- Nicola Sturgeon has asked the supreme court to rule on whether the Scottish government can hold a non-binding referendum on independence, without having Boris Johnson’s permission to stage one. The supreme court has indicated that it will hear the case. Jonathan Sumption, a former supreme court justice, told the PM programme that it looked as if it would be “very difficult” for Sturgeon to obtain a referendum this way. He explained:
The problem is that the constitutional relationship between England and Scotland is a reserved matter under the Scotland Act, which means that the Scottish parliament has no power to legislate for anything that affects the constitutional relationship between two parts of the United Kingdom,
The supreme court would have to consider whether it is lawful to pass legislation designed to put pressure on Westminster on a reserved matter.
Commenting on Sturgeon’s announcement, Boris Johnson told reporters travelling with him to the Nato summit in Madrid.
I haven’t seen exactly what she’s said yet. We will study it very carefully and we will respond properly.
The focus of the country should be on building a stronger economy, that’s what we’re doing with our plan for a stronger economy and I certainly think that we’ll be able to have a stronger economy and a stronger country together.
- Boris Johnson has sought to defuse anger over a No 10 briefing that he would ditch a manifesto commitment on defence spending but faced criticism from Labour for breaking a pledge made even more crucial by the Ukraine war.
- Keir Starmer has backed away from sacking Labour frontbenchers who defied his instructions and stood alongside striking rail workers last week.
- The Labour MP Stella Creasy has said she will table an amendment to the forthcoming British bill of rights to give women the fundamental right to an abortion.
- Conservative MPs are privately warning that a swathe of cabinet ministers and other high-profile Tories are on course to lose their seats at the next general election under Boris Johnson.
In her statement Nicola Sturgeon announced what was in effect a fast-track procedure to refer her referendum bill to the supreme court. (I used the word emergency earlier, to refer to the fact this is a rare procedure, intended to speed things up, but fast-track is probably a better term.) She proposed this as an alternative to just getting Holyrood to pass the legislation and then wait for it to be challenged in court.
In a Twitter thread starting here, the lawyer Andrew Nickell explains more about this process.
Cabinet secretary says it would be wrong for Johnson to call snap general election without proper reason
Earlier I covered the opening of the public accounts and constitututional affairs committee with Simon Case, the cabinet secretary. I broke away to cover the Nicola Sturgeon statement, but here is a round-up of the highlights.
- Case admitted that there was a tension between serving the government of the day and upholding traditional civil service values. He said there was a juxtaposition in the civil service code between “the duty to support the government of the day” and upholding the civil service values. This could create “challenges”, he said. And this was an issue in “the current circumstances”, he said. He went on:
The government of the day is one which is not remotely afraid of controversial policies. It believes it has a mandate to test established boundaries. It takes a robust view of the national interest and how the government should protect it and focuses very much on accountability to people and parliament, not on the unelected advisory structures.
- He said it would be “quite wrong’ for Boris Johnson to call a snap election without justification. These are from the i’s Paul Waugh.
There has been some speculation amongst Tory MPs that Johnson could call a snap election to avert a leadership challenge.
- Case said it was “very difficult” for civil servants to investigate the prime ministers. See 2.23pm.
- He said that Lord Geidt, the PM’s independent adviser on ministerial standards, was not asked to advise on the Northern Ireland protocol bill (which is widely seen as against international law, but not by the government) but was asked to advise on a steel tariff issue (where the government’s plan could be in breach of WTO obligations). Geidt resigned over the issue. Case declined to speculate on whether Geidt was using the issue as “an excuse” to quit.
- Case said a decision on the recruitment process for the replacement for Lord Geidt has not yet been made.
- Case said there is an onging disciplinary process for civil servants involved in Partygate. He also said some civil servants had resigned over the scandal. But he did not say who or how many, and it was not clear if he was just referring to people who are already known to have left.
- Case confirmed that no investigation has taken place into claims that Johnson tried to appoint Carrie Johnson - now his wife, but at the time his mistress - to a £100,000-a-year job in the Foreign Office when he was foreign secretary. Case said that it was for the PM to authorise such an investigation. William Wragg (Con), the committee chairman, suggested Johnson was “not keen” on the idea, prompting laughter. Case just said that was a question for the PM.
- Darren Tierney, director general for propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office, who was giving evidence alongside Case, said he was once asked to advise on whether loans between ministers had to be declared. That was “not recently”, he said. He went on: “My general advice is it is probably not a good idea, as a minimum.”
Councils face 'formidable pressures' in months ahead, says Gove
Local government is facing “formidable pressures” in coming months, Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, told the Local Government Association (LGA) annual conference. But he said the government would do all it could to help.
Speaking at the confernece in Harrogate, Gove said:
I appreciate that in the immediate months ahead local government faces formidable pressures. The accumulating demands on adult social care, the challenges facing children’s social care, the pressure to support children with special educational needs, the economies which inevitably affect non-statutory services, and additional expectations that we have in planning and housing.
We will do everything that we can to support you through these challenging times.
Gove said he wanted to encourage more devolution, saying: “You can’t have a Northern Powerhouse without more power being exercised in the North.”
As PA Media reports, he also told the council leaders he would introduce a two-year funding settlement to help with budget planning and would look to reduce the bewildering range of funding streams to local government to simplify the process.
Police swoop on Stop Brexit Man under new anti-protest law
Steve Bray, the activist known as “Stop Brexit Man”, has had equipment seized by police officers attempting to shut down his regular protest near parliament, as a new protest law came into force. My colleague Jamie Grierson has the story here.
And this is from Adam Tomkins, a law professor and a former Scottish Conservative MSP.
From Michael Russell, the SNP president
BBC Scotland’s political editor Glen Campbell says that, if Nicola Sturgeon does end up turning the next general election into a de facto independence referendum, she will be looking to win a majority of votes, not just seats.
Murdo Fraser, a Scottish Conservative MSP, seems confident, partly on the basis of an answer Nicola Sturgeon gave in the Scottish parliament earlier (see 3.41pm), that the Scottish government will lose when the supreme court considers the legality of the referendum bill.
No 10 says it wants to see what supreme court decides in relation to Holyrood's referendum bill
In response to Nicola Sturgeon’s announcement, Downing Street has said said that Boris Johnson remains opposed to a second independence referendum now, but that it will wait to see what the supreme court decides about the legality of the Scottish government’s bill. A spokesperson for No 10 said:
Our position remains unchanged, that both ours and the Scottish Government’s priority should be working together with a relentless focus on the issues that really matter to people.
But a decision has been taken by the first minister, so we will carefully study the details of the proposal and the supreme court will now consider whether to accept the Scottish government’s lord advocate’s referral.
Sturgeon says general election will serve as vote on independence if supreme court blocks referendum bill
Here is a lengthy extract from Nicola Sturgeon’s statement to MSPs on a second independence referendum.
And here are the key paragraphs.
On referring the referendum bill to the supreme court
We must seek now to accelerate to the point when we have legal clarity; legal fact. And crucially, in doing so establish and safeguard the ability of this parliament to deliver a referendum on the date proposed.
The lord advocate has agreed to make a reference of the provisions in the bill to the supreme court.
I can confirm that the reference will be filed with the supreme court this afternoon.
On what happens if the Scottish government wins
Obviously, it is this government’s hope that the question in this bill, proposing a referendum that is consultative, not self-executing, and which would seek to ascertain the views of the Scottish people for or against independence, will be deemed to be within the legislative competence of this parliament.
If that outcome is secured, there will be no doubt whatsoever that the referendum is lawful. And I can confirm that the government will then immediately introduce the bill and ask parliament to pass the it on a timescale that allows the referendum to proceed on 19 October 2023
On what happens if the Scottish government loses
It is, of course, possible that the supreme court will decide that the Scottish parliament does not have power to legislate for even a consultative referendum. Obviously, that would not be the clarity we hope for.
But if that is what the law establishing this parliament really means, it is better to have that clarity sooner rather than later.
Because what it will clarify is this: any notion of the UK as a voluntary union of nations is a fiction. Any suggestion that the UK is a partnership of equals is false.
There would be few stronger or more powerful arguments for independence than that.
And it would not be the end of the matter. Far from it. Democracy demands that people must have their say.
I want the process set in train today to lead to a lawful, constitutional referendum and for that to take place on 19 October 2023.
But if the law says that is not possible, the general election will be a ‘de facto’ referendum.
Either way, the people of Scotland will have their say.
Back in the Scottish parliament, asked if she has asked the lord advocate to refer this matter to the supreme court because the lord advocate advised that the referendum bill was not legally competent, Nicola Sturgeon refused to answer. She said she could not comment on legal advice.
But she said she wanted a referral to the court because she did not want MSPs just to hear advice about whether the referendum bill was legal. She wanted its legality to be established as fact, she said.
This is from Ian Murray, the shadow Scottish secretary, on Sturgeon’s announcment.
Back in the Scottish parliament, Sturgeon said that if the unionists really thought the Scots would vote against independence, they should call the SNP’s bluff and allow a referendum.
Sturgeon tells Johnson in letter that as 'democrat' she expects him not to block Scotland's desire for referendum
Here is the text of Nicola Sturgeon’s letter to Boris Johnson
In May last year the Scottish government was re-elected on a clear promise to give the people of Scotland the choice of independence. The election also returned a Scottish parliament with a decisive majority in favour of independence and with a mandate for an independence referendum.
In line with that mandate, we committed last year to work to ensure that a legitimate and constitutional referendum could be held, if the Covid crisis is over, within the first half of this term of the Scottish parliament.
Your government has made abundantly clear your reluctance to respect that mandate or to respond positively to my previous request for constructive engagement to agree the terms of an order in council under Section 30 of the Scotland Act 1998 to put the legal basis of a referendum beyond any doubt.
Against that background, the lord advocate has, following a request from me, decided to refer to the supreme court the question of whether Scottish Parliament legislation for such a referendum relates to reserved matters. The reference is being served on the advocate general today.
It is a matter of deep regret to me that this action is necessary. In a voluntary union of nations where the people of one nation have voted in elections to give a mandate for a referendum, it is, in my view, unacceptable democratically that the route to a referendum has to be via the courts rather than by co-operation between the UK and Scottish governments.
Indeed your actions to date call into question the whole idea of the UK as a voluntary partnership.
You and I will never agree on the merits of independence for Scotland. But I would expect any democrat to agree that it is unacceptable for the people of Scotland to be blocked from making that choice given the clear majority for a referendum in the Scottish parliament.
Although the court action is in progress, I continue to stand ready to negotiate the terms of a section 30 order with you, as we did with the UK government in 2012, to respect the mandate given by the people of Scotland.
Alex Cole-Hamilton, the Scottish Lib Dem leader, told MSPs that Sturgeon’s plan was “an appalling waste of energy and focus”.
Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, told MSPs that he thought this statement was all about the next general election.
He said that in the Scottish elections last year people could vote for the SNP without having to back independence. She said she would lead the country through the pandemic.
He said now Sturgeon wants to “pit Scot against Scot”.
Sturgeon said she was surprised to hear Labour set its face against democracy.
She said she did not want a Boris Johnson-style recovery.
Responding to Ross, Sturgeon said if the referendum went ahead, it would be going ahead because it was legal.
Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross accuses Sturgeon of ignoring voters' real concerns in favour of 'divisive' referendum
In response to Sturgeon, Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, said the first minister was “at it again”.
He said she should be focusing on the cost of living crisis. But she was pursuing her divisive agenda when people should be pulling together.
He claimed that Sturgeon was planning “a potentially illegal” referendum next year.
(In fact, Sturgeon implied that if, the supreme court said the referendum was not lawful, it would not go ahead.)
Ross said the SNP should be focusing on the people’s priorities. Instead, MSPs were talking about Sturgeon’s obsession. She was doing nothing about education, or drugs, or ferries. This was a “do nothing” parliament.
UPDATE: Ross said:
On the first minister’s watch, this is becoming a do-nothing parliament.
Nicola Sturgeon will make time for an Indyref2 bill but what is she doing for the country’s top priorities? Nothing. Education – no bills. Drug deaths – no ideas. Ferries – none that float.
This is becoming a parliament that doesn’t get anything done on people’s real priorities. A parliament that only exists to further the SNP’s interests. A do-nothing parliament with a first minister that neglects people’s priorities because she is obsessed with another referendum at all costs.
Why should the people of Scotland’s real priorities be put on the back burner for another attempt to hold a divisive referendum?
Here is the text of the Scottish government’s Scottish independence referendum bill
Sturgeon's statement – snap verdict
Nicola Sturgeon has now finished her statement.
Her challenge today was to explain how she would facilitate the legal referendum she wants if the UK government continues to block it. Despite speculation that she might identify some clever wheeze to sidestep this, she has stuck very firmly to the legal route, and her first announcement is what is effectively a referral to the supreme court.
Court challenges are never predictable. But the chances of a successful application seem unlikely, particularly in the light of evidence that the supreme court recently has become increasingly likely to resist judgments that challenge the executive (as a finding for the Scottish government certainly would).
Sturgeon’s second announcement was that, in the event of her supreme court appeal failing, she will turn the next general election in Scotland into a de facto vote on the case for independence. The advantage of this tactic is that first past the post works brilliantly for the SNP at the moment – they won 48 out of 59 seats in 2019 – and so it is not hard to see an outcome that would look like a landslide mandate for independence.
And what then? Sturgeon did not address this at all in her statement – and it is some way in the future – but at that point an SNP government in Edinburgh might feel on safer ground reviving the idea of legislating for independence without Westminster approval – or even without a referendum.
Sturgeon says if the supreme court rules that the referendum is not lawful, that will be the fault of the referendum written in Westminster.
She says there will be no more powerful argument for the need for independence.
And if the supreme court, and the Westminster government, continue to block a referendum, the SNP will fight the next general election on the sole platform that Scotland should be independent.
Sturgeon says Scottish government making emergency referral to supreme court for ruling on whether referendum bill lawful
Sturgeon says she wants to have legal certainty. “We must establish legal fact,” she says.
She says there are likely to be legal challenges to the bill.
But she wants to speed this up, she says.
She says she has asked the lord advocate, Dorothy Bain QC, to use the power in paragraph 34 of schedule 6 of Scotland Act to refer this to the supreme court.
This is a matter for the lord advocate alone.
She has agreed to make a reference to the supreme court.
The paperwork is being served now, she says, and it will be filed with the supreme court this afternoon
Sturgeon says she wants to hold second independence referendum on 19 October 2023
Sturgeon says she will set out what the Scottish government will do if the UK government does not grant a section 30 order.
She says the referendum must be lawful. And that must be a matter of fact, not a matter of opinion, she says.
She says the Scottish government is publishing today its Scottish independence refernedum bill.
She says there are three key provisions in the bill.
First, its purpose is “to ascertain the views of the people of Scotland on whether or not Scotland should be an independent country”.
Second, the question should be the same as in 2014, “Should Scotland be an independent country?”
And, third, she says the referendum should be in the second half of this parliament.
She says the Scottish goverment wants it to be held on 19 October 2023.
Sturgeon says she will not allow 'Scottish democracy to be prisoner of Boris Johnson'
Sturgeon says she is writing to Boris Johnson to ask him to agree a section 30 order to allow a second independence referendum.
She says she is prepared to negotiate the terms of this with him.
But she will not allow “Scottish democracy to be a prisoner of Boris Johnson”.
Sturgeon says Scotland needs independence to respond properly to cost of living crisis
Sturgeon says her government will do all it can to tackle the cost of living crisis.
But it does not have all the powers it needs, she says.
We lacked the full range of levers to shape our economy and grow our country’s wealth. We are powerless to stop our budget being cut. We can’t block the Tories new anti-trade union laws or stop them tearing up human rights protections. We’re not able to restore freedom of movement and where we invest billions in measures to help with the cost of living, tens of thousands of children can be pushed deeper into poverty at the merest stroke of the chancellor’s pen.
She says independence will give Scotland the chance “to chart our own course”.
Nicola Sturgeon's statement to MSPs about plans for second independence referendum
Nicola Sturgeon tells MSPs the democratic rights of the people of Scotland are paramount.
That was set out in the Claim of Right for Scotland, she says.
She quotes Canon Kenyon Wright’s quote in response to the question, what do you do if government says ‘We say no [to the right to independence] and we are the state’. The answer, Wright replied, was, “We say yes, and we are the people.’
Cabinet secretary says it is 'very difficult' for civil servants to investigate PM
Q: How easy is it for a civil servant like you, or Sue Gray, to conduct an investigation into the PM?
Case says it is “very difficult, and to be avoided wherever possible”.
He says the role of independent adviser was partly created to stop that happening.
Q: Did you advise PM that Lord Geidt would be the best person to investigate Partygate?
Case says he will not comment on what he advised the PM. But the original terms of reference said matters relating to the ministerial code should be for the independent adviser.
Q: What is the point of having an independent adviser if he does not investigate matters like this?
Case says there is provision in the ministerial code for the PM to ask the Cabinet Office to establish the facts.
The Sue Gray report did not go into ministerial code issues, he says.
Q: Was Gray asked to remove names from the report?
Case says he was not involved in the report. He recused himself.
Johnson decided to consult Geidt over WTO tariff plan that prompted his resignation, MPs told
Q: Whose decision was it to consult Lord Geidt on a prospective breach of WTO rules?
Case says it was the PM’s decision.
Q: Is it normal practice to consult him on trade policy?
Darren Tierney, director general for propriety and ethics at the Cabinet Office, who is giving evidence alongside Case, says the adviser is not asked about policy issues. But in this case there was an overlap with the ministerial code.
Q: Was Geidt asked about the Northern Ireland protocol bill?
No, says Case. He says the ministerial code did not apply in this case.
William Wragg (Con), the committee chair, says it was an unusual matter to resign over. He suggests it was an excuse.
Case says Geidt explained his resignation in his letter.
Case tells MPs that Alex Allan and Lord Geidt, who both resigned as independent adviser on ministerial standards to Boris Johnson in protest at his conduct, were both “fine civil servants”.
Johnson thinks he has mandate 'to test established boundaries', cabinet secretary tells MPs
Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, is giving evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee. There is a live feed here.
He starts by admitting that dealing with ethics and propriety issues are a particularly difficult part of his job. He says the “current circumstances” show why. He goes on:
The government of the day is one which is not remotely afraid of controversial policies. It believes it has a mandate to test established boundaries. It takes a robust view of the national interest .... and it focuses very much on accountability to people in parliament, not on the sort of unelected advisory structures.
Another sign that Covid may be spreading again through the population: attendance rates at both primary and secondary schools have fallen sharply after weeks of recovery, according to the Department for Education’s latest figures.
Attendance of pupils at state-funded primary schools in England was 91% last week, down from 94.0% two weeks before. In secondary schools - excluding Y11 and Y13 classes taking exams - attendance was 87%, down from 88.5%. More teachers and teaching assistants were also absent in the new survey.
Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders, said it was “very worrying” to see the numbers of students and staff absent rising again. He said:
These statistics no longer contain a breakdown of absence due to Covid because of the government’s ‘living with Covid’ policies. However, it is highly unlikely to be a coincidence that we are seeing absence in education settings rising at the same time as Covid infections are increasing in the general population.
Our concern is that this is going to keep happening with wave after wave of infections causing fresh disruption in our schools and colleges. There is absolutely no government strategy to deal with this issue.
Sunak tells MPs he will consider case for fuel duty to be cut further
Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has told MPs that he will consider calls for fuel duty to be cut further.
At Treasury questions in the Commons Philip Davies (Con) that the 5p per litre cut in duty already announced was welcome. But he urged Sunak to go further, and asked him to consider “a much more substantial cut in fuel duty, on a temporary basis, just as they’ve done in Germany”.
What I will say to [Davies] is of course I will take all his recommendations under advisement ...
Sunak said the goverment had already spend £5bn cutting fuel duty. He went on:
But we appreciate it is not being felt at the pumps because of the rise in wholesale prices. I want to reassure [Davies] that the energy secretary is in dialogue with the CMA [Competition and Markets Authority)]to make sure that fuel duty cut is being passed on as well.
No 10 to ditch defence spending manifesto pledge
Downing Street is expected to ditch its manifesto commitment to increase the defence budget by at least 0.5% above inflation every year, putting Boris Johnson on a potential collision course with Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, Peter Walker reports.
Starmer refuses to say he remains fully committed to leadership campaign '10 pledges', including abolishing tuition fees
The New Statesman has been holding a conference under the title Politics Live (“imitation is the sincerest form” etc etc) and it has been hearing from Keir Starmer. As Freddie Hayward reports at the New Statesman, Starmer confirmed that Labour has effectively ditched its 2019 manifesto. More significantly, he refused to say that he remains committed to some of the promises he made when he was running for the Labour leadership.
The key document in his leadership campaign was his set of 10 pledges. It was more Corbynite than people expected, and it helped Starmer secure a convincing victory, winning on the first round with 56% of the vote. Rebecca Long Bailey, the most Corbynite of the three candidates, was in second place, with about half of the vote Starmer secured.
The 10 pledges included promises to “increase income tax for the top 5% of earners” and “support the abolition of tuition fees”. The New Statesman says he refused to confirm that he remained committed to these policies.
Referring to the 2019 manifesto, Starmer said it no longer applied.
What we’ve done with the last manifesto  is put it to one side. We’re starting from scratch. The slate is wiped clean.
What we do have to recognise is that having come through the pandemic, we need to look at everything in the round, and make choices about where we want to put our money.
Speaking about tuition fees in particular, he said the current arrangements “don’t really work for students” and so Labour would have to look at them.
Starmer also defended the right of politicians to change their mind on policy. He told the conferenence.
If you don’t change your views as you experience life, then you’re probably not going to get very far.
People sort of drag out something that you said 40 years ago and say ‘Well, you’ve changed your mind about that.’ Course I have. I have changed my mind on loads of things – that’s because I’ve done loads of things.
The 10 pledges also included a promise to “support common ownership of rail, mail, energy and water”. At last year’s party conference Starmer angered leftwingers by saying Labour under his leadership did not favour renationalising the energy companies, although he also claimed that “common ownership” was not the same as nationalisation.
Back at the foreign affairs committee Chris Bryant (Lab) is asking Liz Truss about sanctions, and why the Foreign Office has been so slow in applying Magnitsky sanctions. In response, Truss jokes that she would be happy to give him a job in the Foreign Office’s sanctions department. “I’d love one,” he replies. He would also like to be an ambassador, he says - except he admits he is not very good at diplomacy. But Truss, who had a tricky exchange with Bryant earlier (see 11.29am), seems to like that idea. “That would kill two birds with one stone,” she says.
The Conservative MP Pauline Latham is joined those Tories urging cabinet ministers to mount a coup against Boris Johnson and force him out of office, the BBC’s Georgia Roberts reports.
PA Media has filed more on the exchanges between Liz Truss and Chris Bryant about the Gulf states earlier. (See 11.29am.)
Pointing out that Truss has said the government is committed to ending its dependence on authoritarian regimes for energy, Bryant asked Truss how she would describe the Gulf states. Truss replied:
I would describe the Gulf States as partners of the United Kingdom. Is every country that we work with exactly in line with United Kingdom policy on everything? No, they are not. But they are important allies of the United Kingdom.
Bryant then asked asked if the Saudi Arabian crown prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi in 2018. Truss replied:
What I would say is that Saudi Arabia is an important partner of the United Kingdom.
What I am focused on is making sure we are dealing with the major threats to the world. The number one threat we are dealing with at the moment is the threat from Russia.
In order to do that, we need to make sure we have alternative energy sources.
We are not dealing with a perfect world. We are dealing in a world where we have to make difficult decisions and I think it is right that we build that closer trading relationship with the Gulf States.
Back to Scottish independence for a moment, and the Scottish Conservatives have argued that Nicola Sturgeon does not have a mandate for a second independence referendum, because the SNP did not win an outright majority in the Scottish parliamentary elections last year.
But, as the BBC’s Glenn Campbell reports, Prof Sir John Curtice, the leading elections expert, has pointed out that her mandate for independence is at least as good as the mandate Boris Johnson had for his Brexit deal after the 2019 general election.
PM should face second no confidence vote if he tries to ignore or suppress report saying he lied to parliament, Steve Baker says
Yesterday David Davis, the Conservative former Brexit secretary who is one of the Tory MPs who have publicly called for Boris Johnson to resign, said that it would be wrong for the backbench 1922 Committee to change the rule that means Johnson cannot face another no confidence vote for another year.
In an article in the Times today Steve Baker, another prominent Brexiter who now wants Johnson to quit, says the party should be reluctant to change well-established rules. But he also says in some circumstances it might be essential for the 1922 Committee to allow another no confidence ballot - for example, if Johnson were to ignore or suppress a privileges committee report saying he lied to parliament.
If Johnson is found by the privileges committee to have knowingly misled the Commons, then he would be under an obligation to resign. If he were not to resign in those circumstances, it may prove necessary to take action to remove him. It is one thing to make an inadvertent error, but intolerable to deliberately mislead.
Other circumstances are foreseeable. If the prime minister were to attempt to avoid publication of the report of the privileges committee by calling a general election, that might require action. If, after an adverse report, a motion of confidence in the prime minister were placed before the Commons and Conservative MPs ordered to vote for it under threat of losing the whip, that too might demand immediate action.
Baker is standing for election to the 1922 executive and the article amounts to an election pitch, explaing the circumstances in which he would push for a second no confidence vote. On this issue, it is probably fair to assume that he is making an argument that many Tory backbenchers would support.
Truss says aid spending should be more focused on promoting freedom and democracy
The Foreign Office is now the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, following its merger with the old Department for International Developments. Liz Truss told the committee that in the past she thought the aid budget was not sufficiently focused “on promoting freedom and democracy” and she said some aid money would now be spent on a G7 initiative intended to challenge China’s Belt and Road initative.
Truss insisted alleviating suffering was still a priority for aid spending, but the Independent’s Rob Merrick was not convinced.
UPDATE: This is from PA Media on these exchanges.
Liz Truss said that humanitarian and geo-political concerns both play a role in development spending.
Taking questions from committee chairman Tom Tugendhat on whether development spending was a tool of diplomacy, she said: “It has various purposes, but it has to be a coherent part of our foreign policy.”
She said that one of her concerns over development spending in the past has been whether it is “contributing to our overall objectives of promoting freedom and democracy around the world and are we looking at it in a way that challenges some of the geo-political efforts by malign actors?”
Referencing China’s Belt and Road infrastructure plan, Truss said: “We need to be, of course, focused on alleviating humanitarian suffering, but we also need to look at the future geo-politics.”
Back at the foreign affairs committee Chris Bryant (Lab) told Liz Truss she said the government wanted to end its reliance on authoritarian regimes for energy. “How would you describe the Gulf states?” he asked.
Truss said she would regard them as partners of the UK.
When Bryant put it to her that Mohammed bin Salman, the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia, was responsible for Jamal Khashoggi, and that Saudi Arabia had carried out 81 executions in one day, Truss said it was an important partner for the UK. “We’re not dealing with a perfect world,” she said, although she did not accept Bryant’s request to accept that the country was authoritarian.
She also claimed that she did raise human rights issues with the Gulf states. But when Bryant asked her to tell the committee the last time she did raise a human rights issue with a Gulf state leader, she said she would have to get back to the committee with the answer.
The population of England and Wales is bigger, at close to 60 million people, and older than ever before, according to the results of the 2021 census released by the ONS this morning.
On Census Day, 21 March 2021, the combined resident population in England and Wales stood at 59,597,300, the largest population ever recorded in a census and a 6.3% increase on the 2011 tally.
The population is also growing older with more people than ever before in the older age groups: close to one-in-five people (18.6%) were aged 65 or over at the time of the last census, up from 16.4% a decade earlier.
England’s population grew by almost 3.5 million in the past 10 years, an increase of 6.6%. Wales’s population grew at a considerably slower rate: there were 44,000 more people living there in 2021 than a decade earlier, a 1.4% rise.
The female population stands at 51% in England and Wales with 30,420,100 women and girls and 29,177,200 men and boys recorded as being ordinarily resident in 2021.
Truss dismisses Macron's suggestion UK might be keen on joining new European political community
Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, has just started giving evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee. There is a live feed at the top of this blog.
On Sunday Emmanuel Macron, the French president, came away from a meeting with Boris Johnson under the impression that the UK was enthusiastic about his plan for a “European political community” - a proposed new grouping, taking in European countries in the EU and outside it.
But, when Tom Tugendhat (Con), the committee chair, asked Truss, if the government was keen on joining, she replied: “That’s not true.” She said the government sees Nato as the key defensive alliance for Europe, and the G7 as the key economic alliance for Britain.
UPDATE: Here is the PA Media story on this exchange.
Foreign secretary Liz Truss has distanced the UK from any links to a mooted project of the European political community.
A meeting between Boris Johnson and French President Emmanuel Macron at the G7 summit in Germany raised eyebrows, when the Elysee Palace insisted that the prime minister had expressed interest in Macron’s vision for a wider European political community incorporating non-EU states such as the UK.
It forced Downing Street to stress that there was no prospect of a return to free movement across the UK’s borders.
On Tuesday, Truss was adamant that such a project is not being considered by the UK.
Questioned by foreign affairs committee chairman Tom Tugendhat, Truss said that the UK had not agreed to such a proposal.
She said: “That is not true. I don’t know the exact words that President Macron has used, but we have not agreed to that.”
She said that the aims and ambitions of the UK were to “strengthen” Nato, as well as stressing the role of the G7 as a “key alliance”.
Tugendhat asked her: “You don’t buy into his political and economic community?
Truss replied: “No.”
Truss, who is visiting France later this week instead spoke of wanting to see a more muscular Nato.
“We want to see an expanded Nato, we want to see a stronger Nato. We want to see more activity on the eastern flank,” she told the committee.
She also stressed the importance of the G7, in the face of challenges from Russia and China.
“What I want to see is the G7 acting as an economic Nato,” she told MPs.
Labour is increasingly using the phrase “backlog Britain” to attack the Conservative government’s record. Today it has embedded that critique in an opposition day motion being debated in the Commons later. This is what it says.
That this house notes that UK economic growth is forecast to grind to a halt next year, with only Russia worse in the OECD; further notes that GDP has fallen in recent months while inflation has risen to 9.1% and that food prices, petrol costs and bills in general are soaring for millions across the country; believes that the government is leaving Britain with backlogs such as long waits for passports, driving licences, GP and hospital appointments, court dates, and at airports; and calls on the government to set out a new approach to the economy that will end 12 years of slow growth and high taxation under successive Conservative governments.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, the Brexit opportunities minister, has had a go at the Guardian.
The FT’s Brexit specialist, Peter Foster, has posted a good thread on Twitter explaining why Rees-Mogg seems to be wilfully missing the point.
Welsh government pilots basic income for young people leaving care system
The Welsh government has launched its basic income pilot scheme aimed at helping young people as they leave the care system, PA Media reports. PA says:
From July 1, more than 500 people leaving care in Wales will be offered £1,600 each month before tax for two years to support them as they make the transition to adult life.
The £20m pilot, which will run for three years, will be evaluated to carefully examine its effect on the lives of those involved.
Those taking part in the pilot will also receive individual advice and support to help them manage their finances and develop their financial and budgeting skills.
The scheme will be limited to care leavers who reach their 18th birthday between 1 July 2022 and 30 June 2023.
It will run for three years with each person taking part receiving the basic income payment for 24 months from the month after their 18th birthday.
And participants can choose whether to receive the money monthly or fortnightly.
Commenting on the plan, Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister who worked as a social worker and a social policy lecturer before entering politics, said:
We want all our young people to have the best possible chance in life and fulfil their full potential.
The state is the guardian of people leaving care and so has a real obligation to support them as they start their adult life.
Our focus will be on opening up their world to all its possibilities and create an independence from services as their lives develop.
Many of those involved in this pilot don’t have the support lots of people - myself included - have been lucky enough to enjoy as we started out on our path to adulthood.
Our radical initiative will not only improve the lives of those taking part in the pilot but will reap rewards for the rest of Welsh society.
If we succeed in what we are attempting today this will be just the first step in what could be a journey that benefits generations to come.
The Welsh Conservatives have criticised the plan. Joel James, shadow minister for social partnership, said:
It’s been proven time and again that so-called universal basic income doesn’t work.
Look at Finland, who ditched their scheme after two years in favour of a new scheme that encouraged people to actually take up employment or training.
We recognise that this is a vulnerable group and they need extra support, but this is completely the wrong way to go about it and could well create more problems than it solves.
It’s typical Labour, but it’s obvious that giving out free money won’t be a quick fix.
The BBC’s Philip Sim has posted an interesting thread on Twitter looking at Nicola Sturgeon’s options ahead of her statement today. It starts here.
Sim says that, with Sturgeon wanting to hold a referendum that would be legal, and that would deliver independence, her options are limited given the UK government’s refusal to consent to one. He says today’s announcement will be a rare example of one where the key items have not been briefed in advance.
Boris Johnson seems to have no qualms talking about the UK’s support for the rule of law (see 9.36am) even though last night parliament voted for the Northern Ireland protocol bill, which is widely seen as breaking international law. Our story about the vote is here.
The highlight of the debate was probably the speech from Theresa May, the former Conservative prime minister, who did an effective job demolishing the government’s argument that the “doctrine of necessity” in international law makes the bill legal.
The bill passed easily – by 295 votes to 221 – and none of the Conservative MPs who expressed doubts or opposition to the bill voted against it. But 72 Conservatives did not vote. Some of them may have been paired against the 36 Labour MPs who did not vote but the figures suggest several dozen actively abstained.
Boris Johnson thanked his Japanese counterpart, Fumio Kishida, for his support over the Ukraine crisis when they held a bilateral meeting at the G7 summit in Germany this morning, No 10 said. A Downing Street spokesperson said:
The prime minister praised Prime Minister Kishida for his staunch support for the Ukrainian people in opposition to [Vladimir] Putin’s barbarism in Ukraine.
They agreed that the unity of thought between G7 leaders on this issue has strengthened Ukraine’s hand in the war and will continue to do so.
The prime minister underlined the UK’s support for rule of law and sovereignty everywhere in the world.
Democratic leaders must stand together in opposition to challenges to our values. The leaders agreed to continue to work to promote a free and open Indo-Pacific.
The prime minister and Prime Minister Kishida agreed that the work the UK and Japan are doing together to develop the next generation of fighter planes is hugely valuable to our countries and will form the basis of UK-Japan co-operation for a generation to come.
Nicola Sturgeon criticised over Scottish referendum plans
Good morning. We’ve only just passed the sixth anniversary of the Brexit referendum – an extraordinarily divisive and epochal event that changed Britain fundamentally – and today we will get a speech putting another referendum firmly on the table. When the Scots voted to remain part of the UK eight years ago, the unionist campaign said voting no to independence was the only way to guarantee that Scotland would remain part of the EU. Two years later that promise was blown apart, even though Scotland voted decisively for remain, and ever since then the SNP has been planning actively for what social media calls IndyRef2.
In a speech to the Scottish parliament, Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, will explain how she wants to hold a vote in October next year. But with Westminster refusing to grant the permission that would make a proper independence referendum legally binding, a straight re-run of 2014 seems unlikely, and Strugeon is expected to set out instead plans for some form of alternative, perhaps consultative, referendum. Quite what this would achieve is not clear.
My colleague Archie Bland goes into this in detail in his First Edition briefing. Here is an extract.
One view is that if Labour wins the next election, the momentum behind independence is likely to dissipate somewhat, so it’s better to strike now. Perhaps more importantly, Severin Carrell, the Guardian’s Scotland editor, argues “it will shore the SNP up ahead of the next UK general election. Even if the economics are harder than they were a decade ago, it is helpful for them to argue that Scotland’s hopes of independence are being thwarted in Westminster.”
For a sense of how powerful a force independence is even in its absence, you only need to look at the SNP’s longstanding dominance in Scotland despite its inability to achieve its ultimate aim – so far, at least. “The history of the last 15 years is that the SNP very rarely loses in these situations,” Severin said. “It rarely gets everything it wants, but it gains something else.”
And here is the full briefing.
The opposition parties in Scotland have accused Sturgeon of wasting time on a divisive issue when she should be facing on the immediate problems facing Scotland.
Anas Sarwar, the Scottish Labour leader, said:
It is no surprise that Nicola Sturgeon is ramping up her efforts to sow division and strife when we see the chaos in her party and the failures of her government.
She says to listen to the people of Scotland – but she refuses to herself, forging ahead with an unwanted referendum and ignoring people’s desperate cries for help with the cost of living crisis.
And the Scottish Conservatives accused Sturgeon of “self-indulgence and irresponsibility”.
I will be covering the statement this afternoon, but there is plenty of other politics on too. Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: Boris Johnson and other G7 leaders attend the final session of the G7 summit in Germany. Later he will travel to Madrid for the start of the Nato summit.
11am: Liz Truss, the foreign secretary, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee.
11am: Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, gives evidence to the Commons business committee.
11.30am: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, takes questions in the Commons.
12.30pm: Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster, proposed a 10-minute rule bill intended to ban politicians from lying.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
1.40pm: Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, gives a speech at the RUSI annual Land Warfare conference.
2pm: Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, gives evidence to the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee about governance in the light of the Greensill scandal
2.10pm: Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, gives a speech to the Local Government Association conference in Harrogate.
2.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a statement to MSPs about her plans for a referendum on the issue of Scottish independence.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at email@example.com