Nadine Dorries says BBC must fix 'impartiality problems' as she freezes licence fee

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Nadine Dorries warned that the BBC must represent the nation "beyond the London bubble" - Sky News
Nadine Dorries warned that the BBC must represent the nation "beyond the London bubble" - Sky News

The BBC must address "impartiality and groupthink" problems, the Culture Secretary said as she confirmed the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years.

Nadine Dorries told MPs the licence fee would then rise in line with inflation for the following four years and claimed the Government "simply could not justify putting extra pressure" on families amid the cost-of-living crisis.

"In the last few months, I've made it clear that the BBC needs to address issues around impartiality and groupthink," she said. Those problems were highlighted definitively by the recent Serota Review and the BBC's own leadership rightly recognised those findings in full. But the BBC now needs to put those words into action.

"It needs to convince the British public that those changes are being made, and provide regular and transparent accounts of its progress.

"I want the BBC to continue to thrive... but this is 2022, not 1922. We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting, a BBC that can continue to engage the wider public and that commands the support of the UK, not just the London bubble."

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Culture Secretary said ministers were "looking for someone else to blame" for Boris Johnson's "disintegrating leadership", as she described the BBC as "the envy of the world".

"What is it about the £13.57 a month that marks it out for such immediate and special attention to address the cost of living over the £1,200 increase in energy and household bills? Or the £3,000-a-year taxes increases that her Government has imposed?" she asked, accusing the Conservatives of a "vendetta" against the BBC.

05:49 PM

That's all for today...

The BBC must do more to earn "the support of the UK and not just the London bubble", the Culture Secretary said this afternoon.

Freezing the licence fee, Nadine Dorries attacked the Corporation and accused it of having "impartiality and groupthink" problems. But BBC bosses hit back, calling the move "disappointing", arguing it would come at the expense of value and delivery.

There was division on Ms Dorries' own benches, as Jonathan Gullis called for the licence fee to be "scrapped altogether" but David Simmons praised the corporation as "world-leading" and Andy Carter praised its education offering. Watch this space - this is a skirmish that could run and run, possibly at the expense of party loyalty.

Nadine Dorries - Sky News
Nadine Dorries - Sky News

Other than his morning run, there was still no sign of Boris Johnson as he continues to limit his social contact until Wednesday - when we can await another showdown between the PM and Sir Keir Starmer in the wake of damaging 'Partygate' revelations.

But even if the scandal spells the end for Mr Johnson, more than 2,000 of you who voted in our live politics poll today were less than unanimous on his successor (see 1.43pm for the results, and to cast your vote if you haven't already). As 6pm approached, Rishi Sunak commanded 37 per cent of your votes, Liz Truss 26 per cent, Jeremy Hunt 13 per cent, and Michael Gove seven per cent, while 17 per cent of you wanted someone else altogether.

Whether such a contest remains hypothetical or is on the horizon will likely be determined by the long-awaited Sue Gray report - due as soon as this week.

05:45 PM

Covid cases nearly lower than when ‘Plan B’ was triggered as figures suggest worst is over

Covid cases are approaching levels lower than when “Plan B” was triggered, with data increasingly showing that Britain is over the worst.

On Sunday, cases fell to 70,924, the lowest since mid-December, before rising to 84,429 on Monday in the usual increase at the start of the week. However, that is a 42 per cent decline since the previous Monday.

If the current trajectory continues, Britain will hit around 50,000 cases by the middle of the week – the same level as when Boris Johnson announced restrictions on December 8.

The number of tests coming back positive has also started to fall, from a high of 32.3 per cent on Jan 4 to 26 per cent on Jan 11, showing that it is a true decline rather than a lack of testing capacity as some have claimed. The Office for National Statistics infection survey is also showing falls in recent days.

We may be over the worst of it, reports Sarah Knapton

05:33 PM

BBC is world-leading in so many areas, says Tory MP

David Simmons, the Conservative MP for Ruislip, Northwood & Pinner, praises scrutiny that is placed on the BBC's financial model.

However, he asks what process may ensure "that the quality of the output - where the BBC is world-leading in so many areas - is maintained for the long-term and for the future".

Ms Dorries responds "that's the point of discussion... How do we protect the BBC going forward? How do we ensure we have good quality content, made in the UK [that] stays in the UK? And how do we, in this changing, shifting, rapidly moving landscape, how do we have a BBC that is funded for the future?"

Hinting at the schisms in the Conservative Party over the issue, Jonathan Gullis, MP for Stoke-on-Trent North, argued it was "time to scrap the licence fee altogether". Ms Dorries asks asked the BBC can be funded to be protect it "but in a different way".

Brendan Clarke-Smith, Tory MP for Bassetlaw, gave his view that the BBC should "do the same" as members of the British public in "tightening their belts".

Chris Bryant, the Labour MP for Rhondda, spoke of his "real fear that the Secretary of State simply doesn't understand how intrinsic to the success of the BBC is the licence fee".

05:31 PM

Nadine Dorries 'not being straight with the House'

Nadine Dorries has been accused of not levelling with Parliament after a Twitter thread she posted at the weekend (see 2.47).

Catherine McKinnell, the Labour MP, said in her contribution: "The Secretary of State for Culture does not appear to be being straight with the House. Her tweet at the weekend said very clearly 'this licence fee announcement will be the last', and that is why many of my constituents are concerned the BBC's unique range of programming that brings together regions, nations and diverse communities in the UK are not safe in the Government's hands.

"The BBC's mission to inform, educate and entertain has worked for almost a century. So will the Secretary of State rule out today that she is seeking to undermine this great national institution in order to save the Prime Minister's skin?"

Ms Dorries answers with just five words: "I'm not, Madam Deputy Speaker."

05:27 PM

BBC licence fee freeze 'disappointing', says corporation

Richard Sharp, the BBC chairman, and Tim Davie, the director-general, have issued a statement branding the licence fee freeze "disappointing":

Given the breadth of services we provide, the licence fee represents excellent value for money. There are very good reasons for investing in what the BBC can do for the British public and the UK around the world.

A freeze in the first two years of this settlement means the BBC will now have to absorb inflation. That is disappointing - not just for licence fee payers, but also for the cultural industries who rely on the BBC for the important work they do across the UK.

The BBC's income for UK services is already 30 per cent lower in real terms than it was 10 years ago. We will set out the implications of the settlement later, before the end of the financial year, but it will necessitate tougher choices which will impact licence fee payers.

While there will be challenges, we do have the financial stability of the licence fee, which is crucial. We have the certainty of a six-year deal for the funding of the BBC: two years cash flat and four years keeping pace with inflation.

We have great faith in the BBC and its future. We will do everything to ensure the BBC continues to punch above its weight for Britain and for audiences around the world. We will continue to drive an ambitious programme of reform moving more of our output across the UK, transitioning the organisation to a digital future and delivering distinctive and impartial content. We have a uniquely talented team of people at the BBC who are focused on delivering this for the public.

We actively look forward to the national debate on the next charter and, of course, all options should be considered. The BBC is owned by the public and their voice must always be the loudest when it comes to determining the BBC's future.

05:22 PM

'This is London'

Hillary Benn, the Labour MP for Leeds Central, noted that people "all over the world, some in fear of their lives, have huddled around their radios straining to hear the words 'this is London' because they trust BBC World Service News".

"Given that a subscription service will never work for airwave radio, what assurance can the Secretary of State give the House that the BBC World Service will be able to continue that service?"

Ms Dorries highlighted she had not mentioned a subscription service, but merely wanted to consider funding streams in future.

05:21 PM

'Very important' to protect BBC radio and education services, urge Tory MPs

Alec Shelbrooke, the Tory MP for Elmet and Rothwell, welcomed the debate but called for the "very important" range of radio programming "across the board of the BBC to be protected".

"Radio is such a key part of the BBC's output," he said.

"It absolutely is, and I think it will be a key part of this discussion," Ms Dorries said. "It's not the BBC's role to compete in a competitive way with other providers, but radio is certainly a huge part of the BBC and will be a huge part of the discussion."

Andy Carter, another Tory backbencher who represents Warrington South, asked for reassurance the education arm of the BBC would not be affected as it would be more difficult to commercialise.

"I hear his point and I think a lot of people agree with him," Ms Dorries said, noting the contribution made by BBC Bitesize during the pandemic.

05:15 PM

Value for money? Tell that to those battling bailiffs, argues Nadine Dorries

Valerie Vaz asked Nadine Dorries to agree that 43p a day constituted "good value for money" with the BBC television channels, BBC News, BBC Sounds and BBC iPlayer among other services.

Ms Dorries' response? "It's billions of pounds, and I don't believe any family who is receiving repeated letters or a bailiff knocking on the door or a request from a magistrate's court that it's value for money.

"Because it's money that they can't afford. The issue is that working families and those who are hard pressed in the situation we have with rising inflationary pressures think it is difficult, which is why we are freezing it for two years."

05:11 PM

MPs must not come second to the media, warns Lindsay Hoyle

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said it was "not enough for the House [of Commons] to come second to the media" on subjects as emotive and important as the future of the BBC licence fee.

"These are of interest to all," he said. "When the House is sitting, important policy statements must be made here before they're made to the media, as required by the Government's own ministerial code.

"In any event, I will always ensure that the House has the opportunity to scrutinise important policy announcements, and the Government may find that those debates are more regular, more extensive, if details are continuously leaked to the media."

05:07 PM

A 'distraction' from Downing Street parties?

The conversation on the BBC "hasn't actually started", Nadine Dorries stressed as she hailed the corporation's local radio provisions as "very important" but warned it came at the expense of independent local radio stations.

Rupa Huq, the Labour MP for Ealing Central and Acton, asked where plans relating to the BBC were in the 2019 Tory manifesto, wondering if it was merely "a distraction from Partygate".

Nadine Dorries - AFP Photo/PRU/via Getty Images
Nadine Dorries - AFP Photo/PRU/via Getty Images

Ms Huq described Channel 4 as a "great Thatcherite intervention", although Ms Dorries refused to conflate the two broadcasters.

The BBC should still be able to meet its "core mission and purposes", such as the BBC World Service, with the funding it will continue to receive under the renewed agreement.

04:58 PM

'Nothing to Gary Lineker, but a lot to our constituents'

Julian Knight, chairman of the culture select committee, welcomed the freeze in a personal capacity.

"Nearly £160 is nothing to Gary Lineker, but it's a lot to our constituents," he told MPs. "But I and the House would like more details on whether the licence fee will stop in 2028, or be phased out.

"The latter, in my view, gives the best chance of preserving the BBC's status in our national culture. And how is moving to alternative funding models going to work?"

Ms Dorries rejected his suggestions of a "paucity of broadband" across the country, while hinting DCMS will do some "very important work" in finding a future funding model.

04:55 PM

Nadine Dorries accused of 'disingenuous nonsense' by SNP

Ms Dorries insisted the decision of the future of the licence fee was "up for discussion", and needed to be determined moving forward.

John Nicholson, of the SNP, accused Ms Dorries of "disingenuous nonsense" to distract from the travails of Boris Johnson.

"It was this Government that abolished free licence fees for over-75s. Pensioners are struggling with a current BBC fee rate of 43p a day. Imagine how they'll cope with the cost of a Netflix or Sky subscription model. If the BBC is felled, and Channel 4 is privatised, free speech will be the victim. And we know, don't we Mr Speaker, the result will be yet more obsequious, unquestioning news."

Sir Peter Bottomley, the Father of the House, made clear he was not impressed by the "process or proposal" of what Nadine Dorries had agreed on the future of the licence fee.

"Public broadcasting, the BBC and Channel 4 is better in my view than having everything go to some of the big people round the world who won't maintain the BBC we've had for the last 100 years," Sir Peter said.

04:51 PM

We don't want to destroy the BBC, says Nadine Dorries

It is "nobody's intention to destroy the BBC", Nadine Dorries said in response to comments from her Labour shadow Lucy Powell (see 4.46pm).

"The BBC licence fee is not a small amount of money for families who are working hard across the UK, struggling to pay that bill or face bailiffs at their door or a court appearance in a magistrate's court," she said.

"Who are we to say it is a small amount of money? That is a disgrace! It is a significant sum, it is also regressive - whether you are getting by on a minimum wage or a multi-million pound presenter's salary... That is not right.

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary - AFP/PRU via Getty Images
Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary - AFP/PRU via Getty Images

"Only those who have not faced hard choices of what they can or can't afford for their families on a weekly basis would claim this is a small amount of money. And as a point of principle we cannot afford to add to that bill."

Ms Dorries accuses Ms Powell of not wanting to "help those hard-pressed families" in the face of the cost-of-living crisis, which is met with indignant outrage from the Labour frontbench.

"What we are saying is that moving forward we need to discuss and debate... Bring it on, everybody in this House, let's discuss what the BBC in 2027 will look like. It is not a policy, we are announcing a debate and discussion. Let's all get involved positively."

04:46 PM

'Pull the other one': Labour goes on offensive over tax rises

Lucy Powell, the Shadow Culture Secretary, labelled it a "disgrace" that details of Nadine Dorries' plans had leaked to the media before they were announced in Parliament.

"She's been the first to throw up a distraction and find someone else to blame for the Prime Minister's disintegrating leadership," Ms Powell said.

"There should be no blank cheques. However, the Government claims this is all about the cost-of-living crisis. I mean, pull the other one! What is it about the £13.57 a month that marks it out for such immediate and special attention to address the cost of living over the £1,200 increase in energy and household bills?

"Or the £3,000-a-year taxes increases that her Government has imposed? Is the licence fee really at the heart of the cost-of-living crisis or is this really about their longstanding vendetta against the BBC? Now it's a part of Operation Red Meat to save the Prime Minister from becoming dead meat."

04:41 PM

Sir Keir Starmer: We did nothing wrong

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologise over a picture of him having drinks with Labour staff in May 2021, as he insisted: "We did nothing wrong."

Indoor mixing between different households was prohibited at the time except for in work scenarios. Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, was among senior Conservatives who called on Sir Keir to apologise in light of his own criticisms of Mr Johnson amid revelations about Downing Street parties.

But speaking to LBC, Sir Keir said: "I think it’s very straightforward. It was a very busy time; it was three or four days before the local elections. We were working in the office, and a takeaway turned up and we stopped and we ate it.

"Honestly, you know, two parties the night before Prince Philip’s funeral with suitcases of wine. We didn’t break any rules, we were working in the office.

"I understand what’s going on here which is exactly what happened with Owen Paterson, there comes a time when the Tories try to take everyone into the gutter with them. We did nothing wrong."

04:40 PM

Nadine Dorries: BBC must go beyond 'London bubble'

The broadcasting landscape has "changed beyond all recognition in the last decade", Nadine Dorries said.

"A family in Cumbria can stream five different movies in five different rooms at the same time, and over 85 per cent of UK households have access to the fastest broadband in the world.

"As the tech has changed, so have audience habits particularly among younger viewers. So it's time to begin asking those really serious questions about the long-term funding money of the BBC and whether a mandatory licence fee, with criminal penalties for individual households, is still appropriate.

"As we have said before, we will therefore undertake a review of the overall licence fee model. I want the [BBC] to continue to thrive and be a global beacon and in the UK in the decades to come.

"But this is 2022, not 1922. We need a BBC that is forward-looking and ready to meet the challenges of modern broadcasting, a BBC that can continue to engage the wider public and that commands the support of the UK, not just the London bubble."

04:37 PM

BBC must address 'impartiality and groupthink' issues, Dorries tells MPs

As Tim Davie said in his first speech as Director-General, Ms Dorries insisted "the BBC must be a simpler, leaner organisation that offers better value to licence fee payers".

"Ultimately the settlement strikes the right balance between protecting households and also allowing the broadcaster to deliver its responsibilities.

"In the last few months, I've made it clear that the BBC needs to address issues around impartiality and groupthink. Those problems were highlighted definitively by the recent Serota review and the BBC's own leadership rightly recognised those findings in full and committed to deliver all of the review's recommendations in its 10-point plan on impartiality and editorial standards.

"But the BBC now needs to put those words into action. It needs to convince the British public that those changes are being made, and provide regular and transparent accounts of its progress."

04:35 PM

Nadine Dorries: This is a fair settlement for BBC and licence fee payers alike

The BBC wanted the licence fee to rise to over £180 by the end of the two-year settlement, Nadine Dorries told MPs, but it will instead remain fixed at £159.

"That's more money in the pockets of pensioners, in the pockets of families who are struggling to make ends meet. We are supporting households at a time when they need that support the most."

The settlement sends an "important message about keeping costs down" while giving the BBC "what it needs to deliver on its remit", Ms Dorries said.

It is a "fair settlement" for the BBC, the Welsh broadcaster S4C and licence fee payers, adds Ms Dorries.

"Let's not forget the BBC will continue to receive billions in annual public funding, allowing it to deliver its mission and public purposes and to continue doing what it does best. And to support the BBC even further in what is a fast changing broadcasting landscape, the Government will more than borrow the doubling limit of the BBC's commercial arm to £750 million."

04:32 PM

BBC licence fee frozen, confirms Nadine Dorries

Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, has confirmed that the licence fee will not rise for the next two years.

Making a statement about TV licensing in the House of Commons, Ms Dorries said: "As the Prime Minister has said the BBC is a great institution, it has a unique place in our cultural heritage and beyond our shores the BBC broadcasts our culture, values and identities reaching millions of people across the world.

"However, in reaching this settlement I had to be realistic about the economic situation facing households up and down the country. The global cost of living is rising and the Government is committed to supporting families during these difficult times. When it comes to monthly bills, this is one of few levers we have in our control.

"In the end we simply could not justify putting extra pressure on the wallets of hardworking households. Every organisation around the world is facing the challenge of inflation.

"Today I am announcing that the licence fee will be frozen for the next two years and that it will rise in line with inflation for the following four years."

04:27 PM

'The time has come' for China to lift sanctions, says Speaker

Sir Lindsay Hoyle has warned that "the time has come" for China to lift sanctions against MPs and peers.

"The sooner that they do that, the more trust can be rebuilt," the Speaker of the Commons said.

"But while those exist, trust will always begin to fail."

"We will look very closely between the Home Secretary and the services and this House to ensure that members are kept safe."

04:18 PM

Nicola Sturgeon 'cautiously optimistic' over Covid changes

Nicola Sturgeon said she is "cautiously optimistic" about Scotland's coronavirus situation ahead of a statement announcing any changes to restrictions, writes Sam Hall.

The First Minister said the country was "in a better position than I feared we would be before Christmas", but would not comment on whether she plans to follow Wales with a mass easing of Covid rules.

Ms Sturgeon was speaking after she had visited Windhoist, a turbine installation company - Andy Buchanan/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Ms Sturgeon was speaking after she had visited Windhoist, a turbine installation company - Andy Buchanan/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Her comments come as the Scottish Tories called for the scrapping of most coronavirus restrictions, with the exception of face coverings.

Ms Sturgeon will chair a cabinet meeting on Tuesday morning before updating Holyrood about the Government's plans later in the afternoon.

04:05 PM

Barry Gardiner asks where 'tainted money' ended up

Barry Gardiner spoke during the security update statement debate to thank MPs for the "kind messages" he had received in recent days.

Mr Gardiner, the Labour MP for Brent North, said he had been “liaising with our security services for a number of years" over donations he had been given by Christine Lee, and denied any wrongdoing, saying he had received assurances from MI5 that the funding from Ms Lee had come from legitimate sources.

"The security services told me their alert was based on specific intelligence of illegal funding which did not relate to the donations that were paid for my office staff, those ceased in 2020," Mr Gardiner said, as he wondered where the "tainted money" ended up.

Ms Patel said she was sure Mr Gardiner would continue to cooperate with security services "at the highest level".

"It is a fact that across this House we will absolutely come together to do everything possible in terms of protecting the integrity of our democracy and all honourable members from such malign interference and threats."

04:00 PM

Call China 'the threat that it really is', Iain Duncan Smith urges MPs

It is "shocking" that any MP "should allow themselves be used by a foreign power", Sir Iain Duncan Smith said.

"One of the problems we've got is this is not suddenly emerged. This is not a new problem with China, there are about 13 organisations with that purpose, hiding in public view. The Government's got to get tougher even still.

"In the Integrated Review, we refer to Russia as a 'threat' but China as a 'systematic challenge'. Just given that the head of MI6 said the biggest challenge was adapting to a world affected by China, doesn't she think that it is time to change our position and call China the threat that it really is to us?"

Ms Patel praises Sir Iain for "[speaking] a great deal of sense", while acknowledging a number of Parliamentarians had been sanctioned by China for speaking out against its regime.

"It is right that we constantly review all our threats from adversaries, and I can give him my complete assurance that I will be working with all of my colleagues across Government to make sure that absolutely happens."

03:56 PM

'So many facets' of state interference, Priti Patel tells Commons

Julian Lewis, the chairman of the Intelligence and Security Agency, emphasised the "important distinction" between agents of influence, or covert propagandists, and espionage agents or spies.

"She referred in her statement to new national security legislation," Mr Lewis said. "In precisely what areas does she anticipate that new legislation interfering in the activities of agents of influence and of espionage agents?"

Ms Patel described this as an "important point" as there are "so many facets" of interference, and called it "absolutely right" that these be reviewed.

"These are the strands that we are putting together, working on this legislation so we can close down that missing environment and space where quite frankly we have seen too much exploitation in the past."

03:52 PM

'No complacency' around foreign interference, says Priti Patel

There is "no complacency" from ministers about issues of foreign state interference, Priti Patel insisted in response to Yvette Cooper's comments (see 3.47pm).

"There's never any complacency at all and actually on issues of national security, I think it's vital that all parties irrespective of their opposition previously to protecting national security come together," she said.

"The Government gave a full response to the Russia Report in July 2020, and many of the recommendations were already in-tray. That comes in relation to much of the work around protecting democracy, much of which sits with the Cabinet Office.

"It is absolutely vital that officials across Government [and] local authorities are rightly attuned to state threats to national security."

03:47 PM

Yvette Cooper: Labour stands ready on national security - but Government cannot be complacent

Yvette Cooper, the Shadow Home Secretary, vowed that Labour "always stands ready to work with the Government on national security" and protecting against foreign interference.

The information received by the Speaker last week was "extremely serious", Ms Cooper said.

"We condemn in the strongest possible terms attempts by China to interfere in our democratic process and I support the Home Secretary's words on this important issue.

"Obviously there are further important questions about the extent of deception and interference that took place in this case, and also the ongoing risks of malign activity from foreign states in our Parliament and across our democracy that I appreciate the Home Secretary will be limited in what she can say in the chamber."

However, Ms Cooper warned Ms Patel against being "complacent in this area" amid "important warnings" about Russian and Chinese interference in the Russia report and the report on standards in public life respectively, "particularly about the risks from foreign money".

She asked the Home Secretary when the Russia Report's recommendations had not been implemented in full, and when the results of the consultation on foreign state interference - which closed last summer - would be published.

03:40 PM

Priti Patel 'utterly appalled' by Chinese 'spy' revelations

Priti Patel said she was "utterly appalled that an individual who has knowingly engaged in political independence on behalf of the Chinese Communist Party for a number of years targeted Members" after last week's revelations about a Chinese government agent operating in Parliament.

"It's a fact that this kind of activity has more recently become more common, with states that have malign intentions operating covertly and below criminal thresholds, in an attempt to interfere with our democracy. Members of both Houses of Parliament should make sure they are aware they are aware of threat of foreign interference."

Ms Patel said state threats are "persistent and take many, many forms" including espionage, sabotage and physical threats to individuals.

 Priti Patel is speaking in the Commons - Parliament TV
Priti Patel is speaking in the Commons - Parliament TV

"I am unequivocal in the tasking that takes place with our security forces to protect our state and citizens from the hostile work that takes place.

"MI5 concluded that this person acted covertly in coordination with the United Front Work Department, and is involved in political interference operations in the UK. In this case, the aim was to make the UK political landscape favourable to the Chinese agenda, and to challenge those that raise concerns about the Chinese authorities on very pressing and pertinent issues such as human rights."

The "world-class" work of British intelligence meant such alerts were set to become more common, Ms Patel said.

03:26 PM

Priti Patel 'undermining the law', says Labour counterpart

Yvette Cooper used today's Home Office Questions to accuse Priti Patel of "undermining the law" in her defence of Boris Johnson over Downing Street parties.

Ms Cooper highlighted that on 25 January, 2021, Ms Patel described an illegal gathering as "an insult to those hospitalised with Covid, our NHS staff and everyone staying at home to protect them", and asked the Home Secretary: "Why has she changed her mind?"

"With regards to coronavirus regulations, I stand by my comments because the entire country during the time of the virus itself, the pandemic, were absolutely doing incredible to work to ensure the virus was not being spread," Ms Patel responded. "Of course my views are consistent, they have not changed at all on that."

Ms Cooper asked "how on earth" the Home Secretary could defend the Prime Minister, "who has publicly admitted breaking the rules", and observed she had not even waited for the Sue Gray report into alleged rule-breaking.

"The Home Secretary's job is to uphold the rule of law. Does she realise how damaging it is to public trust and trust in the police to be undermining the law now?"

Ms Patel stressed that the police and courts are "independent of government", accusing Labour of wanting to "prejudge, pressure, smear [and] slander" the Prime Minister.

She added: "It's important that we let everyone get on and do the work that's required, and with respect to the police, that we continue to support the police in the right way and let the police do their jobs in the right way."

03:08 PM

Families hit by ‘fuel stress’ to treble to six million homes

The number of families suffering from “fuel stress” could treble overnight to six million households when energy price cap changes come into force in April, according to a leading think-tank’s report.

While lower income households will feel the brunt of the increases, researchers at the Resolution Foundation warned that middle class families would not be spared from the cost of living crunch.

Energy bills are expected to rise by about £600 a year when the cap is lifted on April 1, which will force households to spend a greater proportion of their budgets on gas and electricity. The Resolution Foundation said that 6.3 million families will spend at least 10 per cent of their budget on energy bills, which equates to 27 per cent of UK households. This is up from the current level of nine per cent.

The Foundation pointed out that people living in poorly insulated homes were more likely to feel the pinch. Almost seven in 10 people (69 per cent) live in a house or flat with an EPC F-rating.

Gurpreet Narwan, our Consumer Affairs Editor, has this report

02:57 PM

Norman Tebbit: Beware the silent Cabinet minister

Two weeks ago, most political columnists recognised that Boris Johnson was facing plenty of difficulties, but very few of them were writing that he might be brought down before their next column was due, writes Norman Tebbit.

Things have changed rapidly. Bit by bit the facts of the affair have been dragged out in the media and the House of Commons. Yes, agreed Boris Johnson, there were a number of people, about thirty or so, in the garden of Number 10. And yes, they were drinking wine.

And yes, we learned someone on the Prime Minister’s staff had written to about a hundred people inviting them to the gathering and to bring a bottle with them. And yes, the Prime Minister himself had joined them for a while, thinking that those present were just having a refresher whilst they were at work.

By then poor Boris Johnson must have wished that there had been a prolonged thunderstorm keeping everyone indoors that day. To add to his troubles, three of his Cabinet colleagues — Rishi Sunak, Dominic Raab and Michael Gove — were anxious to let it be known that they were not at the party, but were busy at their departmental duties.

Norman Tebbit: Cabinet's excuses remind me of the fall of Thatcher

02:55 PM

Labour calls on Government to back sexual offence demands

Labour has called on the Government to support its calls to ensure that every area in England has a RASO (Rape and Serious Sexual Offences Unit).

Jess Phillips, the shadow Home Office minister, told the Commons that she had spent last Friday morning with "a young 20-year-old rape victim who is now in her fifth year awaiting trial", and then the afternoon with a young woman "who has been groomed and sexually exploited for a decade".

"Police cannot guarantee her safety in her complex case so she has come forward and withdrawn various times," she said. "Both the accused rapist in the first case and the many multiple gang members involved in the second are walking free, able to groom, abuse and rape as many women and children as they like.

"These cases are not rare, they are not unusual. Operation Sateria has already pointed out and made it very clear that there is a real need for more specialism and priority within police forces. So saying she's going to pilot it in 14 more areas and find out the exact same thing isn't going to be enough.

Home Office minister Rachel Maclean insisted ministers were "constantly engaged in that kind of work", as she said more funding was being put into the police and claimed Ms Phillips had not been "specific" about the cases she raised.

"To be clear, funding into these important specialisms has been increased and we are increasing funding to the police to the tune of £15.9 billion."

02:47 PM

Coming up in the Commons

The Home Secretary is to address MPs in a security update this afternoon after last week's revelations about a Chinese 'spy' being active in Parliament.

MI5 warned a suspected agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament, the Commons was told on Thursday.

A notice from the security service named the suspected agent as Christine Lee, who it claims is "knowingly engaged in political interference on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP)".

At around 4.30pm, Nadine Dorries, the Culture Secretary, will then give a statement on TV licensing.

Last autumn, Nadine Dorries told our own Christopher Hope: "There's a lot for the BBC to address and we're having those discussions at the moment, but the BBC has to change" - Paul Grover
Last autumn, Nadine Dorries told our own Christopher Hope: "There's a lot for the BBC to address and we're having those discussions at the moment, but the BBC has to change" - Paul Grover

The statement follows Ms Dorries declaring an end to the BBC licence fee at the weekend. She wrote on Twitter: "This licence fee announcement will be the last. The days of the elderly being threatened with prison sentences and bailiffs knocking on doors are over."

At last year's Conservative Party conference, Ms Dorries questioned whether the corporation would exist in 10 years as she called on it to represent a wider range of views and a demographic beyond people "whose mum and dad work there".

02:27 PM

Iain Dale: Carrie Johnson doesn’t deserve this criticism

From the first minute of her relationship with Boris Johnson being made public, the Prime Minister’s wife Carrie has faced a disproportionate – and, I would argue, unfair – level of criticism, writes Iain Dale.

She is often portrayed by Mr Johnson’s enemies as exercising an undue influence over Government policy. Reshuffle sackings and No10 appointments have been alleged, with little evidence, to be down to her. A lot of the commentary has been disappointingly misogynistic in its tone.

Boris Johnson was joined by Carrie on stage in Manchester after his closing speech at last October's Conservative Party Conference - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Boris Johnson was joined by Carrie on stage in Manchester after his closing speech at last October's Conservative Party Conference - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

We have seen something similar before, of course, when Bill Clinton became president of the United States. Like Hillary Clinton, Mrs Johnson is steeped in politics. She is a former director of communications at Conservative Campaign Headquarters. She had worked as an adviser to various politicians over the years.

Nevertheless, there are differences. She has not embraced the limelight in the same way as Mrs Clinton did, and has never shown the same personal political ambitions. There is no equivalent in the British constitution to the position of First Lady. Therefore, the fact remains that she doesn’t draft laws, she is not responsible for them, and she cannot and should not be held accountable for them.

Iain Dale: Boris's wife should not be unfairly dragged into this mess

02:03 PM

Wait for Sue Gray, another Tory backbencher urges

A Tory backbench MP insists his constituents "wanted the Prime Minister to get on with the job" when he went home in the wake of the 'Partygate' revelations of recent weeks.

Paul Bristow, the MP for Peterborough, said he received "probably over 100 emails" about the allegations but also had correspondence which was more supportive of Boris Johnson.

"I went to a coffee morning where I sat down with many residents and while there is concern about this, what those people were telling me is that they wanted the Prime Minister to get on with the job," he told Sky. "He has rolled out the vaccine programme, we are open more than any other economy in Europe.

"My father died during lockdown and his grandchildren weren't able to say goodbye to him. I wasn't able to say goodbye to him in the way that I wanted. That hurts and it's still with me now, so I completely understand why so many people are angry and concerned about this.

"But what I'm going to do is wait for that report, wait for Sue Gray to deliver her investigation, because there are conflicting stories about what happened when... I think it's very important everyone is clear about what happened. [Boris Johnson's apology] was the right thing to do, but I think we need to wait for that report."

01:55 PM

Timing of Sue's report still a Gray area

The Sue Gray report into alleged lockdown breaches will be published "swiftly", Boris Johnson's official spokesman told reporters - but there was no clarity on how soon that actually means.

"I don’t have any indication or steer on timings," the spokesman said.

There is no shortage of allegations for Sue Gray to try and get to the bottom of in her much-anticipated report - Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency
There is no shortage of allegations for Sue Gray to try and get to the bottom of in her much-anticipated report - Rasid Necati Aslim/Anadolu Agency

"As with any parliamentary statement, we need to work with the Speaker's office. I couldn't put timescale on it, but we certainly are, we want to be published and you can expect to hear from the PM swiftly."

Asked what proportion of the report would be publicly released, he added: “We’ve committed to publishing it in the House in full."

However, it is understood parts of the report could remain redacted.

01:43 PM

Who should lead the Tories next?

In case you missed it, our poll today asks who you would want to replace Boris Johnson in the event that the Prime Minister were to leave office or be forced out by his party.

Over the weekend, we reported that Michael Gove has been accused of embarking on "manoeuvres" by courting Tory MPs at dinner, while Rishi Sunak is staying conspicuously silent as some of his Cabinet colleagues line up to defend Boris Johnson over 'Partygate'.

Other names in the ring include Jeremy Hunt, the former health secretary who has been on the backbenches during the Johnson years, and Liz Truss, who was promoted to Foreign Secretary from the international trade brief in the most recent reshuffle last September.

When the time comes for a change of leader, who would you want it to be?

01:31 PM

Labour frontbencher tests positive for Covid

A Shadow Cabinet minister urged people to test themselves regularly as she confirmed she had contracted coronavirus.

Dr Rosena Allin-Khan, the Labour MP for Tooting and shadow minister for mental health, tested positive last night and cited her symptoms as fatigue and a headache

Dr Allin-Khan - who also works as an A&E doctor, and spent Christmas Eve on the frontline - confirmed she is self-isolating but will "try to get to as many emails and virtual meetings as possible".

The shadow minister last week described the state of the health service as "bleak", and added: "When it comes to the NHS, you can never trust the Tories."

01:18 PM

'Vital' that BBC keep down prices during to cost of living crisis, says Number 10

Downing Street said it was "vital" that the BBC sought to keep down costs ahead of an expected freeze in the licence fee.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "It's obviously vital the BBC is doing everything possible to avoid new costs for UK households at a time when many are facing financial pressures and deliver the best value for money for licence-fee payers."

Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries said at the weekend that the next announcement about the BBC licence fee "will be the last", and indicated she wanted to find a new funding model for the BBC after the current licence fee funding deal expires in 2027.

Sources told the Telegraph that the Culture Secretary was ‘profoundly damaging’ the corporation.

01:09 PM

Boris Johnson travelled between Chequers and Number 10 in the pandemic

Downing Street said Boris Johnson commuted between Chequers and No 10 during March 2020 as his wife was pregnant and it was safer for the couple to be away from London.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman was asked about reporting by news website Tortoise that alleged Mr Johnson had commuted between his country residence and No 10 between March 16 and 27, 2020, when guidance said people should not travel for non-essential reasons.

He said: "At the time, as you know, Mrs Johnson was heavily pregnant and had been placed in a vulnerable category and advised to minimise social contacts, so in line with clinical guidance and to minimise the risk to her they were based at Chequers during that period, with the Prime Minister commuting to Downing Street to work."

The spokesman said there would have been staff at Chequers with the couple.

He said the guidance on not travelling to second homes did not come in until March 22, "at which point the Prime Minister and his wife were already based in Chequers, acting in line with clinical guidance".

Asked if the PM was therefore putting his wife at risk by commuting during the period, the spokesman said: "The Prime Minister was leading the coronavirus response, the pandemic response, and in line with a number of individuals who were required to still be in work... that's why the Prime Minister was coming to No 10 for necessary work meetings."

12:58 PM

Number 10 says it not accurate the PM knew about garden party

No 10 said it was "not accurate" to suggest Boris Johnson knew about a party held in the Downing Street garden on May 20 2020.

It follows allegations that the Prime Minister was warned about the BYOB gathering beforehand.

But the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We made clear over the weekend that it's untrue to say that the Prime Minister was told or warned ahead of that."

The spokesman also denied Mr Johnson had said people were "over-reacting" about the gathering.

12:48 PM

MPs to be updated on China by the Home Secretary

Home Secretary Priti Patel is due to give a security update to MPs on Monday afternoon.

It is expected to be related to China.

It follows news that MI5 warned MPs that a suspected agent of the Chinese government has been active in the British Parliament.

12:36 PM

Breaking: Boris Johnson does not refer to himself as 'Big Dog'

In what must be one of the strangest clarifications to emerge from a Lobby briefing, the Prime Minister does not refer to himself as "big dog", Downing Street has said.

Asked whether it was a term used by staff, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "I've never heard that term used."

And asked if it was how Mr Johnson referred to himself, the spokesman added: "Certainly not that I am aware of."

12:29 PM

17 offshore wind farm projects awarded £700m in contracts

Contracts worth almost £700 million have been awarded to 17 projects for new offshore wind farms along Scotland's coasts.

Crown Estate Scotland was charged with overseeing the ScotWind Leasing bidding process, which received 74 applications from energy firms. The final awards, which include contracts with Scottish Power, Shell, SSE and BP, total £699.2 million.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said on Monday it was "possibly one of the most significant days in energy and industrial terms that Scotland has seen for a very, very long time".

Most of the sites are on the east, north east or northern coast, with just one on the western side of Scotland. The developments, which are a combination of floating, fixed and mixed turbines, are estimated to produce almost 25,000 megawatts of energy.

"I think it's hard - really hard - to overstate the significance of today's announcement for our energy, environmental and economic future," Ms Sturgeon said.

"What's been announced today - although there's lots of work to be done to bring it to fruition - really has the potential not just to meet energy needs from renewable sources, but to position us as a major exporter in renewable energy and green hydrogen, but it also brings massive opportunities for the economy."

12:09 PM

Criminals motivated by misogyny should spend longer in jail, says former justice secretary

Offenders whose crimes are motivated by misogyny should spend longer in jail, Sir Robert Buckland, the former justice secretary, has said.

Sir Robert is urging the Government to seriously consider an amendment to its policing bill due before the House of Lords on Monday.

This would give courts power to treat misogyny as an aggravating factor in any crime and increase sentences accordingly.

The amendment is being championed by Baroness Newlove, a Tory peer and former victims’ commissioner, who has campaigned against injustice since her husband, Gary, was murdered after confronting a gang of drunken youths vandalising her car.

Charles Hymas, our Home Affairs Editor, has the story

11:55 AM

Government attacks on BBC 'a bad step in democracy', says Labour leader

Sir Keir Starmer labelled the licence fee freeze amid a war of words between the Government and the BBC "a bad step in democracy".

"I think the BBC does a good job of holding us all to account, and they ask us questions that are really tough... and quite right too," Sir Keir told LBC.

"What happens is there's rule-breaking and then - this is typical of this Prime Minister, what do you do next? Have I faced questions I'd rather not face, of course I have. Have I then gone out and moaned about it and said anyone else is biased, no of course I haven't. You face the questions, whether you think they're fair or not.

"This is saying to the BBC 'we don't like your coverage of us and we're going to threaten you financially as a result'. This is a very bad step in a democracy. Face the music, the Government's got answers, go out and give those answers to the BBC."

Sir Keir highlighted that "the headlines aren't going to be very nice" for the Government in the wake of the Downing Street party revelations, amid criticism of a montage on Newsnight in some newspaper reports at the weekend.

11:40 AM

Iain Duncan Smith: Chinese spy’s meddling in politics ‘tip of the iceberg’

A suspected Chinese agent who was targeting MPs is “the tip of the iceberg”, Iain Duncan Smith has told Sky News.

The senior Tory MP said the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) trying to "persuade and infiltrate and subvert people within our political system" was "nothing new at all" and insisted "too many governments seem too cautious about calling it out".

The offices of Christine Lee and Co in central London - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
The offices of Christine Lee and Co in central London - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Sir Iain was asked by Trevor Phillips about the urgent alert issued by MI5 last week that said Christine Lee - a prominent UK-based solicitor - had been engaged in "political interference activities" on behalf of China's ruling communist regime.

He said: "We seem to want to kowtow to them too often and that's dangerous and you have seen the results of that and this is just the tip of the iceberg, I can promise you."

Iain Duncan Smith: Government must fight back harder on China

11:30 AM

Tim Stanley: Britain's failed establishment will never apologise for lockdown catastrophe

The PM has apologised after being accused of breaking lockdown rules. Fine. But will anyone apologise for setting them? asks Tim Stanley.

Some were clearly impossible or unnecessary, or why else would Downing Street staff have ignored them? I assume these people aren’t suicidal, although buying wine from the Co-op implies a certain recklessness.

My fear is that we’ll become so obsessed with the breaking of rules by Westminster party animals that we’ll emerge from this pandemic without a proper assessment of how much damage the restrictions regime did – to our society, health and economy.

The rules were an expression of power - and no one gives that up easily, writes Tim Stanley - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images
The rules were an expression of power - and no one gives that up easily, writes Tim Stanley - Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Action was needed in March 2020. We could’ve been tougher: the borders stayed open too long and care homes were poorly protected.

But last week, when Labour MPs in the Commons painted the PM as a libertine, they listed rules affecting their constituents that were petty and cruel. Someone unable to visit a brother with stage 4 throat cancer. A son forced to sit outside a hospital while, inside, his mother died.

And, most preposterous of all, a funeral conducted behind a barrier at which mourners weren’t even allowed to place flowers on the coffin. What was the worry here? That the deceased might catch Covid?

Tim Stanley: The elite cannot admit it was wrong to lock us down

11:17 AM

Britain will have 'flu-type' relationship with Covid, suggests adviser

Britain will have a "flu-type" relationship with Covid by the end of the year, a Government adviser has suggested.

Dr Mike Tildesley, a member of the Scientific Pandemic Influenza Modelling group (Spi-M), said: "Say we get into a situation where the virus becomes very, very mild and we are living alongside it.

"We're not there yet, but hopefully we will be at some point this year - then we do need to talk about not just cases but also hospital admissions and the number of people who are dying with the disease.

"Hopefully as we get towards the warmer weather we can start to see these restrictions removed and we can have more of a discussion about what living with Covid is going to be like. Hopefully we won't see a return to restrictions as we get further through the year."

Sam Hall has more here

11:01 AM

Meet Sue Gray: The former publican who could call last orders on Boris Johnson

In the 1980s, Sue Gray briefly paused her stellar civil service career to buy a pub in “bandit country” in Northern Ireland during The Troubles, writes Robert Mendick.

If Boris Johnson needed evidence that his inquisitor-in-chief is no pushover, then being landlady of a pub in Newry close to the Irish border shows she is no soft touch.

Ms Gray has the task of investigating a series of alleged lockdown parties held in Downing Street and across government during the Covid-19 pandemic.

The Prime Minister has been questioned by Ms Gray over the 'Partygate' allegations he and other MPs face and The Telegraph understands that he has shared all he knows with the civil servant.

Ahead of the report being published as early as this week, Downing Street is already planning its response - with a promise to clean up the culture of drinking and rule-breaking it seems to have adopted, as well as the potential sacking of senior members.

​Profile: The former publican who could call last orders on Boris

10:51 AM

Keir Starmer full of praise for Labour's number 2

...not Angela Rayner, but the party's latest star signing Gary Neville, who confirmed on Friday that he is now a paid-up member of the official opposition.

"I want to support Labour," Neville told the BBC's Political Thinking podcast. "I do believe that we need a progressive Labour party but one that not just looks after the left side … it has to come towards the centre."

During his LBC phone-in this morning, Sir Keir revealed he had had a number of conversations with the former Manchester United defender, who had opposed the local lockdown system of tiered restrictions in autumn 2020:

Asked about Neville's reported mayoral ambitions in Manchester, he said: "Gary should go as far as he wants. I’m delighted he wants to join Team Labour and it’s vindication we’re changing the Labour Party and now what I’m hearing more and more is people who want to be associated with us, want to join us. That’s a good thing."

10:40 AM

Inside Westminster’s booze problem

It was 5pm on Friday, recalls Peter Cardwell. Time for gin. I opened the mini fridge in my office at the department where I was a special adviser, invited some civil servants in and we measured the Hendricks into glasses.

One of the private secretaries cut up a lemon, using a piece of A4 paper as a makeshift chopping board. The Secretary of State was in his constituency, the wall-to-wall Friday meetings were over and it was time to kick back.

This was just the start of the evening. After a crazy week – working long hours, dealing with the madness of the Whitehall system, media calls at all hours – it was time for a drink. Or, more accurately, several drinks in the office and then the pub.

But it had also been “time for a drink” that lunchtime with the political editor who’d bought me a slap-up meal, hopeful of some insider gossip.

And it had been “time for a drink” when I was kicking my heels, along with bored backbenchers, on the freezing Commons terrace waiting for votes – forbidden from leaving in case the division bell went off. MPs voting drunk was a frequent occurrence, guided by their parliamentary whips into the correct division lobby before heading back to the bar to drain their pint and stagger home.

It was also “time for a drink” on the nights when the special advisers and party headquarters workers would get together in a rotating series of Westminster bars, the more experienced dispensing career advice to their younger companions.

Peter Cardwell: Alcohol lubricated my relationships on a daily basis

10:35 AM

'Living with Covid' will see self-isolation scrapped

People will no longer be legally bound to self-isolate when they catch Covid-19 under plans being drawn up by Downing Street to learn to live with coronavirus in the long-term, writes Ben Riley-Smith.

The Telegraph understands Boris Johnson wants to permanently repeal emergency coronavirus laws which have governed how the public can live for almost two years.

Instead, official guidance would remain in place which encourages people to behave in certain ways, but would not result in fines or legal punishment if ignored.

Dozens of train services were cancelled at the start of the year due to "the ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness" - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Dozens of train services were cancelled at the start of the year due to "the ongoing effect of coronavirus isolation and sickness" - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

The plans will be worked up over the coming weeks, with an announcement being penned in as early as the spring - although no final decisions have been taken.

It would also mean there would be no legal requirement to isolate after contact with someone who has Covid or to wear face masks in certain settings.

A senior government source told The Telegraph: “Lots of legal requirements were put in place during the pandemic.

Read the full story from our Political Editor here

10:26 AM

Have your say: Who should be the next Conservative leader?

Whether 'Partygate' will put paid to Boris Johnson's premiership or if the Prime Minister can ride out this latest political storm remains to be seen.

But this has done little to stem speculation about the possible contenders to take over at No 10 now that half a dozen Tory MPs have called for Mr Johnson to quit.

So - whenever it may be - who should the Conservatives choose as their next leader?

10:16 AM

Military to tackle Channel migrant crisis

The military is to be put in charge of stemming the surge in illegal migrants crossing the Channel and could take charge of controversial “pushback” tactics to turn away boats at sea, reports Charles Hymas, our Home Affairs Editor.

Priti Patel, the Home Secretary, is expected to announce the move within weeks as part of Boris Johnson’s attempted fightback. Dubbed Operation Red Meat, it is aimed at wooing back voters with populist policies after the “partygate” scandal.

A lady carries a small child as a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
A lady carries a small child as a group of people thought to be migrants are brought in to Dungeness - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

The Armed Forces will be able to deploy Naval ships, boats and sophisticated surveillance technology to bolster Border Force, which is limited to just five cutters.

The Navy will step in if Border Force officers go on strike or refuse to deploy the pushback tactics, where jet skis block and redirect migrants’ boats back towards France.

It is designed to combat record numbers of migrants crossing the Channel in small boats, but has not yet been used - despite being legally signed off by government lawyers in September.

Full story: Navy could step in to stem illegal crossings surge

10:10 AM

I'm not worried about The Corbyn Party, says Keir Starmer

Asked if a new party that may be launched by Jeremy Corbyn could deplete support for Labour, Sir Keir Starmer said: "I don’t feel threatened in the slightest by that.

"I don’t know whether it’s true or not, a lot of these stories go around. First we need to recognise we lost badly, and do something politicians aren’t very good at which is not to blame the electorate.

Jeremy Corbyn addresses protesters during the Kill the Bill march - Alberto Pezzali/AP
Jeremy Corbyn addresses protesters during the Kill the Bill march - Alberto Pezzali/AP

"The next bit is to say the Government isn’t fit for purpose. I’m doing that now, I’m ably assisted by the Prime Minister who’s making it clear he’s not fit for purpose. That is why I had a reshuffle, put our top team out there."

The third element of Labour's current strategy is for the party to show that it is fit to govern, Sir Keir added.

09:55 AM

Keir Starmer: Drug policy reform 'not the right way forward'

Sir Keir Starmer flatly ruled out changing his position on drug reform in an interview with LBC this morning as he insisted it was "not the right way forward".

"I have looked at many, many drug cases when I was chief prosecutor for five years," Sir Keir said. "I had I don’t know how many thousand drug cases come across my desk. I saw the damage they do across our society and I don’t think we should change the law.

"Am I in favour of a health response as well, yes I am, am I in favour of anything that helps people with addiction, yes I am, but I don’t think the answer is simply to decriminalise as drugs are unlawful.

Sir Keir Starmer has insisted he has a "very good" working relationship with Sadiq Khan, but the two men seem poles apart on drugs policy - Heathcliff O'Malley
Sir Keir Starmer has insisted he has a "very good" working relationship with Sadiq Khan, but the two men seem poles apart on drugs policy - Heathcliff O'Malley

"If you take one of the big issues at the moment, county line drug running going on from various counties. That ends up in huge criminal offences, it ends up - it’s personal to me - it ends up with dead youngsters on the streets of London, I’m afraid. I’ve seen too many of those cases to say, let’s rip up the drug laws."

It comes after The Telegraph revealed Sadiq Khan, the Labour Mayor of London, is planning to end the prosecution of young people caught with cannabis in a move to decriminalise drugs in the capital.

On Mr Khan's pilot, Sir Keir said: "I’ll look at the pilot when it’s finished, of course I will, but I don’t think in principle we should change the drug laws. I'll look carefully at the result of the pilot."

09:30 AM

Keir Starmer's explanation for lockdown drinks picture

The restrictions allowed people to work where they needed to.

We were running an election campaign, we were in a constituency office. So you were allowed into work to do your work.

Just to put this into context at this stage no restaurants were open, no pubs were open, the hotel we stayed in weren’t doing food, so if you didn’t get a takeaway our team wasn’t eating that evening... I normally have about six (people) with me.

09:29 AM

Breaking: Labour leader unapologetic over lockdown beer

Sir Keir Starmer has refused to apologise over a picture of him having drinks with Labour staff in May 2021, as he insisted: "We did nothing wrong."

At the time, indoor mixing between different households was prohibited except in work scenarios.

Nadhim Zahawi, the Education Secretary, was among senior Conservatives who called for Sir Keir to apologise in light of his own criticisms of Mr Johnson.

But speaking to Nick Ferrari on LBC's monthly Call Keir phone-in, Sir Keir said: "I think it’s very straightforward. It was a very busy time; it was three or four days before the local elections. We were working in the office, and a takeaway turned up and we stopped and we ate it.

"Honestly, you know, two parties the night before Prince Philip’s funeral with suitcases. We didn’t break any rules, we were working in the office.

"I understand what’s going on here which is exactly what happened with Owen Paterson, there comes a time when the Tories try to take everyone into the gutter with them. We did nothing wrong."

09:25 AM

Nadhim Zahawi: Public anger 'not lost on me and my family'

The public's anger and hurt over Downing Street parties is "not lost on me or my family", a minister said this morning.

Nadhim Zahawi, whose uncle died of the virus in January 2021, urged Britons not to "condemn" Boris Johnson before the full findings of Sue Gray's report - which could come as early as this week.

Asked about Tory MP Robert Largan's constituency office being dubbed with the word 'lies', Mr Zahawi told Sky News: "The anger and the level of hurt is not lost on me or my family. I absolutely share that. All I would say is that we have to allow the investigation to take place.

"Why? Because that’s the fair thing to do. You don’t condemn a man without a thorough investigation and I think Sue Gray will conduct that."

Speaking to Times Radio, he added: "I lost my uncle to Covid and we couldn’t visit him in hospital. We couldn’t give him a proper burial because of the restrictions... I think the Prime Minister has made that apology, we now need the detail."

Downing Street is already planning its response to the findings, with the promise to overhaul a “drinking culture” in Number 10 and the departure of senior figures expected.

09:14 AM

Rishi Sunak stays silent as Cabinet ministers back Boris

A dozen Cabinet ministers including Rishi Sunak have still not given a broadcast interview supporting Boris Johnson since his “partygate” apology last week.

A push to get ministers on the airwaves in support of the Prime Minister has taken place since the first public calls from Tory MPs for him to resign.

Telegraph analysis has found that 15 Cabinet ministers have made television and radio appearances backing Mr Johnson since Prime Minsters’ Questions last Wednesday.

They include appearances on BBC Radio Four’s Today program and PM program, BBC One’s Question Time and short interviews given to Sky News and ITV News.

Ben Riley-Smith and Maighna Nanu have the story

09:00 AM

Boris Johnson grilled by Sue Gray over Downing Street parties

Boris Johnson has been questioned by Sue Gray over “partygate” allegations, Whitehall sources have told The Telegraph, as new signs of a Tory grassroots backlash emerged.

The Prime Minister is understood to have shared what he knows with Ms Gray, the civil servant overseeing the investigation into alleged parties at Downing Street during lockdown, ahead of publication of the report as early as this week.

Downing Street is already planning its response to the findings, promising to overhaul a “drinking culture” in Number 10. The departure of senior figures is also expected.

With Mr Johnson facing the biggest political crisis of his premiership, more evidence emerged of an angry reaction among Tory voters to allegations of lockdown-breaking parties.

Ben Riley-Smith and Tony Diver have the full story

08:51 AM

Operation Red Meat: Licence fee for the chop?

Nadine Dorries has declared an end to the BBC licence fee, prompting the corporation to accuse her of plunging the broadcaster into a "spiral of decline".

In the latest skirmish between the Culture Secretary and the BBC, Ms Dorries posted on social media that the next announcement about the licence fee "will be the last".

She is expected to say in the coming week that the fee will be frozen at £159 until April 2024, and further indicated that a new funding model will be found by 2027, when the Royal Charter is up for renewal.

The breakdown in funding negotiations has caused deep anger. Sources close to the BBC Board said Ms Dorries was creating a “cut-price” broadcaster and urged her not to plough ahead with her plan to freeze the licence fee for two years.

Robert Mendick, our Chief Reporter, has the story

08:46 AM

Keir Starmer was at a work event, says shadow education secretary

It's been a big week for the phrase "work event". Last Wednesday, Boris Johnson told the Commons that is what he believed he was attending in the Downing Street garden on May 20, 2020, despite staff having been encouraged to "bring your own booze".

And Sir Keir Starmer was also engaged in a "work event" as he enjoyed a beer and some food in a constituency office in Durham during the May 2021 byelection campaign, the shadow education secretary has said.

“I don’t think you can compare in any way what’s going on here," Lucy Powell told Sky News. "This is one occasion that Keir has answered fully, which is that he was in a constituency office with a Labour colleague campaigning in a byelection.

If chants at this flash mob on Friday were anything to go by, the 'work event' reasoning hasn't convinced everyone - Jeff Gilbert
If chants at this flash mob on Friday were anything to go by, the 'work event' reasoning hasn't convinced everyone - Jeff Gilbert

"They broke from making calls to stand in a kitchen for 20 minutes to eat some sandwiches and have a drink before resuming making those phone calls. It’s very much what you might describe as a work event."

By contrast, Ms Powell described parties in Downing Street as "social gatherings on an industrial scale, pre-organised with invitations going out". She went on to claim Boris Johnson has "lost authority and he’s lost trust... people just perceive him as being a liar about these things".

08:34 AM

Run, Boris, run

Boris Johnson has taken Dilyn the dog on a morning run near Westminster, wearing what appear to be fish-patterned swim shorts for his early jog.

Boris Johnson jogs with his dog Dilyn through St James's Park in London - Hannah McKay/Reuters
Boris Johnson jogs with his dog Dilyn through St James's Park in London - Hannah McKay/Reuters

If recent days are anything to go by, we probably won't hear from Mr Johnson until he is next at the despatch box.

The Prime Minister is currently testing daily and limiting his contact with others after a Covid case in his family, Downing Street said last week.

While this is line with guidance, the PM is not legally obliged to isolate. He will continue to limit his contact "until and including Tuesday" - meaning he is out in time for Prime Minister's Questions the day after.

08:20 AM

Nadhim Zahawi: Keir Starmer should also apologise

Boris Johnson has made an apology to the Commons and it would be right for Sir Keir Starmer to do the same, Nadhim Zahawi claimed this morning.

Keen to turn the spotlight away from his own leader, Mr Zahawi cited a picture of Sir Keir Starmer having drinks with Labour staff in a constituency office in Durham last May.

At the time, indoor mixing between different households was prohibited except in work scenarios. Sir Keir yesterday insisted the picture of him drinking beer in an office did not compare to the parties that took place at No 10 and denied allegations he had broken lockdown rules.

"I say this sincerely, I watched Keir Starmer’s interview yesterday with Sophie Raworth and I hope he also apologises because it’s only right," Mr Zahawi told Sky.

Separately, Mr Zahawi told Times Radio: "I saw [the BBC] questioning Keir Starmer on this and he didn't apologise. That's a mistake in my view."

08:15 AM

'Red meat' speculation gives Government a raw deal, says Nadhim Zahawi

Nadhim Zahawi said he does not recognise speculation about 'Operation Red Meat' or 'Operation Save Big Dog' after reports over the weekend suggested plans were in place to woo voters with populist policies while protecting Boris Johnson's position as PM.

"I'm a member of the Cabinet, I don't recognise that language about 'red meat' or 'big dogs'," Mr Zahawi told Times Radio. "I don't recognise this stuff as if overnight we've just trumped up these ideas, that's not how government works."

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets customers on a stall selling meat sandwiches - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson greets customers on a stall selling meat sandwiches - Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

The Education Secretary maintained that work around small boats and illegal migration, reaching a settlement on the funding of the BBC and levelling up were all part of "long-term" work being carried out by Number 10 and the Cabinet.

Mr Johnson had got the "big calls" right on Brexit, the vaccine rollout and resisting further measures to combat the omicron variant beyond Plan B, he argued.

08:05 AM

Don't rush to 'condemn' Boris Johnson over party reports, urges minister

The Education Secretary this morning appealed with the public not to judge Boris Johnson until all the facts from Sue Gray investigation's are known.

"I think the Prime Minister understands people’s level of hurt and their sacrifice," Nadhim Zahawi, who was vaccines minister at the time of several of the alleged gatherings, told Sky News.

"All I can say to you is I completely understand how people feel angry about this. Let’s wait for the investigation - it’s only right. Our British values are all about fairness and you don’t condemn an individual before having all the facts before you. The thing that you and I both know is he’s apologised and I hope other politicians do the same."

Nadhim Zahawi was the vaccines minister during the initial mass rollout of jabs - Jeff Gilbert
Nadhim Zahawi was the vaccines minister during the initial mass rollout of jabs - Jeff Gilbert

Mr Zahawi recalled his own experiences after losing Faiz Issa, his 88-year-old uncle, to coronavirus during full lockdown restrictions in January 2021.

"It was heart-wrenching because it tells you everything about this evil virus," Mr Zahawi told The Telegraph last year. "I was literally – 48 hours before his death – asking him about his oxygen. And he was joking around on WhatsApp, saying: 'I've got 94 percent oxygen, and I'm gonna make it out of here. Got a bit of pneumonia but I am fine'."

08:00 AM

Good morning

It is the start of another tumultuous week in Westminster, with Sue Gray's report into alleged breaches of lockdown at the highest levels of government looming.

Here is the front page of your Telegraph today:

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