Downing Street has repeatedly refused to say whether Rishi Sunak knew of any informal complaints about Dominic Raab’s behaviour before making him a minister, after Keir Starmer attacked the government’s “addiction to sleaze and scandal”.
Dominic Raab is facing fresh calls to be suspended from his post, after the Guardian revealed three senior civil servants who worked with him had been interviewed by the official inquiry into his alleged bullying.
Unions and the government appeared as far apart as ever, after Wednesday’s widespread strike action closed thousands of schools across England and Wales.
Rishi Sunak is considering a trip to visit Joe Biden in the US next month as talks between the UK and EU over the Northern Ireland protocol intensify.
The Labour MP Kim Johnson has apologised to the Commons after provoking anger by calling the Israeli government “fascist” during prime minister’s questions.
Boris Johnson, the former Tory prime minister, has told the Atlantic Council thinktank in Washington that the process of admitting Ukraine to Nato and the EU should begin as soon as the war is over. The argument that this would provoke Russia was no longer relevant, he suggested. This is from the BBC’s Alex Partridge.
According to new polling from YouGov, Keir Starmer is increasing his lead over Rishi Sunak on who would made the best prime minister.
Rob Ford, a politics professor, thinks this is ominous for Sunak.
Tory MP Edward Timpson to stand down at next election
Edward Timpson, a former children’s minister, has announced he is standing down at the next election. By this Sky News count, he is the 17th Conservative who does not want to seek re-election.
Former DUP first minister of Northern Ireland says deal with EU on protocol must have unionist backing
Paul Givan, the DUP former first minister of Northern Ireland, has warned the UK government not to ignore unionists when reaching a deal with the EU on the Northern Ireland protocol. Referring to today’s report in the Times saying a customs deal has been agreed (see 10.09am), he said:
The government made a mistake whenever the UK signed up to the protocol and went over the heads of unionists. That led to the situation that we’re now in, they shouldn’t make the same mistake a second time.
They need to the focus on getting a deal which the DUP and broader unionism is able to buy in to.
That is the only basis on which these institutions can operate effectively. And if anybody believes that there’s a future for the Belfast agreement’s political institutions in the absence of the DUP buying in to it then they’re living in a fool’s paradise.
Tory HQ uses Twitter to highlight Labour MPs appearing on picket lines
A number of Labour MPs have joined picket lines to support striking workers, despite party leader Keir Starmer previously saying no MP should be on a picket line “if they want to be in government”, PA Media reports. PA says:
The official Conservative party press office account shared tweets from 13 Labour MPs such as Richard Burgon, Ian Lavery and Kate Osborne joining picket lines during Wednesday’s strikes.
The thread was prompted by the quote from Starmer in an interview with Sky News in August last year.
Leftwinger Sam Tarry, the former frontbencher who represents Ilford South, was previously sacked as a shadow transport minister after giving interviews from a picket line in July last year.
He defended his decision to join striking teachers in his constituency, and responded to the Tory party press office’s twitter thread by saying: “Much rather you focused on fairer pay for front line workers than me standing on picket lines … as Labour MPs have done so for over a 100 years.”
Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell told PA he believed Labour MPs should be on the picket lines, as he joined striking workers outside the Treasury and various locations in his constituency of Hayes and Harlington.
Former party leader Jeremy Corbyn also declared his support for the strikes, tweeting: “They are striking for decent pay. They are striving for social justice. They are fighting for us all.”
No 10 says there is 'still lots of work to do' before UK and EU reach agreement on NI protocol
Downing Street has said there is “still lots of work to do” before the UK and the EU can agree a deal to resolve the dispute over the Northern Ireland protocol. Commenting on reports that the customs part of the deal has been agreed (see 10.09am), the PM’s spokesperson told reporters:
No deal has been agreed, there is still lots of work to do on all areas, with significant gaps remaining between the UK and EU positions.
Talks are ongoing on potential solutions including on goods.
South Wales police has said it is investigating “the origins of abusive and grossly offensive social media messages” sent to the Labour MP Alex Davies-Jones. The MP, who represents Pontypridd, told MPs yesterday that she had received rape and death threats after speaking out against the “toxic” influence Andrew Tate had over schoolboys.
Theresa May criticises Home Office for delaying government response to Hillsborough families report
The government will publish its response to the 2017 Hillsborough families report “in the course of this spring”, Chris Philp, a Home Office minister, told MPs this afternoon.
Responding to a Labour urgent question about yesterday’s national police response to the report, Philp said:
The government is fully committed to engaging with the Hillsborough families prior to the publication of the government’s formal response.
And I can also say that in particular since arriving in the Home Office two or three months ago, I have asked for this work to be sped up and we are expecting it to come out in the course of this spring.
But Theresa May, the Conservative former PM who commissioned the report published in 2017 when she was home secretary, said promising publication by the spring was not good enough. She told MPs:
The apology from the police is of course welcome, but frankly it would have been far better for them to have done their job properly on that fateful April day 34 years ago.
Can I say first to [Philp], saying vaguely that the government’s response will be available this spring, I do not think is good enough.
Five years on, the government must publish its response.
But will he agree with me that one of the elements that can be put in place to help families who, if sadly such an event or tragedy of this sort happens in the future, is the introduction of what was promised in the Conservative party manifesto in 2017 of an independent public advocate?
And will he commit now that the Home Office will not put any barriers in the way of the work of the Ministry of Justice to introduce such a body?
A public consultation has taken place on that and the response is being worked through in the usual way but it’s happening at pace.
Momentum, the Labour group set up when Jeremy Corbyn was leader, to support his agenda, has criticised Keir Starmer for not supporting what Kim Johnson said about Israel. (See 1.50pm and 2.40pm.)
Labour MP Kim Johnson apologises for describing Israel as 'apartheid state' and its government as 'fascist'
The Labour MP Kim Johnson has made a Commons apology after she described the Israeli government as “fascist” during PMQs. (See 1.50pm.)
Raising a point of order this afternoon, she said:
I would like to apologise unreservedly for the intemperate language I used during PMQs.
I was wrong to use the term ‘fascist’ in relation to the Israeli government and understand why this was particularly insensitive given the history of the state of Israel.
While there are far-right elements in the government, I recognise the use of the term in this context was wrong.
I would also like to apologise for the use of the term ‘apartheid state’.
While I was quoting accurately Amnesty’s description, I recognise this is insensitive and I would like to withdraw it.
Last year Amnesty International published a 280-page report headlined “Israel’s Apartheid Against Palestinians”. It said:
Amnesty International has analysed Israel’s intent to create and maintain a system of oppression and domination over Palestinians and examined its key components: territorial fragmentation; segregation and control; dispossession of land and property; and denial of economic and social rights. It has concluded that this system amounts to apartheid.
DUP dismisses reports of deal between UK and EU on NI protocol as 'kite flying'
According to a report by Arj Singh in the i, Tories in the European Research Group – the hardline, pro-Brexit caucus who were instrumental in bringing down Theresa May because they thought her proposed deal with Brussels involved too much compromise – would not back a deal on the Northern Ireland protocol as described in the briefing to the Times. (See 10.09am.) Singh writes:
i understands there is a belief in the UK that the briefing was designed to test the reaction of dozens of Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group (ERG) and the DUP, which is boycotting power-sharing over the Protocol.
An ERG source agreed that the report appeared to be “kite flying” and said that “obviously” the DUP “won’t accept” the deal and “neither would we”.
They said the mooted deal means that none of the major problems for the two groups would be solved because “EU law stays, the Irish Sea Border stays, and the ECJ still stays in a fudge”.
The mooted deal also does not meet the DUP’s seven tests for any new arrangements governing post-Brexit trade in Northern Ireland, the source claimed.
In a statement issued by his party about the Times story, the DUP MP Ian Paisley said something similar. He said:
Kite flying, wishful thinking by commentators and background briefing will not make the substantive changes needed to satisfy our seven tests and restore devolution.
Over eighteen months ago we outlined the parameters for the way forward. We set our tests and those continue to be our yardstick for measuring any deal between the EU and UK.
The message has landed in Brussels and London that there will be no restoration of the NI Executive until the protocol is replaced with arrangements that unionists can support.
European commission president plays down reports UK and EU have reached deal on NI protocol
EU sources have pushed back strongly against reports of a deal on customs in talks on the Northern Ireland protocol (see 10.09am), but at a press conference today the European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, played down suggestions of an agreement in a milder way.
As always in negotiations, you know, the principle that everything is only negotiated at the very end, when you know what the result is and you give a final signature.
She could not reveal “partial elements” of the discussions, she added, “because you never know in the very end how the package looks like”.
Von der Leyen also described the talks with the UK as “very constructive” and said she had an “excellent” relationship with Rishi Sunak.
Labour says it was 'unacceptable' for its MP, Kim Johnson, to call Israeli government 'fascist'
The Labour MP Kim Johnson has been summoned to see the party’s chief whip after referring to Israel as “fascist” and an “apartheid state” during prime minister’s questions.
Labour officials were quick to condemn Johnson’s words afterwards, with a spokesperson for Keir Starmer calling them “unacceptable”.
Since the election of the fascist Israeli government last December there has been an increase in human rights violations against Palestinians including children.
Can the prime minister tell us how he is challenging what Amnesty and other human rights organisations refer to as an apartheid state?
Starmer’s spokesperson said afterwards:
We think the words that she used were completely unacceptable. The chief whip will be speaking to her later today.
As a first step, we would obviously want her to withdraw the remarks that she used.
Johnson won the seat in 2019 after her predecessor Dame Louise Ellman resigned as a Labour MP over what she saw as the party’s failure to tackle antisemitism.
No 10 refuses to deny Sunak given informal warning about Raab's treatment of officials before he made him deputy PM
Downing Street has refused to deny that Rishi Sunak was informally warned about Dominic Raab’s treatment of officials before he appointed him as justice secretary and deputy prime minister. Asked about this at the post-PMQs lobby briefing, the PM’s press secretary said:
The PM was not aware of any formal complaints at the time of appointing Dominic Raab.
Pressed further, she said:
I don’t know what your definition of informal complaints is. The PET [propriety and ethics team] processes are very clear.
The appointments and usual processes were followed and we were not aware of any formal complaints.
Today the Times reports that Sunak was warned about Raab’s behaviour before he appointed him. (See 10.31am.)
PMQs - snap verdict
The most interesting thing about today’s PMQs was what did not come up. For millions of Britons, today’s strikes will be the political story of the day but parliament, which is supposed to be where important issues get thrashed out, gives disproportionate airtime to topics where there is a clear partisan advantage for one party, or both, in having a debate.
The mass strikes were not entirely ignored. But Starmer is vulnerable on the topic because Labour has not got a compelling answer to how it would solve them, and Sunak was doubtless happy to avoid the subject too, because the strikers have more popular support than he does. (See 9.45am.)
So instead, for the second week on a row, Starmer focused on sleaze. Normally, after a minister has resigned, a scandal loses most of its news traction because the world moves on and only Westminster procedurologists take much interest in the ‘who knew what when?’ questions that are left over. But today Starmer didn’t sound like someone heading down an irrelevant cul-de-sac. He made it work, and delivered a powerful hit job. How?
Partly, Starmer made sure the ‘who knew what when’ questions (see 12.06pm and 12.08pm) were pithy and precise. His opening interventions were much shorter than usual. More importantly, Starmer linked the Nadhim Zahawi scandal (largely over) with the Dominic Raab one (ongoing) by drawing a parallel between them.
So in relation to his former chair, his defence is: nobody told me, I didn’t know, I didn’t ask any questions. Is the prime minister now also going to claim that he’s the only person completely unaware of serious allegations of bullying against the deputy prime minister before he appointed him?
Starmer is an ex-prosecutor, and prosecutors like establishing patterns of behaviour.
Perhaps most significantly of all, Starmer linked this to Boris Johnson, with a particularly good line in his fourth question.
He’s just like one of his predecessors who treated questions about conduct as something to brush off, who thought ducking responsibility was a perfectly reasonable response for a prime minister. At least, in fairness, his predecessor didn’t go around pretending he was a paragon of integrity and accountability.
On that subject, was it a coincidence that the two people who arranged an £800,000 line of credit for the former prime minister were both shortlisted for plum jobs at the BBC and the British Council?
Sunak wants to be seen as quite different from Johnson. But his response to Starmer at this point sounded like a defence of Johnson (see 12.11pm), and that is a huge problem. Voters are not going view him as a total contrast unless he openly denounces his successor in much stronger terms than he has done before, and if he does that he will provoke a furious backlash from Johnsonites in his party, and in the Tory press.
As the Tory MP Steve Brine said at the weekend, his party is suffering from “long Boris” and Starmer exploited that skilfully.
That said, it wasn’t one-sided victory. Starmer easily won the first two exchanges, but Sunak had quite an effective comeback to the third question, attacking Starmer for his failure to support Rosie Duffield.
If [Starmer] is so concerned about what people are saying and so concerned about behaviour in public life, then recently one of his own MPs was forced to speak out because being in his party had reminded her of being in an abusive relationship.
And then his own office was caught undermining her. He ought to be supporting her and her colleagues, but if he can’t be trusted to stand up for the women in his party, he can’t be trusted to stand up for Britain.
Many people will not have followed the Duffield story. But this works as a line of attack because, among those who have, it is not just Tories who think Duffield has been badly treated by her party.
And in the next reply Sunak made a similar attack, depicting Starmer as unprincipled.
When I was made aware of formal complaints I instructed a leading independent KC to conduct an investigation because I take action when these things happen.
But what did he say at the weekend, he said at the weekend that hate had been allowed to spread unchallenged in the Labour party under his predecessor. He was speaking as if he wasn’t even there.
But he was sitting right next to him, supporting him for four long years, not challenging. And it’s typical of him, declining to lead, sitting on the fence, carping from the sidelines and never standing up for a principle that matters.
It was not enough to clinch the contest, because the Jeremy Corbyn era is too much like ancient history. But this line of attack works up to a point, because (again) it is not just Tories who view Starmer as unprincipled.
Overall, Sunak was still in trouble. But it was more even-handed than some of the recent PMQs where he has lost badly.
Sir John Hayes (Con) asks for an assurance that the government will legislate to stop small boats.
(He is a close ally of Suella Braverman, the home secretary, who gave an interview to the Daily Telegraph published yesterday implying she was worried about government backsliding on this issue.)
Sunak says the government will introduce legislation making it clear that people who enter the UK illegally cannot stay.
And that’s it. PMQs is over.
Kim Johnson (Lab) asks Sunak to condemn the “fascist” policies of the Israeli government.
Sunak says Johnson did not mention attacks by Palestinians. He says he urges both sides to work for peace.
Shailesh Vara (Con) asks for an assurance that the sovereignty of the UK will not be compromised in the talks on the Northern Ireland protocol.
Sunak says he can give that assurance.
Christine Jardine (Lib Dem) says she visited a charity at the weekend dealing with metastatic breast cancer. She asks for more government support for this issue.
Sunak says the government is investing more in this. He will ensure the UK and Scottish governments are working together on this.
Ian Blackford, the former SNP leader at Westminster, asks if Sunak ever reflects that the only thing the Tories have been good at is pushing people into poverty.
Sunak says it is wonderful to hear from Blackford again. He says poverty, inequality and low pay are all lower than when the Tories came to office.
Neil Hudson (Con) asks about constituents who lost their daughters to suicide, and who are campaigning for suicide awareness. Will the PM pay tribute to the three dads, and meet with them to discuss this?
Sunak says he pays tribute to the dads. He says he would be delighted to meed them.
Mary Kelly Foy (Lab) says Sunak once said he did not have any working class friends. So he may not know that 500,000 working people are on strike.
Sunak says teachers have been given the highest pay rise for 30 years, plus record investment in training. Children deserve to be in school. Labour should say the strikes are wrong, he says.
Jerome Mayhew (Con) says there is nowhere to train as a dentist in Norfolk. So will the government consider setting one up at the University of East Anglia.
Sunak says there are 400 dentists “with NHS activity” in Norfolk.
Catherine West (Lab) asks Sunak if he is doing enough to cut ambulance waiting times.
Sunak says a comprehensive plan for this was produced on Monday. It was warmly welcomed by people in the sector.
John Penrose (Con) asks if Sunak will meet him to discuss pro-growth, supply-side reforms.
Sunak says he will meet Penrose to discuss the report he did on this.
Andrew Gwynne (Lab) says he could have paid Nadhim Zahawi’s tax bill if he had had a pound for every time he heard Sunak’s “weak” excuses. It is inconceivable that Sunak did not know about these concerns. Why did he ignore them?
Sunak says he appointed an independent adviser to look at this. That is what Labour called for.
Rachel Maclean (Con) asks about maternity ward services in Redditch.
Sunak says the local trust is getting £10m, some of which will go to maternity services.
Anne McLaughlin (SNP) asks about people on pre-payment meters. Record numbers of people are being forced onto them. Can the PM imagine how terrifying it is being cut off? Isn’t this completely unfair?
Sunak says the government does recognise the challenges for people on pre-payment meters. It is making sure suppliers treat customers with respect. And the government has provided significant support to help people with their bills.
Liam Fox (Con) asks Sunak to consider a small business test for legislation, so that every new law helps small businesses.
Sunak says there is already a small business test. He will make sure it is applied rigorously.
Caroline Lucas (Green) says the environment plan published yesterday will not improve air quality quickly enough. Will the PM meet to discuss a new law, named after Ella, a girl who died as a result of air pollution?
Sunak defends the government’s record on this.
David Johnston (Con) asks about constituents whose baby died soon after birth in hospital. The parents’ concerns were ignored. But now the hospital has had a huge fine. Does the PM agree hospitals need to be transparent?
Sunak says he wants to make sure the NHS is the best place to give birth. But there is more to be done. Nottingham trust is receiving support to improve. Johnston is right about the importance of transparency, he says.
Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminster, says the trade deficit has grown, the economy has lost £100bn a year, and the UK is going to have the worst growth of advanced nations under Brexit. So can the UK afford to be outside the EU?
Sunak says the economy has grown as much as other countries’ have since Brexit. He says his party respects referendum results, unlike the SNP.
Flynn says the Brexit ship is sinking.
Sunak says inflation, caused by high energy prices caused by the war, is the main factor behind the cost of living crisis. That has nothing to do with Brexit, he says.
Starmer says, after 13 years in power, trying to blame Labour for strikes is “pathetic”. The economy is shrinking faster than his government. And the government wants the taxpayer to defend Boris Johnson over claims he covered up the lockdown parties. Won’t Sunak stand up to him?
Sunak says Starmer won’t stand up for the women in his party. He cannot work out what he believes in.
Starmer says Sunak sounds like Boris Johnson. But Johnson did not go round pretending to be a paragon of integrity. Is it coincidence that the two people who lined up a £800,000 credit facility for Boris Johnson were lined up for plum jobs.
Sunak says the Richard Sharp appointed to the BBC was approved by a committee with Labour MPs on it. And he accuses Labour of siding with the unions.
Keir Starmer accuses Rishi Sunak of being 'too weak' to act over allegations against Dominic Raab
Quoting from the Mirror report (see 10.31am) that details allegations about Dominic Raab, Starmer asks what Sunak would do if someone he knew were treated like this. Sunak is too weak to act, he says.
At the last count, the deputy prime minister was facing 24 separate allegations of bullying. According to recent reports, some of the complainants were physically sick. One says they were left suicidal. How would he feel if one of his friends or relatives was being forced to work for a bully, simply because the man at the top was too weak to do anything about it?
Sunak repeats his point about Duffield. He says Starmer said at the weekend “hate” spread in the Labour party under Jeremy Corbyn. But Starmer did nothing about it when he was there. That is typical, he says. He declined to lead.
Starmer says Sunak is saying nobody told me, I did not know, I did not ask questions. Is Sunak also saying he did not know about the allegations about Dominic Raab?
Sunak says he followed due process. If Starmer cares so much about due process, what did he do about his MP (Rosie Duffield) speaking about being ostracised by her party. And his officer undermined her. Starmer will not stand up for women, he says.
Starmer refers to some of the reports from last summer about Zahawi’s tax affairs. Did officials hide this from him, or was he just “too incurious” to ask about it?
Sunak says he took action when he got the report.
Keir Starmer says Sunak “raised more questions than answers” when he emerged from hibernation at the weekend. Did Nadhim Zahawi tell officials about his HMRC penalty before or after he was appointed by Sunak?
Sunak says he acted after getting the ethics adviser’s report.
Kirsty Blackman (SNP) says Sunak reaches 100 days in office this week. He promised integrity. So what does he think about the UK being one of only five countries seeing its transparency score go down on the Transparency International corruption index.
Sunak says another report has praised the UK’s record.
Rishi Sunak starts by sending condolences to the first minister of Wales, Mark Drakeford, on the death of his wife.
Sunak to face Starmer at PMQs
PMQs is starting soon. Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.
In-work benefits may be encouraging employers to keep wages low, IFS thinktank says
Reforms to the benefit system introduced by Labour and Conservative governments over the past two decades have encouraged unemployed people into work, but not generally into well-paid or full-time jobs, a major report into welfare published by the Institute for Fiscal Studies thinktank says. It says:
Major policy reforms over the past 25 years have repeatedly followed a pattern of encouraging people into paid work (using both carrots and sticks) – especially if they do not live with another working adult. Such work is usually part-time, and often associated with very low earnings.
The tax credit expansions of the early 2000s, which offered income top-ups for low-earning households, mostly expanded support for working 16 hours per week but often implied strong financial disincentives to go further. Imposing job-search requirements on an increasingly large fraction of lone parents on out-of-work benefits did push many into employment, but essentially all of it was part-time and on weekly earnings less than the 40th [percentile of overall earnings].
The switch to universal credit – the current flagship reform of means-tested benefits in the UK – especially increases financial incentives to do so-called ‘mini-jobs’ at very low hours, and makes little difference to the incentive to shift from full- to part-time work.
The report also says that in-work benefits may be encouraging employers to keep wages down. It says:
Little is known about the impact of in-work transfers on wage levels – and so we do not know how many of the billions of pounds spent on them actually benefit the intended beneficiaries.
It is entirely possible that these benefits, by encouraging people into work, allow employers to pay lower wages than they otherwise would. The available empirical evidence base on this is limited, but suggests that the effect might be significant.
More evidence on this – and, crucially, on what other policies (such as the minimum wage) can help limit the unintended consequences for wages – would be extremely valuable. A very similar point applies to the impact of housing-related support on rent levels.
MPs have been told that paramilitary groups in Northern Ireland have coerced young people with drug debts to take part in rioting, PA Media reports. PA says:
A community worker gave an example of a user’s debt being reduced by £80 for doing so.
Megan Phair, coordinator of the Journey to Empowerment Programme and member of the Stop Attacks Forum, said both loyalist and dissident republican groups use the tactic to force people on to the streets.
The Northern Ireland affairs committee was told this morning that paramilitary groups sell drugs to young people who cannot afford to pay for them, and then exploit them by using their debt.
Phair said some of the young people who took part in serious rioting at Lanark Way, close to a peace line off the Shankill Road in Belfast, in 2021 had been ordered to do so over drug debts.
Responding to today’s Times story about Dominic Raab (see 10.31am), the Liberal Democrats say Rishi Sunak should reveal what he was told about Raab’s behaviour before he appointed him to cabinet. Daisy Cooper, the Lib Dem deputy leader, said:
It’s time for the prime minister to come out of hiding and face the music. The public deserves to know the truth about what he knew and when, including the full disclosure of any advice given to him by the Cabinet Office.
Johnson claims people must be 'out of their mind' if they think he knowingly covered up No 10 partying against lockdown rules
TalkTV has released more extracts from the interview that Nadine Dorries, the former culture secretary, has recorded with Boris Johnson for the launch of her new show on the channel this Friday. The interview was recorded last week, and so it won’t be up to date, and, given that Dorries is probably Johnson’s number one fan in parliament, it won’t be Jeremy Paxman-style. But given some Tories want him back as leader, there is some interest in what he says.
In the extracts released today, he says people must be “out of their mind” if they think he knowingly covered up parties in No 10 that were breaking lockdown rules. He says:
I’ll just repeat what I’ve said before, and I hope it’s obvious to everybody, that anybody who thinks I was knowingly going to parties that were breaking lockdown rules in No 10, or then knowingly covering up parties that were illicit that other people were going to, that’s all strictly for the birds.
And if anybody thinks like that, they’re out of their mind.
In another extract, he also repeats the false claim he made yesterday about Brexit allowing the UK to roll out Covid vaccines more quickly than would otherwise have been possible, claiming “it is literally true that Brexit helped save lives”.
At the weekend other extracts from the interview were released, featuring Johnson calling for tax cuts and claiming that, under Labour, the UK would be “gravitationally sucked back into the orbit of the EU”.
Keegan says it is 'not credible' to think that teachers are regularly needing to use food banks
In her interview with Times Radio this morning, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, was asked about reports that teachers are so badly paid they need to use food banks. In response, she said it was “not credible” to think that teachers were relying on them regularly. She said:
It’s not credible that people are using them every day, or every week, week in, week out.
The Trussell trust itself says that only 15% of people need more than three food vouchers a year, and they’re normally people who then get flagged ...
So, I think the food banks are there for a reason, but they’re not being being used widely, I would imagine, by the profession.
Raab should be suspended until bullying inquiry concludes, civil servants' union says
One person who probably did not welcome the sacking of Nadhim Zahawi on Sunday was probably Dominic Raab, the justice secretary and deputy prime minister. Raab is the subject of an investigation into claims that he bullied officials working for him, and, with Zahawi gone, journalists are now focusing a lot more on the Raab story.
The results of their enquiries feature prominently in the papers today.
My colleagues Pippa Crerar and Jamie Grierson in the Guardian revealed that all three Whitehall mandarins who worked with Raab while he was holding cabinet positions have now been interviewed by the official inquiry into his alleged bullying.
Chris Smyth and Oliver Wright in the Times say that “No 10 was warned about concerns over Raab’s behaviour before Rishi Sunak appointed him deputy prime minister in the autumn”. They say:
Civil servants flagged that there had been “issues” with Raab in his previous departments before Sunak decided to bring him back into government. Downing Street sources insisted that the prime minister was not “directly told” and that officials never advised against appointing Raab.
And John Stevens in the Daily Mirror has more details of how Raab is alleged to have treated staff. Stevens says:
Civil servants claim they suffered breakdowns and felt suicidal over Dominic Raab’s alleged bullying.
And staff insist working with the Tory felt like being in a “controlling and abusive relationship”.
Witnesses also claim the deputy PM would switch his anger on and off depending on whether it was civil servants or ministers in the room.
Raab has repeatedly denied bullying staff and insisted that he “behaved professionally at all times”.
But this morning his position became more precarious when Dave Penman, head of the FDA, the union that represents senior civil servants, told the Today programme that Raab should be suspended from his ministerial post until the inquiry into his behaviour concludes. Penman said:
Dominic Raab is now facing investigations around eight separate complaints involving what we understand is dozens of civil servants in three separate government departments over a period of four years.
If that was any other employee, if that was a permanent secretary in the civil service, they would in all likelihood be suspended from their job while the investigation took place.
That’s not to prejudge the investigation. That’s to say if there are serious allegations of bullying and extensive allegations like this, that one of the considerations is how do you protect employees from that sort of behaviour? And while it’s being determined, you would normally suspend someone, given the seriousness and extent of those accusations.
UK government plays down report saying London and Brussels have reached customs deal that could end NI protocol dispute
Reports that the UK and the EU have reached a partial agreement to end the dispute over the Brexit arrangements in Northern Ireland have been played down in London and Brussels.
The two sides have reportedly reached an agreement that would eliminate customs checks on goods entering the region from Great Britain, according to a report in the Times.
However, a Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) source indicated that the claim a deal had been struck did not reflect the reality of the current state of the talks.
The FCDO suggested the newspaper’s report was speculative, saying officials were engaged in “intensive scoping talks” with Brussels and declining to pre-empt the discussions.
The Times reported that the customs deal is largely based on the government’s proposals for a red and green lanes system – with the green lane for goods from Great Britain which are staying in the region and the red lane to check and control products going on to the Republic of Ireland and the rest of the EU.
The EU’s version of this plan – involving an “express” lane, rather than a “green” lane – requires customs paperwork on all goods to work but with minimum physical checks on lorries.
A separate agreement would be negotiated on exports of meat and live animals to Northern Ireland, with the UK agreeing to maintain EU veterinary standards on goods destined for the province.
Citing government sources, the Times also reported that Brussels has made concessions on the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice (ECJ), a sticking point for both the European Research Group, a group of hardline pro-Brexit Tory MPs, and the DUP.
Various fudges have been proposed on the UK side including the creation of an arbitration panel as the first port of call with an advisory role for the ECJ.
Brussels sources have always maintained that disputes concerning EU law not settled in lower national courts can only be adjudicated by the ECJ which gives judges across Europe the final interpretation of EU law.
The European Commission declined to comment
Keegan admits she did not realise until recently teachers do not have to say in advance whether they will join strike
In interviews this morning Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, also admitted that she did not realised until recently that individual teachers did not have to say in advance whether or not they would be joining a strike. “It was a surprise to some of us that was in fact the law,” she told Times Radio.
She also hinted that she would like to change this. She said:
I did write to everybody urging them to be constructive, to let their heads know, and I am sure many teachers will have done that.
There are discussions around minimum service levels, minimum safety levels, around hospitals around rail – education is part of that bill as well.
We are hoping not to use that, we are hoping to make sure we continue with constructive discussions and relationships but these things will always stay under review.
Gillian Keegan says 'majority' of schools in England and Wales will be open today despite strike
The “majority” of schools in England and Wales will remain open today, despite the strike, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, has claimed. My colleague Aletha Adu has the story here.
Rishi Sunak to face PMQs as mass strikes take place across Britain
Good morning. Rishi Sunak was only born in 1980, which means he wasn’t alive when governments of both parties were brought down to a large extent because they could not prevent industrial disputes in the 1970s, but he must know enough about British politics to realise that what is happening currently could make recovery for the Tories near impossible.
After Christmas Sunak initiated a series of talks between ministers and unions in the hope of resolving the disputes but, as we report in our overnight story about today’s “walkout Wednesday” day of mass strikes, that process has stalled.
Sunak has also been hoping that, with strikes increasingly inconveniencing the public, people might turn on the Labour party, to which some of the unions that have been on strike are affiliated (although not the National Education Union, which may cause more disruption today). But polling shows that there is no overwhelming public opposition to the strikes, and some groups of workers have more people supporting their strike action than opposing.
Sunak will undoubtedly face questions on this at PMQs.
My colleague Geneva Abdul has a separate live blog covering the strikes. It is here.
But I will be covering some of the political aspects here too.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, meets his Australian opposite number, Penny Wong, in London.
11am: Striking teachers start a march through London, culminating in a rally at Westminster.
12pm: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.
4.30pm (UK time): Boris Johnson speaks at an Atlantic Council event in Washington.
I’ll 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