Sunak cites his football team Southampton and their famous escapes to avoid relegation from the Premier League in the 1990s, comparing it to his task as PM.
He also agrees for Morgan to interview him again at the end of the year to judge whether he has fulfilled his objectives.
And that brings the interview to an end.
Sunak passes the pint of milk question, replying 90 pence.
On the issue of women’s safety, Sunak admits we “haven’t done a good enough job on that in the past”.
Sunak said the Isla Bryson case in Scotland shows some of the challenges of gender transition.
He added: “We should have enough compassion and tolerance for those who are questioning their gender and identity, and we will always be supportive of that. But we have to recognise the challenges that poses for women’s safety. And that’s why biological sex matters.”
On whether he will send jets, the PM doesn’t give a direct answer but talks about the tanks the UK provided and that they are always in a dialogue with Ukraine. He adds that using jets require months of training.
Sunak says he has no problem with Boris Johnson’s comments about Ukraine and visit to the country.
Sunak reiterates he will publish his tax returns soon.
On whether he has benefitted financially through pharmaceutical companies like Moderna, Sunak said he does not know what investments he has made because they are in a “blind management arrangement”.
On the bullying allegations surrounding Dominic Raab, Sunak says “I believe in due process, people should have a fair hearing, that’s why we have an independent adviser.”
On his contentious appointments including Nadhim Zahawi, Suella Braverman and Gavin Williamson, Sunak says the country can judge him on how he has handled the situations. He said most of the issues that have arisen were before he was appointed.
On nurses’ pay, Sunak says tackling inflation has to be one of the priorities.
On the £1000 parking charges returning for NHS staff in England since the pandemic ended, Sunak looks rattled and said he has put support for NHS trusts to be able to support their staff.
Sunak dodges the question about the parking charges and then says “he is happy to look at that”. Sunak said the government has reinstituted nurses’ bursaries and provided a £1000 training budget.
Sunak added: “I would love to give the nurses a massive pay rise. It would make my job easier. It’s about choices. Right now there is a record amount of money going into the NHS. We have to put that in lots of different places, we need more doctors, nurses, scanning equipment.”
On the nurses’ strike and criticism of his negotiating stance with the unions, Sunak said nurses should be an exception because they do an incredible job. He says the government did treat them as an exception, citing the public sector pay freeze during the pandemic with the exception of NHS workers.
Sunak is asked if he has asked the home secretary to dial down her rhetoric about migrants. The PM said: “People are frustrated with this situation. I am frustrated by this situation.”
On the point about language, he said: “We should always remember we are a compassionate country. [Suella Braverman] believes that, everyone believes that. But we are not a soft touch. We believe in fairness as well.”
Sunak adds “very soon we will be introducing new laws in parliament” regarding illegal migrants which will entail detaining them, hearing their claims in a matter of days or weeks, and having the ability in the vast majority of cases to send them to a safe country.
On the pledge about addressing boat crossings not working, Sunak goes off on a tangent about why it needs to be fixed and it being about fairness.
Morgan askes the question again, Sunak replies the UK has a new deal with France to increase patrols on beaches, a new deal with Albania to detain people and return them, and is changing the asylum system so it runs more efficiently.
Sunak tells Morgan the first 100 days were 'challenging'
When asked to assess his first 100 days, Sunak hesitates then says it was a “challenging situation” and he is proud of what he has achieved including stabilising the economy to calm the markets.
Sunak repeats his five pledges from earlier this year that he wants to halve inflation by the end of the year, grow the economy, reduce debt, cut NHS waiting lists and address boat crossings in the English Channel.
Piers Morgan cites Tony Blair having a model fish that sang Don’t Worry Be Happy on his wall at Downing Street.
On his mantra, Sunak said it is his wife.
He added his message is “have hope, I can make it better”.
On why he became PM, Sunak said he asks himself the same question on occasion. He repeats it was a sense of duty and that was how he was raised.
Sunak admitted he thought his career in frontline politics had come to an end when Liz Truss beat him in the Conservative leadership race last summer.
To mark Sunak’s 100th day in office, the prime minister told Piers Morgan on TalkTV he was having lunch with his kids at TGI Friday in Teeside when Liz Truss resigned.
He said he “strongly believes in public service” and “out of a sense of duty” he should come and make a difference given it was a challenging time.
Rishi Sunak’s interview with Piers Morgan is being broadcast in about five minutes’ time, which you can follow in the live blog.
A Home Office minister has signalled his backing for bereaved families to receive parity of funding for legal support at inquests and public inquiries.
Lord Sharpe of Epsom told parliament he agreed with a Labour demand for so-called “equality of arms” in the wake of the long fight for justice by relatives of the Hillsborough disaster victims.
A total of 97 football fans died as a result of a crush at a match between Liverpool and Nottingham Forest on 15 April 1989.
They were unlawfully killed amid a number of police errors, an inquest jury ruled in 2016.
The government said this week it would publish “in the course of this spring” its long-awaited response to a report by the Rt Rev James Jones, former bishop of Liverpool, into the experiences of the Hillsborough families.
Rishi Sunak has said new laws will mean people arriving in the UK without valid documents will be deported “within days”, with asylum claims rejected and migrants returned, write Jessica Elgot and Rajeev Syal.
The prime minister also said he was committed to the Rwanda deportation policy, despite legal challenges, replying “yes” when asked if it would ever go ahead.
In an interview to mark 100 days as prime minister, he said asylum claims would be heard in “days or weeks, not months or years”. The UK has a significant asylum backlog, with more than 140,000 people awaiting an initial decision.
The Home Office is trying to double its number of asylum case workers and treble the rate at which they finish cases. Suella Braverman, the home secretary, disclosed in November that each case worker was completing a case a week on average.
The government aims to have 2,500 caseworkers in place by August, compared with just under 600 in 2020.
Sunak said he intended to speed up the process of assessing people alongside introducing a law saying people who arrive in the UK “illegally” – without valid documents – will not be able to claim asylum.
Families of Omagh bomb victims have welcomed the ordering of an independent inquiry into the atrocity.
Twenty-nine people, including a woman pregnant with twins, were killed when a dissident republican car bomb ripped through Omagh town centre on 15 August 1998.
The Northern Ireland secretary, Chris Heaton-Harris, told the Commons today he was establishing the inquiry in response to a court judgment that directed the government to carry out some form of investigation into alleged security failings.
The blast, which occurred months after the signing of Northern Ireland’s historic Good Friday peace agreement, inflicted the highest death toll of any incident during the region’s conflict.
In 2021, a high court judge in Belfast recommended that the UK government should carry out a human rights-compliant investigation into alleged security failures in the lead-up to the attack.
Jo Johnson, the younger brother of the former prime minister Boris Johnson, has resigned as a director of a London-based investment bank allegedly linked to the Indian billionaire Gautam Adani’s crisis-ridden business empire.
Lord Johnson, a former Conservative minister who was given a peerage by his brother in 2020, resigned from the board of Elara Capital on Wednesday just days after Elara was accused of using Mauritius-based funds to manipulate the share price of Adani-linked companies and obscure their ultimate ownership.
Johnson, a former investment banker at Deutsche Bank and journalist for the Financial Times, joined Elara Capital in June, “in the hope of making a contribution to UK-India trade and investment ties”.
On Thursday he said he had “consistently received assurances from Elara Capital that it is compliant with its legal obligations and in good standing with regulatory bodies”.
“At the same time, I now recognise that this is a role that requires greater domain expertise in specialised areas of financial regulation than I anticipated and, accordingly, I have resigned from the board,” he said in an emailed statement.
MSPs have voted to back the Scottish government’s tax and spending plans in a Holyrood vote.
Deputy first minister John Swinney said the budget for the next year would deliver on the “priorities of a progressive government”.
MSPs voted to back the Budget (Scotland) Bill by 68 votes to 56 at stage one.
Under plans initially announced in December, taxes on the highest earners in Scotland will increase in response to rising inflation.
Swinney set out plans to raise taxes on higher earners, with the top rate threshold reducing from £150,000 to £125,140, as well as an increase of 1p to the higher and top rates to 42p and 47p respectively.
Swinney also told MSPs the Scottish government still had a £100m overspend in this year’s budget.
Former chancellor Norman Lamont has warned against the government “making a fetish of” regulatory divergence from the EU.
The long-time Eurosceptic – now known as Lord Lamont of Lerwick – emphasised that, while it was important to have the power to diverge, it should be driven by industry, not “for the sake of divergence”.
The Tory peer added that divergence could be important for new technology and chastised fellow members of the European affairs committee for “clinging to the idea” of alignment with the bloc.
Lamont told the House of Lords: “One of the subjects on which there was a lot of debate in our committee was that of divergence – to what extent regulation should be allowed to diverge from the previous model in the European Union?
“Some members, I think, of the committee were particularly apprehensive about that and clinging to the idea that we should remain aligned in regulation.
“My view is that we certainly shouldn’t make a fetish of divergence – we should not diverge for the sake of divergence.
“But I think it is important to have the power – the parliamentary power – and the freedom to diverge, but these decisions should be driven by industry and commerce.
“And I think divergence is very important for new technology.”
His comments came as the upper chamber discussed post-Brexit trade with the EU.
Cleverly says his Australian counterpart's comments about colonialism created 'no tension' in talks
James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, has said there is “no tension” between the UK and Australia after a visiting defence minister urged Britain to confront its “uncomfortable” colonial past.
Earlier this week Penny Wong, Australia’s Malaysia-born foreign minister, told an audience at King’s College London that countries such as Britain needed to tackle their colonial past if they were to establish links in the region.
She said her grandmother had worked as a domestic servant for “British colonialists”, some of whom had tobacco and timber plantations. And she said:
Such stories can sometimes feel uncomfortable – for those whose stories they are, and for those who hear them. But understanding the past enables us to better share the present and the future.
At a joint UK-Australia press briefing in Portsmouth, Cleverly was asked about Wong’s remarks, and he said he and his counterpart had discussed colonialism during their two-day talks.
It was not the mainstay of the conversations we’ve been having.
The mainstay of the conversations we have been having is about our future joint work, our joint endeavours with regard to security, prosperity, technological advancement.
Where we did touch upon the history, the UK’s history and our relationship with the world was in recognising you cannot eradicate or erase your history, so you have to be conscious of it.
I think it is incumbent upon the UK, in our dealings with Australia or any other country with which we were once a colonial power, to recognise that we need to demonstrate that this is a modern partnership, a partnership of equals – different but equal, geographically separated but emotionally and historically bound.
There has been no tension, no awkwardness.
That is all from me for today. My colleague Nadeem Badshah is now taking over.
Parliament faces 'catastrophic and irreversible damage' if renovation delayed too long, MPs told
This morning the Commons public accounts committee took evidence from various parliamentary officials on “restoration and renewal”, the long-term project to restore the Houses of Parliament, which are increasingly dilapidated.
In 2018 MPs voted to move out of the building completely at some point in the future, on the grounds that that would be the most cost-effective way of carrying out the multi-billion renovation project that everyone agrees is needed. But that plan has now been shelved and parliament is still undecided as to how to go ahead with the work.
Here are the main points.
If renovation is delayed too long, there will be “catastrophic and irreversible” damage to the building, MPs were told. The clerk of the Commons, Sir John Benger, said:
The building is safe but it is in a condition of decay in certain key areas.
If we just wait and wait, and defer and defer, eventually there will be catastrophic and irreversible damage to the palace, which is part of an Unesco world heritage site.
Renovation will be so expensive it will be hard to sell to the public, Benger said. He told the committee:
There is a process there of saying, look if you want this palace, this iconic building, Big Ben, the Elizabeth Tower, if you still want it to be here in 50 years’ time, this is what it is going to cost.
And, spoiler alert, that cost will be a very high figure and that will be a very hard sell.
Parliament is spending £2m per week on maintenance, the MPs were told.
Removing asbestos from the Houses of Parliament will take two and a half years, if the building is empty, the MPs were told. The chief executive at Palace of Westminster Restoration and Renewal Delivery Authority, David Goldstone, said the scale of the asbestos problem was “enormous”. He said:
We think we would need something like 300 people for two and a half years to address that asbestos problem,” he told MPs.
That is probably the biggest it has ever been in the UK.
We’ve looked at comparators, we’ve looked at other major buildings that have been demolished with extensive asbestos and they were scales smaller.
Sunak says people arriving illegally will have claims heard 'in days or weeks' before being deported under small boats plan
Piers Morgan has interviewed Rishi Sunak for his TalkTV show and it will be shown in full at 8pm tonight. But TalkTV has released an extract in advance, and in it Sunak confirms that, under his plan for people arriving illegally in the UK on small boats to be removed swiftly, and denied the right to claim asylum, they will need to go through some sort of process where their claims will be heard.
Sunak did not say this explicitly when he originally set out his plan in December, although it was implicit that refugees would go through some sort of process.
In the interview, Sunak says he wants claims to be heard in “days or weeks”. He says:
The system that we need, the system that I want to introduce, is one whereby if you come here illegally, you should be swiftly detained and then, in a matter of days or weeks, we will hear your claim, not months and years, and then we will safely remove you somewhere else.
He says the new law will be introduced “very soon”. Under the system, “if you come here illegally, you’re not really going to be able to stay here”, he says. In the “vast majority of cases” people will have to leave, he says.
We will be able to detain you and then we will hear your claim in a matter of days or weeks, not months or years, and we will have the ability in the vast majority of cases to send you to an alternative safe country, be that where you come from, if it’s safe, like Albania, or, indeed, Rwanda. That is the system.
Sunak also says he is confident that the deportation of people seeking asylum to Rwanda – which has not happened yet because the policy is being challenged in court – will happen.
Rapist Isla Bryson 'almost certainly' not truly transgender, Sturgeon tells MSPs
Accusations that Isla Bryson is not truly transgender are “almost certainly the case”, Nicola Sturgeon has said.
As PA Media reports, at first minister’s questions in Holyrood today Sturgeon was pressed on whether she thinks Bryson – who was convicted of raping two women while she was a man called Adam Graham – is a woman.
Bryson was initially taken to Cornton Vale prison near Stirling – Scotland’s only all-female jail – after being convicted, before being moved to the male estate following a public outcry.
After Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, asked her if Bryson should be considered a woman, Sturgeon said she did not know if Bryson was lying about her gender. She said:
This individual claims to be a woman – what I said was that I don’t have information about whether those claims have validity or not.
But I don’t think Douglas Ross and I are disagreeing here, because what I think is relevant in this case is not whether the individual is a man or claims to be a woman or is trans, what is relevant is that the individual is a rapist.
That is how the individual should be described, and it is that that should be the main consideration in deciding how the individual is dealt with – that is why the individual is in a male prison, not in the female prison, these are the issues that matter.
Ross read a quote from one of Bryson’s victims, who said: “I don’t believe he’s truly transgender. I feel as if he’s made a mockery out of them using it. As far as I’m concerned, that was to make things easier for himself.”
In response, Sturgeon said:
The quote that Douglas Ross narrated there, my feeling is that is almost certainly the case, which is why the key factor in this case is not the individual’s claim to be a woman, the key and only important factor in this is that the individual is convicted of rape – the individual is a rapist – and that is the factor that should be the deciding one about the decisions about how that prisoner is now treated.
Sturgeon said it was important to consider the issues raised by the Bryson case, but she added two caveats.
Firstly, as I’ve said, that we do not further stigmatise trans people generally – I think that is important – but secondly that we don’t cause undue concern amongst the public.
Brexit damaging UK growth more quickly than expected, says Bank of England
Brexit is damaging UK growth more quickly than expected, the deputy governor of the Bank of England said today.
At a news conference to explain today’s interest rate decision, Ben Broadbent said it was still not clear whether the effects of EU withdrawal were a reason why the UK is forecast to do worse than other major economies this year.
He said the Bank has not changed its overall assessment about Brexit having a negative effect on growth. But he said it had not expected to see the impact come through so quickly. He explained:
Brexit … has been something that has pulled on our potential output in our country and that’s been our assessment for many years.
We’ve not changed our estimate of the long-running effects, but we’ve brought some of them forward and we think they’re probably coming in faster than we first expected ….
Yes, it [Brexit] is having some effect on growth, although ultimately no bigger effect than we assessed some years ago.
Based on the numbers for trade and, to some degree, for the numbers on investment, we think these effects are coming through faster than initially envisaged.
Overall, as PA Media reports, the Bank said that while it believed the UK was still heading for a recession, the downturn may be shorter and shallower than previously expected.
In its monetary policy report today the Bank says:
The effects of Brexit on trade are now estimated to be emerging more quickly than previously assumed, and that lowers productivity somewhat.
Andrew Bailey, the governor of the Bank, said at the press conference that Brexit was one of a series of “significant economic shocks” to have affected the economy, along with Covid and the war in Ukraine. He went on:
These shocks have held back both productivity and labour supply.
Here is a Guardian video of Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, announcing the inquiry into the Omagh bombing in the Commons earlier.
NIO sets out four issues to be covered by new inquiry into Omagh bombing
The Northern Ireland Office has published further details of the statutory inquiry it is setting up into the Omagh bombing. The inquiry is going ahead in response to a court judgment ruling that, under the European convention on human rights, some form of investigation was needed. The legal case was brought by Michael Gallagher, whose son Aiden died in the bombing.
The NIO said in a news release:
The Real IRA claimed responsibility for the Omagh bombing in 1998, and four members of the Real IRA were subsequently found liable for the bombing in civil proceedings held in Northern Ireland. This inquiry does nothing to counter these findings, which are clear in who was responsible for this awful atrocity.
The independent statutory inquiry will examine the four issues identified by the high court; the handling and sharing of intelligence, the use of cell phone analysis, whether there was advance knowledge or reasonable means of knowledge of the bomb, and whether disruption operations could or should have been mounted, which may have helped prevent the Real IRA’s attack.
No 10 dismisses Boris Johnson's claim Ukrainian pilots could quickly learn to fly western fighter jets
Yesterday Boris Johnson, the former PM, implicitly criticised the UK government for not supplying Ukraine with military jets. No 10 has argued it would take too long to train the pilots, but Johnson told the Atlantic Council thinktank:
I hear that an objection to their having sophisticated western planes to fly is that they wouldn’t know how to use them.
I have to say, I take that argument with a bit of a pinch of salt.
I don’t think it’ll take the Ukrainians very long to work out how to use F-16s or Typhoons or whatever we have to give them.
Asked about Johnson’s comments, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists at the lobby briefing that the fastest training programme for a jet pilot took around three years, and that five years was normal. He said:
We will continue listening to the Ukrainians and consider what is right for the long term.
But it’s helpful to understand the situation, that the fastest training programme for a new pilot is approximately 35 months.
The current UK fast jet training programme takes five years.
Downing Street refuses to comment on claims Raab officials had mental health crises
Downing Street refused to comment on Dave Penman’s claim that some officials who worked for Dominic Raab suffered mental health crises. (See 10.01am.) Asked about what the FDA general secretary said, the PM’s spokesperson said:
The prime minister felt that once formal complaints were raised, it was right to have an independent person, a respected KC, to look into it. That’s what’s happening now.
I’m not going to comment on the reports, seeing as that process is taking place.
No 10 says revelations about British Gas forcing vulunerable customers on to prepayment meters 'deeply shocking'
At the lobby briefing the PM’s spokesperson said the Times revelations about British Gas forcing customers to have prepayment meters (see 9.17am) were “deeply shocking and concerning”. He went on:
Vulnerable families should not be treated so poorly.
The findings suggest British Gas has failed to use every possible avenue to support those struggling with their energy bills, as they rightly deserve and are entitled to.
Graham Stuart, the energy minister, is due to meet executives from British Gas to discuss the situation this afternoon.
It is understood that Stuart called the Ofgem chief executive, Jonathan Brearley, early this morning to discuss the revelations. Sources at the business department said Stuart demanded Ofgem explain their role in this and ensure they take urgent remedial action. They said ministers were particularly keen to ensure the regulator asked “more searching questions” of the energy companies during their future investigations.
No 10 defends current level of windfall tax after Labour says it should be higher
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesperson defended the current scope of the windfall tax on energy companies. Labour says the profits declared by Shell today show why it should be higher, or more extensive. (See 9.17am.) Asked about this issue, the PM’s spokesperson said:
We recognise that the public will think these are extraordinary profits, clearly. That’s why once it was clear that there would be a windfall because of various factors including the war in Ukraine, we put in place the energy profits levy.
The new headline 75% tax rate is comparable with other North Sea tax regimes including Norway, and we think that strikes a balance between funding cost of living support while encouraging investment in order to bolster the UK energy security.
The spokesperson also said there were no plans to increase the windfall tax.
Labour says plan to reform social care system for children does not amount to 'radical reset' needed
The Department for Education has today unveiled plans to reform the social care system for children in England. My colleague Patrick Butler wrote a preview of the plans here.
Here is the DfE’s news release. And here is the ‘Stable homes, built on love’ strategy and consultation document.
Responding to a Commons statement about the plan, Helen Hayes, the shadow children’s minister, said this did not amount to the “radical reset” that was needed. She said:
While some additional funding is welcome, this is not the radical reset the review demanded and which we need.
There is no vision for the direction of children’s social care, there is no ambition for our most vulnerable children, there is no cross-cutting commitment from the top of government to deliver better for every child and every care-experienced person in every part of our country.
This government has spent months legislating to restrict the fundamental rights to protest and to strike but has chosen not to make time to legislate to strengthen protections for children.
In response, Gillian Keegan, the education secretary, said the plans were the “start of the journey” and the government needed to consider what worked and what didn’t.
Northern Ireland secretary announces statutory inquiry into Omagh bombing
Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, has told MPs in a statement that the government will establish an independent statutory inquiry into the Omagh bombing in 1998, which killed 29 people, including a woman pregnant with twins.
Lisa Nandy, the shadow levelling up secretary, says that a year ago today, when the government published its levelling up white paper, Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, promised an annual report setting out the progress made towards the goals set out in the document.
She has written to Gove asking why we haven’t had it yet, saying this is “the latest in a long line of broken promises on levelling up”.
Rachel Reeves says interest rate hike amounts to 'Tory mortgage penalty'
Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, claims today’s interest rate hike (see 12.18pm) amounts to a “Tory mortgage penalty”. In a statement she says:
With households already paying a Tory mortgage penalty, families across the country will be worried about what rising interest rates today mean for them.
The reality is that under the Tories, growth is on the floor, families are worse off and we are stuck in the global slow lane.
We do not have to continue on this path of managed decline when Britain has so much potential to grow and thrive.
Hunt welcomes Bank's decision to raise interest rates to 4%, saying it will help government to halve inflation
Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, has issued a statement backing the Bank of England’s decision to raise interest rates by 0.5 percentage points, to 4%. He said this would help the government achieve its aim of halving inflation this year. He said:
Inflation is a stealth tax that is the biggest threat to living standards in a generation, so we support the Bank’s action today so we succeed in halving inflation this year.
We will play our part by making sure government decisions are in lockstep with the Bank’s approach, including by resisting the urge right now to fund additional spending or tax cuts through borrowing, which will only add fuel to the inflation fire and prolong the pain for everyone.
My colleague Graeme Wearden has more on his business live blog.
Only third of voters think Sunak has been better PM than Boris Johnson, poll suggests
The Times has commissioned polling to mark Rishi Sunak’s 100 days in office, and, if anything, it will make even gloomier reading for Downing Street than the Guardian write-through. (See 11.41pm.) The Times reports:
Seven in ten (72 per cent) believe he will not be prime minister after the next election, while just 27 per cent think he has done well so far. However, the YouGov polling also found that by a margin of 14 points voters think Sunak has been a better prime minister than Johnson.
Here is the Times graphic showing whether voters think Sunak is doing well or badly on five key issues.
Almost two thirds of people think Sunak is a better prime minister than Liz Truss, the poll suggests. But only a third believe that he is better than Boris Johnson. (By the time he left office, Johnson was mired in scandal, and his ratings were dire, and if a majority of people think Sunak is no better, then he is in real trouble. But perhaps people responding to this question are thinking of the Johnson premiership in its totality, and giving him credit for things like the vaccine programme.)
On the subject of Rishi Sunak reaching his 100th day in office, my colleague Jessica Elgot has a great assessment of how it’s going. Here is an extract.
After Liz Truss left office, polls suggested that voters wanted to keep an open mind about Sunak and rated him significantly higher than his party.
That is now beginning to turn. According to senior Labour figures, their most recent focus groups, with swing voters in Southampton, Dewsbury and Bury last week, were described as being “utterly brutal for Sunak”, with participants engaging in “open mockery” of the prime minister. Even the most pessimistic members of Keir Starmer’s team say they have seen a decisive shift.
Voters were scathing about attempts to tackle the cost of living and suggested they believed fundamental public services like the NHS were broken. From the focus groups, there was a growing feeling many had not seen much of Sunak since coming to power – though Sunak is trying to shift this narrative with a series of “PM Connect” events across the country, spending well over his allotted time speaking directly to local voters.
But the most common refrain from voters was the one that Tory MPs are also the most nervous about – that Sunak is “out of touch” and that his wealth means he cannot understand voters’ concerns. One voter in Bury told Labour’s researchers that they could not take Sunak seriously when he spoke about the NHS, because it was obvious he had never been on a waiting list.
You can read the full article here.
Sunak says what he calls 'stop the boats' bill will be published in coming weeks
To mark the fact he has now reached 100 days in office, Rishi Sunak has written an article for the Sun about his priorities. It is largely about his five promises, and Sunak says the legislation he has promised to stop people claiming asylum in the UK if they have arrived in the country illegally will be published “in the coming weeks”.
He describes it as the “stop the boats” bill (which will almost certainly not be its official name – the Commons clerks insist on bills having neutral titles). Sunak says:
In the coming weeks, our new stop the boats bill will change the law to send a message loud and clear.
If you come here illegally, you will be detained and removed.
In December Sunak said the bill would be published “early” in the new year, but this article implies it is not imminent. There is some evidence that ministers are still divided over how far it should go in allowing the UK to ignore the obligations it has to asylum seekers under exisiting international law.
About 70% of teachers did not participate in the strike that took place yesterday, Oliver Dowden, the Cabinet Office minister, told MPs. During Cabinet Office questions he said:
I am deeply saddened by any interruption to the education of our children, particularly when they have suffered so much during Covid.
I would, though, like to pay tribute to headteachers and others who ensured that around 90% of schools were open in one capacity or another to ensure that we continued to have education for our children, and indeed the teachers, 70% of whom did not participate in the strike.
Dowden also said that only 12% of civil servants participated in the civil servants’ strike.
Energy regulator launches British Gas investigation over prepayment meters
Ofgem, the energy regulator, has launched an investigation into British Gas after a Times investigation revealed that agents working on its behalf ignored customers’ vulnerabilities, my colleague Alex Lawson reports.
NHS England figures show small improvement in ambulance handover delays
NHS England has published some new performance figures this morning. They show some evidence that pressures on hospitals are easing very slightly. PA Media has the details
Ambulance handover delays outside hospitals in England are continuing to improve and have fallen to a new low for this winter, PA says. It reports:
A total of 18% of ambulance patients waited at least 30 minutes last week to be handed to A&E teams, down from 20% the previous week.
The figure hit a record 44% in the week to 1 January.
about 6% of patients waited more than an hour last week to be handed over to A&E teams – again, the lowest so far this winter, and down week on week from 7%.
Nearly 14,000 hospital beds in England last week were filled with people who were fit to leave, close to recent record levels, PA says. It reports:
An average of 13,983 beds were taken up with medically fit patients in the seven days to 29 January, up from 13,566 the previous week and just short of the all-time high of 14,069 in the week to 8 January.
At this point last year the number stood at 12,257.
The proportion of patients ready to leave hospital last week but who remained in their beds stood at 59%.
This is down from a record 63% in the week to 1 January.
The number of flu patients in hospitals in England has dropped for the fourth week in a row, PA says. It reports:
An average of 1,291 patients with flu were in hospital beds each day last week, down 37% from 2,034 in the week to 22 January, according to NHS England data.
It is the fourth week in a row the number of flu patients in hospital has dropped, down 76% from a peak of 5,441 in the week to 1 January.
Working for Raab led some officials to have mental health crises, says leader of civil servants' union
As the headline on our overnight story about Dominic Raab puts it rather well, the justice secretary and deputy prime ministers remains “in peril” because of the inquiry into allegations he bullied officials.
In the papers today there is evidence that Raab, or his allies, are fighting back.
In a story in the Daily Mail Jason Grove says that at least two senior officials giving evidence to the bullying inquiry have spoken in defence of Raab. And Grove reports:
A former colleague said: ‘There is a clear attempt by a group of politically motivated mandarins to get him – it looks like a coordinated attempt by a number of senior civil servants.
‘In one case it looks like revenge as the individual was effectively forced out by the government.’
Several of Mr Raab’s former staff yesterday said they had not witnessed unreasonable conduct.
One said he was ‘demanding, sometimes difficult and a bit curt – but not a bully’.
And Matt Dathan and Chris Smyth in the Times report that “Raab has declared he has never sworn or shouted in a meeting after it was claimed he roared ‘bullshit’ in response to a senior official’s briefing he disagreed with”. They quote a spokeperson for Raab saying:
The deputy prime minister has never sworn or shouted in a meeting. He sets targets across the department to focus relentlessly on delivery in the way that the British people would expect.
In response to the Daily Mail report, Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, the union representing senior civil servants, rejected claims that the complaints against Raab were politically motivated. He told Sky News:
That’s extraordinary and it couldn’t be further from the truth. Are we really seeing two dozen civil servants in three different government departments over a period of four years have got together in some massive conspiracy? That just doesn’t sound credible.
Penman said he knew that some people who worked for Raab had suffered mental health crises. He said:
I’ve spoken to people who are civil servants working, and have worked, for Dominic Raab, who have suffered mental health crises, have lost their careers essentially because they’ve had to move and change jobs.
Referring to Jacob Rees-Mogg’s claim that people should not be too “snowflakey” about these allegations, Penman said:
This sort of behaviour destroys lives. I mean it’s not just about careers, people’s lives and their mental health are at risk when they are subject to systematic bullying, and to belittle it in that way is absolutely outrageous from a former leader of the house and cabinet minister.
Penman also repeated his call for Raab to be suspended until the inquiry concludes, and he said Rishi Sunak should “come clean” and reveal whether he was informally warned about Raab’s conduct before he appointed him to his cabinet.
Raab has repeatedly denied bullying staff and insisted that he “behaved professionally at all times”.
Britain has missed out on £400bn of growth since 2010, says TUC
The failure of successive Conservative governments to recognise the negative impact of public spending cuts on the wider economy has meant Britain missed out on £400bn of growth since 2010, according to a report by the TUC. My colleague Phillip Inman has the story here.
And this is what Ofgem, the energy regulator, has said about the Times story. (See 9.17am.)
These are extremely serious allegations from the Times which we will investigate urgently with British Gas and we won’t hesitate to take firm enforcement action.
It is unacceptable for any supplier to impose forced installations on vulnerable customers struggling to pay their bills before all other options have been exhausted and without carrying out thorough checks to ensure it is safe and practicable to do so.
We recently announced a major market-wide review investigating the rapid growth in prepayment meter installations and potential breaches of licences driving it. We are clear that suppliers must work hard to look after their customers at this time, especially those who are vulnerable, and the energy crisis must not be an excuse for unacceptable behaviour towards any customer – particularly those in vulnerable circumstances.
Centrica says it is suspending forcing customers on to prepayment meters following Times revelations
Here is a statement from Chris O’Shea, the chief executive of Centrica, which owns British Gas, on the Times report about a contractor working for the company forcing vulnerable customers to move to prepayment meters, including by breaking in to homes to execute a court warrant (See 9.17am.)
The allegations around our third-party contractor Arvato are unacceptable and we immediately suspended their warrant activity.
Having recently reviewed our internal processes to support our prepayment customers, as well as creating a new £10m fund to support those prepayment customers who need help the most, I am extremely disappointed that this has occurred.
As a result, on Wednesday morning, we took a further decision to suspend all our prepayment warrant activity at least until the end of the winter.
More broadly, there are clearly significant challenges around affordability and unfortunately, we don’t see that changing any time soon.
We need to strike a balance between managing spiralling bad debt and being aware that there are those who refuse to pay and those who cannot pay. We think government, industry and the regulator need to come together to agree a long-term plan to address this and ultimately create an energy market that is sustainable.
Labour renews call for ‘proper’ windfall tax as Shell declares record £32.2bn profit
Good morning. There are two big stories involving energy companies out this morning. Both of them have important political ramifications, and Ed Miliband, the shadow secretary for climate change and net zero, has been speaking out forcefully on both issues. As for the government – it has been rather quieter.
First, Shell has announced its profits for the final quarter of 2022, $9.81bn, taking its profits for the whole year to almost $40bn (£32.2bn). My colleague Alex Lawson has the story here.
In response, Miliband said this showed why the windfall tax on energy companies should be increased. He said:
As the British people face an energy price hike of 40% in April, the government is letting the fossil fuel companies making bumper profits off the hook with their refusal to implement a proper windfall tax.
Labour would stop the energy price cap going up in April, because it is only right that the companies making unexpected windfall profits from the proceeds of war pay their fair share.
Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, announced an extension to the windfall tax in the autumn statement, but as my colleage Nils Pratley argued at the time, it could have gone a lot further. And the BBC has a good account of some of the loopholes in it here.
Second, the Times has this morning splashed on the findings of a powerful investigation revealing that “British Gas routinely sends debt collectors to break into customers’ homes and force-fit pay-as-you-go meters, even when they are known to have extreme vulnerabilities”. It says:
An undercover reporter worked for Arvato, a company used by British Gas to pursue debts, amid rocketing energy prices and more customers falling behind with their bills.
The reporter accompanied debt agents in below-freezing conditions as they worked with a locksmith to break into the home of a single father of three young children and switch it to a prepayment meter. If families with these gas meters cannot afford to top up, their heating is cut off.
On another occasion agents were sent by British Gas with a court warrant to force-fit a meter at the home of a young mother with a four-week-old baby. Her bills have risen sevenfold during the cost of living crisis.
According to job notes seen by The Times, other British Gas customers who have had prepayment meters fitted by force in recent weeks include a woman in her fifties described as “severe mental health bipolar”, a woman who “suffers with mobility problems and is partially sighted” and a mother whose “daughter is disabled and has a hoist and [an] electric wheelchair”.
On the Today programme this morning Chris O’Shea, the chief executive of Centrica, British Gas’s parent company, said he was appalled by the paper’s revelations. “There is nothing that I can say that can express the horror I had when I heard this. It is completely unacceptable,” he said.
O’Shea said the contractor used by British Gas had let them down, and he said the forced introduction of prepayment meters had been suspended, at least until the end of the winter.
Labour has been calling for a moratorium on customers being forced on to pre-payment meters and this morning Miliband – who tabled an urgent question on this topic only last week – told the Today programme this morning it was “shameful” that this was happening. He said:
It’s shameful that we are in Britain in 2023 and this is happening.
That is why for weeks now we have been calling for a moratorium, a ban, on the forced installation of prepayment meters, not just to British Gas, but right across the board, because this is a system that stinks and is in disrepute.
There’s no proper definition of vulnerability. There’s no proper checks on when these prepayment meters are being forced into people’s homes. There’s no proper system for when this so-called last resort happens. This is a system that is in desperate need of reform.
People are being put through appalling hardship and appalling circumstances and the government must act, as I have been urging for weeks now, to stop this practice happening right across the board.
Last month Grant Shapps, the business secretary, said he was asking energy companies to voluntarily stop forcing customers to use prepayment meters. He told the Times he was “horrified” by its revelations.
Here is the agenda for the day.
Morning: Chris Heaton-Harris, the Northern Ireland secretary, is expected to make a statement to MPs about whether there will be a public inquiry into the Omagh bombing.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
11.30am: The Welsh government holds a briefing ahead of the strikes planned for 7 February.
12pm: The Bank of England announces its decision on interest rates. My colleague Graeme Wearden will be covering this on his business live blog.
12pm: Nicola Sturgeon takes first minister’s questions in the Scottish parliament.
Afternoon: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, and Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, hold a press conference after talks with their Australian counterparts.
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