London politics latest news: Met police ‘looking at potential fixed penalty offences’ as wait for Sue Gray report continues

·22 min read

Met Police officers are investigating possible breaches of Covid rules within government that could warrant fixed penalty notices rather than more serious offences, the PA news agency reported on Friday.

It comes after former prime minister Theresa May launched a scathing intervention on the partygate scandal, saying “nobody is above the law” as the wait for the Sue Gray report continues.

Speaking to the Maidenhead Advertiser, Mrs May said she was “angry” to hear reports that Downing Street staff had held parties during lockdown.

Mrs May said she would “expect full accountability” to follow the release of the senior civil servant’s report, which has still not been handed to Downing Street despite claims it would be published earlier this week.

The Met has confirmed it had asked “for minimal reference” to be made in the Gray report to alleged incidents that the force is currently investigating. Scotland Yard said it did not wish to “prejudice” to their investigation.

Comedian says ‘anger’ motivated Gray report stunt

16:39 , Daniel Keane

Comedian Joe Lycett has said “anger” motivated his social media stunt in which he shared a fake version of Sue Gray’s report.

The TV star, 33, tweeted a fake version of the report which sparked mass panic with many internet users believing it was real - despite an AOL email address at the bottom of the page.

In a tweet, the 33-year-old said today: “I’m angry right now probably for the same reason many other people are angry.

“In the early stages of lockdown in 2020 my best friend died from cancer.

“But he died, at the start of lockdown, and I wasn’t there because I was following the rules, and we had a tiny insufficient funeral, because we were following the rules, and I drove his kids away from that funeral back to Birmingham without any sort of wake, because we were following the rules, and it felt unnatural and cruel and almost silly, but we did it because we followed the rules.

“So I suppose like thousands of others with their own stories, I’m angry about that.”

Breaking: Nearly 90,000 daily Covid cases reported

16:10 , Daniel Keane

The UK reported 89,176 Covid cases and 277 deaths on Friday, latest daily figures show.

The rise in infections marks a jump of 12 per cent in a week and brings the total to 16,333,980.

A total of 155,317 Britons have now died since the beginning of the pandemic, according to the figures.

Met ‘only investigating Covid breaches that could warrant fixed penalty notices'

16:00 , Daniel Keane

Some more clarification here from the Met on their decision to ask Sue Gray to publish only “minimal references” to the parties they are investigating in Downing Street.

The PA News Agency understand that Metropolitan Police officers are currently investigating possible breaches of Covid rules that could warrant fixed penalty notices rather than more serious offences.

It had previously been suggested that officers may have asked Ms Gray to suspend the publication of the report due to fears of “prejudicing” an investigation into more serious offences.

Rees-Mogg: Decision to raise national insurance is ‘difficult'

15:42 , Daniel Keane

Leader of the House Jacob Rees-Mogg said the Chancellor faced a “difficult choice” with the decision to raise National Insurance.

Mr Rees-Mogg, who was previously reported to have urged Rishi Sunak to ditch the increase, told the BBC’s Political Thinking podcast: “It is a difficult choice for the Chancellor, but we do need to raise funds to pay for the extra nine million scans to get rid of the backlog in the NHS and all those sorts of things.”

He added: “I think governments have to have a set purpose and a clear course, and we can’t be buffeted by every wind.

“So, I think it is important to recognise the need to raise the money that we are determined to spend.”

Met Officer who died of Covid ‘would be horrified’ by handling of partygate probe

15:21 , Daniel Keane

A Met Police officer who died of Covid would be “horrified” at how the force appears “complicit in covering up” the behaviour of politicians, his bereaved wife has said.

Fran Hall, a spokeswoman for the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice campaign group, said on Friday that the scandal has been “reopening the wounds we are trying to live with” and has left her “furious”.

She said: “There appears to be an attempt by the Met to stop the full report coming out after we have all been told for weeks to wait for Sue Gray’s report.”

The 61-year-old, who lost her husband, serving Metropolitan Police officer Steve Mead, to coronavirus in October 2020, added: “It just makes me furious.”

“Being a police officer is who he was,” she added.

Tory MP questions Mogg’s election comments

14:58 , Daniel Keane

A senior Tory MP has questioned Jacob Rees-Mogg’s claim that an election would be required if Boris Johnson is ousted from power.

The Commons leader said earlier this week that a vote would be needed as the UK had transitioned into an “essentially presidential system”.

Opening the second reading debate of his Business of the House Commission Bill, Tory Mp for Wellingborough Peter Bone said: “Did the Leader of the House suggest earlier on this week that we have got a presidential system? That there might have to be a general election if they change the Prime Minister?

“We are not a presidential system and, by the way, I do happen to know if the president is removed, there is always someone to replace him. There is never an election. I didn’t follow that logic.”

Johnson is a ‘lame duck’ PM, says Tory MP

14:37 , Daniel Keane

Veteran Tory MP Sir Roger Gale has accused Boris Johnson of being a “lame duck” Prime Minister.

Sir Roger told BBC Radio 4’s The World At One programme that the cost of living crisis and Russian aggression towards Ukraine require “full and undivided attention” of the UK Prime Minister.

“At the moment what we’ve got, not entirely now of his own making, is a lame duck Prime Minister that is soldiering on while all this indecision is surrounding him and frankly if I was Vladimir Putin I would be laughing all the way to the Lubyanka.

“I don’t think his position is sustainable, under most circumstances a Prime Minister who has misled the House from the despatch box would have resigned.

“He could soldier on but I don’t think it’s in the interest of the United Kingdom, and that’s what really matters.”

Former DPP claims Met’s decision over Gray report is ‘disproportionate’

14:13 , Daniel Keane

A former director of public prosecutions has suggested the Metropolitan Police’s decision to require Sue Gray to omit details that “could avoid any prejudice” in her report is “disproportionate”.

Lord Macdonald told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “The risk of the police intervention this morning is that this leaves things hanging in the air for weeks and months, and that seems obviously not to be in the public interest.

“If we’re talking about fixed penalty notices - like parking tickets, essentially - if we’re talking about that kind of resolution, then to take the rather grave step to delay a report that is going to shed public light on the subject matter of what may be a major public scandal, I think that is undesirable and I think it may be a misjudgment.

“But only police know what it is that is really at play here.

“It is really to say that if we are simply talking about lockdown breaches and fixed penalty notices, this move by the police this morning seems to be disproportionate.”

Sir Keir Starmer demands ‘to see Gray report in full'

13:53 , Elly Blake

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer tweeted: “I want to see the Gray report in full.

“Our country faces huge challenges and it’s offensive that the Government’s sole focus is on cleaning up after themselves.

“Britain deserves better. The Prime Minister is unfit for office and must resign.”

Nicola Sturgeon says ‘partygate' situation getting ‘murkier by the minute’

13:41 , Elly Blake

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted: “This gets murkier by the minute. Sue Gray and the Met are in difficult positions but the sequence of events and the situation arrived at now creates the suspicion – however unfairly – that the process of inquiry is aiding Johnson at the expense of public accountability.”

She added: “I doubt Johnson cares about damage to the reputations of others – individuals or institutions – as long as he saves his own skin. But these things matter.

“Rapid conclusion and full publication of the findings of inquiries surely now essential for public trust.”

Mystery deepens over whether PM was given a cake

12:44 , Daniel Keane

Mystery deepened today over whether there was a cake at an alleged Downing Street birthday party for the Prime Minister during lockdown, writes Rachael Burford.

The PM’s spokesman said they could not comment on whether cake had been served at the reported bash until investigations into the partygate saga were concluded.

He said: “You will know what we said earlier this week on the matter, that small number of staff briefly came into the Cabinet room on the PM’s birthday.

“Beyond that I can’t comment further ahead of any conclusion of the investigation.”

It follows Tory MP Conor Burns being widely mocked after he insisted the Prime Minister was “ambushed with a cake” at a surprise birthday party in the Cabinet room on June 19 2020 when social events indoors were banned.

No10 says public will support aims of national insurance rises

12:28 , Daniel Keane

No 10 said that ultimately the public would support the aims of the national insurance rise despite calls for the Government to delay it.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: “Of course we understand that people may not want to pay more in tax.

“But we’ve set out the rationale for this and I think it’s clear that one of the public’s number one priorities is to support the NHS and to help the NHS.”

Asked if the rise was therefore coming in “no ifs, no buts”, the spokesman said: “Yeah.”

He added: “I think the Chancellor set out at the time when we announced this policy why it is the right and best way to raise this money.

“Again, the Prime Minister and the Chancellor both said at that point, obviously, they would like to lower taxes in the future also, but it is important that we do what we need to do now to tackle the backlog that’s grown in the NHS.”

Eastenders actress gives her support to British Sign Language bill

12:12 , Daniel Keane

EastEnders actress and Strictly Come Dancing winner Rose Ayling-Ellis has thrown her support behind a Bill which will see British Sign Language (BSL) become a legally recognised language, writes Rachael Burford.

The Government is debating the legislation, which pledges to improve accessibility for deaf people, today.

If passed, Private Member’s Bill introduced by Labour MP Rosie Cooper would see the launch of an advisory board of BSL users to offer guidance to the Government about how and when to use the language and examine how to increase the number of interpreters.

Actress Rose Ayling-Ellis, who was the first deaf contestant to appear on Strictly, said: “Parliament will be debating whether or not to make BSL a legally recognised language. Let make this happen.”

Ms Cooper added: “The deaf community have constantly had to fight to be heard. This Bill sends a clear message that they deserve equal access and will be treated as equal.”

Sturgeon: Met’s statement ‘creates suspicion'

11:58 , Daniel Keane

Scotland’s first minister Nicola Sturgeon has claimed the situation with the Sue Gray report “gets murkier by the minute”.

She tweeted: “Sue Gray and the Met are in difficult positions but the sequence of events and the situation arrived at now creates the suspicion - however unfairly - that the process of inquiry is aiding Johnson at the expense of public accountability.

“ I doubt Johnson cares about damage to the reputations of others - individuals or institutions - as long as he saves his own skin. But these things matter.

“Rapid conclusion and full publication of the findings of inquiries surely now essential for public trust.”

Starmer: Government has been ‘paralysed’ by Sue Gray investigation

11:34 , Daniel Keane

Sir Keir Starmer said the Government had been “paralysed” by the Sue Gray investigation and the subsequent police inquiry into partygate.

The Labour leader told broadcasters he wanted to “see Sue Gray’s report in full and the investigation finished as quickly as possible, because we’re in this situation where the whole of Government is paralysed because the police are looking at what the Prime Minister was getting up to in Downing Street”.

Sir Keir added: “We’ve got a criminal investigation into the behaviour of the Prime Minister and what went on in Downing Street. There are bound to be process issues along the way, but this is caused by one thing, and that’s the behaviour of the Prime Minister.”

Asked whether, with his legal background, he saw any issues of prejudice, Sir Keir said: “Any issues of prejudice have got to be worked through but this whole mess, this whole of paralysing of politics, is being caused by the Prime Minister and his wrongdoing.”

Nadine Dorries tweet sparks anger among 2019 Tories

11:14 , Daniel Keane

A tweet from culture secretary Nadine Dorries has sparked anger among the 2019-intake of Tory MPs.

Ms Dorries tweeted last night: “Dinner on long journey home after a very cold day in the NE.

“Pork pies are only really any good for one thing.”

The tweet appears to reference the “pork pie putsch” - a rebellion against Boris Johnson led by Tory MPs elected in 2019.

The name is derived from the town represented by Alicia Kearns, the MP for Melton Mowbray - a town famous for its pork pies.

One MP told the Telegraph’s Tony Diver that Ms Dorries’ mocking tweet had prompted three MPs to put in letters of no confidence.

They said: “The best thing Nadine Dorries could do now is to log off Twitter and not go back onto it.

“She has completely undermined the PM.”

Ofcom launches probe into Channel 4

10:51 , Daniel Keane

Ofcom is to investigate Channel 4 after an extended outage last year of its subtitle services.

A statement from the media watchdog said: “We have found that Channel 4 managed to meet the statutory requirement to subtitle 90% of its programme hours over 2021 on most programmes. It also met its requirements for audio description and signing.

“However, Channel 4 fell short of its subtitling quota on Freesat, a satellite TV platform used by around two million UK homes.”

The broadcaster has experienced a number of major outages since September, caused by issues at the broadcast centre which handles its playout services.

Lib Dems warn against ‘establishment stitch up’ over Gray report

10:36 , Daniel Keane

The Liberal Democrats have warned against giving the appearance of an “establishment stitch-up” between Scotland Yard and the Sue Gray inquiry as the report publication plan was thrown into disarray.

The party’s home affairs spokesman Alistair Carmichael said: “So first the police were waiting for Sue Gray, now Sue Gray has to wait for the police?

“Any appearance of an establishment stitch-up between the Met Commissioner and the Government is profoundly damaging. Police officers need the trust and confidence of the public to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.

“The Sue Gray report must be published in full, including all photos, text messages and other evidence. If it is redacted now, a full, unredacted version must be published as soon as the police investigation is complete.”

Ian Blackford: ‘Gray report must be published in full as soon as possible'

10:14 , Daniel Keane

The SNP’s Westminster leader has called on the Government to publish the Sue Gray report “in full” as soon as possible.

He said: “The Sue Gray report must be published in full and undoctored without further delay. This UK Government farce has gone on long enough.

“People are understandably concerned that this increasingly looks like a cover up.

“It is a fact that Boris Johnson broke the rules, lied about it, and misled Parliament. This is an extremely serious resignation matter – and he must be held to account.

“The Prime Minister cannot be allowed to wriggle off the hook by using the Metropolitan Police investigation as an excuse to further delay or doctor the report.

“This cannot be another Whitewall whitewash. There must be maximum transparency.

“Any attempt to cover this up or delay the inevitable would be completely unacceptable – and would erode any last remnants of public trust in the Westminster Government.”

Theresa May says ‘nobody is above the law’ in scathing intervention on partygate

09:47 , Daniel Keane

Former prime minister Theresa May has launched a scathing intervention on the partygate scandal, saying “nobody is above the law”.

Speaking to the Maidenhead Advertiser, Mrs May said she was “angry” to hear reports that Downing Street staff had held parties during lockdown.

“I have said previously that it is vital that those who set the rules, follow the rules,” she said.

“Nobody is above the law.

“This is important for ensuring the necessary degree of trust between the public and government.

“Like so many, I was angry to hear stories of those in Number 10, who are responsible for setting the coronavirus rules, not properly following the rules.”

The former cabinet minister said she would “expect full accountability” to follow the release of Sue Gray’s report.

Sunak to close tax loophole

09:28 , Daniel Keane

Rishi Sunak is set to scrap a tax which allows employees to claim money if they have been forced to work from home during the pandemic after it cost the Treasury £500 million, writes Bill McLoughlin.

Since 2020, Britons have been able to claim £6 a week in tax relief but the HM Revenue and Customs is now reviewing the rule due to a rise in claims.

At the start of the pandemic, the fee rose from £4 a week to £6 with workers eligible if they had been told to work from home at any point during during the year.

Claims could also be backdated, meaning anyone who has worked from home due to Covid but has not made a claim for the relief, could be entitled to a two-year payout of up to £250.

The tax relief had cost the Treasury £2million a year before the pandemic but it has since surged.

Our full story here.

Chris Bryant: ‘We’re not being led, it’s chaos’

09:03 , Daniel Keane

Labour MP Chris Bryant has said the country is “not being led” and accused Boris Johnson of creating “chaos”.

He told BBC Breakfast the problem with the Prime Minister denying claims that he assisted the approval of the evacuation of animal charity Nowzad from Afghanistan last year “is that there is black and white evidence pointing in the other direction”.

“There’s an email that’s come to light from a senior official in Lord Goldsmith’s office saying that the Prime Minister authorised this particular evacuation, and the airlines have now released emails that suggest the Prime Minister’s aide, Trudy Harrison, was asking them for support for Nowzad and could get it fast-tracked by the Prime Minister,” he said.

“There is a letter in which she is trying to get this all sorted, and now there are other emails from Foreign and Commonwealth officials that refer to the Foreign Secretary getting authorisation from the Prime Minister.

“All I want to know is who made the decision?

“This goes to the heart of how we are governed in the UK at the moment, and if you can’t even come up with a clear understanding of what happened at something nine months ago, the worry is there is too much chaos. We’re not being led, it’s just chaos.”

Gray report delay due to ‘discussion with lawyers and police'

08:45 , Daniel Keane

Technology minister Chris Philp, asked why the Gray report hand-in had been delayed, told LBC: “You will have to ask Sue Gray that, because the timing of the report is up to her.

“You will have seen, as I have seen, press speculation is it is because she’s discussing with lawyers and police exactly what can and can’t go in it.

“But the bottom line is, I don’t know because it is a report she’s compiling independently and I have no visibility of what may or may not be in it, or what her thought process is.”

Mr Philp said he would not “speculate” on what happened in No 10, adding: “Like everybody else, I’m just going to wait until it is published.

“I’ll read it very carefully when it comes out and I’m not going to speculate… about what the report may or may not contain and what that may or may not mean.”

Met asked for ‘minimal reference’ to be made in Sue Gray report

08:29 , Daniel Keane

Scotland Yard has confirmed it asked “for minimal reference” to be made in the Sue Gray report to alleged incidents on Downing Street the force is currently investigating.

In a statement, it said: “For the events the Met is investigating, we asked for minimal reference to be made in the Cabinet Office report.

“The Met did not ask for any limitations on other events in the report, or for the report to be delayed, but we have had ongoing contact with the Cabinet Office, including on the content of the report, to avoid any prejudice to our investigation.”

It follows claims that sections of the report may need to be redacted for legal reasons.

Labour has called for the report to be published in full, though it has not yet been received by Downing Street.

Almost half of Londoners think Sadiq Khan is doing a bad job - YouGov poll

08:15 , Daniel Keane

Sadiq Khan’s approval ratings have fallen firmly into negative territory for the first time since he became mayor in 2016, a new poll has revealed, writes David Bond.

A survey by YouGov shows that 48 per cent of adults in the capital say Mr Khan is doing badly with more than a quarter of those surveyed saying he was doing very badly.

By contrast only 38 per cent say he is doing well - a fall of seven percentage points since the last time YouGov conducted a survey on the mayor’s performance in March 2021.

The findings give him a net approval rating of minus ten, the first time he has gone into negative territory, according to YouGov’s tracker.

You can read our full story here.

‘Not too late’ for Putin to de-escalate, says minister

08:01 , Daniel Keane

It is “not too late” for Russian President Vladimir Putin to “de-escalate” tensions on the Ukraine border, a minister has warned.

Chris Philp, a minister in the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport, told Sky News: “We’re deeply concerned that the build-up of Russian troops around the Ukrainian border has reached unprecedented levels – military units from the far east of Russia have moved into that region, something that hasn’t happened for many, many years previously.

“So, I think it is a very serious situation. I think President Biden and our Prime Minister are right to warn President Putin that the consequences if they do invade Ukraine will be very, very serious indeed for Russia in terms of sanctions.”

He added: “The Americans made clear yesterday that the Nord Stream 2 pipe would not happen if they invade.

“In the United Kingdom, we are doing everything we can to to support the Ukrainians, including supplying military equipment that would help them – and training that goes with that – to prevent tanks, Russian tanks, from entering Ukrainian territory.”

Good morning

07:47 , Daniel Keane

Good morning and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live politics coverage.

Here is a rundown of all the latest stories in Westminster:

- Technology minister Chris Philp has insisted the national insurance hike is “going ahead” following reports the Prime Minister is “wobbling” over the planned April tax rise to boost health funding

- Boris Johnson’s wait for the Sue Gray report continues, with legal and human resources officials currently scrutinising it before it can be sent to Downing Street for publication

- A group of senior British scientists have written to the Government to warn that allowing poorer countries to remain unvaccinated is a “reckless approach to public health” and will allow new Covid variants to develop