Boris Johnson claims publication of Covid inquiry ruling unfairly implies he is holding back documents – as it happened

Last modified: 05: 04 PM GMT+0

Boris Johnson letter complains process is ‘unfair’ towards him and confirms he is asking new lawyers to represent him. This live blog is closed

Paul Mason, the leftwing Labour activist and former Newsnight economics editor, has welcomed Rachel Reeves’ speech. (See 5.30pm.)

There is a lot for the left to build on in @RachelReevesMP Peterson speech: total alignment with Bidenomics on reshoring, decent work and Western security objectives - in stark opposition to Tories who cling to failed globalisation....

— Paul Mason (@paulmasonnews) May 24, 2023

These are from Jonathan Portes, an economics professor and migration specialist, and former government economist, on Labour’s new plan for work visas. (See 4.09pm.)

This is a perfectly sensible/reasonable proposal, but will make very little difference to numbers - *except* perhaps in social care.

This will, of course, mean higher pay for care workers which will require funding either from taxpayers or those paying for care..

— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) May 24, 2023

If Starmer is going to complain about the number of work visas issued, the honest thing to do would be to tell us which of these occupations he wants to cut numbers in: via @BBCNews

— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) May 24, 2023

Now I've argued government *could* cut numbers coming in lower paid care roles *if* it's willing to require major increases in pay and improve training and conditions. Wheres the plan and money for that?

— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) May 24, 2023

..outside the health/care sector, the idea that we could reduce migration by training more Brits is just a liberal version of the lump of labour fallacy. More supply means more demand -that's a problem of success!

— Jonathan Portes (@jdportes) May 24, 2023

Rachel Reeves says globalisation in its old form 'is dead' in speech explaining Labour's 'securonomics' philosophy

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, has delivered her speech on “securonomics”. (See 11.50am.) There was not any specific policy in the speech, and it would be an exaggeration to say her new term is trending on Twitter, but there was some interesting material in what she said on Labour’s broad economic thinking. The full text is here. And here are some key points.

  • Reeves claimed that globalisation, in its old form, is dead. She said:

No democratic government can be content with a lack of decent work, falling wages and the dimming of people’s hope for a better life.

To do so is to betray the people we were elected to represent, and risks fanning the flames of populism, as our two countries know only too well.

That’s why it is time for us to admit that globalisation, as we once knew it, is dead.

We must care about where things are made and who owns them.

We must foster new partnerships, between the free market and an active state and between countries across the world who share values and interests.

This demands a new approach, one that I call ‘securonomics’.

  • She said the old economic model was failing Britain. She said:

Twenty years ago, the average Briton was wealthier than their European neighbour.

Today, the average French family is 10 percent richer than their British peers and in Germany, that figure rises to 19 percent.

The UK was both too open and too closed, she said.

It is a signal achievement of Britain’s recent government that it has managed to be both too open and too closed.

Too open, in letting Britain’s industrial strength hollow out.

Too closed, in the barriers to trade it has erected through its chaotic Brexit deal.

  • She said she wanted to follow the economic policies of the Biden administration. She said:

I am here in Washington today because, while the old ‘Washington Consensus’ might have been swept away, a new one is emerging.

At its heart is what Treasury Secretary Yellen has called “modern supply side” economics.

The Biden Administration is rebuilding America’s economic security, strength and resilience.

A more active state, pursuing a modern industrial strategy, is selecting the areas where America must guarantee its ability to produce what America needs whether that’s in digital technology through the Chips act, or in clean energy and industry through the Inflation Reduction Act.

Reeves also criticised Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, for rejecting the Biden administration’s approach to subsidies.

  • She said Labour would invest in critical industries. She said:

Through Labour’s green prosperity plan, an initiative we first announced 18 months ago, we will make public investments in the industries that are crucial to Britain’s future success.

A new national wealth fund will invest in British industries and provide a long-term return for the taxpayer.

GB Energy, a new public energy company, will invest in the clean energy sources of today and tomorrow.

  • She claimed two problems have blighted modern economic policymaking. She said:

The first of these is what I consider a fundamental under-appreciation of the role of government.

That error dictated that a government’s primary economic imperative should simply be to get out of the way of free enterprise …

The second error flowed from the first.

It was the assumption that the people and places that matter to a country’s economic success are few in number.

This misconceived view held that a few dynamic cities and a few successful industries are all a nation needs to thrive.

Rachel Reeves with the Peterson Institute of International Economics president Adam Posen as she delivered her speech to the thinktank in Washington today.
Rachel Reeves with the Peterson Institute of International Economics president Adam Posen as she delivered her speech to the thinktank in Washington today. Photograph: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

New polling by YouGov suggests 73% of Britons think it is very likely (49%) or fairly likely (24%) that Boris Johnson committed further breaches of Covid rules beyond those already investigated.

73% of Britons, including 58% of Tory voters, think it is likely that Boris Johnson committed further COVID breaches than those he has already been investigated and fined for

— YouGov (@YouGov) May 24, 2023

Postal ballot ID may lead some voters to ‘give up’, says Age UK

Newly announced government rules to require identity checks for postal and proxy voting in UK parliamentary elections are likely to make it harder for older people to take part in elections, a leading charity has warned. Peter Walker has the story.

Gove announces independent review of Teesworks joint venture at Teesside freeport, but not by NAO

Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, has announced that he is commissioning an independent review of the Teesworks joint venture at the Teesside freeport. He made the announcement in a letter to Ben Houchen, the Tory Tees Valley mayor, who asked for an inquiry because he wants to quash claims that public money has been wrongly spent on the project.

Gove said that the government had seen “no evidence of corruption, wrongdoing or illegality”. He went on:

I recognise, however, that the continued allegation of ‘corruption’ poses a very real risk to our shared ambitions to deliver jobs and economic growth in Teesside. In this context, I understand why you want to invite further, independent scrutiny.

Gove said he would not ask the National Audit Office to conduct an inquiry, because it was not the NAO’s job to audit local government bodies. Instead, he said, he would “appoint a panel, in line with established practice, to undertake an independent, external assurance review”.

Labour had called for the NAO to carry out an inquiry.

This is the announcement that Rishi Sunak referred to at PMQs. See 12.01pm.


Neil Coyle gets Labour whip restored following his suspension from Commons over abusive behaviour earlier this year

Neil Coyle will have the Labour whip restored following his suspension after using “abusive language with racial overtones” towards a journalist in a drunken confrontation in a Commons bar, PA Media reports. PA says:

The opposition chief whip told a meeting of the PLP parliamentary committee on Wednesday that Coyle had made efforts to address his problematic drinking since the incident.

Alan Campbell will continue to “closely monitor” his conduct for the foreseeable future, Labour sources said.

Coyle had the whip suspended in February last year and earlier this year, after an investigation by the Commons independent expert panel, he was suspended from the Commons for five days.


Labour gives details of its new policy for work visas, including scrapping 20% wage discount for shortage jobs

As promised, here are more details of the Labour new immigration policy that Keir Starmer referenced at PMQs today. (See 1.33pm.) The party sent it out in a news released headlined: “Labour to end wage discount in immigration system and boost UK workforce training.”

Labour proposes five changes to the current points-based system for immigration. It says it would:

1) Scrap the 20% wage discount on the salaries businesses are required to pay for jobs on the shortage list

2) Introduce new training plans and requirements for key occupations on the shortage occupation list - including Labour’s plan for more doctors and nurses and fair pay agreements for social care

3) Reform of apprenticeship levy to support upskilling and skilling in key shortage areas including IT and engineering

4) Limit access to the immigration system for employers who fail to provide fair pay for fair work, including stronger visa penalties for those found guilty of flouting labour and minimum wage laws

5) Reform the migration advisory committee to link it to the bodies setting out industrial and skills strategy - learning from the Australian approach to ensure that where skills shortages lead to a sector remaining on the shortage occupation list, that must be tackled with a plan to upskill workers in the UK.

This is what Labour says about how the 20% wage discount works for jobs on the shortage occupation list.

Under current arrangements, the general immigration route for work purposes is the skilled worker visa. Lasting for up to five years, an employer can recruit from abroad using this route providing (i) the salary offered is at least £26,200 and is at least the “going rate” for the occupation; (ii) the employer is licensed as a sponsor; (iii) the occupation is at the requisite skill level, RQF3+ (approximately A-Level or above); and (iv) the individual can speak English to the requisite standard.

NOTE: the “going rate” for the job is calculated by the ONS as being the 25th percentile for that occupation/skill/experience level so it is already at the lower end of the salary scale. In theory the “going rate” provision is designed to prevent undercutting, especially on pay and conditions.

For jobs on the shortage occupation list the minimum salary threshold falls to a floor of £21,600 and people can be paid up to 20% less than the going rate. Visa application fees are lower (alongside other exemptions).

Labour would work with business to develop a timetable for the implementation of these combined reforms to training and the points-based system, as part of Labour’s review into work-based migration led by Stephen Kinnock.

This is what Labour says about why the 20% wage discount is being abused.

Fresh analysis by the party reveals that some occupations such as nurses and civil engineers – have remained on the shortage occupation list for a shocking 15 years, without any concerted action to address the underlying causes, while work visas have gone up by 95% since before the pandemic.

Labour’s review of the points-based system has found that there is a built-in incentive for employers to recruit from overseas in shortage occupations where they can pay 20% less than the “going rate” rather than training and recruiting in the UK.

It means that for example civil engineers, who are currently paid on average £44,000 a year and where the official government “going rate” is £34,000 a year, can instead be recruited from abroad at just £28,000 a year – undermining the incentives for employers to recruit, train or improve pay and conditions at home.

And this is what the migration advisory committee (MAC) said about getting rid of the 20% discount in its annual report in 2021.

Decisions on which occupations to include on the SOL [shortage occupation list] are made by ministers following recommendations from the MAC. These occupations are then subject to different, more favourable, migration arrangements, enabling employers to access a wider pool of suitable workers, at a lower threshold of £20,480 or 80% of the going rate, whichever is higher. This lower threshold is the primary advantage of an occupation being listed on the SOL in the SW [skilled worker] route …

The MAC has never supported lowering the salary threshold below the ‘going rate’ for an occupation. If there is a shortage in the occupation, it seems perverse that paying lower wages will address the issue. Furthermore, the ‘going rate’ thresholds are in place to prevent undercutting of resident workers and being placed on the SOL should not enable employers to avoid this constraint. In practice, few employers are using this advantage, with only 15% of applications for these select SOL occupations in the first nine months of 2021 paying below the ‘going rate’. The evidence that few are taking advantage of this suggests it is not helpful for employers either, and we would therefore recommend that the government reconsider whether SOL occupations should be allowed to pay below the ‘going rate’ for the occupation.


Here is a question from BTL.

Sunak says young people are now the best readers in the Western world.

Factcheck please?

What Rishi Sunak actually said was:

In the past week, we have discovered that, thanks to the reforms of this Conservative government, our young people are now the best readers in the western world.

According to Schools Week, on at least one measure, this is true. In its report on the PIRLS international reading league tables, it says:

Literacy test and questionnaires were collected from 4,150 year 5 pupils across 162 schools in England.

The country achieved an average reading score of 558, one point below the score when the tests were last held in 2016.

Despite this, the country moved from joint eighth to four this year.

Only Russia, Hong Kong and Singapore had higher average scores.

England outperformed countries including Finland, Poland, Sweden, Bulgaria and Norway who previously either achieved similar or better scores.

Jennifer Williams, the Financial Times journalist who has written at length on concerns about how public money has been spent on the Teesside freeport project, says it is not clear what Rishi Sunak meant when he talked about an inquiry going ahead (see 12.01pm), because no such inquiry has yet been announced.

I don’t know whether we’re potentially in ‘misleading the house’ territory but it’s still unclear what investigation Rishi Sunak meant re Teesworks. Waiting to hear back from Gove’s dept. If it’s a mistake it’s an odd one, given the political significance of the project

— Jennifer Williams (@JenWilliams_FT) May 24, 2023


No 10 rejects claim Johnson victim of 'stitch-up' leading to fresh lockdown claims being reported to police

At its post-PMQs briefing No 10 also rejected claims that ministers or officials were involved in a politically-motivated “stitch-up” of Boris Johnson that has led to fresh evidence that he broke lockdown rules being reported to the police. (See 9.26am.) Asked about these claims, made by unnamed Tories briefing journalists, the PM’s spokesperson said they were wrong. He went on:

No 10 and ministers have no involvement in this process and were only made aware after the police had been contacted.

To be crystal clear, ministers were not involved in the decision at all to refer the information to the police.

The spokesperson also pointed out that the Cabinet Office issued a fresh statement about this story this morning. A Cabinet Office spokesperson said:

The Cabinet Office has not made any assessment or conducted any investigation of the material that has been passed to the police. Ministers played no role in deciding whether the information should be handed over to the police.

The police were first contacted on 16 May prior to any minister being made aware. The decision to contact the police and the subsequent decision to share the information was not made by ministers but by officials acting in line with the civil service code.


No 10 argues 'unambiguously irrelevant' material from Johnson should not have to be submitted to Covid inquiry

Downing Street has defended the Cabinet Office’s initial decision to refuse to supply the Covid inquiry with Boris Johnson’s unredacted WhatsApp communications and certain other documents.

At a post-PMQs briefing, the PM’s spokesperson said that the government had already provided more than 55,000 documents, 24 personal witness statements and eight corporate statements to the inquiry.

But the spokesperson said there was no duty to disclose “unambiguously irrelevant” material. He told reporters:

The principle in question here is around disclosure of materials which are clearly irrelevant to the work of the inquiry – for example WhatsApps which are personal in nature, of no relevance to the work of the inquiry, or relate to a wholly different area of policy.

It’s our position that the inquiry does not have the power to compel the government to disclose unambiguously irrelevant material, given the precedent that this would set and its potential adverse impact on policy formulation in the future.

Lady Hallett, the inquiry chair, has now issued a ruling saying she has rejected the Cabinet Office submission saying the material originally requested should not be disclosed. She says the material now has to be submitted by 4pm on 30 May.

The PM’s spokesperson said the government would “consider our next steps carefully” in response to this ruling.

Labour has criticised the way Rishi Sunak handled the claims that Suella Braverman broke the ministerial code. At a post-PMQs briefing, a Labour spokesperson said it would have been better if Sunak had let his ethics adviser investigate, instead of resolving the matter himself. The spokesperson explained:

We seem to have created this weird sort of hybrid situation where there’s a sort of conversation that doesn’t count as an investigation, which I think satisfies nobody in terms of the necessary transparency and openness.

The whole point of having an independent adviser is so that these matters can be looked at thoroughly and these facts can be put in the public domain in a way that isn’t subject to political spin.

Starmer attacks PM on immigration as Labour launches its own plan

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s story about PMQs.

And this is how it starts.

Keir Starmer has accused the government of having “lost control of immigration”, as Labour announced a plan to change the post-Brexit migration system to boost skills and wages.

In a prime minister’s questions a day before new annual net migration statistics are expected to show a record number of arrivals, Starmer said Rishi Sunak had broken the Conservatives’ manifesto promise to reduce immigration.

In an announcement made as Starmer spoke, Labour said it would scrap a rule under which overseas staff brought into the UK to fill vacancies on the shortage occupation list, including health, IT and engineering workers, could be paid up to 20% less than the equivalent domestic wage.

Johnson claims publication of Covid inquiry ruling unfairly implies he is holding back documents

Boris Johnson tried to get Lady Hallett, the chair of the Covid inquiry, to delay by 48 hours the announcement of her order to the Cabinet Office for his WhatsApp messages and diaries entries to be disclosed.

The inquiry has published a letter from Johnson to Hallett on its website, alongside a reply to Johnson from the inquiry.

In his letter Johnson complains that the process is unfair towards him. Confirming that he is getting new lawyers to represent him, he says:

You may be aware that I am currently instructing new solicitors to represent me in the inquiry. That process is well under way but is in the hands of the Cabinet Office to agree funding and other practical arrangements. I have no control over the timing of that process. As at today, I am unrepresented and my counsel team have been instructed not to provide me with any advice.

My understanding is that your ruling affects me directly. However, I have never seen the notice, I was not party to nor have seen the Cabinet Office’s representations under s21(4), and I am not allowed to see your ruling before it is published. This is highly prejudicial to me given that I believe your ruling may directly and/or indirectly suggest that I have failed to provide documents to the inquiry. Any such suggestion or implication would be unfair and untrue. The notice was issued before the deadline had passed for me to provide material to the inquiry. I have always sought to comply with all disclosure requests from the inquiry and I have already disclosed over 5,000 pages of documents and over 300 pages of emails.

The inquiry has also published on its website the original notice to the Cabinet Office telling it to release the WhatsApp messages and diary material, the reply from the Cabinet Office arguing some material should be excluded, and Hallett’s ruling saying she has rejected the government’s argument and that the material must be disclosed.


Covid inquiry threatened legal action over Boris Johnson WhatsApp messages

The official public inquiry into the government’s handling of Covid threatened the Cabinet Office with legal action over its refusal to share Boris Johnson’s WhatsApp messages and diaries from during the pandemic without heavy redactions, Pippa Crerar reports.

PMQs - snap verdict

Labour has just announced a new policy on immigration. At first glance, it seems reasonably robust, and, if people knew what it was, it might go some way to addressing the claim – widely believed, and set out again today by Rishi Sunak – that the party does not have any firm policy in this area. Keir Starmer tried to set it out at PMQs. But as a policy announcement, it was a flop, and in that respect today’s PMQs outing for Starmer was a serious lost opportunity.

Under current rules, employers who need to recruit foreign workers, because they cannot find UK staff, can pay them 20% below what is considered the “going rate” for the job if they are on the shortage occupation list. In a speech to the CBI last year Starmer said that he wanted to stop businesses being dependent on foreign labour, and get them to hire British workers instead by improving training and pay. Today he has translated that into firm policy. The 20% wage discount would no longer be allowed, the party says.

It is not an outlandish idea (although employers won’t be happy). The migration advisory committee proposed this in a report in 2021.

Starmer sort of announced this at PMQs. But he did not get round to it until his third question, in the cut and thrust of the exchanges it was hard to evaluate the significance of what he was saying, and given that the worker visa law is relatively complicated, it is not an easy policy to explain in the context of PMQs. The fact that a Tory MP got thrown out for some type of hooligan behaviour did not help either. Starmer said:

The reason they are issuing so many visas is labour and skill shortages. And the reason there are shortages is the low-wage Tory economy. Under his government’s rules, businesses in IT, engineering, healthcare, architecture, welding can pay foreign workers 20% less than British workers for years and years on end. Does he think his policy is encouraging businesses to train people here or hire from abroad?

In his next question, Starmer also suggested that the apprenticeship levy was not working. (Another part of the policy announcement is that Labour would reform this.) Starmer said:

They have lost control of the economy, they have lost control of public services and now they have lost control of immigration. And if he was serious about weaning his government off the immigration lever, he would get serious about wages in Britain and get serious about skills and training.

I will post more on the announcement shortly.

The consequence of Starmer’s failure to properly land what he was announcing was that he let Sunak off the hook. Starmer had quite a good retort when Sunak said Labour favoured an open door policy, and he did make the point that legal migration numbers are going up because the government has allowed labour shortages to continue. But Sunak neutralised these attacks quite easily. He was not particularly comfortable on this territory, and very eager to move on to talking about the IMF and international reading league tables, but any non-partisan observer listening would not have concluded that Starmer won the argument.

How could he have managed it better? First, if you are announcing marginally complicated policy, you need to roll the pitch first, so people know what’s coming. Second, if you want to land an important point, you need to repeat it; Starmer could have told Sunak that Labour would stop employers paying this 20% discount to foreign workers and challenged him, six times, to say whether or not he would do the same. And, third, he could inject some urgency into it all; publish a draft bill, wave it about at the dispatch box, and then tell Sunak that, instead of letting MPs disappear for a half-term recess tomorrow, he should make them stay in the Commons to legislate.

People think Labour does not have many policies, or a clear vision for Britain. In fact, the party has a stack of policy ideas. But few, if any, have lodged in the public’s consciousness. Better salesmanship would address that.


Boris Johnson is cutting his links with the government lawyers who have been representing him in dealings in relation with the Covid inquiry, Steven Swinford from the Times reports.


Boris Johnson is severing ties with the government-appointed lawyers representing him at the Covid inquiry after he was referred to police

He has lost 'confidence' in the Cabinet Office

He's going to appoint his own legal team who will be funded by the taxpayer

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) May 24, 2023

Labour tweeted this after Keir Starmer attacked Rishi Sunak over immigration policy at PMQs.

🚨 Labour will reform the points based immigration system.
➡️ We'll stop firms that don’t pay workers fairly from recruiting abroad
➡️ Scrap the 20% undercutting discount on salaries for jobs on the shortage occupation list
➡️ Reform the apprenticeship levy

— Labour Press (@labourpress) May 24, 2023


At PMQs Rishi Sunak said there was going to be an inquiry into claims public money was wrongly spent in the Teesworks project at the Teesside freeport development. (See 12.01pm.) Darren Jones, the Labour chair of the Commons business committee, which has been calling for this, says this is news to him.

I’m told the Prime Minister informed the House during #PMQs that Michael Gove has now requested the NAO audit of Teesside Freeport that I and my Committee requested.

That’s welcome news, although I haven’t yet been notified of that decision.

— Darren Jones MP (@darrenpjones) May 24, 2023


Karl Turner (Lab) asks why the government is spending £250,000 on legal advice for Boris Johnson to address claims he lied to parliament.

Sunak says it has been the practice for many years that ministers should get help with legal costs in relation to matters related to what happened when they were in office.

PMQs has now finished.

David Jones (Con) asks about the Betsi Cadwaladr health board in north Wales.

Sunak says he is concerned about what has happened at this hospital in Labour-run Wales.


Andrew Bridgen (Reclaim) asks if the PM agrees that schools should not encourage children to transition.

Sunak says he has been very clear that schools should be sensitive in how they teach these matters. The DfE is reviewing the guidance on this, he says. He says there have been cases of unacceptable responses.


Peter Gibson (Con) asks about an 80-year-old constituent doing a wing-walk this Saturday to raise money for a hospice.

Sunak wishes her well, and wonders whether Gibson will be joining her.


Kim Johnson (Lab) asks why the government does not support free school meals for all children.

Sunak claims poverty has gone down since 2010. The best support for children is to ensure they don’t grow up in a workless household, he says.

Tom Hunt (Con) says there was film yesterday of the police doing nothing when eco-protesters were blocking roads in London. Does the PM agree that, if they do that, they should immediately be turfed off the road?

Sunak says the government has given the police the power to deal with slow-moving demonstrations. Labour voted against, he says.

Steve Brine (Con) asks about a constituent who died as a result of a food allergy, after being given a chicken burger that had been marinated in buttermilk, even though he had asked about this.

Sunak says he will ensure the constituent’s family get a meeting with a minister to discuss how the law on this could be tightened.

Wendy Chamberlain (Lib Dem) says she worked for the police before becoming an MP. Training is important for compliance. Given that is a problem for ministers, will the PM support her ministerial training bill?

Sunak says there are processes in place for training in government. But he says the government has backed lifelong training.

Stella Creasy (Lab) says Sunak backed Brexit because it would stop unelected officials in Brussels deciding UK laws. But the retained EU law bill will let unelected officials in No 10 decide British laws (because of Henry VIII powers in the bill).

Sunak does not accept that. He says the government will take the decisions.

Brendan Clarke-Smith (Con) asks about government investment in Bassetlaw.

Sunak says levelling up partnerships are working.

Vicky Foxcroft (Lab) says Windrush victims are still waiting for compensation. Will Sunak commit to ensuring they get the compensation they deserve?

Sunak says more than £70m has been paid out or offered already. And the government is committed to implementing most of the recommendations from the Wendy Williams report.


Anthony Browne (Con) says unions want to spread the four-day working week in the public sector, even though it pushes up costs and does not improve services.

Sunak says it is disappointing that Browne’s Lib Dem-led South Cambridgeshire council is doing this.


Sarah Olney (Lib Dem) says a solar energy company says the UK is the least attractive country to base itself in, because of the lack of industrial strategy. Every week, more and more businesses are leaving the UK, she says.

Sunak says Olney obviously missed the comments from the IMF yesterday, and his trip to Japan, where investments worth £18bn were announced.

Sunak says the government remains committed to new facilities at Torbay hospital.

Sunak says hopefully energy bills will be coming down “very soon”.

Matt Warman (Con) asks if the PM agrees the government needs to map the regions most affected by artifical intelligence, so it can prepare for job changes.

Sunak says AI has great potential, but needs to be introduced carefully.

Colum Eastwood (SDLP) asks for better pay for public sector workers. And does the PM agree the DUP should get back to work?

Sunak says he wants to see power sharing restored in Northern Ireland. And he says health has been prioritised in the NI budget.

Andrew Selous (Con) asks when the government will make prompt access to primary care a reality.

Sunak says giving more power to pharmacies will be part of the primary care plan.

Stephen Flynn, the SNP leader at Westminster, asks about price rises. Is this a cost of greed crisis?

Sunak says food inflation is too high. The government is providing signficiant support with the cost of living, he says.

Flynn says food inflation is close to a 45-year high. The Treasury says it might act, but after a CMA review. When will that be over?

Sunak says it is for the CMA to conclude its review. He says if the SNP were to reconsider its deposit return scheme, that would reduce prices for consumers.

Starmer says Sunak needs, not a speed awareness course, but a reality check. Labour is the party of working people, he says.

Sunak says we just hear “empty rhetoric'” from Labour. The government has acted on strike, on protests and on stopping the boats. Labour voted against all of them, he says.

Starmer says Suella Braverman wants Britons to become fruit pickers. Does the PM support this? Or does he want Braverman to have her own career change?

Sunak says the IMF has backed the government’s approach. The reading results are the best in the western world, and ambulance waiting times are coming down.

Starmer says if the government was serious about this, it would ensure wages are higher in the UK. He says the apprenticeship levy is not working.

Sunak says young people are now the best readers in the western world. And he says he is surprised that Starmer is not quoting the IMF today.


The speaker has ordered the Tory MP Paul Bristow to leave for heckling too loudly.

Keir Starmer accuses Rishi Sunak of losing control of immigration before new figures released

Starmer says tomorrow the figures will be out, and people will see what an open doors policy looks like. There are shortages because so many businesses can pay foreigner workers 20% less than British workers.

Sunak says Labour wants more people to come to the UK. Those are the words of a Labour frontbencher who said having a target was not sensible, and that numbers might have to go up. Starmer wants free movement back, he says.


Starmer says the figures are out; it is 250,000. Sunak just does not want to say it, he says. He says Sunak stood on three manifestos promising lower migration. Why does the home secretary have such a problem with points-based systems?

Sunak says the government has come up with the biggest initiative this week to reduce migration. Labour has no plans, he says. That is because it believes in an open doors migration policy.


Keir Starmer asks how many work visas were issued to foreign workers last year.

Sunak says new figures are out later this year.

Richard Graham (Con) says Labour does not have a magic wand to solve NHS waiting lists. He cites the Labour experience in Wales.

Sunak says there is more to be done. The government has a plan, he says.

Sunak says investigation is going ahead into how public money spent in Teesside freeport

Sharon Hodgson (Lab) asks if Sunak agrees with Ben Houchen, the Tees Valley mayor, that the NAO should investigate the Teesworks project in the Teesside freeport.

Sunak says the levelling up secretary, Michael Gove, has already announced an investigation. But it is the same old stuff from Labour, he says. The Tories are delivering for Teesside, he claims.


Rishi Sunak starts with the usual spiel about having ministerial meetings today.

Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs

PMQs is starting soon.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.

PMQs Photograph: HoC
Rishi Sunak leaving No 10 ahead of PMQs.
Rishi Sunak leaving No 10 ahead of PMQs. Photograph: Kin Cheung/AP

Rachel Reeves sets out Labour's economic policy as 'securonomics' - active state forging economic security

In a speech in Washington later Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, is going to set out Labour’s economic vision for Britain. At the risk of being indicted for crimes against the English language, she is calling it “securonomics”.

According to an extract sent out in advance, she will explain it like this.

It begins by accepting that the world has changed and Britain must change with it.

In our age of insecurity, we have discovered the weaknesses of our old economic model: too unambitious about the role an active state can play, too willing to believe that wealth will trickle down, and too reliant on the contribution of a few places, a few industries and a few people.

Investing in the industries and technologies that will determine our future economic success, and building financial security in each and every household in Britain with good jobs, decent pay and fair working conditions to ensure that working people can contribute to our national success, and that financial security underpins our economic strength.

From the ashes of the old model, securonomics emerges: building the industries that guarantee Britain’s economic security, forging resilience at home, while creating new partnerships abroad and bringing together an active state in partnership with a vibrant market.

Reeves has set out more details in a pamphlet published this morning called A New Business Model for Britain.

The word “securonomics” is in the press release for the pamphlet, but not in the document itself. That may be a sign that it was dreamed up at the last minute.


David Cameron, the former Conservative prime minister, has urged ministers to use welfare reforms and training programmes to reduce the need for foreign labour, ahead of the release of figures yesterday expected to show record levels of net migration.

In an interview with LBC, Cameron said:

I think the way to think about immigration is to recognise it’s a three-sided problem.

There’s what immigration controls you can put in place.

There’s what welfare reforms you have, to try and make sure that people who can work, do work.

Then there’s what training and apprenticeship and other schemes you have, to make sure that we are training people for the jobs that our country is delivering.

In what seemed like a reference to the government’s illegal migration bill, Cameron said that “having firm policies for returning people who have no right to be here does matter”. But he went on:

But if you’re not reforming welfare so we’re getting working-age people who are on out-of-work benefits back into work, and if you’re not training people for the jobs we’re making available, then you’ll never solve the problem.

Cameron promised before the 2010 election that the Tories would get annual net immigration below 100,000. He never came close to achieving this, and concerns about immigration and free movement were one of the main reasons he lost the Brexit referendum in 2016, prompting his resignation.

Asked about the proposal to send asylum seekers to Rwanda, Cameron did not fully endorse it, but would not criticise it either. He said:

I think if you don’t have a better answer to the things that the government is doing to try and stop this illegal trade, then I think there’s no point criticising.

Labour could gain 23 seats from SNP at next election, poll suggests

New projections from YouGov this morning predict Labour could gain 23 seats from the SNP at the next general election, coming after recent polling suggesting a sea change in Scottish politics after Nicola Sturgeon’s resignation in February.

Latest opinion polls have shown a marked fall in support for the SNP after the party’s tumultuous leadership election campaign, and the police investigation into the party’s finances.

Now YouGov predicts the worst result for the SNP and best for Labour since 2010, and also suggests that the seat currently held by Scottish Conservative leader, Douglas Ross, could fall to the SNP.

New YouGov MRP of Westminster voting intention in Scotland shows that Labour could take 23 seats off the SNP

SNP: 27 seats (-21 from GE2019)
Labour: 24 (+23)
Conservatives: 4 (-2)
Lib Dems: 4 (=)

— YouGov (@YouGov) May 24, 2023

To make these seat projections YouGov used a statistical technique called MRP – but adds a heavy caveat that Scotland has one of the highest concentrations of marginal seats in the UK, with 22 of the 59 seats in this model having winning margins of less than 5%.

The modelling suggests Labour would regain seats in former strongholds around the central belt, including the city of Glasgow, and also predicts that Labour would win the seat of Rutherglen and Hamilton West, currently held by former SNP MP Margaret Ferrier and where a highly anticipated byelection is expected in the coming months.

While all this means a headache for current first minister and SNP leader, Humza Yousaf, his predecessor Nicola Sturgeon is sounding pretty relaxed this morning in her new fortnightly column for the Glasgow Times.

In it she describes her new love of hill-walking and the “new perspective and different focus that comes with no longer being first minister”. She only makes a glancing reference to the “unexpected and unwelcome” developments around the ongoing police investigation, which she says she is currently not able to expand on.


Thera will be will be an urgent question in the Commons after PMQs about the new visas rules for foreign students announced yesterday. Carol Monaghan, the SNP MP who tabled the UQ, wants Suella Braverman, the home secretary, to respond, but the Home Office could put up another minister.

The Liberal Democrats have accused Rishi Sunak of a “cowardly cop-out” in relation to Suella Braverman. In a statement on his decision that she did not breach the ministerial code, Wendy Chamberlain, the Lib Dem chief whip, said:

This is a cowardly cop-out from Rishi Sunak. With every scandal, we see the prime minister dither, delay and flip-flop - never taking decisive action. This is not the leadership the country needs during such a severe cost-of-living crisis. Sunak is too weak to even order an investigation, let alone sack his home secretary.


Braverman fails to explain in letter why her aide falsely told journalist she had not been caught speeding

Although Suella Braverman’s letter to Rishi Sunak is quite lengthy, it does not address the claim that her special adviser lied to a Daily Mirror journalist when he denied that she had been caught speeding. This seems to have been a breach of the code of conduct for special advisers, which says they must not “deceive or knowingly mislead ministers, parliament or others”.

In the Commons on Monday Braverman refused to say whether she authorised her adviser to respond as he did to the question from the Daily Mirror.

This issue is likely to come up again at PMQs.

In her letter Suella Braverman also explains why she did not declare her fixed-penalty notice as something that might create a conflict of interest. Her letter implies that either Rishi Sunak, or Sir Laurie Magnus, the independent adviser on ministers’ interests, thought this was a possible issue.

Braverman says she did not think this would count as an interest. But she recognises that new guidance was issued in November 2022, and she says in future she would declare a fine, or a speeding awareness course.


Braverman explains what she said to officials about trying to arrange private speed awareness course, and why

And this is what Suella Braverman says in her letter about what she said to her officials about trying to arrange a private speed awareness course, and why.

Around June 2022, while Attorney General, I was found to be speeding. I received notification that I could take a group speed awareness course or receive a fine and three points on my licence, which was clean at the time. I opted to take the course and booked a date in Autumn.

After arriving at the Home Office in September as Home Secretary, I informed officials in my Home Office Private Office (PO) about the course and asked whether it was appropriate given my new role …

In discussions with my Principal Private Secretary (PPS) I was advised that the Cabinet Office’s Propriety and Ethics Team (PET) would be the best source of advice on whether it was appropriate to seek to do the course in a way that protected my privacy, security, and was least disruptive to the course participants and provider. I readily agreed to this suggestion. Consequently, on 28 September 2022 my PPS discussed this with the Permanent Secretary’s Office. The Permanent Secretary’s Office, at the request of the Permanent Secretary, then asked PET for guidance (noting that their own initial view was that this was not a matter for civil servant involvement) and asked if they were aware of any precedents and for any advice. PET advised it was not an appropriate matter for civil servants to take forward. My PPS also rightly pointed out that I needed to be mindful to ensure that I did not ask a company to change their rules due to my position, which neither I, nor to the best of my knowledge anyone acting on my behalf, ever sought to do. My PPS confirmed that I could continue discussing the matter with Special Advisers, and asked them to pick up with me. I made no further requests of officials.

I therefore later engaged with Special Advisers about how we would enable my participation in a way that would maintain my security and privacy. This was to determine whether there were other options possible within the overall framework and rules of the provider.

My preference at this point, following consultation with my Special Advisers, was to attend a group course in person rather than online due to privacy concerns. Participation in a speed awareness course is supposed to be private, and Special Advisers raised concerns about the risk of me being covertly recorded while participating online, and the political ramifications of this. PO and the Permanent Secretary’s officials also had previously advised that participating online risked generating media interest.

However, Special Advisers raised concerns about the difficulties of ensuring the appropriate security arrangements for an in-person course. Their concerns included that my protective Security team might need to join me in the room or be unable to undertake appropriate vetting of other course participants owing to third party privacy concerns.

Special Advisers then contacted the course provider to better understand the range of appropriate options that might be available - and consistent with the course provider’s rules, policies and practices. Based on this further information, I concluded that none of these could satisfactorily address the aforementioned security, privacy and political concerns. I therefore opted to take the points and pay the fine, which I did in November.

'I apologise for distraction this has caused,' says Braverman in letter to PM

And here is Suella Braverman’s apology, from her letter to Rishi Sunak. She says:

I am deeply committed to all the Nolan principles of public life, including honesty, integrity and openness, and I regret that these events have led some to question my commitment. I have at all times been truthful and transparent, and taken decisions guided by what I believed was right and appropriate given my office, not by any personal motivation. Another principle, of course, is leadership: ministers must hold themselves – and be seen to hold themselves – to the highest standards. I have always strived, and will continue to strive, to do this.

As I say, in hindsight, or if faced with a similar situation again, I would have chosen a different course of action. I sought to explore whether bespoke arrangements were possible, given my personal circumstances as a security-protected minister. I recognise how some people have construed this as me seeking to avoid sanction – at no point was that the intention or outcome. Nonetheless, given the fundamental importance of integrity in public life, I deeply regret that my actions may have given rise to that perception, and I apologise for the distraction this has caused.


Full text of Rishi Sunak's letter to Suella Braverman

Here is full text of the letter from Rishi Sunak to Suella Braverman.

Thank you for your letter and for your time discussing these matters with me.

Integrity, professionalism and accountability are core values of this government and it is right and proper that where issues are raised these are looked at professionally to ensure the appropriate course of action is taken.

I have consulted with my independent adviser. He has advised that on this occasion further investigation is not necessary and I have accepted that advice. On the basis of your letter and our discussion, my decision is that these matters do not amount to a breach of the ministerial code.

As you have recognised, a better course of action could have been taken to avoid giving rise to the perception of impropriety.

Nevertheless, I am reassured you take these matters seriously. You have provided a thorough account, apologised and expressed regret.

It is vital that all those in government maintain the high standards the public rightly expects. I know you share this view, just as we are committed to delivering on the issues that matter to the British people - from making our streets safer and reducing net migration to stopping the boats.


The lettter from Rishi Sunak to Suella Braverman, and from Braverman to Sunak, are on the No 10 website.

Sunak clears Braverman of breaching ministerial code, but says she has apologised over how it could have been 'better' handled

Rishi Sunak has decided that Suella Braverman did not breach the ministerial code, No 10 has revealed. It has issued an open letter from Sunak to Braverman in which he says he has decided that there was no breach of the ministerial code when she consulted civil servants about having a private speed awareness course and that no formal inquiry by the ethics adviser is necessary.

But Sunak says that Braverman has accepted she could have handled the situation in a better way, and that she has apologised.


UK inflation falls to 8.7% but food price rises remain close to 45-year high

Britain has recorded the sharpest fall in inflation since the cost of living crisis began, with a drop in the annual rate to 8.7% in April, but food prices continued to rise at the fastest pace in 45 years, Richard Partington reports.

Chalk defends Sunak's decision to take his time in deciding whether or not to order inquiry into Braverman

In his interviews this morning Alex Chalk also defended Rishi Sunak’s decision to take his time about deciding whether or not to ask his ethics adviser to conduct an inquiry into claims Suella Braverman broke the ministerial code by asking her officials to organise a private speed awareness course for her.

The story first broke on Saturday night. Sunak has still not announced whether or not he thinks this merits an inquiry, and he has been gathering extra information himself. It is very likely that a decision will be announced at, or before, PMQs.

Defending Sunak’s handling of the matter, Chalk told LBC:

These things have to be taken in stages. The prime minister is absolutely on this. He’s considering it fairly. And let’s see where that goes.

Chalk ended with a quote from Charles Dickens’ novel Great Expectations: “Take nothing on looks, take everything on evidence. There’s no better rule.”


Lord Hayward, a Conservative peer, told Sky News this morning that he did not believe Boris Johnson’s claim that he is the victim of a stitch-up. (See 9.26am.) “I think it’s unlikely to be ‘a stitch-up’, it’s just a series of events, which have to be looked at,” he said.


According to Cat Neilan from Tortoise, some Tories are talking about the possibility of a leadership challenge against Rishi Sunak.

The Chequers party story has really kicked up some dirt and MPs are seriously discussing letters of no confidence against the PM...

"54 letters not hard between now and November - Suella, Truss, Boris, Penny all have reasons to be awkward," says one former minister

— Cat Neilan (@CatNeilan) May 24, 2023

Less than two weeks ago Jacob Rees-Mogg told the CDO conference it would be "absurd" to try to oust Rishi Sunak and change PM yet again...

— Cat Neilan (@CatNeilan) May 24, 2023

Justice secretary Alex Chalk does not endorse claim Johnson victim of witch-hunt by civil service 'blob'

In an interview with ITV’s Good Morning Britain, Alex Chalk, the justice secretary, was asked about claims that Boris Johnson was the victim of a witch-hunt by some “malignant civil service blob”. (See 9.26am.) He did not endorse the claim, replying:

I expect very high standards from my civil servants. I expect them to act with integrity, with industry and professionalism.

I have detected them to be professional and hard-working.

There are occasions when I completely disagree with my civil servants. What matters is how they respond to me. Do they recognise that my ministerial steer is the one that they have to take? My experience is, they have responded professionally on that.

'There is either a problem with people in your govt who simply cannot stick to the law or the rules or the codes which govern other people or there is a civil service which is out to get members of your govt'@susannareid100 asks Justice Secretary Alex Chalk KC MP which one he…

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) May 24, 2023


Ministers not involved in referring Boris Johnson to police over fresh lockdown breach allegations, justice secretary says

Good morning. Partygate is back in the news and, even though Rishi Sunak has tried hard to disassociate himself from Boris Johnson, the latest revelations (summarised here) still create a severe problem for the current prime minister, for two reasons.

First, and most obviously, whenever Partygate is in the news, it reminds voters why they turned against this government. Some 80% of people think the country needs a fresh team of leaders. Sunak would like people to think a fresh team is in charge, but this is just a reminder that Johnson has not gone away, and his supporters are on the government benches.

Second, in a bizarre development, some Tories seem to have decided that the person to blame for all of this is not Johnson himself, but Sunak. Johnson himself helped to get this theory off the ground when he released a statement suggesting that he was a victim. A spokesperson for him said:

For whatever political purpose, it is plain that a last-ditch attempt is being made to lengthen the privileges committee investigation as it was coming to a conclusion and to undermine Mr Johnson.

This has fuelled claims that he is the victim of a stitch-up, which are being reported sympathetically in the Tory papers this morning.

Wednesday’s Express: “It’s a stitch up! Boris faces new police probe into rule-breaking” #BBCPapers #TomorrowsPapersToday

— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 23, 2023

Wednesday’s Mail: "Boris threatens to sue Cabinet Office for Covid ‘stitch-up’" #BBCPapers #TomorrowsPapersToday

— BBC News (UK) (@BBCNews) May 23, 2023

In the past rightwing, Brexiter Tories have argued that Partygate, and stories like the speed awareness course revelation about Suella Braverman, are evidence that some shadowy, remainer, establishment “blob” is waging a vendetta against Johnson. But now, according to some of the journalists who follow the Conservative party most closely, some Tories have decided that Sunak is to blame for allowing these to happen.

These are from the Telegraph’s Christopher Hope last night.

Senior Tory source tells me: “There is now an open witch hunt against right wingers in the Conservative Party.
“The leadership of the party must shut this down immediately.
“Active conversations are underway among MPs about how to respond to this and nothing is off the table.”

— Christopher Hope📝 (@christopherhope) May 23, 2023

One former Tory Cabinet minister texts me tonight: "I didn't really believe in the 'blob' till now.
"But the events of the last few days - the repeated briefing against Suella and now tonight's action against Boris - are beginning to make me think again. 1/2

— Christopher Hope📝 (@christopherhope) May 23, 2023

Former Cabinet minister [continued]: "If the PM's team is somehow encouraging all this they need to back off fast, and if they are not they need to take some some tough action for once against civil servants who are leaking against ministers." 2/2

— Christopher Hope📝 (@christopherhope) May 23, 2023

And these are from the Times Steven Swinford this morning.


Boris Johnson allies up the ante and warn they will obstruct Rishi Sunak’s government unless he intervened to stop what they see as a ‘witch hunt’

They say it’s the ‘final straw’ for Johnson and warn that MPs and members supportive of former PM will begin organising

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) May 24, 2023

Boris ally:

‘Boris has been supporting govt but this act is final straw

‘There are a growing number of MPs who want party leadership to act to stop these witch hunts and a group of MPs will meet today to consider options. Meanwhile members across country are being organised’

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) May 24, 2023

Boris Johnson’s allies claim that the decision to refer him to the police was signed off by senior ministers

They said the ministers had direct knowledge of what was happening

This is denied by cabinet office and Govt, which say there was no ministerial involvement at all

— Steven Swinford (@Steven_Swinford) May 24, 2023

Whoever is making these claims has ventured deep into unhinged, conspiracy theory territory (Sunak has no possible motive for wanting to smear Johnson – his political credibility has shrunk over the last six months, and almost no one seriously thinks he is a credible leadership challenger any more). But the very fact that people in the governing party are saying these things is extraordinary.

This morning Alex Chalk, the newish justice secretary, has been doing a media round, and he tried to shoot down at least one of the theories being aired by Johnson’s supporters – that ministers were involved in a decision to pass the new information suggesting Johnson broke lockdown laws at Chequers to the police. This is what Chalk told LBC about what happened:

There is a Covid inquiry taking place. In the course of that documentation has to be scrubbed or reviewed by lawyers to ensure it can be disclosed in the normal way. Material came to light which was passed to the civil service.

The civil service considered that in accordance with their code, and with no ministerial intervention, I want to make that absolutely clear, that was then passed to the police. From the civil service’s point of view, if they sat on it and suppressed it, people would have criticised them. If they passed it on, that will raise questions as well. Ultimately, whether it was the right judgment to do it turns on what’s in those documents.

And I’ve not seen those documents. So it’s very difficult to make a judgement so I’m afraid this has just got to take its course in the normal way.

I will post more from his interviews shortly.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.45am: Jeremy Hunt, the chancellor, speaks at the WSJ CEO summit in London.

Noon: Rishi Sunak faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

Noon: Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions from Holyrood committee convenors.

After 12.30pm: MPs debate Lords amendments to the retained EU law (revocation and reform) bill.

2pm (UK time): Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, gives a speech in Washington.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a PC or a laptop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line, privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate), or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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