Business Secretary 'categorically' rules out grants or subsidies to larger energy firms

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Kwasi Kwarteng has been quizzed repeatedly by MPs about the mounting energy crisis - Reuters
Kwasi Kwarteng has been quizzed repeatedly by MPs about the mounting energy crisis - Reuters

Kwasi Kwarteng has "categorically" ruled out handing subsidies or grants to larger energy companies as a result of the crisis.

The Business Secretary had been forced to return to the Commons Chamber to answer questions about surging prices for a second time this week, in addition to his appearance before a select committee yesterday.

He rejected suggestions that he had been "complacent" in planning for the winter, telling MPs he was "resolutely focused" on ensuring there is continued supply, keeping the energy price cap in place and protecting consumers.

The minister also restated his promise that the Government will not bailout "failing" companies.

But it was not good enough for Chi Onwurah, Labour's MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne, who asked for a guarantee that "not one penny of taxpayers' money" will go to the larger firms.

Mr Kwarteng replied: "In terms of subsidies or grants to larger companies, I can categorically say to this House we will not be giving any grants or subsidies to larger companies."

03:05 PM

And that's it for another day....

Boris Johnson is back in the country after his trip to the US, and Parliament is due to go into recess shortly, as conference season kicks up a gear.

This weekend brings Labour's gathering, with Sir Keir Starmer battling to keep his leadership on track.

But the Government is also under increasing pressure to do something to alleviate the cost-of-living crisis, with criticism coming from their own benches as well as the opposition's.

This could pose a real test of the coalition of voters that Mr Johnson has united so far, with fears that those in Red Wall seats could turn against the Tories if they start to feel the pinch, while the Blue Wall frets about the impact on public finances.

We have had a taste of these issues today, with ministers being pulled in both directions when it comes to cutting taxes and boosting benefits. The price of energy might be most pressing - but it's far from the only issue at play here.

Read on for the rest of the day's news below.

02:58 PM

Police make further arrests over M25 protests

Two more arrests have been made by police investigating protests which blocked the M25 five times in the past two weeks.

The Metropolitan Police said a 36-year-old man was arrested in Streatham, south London on Wednesday, while a 51-year-old woman was arrested in Warrington, Cheshire on Thursday.

They were both arrested on suspicion of conspiracy to cause public nuisance. Three arrests were made for the same offence last week.

Some 28 arrests have been made for obstructing the public highway, the force added. Those arrested have been released under investigation.

02:46 PM

Labour: 'Responsibility for every empty shelf lies at Tories' door'

The energy crisis is "rapidly worsening", Labour has said, after BP announced it was shutting some of its petrol stations because of a shortage of lorry drivers.

Jim McMahon, the shadow transport secretary, said: "The Government has failed to heed the warnings for a decade, never investing in or valuing working class jobs.

“Sticking plaster solutions are not going to solve it. Ministers must take decisive steps now to tackle the 90,000 driver shortfall," he added.

"If they fail to take action, the responsibility for every empty shelf, every vital medicine not delivered and every supplier not able to meet demand lies at the Conservatives' door."

See 2:41pm and 2:07pm for more

02:41 PM

Cut VAT on energy bills as ‘Conservative solution’ to cost of living crisis

Cutting VAT on energy bills would be the "Conservative solution" to the mounting cost of living crisis, a senior Tory MP has said.

With much of the focus of the crisis on fuel costs, there is a growing movement among Tory MPs to have VAT on fuel reduced or abolished entirely.

Robert Halfon, the chairman of the education committee, told The Telegraph: "To me, this is a Conservative solution to the crisis.

"Even if it was targeted at the most vulnerable people, that would make a difference… They are spending money on subsidies anyway. I think this is possibly the easier and more Conservative way of doing it."

Read more here.

02:29 PM

Russian spy chief accuses UK Government of lying over fresh Salisbury charge

A Russian spy chief has accused the UK Government of lying and trying to divert attention from the Afghan withdrawal, after police said a third Russian suspect had been identified in the 2018 Novichok murder attempt on a former double agent.

"This is an attempt to cover up another lie or to support a previous lie," the Interfax news agency cited Sergei Naryshkin, the head of Russia's Foreign Intelligence Service (SVR), as saying.

Naryshkin said Britain's move sought to "distract the public from the shameful exit from Afghanistan, primarily by the United States and its allies."

02:23 PM

Tory MP opens up about IVF struggles from Brazil nuts to 'doing unnatural things in cubicles'

A Conservative MP has shared stories of fertility struggles, offering some levity in an otherwise emotional debate about baby loss.

James Sunderland, the MP for Bracknell, told MPs: "I was that man in the day, doing unnatural things in cubicles and clinics across London. I was that man carrying precious cargo on the Tube in oddly-shaped containers.

"I could, and did, deal with the alcohol bans for three months at a time. That was difficult but the loss of caffeine was really tough."

He recounted how a "mad, deranged woman" once grabbed a piece of white toast he was eating, and joked that putting chopped Brazil nuts on his cereal has given him "PTSD" to this day.

"On another occasion, I was on exercise with my regiment... and my phone rang, it was my wife and she said 'come home honey, I am ovulating'. I can tell you those words would put the fear of God into any man. "

But he urged people to support couples going through the IVF process, saying: "It is about the money, it is about the anxiety, endless cycles in many cases, it is also about the heavy drugs, the mood swings, it is also about the injections in the stomach. It is pretty grim."

02:08 PM

Ed Miliband: M25 protests 'alienate people'

Ed Miliband has said he is "not really" sympathetic to people taking part in the Insulate Britain protests, which have disrupted major roads in recent days.

The shadow business secretary told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "The problem is it alienates people. Of course there is a right to protest. But alienating people to your cause doesn't help.

"Look what the pupil climate strikers did. Some people were worried about them taking time off school and all of that, but it was a set of protests that won people to the cause and didn't alienate people from the cause."

02:02 PM

We will be shipbuilding: Work begins on Royal Navy's five new warships

Defence Secretary Ben Wallace outside The Venturer Building after a frigate steel cutting ceremony for the first of the class Type 31 frigate - PA
Defence Secretary Ben Wallace outside The Venturer Building after a frigate steel cutting ceremony for the first of the class Type 31 frigate - PA

Work has officially started on a £1.25 billion project to build the Royal Navy's five new warships as Ben Wallace cut steel for the first vessel.

The ceremony for HMS Venturer on Thursday took place at Babcock's facility at Rosyth in Fife, where the new Type 31 frigates are being built.

The newest of the Royal Navy's frigate fleet will undertake a variety of roles on operations including interception and disruption of illegal activity at sea, intelligence gathering, defence engagement and providing humanitarian support.

Second Sea Lord Vice Admiral Nick Hine and International Trade Secretary Anne-Marie Trevelyan were among the dignitaries present at the event, along with Director General Ships, Vice Admiral Chris Gardner of Defence Equipment and Support.

The Defence Secretary described the event as a "great milestone in the renaissance of British shipbuilding".

01:41 PM

BP joins chorus of firms demanding temporary amnesty for lorry drivers

BP has asked the Government to temporarily ease restrictions on recruiting HGV drivers from abroad.

The company plans to ration fuel deliveries to its petrol stations as it struggles to transport fuel from refineries to its 1,200 forecourts across Britain.

Hanna Hofer, head of retail in the UK, raised the problem at a meeting organised by the Cabinet Office last Thursday.

The same meeting was attended by Tesco and other groups who made the same argument for a temporary amnesty - but the Government is so far resisting such a move, instead favouring a push to get more British licence holders on the road.

See 2:07pm, 8:54am and 8:16am for more.

01:27 PM

Ross Clark: We're told going green won’t cost us - but that just isn’t true

Behind his conversion to a mop-haired Greta Thurnberg lies a cold calculation. - Bloomberg
Behind his conversion to a mop-haired Greta Thurnberg lies a cold calculation. - Bloomberg

Boris Johnson has always been a man of flexible views, able to transform his political philosophy at the flick of a switch according to whom he is trying to impress, writes Ross Clark.

Behind his conversion to a mop-haired Greta Thurnberg, of course, lies a cold calculation. He has reckoned that the British public is concerned about climate change, wants something done about it, and that his chief political weapon – his ability to find popularity with people well beyond the limits of traditional Tory voters – is best-served by leaping on the climate bandwagon.

But there is a danger to this, and one which – thanks to the current energy crisis - looks like becoming apparent sooner rather than later.

Read more from Ross here.

01:21 PM

EU braces for war with Apple over universal chargers

The European Union is planning to will impose a universal charger for smartphones, setting up a clash with Apple and the iPhone.

The European Commission believes a standard cable for all devices will cut back on electronic waste, but Apple argues that a one-size fits all charger would slow innovation and create more pollution.

"European consumers have been frustrated long enough about incompatible chargers piling up in their drawers," said EU executive vice president Margrethe Vestager in a statement.

"We gave industry plenty of time to come up with their own solutions, now time is ripe for legislative action for a common charger."

01:16 PM

Vaccine programme prevented 123,100 deaths, say PHE

The Covid-19 vaccination programme in England is estimated to have prevented 123,100 deaths, according to new figures from Public Health England.

Previous estimates had put the number at 112,300 deaths.

Estimates for the number of hospital admissions among people aged 45 and over directed averted by vaccinations in England are unchanged, at 230,800.

01:07 PM

Breaking: BP rations fuel deliveries to petrol stations

BP plans to ration fuel deliveries to its petrol stations as it battles a shortage of lorry drivers, reports Rachel Millard.

The company has warned the Government that its stocks are “declining rapidly” and the next few weeks will be “really, really difficult”, ITV News first reported.

BP said: “We are experiencing fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel.

“These have been caused by delays in the supply chain, which has been impacted by industry-wide driver shortages across the UK and we are working hard to address this issue.

Read the full story here.

12:58 PM

'I thought whistleblowing was more steam engine than fast high-speed trains'

Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg dismissed Mr Bridgen's claims, saying: "I thought whistleblowing was more steam engine than fast high-speed trains but never mind.

"Obviously, the energy to run a train that is 440 yards long, that is two furlongs long, extraordinary length of train, at 225 miles an hour is more than running Ivor the Engine.

"And that is of course something that has to be built into the overall energy plans of this country.

"But the cost of energy to operate the HS2 network has been accounted for within the overall business case of the project and this energy will be procured in the open market at the right time to start operations and achieve value for money for the taxpayer."

He insisted Mr Bridgen's figures were wrong, adding: "The delivery and service of HS2 phase one remains 2029-2033, so I am interested in his whistle blower and I will of course pass the whistle onto the Secretary of State for Transport."

12:55 PM

Tory MP: HS2 is a 'loss-making' project

The HS2 high-speed rail line is a "loss-making" project, which will not be completed before 2041, a Conservative MP has told the Commons.

Conservative MP for North West Leicestershire Andrew Bridgen told Parliament that he had received information from a whistleblower within HS2 Ltd, which claims the first phase of the line, running between London and Birmingham, will not open until 2041, around 10 years later than planned.

He told MPs: "Experts in the field estimate that the energy requirements of HS2 trains will be five time that of conventional rail."

He added: "Can we have an extended debate on the impact of HS2 on Government's energy policy and the level of subsidy this loss-making project will have to be supported with annually if it is ever built?

"Could we have this debate before 2041, which is the date that my whistleblower at the very top of HS2 tells me the project for phase one will actually be able to carry passengers between London and Birmingham?"

12:52 PM

MP brings newborn son to Commons

In a lighter moment in Westminster this afternoon, Labour MP for Walthamstow Stella Creasy brought a plus one to the Commons.

As she discussed schools and mental health, she did so with her newborn son strapped to her chest in a sling.

Stella Creasy and her newborn son strapped to her chest in the chamber - House of Commons/PA
Stella Creasy and her newborn son strapped to her chest in the chamber - House of Commons/PA

Seemingly unperturbed about the debate, the four-week-old slept through his mother's address to MPs.

12:40 PM

M25 protesters 'have got it wrong', says Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan has sided with the Government by saying climate change protesters blocking the M25 have "got it wrong".

Speaking to reporters after a speech on the climate and air pollution crises facing London and the world, the London Mayor said he "passionately believes in the right to protest peacefully, lawfully, safely".

He said he shared their concerns that there was a "climate emergency", that must be addressed.

But he added: "The tactics of those people who are protesting on the M25 are completely wrong. It's wrong because it's not lawful, it's not safe.

"You're endangering in your own life, you're endangering the lives of those on the M25, they could be people rushing to get to a hospital, it could be they're going to an appointment, and you're jeopardising their safety by jumping in front of cars on the M25."

12:23 PM

Jeremy Hunt chokes up as he talks about his father's grief over death of baby sister

Jeremy Hunt has become overwhelmed with emotion while telling colleagues about a personal story, during a debate about baby loss.

The former health secretary said while he could not claim personal experience "my father did, because my sister Sarah died when she was just six months old".

Mr Hunt said he was two at the time and has no memory of it, but his mother always told him "never to mention Sarah because [my father] found it so hard".

Choking up, he added: "There is no timeline for grief, and that is why these stories are so powerful."

12:20 PM

Angela Rayner hits back over Chevening claims

Angela Rayner has fact-checked claims made by Dominic Raab during the pair's PMQs clash yesterday over Chevening.

The deputy Labour leader had mocked her counterpart for squabbling with Liz Truss over who has access to the "115-room, taxpayer-funded mansion", but Mr Raab said she should "check her facts because Chevening is funded by a charity - not a penny of taxpayers' money".

Today Ms Rayner accused him of trying to "patronise and talk down to me", arguing that the mansion "has received taxpayers' money whilst the Conservatives have been in office", and that the estate is exempt from paying taxes,"so the taxpayer does in fact subsidise and therefore fund the estate".

The Chevening Estate Act says that the trust is not a charity, she adds.

12:11 PM

Bunch of muppets: Boris Johnson mocked after invoking Kermit and Miss Piggy

Boris Johnson and his ministers were likened to the Muppets, after he gave a speech to the United Nations General Assembly in which he invoked Kermit the Frog and Miss Piggy.

SNP Commons leader Pete Wishart told MPs the "nonsense of a conference recess" should be scrapped in light of mounting crises facing the country.

"We will be taking a month off when the UK is facing an autumn of discontent, when hard-pressed families are facing one of the biggest assaults on their weekly incomes," he said.

"We also face an environment crisis but, hey, we've got the Prime Minister telling us all to grow up as he quotes Kermit the Frog. Maybe he should have got Kermit the Frog to negotiate a trade deal with the Americans while he was there, maybe we could even get Fozzie Bear to solve the energy crisis.

"How dare anybody even start to refer to them as a bunch of muppets."

12:01 PM

England's Covid cases fall to lowest level since June

The number of people testing positive for Covid-19 in England has dropped to its lowest level since the end of June.

A total of 161,923 people tested positive at least once in the week to September 15, down 22 per cent on the previous week, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.

This is the lowest number of people testing positive since the week to June 30.

Test and Trace figures peaked at 390,234 cases in the week to January 6, at the height of the second wave of coronavirus. A more recent spike in cases saw the number hit 309,297 in the week to July 21.

But since then the weekly figure has been around or just below 200,000.

11:46 AM

Watch: Macron, the EU's prince, is seeking Merkel's crown

Emmanuel Macron is “waiting in the wings for his turn in the European Union spotlight” as Angela Merkel prepares to step down as German chancellor.

That is according to James Crisp, The Telegraph’s Europe Editor, in this video analysis of how the French president is likely behave in Brussels post-Merkel.

“Angela Merkel was the queen of Europe,” he said. “But now, as she prepares to step down after 16 years and to leave the EU and Germany, a prince is standing, waiting in the wings, ready for his turn in the spotlight.

“It is none other than Emmanuel Macron.”

Watch James' analysis in the video above

11:40 AM

Interest rates held - despite inflation tipped to rise above 4pc

The Bank of England has forecast that inflation was rise "slightly above four per cent" in the last three months of 2021, as it ruled not to raise interest rates yet again.

Inflation will be largely due to developments in energy and goods prices, it said.

The Monetary Policy Committee acknowledged that recent rises have "strengthened" the case that some tightening of monetary policy could be necessary to meet the central bank's two per cent inflation target sustainably in the medium term.

However, "considerable uncertainties remain", meaning the nine members voted unanimously in favour of holding rates at 0.1 per cent.

11:30 AM

Democracy organisation 'very silly' for adding UK to watch list, says Jacob Rees-Mogg

Jacob Rees-Mogg has branded an organisation focused on protecting democracy around the world "very silly", after it added the UK to its watch list.

Alistair Carmichael, the Liberal Democrat MP for Orkney and Shetland, told MPs that we had been added to the Civicus Monitor watch list this morning alongside Afghanistan, Belarus and Nicaragua.

The reasons given for the UK's inclusion are a decline in "civic spaces... with the right to freedom of peaceful assembly repeatedly targeted," he said. The Judicial Review and Courts bill, which will be debated by MPs next month, was highlighted as "it threatens fundamental rights and democratic checks and balances that aim to hold the Government accountable", Mr Carmichael said.

But the Commons leader replied: "It says more about this silly organisation than it does about Her Majesty's Government. We have a wonderful traditional of freedom of speech... this is fundamental to our constitution."

But he blasted "frightful old humbugs, causing trouble, stress and inconvenience - and nearly causing people to die," adding; "This organisation is clearly very silly."

11:18 AM

Jacob Rees-Mogg defends plan to end Universal Credit uplift

Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended plans to end the Universal Credit uplift, after Labour said it was "not too late to cancel that cut".

Thangam Debbonaire, the shadow leader, said: "Last week he tried to boast about his Government's record on child poverty, but they are pushing 200,000 more children into poverty by cutting Universal Credit.

"It is not too late to cancel that cut. This is certainly not something to boast about."

But the Commons Leader said: "There are a hundred thousand fewer children in absolute poverty than since 2010, in total there are 700,000 fewer in absolute poverty than in 2010.

"In 2019, there was three per cent chance of children being in absolutely poverty if both parents worked full time, which is why it is so important to ensure that work is available, and since 2010, we have seen 650,000 fewer children in workless households."

11:09 AM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson's thoughts with loved ones of Sabina Nessa

The 28-year-old walked through Cator Park to meet a friend at The Depot bar in Kidbrooke Village, Greenwich, but never made it - PA
The 28-year-old walked through Cator Park to meet a friend at The Depot bar in Kidbrooke Village, Greenwich, but never made it - PA

Downing Street has said the Prime Minister's thoughts were with the family and friends of murdered teacher Sabina Nessa.

A spokesman for Boris Johnson said: "You'll appreciate I can't comment further whilst the police (investigation) is ongoing, but as the Met Police have said, they're using every resource available to find the individual responsible."

Asked whether Mr Johnson would feel safe for his wife or one of his daughters to walk through a park at night, the spokesman said: "Well, I haven't asked him that question, you'll appreciate I haven't seen him since he got back from his trip.

"The Prime Minister's focus is on making sure that we make our streets safe for absolutely everybody," he added, highlighting the recent police officer recruitment drive and strategy for tackling violence against women and girls.

He added the strategy would "drive long-term change" and said: "That drive will hopefully prevent these crimes, ensure victims get the support they need, and bring perpetrators to justice."

10:53 AM

Franco-British relations are the worst in years - but it's on Boris to patch them up

Best of Frenemies: The time has come for Boris to « prenez le phone » - EPA
Best of Frenemies: The time has come for Boris to « prenez le phone » - EPA

Just as France and America start patching things up after the great Gallic submarine spat, the Channel has rarely looked so wide when it comes to UK-France relations.

With ties already arguably at their lowest ebb in modern times in the wake of Brexit, Britain’s latest “coup de Trafalgar” as the French see it by robbing its “deal of the century” with Australia has plunged hopes of fresh Entente-Cordiale another 20,000 leagues under the sea.

“We have passed from sausage wars to the war of the Pacific,” noted Le Figaro, which summed up the French strategy of snubbing Perfidious Albion with the words: “Indifference often proves crueler than assault.”

Read Henry Samuel's analysis here.

10:48 AM

People have 'human right not to have vote stolen', says minister

Plans for voters to show photographic ID at polling stations may breach human rights laws, a Labour frontbencher has claimed.

Cat Smith, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, said: "The committee has been warned this policy may be in breach of human rights. The committee quizzed Gavin Millar QC who said 'inevitably there will be challenges as this is all incompatible with the European Convention on Human Rights'."

She asked what legal advice the Government had received that "makes them so sure that this policy is not in contravention with our human rights laws".

But Michael Ellis replied: "Of course, we don't discuss legal advice. But what I can say is this: people also have the human right not to have their vote stolen.

"In 2019, the Electoral Commission found nearly 600 allegations of electoral fraud and they had to be investigated by the police," the Cabinet Office minister added. "This is a problem. It is something that needs to be dealt with, this was a Government manifesto commitment and we intend to follow through."

10:38 AM

Northern Ireland protocol issues 'significant' and 'growing', says minister

The problems with the Northern Ireland protocol are "significant" and "growing", a minister has said.

Paymaster general Michael Ellis said: "As we set out in our July command paper, the protocol is not meeting its core objectives as it stands. It is causing considerable disruption to lives and livelihoods.

"That is why we need to find a new balance through significant changes to the Northern Ireland protocol and we are working intensively to that end."

The newly-promoted minister said the UK had "tried to operate the protocol in good faith, but the problems are significant and the problems are growing".

He noted that roughly 20 per cent of all EU checks "were being conducted in respect of Northern Ireland, even though Northern Ireland's population is just 0.5 per cent of the EU as a whole", adding: "It's unacceptable."

10:30 AM

North will be hit hardest by energy crisis, admits minister

People living in the North will be hit hardest by soaring energy prices this winter, Kwasi Kwarteng has acknowledged.

Rachael Maskell, the Labour MP for York Central, told the Commons: "The rise in energy prices will disproportionately impact people living in the North because it is colder during the winter in the North.

"So what assessment has he made of the regional disparities and how is he going to mitigate against that?"

The Business Secretary replied: "I think the honourable lady raises a very fair point and clearly, in terms of the gas price, the single most important determinant of it is the weather, and she's absolutely right.

"That's why we've got schemes like the Warm Home Discount and that's why we're absolutely focused on protecting the most vulnerable customers, wherever they are in the UK."

10:28 AM

Inform DfE if anti-vaxx protesters target your school, headteachers told

A minister has condemned anti-vaxx protesters who have been targeting schools, saying it is "totally unacceptable" to target teachers.

The newly-promoted Alex Burghart, who became a junior education minister in Boris Johnson's reshuffle last week, told MPs: "The level of intimidation being put on schools and teachers is abhorrent.

"Contrary to some of the things you have been told, legal liability does not rest with schools at all. It rests with the Health Service and those providing the vaccinations," he added.

"I would like to thank schools very much for the spaces they have created, but rest assured it is the Health Service providing these jabs."

He urged the headteachers of "any school facing intimidation" to let the Department for Education know "so we can follow it up".

10:15 AM

Government in talks about how much energy price cap will have to go up

A minister has given the clearest indication yet that the energy price cap will have to rise, amid concerns that the spike in prices might last longer than anticipated.

Paul Scully, the small business minister, told Sky News the Government had been having "lots of conversations ... with companies themselves, with Ofgem, in reviewing that price cap".

He insisted the price cap, which is set by Ofgem and limits the cost of energy for about 11 million people on suppliers' default tariffs, would remain as "we clearly want to protect customers".

But the Government is planning for "the worst-case scenario" which was sustained higher prices,

The price cap is reviewed every six month, and is due to rise 12 per cent on Oct. 1. In normal circumstances, it would be reviewed again in April 2022.

Mr Scully said: "This is all part of the conversations that Ofgem will set that cap at, because supply prices are based on a number of factors.

"Clearly, as Government, we need to make sure we are planning for the worst-case scenario because we want to make sure we can protect consumers."

10:14 AM

Minister rejects calls for investigation into 'serial offender' Priti Patel

Priti Patel escaped a demotion in last week's reshuffle - much to the annoyance of Labour - PA
Priti Patel escaped a demotion in last week's reshuffle - much to the annoyance of Labour - PA

Calls for "serial offender" Priti Patel to be investigated for an alleged breach of the ministerial code have been dismissed by Cabinet Office minister Steve Barclay.

Shadow Cabinet Office minister Fleur Anderson said: "The latest allegations about the Home Secretary's secret meeting with British Airways, a billionaire Tory donor, and the then business secretary, but no official present should concern us all.

"She is a serial offender for breaking the ministerial code previously. Will the new Secretary of State hold an investigation of these allegations and actually start enforcing the code, or is it just there for show?"

But Mr Barclay replied: "There's a clear process set out in the ministerial code.

"I'm not aware that any ministerial colleague has breached that and there's a due process that is applied... in the Cabinet Office where concerns have been raised, but to date there's no evidence to suggest that is the case."

10:11 AM

Business Secretary 'resolutely focused' on protecting consumers

Jim Shannon says the energy crisis "could be termed almost a perfect storm", citing the many issues at hand.

The DUP MP asks what the Government can do "when most of the factors are out of our control".

Kwasi Kwarteng repeats that he is "resolutely focused" on ensuring there is continued supply, keeping the energy price cap and protecting consumers.

10:09 AM

Business Secretary 'categorically' rules out grants or subsidies to larger energy firms

Kwasi Kwarten has "categorically" ruled out handing subsidies or grants to larger energy companies as a result of the crisis.

Chi Onwurah, Labour's MP for Newcastle Upon Tyne, said the issue was exacerbated by the Government's own failures in shaping the energy market, and asked for a guarantee that "not one penny of taxpayers' money" will go to the larger firms.

The Business Secretary replies that it is "a consistent feature" of the market that firms fail, for which there is a process.

"In terms of subsidies or grants to larger companies, I can categorically say to this House we will not be giving any grants or subsidies to larger companies."

09:55 AM

Lack of gas storage 'a complete red herring' on price surge, says minister

It is a "complete red herring" to blame a lack of storage on the surging gas price, the Business Secretary has said.

Matt Western, Labour's MP for Warwick and Leamington, echoed a question by colleague Stephanie Peacock, the MP for Barnsley East, if storage capacity was "part of the reason we don't have energy price resilience".

But Kwasi Kwarteng noted that EU energy ministers have been discussing this very problem.

He added:" It is not a function of storage to mitigate a quadrupling of the gas price - it's a complete red herring.

"One of the reasons we have less storage is because we have a greater diversity of supply - that is a strength, not a weakness."

09:49 AM

Minister urged to abolish fuel VAT to address energy price surge

Christopher Chope, the Conservative MP for Christchurch, asks the Business Secretary to abolish VAT on fuel, as was done for the hospitality industry during the pandemic.

Kwasi Kwarteng notes that the Chancellor has carried out "a whole range" of fiscal interventions last year "and I am sure he is looking at a range of things this year - but that is a matter for him".

09:47 AM

No confirmation that cold winter payment will remain

Joy Morrissey, the Conservative MP for Beaconsfield, asks for assurances that the cold winter payment scheme will remain in place.

Kwasi Kwarteng says this is another "budgetary issue" but confirms that the warm homes discount "will be staying", while other work is ongoing to protect the most vulnerable to fuel poverty.

09:45 AM

Business Secretary dodges question about length of energy price surge

Mark Harper, the Conservative MP for the Forest of Dean, asks how long high energy prices are expected to last, saying the Government must be "making assumptions about the most likely path for prices".

Kwasi Kwarteng says he does not have "a crystal ball... but we prepare for all eventualities".

He reiterates that the price cap will stay - but not when or if that cap will rise.

09:43 AM

Universal Credit uplift will be addressed in Budget, says Business Secretary

Kwasi Kwarteng says the Government hasn't been complacent.

The supplier of last resort mechanism was "interrogated last year" after he received the letter. It was "found to work" and so far this year it has worked.

A special administration regime is in place "should the case arise".

Universal Credit is "a matter across Government, in terms of the Budget... there will be a Budget at the end of October and there will be plenty of time to discuss that then", he adds.

That chimes with what we heard from another minister this morning - see 8:13am

09:40 AM

Labour attacks 'complacent' Business Secretary

Ed Miliband says the Business Secretary has been "far too complacent" about the crisis, claiming Kwasi Kwarteng is "pretending that it is normal" for so many firms to go under.

The Labour frontbencher asks for a guarantee that taxpayer money will not be used, but how he will "ensure value for money" if it is.

He then holds up a letter written 18 months ago by Ofgem, warning about "systemic risk" to the sector as a whole.

It warns that the supplier of last resort mechanism may not be possible, and recommends a special administration regime, although this will place "significant burden and cost" on the Government.

He asks what planning was carried out as a result of the letter, saying the country has been left "dangerously exposed" by a lack of work.

09:35 AM

Energy price cap 'will remain in place', says Kwasi Kwarteng

The Government "has been clear that protecting consumers is our primary focus and shapes our entire approach to this issue," Kwasi Kwarteng has told MPs, after being hauled back to the Commons to answer an urgent question.

The Business Secretary reprised his statement from earlier this week, saying he would "continue to protect consumers" from price spikes.

The solution to the crisis "will be found from the industry and the market", he adds, reiterating that the Government will not bailout "failing" companies.

The energy price cap "will remain in place", he adds.

09:33 AM

Schoolchildren hold mock trial of Tory MP over his ancestors’ links to slavery

A prominent human rights lawyer has been accused of “brainwashing” schoolchildren after they took part in the mock trial of a Conservative MP over his family’s links to slavery.

Clive Stafford Smith organised fictional legal proceedings against Richard Drax using 40 pupils aged between 12 and 18, some of whom are from a school within his South Dorset constituency.

Mr Drax turned down an invitation to defend himself at the imitation court at Bridport Town Hall after he was charged with “benefitting from the proceeds of slavery” under the first “Generation on Trial” event.

Following Mr Drax’s refusal to participate, a thespian was drafted in to play the role of the MP under instructions to respond to questioning how he thought he would answer.

Read more on this story here.

09:24 AM

Vaccine passports not expected from end of September, says minister

Mandatory vaccine passports are not expected to be needed from the end of September because of the "growing voluntary uptake" of the jab and certification, a minister has said.

Conservative MP William Wragg (Hazel Grove) said: "Vaccine certification is useless now and it will be no doubt be useless then. We have got fresh pairs of eyes in the department, fresh perspectives. Can we please just bin it now?"

Nigel Adams, the Cabinet Office minister, said: "What I would say to him is, in light of growing voluntary uptake of certification and considering the latest data on the state of the epidemic, we don't expect that mandatory vaccine-only certification will be needed from the end of September."

The Government had been facing a possible boycott of its own party conference - which takes place at the start of October - from Tory MPs and members over the threat of vaccine passports.

09:21 AM

Mandatory vaccine passports still being kept 'in reserve', says minister

Ministers have faced calls to publish the evidence they have to support mandatory Covid vaccine passports, as they remain resolute the Government will keep the scheme "in reserve".

During a Commons debate, Liberal Democrat MP Alistair Carmichael said: "Rather than just asserting that the evidence is there, will he commit to publishing it? If he is ever going to take his own backbenchers with him, let alone the general public, the case will have to be made and they haven't made it yet.

"Incidentally are we going to get a vote before they are introduced?"

Nigel Adams, the Cabinet Office minister, replied: "We have published brief summaries of the evidence in the autumn and winter plan. That is publicly available on gov.uk.

"We are keeping vaccine certification in reserve in case it is required, again, as I have said previously, to help prevent pressure on the NHS. We do hope that it will be unnecessary but the responsible thing is to prepare for all eventualities."

09:10 AM

Planet Normal: The Conservatives? More like the Con-Socialists, says Richard Tice

Not so long ago, Richard Tice was looking to become the Conservative candidate for London mayor - but these days he is a thorn in the Government's side.

The co-founder of the Brexit Party, later rebranded as Reform UK, tells this week's Planet Normal podcast he is concerned by a shift in policy.

"I've started to call them the Con-Socialists, because they genuinely are no longer standing up for what most Conservative voters believe is a fundamental principle of being a Conservative," he tells Liam Halligan.

"You want to have a smaller state, you want to cut taxes, you want to create higher growth, and that will lead to higher wages and better public services. And all of that seems to have been completely lost, completely forgotten, completely ignored in individual's pursuits of Cabinet positions."

Listen in full above.

08:58 AM

What's on the agenda today?

Parliament rises for conference recess this afternoon - but there is plenty to get through first.

Here's what is coming up in Westminster:

Now: Cabinet Office questions

10:30am: An urgent question on rising gas prices and collapse of energy suppliers

11:15am An urgent question on the impact of coronavirus attendance in education settings and support for pupils to catch up on lost learning

12pm: Jacob Rees-Mogg takes business questions

1pm: Backbench business debates on Baby Loss Awareness Week and, separately, human rights in Kashmir

08:54 AM

How clashes over Protocol mask a secret agenda to reunite Ireland

Is the protocol a Trojan Horse for a united Ireland? - No10 Downing Street
Is the protocol a Trojan Horse for a united Ireland? - No10 Downing Street

We have come to know it by the glib shorthand of “sausage wars”, but behind the three-way trade row over Northern Ireland lies a far more subtle but profound battle that threatens the future of the United Kingdom.

While the headlines have centred on chilled meats, empty shelves and parcel deliveries, unionists believe the true reason for the Republic of Ireland’s recent belligerence is a not-so-hidden agenda for reunification.

There has been increasing talk south of the border of an “all-island economy”, viewed by many in the north as code for a united Ireland.

Read Gordon Rayner's analysis here.

08:44 AM

Minister urges people not to panic-buy

A minister has urged people not to panic-buy or risk food shortages becoming a "self-fulfilling prophecy".

Tesco, Britain's biggest supermarket group, told government officials last week the shortage of truck drivers would lead to panic-buying in the run-up to Christmas if action was not taken. Supermarket shelves have already been left empty in some places.

But Paul Scully, the small business minister, told Times Radio: "What we don't want to do.... is cause undue concern to consumers over and above what they are looking at in terms of their energy prices.

"There is no need for people to be going out to panic-buy, otherwise you get into a self-fulfilling prophecy."

08:42 AM

Energy crisis 'not a 1970s thing', says minister

A minister has rejected suggestions the UK is on the cusp of a 1970s-style winter of discontent.

Paul Scully, the business minister, told Times Radio: "This isn't a 1970s thing at all. There are particular pressures we are working on.

"We have had an unprecedented pandemic, which has caused a lot of delays in critical thinking and planning. We need to build resilience back into the system, so we are working with those sectors."

The same applied to the lack of HGV drivers, which will be addressed through fast-tracking driving tests and encouraging former drivers back into work.

08:31 AM

'Over the worst of it': Covid could resemble common cold by spring, says Sir John Bell

Covid-19 could resemble the common cold by spring next year as people's immunity to the virus is boosted by vaccines and exposure, a leading expert has said.

Professor Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, said the country "is over the worst" and things "should be fine" once winter has passed, adding that there was continued exposure to the virus even in people who are vaccinated.

Sir John told Times Radio: "If you look at the trajectory we're on, we're a lot better off than we were six months ago... I think we're over the worst of it now."

With case numbers high, those who have been vaccinated will likely become "asymptomatically infected [and] that will add to our immunity substantially," he added, estimating that "by next spring" Covid could become like the cold virus.

"We have to get over the winter to get there but I think it should be fine."

08:21 AM

Moderna boss: Everyone on earth will be vaccinated by mid-2022

The boss of vaccine manufacturer Moderna says he believes the pandemic could be over in a year.

Stéphane Bancel said "everyone on this earth" should be able to get vaccinated by mid-2022, including boosters, adding that jabs would soon be available even for infants.

He told the Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung: "If you look at the industry-wide expansion of production capacities over the past six months, enough doses should be available by the middle of next year so that everyone on this earth can be vaccinated."

Those who do not get vaccinated will "immunise themselves naturally" through catching Covid, but they "risk getting sick and possibly even ending up in hospital." He added: "In this way we will end up in a situation similar to that of the flu."

Asked if that meant a return to normal in the second half of next year, he said: "As of today, in a year, I assume."

08:14 AM

Liz Truss meets Russian counterpart

Liz Truss during a meeting with Sergey Lavrov (not pictured) - TASS
Liz Truss during a meeting with Sergey Lavrov (not pictured) - TASS

The Government has issued a very concise statement following a meeting between Liz Truss, the new Foreign Secretary, and her Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov.

Here is what we've been told:

“The Foreign Secretary met Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov ahead of the meeting of P5 Foreign Ministers convened by the UK. They discussed the need for Iran to return to nuclear talks. They also discussed stability and security in Afghanistan including the need for the Taliban to form an inclusive government. They looked forward to the COP26 conference in Glasgow in November.”

Given ongoing tensions including the charging of a third man in connection with the Salisbury Novichok attack, a maritime show of strength and the Kremlin's control over Europe's energy, we only speculate as to what else might have been discussed.

08:03 AM

No guarantees that consumers will keep energy terms of supplier goes bust

A minister has said he could not guarantee that consumers could keep the terms of their previous energy tariff if their supplier goes bust.

Just two days after Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said those being transferred to new providers would "be expected to pay the same amount", Paul Scully told Times Radio: "No, that's not going to be possible in terms of a guarantee.

"What we'll have though is security," the small business minister added. "They don't need to do anything because their transfer will be made directly through the Ofgem scheme, making sure that they have a company looking after them, supplying their energy.

"What I'd recommend they do though is take a meter reading, take a photo of their meter if possible, and then everything will be done automatically for them."

07:55 AM

Food prices will rise this winter, supermarket boss warns

Food prices could rise this winter due to "inflationary pressures" on supermarkets, the boss of Iceland has warned.

Richard Walker told Sky News that being "frozen experts" his firm was fully stocked.

"I'm not overly concerned [about shortages] and certainly there's no need for customers to panic buy, we certainly don't want to go back to those dark days," he added.

"But I do think it's right to sound the alarm bell on some of these issues that we're facing because if they're not sorted, then we might have some issues. But it's more issues within the fresh chamber than it is frozen.

"We're also facing inflationary pressures because of all the things that we've talked about," Mr Walker said. "I'm also concerned about retail selling prices as well as we get into the winter and into 2022."

07:54 AM

Add HGV drivers to skilled EU worker list to avert Christmas crisis, supermarket boss says

The Government should add HGV drivers to the skilled EU worker list or risk more empty shelves, a supermarket boss has said.

Richard Walker, managing director of Iceland, told Sky News: "If the food industry was just facing a CO2 crisis we could probably weather it and muddle through, but of course it's compounded by a whole array of other issues, not least the HGV driver shortage."

This was "making it increasingly very, very difficult to service our shops," he added. "We never had to cancel a single delivery throughout the pandemic, and yet now we're having to because of this shortage, so I think it is a concern."

Heading into Christmas - the "bumper time of year" - this shortage was coming at "the worst possible time", he added.

"The simple short-term solution is for the Government to add HGV drivers to the skilled EU worker list... I can't for the life of me understand why it doesn't include the men and women who have literally kept the wheels turning throughout the pandemic."

07:33 AM

ICYMI: Kermit the Frog was wrong, says Boris Johnson, in key climate speech

Joe Biden might have opted for a sobering speech warning about the ravages of climate change left unchecked, but Boris Johnson chose a different approach.

In his UNGA speech last night, the Prime Minister deployed characteristically colourful language and invoked a Muppets character to argue that combating global warming did not have to be tough: “When Kermit the frog sang ‘It’s Not Easy Bein’ Green’, I want you to know he was wrong.”

There was a serious point to his somewhat glib comments, reassuring developed nations that: "I don’t see the green movement as a pretext for a wholesale assault on capitalism.”

Watch again above.

07:29 AM

Supermarket shelves 'fully stocked' in the short-term - but Iceland boss raises warning over future

The boss of Iceland has said the supermarket will have "fully stocked shelves" in the short-term - but warned that the UK must move towards a "broader energy mix" to safeguard against future shortages.

Richard Walker, managing director the chain, told Sky News: "In the short term I'm more confident that supply chains will be more uninterrupted.

"Certainly in our own business we've been building up stocks of key lines that potentially could have been at risk, like frozen meat for example, and we're confident that we have fully stocked shelves.

"However I think we've now got to think longer-term. This loan is only three weeks: what happens after that, or what happens the next time the gas prices spike? We need a broader, more diverse and therefore more sustainable energy mix so we're not so reliant on gas.

"We also need to look as a food industry, but also further up the supply chains, at different, better ways of capturing CO2 and potentially using alternative gases as well."

07:24 AM

Government aiming to scrap PCR tests in time for October half-term

The Government could scrap the need to take departure and arrival PCR tests when travelling abroad, from as early as the October half-term holiday.

Asked whether PCR tests would be scrapped in time for half-term, Paul Scully, the small business minister, said: "That's absolutely the aim.

"We've got to get the systems in place because we want to move to lateral flow tests to make it easier and cheaper for people to be able to enjoy those holidays at half-term," he told Sky News. "The aim is later on in October.

"We know that half-term is looming, we know people want to get away, but we also want to encourage business travel as well, because that is investment in the UK, it is investment in jobs and creates opportunities for people."

07:23 AM

Price cap rise will be based on 'prevailing circumstances at the time'

Any uprating of the price cap will be decided on "the prevailing circumstances" at the next review, a minister has said.

Paul Scully, the small business minister, said consumers should be encouraged by the fact that the "price cap will support them up to £100 each year", but that "Ofgem will look at the post prices, the wholesale prices, over a period of time".

Asked how much it could go up by, he said: "There is no point speculating now because lots of things can happen over the next six months, before the next review kicks in. It will be based on the prevailing circumstances at that point."

He said the Government did "not necessarily expect" for the cap to rise but "we need to plan for any circumstances".

07:19 AM

Minister defends bailout for fertiliser plant while allowing gas firms to collapse

A minister has defended the decision to bailout the American-owned fertiliser plant CF Industries, while allowing domestic gas firms to collapse.

Paul Scully, the small business minister, told Radio 4's Today programme the plant was "a valuable one" because it produced CO2 essential to the food processing industry.

"It's not more important, it's not abut backing winners or losers," he added. "It's different solutions for different situations. CO2 is an important by-product for the food sector.

"With the energy sector, we have a mature system, and companies do leave the market each year."

07:16 AM

Government to fast-track HGV driving tests to get food back on shelves

The Government will be fast-tracking HGV driving tests and encourage former drivers back to work in a bid to get food back onto the shelves in the run-up to Christmas, a minister has said.

There was a cross-government meeting yesterday to address the issue, which supermarkets have warned will get worse in the coming weeks.

Paul Scully rejected suggestions that a temporary amnesty be introduced to allow EU workers to return to the UK, saying it would take "weeks and months" for them to filter through. Instead he said they were looking to shake-up the system so that tests which have been delayed because of the pandemic can be given.

He added: "People with HGV licence either full or partial who are not working, we are looking at how we can encourage them back."

There will be "50,000 new tests over the year starting from now so we can get them in the system," he added.

07:15 AM

Keeping Universal Credit uplift will push up taxes, warns minister

A minister has said taxes would need to rise to keep the £20 weekly Universal Credit uplift.

Business minister Paul Scully told Sky News that while the Chancellor was looking at this issue (see post below), "if you were to reverse the Universal Credit as it is, you would have to put up income tax by the equivalent of a penny and 3p on fuel".

He added: "You have to find £6 billion from somewhere."

Put to him that "most people would accept putting a penny on income tax" to pay to keep the uplift, he added: "What I'm saying is you have to find £6 billion from somewhere and what you don't want to be doing, for the lowest paid in particular, is giving with one hand and taking and increasing taxes with the other."

07:13 AM

Chancellor to address cost of living crisis in next month's Budget, minister says

Rishi Sunak will be looking to address the cost of living crisis in next month's Budget, a minister has said.

The Government is coming under increased political pressure to resolve the problem, caused by surging prices which many fear will be exacerbated when the Universal Credit uplift is cut in October. Tories have urged ministers to reverse their plans, but so far their pleas have been rebuffed.

However Paul Scully, the small business minister, said the Chancellor would be looking at "that aspect of public finances in the Budget that is coming up", and appeared to suggest there might be an alternative brought forward to replace it.

"This is something we are looking at for the country as a whole, this is not a Red Wall, Blue Wall thing, but making sure we are doing the right thing," he said.

Universal Credit "was an emergency measure that did its job at a particular time," he added. "The Chancellor will look at the cost of living in his Budget this autumn."

07:02 AM

Johnson and Biden ‘astonished’ at French complaints over defence pact

There is a belief in parts of the UK Government that the French are over-exaggerating their anger over the Aukus pact for potential financial reasons.

On Wednesday night, there were suggestions that the French could withdraw from Nato's integrated military command.

Boris Johnson and Joe Biden privately expressed astonishment at France's heated reaction to the pact, as the Prime Minister urged Emmanuel Macron to "get a grip".

Submarine contracts between France and Australia, worth tens of billions of pounds, were torn up when Canberra went in with the UK and US, with legal wrangling over compensation now expected.

Discussing the row with reporters as his four-day US trip neared its end, Mr Johnson appeared to liken the French anger to that seen at the end of a personal relationship.

07:02 AM

Good Morning

Boris Johnson gave his hotly-anticipated climate change speech to the UN General Assembly last night - but was anyone listening?

Back in the UK, domestic issues continue to dominate, with Tory backbenchers - particularly those in the Red Wall - increasingly concerned about the impact of the cost of living crisis on their voters.

The Prime Minister could be returning to brewing political storm.

Here is today's front page.

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