PM says people understand why taxes cannot be cut as they're not 'idiots'

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is pictured during a Q&A session in Morecambe, Lancashire today - Owen Humphreys/PA
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, is pictured during a Q&A session in Morecambe, Lancashire today - Owen Humphreys/PA

Rishi Sunak said people understand why he cannot cut taxes at the moment because they are not "idiots".

The Prime Minister said he "wished" he could cut taxes "tomorrow" but the current state of the public finances meant he is unable to.

There were reports earlier this week that Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is planning a "slimmed down" Budget in March with no immediate tax cuts.

Asked about the reports during a Q&A session in Morecambe today, Mr Sunak said that when he was chancellor he "preferred it when the prime minister didn't comment about tax policy".

But he said: "I am a Conservative. I want to cut your taxes, of course I do, because you all work incredibly hard and I want you to keep more of your money so you can spend it on the stuff that you want to.

"That is what I want to deliver. I wish I could do that tomorrow, quite frankly, but the reason we can't is because of all the reasons you know. You are not idiots, you know what has happened. We had a massive pandemic for two years... then we have got this war going on which is having an enormous impact on inflation and interest rates."

You can follow the latest updates below. 

04:03 PM

That is all for today...

Thank you for joining me for today's politics live blog.

I will be back early tomorrow morning.

04:02 PM

Rishi Sunak admits 'brief error of judgment' over Instagram video

Rishi Sunak has apologised for making a "brief error of judgment" by removing his seatbelt to film a social media video message while a passenger in the back seat of a car.

A Downing Street spokesman said: "That was a brief error of judgment. The Prime Minister removed his seatbelt to film a short clip."

Mr Sunak "fully accepts this was a mistake and apologises", the spokesman added.

"The Prime Minister believes everyone should wear a seatbelt," the spokesman said.

"It was an error of judgment, he removed it for a short period of time to film a clip, which you’ve seen, but he accepts that was a mistake."

03:31 PM

'This is a step in the right direction'

The Department for Transport has described the new pay offer made to rail workers as "fair and reasonable" (see the post below at 15.13).

A spokesman said: "These strikes have gone on for far too long and this is a step in the right direction. This fair and reasonable offer guarantees employees a pay rise in line with the private sector and no compulsory redundancies, while delivering the reforms needed to address the long-term challenges facing the industry.

"We encourage the RMT to put this new offer to its members and bring this dispute to an end."

03:27 PM

RMT 'considering' latest pay offer

RMT general secretary Mick Lynch has issued a statement in response to the Rail Delivery Group's "best and final offer" for rail workers (see the post below at 15.13).

He said: "The National Executive Committee will be considering this matter and has made no decision on the proposals nor any of the elements within them.

"We will give an update on our next steps in due course."

03:13 PM

Train companies make 'best and final offer' on pay to RMT

Train operating companies have made a "best and final offer" to the RMT union, including a pay rise of nine per cent over two years, the Rail Delivery Group has announced.

Steve Montgomery, chair of the Rail Delivery Group, said: "This is a fair offer that gives RMT members a significant uplift over the next two years - weighted particularly for those on lower incomes who we know are most feeling the squeeze – while allowing the railway to innovate and adapt to new travel patterns. It also means we can offer our people more varied, rewarding careers.

"With taxpayers still funding up to an extra £175 million a month to make up the shortfall in revenue post-covid, we urge the RMT to put this offer to its members so we can bring an end to this damaging dispute for our people, our passengers and the long-term future of Britain’s railways."

03:05 PM

Tory mayor Andy Street criticises Government's levelling up approach

Andy Street, the Conservative Mayor of the West Midlands, has criticised the Government's levelling up approach, describing it as "another example as to why Whitehall's bidding and begging bowl culture is broken".

In a statement posted on Twitter, Mr Street said: "Fundamentally this episode is just another example as to why Whitehall's bidding and begging bowl culture is broken, and the sooner we can decentralise and move to proper fiscal devolution the better.

"The centralised system of London civil servants making local decisions is flawed, and I cannot understand why the levelling up funding money was not devolved for local decision makers to decide on what's best for their areas."

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02:59 PM

Rishi Sunak criticised over Instagram video

Rishi Sunak has been criticised after he appeared not to wear a seatbelt while in a moving car today as he travelled across the country to promote the Government's latest round of levelling up funding.

The Prime Minister was speaking in a video posted to his Instagram story and viewers noticed he had not belted up before starting his journey.

You can read the full story here.

02:54 PM

Ben Wallace urges Nato allies to step up support for Ukraine

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, has been speaking during a visit to Estonia this afternoon.

He said Nato allies should now be prepared to step up support to Ukraine to enable it finally to drive out Russian forces from its territory.

"In 2023, it is time to turn the momentum that the Ukrainians have achieved in pushing back Russia into gains and making sure Russia understands that the purpose now is to push them back out of Ukraine and to restore Ukraine’s sovereignty, which is their right under international law," he said.

Mr Wallace was meeting defence ministers from eastern Europe ahead of a further meeting donor nations tomorrow hosted by the United States in Ramstein, Germany.

Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, speaks to the media during a visit to the Tapa Army Base in Estonia - Ints Kalnins/Reuters
Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, speaks to the media during a visit to the Tapa Army Base in Estonia - Ints Kalnins/Reuters

02:45 PM

Labour leader: 'For 13 years the Achilles heel has been failure to grow the economy'

Sir Keir Starmer blamed the UK’s economic "drift" on the lack of a strategic plan for growth as he argued growth has stalled for 13 years.

Asked whether the UK would be in the same economic hole now if Brexit had not happened, the Labour leader told a World Economic Forum event: "I think that if you look at the United Kingdom, for 13 years the Achilles heel has been failure to grow the economy, and so this predated Brexit.

"Brexit made that even harder and that’s why we’ve been making the case for a closer economic relationship with the EU. But it’s not just the EU, we’ve not had a strategic plan in the United Kingdom for 10 years. And if you don’t have a strategic plan, it’s very hard to attract investment."

01:41 PM

Sir Keir Starmer criticises Rishi Sunak for failing to attend World Economic Forum

Sir Keir Starmer has criticised Rishi Sunak for not attending the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland.

Sir Keir and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, are both attending, with Grant Shapps, the Business Secretary, representing the Government.

Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured during a panel event at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today - Markus Schreiber/AP
Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader, is pictured during a panel event at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland today - Markus Schreiber/AP

The Labour leader was asked during a panel event this afternoon if he thought Mr Sunak should have attended and he said: "Yes, I think our Prime Minister should have showed up at Davos."

Sir Keir bemoaned the "absence of the United Kingdom" from the event. He said his decision to attend should be viewed as a "statement of intent" that the country would play a bigger role on the global stage if there is a Labour government.

01:17 PM

Rishi Sunak defends use of RAF plane

The Prime Minister was challenged over his decision to use an RAF plane for his visit to the North of England today.

Rishi Sunak defended travelling by plane instead of train as he told the audience he is "working on all of your behalf" and "trust me, I am working as hard as I can to deliver for you and I travel to make myself as effective as possible on all of your behalf".

01:12 PM

Rishi Sunak: 'I wish I could cut your taxes tomorrow'

Rishi Sunak said he wished he could cut people's tax bills tomorrow but that at the moment he is not in a position to be able to do so.

Asked about reports this week that the Budget in March will be "slimmed down" and will not contain any tax cuts, the Prime Minister said: "When I was Chancellor I also really preferred it when the Prime Minister didn't comment about tax policy, especially seeing as the Chancellor has been so generous today in funding all of these things, the last thing I am going to do is make his life difficult and comment on tax policy.

"But I will say something about it. I am a Conservative. I want to cut your taxes, of course I do, because you all work incredibly hard and I want you to keep more of your money so you can spend it on the stuff that you want to.

"That is what I want to deliver. I wish I could do that tomorrow, quite frankly, but the reason we can't is because all the reasons you know. You are not idiots, you know what has happened. We had a massive pandemic for two years... then we have got this war going on which is having an enormous impact on inflation and interest rates."

He added: "The worst thing I could do is promise you a bunch of things that sound great but ultimately just make the situation worse."

01:05 PM

Rishi Sunak on levelling up: 'There are always going to be places that miss out'

Rishi Sunak was told that some of the new levelling up funding is being "shovelled into" projects in London and the South East of England.

It was suggested to the Prime Minister that there was a gap between the Government's rhetoric on levelling up and the reality, with the flagship phrase at risk of being "meaningless".

Mr Sunak hit back and said: "Those are the numbers. Literally if you look at the funding, look at where it is going, where is the place that is getting the most per person? the North West. Where is the region which is second? The North East.

"Where is the region getting the least? London and the South East. That is what the numbers say. Of course there are always going to be places that miss out. I wish we could say yes to everybody. My life would be., gosh, enormously easy if I could do that.

"But unfortunately we can't. There is always going to be people who feel upset about that. But what I would say is there is another round of this fund."

01:00 PM

PM defends Government's levelling up approach

Rishi Sunak was challenged on the Government's approach to levelling up as he was told that his Cabinet roster has a "heavy bias" towards MPs who represent constituencies in the south of England.

Mr Sunak said that on a per capita basis the North West of England has been given the most levelling up funding with the North East of England in second place.

The Prime Minister said that he had built his Cabinet on the basis of who believed would be best equipped to help him deliver on his priorities.

He also said that his Richmond in Yorkshire constituency is one of the "most northern seats that a prime minister has been in for some decades".

12:50 PM

No10 defends PM over use of RAF plane to visit North of England

Downing Street has defended Rishi Sunak’s use of an RAF plane to travel around northern England today.

The Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman said: "As I’ve said on a number of occasions, the Prime Minister will use different modes of transport depending on what’s in the best interest of the best use of his time to enable him to get around the entire UK.

"He’s going to three different locations in the UK today. He’s spoken to the Prime Minister of Israel. He’ll be back in Downing Street later. So, we use the right modes of transport to enable him to do that."

Asked if Mr Sunak wished that trains were reliable enough to use, the spokesman said: "That’s not the factor that obviously decides this and you’ll know we are investing huge sums into our railways."

12:36 PM

'Now someone is doing something about it'

Rishi Sunak was asked how the Government intends to pick up the North of England through its levelling up agenda and help the area to contribute more to the UK.

The Prime Minister said: "We do it by just getting on and delivering it... we have just got to do it in practice."

Mr Sunak said that "people talked about this in the past but now someone is doing something about it" and while "change doesn't happen overnight" he does believe that "people do feel that something has changed".

12:28 PM

PM says people should be able to 'fulfill their dreams' without leaving home

Rishi Sunak was asked how the Government is going to engage young people in the levelling up projects which have been awarded funding.

The Prime Minister said one of the aims of levelling up is to boost prosperity and opportunities to ensure that "no one feels they have to leave home to fulfill their dreams".

He told students in the audience: "I don’t want you to have to move away. If you want to, that’s fine, but you shouldn’t have to. For too long people felt they had to, particularly if they didn’t live in London and the south, and I don’t want that to be the case.

"That’s why these projects are really important, that we are announcing today."

12:24 PM

Rishi Sunak delivering levelling up speech in Morecambe

Rishi Sunak is delivering a brief speech and answering questions at an event in Morecambe as he unveils the Government's latest round of levelling up funding.

The Prime Minister said that levelling up is "not just talk, it's about action" and also "making sure that people wherever they live... can feel huge pride in the places that they call home".

12:11 PM

'Lend us 20 quid for my heating bill, Rishi'

Rishi Sunak was heckled during a visit to Morecambe this morning as he and Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove spoke to people involved in the new Eden Project which has just been awarded £50million in funding by the Government.

During a walkabout on the site of the project, one passer-by shouted at the Prime Minister: "Lend us 20 quid for my heating bill, Rishi."

The Prime Minister did not respond to the shout and it was not clear if he heard. Looking at plans for the project at the Midland Hotel, he told planners: "There really is a buzz as we’ve been walking around. We’re very, very excited about it."

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, and Michael Gove, the levelling Up Secretary, visit the Eden Project North in Morecambe, Lanchashire today - Owen Humphreys /Reuters
Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, and Michael Gove, the levelling Up Secretary, visit the Eden Project North in Morecambe, Lanchashire today - Owen Humphreys /Reuters

12:05 PM

HMRC has ‘no quibble’ with Nadhim Zahawi - Michael Gove

HMRC has “no quibble” with Nadhim Zahawi, the chairman of the Conservative Party, after allegations of a tax dispute emerged in recent days, Michael Gove has said.

The Levelling Up Secretary told the BBC: “HMRC are the tax authorities. They should scrutinise everyone’s tax return and make it clear to individuals and organisations what they should pay.

“People should and must pay up. My firm understanding is that HMRC have no quibble with Nadhim. He has paid everything that he should and people paying their taxes I don’t think is a story. People not paying their taxes, yeah, that is a problem.”

Rishi Sunak, the Prime Minister, said yesterday that Mr Zahawi “has already addressed this matter in full and there’s nothing more that I can add”.

A spokesman for Mr Zahawi has said that his taxes are “properly declared”.

11:26 AM

Rishi Sunak faces backlash over latest RAF plane journey

Rishi Sunak is believed to have flown to the North of England in an RAF plane today as he unveils the latest round of the Government's levelling up funding. It is the third such flight in just over a week.

Mr Sunak is facing a backlash from his political opponents who have demanded to know why he has not travelled by train instead.

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader of the Labour Party, said: "Rishi Sunak’s expensive private jet habit is costing the environment and the taxpayer dear.

"Instead of catching the train like the rest of us, he’s swanning around like a washed-up A-lister courtesy of the public, making a mockery of his own Government’s ‘zero-jet’ strategy."

11:15 AM

PM says North of England has 'done the best' on levelling up funding

Rishi Sunak has denied the Government's levelling up spending is an example of "pork barrel politics" as he insisted the most funding per person is going to the North of England.

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Accrington, the Prime Minister said: "The region that has done the best in the amount of funding per person is the North.

"That’s why we’re here talking to you in Accrington Market, these are the places that are benefiting from the funding.

"We’re delivering on what we said, we’re investing in local communities, this is levelling up in action."

11:10 AM

Rishi Sunak defends levelling up cash going to his own constituency

Rishi Sunak has defended the £19million of levelling up funding going to rejuvenating a high street in his own constituency (see the post below at 08.09).

Speaking to broadcasters during a visit to Accrington this morning, the Prime Minister said: "If you look at the overall funding in the levelling up funds that we’ve done, about two-thirds of all that funding has gone to the most deprived parts of our country.

"With regard to Catterick Garrison, the thing you need to know is that’s home to our largest army base and it’s home to actually thousands of serving personnel who are often away from their own families serving our country.

Rishi Sunak is pictured meeting stall holders at Accrington Market Hall this morning - Christopher Furlong /AP
Rishi Sunak is pictured meeting stall holders at Accrington Market Hall this morning - Christopher Furlong /AP

"It’s important that they have access to a town centre providing the amenities they need – that’s what that funding is going to deliver.

"I’m really grateful to all our armed forces personnel for the incredible job that they do and I’m delighted that this investment will support them."

11:05 AM

'Per capita every region got more than London and the South East'

Lucy Frazer, the Housing Minister, rejected Labour's criticism of the Government's latest levelling up funding announcements (see the post below at 10.54).

She told the House of Commons that across two rounds of levelling up funding announcements "per capita every region got more than London and the South East".

Addressing her Labour counterpart, Alex Norris, Ms Frazer said: "He forgot to mention that the Leader of the Opposition had a successful bid in his constituency. He forgot to mention that the shadow secretary of state in Wigan got £20million.

"He forgot to mention that Nottingham North got £18million in round one and therefore is benefiting from the Government's leevlling up programme."

10:58 AM

Pictured: Rishi Sunak and Jeremy Hunt visit a sweet shop during visit to Accrington

Rishi Sunak is pictured buying sweets with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as they visit Accrington Market Hall this morning - Christopher Furlong /Getty Images Europe
Rishi Sunak is pictured buying sweets with Chancellor Jeremy Hunt as they visit Accrington Market Hall this morning - Christopher Furlong /Getty Images Europe

10:54 AM

Labour claims 'even the winners are losers' on levelling up

Alex Norris, Labour's shadow levelling up secretary, told the House of Commons that with today's funding announcements "even the winners are losers".

He said: "There are serious questions to be answered. Levelling up is a failure. The Government are going backwards on their flagship missions."

Mr Norris said "only half of the successful bidders" for levelling up cash came from the "poorest 100 communities" as he argued the money for new community projects represented a fraction of the money taken away from councils over the last decade.

He said: "The cut to local government is £15billion over the last decade or so. Today's announcement gives back £2.1billion. They have nicked a tenner from our wallets and they expect us to be grateful for getting less than two quid back."

Mr Norris argued that because of the lost council funding "even the winners are losers" on levelling up. He urged the Government to ditch its "Hunger Games approach to regional growth" and "end these beauty parades in favour of proper sustained investment targeted at need".

10:46 AM

Minister: Levelling up is 'directing funding where it is needed most'

Lucy Frazer, the Housing Minister, is answering for the Government in the House of Commons as Labour asks an urgent question on the new levelling up funding announcements (see the post below at 07.54).

Ms Frazer said that "levelling up is one of the driving missions of this Government" and ministers are "directing funding where it is needed most".

Ms Frazer told the Commons that there is a "clear and transparent process for determining how bids are selected", prompting laughter from Labour MPs.

10:40 AM

Pictured: Rishi Sunak visits Accrington Market Hall as he unveils new levelling up funding

Rishi Sunak is pictured visiting Accrington Market Hall in Accrington this morning as he announces new levelling up funding across the country - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe
Rishi Sunak is pictured visiting Accrington Market Hall in Accrington this morning as he announces new levelling up funding across the country - Christopher Furlong/Getty Images Europe

10:36 AM

Coastal and rural communities 'cruelly denied' funding in levelling up announcements - Lib Dems

The Liberal Democrats have claimed rural and coastal communities have been "cruelly denied" funding in the Government's latest round of levelling up announcements.

Helen Morgan, the party's local government spokeswoman, said: "The Conservative Government’s refusal to support so many vital local projects shows they are taking our rural and coastal communities for granted.

"From Shropshire to Devon, funding to boost public transport links, revitalise our town centres and sea fronts has been cruelly denied.

"People across the country are being let down by endless broken promises from Conservative ministers who talk the talk then fail to deliver."

10:24 AM

Sir Keir Starmer attends World Economic Forum in Davos

Sir Keir Starmer is in Davos, Switzerland, today to attend the World Economic Forum where he will tell global finance chiefs that Britain will be "open for business" under a Labour government.

In a day of talks with leading business, financial and government figures, party officials said Sir Keir and Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, will be taking the message they want to pull in more foreign investment to the UK, particularly in the "green" industries of the future.

Sir Keir is due to take part in a panel event on the global energy crisis alongside Mark Rutte, the Prime Minister of the Netherlands, this afternoon.

Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves are pictured today as they attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland - Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters
Sir Keir Starmer and Rachel Reeves are pictured today as they attend the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland - Arnd Wiegmann/Reuters

09:47 AM

Labour granted urgent question on new levelling up funding

Labour has been granted an urgent question in the House of Commons this morning on the Government's new round of levelling up funding.

A Labour source said: "It tells you all you need to know about today’s announcement that the Government has had to be dragged to the Commons to talk about it. Levelling Up is supposedly their flagship policy. What a shambles."

09:45 AM

'The Chancellor would kill me if I tried to speculate on what is going to happen in the Budget'

There were reports earlier this week that Jeremy Hunt, the Chancellor, is planning a "slimmed down" Budget in March with no immediate tax cuts.

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, refused to be drawn on the matter this morning as he said ministers should not "speculate" on what may or may not be announced.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "If you ask me about the Budget, the Chancellor of course would kill me if I tried to speculate on what is going to happen in the Budget.

"As you know, Budget decisions are taken by the Chancellor and oyster Government ministers shouldn’t speculate on them.

"I would say that if we are thinking about our overall approach on the economy, the biggest tax increase of all is the inflationary impact of what has been happening in Ukraine and elsewhere.

"That takes money out of people’s pockets. The best tax cut that people can have is a cut in inflation and that is what we are focused on."

09:25 AM

Watch: Boris Johnson presented with honorary 'Citizen of Kyiv' medal

09:23 AM

Royal College of Nursing chief: 'We have not coordinated strikes'

Nurses and ambulance workers are due to go on strike on February 6 in what could be the biggest walkout in the history of the NHS.

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the union has not coordinated the strike action.

She told Sky News: "Well look, actually I learned about the GMB decision [on ambulance strikes] after you yesterday. We have not coordinated strikes but inevitably as long as this Government continues to allow the industrial action to continue and not get round negotiating tables of course there will be overlap.

"But my concern, my 100 per cent concentration, is on the nurses and nursing staff that you see behind me and on every picket line today.

"That is what I need to get resolved for those people so they can get back into work, continue to look after their patients so it is about Rishi Sunak needing to address those issues and not allowing those dates to continue."

09:13 AM

Royal College of Nursing still focused on trying to improve current year's pay offer to nurses

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, said the union remains focused on trying to secure an improved pay offer for NHS workers this year and it is not willing to shift its focus to talking about next year's pay settlement.

She told Sky News: "Our dispute is in relation to 22/23. Let's stop pushing the can further and further down the road. Again, that is disrespectful to our nursing staff. Over 300,000 that participated in this ballot, gave us the strongest mandate as a Royal College of Nursing.

"So let's deal with the here and now. Let's resolve the issues in relation to the nurses pay for 22/23 and then let's get into serious discussions about 23/24. But we need to resolve 22/23."

Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, (centre) is pictured today on a picket line outside University College Hospital in North London - George Cracknell Wright
Pat Cullen, the general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, (centre) is pictured today on a picket line outside University College Hospital in North London - George Cracknell Wright

09:00 AM

Levelling up cash allocated based on 'objective criteria'

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, said more levelling up money is going to Labour-led local authority areas than to those run by the Conservatives.

He told Times Radio: "I think more of the money is going to Labour-led local authorities than to Conservative-led local authorities and that’s because the money’s been allocated according to a set of objective criteria and on the basis of deliverability."

08:49 AM

'Naturally we would prefer for there not to be any strikes at all'

Asked if it is responsible for nurses, ambulance workers and emergency call handlers to all strike on the same day on February 6, Michael Gove told Sky News: "Naturally we would prefer for there not to be any strikes at all and we prefer there not to be coordinated strike action of this kind.

"I just say two things, the first is that I am conscious ambulance workers, nurses and others, when they do go on strike action, and I don’t approve of it, I have to say, but they do take steps in order to ensure they can look after the most urgency emergency cases.

"The second thing I would say is we are introducing legislation to make sure that there is a minimum service level, that should provide people with peace of mind that there will always be an NHS there for them, and indeed other blue light services that they need.

"It’s just unfortunate that other parties in the House of Commons, Labour and the Liberal Democrats, won’t support that legislation in order to make sure there will be a minimum level of service for everyone."

08:37 AM

Gove: Government wants to cut regulation to 'unlock the animal spirits of the economy'

Writing in The Telegraph, Sir James Dyson, the billionaire entrepreneur and founder of the Dyson technology empire, warned the "short-sighted" and "stupid" economic approach of Rishi Sunak’s Government is keeping Britain in a state of "Covid inertia" (you can read the full story here).

Michael Gove was asked about the comments this morning and the Levelling Up Secretary unsurprisingly said he disagreed with the businessman's assessment. However, he did say the Government is looking to reduce regulation in order to "unlock the animal spirits of the economy".

Speaking to LBC Radio, Mr Gove said: "I respectfully disagree with him. We are spending £20billion on research and development across the country. We are absolutely committed to economic growth and earlier this week the Cabinet was looking at how we can improve regulation in a variety of areas, some of which are very close to Sir James's heart.

"He is a guy who wants the whole country to do even better and that sort of ambition is admirable but I would say to Sir James and others that this Government is absolutely committed to increasing economic growth, it is one of the top priorities that Rishi outlined at the beginning of the year."

He added: "We are also looking at regulation now we are outside the European Union to help unlock the animal spirits of the economy in a way that I hope Sir James would approve."

08:16 AM

Levelling Up Secretary rejects claims Tory MPs have been banned from saying 'levelling up'

Michael Gove has rejected reports that Tory MPs in marginal seats have been told not to use the phrase "levelling up" because people don't know what it means. Reports had suggested MPs were told to switch it for "enhancing communities" or "gauging up".

Asked if the phrase had been banned, the Levelling Up Secretary told LBC Radio: "No, levelling up is absolutely the central domestic mission of this Government.

"We want to ensure more economic growth across the country, particularly in areas where there has been lower productivity and that is why we are not just investing cash because that on its own doesn't do enough, it is also why we are empowering local people and making sure that we work with the private sector in order to provide people with high value jobs in areas that have been overlooked and undervalued in the past."

08:09 AM

Michael Gove defends levelling up cash going to Rishi Sunak's constituency

Rishi Sunak's own Richmond constituency in Yorkshire will receive £19million as part of the latest wave of levelling up funding, with the money going to Catterick Garrison to regenerate the town centre.

Asked if the money had been awarded because it is Mr Sunak's constituency, Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, told LBC Radio: "No, it is nothing to do with that.

"It is everything to do with the fact that the money is going to Catterick which I think is the biggest infantry base in the country and the money is going to make sure that the neighbourhood in which service families live is invested in appropriately."

08:03 AM

Michael Gove rejects claims levelling up cash favours South East over Red Wall

Michael Gove has rejected claims that the Government's latest levelling up funding (see the post below at 07.54) favours the South East of England over less well off areas in the Red Wall.

The Levelling Up Secretary told LBC Radio: "Well, that is simply not true. The amount of money that we are spending per capita is much higher in the North West and the North East."

07:56 AM

Boris Johnson: 'Tell Putin to get the puck out of Ukraine'

Boris Johnson said Russia should "get the puck out of Ukraine" after a fellow panellist used an ice hockey analogy during an event at the World Economic Forum in Davos this morning.

Canada’s Deputy Prime Minister Chrystia Freeland called for more Western support for Ukraine, saying: "I don’t skate to where the puck is. I skate to where the puck is going. This puck is going to Ukrainian victory, so let’s skate there."

Mr Johnson then joked "tell Putin to get the puck out of Ukraine", prompting laughter from the audience.

Boris Johnson, former UK prime minister, left, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada's deputy prime minister and finance minister, during an event on the sidelines on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland - Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg
Boris Johnson, former UK prime minister, left, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada's deputy prime minister and finance minister, during an event on the sidelines on day three of the World Economic Forum (WEF) in Davos, Switzerland - Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

07:54 AM

Levelling up cash will help 'overlooked and undervalued' areas

Rishi Sunak is today announcing £2billion of funding for more than 100 projects across the UK as he reiterates his commitment to the Government's levelling up agenda.

Analysis of the funding announcements by The Telegraph revealed that Mr Sunak has directed more levelling up cash to the South East and South West than his predecessor Boris Johnson (you can read the full story here).

Mr Sunak and Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, are visiting Blackpool today to launch the funding and the latter said this morning that it is about helping parts of the country which have been "overlooked and undervalued" in the past.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: "The reason I am here is that we want to level up the whole country. We want to make sure that in areas like Blackpool that have been overlooked and undervalued in the past there is an investment in the future."

07:47 AM

Giving in to every pay rise demand would leave public finances 'out of control' - Gove

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, said the Government cannot agree to every pay rise demand being made in the public sector because doing so would lead to the public finances becoming "out of control".

Speaking on the second day of a nurses' strike over pay and conditions, Mr Gove told Sky News: "What we can’t do is necessarily accede to every demand in the public sector for pay increases because we don’t want to be in a position where the public finances overall are out of control."

07:44 AM

Michael Gove disagrees with Simon Clarke over nurse foodbank comments

Simon Clarke, the former Cabinet minister, was criticised by the Royal College of Nursing yesterday after he told nurses that "something is wrong with your budgeting" if they are relying on handouts from foodbanks.

Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, was asked this morning if he agreed with the sentiment and he told Sky News: "No, I would never put it that way.

"I think we appreciate that nurses, everyone that is working on the front line in the National Health Service, is not only doing an amazing job and my thanks and gratitude to nurses today is something I want to express very deeply and personally."

07:31 AM

'Stop worrying about Kremlinology'

Boris Johnson said Vladimir Putin will not deploy nuclear weapons because doing so would put the Russian President into "a complete economic cryogenic paralysis" and "terrify the Russians".

He told the event at the World Economic Forum in Davos: "He’s not going to do it. Don’t go down that rabbit hole, stop it."

Mr Johnson also told the audience at the event on the situation in Ukraine to "stop worrying about Kremlinology" as he joked: "It’s difficult to work out what’s gonna happen in UK politics, let alone in the Kremlin."

07:30 AM

Boris Johnson compares Vladimir Putin to 'fat boy in Dickens'

Boris Johnson has compared Vladimir Putin with "the fat boy in Dickens" who wants to "make our flesh creep" with threats of using nuclear weapons.

Speaking at a breakfast event on Ukraine at the World Economic Forum in Davos this morning, the former prime minister said: "Putin wants to present it as a nuclear stand-off between between Nato and Russia.

"Nonsense. He’s not going to use nuclear weapons, okay. He’s like the fat boy in Dickens, he wants to make our flesh creep. He wants us to think about it. He’s never going to do it."

Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, is pictured attending an event this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland - Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg
Boris Johnson, the former prime minister, is pictured attending an event this morning at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland - Stefan Wermuth/Bloomberg

07:29 AM

Good morning

Good morning and welcome to today's politics live blog.

Boris Johnson has been speaking at an event on Ukraine at the World Economic Forum in Davos and Rishi Sunak is due to deliver remarks later on his new levelling up push.

We also have Michael Gove, the Levelling Up Secretary, on the broadcast round.

It promises to be a busy day in British politics and I will do my best to guide you through the key developments.