Chamberlain:

You have sat there too long for all the good you have done. In the name of God, go.”

Responding, the prime minister said:

I must say to him, I don’t know what he is talking about.

What I can tell him – I don’t know what quotation he is alluding to – what I can tell him is and I think have told this house repeatedly, I take full responsibility for everything done in this Government and throughout the pandemic.

Updated

Labour MP Diana Johnson delivers one of the most scathing questions:

When the prime minister has to spend his time trying to convince the British public that he is stupid not dishonest isn’t it time for him to go?

Boris Johnson said in response:

I’ve made my point. I think that the British public have responded to what this government has had to say in the most eloquent way possible.

They have beaten Covid so far. They have helped to defeat Covid so far, with the steps they have taken, by getting vaccinated and implementing Plan B, and I thank them.

Updated

Keir Starmer asked Boris Johnson when he first became aware that any of his staff had “concerns” about the gathering in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 20 2020.

Starmer said:

Not only did he write the rules, but some of his staff say they did warn him about attending the party on May 20, 2020.

Now, I have heard the prime minister’s very carefully crafted response to that accusation. It almost sounds like a lawyer wrote it. So, I’ll be equally careful with my question. When did the prime minister first become aware that any of his staff had concerns about the 20 May party?

Johnson replied “it is for the inquiry to come forward with an explanation of what happened”, adding: “I am afraid he simply must wait.”

Updated

Here’s some more quotes from earlier:

If the prime minister thinks the only accusation he faces is that he once had a beer with a takeaway then Operation Save Big Dog is in deeper trouble than I thought.

If the prime minister misleads parliament, should they resign?

Boris Johnson replied:

[Starmer] is continuing to ask a series of questions which he knows will be fully addressed by the inquiry, he is wasting this house’s time, he is wasting the people’s time, and continues to be completely irrelevant.

Starmer countered:

I know it’s not going well prime minister, but look on the bright side – at least his staff at No 10 know how to pack a suitcase.

This jibe refers to reports that junior staff were sent out with a suitcase to fill up with bottles of wine for the parties at No 10.

Updated

As the prime minister laughs and looks at his watch, SNP’s Ian Blackford says Boris Johnson is “absolutely pathetic” and “laughing at the British public”.

“Nobody believes him,” he says.

He said:

Mr Speaker, I’m afraid nobody is buying this act any more. There ought to be some respect and dignity for the prime minister.

He said that the prime minister “believes he is above the rules” and “brazenly twists the truth” and he “simply isn’t fit for office”.

Updated

Kate Ferguson of the Sun says Boris Johnson is not receiving support from the backbenchers although those in the cabinet are being as loud as they can.

The payroll doing a good job of cheering Boris Johnson today.

But the backbenchers mainly silent….#PMQs

— Kate Ferguson (@kateferguson4) January 19, 2022

Updated

Silence descends in the chamber as Keir Starmer raises the fact that the Queen sat alone at Prince Phillip’s funeral while the day before at No 10, there was a party that included DJ’s and late night revelry.

"On the eve of that funeral a suitcase was filled with booze and taken into Downing St.. A DJ played. Staff partied late into the night. Isn't he ashamed he didn't hand in his resignation at the same time?" OOph.

— Ian Dunt (@IanDunt) January 19, 2022

The Speaker, however, points out that the royal family are not to be discussed which means we miss out on Boris Johnson’s response (although he did try and waste some time by calling for Starmer to retract his comments on the Queen).

The noise in the chamber raises again as the speaker of the house struggles to maintain order.

Chris Smyth of the Times points out this might be in Johnson’s favour:

Strangely, the carnival atmosphere in PMQs means the PM is getting away with not answering any of the party questions

— Chris Smyth (@Smyth_Chris) January 19, 2022

Updated

Keir Starmer continues to mock Boris Johnson for his response to questions about the party on 20 May, suggesting a lawyer helped him write his responses.

Johnson is sticking to his script and saying MPs must wait for Sue Gray’s inquiry into parties at No 10 during various lockdowns.

Losing his temper a little, Johnson says:

He continues to ask questions which he knows will be fully addressed by the inquiry. He is wasting people’s time.

Updated

Boris Johnson decides to address the decision of Christian Wakeford to defect to Labour and claims credit for the MP winning his seat in 2019.

He said:

As for Bury South – the Conservative party won Bury South for the first time in generations under this prime minister.

We will win again in Bury South.

His comments are met with huge cheers and bench banging from his Tory colleagues.

Updated

Keir Starmer is clearly really enjoying himself and makes a joke that goes down well saying:

I’m sure the chief whip has told them to bring their own boos.

Updated

When welcoming his new MP, Keir Starmer said:

I would like to welcome Christian to the Labour party. He has always put the people of Bury South first.

As Christian said, the policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and indeed are only making the struggles they face worse.

Updated

Christian Wakeford was cheered by Labour MPs as he arrived in the Commons ahead of prime minister’s questions and took his seat on the opposition benches.

He opted to sit on the second row behind Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer.

Starmer is clearly in high spirits and has welcomed his new colleague to more cheers in the chamber.

Updated

Wendy Chamberlain, Liberal Democrat MP for North East Fife mocks Boris Johnson for continuing to change his mind about his excuse for the party on 20 May.

Johnson said:

I apologise sincerely for any mis-judgments that were made.

Hold on to your hats, prime minister’s question time is due to start in a few minutes and newly defected Christian Wakeford is rumoured to be planning to sit behind Keir Starmer.

This is a huge blow for the prime minister ahead of what is one of his most important PMQs since he took over in 2019 and while he is extremely vulnerable.

Updated

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer 'delighted' by Christian Wakeford's defection from Tories

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer welcomed MP Christian Wakeford’s defection from the Tories and said he was “delighted”.

He said:

I would like to welcome Christian Wakeford to the Labour party. He has always put the people of Bury South first.

As Christian said, the policies of the Conservative government are doing nothing to help the people of Bury South and, indeed, are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse.

I’m determined to build a new Britain which guarantees security, prosperity and respect for all, and I’m delighted that Christian has decided to join us in this endeavour.

Updated

Christian Wakeford 'defecting to the Labour party'

Christian Wakeford, the Tory MP for Bury South is defecting to the Labour party, Sebastian Payne of the Financial Times has tweeted.

🚨 SCOOP: Christian Wakeford, the Tory MP for Bury South is defecting to the Labour party.

Formal announcement coming in five minuteshttps://t.co/GIIB7XlCJ2

— Sebastian Payne (@SebastianEPayne) January 19, 2022

Harry Cole of the Sun has the statement.

Wakeford has told Boris Johnson that “you and the Conservative party as a whole have shown themselves incapable of offering the leadership and government this country deserves”.

JUST IN: @Christian4BuryS defects: pic.twitter.com/ve3TRlYMBt

— Harry Cole (@MrHarryCole) January 19, 2022

Updated

The defence minister James Heappey has urged his Conservative colleagues to wait for Sue Gray’s report before submitting letters of no confidence in the prime minister, calling for “cool heads” as Boris Johnson battles for his political future.

Johnson will face the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, at prime minister’s questions on Wednesday for the first time since No 10 was forced to apologise to the Queen over two parties held the night before Prince Philip’s funeral.

Heappey conceded that Johnson had appeared under pressure in a Sky News interview on Tuesday. “He looked like the man who has the weight of the world on his shoulders,” he said.

The minister acknowledged the intensity of public anger, saying he had had “hundreds of emails” from constituents, and expected the prime minister to have to make further apologies.

“People are absolutely furious at what they have heard and seen,” he said.

But Heappey called on Tory MPs to await the findings of Gray, who is the heading the investigation into alleged rule-breaking at Downing Street, before moving against Johnson.

“I wish that they would wait. This feels like a time for cool heads in parliament,” he said. “I think we should all be wanting to wait to see what evidence she has gathered from across everybody she has spoken to and what judgments she comes to and then we can make a decision about what happens next.”

Read the full story here:

Updated

Paul Brand from ITV has some intel on the timing of further letters being sent as it will affect when the vote of no confidence takes place if enough MPs write in.

Those who want to get rid of Boris Johnson do not want the vote to take place on Friday which means some MPs may delay writing in.

Rebels don’t want vote of no confidence on Friday, when there is only a one line whip. They think it would mean MPs having to cast votes on behalf of colleagues who aren’t in Westminster that day, making the whole anonymous ballot a bit of a farce and poss deterring rebellion.

— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) January 19, 2022

Could affect timing of any further letters if some decide to hold off to ensure the vote is next week when everyone is in Westminster.

Or they strike today and have the vote tomorrow.

— Paul Brand (@PaulBrandITV) January 19, 2022

Gordon Rayner from the Telegraph points out why the timing is so important:

Also worth remembering that if a confidence vote in the PM is triggered and he wins it (like Theresa May did) they cannot have another one for 12 months, hence timing is important.

— Gordon Rayner (@gordonrayner) January 19, 2022

Updated

The pub chain JD Wetherspoon has criticised the government’s “hypocrisy” over parties at 10 Downing Street while restrictions forced pub sales to crash.

Wetherspoon also said the latest plan B restrictions brought in at the start of the Omicron wave of infections in December had depressed sales over the crucial festive period in the hospitality sector for a second year running.

The pub chain, run by chairman and founder Tim Martin, directed its ire at the government over “partygate”.

Wetherspoon said “there would have been a number of advantages for the nation” if pubs had been open on 20 May 2020, the date on which the embattled prime minister attended a “bring your own booze” party in the garden of No 10.

The trading update alleged that Covid-19 controls in pubs at the time “were superior to private parties”. It argued that this was true because no outbreaks of the virus among customers were reported in public health data, although it did not cite any specific evidence for the claim. Scientific modelling has repeatedly suggested that limiting crowded gatherings helps to reduce coronavirus infections.

The update on Wednesday also claimed that staff in Wetherspoon’s pubs “would have easily dealt with the ‘high jinks’ alleged to have occurred at No 10” and that CCTV in central London pubs would have helped “subsequent inquiries” into the parties.

Read more here:

Updated

The Tories in Wales have backed a legal challenge by the civil liberties campaign group Big Brother Watch against the Labour government’s Covid pass scheme.

Big Brother Watch is pursuing a judicial review of the pass scheme and full disclosure of the documents and advice that led Welsh ministers to implement it. The group is ultimately seeking a court order quashing mandatory Covid passes.

The pass – which the Tories describe as a “vaccine passport” – allows people to prove they are vaccinated or have had a negative lateral flow test so they can attend large events or venues.

Shadow health minister Russell George said:

Vaccine passports are coercive, ineffective, costly to business, and continue to have no evidence base. We must not forget that they are not a route out of restrictions, they are a restriction.

Therefore, the Welsh Conservatives are supportive of this legal challenge against the Labour government’s continued imposition of the freedom-limiting passport on the people of Wales.

As legislators, our job is to make good law and strike down bad law: vaccine passports neither limit the spread of the virus nor increase uptake of the vaccine, so have no place on the statute books.

Labour, with Plaid Cymru’s support, are only keeping them in place so they do not look like their U-turning on one of the most poorly informed policies ever implemented during the age of devolution.

Updated

Boris Johnson is expected to instruct millions to return to workplaces across England as he tries to placate furious MPs with a review of Covid restrictions that could end all rules introduced to combat Omicron.

The cabinet will meet on this morning to examine Covid data and review plan B restrictions imposed in December amid the rapid spread of the variant, with Johnson set to update the Commons later in the day.

While an official statement said decisions remained “finely balanced”, ministers are widely expected to approve the end of current advice for people to work from home where possible and the use of vaccine certificates to enter venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums. This would happen from 26 January, the pre-set review point for the plan B measures.

It is also possible, if considered less likely, that the cabinet could drop the final plan B restriction which mandates masks on public transport and in shops. This move in particular would please many Conservative backbenchers, especially those in the influential Covid Recovery Group.

Read more here:

Professor Jason Leitch was asked about suggestions that free lateral flow tests may come to an end due to the cost.

Scotland’s national clinical director told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme it is “too early” to decide, adding that the UK countries have discussed it.

He said there has “certainly been no suggestion that in the near future they will be charged for”.

Leitch added:

I think they are a crucial building block of our baseline, a bit like Test and Trace, Test and Protect for us in Scotland, the alcohol gels, the vaccinations, I think these are what we’re going to be left with post-Omicron.

A rising Conservative rebellion against Boris Johnson that could see the prime minister ousted over the No 10 party scandals dominate the front pages.

The manoeuvring by some Red Wall Tory MPs – dubbed the “pork pie putsch” – follows a disastrous interview given by Johnson in which he says he had not lied over the Downing Street parties.

The UK newspaper front pages are full of Johnson’s latest woes. Here’s a look at what they say:

Boris Johnson will face MPs for prime minister’s questions later and will also seek to boost his position with Tory MPs and the public by announcing an easing of England’s coronavirus restrictions.

Armed forces minister James Heappey urged his colleagues to keep “cool heads” as he said now was not the time to change leader, with looming economic and international challenges.

Heappey, previously a parliamentary aide to Johnson, suggested the prime minister may not have fully understood the nature of the event he was going to in the Downing Street garden on 20 May 2020 as his diary was rigorously controlled by staff.

He told Times Radio:

The first time that what he was going into would have been brought into focus would have been in the pre-brief he had as he was going down the stairs.

He said he had received “well over” 500 emails about the partygate scandal and “the overwhelming majority, at least nine in 10, if not 19 in 20, are absolutely furious and cannot understand how all of this has happened”.

But he added:

I choose to believe what the prime minister has said. But I know that that’s not good enough for many of my constituents.

If Gray’s report “says something different then we’re in a different place”, he acknowledged, indicating that Johnson would have to resign if he was found to have misled parliament.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

The ministerial code is clear: the highest responsibility that any minister has is to be accurate in what they say to the House of Commons. That is the very foundation of our parliamentary democracy.

Meanwhile, environment secretary George Eustice told BBC’s Good Morning Scotland:

I’ve got confidence in the prime minister. Clearly the revelations that have been coming out are damaging and it’s unsettled parts of the Conservative parliamentary party, there’s no denying that.

Updated

The mood of Conservative MPs was hardening against Boris Johnson last night, with open talk of how to oust the prime minister and who should succeed him as he gave a disastrous interview claiming not to have lied over Downing Street parties.

A string of Tory MPs from various ranks and wings of the party said they believed there would be enough letters to trigger a leadership contest after the publication of the Sue Gray report into allegations of lockdown breaches, with some reports on Tuesday night that it could come sooner.

Johnson was trying to shore up his support in the parliamentary party after it emerged a group of a dozen or so of the 2019 intake had met in the office of Alicia Kearns to discuss his future as prime minister.

After the meeting – dubbed the “pork pie putsch” as Kearns’ constituency contains Melton Mowbray – one MP said there were about 20 letters, “some sent, some in draft”. There needs to be 54 letters submitted to trigger a confidence ballot against the prime minister, who met some of the new cohort on Tuesday evening.

With MPs plotting his demise, Johnson emerged from isolation in No 10 to defend himself against claims from Dominic Cummings, his former aide, that he lied to parliament about believing a garden party in the first lockdown was a work event.

The prime minister said “no one warned” him that the 20 May 2020 “bring your own booze” party he attended alongside 30-40 staff was against the rules, and confirmed he had given his account of events to Gray.

“I can’t believe we would have gone ahead with an event that people said was against the rules … nobody warned me it was against the rules, I am categorical about that – I would have remembered that,” he told Sky News.

Read more from my colleagues Rowena Mason, Jessica Elgot and Aubrey Allegretti here:

Updated

This post has been removed.

Updated

One Tory backbencher has said he expects enough Conservative MPs will submit letters this week to trigger a confidence vote in Boris Johnson – and that Dominic Cummings and had others would release more damaging information ahead of the vote.

Andrew Bridgen, one of seven MPs to have publicly declared they have written to the chair of the backbench 1922 Committee, Sir Graham Brady, calling for a vote, said he expects at least 20 more letters to go in on Wednesday from MPs newly elected in 2019.

Under party rules, there will be a confidence vote if 54 Conservative MPs submit letters to Brady.

Bridgen told the PA Media news agency:

I heard first-hand last night that another 20 from the 2019 intake will be going in today.

I would have thought that will encourage a considerable number of others who are wavering to put their letters in. I think will we get to threshold of 54 this week.

Graham Brady will announce we are having a confidence vote next week, probably Tuesday or Wednesday.

The Sue Gray report, I think, will be out Tuesday or Wednesday next week. and of course Dominic Cummings and those who have got information damaging to the prime minister will probably dump everything into the press this weekend to influence the vote next week.

Updated

A former adviser to Boris Johnson when he was mayor of London has also been defending the prime minister this morning. He said his former boss should not be forced out before Sue Gray’s report.

Lord Moylan told Sky News:

I think we have to see what Sue Gray says about what the rules were in a work environment at that time.

People who had to go to work, had to work in a work environment with social distancing, as far as possible, he (the prime minister) walked into the garden, he shouldn’t have stayed in the garden, he’s apologised for that, and now we go forward from there.

The question of the ‘pork pie plot’ is one that I think some MPs have been a bit giddy about, but I don’t think they should force the elected prime minister out on the strength of this.

They need to reflect on the facts, they need see Sue Gray’s report, and they think need to think about the consequences and the follow through.

Updated

James Heappey signalled he thinks that if Sue Gray’s report shows Boris Johnson misled parliament he should resign.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, the armed forces minister said:

The prime minister has my trust, he has my confidence, he stood at the despatch box the other day and he gave an account of himself that I can understand and that I accept.

If Sue Gray comes out and says something different then we’re in a different place and I’m happy to come back and reflect on my feelings then.

He added:

The ministerial care code is clear: the highest responsibility that any minister has is to be accurate in what they say to the House of Commons. That is the very foundation of our parliamentary democracy.

Updated

Minister defends PM amid continued anger over No 10 parties

Armed forces minister James Heappey has been doing the rounds on radio and TV this morning defending Boris Johnson over the partying scandal, as the prime minister prepares for what is likely to be a difficult PMQs later today.

While Heappey did say he believed and trusted Johnson, there were a few caveats and he also acknowledged public opinion.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme:

I choose to believe what he said, but there’ll be millions of your listeners who won’t. That’s why Sue Gray is doing her investigation.

Heappey stuck to the line that the prime minister thought the party was a work event. He said Johnson had not said he did not know the rules surrounding Covid at the time a party was held at Downing Street in May 2020, but that he “did not know, as he was going to it, that he would break the rules”.

He also said he wished colleagues submitting letters of no confidence i Johnson would wait, and that during an interview on Tuesday the prime minister “looked like a man that has the weight of the world on his shoulders”.

Asked if he wants Johnson to lead his party into the next election, Heappey said: “As things stand right now, yes.”

He added:

I suspect he’s going to have to apologise for this many more times because people are not going to let their anger die down easily.

Contributors

Lucy Campbell, Nicola Slawson and Rachel Hall

The GuardianTramp

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