That’s it for today. Thanks for following along.

It is budget day tomorrow, and Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, is expected to announce a big incrase in the tax-free allowance for lifetime savings. (See 9.34am.) In a Twitter thread starting here, James Kirkup, who runs the Social Market Foundation thinktank, says this is a “regressive giveaway to a very small, rich minority”.

There may be staff retention benefits to raising pension lifetime allowance & annual allowance. But it’s still a regressive giveaway to a v small rich minority.
When c12m ppl are under-saving for retirement, is this best use of scarce resources?

— James Kirkup (@jameskirkup) March 14, 2023

Tories on course to lose all red wall seats, but Sunak's ratings with these voters rising sharply, poll suggests

There are two polls out today which go beyond voting intention and are interesting for the Conservatives and Labour.

Ipsos has released a poll focusing on Keir Starmer’s five “missions”. It suggests that on all five of them people think Labour would do a better job than the Conservatives (not that surprising, perhaps), and that the issue where Labour’s lead is biggest is also the one which is by far the most important to people (the NHS).

Polling on Labour’s 5 missions
Polling on Labour’s five missions. Photograph: Ipsos

And Channel 4 News has released some polling by JL Partners in the 45 “red wall” seats won by the Tories from Labour at the general election. It has been polling these seats since 2020 and it finds the Tories on course to lose them all. In its write-up of the survey, which was mostly carried out before the illegal migration bill was published, JL Partners says:

Once more, Labour claims a majority of the electorate in the red wall and the party holds a 25-point lead over the Conservatives with no significant change to this margin from a month ago. On a uniform swing assuming an election tomorrow, this would mean the Conservatives would be set to lose all of the 45 seats they gained from Labour in the north and the Midlands in 2019.

The Conservatives are now only retaining one in two of their 2019 voters. Those Conservatives have gone in two directions: 15% of 2019 Tories have directly switched to Labour and 28% have shifted to don’t know. Though in one sign of change since February more voters are now saying ‘don’t know’ (up six points) than those directly defecting to Labour (down two points). But the Tories now only lead Labour by one point amongst leave voters.

But it is not all bad news for the Conservatives. The polling suggests many voters could change their minds, Rishi Sunak’s approval ratings have risen considerably among voters in these seats in the past month and these constituencies also back his “stop the boats” strategy. The JL Partners analysis says:

Six in 10 red wall voters support “stopping migrants in small boats from illegally crossing the Channel using any means necessary” – with support extending to multiple groups including remain voters, 18-45s, and 2019 Labour voters. There is similar support – by a margin of almost three to one – for the withdrawal of the right to appeal against deportation for those who cross the Channel in small boats. Support is also present for leaving the ECHR, breaking international laws, and the Rwanda scheme, but these margins are narrower.

Polling on Starmer and Sunak
Polling on Starmer and Sunak. Photograph: JL Partners

James Johnson, the former pollster for Theresa May who co-founded JL Partners, has a good Twitter thread on the findings starting here.

NEW @JLPartnersPolls of the Red Wall for @Channel4News.

On current numbers, the Conservatives would lose all of their seats in the Red Wall.

BUT – Rishi Sunak’s approval ratings are surging. What's going on? Deep dive thread… (1/18)

— James Johnson (@jamesjohnson252) March 14, 2023


Gove names 11 firms that face being 'out of housebuilding business' because they've refused to fund fire safety repairs

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has said that 11 housebuilding companies face being put out of business because they have refused to sign a contract agreeing to fund the removal of dangerous cladding.

In a statement to MPs, Gove said that 39 developers, including the 10 largest housebuilders in the UK, all signed the developer remediation contract ahead of yesterday’s deadline.

Under this, they have agreed “to fix all life-critical fire safety defects in all English buildings over 11 metres they had a role in developing or refurbishing”. Gove said these agreements would raise at last £2bn for repairs required since the Grenfell Tower fire highlighted problems with dangerous claddings on buildings across the country.

But he said that 11 firms refused to sign the deals in time for the deadline. He told MPs:

While the overwhelming majority of major developers have signed, some regrettably have not. Parliament has made clear what this means, and so have I.

Those companies will be out of the housebuilding business in England entirely unless and until they change their course. Next week I will publish key features of our new responsible actors scheme – a means of ensuring that only those committed to building safety will be allowed to build in the future. Those developers that we’ve invited to sign the remediation contract who have not agreed to live up to their responsibilities will not be eligible to join the responsible actors scheme.

They will not be able to commence new developments in England or receive building control approval for work that is already under way.

Gove said the 11 companies that had not signed were: Abbey Developments, Avant, Ballymore, Dandara, Emerson Group (Jones Homes), Galliard Homes, Inland Homes, Lendlease, London Square, Rydon Homes and Telford Homes.


Jeffrey Donaldson says NI protocol deal in its current form is 'insufficient' to address needs of DUP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, has said that his party does not support Rishi Sunak’s “Windsor framework” deal to revise the Northern Ireland protocol in its current form.

Speaking on a visit to Washington before St Patrick’s Day, Donaldson did not reject the deal. But he said:

What is in this Windsor framework is insufficient. It does not meet all of our requirements, it does not go as far as we need, in terms of our tests and in terms of restoring fully Northern Ireland’s place within the internal market of the United Kingdom …

It is my current assessment that there remains key areas of concern which require further clarification, reworking and change, as well as seeing further legal text.

Donaldson also issued a statement setting out five concerns the DUP has with the deal in its current form.

The UK government has said that it is happy for the DUP to take its time considering the deal before it comes to a final conclusion. The party is divided, with some members concerned that backing the agreement could see the DUP lose votes to the more hardline Traditional Unionist Voice (TUV), which has opposed it, while others fear that if the party permanently boycotts power-sharing at Stormont because of the protocol, it will be heading down a political cul-de-sac.

The US president, Joe Biden, is due to visit Northern Ireland soon to mark the 25th anniversary of the Good Friday agreement. The UK government would like the DUP to decide in favour of the protocol deal, and to resume power sharing, before Biden arrives, but Donaldson said his party would not be rushed. He said:

Whether the president visits or not, I have no arbitrary deadline here. I am not under any pressure in terms of timelines.

I want to get this right. However long that takes is how long it will take.

Although Rishi Sunak wants the DUP to endorse the Windsor framework, the government has also signalled that it intends to implement the new agreement anyway regardless of what the DUP says.

Jeffrey Donaldson.
Jeffrey Donaldson. Photograph: Lorraine O’Sullivan/Reuters


The BBC UQ is now over. Although Julia Lopez, the culture minister, was doing her best to argue that it was for the BBC, not the government, to police what Gary Lineker says on Twitter, some Conservative MPs criticised the presenter more aggressively.

Paul Waugh from the i has some highlights.

Tory MP John Hayes just attacked "smug, arrogant and avaricious football pundits".
He didn't name @GaryLineker @IanWright0 or @AlexScott but he left the strong impression he wasn't a fan.

— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) March 14, 2023

A pattern developing here. Now Tory backbenchers @AlunCairns attacks Lineker and others as
"a privileged and overpaid elite".
And DUP's Sammy Wilson now says whole issue raises Qs about BBC licence fee.

— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) March 14, 2023

Now Ipswich MP Tom Hunt attacks those BBC freelancers who uses their freelance status to "avoid paying taxes and disregard impartiality guidelines".

He also adds that @GaryLineker has been retweeting @campbellclaret and @TheNewEuropean since the weekend.

— Paul Waugh (@paulwaugh) March 14, 2023

And here is a clip of Sir John Hayes condemning Lineker and his colleagues. Hayes is chair of the Common Sense group of Tory MPs, which organised a letter saying Lineker should apologise “at the very least” for his tweet.

Tory MP Sir John Hayes appears to refer to @GaryLineker and his BBC colleagues as 'self-indulgent, out of touch, insensitive, avaricious, smug and arrogant football pundits'

The comments were made in a Commons debate on BBC impartiality

— ITV News Politics (@ITVNewsPolitics) March 14, 2023

Chris Bryant (Lab) says he has been told that Rishi Sunak wants the inquiry into Richard Sharp, the BBC’s chair (and Sunak’s former boss at Goldman Sachs), to be “kicked into the long grass”.

Lopez says that is not true. The inquiry is under the control of the government, she says.


Rob Butler (Con) says he used to work for the BBC. In the era of social media, impartiality is more important than ever, he says.

Bob Blackman (Con) says Gary Lineker has a duty to tweet information that is accurate. He claims Lineker did not do this in December in a tweet about the death of a Palestinian footballer claimed by Hamas as a martyr.

Lopez says she does not know about this case, but suggests it might be included in the BBC review of social media guidelines.

Jamie Stone (Lib Dem) says Lopez has said the government will not tell Richard Sharp to set down as BBC chair. But will she accept that if he stays in office that is not helping the reputation of the BBC.

Lopez says the circumstances of Sharp’s appointment are the subject of an investigation.

Lopez tells MPs there was 'no pressure applied to BBC by ministers' over Gary Lineker

Lopez says there was “no pressure applied to the BBC by ministers” over Gary Lineker.

Sir Bill Cash (Con) says the BBC social media guidelines do not work. He says an adjudication body should be set up, alongside Ofcom, to consider complaints about it.

Lopez says he looks forward to engaging with Cash further on his ideas in this area.

Public support for BBC licence fee is falling, Lopez tells MPs

Sammy Wilson (DUP) says people should no longer have to pay the licence fee. It is a “poll tax on propaganda”, he says.

Lopez says the government is concerned the licence fee is losing public support. It is considering how the BBC should be funded in the long term.

UPDATE: Wilson said:

The only disaster this weekend has been for the BBC in the despicable way it handled the Gary Lineker affair and then caved in to this man and his friends who rallied around him.

The BBC has shown once again it’s impossible, because of the bias inherent in it, to be impartial and it is now time that people are no longer forced to finance the BBC through the licence fee, especially when every week 1,000 people are taken to court by the BBC – 70% of them women – for refusing to pay this poll tax on propaganda.

And Lopez said:

[Wilson] is right to highlight the importance of impartiality to the trust in which licence fee-payers hold the organisation and the importance in relation to the future of the licence fee.

It’s something we’re considering, not least because there are fewer people paying the licence fee.

We’re concerned the public is losing support for the licence fee, but also fundamentally the way in which people consume television is changing very rapidly and we need to make sure the BBC has a future that is sustainable in the years ahead.


Andrew Percy (Con) says Lucy Powell should reflect on her comparision of the government to Putin’s regime. Putin is engaged in war crimes, he says. He says that was “beneath her”.

He also says Gary Lineker’s comparison of the government’s asylum language to Nazi language was disgraceful.

Lopez agrees on both points. Referring to what Powell said, she say that was a “disgraceful comparison to make”, and “way off the mark”.

In response to Lucy Powell, Julia Lopez said that Tim Davie, the BBC director general, said himself yesterday that it was not true to say that the corporation suspended Gary Lineker in response to political pressure.


Labour's Lucy Powell says suspension of Gary Lineker for anti-government tweet like something from 'Putin's Russia'

Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, is asking her supplementary question now.

She says ministers have got their “fingerprints all over” the BBC’s decision to suspend Gary Lineker.

She says the BBC capitulated to “a Tory cancel campaign” and took Gary Lineker off air. She goes on:

What does [Lopez] think it looks like to the outside world – that a much-loved sports presenter is taken off air for tweeting something that government doesn’t like. It sounds more like Putin’s Russia so me.

Powell says Richard Sharp, the BBC chairman, no longer has credibility.

And she urges Lopez to “call off the dogs” behind her who are attacking the BBC’s integrity.

UPDATE: Powell said:

Her government has pursued a deliberate strategy of undermining the BBC to keep it over a barrel to get themselves more coverage.

It was on full display overnight and I’m sure it will be on full display here today. Threaten the licence fee, cut its funding, undermine its credibility. All in pursuit in keeping their foot on the BBC’s throat.


Culture minister Julia Lopez tells MPs it is for BBC, not government, to decide how it implements impartiality

In the Commons the HS2 UQ is now over, and Julia Lopez, a culture minister, is responding to the UQ on BBC impartiality.

She says the BBC’s first purpose is to provide accurate and impartial news to people.

The BBC is also independent, she says. That means the government has no say in how the BBC chooses to implement its impartiality obligations.

She says the regulator has accepted that implementing impartiality is challenging.

She says the BBC is respected around the world. No other country has anything like it. The government is clear it must emphasis accuracy, impartiality and diversity of views.


Sturgeon launches memorial book scheme for parents who want to commemorate loss of baby before 24 weeks

Nicola Sturgeon has announced that the Scottish government will set up a voluntary memorial book scheme for parents who want to commemorate the loss of a baby before 24 weeks. In a statement, the first minister said her personal experience of miscarriage had taught her how valuable this might be for some parents. She said:

The loss of a pregnancy or a baby is always painful. I have spoken in the past about my personal experience of miscarriage, and I know the sense of grief will stay with me and my husband forever. I also know that we would have drawn comfort at the time if there had been a way for us to mark the loss and formally recognise the child we were grieving.

Launching this memorial book with the National Records of Scotland will give parents an opportunity – if they wish it - to commemorate their loss with a physical record, and to have their child recognised.

First Minister @NicolaSturgeon has announced a Memorial Book for those who have experienced a pregnancy or baby loss prior to 24 weeks will launch this summer.

A commemorative certificate recognising the loss will also be available.


— First Minister (@ScotGovFM) March 14, 2023


Asylum seekers win permission for Rwanda policy legal challenge

A court of appeal judge has ruled that a group of asylum seekers can bring a legal challenge against the Home Office for what they claim has been a failure to consider the dangers and risks of deporting them to Rwanda, my colleague Diane Taylor reports.

Ofcom chief says BBC right to review its social media guidelines for presenters

Dame Melanie Dawes, the chief executive of Ofcom, the media regulator, has said the BBC is right to review its guidelines for the use of social media by staff and contributors.

Giving evidence to the Commons culture committee this morning, she said the social media guidelines were a matter for the BBC, not Ofcom. But she said the BBC was right to reconsider them in the light of the row about Gary Lineker, the freelance presenter of Match of the Day, criticising the government’s asylum policy, and its rhetoric about migrants, on Twitter.

She told the MPs:

I think they’re right to look at it again. There is ambiguity in there. I think that was probably designed to give a degree of flexibility.

I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t achieve what they wanted. But I think this is a difficult issue for them, I don’t think this is going to be straightforward, and to some extent is going to be about a level of trust, particularly with their staff.

All organisations face this to some degree or another about what they require of the people who work for them and the safeguards that they expect people to operate when they’re using social media.

But when it’s about freelancers, actors, other presenters and contributors for the BBC, clearly it’s a slightly different question and I think they need to be weighing freedom of expression alongside the wider reputation they have for impartiality.

Melanie Dawes at the culture committee this morning.
Melanie Dawes at the culture committee this morning. Photograph: House of Commons/PA


The Commons privileges committee has now issued a press notice about its hearing next week with Boris Johnson. (See 1.01pm.) It says:

Mr Johnson has accepted the committee’s invitation to give oral evidence in public, and will be questioned by the committee from 14.00 on Wednesday 22 March.

The session, which will be held in public, will see the committee’s members, comprised of four Conservative, two Labour and one SNP member, question Mr Johnson on a range of matters arising from evidence submitted to its current inquiry, as set out in a report published 3 March. The committee has provided this summary to Mr Johnson at his request. It has produced it as a report to the house, pursuant to the committee’s commitment to transparency.

The committee has invited Mr Johnson to provide written evidence to the inquiry setting out his response, should he wish, in advance of the oral evidence session. Any such response will be published. The committee has disclosed all evidence submitted to the inquiry so far to Mr Johnson under secure conditions.


Labour says leaked DfT memo shows delaying HS2 will create extra costs and lead to some job losses

Labour has released details of the leaked memo from the Department for Transport that it says undermines what Mark Harper, the transport secretary, said about the decision to delay HS2. Harper said the delay would help the government to “balance the nation’s books”, but Labour says the leak shows the delay will push up costs.

The memo was written by a DfT official working on HS2. Here are the key points.

  • The memo says the delay will have some impact on jobs. It says:

There will be some impacts on jobs and HS2 Ltd will need to consider how best to progress the various phases of the programme, but the government is continuing to prioritise delivery of Old Oak Common in London to Birmingham Curzon Street.

  • It says the delay could lead to extra costs. It says:

Additional costs will be created by deferring expenditure on the programme. The government will however look at doing things in the most cost-effective way. The department is transparent on cost pressures and publishes six-monthly parliamentary reports on HS2, setting out estimated cost ranges and progress updates on the programme. We will provide an update on any additional costs created by deferring expenditure.

  • It accepts there is concern about construction companies going bust because of the delay. Setting out how ministers should respond if asked about this risk, it says:

We will need to rephase certain parts of the project to help balance the nation’s books. Like other construction projects, the programme has faced significant inflation. Therefore, to help manage the public purse, we are working with HS2 Ltd to reschedule delivery and reprofile costs for certain elements of the programme in a way that protects value for money for the taxpayer.

Commenting on the leak, Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, said:

Ministers ducked and dived from scrutiny – and now we know why.

This damaging leak blows apart their key claims to be saving taxpayers’ money.

Their plans will hit jobs, harm the north, and cost taxpayers even more – little wonder they refuse to be straight with the British public.

Thirteen years of Conservative failure is holding Britain back.


Boris Johnson set to give evidence to privileges committee's Partygate inquiry at 2pm on Wednesday next week

Boris Johnson is set to give evidence to the Commons privileges committee about claims he misled parliament over Partygate at 2pm on Wednesday next week, PA Media reports.

The hearing, like almost all select committee hearings, will be televised. It is expected to be one of the most widely watched committee appearances for years.

In a recent report the committee set out the evidence against Johnson. It said, although Johnson told MPs that all Covid rules were followed in Downing Street, “the evidence “strongly suggests that breaches of guidance would have been obvious to Mr Johnson at the time he was at the gatherings”.


Louise Haigh, the shadow transport secretary, says she has a leaked document from the transport secretary’s officials about the project.

Mark Harper, the transport secretary, told MPs that the project was being delayed to save costs, she says.

But the leaked memo says the delay itself will increase costs, she says.

She says the Conservatives cannot fix the problem because they are the problem.

In response, Merriman says he will not comment on leaked documents. But he says he is proud of what the government is doing on HS2.

UPDATE: Haigh said:

[Harper’s] chief justification for the delays to HS2 were to balance the nation’s books, but here his own department admit what he will not, that the delays itself will increase costs.

They admit it will cost jobs, that construction firms could go bust. They cannot rule out slashing high speed trains serving Stoke, Macclesfield and Stafford altogether.

They suggest it could terminate on the outskirts of London until 2041. Isn’t it time the minister came clean? This absurd plan will hit jobs, hurt growth, and cost taxpayers even more.

Even the government has lost faith in this government, and little wonder. Is there anything more emblematic of this failed government than their flagship levelling up project that neither makes it to the north or to central London?


Iain Stewart, the chair of the transport committee, is now asking his supplementary questions. He asks for more detail about what the delays will mean.

Merriman says the extra costs mostly relate to phase one construction, which is costing £600m per month. Construction inflation is running at 15%, which is why costs are going up.

He says the HS2 line between Birmingham and Old Oak Common in London should be ready by 2033.

He says the government will not proceed with construction at Euston over the next two years. But during this period it will look at the affordability of that scheme.

Huw Merriman, the rail minister, is responding to the UQ on HS2.

He starts by apologising for the way the news about the HS2 delay was released – in a written ministerial statement late in the afternoon on Thursday. Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons speaker, said MPs should have been told in a statement in the chamber.

And he says rising costs have led to the delay.


Tory chair Greg Hands apologises to cabinet secretary for CCHQ email accusing civil servants of obstructing ministers

Greg Hands, the Conservative party chair, has apologised for the fact CCHQ sent out an email to party supporters last week accusing civil servants of blocking government policy.

The email was sent out in the name of Suella Braverman, the home secretary, but she subsequently said she had not written it or approved it. It said:

We tried to stop the small boat crossings without changing our laws.

But an activist blob of leftwing lawyers, civil servants and the Labour party blocked us.

Following complaints from trade unions, Simon Case, the cabinet secretary, has revealed that Hands has apologised. In a letter to Mark Serwotka, the general secretary of the PCS union, Case said:

You will have seen that the home secretary has been clear that she did not see, sign off or sanction the email.

She has also written to staff across the Home Office to thank them for their outstanding work on the illegal migration bill.

Furthermore, the home secretary has also made clear her gratitude to Home Office civil servants in her public interviews in recent days.

I have also spoken to the party chairman who apologised for the error.

He assured me that he has already taken action to change procedures in CCHQ to make sure that there is not a repeat of this incident.

Finally, the party chairman has also provided his assurance that attacks on the civil service are not part of any standard CCHQ lines.


Rishi Sunak has turned down an invitation to give evidence to the Commons European scrutiny committee about his Northern Ireland protocol deal. That is not surprising. The PM does not normally give evidence to ordinary select committees and he is giving evidence to the Commons liaison committee on Tuesday 28 March. But in a report out today the European scrutiny committee, chaired by Sir Bill Cash (Con), says it is “disappointed” that Sunak is giving them the cold shoulder.


Humza Yousaf, the Scottish health secretary who is seen by many as the frontrunner in the SNP leadership contest, claimed this morning that his support has “dramatically increased” among SNP voters.

Speaking on a visit in Dundee, he acknowledged that he and his opponents’ approval ratings were a long way behind Nicola Sturgeon’s. “What we’re trying to do is build upon that legacy,” he said.

But he added:

In three weeks I’ve also quadrupled my support among the Scottish public.

If I’ve been able to do that in three weeks, I believe that bodes well for the next three months and even the next three years.

Polling suggests that Kate Forbes is the most popular of the three candidates amongst Scottish voters at large. But among SNP supporters or members, mostly the polling has suggested Yousaf is either marginally ahead, or essentially neck and neck with Forbes. Ash Regan, the third candidate, seems well behind.

Humza Yousaf on a visit to a GP training centre at Whitfield Health Centre, Dundee, this morning.
Humza Yousaf on a visit to a GP training centre at Whitfield Health Centre, Dundee, this morning. Photograph: Andrew Milligan/PA


In his interviews yesterday Rishi Sunak indicated that he did not want to get involved in the row about Gary Lineker, and whether or not he should have been suspended by the BBC for his tweet about the government’s anti-migrant rhetoric. “These are matters for the BBC to resolve itself,” he said, refusing to take sides.

But if No 10 is trying to stay neutral in the dispute between Lineker and BBC management, other parts of the Tory family are not holding back. The academic Tim Bale refers to the pro-Conservative papers as “the party in the media” and they are furious about the BBC’s decision to put Lineker back on air without an apology.

MAIL: A slap in the face for BBC licence payers #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) March 13, 2023

EXPRESS: Has Lineker put a nail in coffin of licence fee? #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) March 13, 2023

When we get the UQ on this at around 1.15pm, we’ll find out how many Tory MPs feel the same way.

Ministers face urgent questions on HS2 and impartiality at BBC

There are two urgent questions in the Commons this afternoon that should get quite lively.

At 12.30pm a transport minister will respond to a UQ from Iain Stewart (Con) about the announcement last week that HS2 is being delayed.

And after that, at around 1.15pm, a culture minister will respond to a UQ from Lucy Powell, the shadow culture secretary, about impartiality at the BBC.

There are then two statements. Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, will update MPs on his plan to in effect put housebuilding companies out of business unless they agree to to contribute to the fund to remove dangerous cladding from buildings. That may start around 2pm.

Finally, at around 3pm, Alex Chalk, the defence minister, will update MPs on the Aukus agreement reached by Rishi Sunak in California yesterday.


In his Today interview this morning Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, said he expects the illegal migration bill to be “scrutinised carefully” as it continues its passage through the Commons, and the government to make changes during this process, to address the concerns he and other Tories have. (See 9.17am.)

But the bill won’t get proper scrutiny, at least according to Hannah White, a parliamentary expert and director of the Institute for Government thinktank. In a blogpost, she says that just 12 hours has been set aside for the line by line scrutiny of the bill at committee stage. And even those 12 hours won’t be effective, she argues, because the bill will be in committee of the whole house (CWH), which means it will not be debated clause by clause.

She says that only a decade ago bills like this received much more scrutiny in the Commons, with weeks and weeks set aside for debate. She says:

The reality is that our current generation of ministers have got used to the apparent benefits of legislating at speed. They have forgotten the downsides. And MPs generally – one third of whom have joined the House since 2017 – have lost institutional memory of what used to count as adequate scrutiny.


SNP not facing 'existential crisis' over leadership contest, says its Westminster leader Stephen Flynn

Stephen Flynn, the SNP’s leader at Westminster, has rejected claims that the contest to find a successor to Nicola Sturgeon has plunged the party into crisis.

The leadership contest has been more acrimonious than people expected, particularly because for years the SNP has generally been more disciplined than other major political parties in Britain, with public infighting kept to a minimum.

At least two of the candidates have distanced themselves from key parts of Sturgeon’s legacy, and the contest has shown there is no consensus in the party on how it should pursue its central goal of independence.

Asked about this on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland, Flynn said:

I don’t think there is an existential crisis at all.

Of course, there’s the wider issue here of the fact that there is quite clearly disagreement in discussion within the party.

But it’s incumbent upon a new leader once they’re in place to bring everyone together.

Asked about the candidates disagreeing, Flynn, who is backing Humza Yousaf, the health secretary, said:

I think it is inevitable when you’re in a leadership contest, no matter which party it is, there’s going to be differences of opinion.

What I would hope for is when we get on the other side of this, once the contest has concluded in a couple of weeks, that we can come together and move forward together.

I think that’s what members would expect of us, and I think that’s what the public would expect from us as well.

As my colleague Libby Brooks reports, in the Sky News leadership debate last night Kate Forbes and Ash Regan both described JK Rowling as a “national treasure” – despite the author describing Sturgeon as a “destroyer of women’s rights”.

Stephen Flynn at PMQs last week.
Stephen Flynn at PMQs last week. Photograph: House of Commons/PA


UK pay growth slowdown adds to inflation squeeze on households

UK wage growth slowed in the three months to January, despite inflation staying stubbornly high, prolonging the cost of living crisis affecting millions of households, my colleague Phillip Inman reports.

Tugendhat refuses to rule out full TikTok ban in UK

Yesterday Rishi Sunak suggested the UK might follow the US and Canada in banning TikTok from government devices because of its Chinese ownership, and fears that the Chinese state could access its data, or manipulate its content.

This morning Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, went further, and refused to rule out a full ban on the app. Asked if he would consider this, he told Times Radio:

I don’t have it, and the prime minister asked me to defend the leading democracy taskforce a little while ago, and as part of that we’re looking at the various threats to parliamentarians but also to journalists.

Looking at the various different apps people have on their phones and the implications for them is a hugely important question and I’ve asked the National Cyber Security Centre to look into this.

Asked again if there could be full ban on the app, he replied:

It will be addressed with the challenges we face, with the threats we face. I’m not going to give you an answer until I know what the risks are.

Donald Trump tried to ban TikTok in the US when he was president, but the move was challenged in the courts and never came into force. Joe Biden subsequently revoked the ban.


Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, will use tomorrow’s budget to make a significant increase to the lifetime allowance for tax-free pension savings, the Telegraph reports. In their story Szu Ping Chan and Simon Foy report:

Jeremy Hunt is preparing to boost the tax-free allowance for pensions by more than half a million pounds as he battles the wave of early retirement that has squeezed growth.

The so-called lifetime allowance (LTA) – which is the maximum amount of money workers can put in their pensions before they are taxed – is expected to be lifted from just over £1m in the chancellor’s maiden budget.

The move will bring the LTA closer to its previous peak of £1.8m, which was cut by George Osborne.

While the exact level has not been finalised, sources indicated that it would be more than £1.5m. The threshold was previously frozen at £1m until 2028.

TELEGRAPH: Boost for pensions as Hunt ready to raise cap #TomorrowsPapersToday

— Neil Henderson (@hendopolis) March 13, 2023


Tom Tugendhat defends asylum bill but dodges questions on lack of legal routes

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, was on government spokesperson duties on behalf of No 10 on the airwaves this morning. As my colleague Jessica Elgot reports, he defended the illegal migration bill – but dodged repeated questions on whether there were any safe and legal routes for refugees from countries such as Iran to come to the UK.


Sunak will have to water down illegal migration bill to avoid Tory revolt, former minister warns

Good morning. The illegal migration bill, the most controversial piece of legislation going through parliament at the moment, and one of the most electorally important to the Conservative party, passed its second reading in the Commons last night, by 312 votes to 250 – a majority of 62. No Tory MP voted against. There were 44 Conservatives who did not vote at all, including the former prime minister Theresa May, who was available to take part in the division because during the debate she gave a powerful speech that rubbished the bill on moral and practical grounds. She and some of the other 44 did not vote because they were abstaining on principle. But many of the others will have had a legitimate reason not to be there. When the strikes bill got a second reading in January, there were 41 Tories who did not vote.

But this morning Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, made it clear that the absence of a government revolt at second reading does not mean there won’t be one later. Buckland said that he and other Tories who voted for the bill last night were only backing it on the basis that some of the details would be changed later. He told the Today programme this morning:

I think a lot of us who decided to allow the principle of the bill to go forward yesterday were doing so upon the basis that this bill will need further work.

Giving details of what he thought would have to change in the bill, Buckland said:

As I said, in my speech [in the debate], I said that the issue relating to particularly women and children needs to be directly addressed. I do not support the detention of unaccompanied children or indeed the splitting up of families; that was a government policy that has been followed since 2010.And I think that those parts of the bill should be removed.

Voting to allow the principle of a bill to go forwards is different from the detail of the bill and I would expect it to be scrutinised carefully and for the government to listen to the concerns [of MPs].

When it was put to him that, under the bill as it stands, the home secretary will have a duty to remove an unaccompanied child when the child becomes 18, Buckland said he would expect the government to address the concerns that he and others MPs have about this as the bill goes through its further Commons stages. He went on:

I’ve made it very clear that I do not support the detention of children or indeed women in those circumstances and that I think that the government risks looking as if it is guilty of ineffective authoritarianism. That’s something I do not support, and I made it very clear in the house last night.

On his flight back to the UK from California last night, Rishi Sunak was asked about May’s opposition to the bill. As Politico’s London Playbook briefing reports, he replied:

I’m confident that our bill represents the best way to grip this problem. I’ve also always been clear that there is no … one simple solution to what is a complicated problem. It will take lots of different interventions.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: James Cleverly, the foreign secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

Afternoon: Peers debate Commons amendments to the public order bill. It is the first stage of “ping pong”, when a bill starts shuttling between the Commons and the Lords because the two houses do not agree on details.

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



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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