Politics latest news: Boris knows I am not the 'chatty rat' leaker, Dominic Cummings claims

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Tony Diver
·46 min read
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Dominic Cummings has published an extraordinary attack on the Prime Minister on his blog -  Getty Images Europe/HOLLIE ADAMS
Dominic Cummings has published an extraordinary attack on the Prime Minister on his blog - Getty Images Europe/HOLLIE ADAMS

Dominic Cummings has claimed Boris Johnson knew he was not involved in leaking lockdown plans from Downing Street, and accused him of trying to stop an official inquiry into the matter to protect his fiancee's friend.

In an extraordinary diatribe released on his blog, Mr Cummings said Mr Johnson had fallen "so far below the standards of competence and integrity the country deserves," and claimed an official inquiry by Britain's most senior civil servant cleared him of any involvement in leaks to the media.

Downing Street yesterday accused Mr Cummings of being the source of a leak of the UK's second lockdown plans, which sparked an investigation known as the "chatty rat" inquiry.

But Mr Cummings says the Cabinet Secretary had told Mr Johnson that he was not the source of the leak, and that the evidence "definitely" pointed to Henry Newman, Carrie Symonds' friend, and his colleagues as the culprits.

The former No10 chief adviser said Mr Johnson then suggested the inquiry was halted as it would cause him "very serious problems with Carrie as they’re best friends".

Mr Cummings also denies leaking text messages between Mr Johnson and James Dyson, reported by the BBC earlier this week, and claims he does not have a copy of them on his phone.

He said the Prime Minister's plan to ask Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment of his flat in 11 Downing Street were "unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended".

​​Follow the latest updates below.

05:17 PM

Cummings: Lockdown leak row made me want to leave No10

Dominic Cummings leaves Downing Street after a row over who leaked news of the November lockdown - HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS
Dominic Cummings leaves Downing Street after a row over who leaked news of the November lockdown - HENRY NICHOLLS/REUTERS

The row over who had leaked the news of the second national lockdown to The Times in October 2020 contributed to Dominic Cummings leaving Downing Street by the end of the year, his blog says.

In the section of the blog about the "chatty rat" inquiry to find the person who leaked the plans, Mr Cummings says accusations against him made him want to leave No10 by December 18 last year.

"The PM therefore knows that I was not the source of the leak and that the Cabinet Secretary authorised the Prime Minister’s Official Spokesman to tell the media [that I was], yet he has now authorised his Director of Communications to make this accusation," he wrote.

"The Cabinet Secretary knows the above is true and obviously can see our messages regarding this on his own phone. He behaved with complete integrity during this difficult incident.

"These events contributed to my decision to stick to my plan to leave No10 by 18 December, which I had communicated to the PM in July the day before my long-delayed operation."

05:11 PM

The Downing Street refurb

The background

Earlier this year details about a refurbishment of the private flat above 11 Downing Street began to emerge in the press.

Reports claimed Mr Johnson's fiancee, Carrie Symonds, had demanded the flat be remodelled because she did not like the decor left behind by Theresa May and her husband Philip.

It was also claimed that Mr Johnson had intended for the refurbishment to be paid for by Conservative Party donor - raising questions about the propriety of political donations being spent on the prime minister's official residence.

Earlier today the Cabinet Office said that "works have taken place by long-standing Downing Street contractors on painting, sanding and floorboards" the flat, but added: "Any costs of wider refurbishment in this year have been met by the PM personally."

Mr Johnson with his finacee, who is said to have masterminded a refurbishment of the No11 Downing Street flat -  Getty Images Europe/Leon Neal
Mr Johnson with his finacee, who is said to have masterminded a refurbishment of the No11 Downing Street flat - Getty Images Europe/Leon Neal

What No10 said

Downing Street said the leaks about the flat suggested Mr Cummings was "bitter" about losing his position at the heart of government.

“If you join the dots it looks like it’s coming from Dom," a Downing Street source said on Thursday.

"More than anything the PM is disappointed and saddened by what Dom has been up to.

“Dom may feel bitter about what’s happened since he left. Rather than falling apart, the Government has been making great progress.”

What Cummings says

Dominic Cummings says he knew little about the renovation because he had already told Mr Johnson he thought the plan to ask donors to pay for it was wrong.

"The PM stopped speaking to me about this matter in 2020 as I told him I thought his plans to have donors secretly pay for the renovation were unethical, foolish, possibly illegal and almost certainly broke the rules on proper disclosure of political donations if conducted in the way he intended," he wrote.

"I refused to help him organise these payments. My knowledge about them is therefore limited. I would be happy to tell the Cabinet Secretary or Electoral Commission what I know concerning this matter.

04:55 PM

The 'chatty rat' inquiry

The background

Concerns about a mole at a senior level of government first emerged last Hallowe’en, when details of proposals for a second lockdown in November were leaked to the press, despite the discussion involving only a small number of people at the highest levels of government.

The leaked plans forced Mr Johnson to bring forward an announcement about the new rules.

Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings celebrate the result of the 2019 election - Parsons Media/Andrew Parsons
Carrie Symonds, Boris Johnson and Dominic Cummings celebrate the result of the 2019 election - Parsons Media/Andrew Parsons

What No10 said

Downing Street launched an official inquiry into the source of the leak, led by the Cabinet Secretary. The leaker was dubbed the "chatty rat" at the heart of Government by a No10 source.

The results of that inquiry were never published, but on Thursday a Downing Street source said Mr Cummings was the prime suspect for the leaks.

What Cummings says

Dominic Cummings says the Cabinet Secretary concluded that he had nothing to do with the leaks, and had told Mr Johnson and him that he believed the leaker was Henry Newman, a Government adviser and close friend of Carrie Symonds.

Mr Cummings then claims Mr Johnson suggested the inquiry be shut down to avoid implicating his girlfriend's friend.

"Last year there was a meeting between the PM, Cabinet Secretary, the Director of Communications and me regarding the leak of the decision for a further lockdown on the Friday evening immediately after the meeting in the Cabinet Room that made the decision (known in the media as ‘the chatty rat story’)," the blog reads.

"The Cabinet Secretary told the PM that the leak was neither me nor the then Director of Communications and that ‘all the evidence definitely leads to Henry Newman and others in that office, I’m just trying to get the communications data to prove it’.

"The PM was very upset about this. He said to me afterwards, ‘If Newman is confirmed as the leaker then I will have to fire him, and this will cause me very serious problems with Carrie as they’re best friends … [pause] perhaps we could get the Cabinet Secretary to stop the leak inquiry?'"

04:44 PM

The Boris Johnson/James Dyson text messages

The background

Earlier this week the BBC reported a text conversation between James Dyson and Boris Johnson, in which the Prime Minister promised to help the inventor with tax issues relating to his supply of ventilators to the UK at the beginning of the pandemic.

Mr Johnson was criticised for what Labour said was "cronyism" - making direct contact with senior business figures rather than operating through official channels.

What No10 said

Downing Street did not deny that the exchange took place, and the PM said he would make no apology for moving "heaven and Earth" to get ventilators into the UK.

But officials yesterday blamed Mr Cummings for the leaks, suggesting that he had attempted to damage Mr Johnson because he was bitter about his departure from No10 last year.

Mr Cummings left Downing Street last year - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg
Mr Cummings left Downing Street last year - Hollie Adams/Bloomberg

What Cummings says

In his blog this evening Mr Cummings says he "was not directly or indirectly a/the source for the BBC/Kuenssberg story on the PM/Dyson texts".

He adds: "Yesterday some No10 officials told me that No10 would make this accusation and told me what they believe actually happened — that Dyson’s office emailed a number of officials, including HMT officials, and included screenshots of the PM/Dyson texts, and that this correspondence, from roughly a year ago, was passed to the BBC."

"I am happy to meet with the Cabinet Secretary and for him to search my phone for Dyson messages.

"If the PM did send them to me, as he is claiming, then he will be able to show the Cabinet Secretary on his own phone when they were sent to me.

"It will therefore be easy to establish at least if I was ever sent these messages. I am also happy to publish or give to the Cabinet Secretary the PM/Dyson messages that I do have, which concerned ventilators, bureaucracy and covid policy — not tax issues."

04:34 PM

What is in the Cummings blog?

Dominic Cummings is a notoriously media-shy personality who rarely responds to claims made about him in the press.

Tonight's intervention covers a series of claims made about him by Downing Street officials, including.

  1. That Mr Cummings leaked details of the second national lockdown to the press before the details were made public.

  2. That he leaked private text messages between Mr Johnson and the inventor James Dyson, published by the BBC earlier this week.

  3. That he told journalists about the PM's plans to renovate his flat in 11 Downing Street, and ask Tory donors to pay for it.

Mr Cummings denies all these accusations and has offered his own version of events.

More to follow...

04:30 PM

Cummings rounds on Johnson after being blamed for leaks

Is Henry Newman the 'chatty rat'? The adviser is pictured with Michael Gove, his former boss. -  Eddie Mulholland
Is Henry Newman the 'chatty rat'? The adviser is pictured with Michael Gove, his former boss. - Eddie Mulholland

Boris Johnson's former chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, has rounded on his former boss in an extraordinary blog post that questions the Prime Minister's competence and integrity.

Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street last year, has been blamed for a series of leaks of confidential material to the media, including the plans for the second national lockdown.

Now Mr Cummings has hit back with a series of claims on his website.

They reveal a series of unedifying exchanges between Mr Cummings and Mr Johnson, in which he claims the PM tried to stop a leak inquiry that implicated his fiance's friend and plotted to ask Tory donors to pay for the refurbishment of his flat.

03:05 PM

Why did No10 blame Cummings?

The rationale for Number 10 to go public and blame Dominic Cummings for a series of hostile leaks has been on the minds of many in Westminster today.

Was it an attempted dead cat strategy? Are they hoping to discredit him before his next evidence session before MPs? Or are they worried about what could be released next?

Whatever the view, the sense is that it has only served to blow up a story that was struggling to gain traction with the wider public, and that Boris Johnson had been weathering pretty well thus far.

That certainly seems to be the view of Telegraph readers today, 69 per cent of whom think it was a bad move and one that has created a war with the irascible ex-aide - although 31 per cent said Cummings should be hung out to dry.

Even Scots Tories leader Douglas Ross calling for an end to the scandal, although his wish seems unlikely to come true - not least because we will be hearing from Simon Case next week about second jobs in the civil service.

Whether it will have any bearing on the May 6 elections, however, is another question.

Carry on reading for more on all these and many more stories from today.

02:55 PM

Mask guidance to be lifted for summer, scientific advisers believe

The public should be able to ditch face masks over the summer as vaccines do the heavy lifting in controlling Covid-19, Government scientific advisers believe.

Step four of the Government's road map for England currently states that all legal limits on social contact will be removed by June 21 at the earliest, when restrictions on large events such as festivals are also expected to ease.

Scientists advising the Government say there is nothing currently in the data to suggest that people will not be able to enjoy a relatively normal summer, though coronavirus cases may well rise as the autumn approaches.

Asked about mask-wearing in the coming months, one source said that vaccines are working so well, and there is such good vaccine uptake among members of the public, that things will return to much more like normal life over the summer months, with cases dropping very low, particularly in May.

But enjoy it while you can: Masks and possibly other measures may be needed next autumn and winter if cases surge, they said.

02:45 PM

Number 10 looking to 'clip Cummings' wings', former adviser suggests

Number 10's briefing against Dominic Cummings may be to "clip his wings" before his next select committee appearance, according to a former adviser.

The Tory figure, who spoke to the Telegraph on the condition of anonymity, said: "At first glance it seems nuts and reduces Boris' standing in my view.... but with Dom’s select committee appearance coming up, they may just want to paint that picture of him ahead of time."

During his last appearance Mr Cummings was highly critical of Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, and others at the heart of the fight against the pandemic.

"Everyone knows he is unhappy in SW1, but by painting him as being bitter, clearly that cuts through to the rest of the country," the adviser added.

02:28 PM

End 'serious concerns' over lobbying, Scots Tories leader says

Concerns raised over communications between senior UK Government officials and business leaders "cannot be allowed to continue", Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross has said.

Mr Ross, who quit as a minister during the row over Dominic Cummings' lockdown-breaking trip to Durham last year, said he believes governments should operate in "the most transparent and open way".

He added: "The serious concerns that have been raised just in the last few weeks cannot be allowed to continue."

Mr Ross, a former minister in the Scotland Office who resigned from that role last year over the lockdown rules breach by Mr Johnson's then chief adviser Dominic Cummings, also said he is "almost certain" he was never lobbied by text during his time in Government.

"I never received a text message directly from a business leader," he said.

"I would say to the best of my knowledge, I can't remember every single text message I received, but I would be almost certain that I never received a direct message, certainly not asking me to do anything - maybe just to set up a meeting that would be with officials."

02:09 PM

Tom Harris: Relying on Cummings was always going to come back and bite Boris

Cummings himself was fatally flawed as an adviser.  - Getty
Cummings himself was fatally flawed as an adviser. - Getty

It is a matter of extreme frustration to Boris Johnson’s opponents that he ever became prime minister, writes Tom Harris.

That he did so by gaming the 2016 EU referendum and leading the Vote Leave campaign as a prelude to his offer to party members in the leadership contest three years later is enough to drive some of them to distraction.So how happy must they be this morning to be told that it is the remnants of that very campaign that have conspired to make life difficult for the prime minister? Double helpings of schadenfreude all round for our embittered, beleaguered and defeated Remainers.It should be pointed out that Dominic Cummings, who stands accused by Number 10 of being the mastermind behind the recent avalanche of embarrassing leaks of communications between Johnson and various business interests, has so far not responded to the allegations. Even so, it’s hard not to reach the conclusion that the Prime Minister’s decision to give many of the leading lights of the Vote Leave campaign passes to Number 10 has not proved as beneficial to his government as he might have been tempted to anticipate at the start.

Read the rest of Tom's column here.

01:54 PM

Has Boris Johnson breached his own rule of six?

That's certainly how it looks from this picture, as pointed out by HuffPo's Paul Waugh.

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01:51 PM

Government's football review 'not good enough', says Labour

Labour has called on the Government to publish timescale of the football review announced this week, and explain how it will be genuinely "fan-led".

Shadow culture secretary Jo Stevens has written to Oliver Dowden, claiming his announcement of the terms of reference for the review"is not good enough".

She has called for it to address ownership models, governance, a new owners and directors test, an independent regulator, financial transparency, resilience and fairer distribution of broadcast revenue, conduct and culture and ensure the "real involvement" of fans.

"It’s not good enough for the Government to say that this review will be ‘expected to’ engage with fans. They promised it would be fan-led and that’s what we need to see," said Ms Stevens.

"We also need a clear timescale for completion so that the public can have confidence that the Government is serious about reforming football and making this the turning point fans deserve."

01:27 PM

Cummings' allies hit back at No 10 war, saying 'the rebel always wins'

Allies of Dominic Cummings have hit back at Number 10 for launching open warfare against the ex-adviser, warning Boris Johnson "the rebel always wins".

Several Westminster figures questioned the wisdom of Boris Johnson's move, warning it had blown the story up and "put the PM more in the spotlight".

A former adviser, who worked alongside Mr Cummings, said: "They're idiots... it's a war they can't win".

He added: "Dom doesn't care about all this stuff and they're in gov. It's like the Americans going into Vietnam - they may be able to drop big bombs but in a war of attrition, the rebel always wins."

Backbenchers suggested the Prime Minister had bitten off more than he could chew.

"A fight to the death between Cummings and the PM could be a real 'grab the popcorn' moment," said one former minister.

"Cummings is a proper nasty piece of work who will have stashed the location of all the bodies... if Cummings can release one text exchange you have to assume he was busy screenshotting anything incriminating."

01:26 PM

Boris Johnson: Foreign investors will always play 'important role' in football

Boris Johnson has insisted there will be an "important role" in football for foreign investors "who bring cash" to the UK,

Asked if seeking alternative forms of governance for football clubs in the wake of the European Super League saga would "put off" the involvement of "good" owners from overseas, the Prime Minister said: "I think, of course, there's an important role in football for overseas investors - people who bring cash, and indeed expertise, to our country - and indeed fantastic players.

"It makes this, the originator of football, the continuing home of football - of the greatest football in the world, played here in Britain, here in England.

"But you've got to have a football system that maintains the link between those clubs, those great towns and cities that gave them birth, and the vast supporting base that love them and admire them and wish them well, that are overwhelmingly here in this country."

01:15 PM

Summer holidays will 'expose' UK to Covid, Sir John Bell warns

Sir John Bell said 'things are great here, they are not so great in Europe' - PA
Sir John Bell said 'things are great here, they are not so great in Europe' - PA

A leading immunologist and geneticist has raised concerns about the prospect of holidays abroad resuming this summer, noting that things are "not so great" in other countries, while the situation in the UK improves

Professor Sir John Bell, Oxford University's Regius Professor of Medicine, told BBC Radio 4's The World At One programme: "You only have to look at what is going on in India.

"I think you have to say, really? Do we want people flying around the world and getting exposed to those sorts of issues?

"Just to be clear, things are great here, they are not so great in Europe. There is quite a lot of variants circulating in Europe, they have got a lot of disease in this current wave. And then you get to the developing economies - India, Africa, central and south America - where they have terrible disease, with lots of variants."

01:08 PM

Boris Johnson says his Dyson messages will be published 'today'

Boris Johnson has said his communications with billionaire Sir James Dyson will be published "today", as he stood by his decision to alter a tax policy at his behest.

The Prime Minister had told Ian Blackford that he would publish "all the details" on Wednesday.

He told journalists: "If you think that there's anything remotely dodgy or rum or weird or sleazy about trying to secure more ventilators at a time of a national pandemic and doing everything in your power to do that, then I think you are out of your mind.

"I think it was actually Tony Blair, the former leader of the Labour Party, who said that any prime minister would have done the same - or he certainly would have done the same.

"When you're facing a pandemic and you've got 9,000 ventilators as we had - that's all we had - and, to the best of our knowledge, putting people on ventilation was the only way to help people who are really in difficulties with Covid, of course it was right to get the best of British manufacturing together as we did with the ventilator challenge."

12:57 PM

Care home self-isolation needed to protect vulnerable, says Boris Johnson

A draconian 14-day quarantine for care home residents if they venture out is necessary to keep the vulnerable safe, Boris Johnson has said.

The Government has recently relaxed its blanket ban on those over 65 leaving care homes, but has replaced it with a stipulation that residents will still have to self-isolate for two weeks upon their return.

"I really appreciate people's frustrations about some of the restrictions that are still in force and I know how difficult it can be," the Prime Minister told journalists. "We have taken steps to ensure people can go and see their elderly relatives in care homes, we've increased the number of people who can go to see elderly relatives.

"Don't forget how bad that epidemic was in our care homes - it was a huge number of lives that we lost."

12:39 PM

Boris Johnson: 'Right judgement' has been reached on 'appalling' Post Office scandal

 Boris Johnson feeds a lamb at Moor Farm in Stoney Middleton - AP Pool
Boris Johnson feeds a lamb at Moor Farm in Stoney Middleton - AP Pool

Boris Johnson has welcomed the "right judgement" on the Post Office scandal, after the convictions of 39 subpostmasters were overturned today, pledging to "look after" those affected.

Speaking on a visit to a farm in Stoney Middleton, Derbyshire, the Prime Minister said: "I know the distress many subpostmasters and their families have felt for a very long time now through the Horizon scandal and I'm pleased that we've got the right judgment.

"Our thoughts are very much with the victims and we'll have to make sure that people get properly looked after because it's clear that an appalling justice has been done.

"Everybody in my profession knows somebody in the Post Office world who has suffered from this and it's very sad what has happened. I think the Horizon thing has been really terrible for many families and I'm really glad the judgment has come, in I think, the right way.

"I hope that that will now be some relief for those families and for those people who, I think, have been unfairly penalised and suffered in an appalling miscarriage and we've got to make sure we look after them."

12:19 PM

'Nobody in SNP wants border between Scotland and England', says Nicola Sturgeon

Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that "nobody in the SNP wants to see a border between Scotland and England", after one of her party's candidates said a border would create jobs.

Ms Sturgeon said it was "only being talked about" because of Brexit, saying an independent Scotland would "trade freely" with both the rest of the UK and the EU.

She added: "It's the Tories that are about borders."

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12:03 PM

Lobby latest: French trawlermen's protest 'unjustified'

French fishermen hold a banner as they block lorries  - Reuters
French fishermen hold a banner as they block lorries - Reuters

Downing Street has described protests by French trawlermen over perceived slowness to issue licences to fish in British waters as "unjustified".

A No 10 spokesman said: "We take an evidenced-based approach to licensing EU fishing vessels using the information that's supplied to us by the European Commission.

"We do not recognise the figures that have been shared by the French fishing industry. We have issued licences to all vessels that have met the criteria and provided the relevant information, so we consider the reaction to be unjustified."

11:57 AM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson had no prior knowledge of European Super League plans

Downing Street has said Manchester United executive vice-chairman Ed Woodward met with officials last week to discuss getting fans back into stadiums, and not the European Super League.

A No 10 spokesman said: "Ed Woodward had a meeting in Downing Street last week with officials but to be totally clear the super league was not discussed and the PM was not in the meeting.

"They discussed the pilots that are ongoing with regard to the safe return of fans."

Asked if No 10 would release the minutes of the meeting with officials, the spokesman said: "We're not going to get into the detail of a conversation that was had with officials here in No 10."

Boris Johnson learned about the European Super League on Sunday - along with the rest of the world - he added.

11:56 AM

Dominic Cummings claims ' a distraction', claims Labour frontbencher

Claims about Dominic Cummings are just a 'soap opera', the shadow minister said - Julian Simmonds
Claims about Dominic Cummings are just a 'soap opera', the shadow minister said - Julian Simmonds

A Labour frontbencher has said that Number 10's claims that Dominic Cummings was behind a series of leaks is "a distraction".

Bridget Phillipson, the shadow Treasury minister, said: "Follow the money, not the soap opera.

"Tory sleaze is back - and that means tax changes, payment changes, access to loans, and favours for friends."

11:52 AM

Lobby latest: No 10 dodges 'speculation' on Dominic Cummings

Downing Street has not denied reports that Boris Johnson's former aide Dominic Cummings leaked text message exchanges between the Prime Minister and Sir James Dyson.

Asked about the reports, a No 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "We have instructed the Cabinet Office to look into the Dyson leak.

"I am not going to comment on speculation and, of course, it is for the Cabinet Office to take that work forward, I am not going to pre-empt it."

11:52 AM

Just 49 bets placed on Laurence Fox to become London Mayor

Actor and Mayoral candidate Laurence Fox - Geoff Pugh
Actor and Mayoral candidate Laurence Fox - Geoff Pugh

Punters have placed just 49 bets on Laurence Fox to become the next Mayor of London - putting him marginally above Count Binface.

A poll issued yesterday put the actor and anti-lockdown campaigner on one per cent ahead of the May 6 election, and he appears to be similarly failing to strike a chord at Ladbrokes.

The 200/1 outsider has seen slightly more bets wagered on him than Count Binface (1000/1) who has received just 34 bets.

Sadiq Khan is the overwhelming favourite at 1/50 to stay on at City Hall, while Conservative candidate Shaun Bailey is in second spot at 20/1, and Brian Rose at 50/1.

11:39 AM

France calls for quick resolution over post-Brexit fishing issues

France has asked the European Commission to act "firmly" to "accelerate" the implementation of the post-Brexit fishing agreement - AFP
France has asked the European Commission to act "firmly" to "accelerate" the implementation of the post-Brexit fishing agreement - AFP

French ministers have called a "quick" resolution to issues around post-Brexit access to fishing waters, after French fisherman blocked trucks trying to bring in catches from Britain overnight.

More than a hundred fisherman launched the blockade late Thursday at Boulogne-sur-Mer, France's busiest fishing hub, to protest a "sham" deal that has been in place since January 1.

They say UK authorities have granted licences to only 22 of the 120 French boats seeking permission to fish between six and 12 nautical miles from the British coast.

"We're acting within the spirit of European solidarity and cooperation with the UK, but the urgency demands an acceleration of our collective efforts," Europe Minister Clement Beaune and Maritime Minister Annick Girardin said in a statement.

"A full granting of access licenses for British waters, and a quick resolution of crucial questions including the use of forward bases, must be resolved as soon as possible."

11:31 AM

Have your say: Is Boris Johnson right to blame Dominic Cummings for the leaks?

The behind-the-scenes battle between the Prime Minister and his former adviser has been blown up into open warfare - and Conservative MPs are concerned it will backfire.

Dominic Cummings has been named by Number 10 sources as being behind a series of hostile leaks that put Boris Johnson in the spotlight on the lobbying row.

But some Tories believe that far from exonerating the Prime Minister, it has put him more squarely in the spotlight, by dragging a household name like Mr Cummings into the row.

Others have warned that it will backfire for Mr Johnson because his former adviser knows the "location of all the bodies".

So is Number 10 right to have named Mr Cummings - or will it come back to bite him? Have your say in the poll below.

11:23 AM

England's weekly Covid cases fall below 100,000 for first time in seven months

The number of people in England with Covid has fallen below 100,000 for the first time in seven months, official figures show.

Around one in 610 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to April 16 - down from one in 480 the previous week, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS said an estimated 90,000 people within the community population in England had Covid-19.

This is the first time it has dropped below 100,000 since the week to September 10 2020, when the estimate stood at 59,800, the equivalent of around one in 900 people.

11:16 AM

'Lessons should and will be learned' over Post Office scandal, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said "lessons should and will be learned" over the Post Office scandal, after the convictions of 39 former subpostmasters were overturned today.

The Prime Minister tweeted: "I welcome the Court of Appeal's decision to overturn the convictions of 39 former sub-postmasters in the Horizon dispute, an appalling injustice which has had a devastating impact on these families for years.

"Lessons should and will be learnt to ensure this never happens again."

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11:09 AM

Cummings claims reveal Boris Johnson's desperation to put row 'at arm's length', claims Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer pulls a pint as he visits the Cameron brewery in Hartlepool  - Getty
Sir Keir Starmer pulls a pint as he visits the Cameron brewery in Hartlepool - Getty

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has criticised the "quarrelling at the centre of Government" when asked about revelations that Boris Johnson's former aide Dominic Cummings has been blamed for leaking text messages.

"Now we're getting arguments and quarrelling at the centre of Government about who is leaking information about privileged access," he told reporters during a campaign visit to Hartlepool.

"Boris Johnson is desperate to try to put this at arm's length but it's obvious that he can't. This is government by WhatsApp, they're all at it."

10:51 AM

Labour calls for inquiry 'with teeth' into Post Office scandal

Labour is calling for a full inquiry "with teeth", into the Post Office scandal, after 39 subpostmasters had their names cleared of theft, fraud and false accounting by a High Court judge today.

Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary, said: "This is a huge victory in the fight for justice for the subpostmasters affected by this appalling decades-long scandal, in the face of inaction from government.

"But there are so many other names to clear. For some who lost their homes and their reputations, it's too late.

"We're pushing for a proper Inquiry with teeth to get the bottom of how this scandal can have happened - and who was responsible - to deliver the justice those impacted need and deserve. The Government's inquiry risks being a whitewash."

Read the full story about today's court ruling here.

10:42 AM

Electoral Commission raises question-mark over funds used for Downing Street flat refurb

The Electoral Commission is investigating whether the cost of the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat involved donations that should have been declared, it has emerged.

Boris Johnson's now-former press secretary Allegra Stratton had previously told journalists that all donations were declared to, and published by the Electoral Commission "absolutely in line with our requirements by electoral law".

She added that "gifts and benefits received in a ministerial capacity – this would be for the prime minister. They will always be declared in his transparency returns."

But the Electoral Commission's statement today suggests there is a question-mark over whether the right process has been followed.

A spokesperson for the body said: "Discussions with the Conservative Party continue as we work to establish whether any sums relating to the works at 11 Downing Street fall within the regime regulated by the Commission, and therefore need to be reported and subsequently published. The Party is working with us on this."

10:32 AM

Dog tired? Boris Johnson goes for a run without Dilyn

Has Dylin sniffed out the chatty rat? - Nigel Howard Media
Has Dylin sniffed out the chatty rat? - Nigel Howard Media

Boris Johnson appears to have exhausted his pet pooch Dylin.

The Number 10 dog normally accompanies the Prime Minister on his morning job - but today he seems to have slept in.

Or perhaps he was too busy chasing a chatty rat.

10:29 AM

Senior Tory says Post Office scandal 'can never happen again'

A former minister has welcomed a landmark ruling this morning, in which 39 former subpostmasters who were convicted of theft, fraud and false accounting because of the Post Office's defective Horizon accounting system finally had their names cleared by the Court of Appeal.

Subpostmasters' lives were "irreparably ruined" as they lost their jobs, homes and marriages after they were prosecuted by the Post Office - which knew the Fujitsu-developed IT system had "faults and bugs from the earliest days of its operation", the Court of Appeal heard last month.

"I can't imagine the pain these postmasters have gone through trying to clear their names," former Brexit minister Steve Baker tweeted. "This can never happen again."

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10:15 AM

Boris Johnson's defence on sleaze 'is busted', says Labour leader

Sir Keir Starmer has said Boris Johnson's "defence is busted" as he attacks the Prime Minister over "sleaze, sleaze, sleaze".

The Labour leader, who is on the campaign trail ahead of May 6 elections, said that there was a "deep sense now that it is one rule for them and another for everyone else."

The documents published yesterday showed that David Cameron has been "texting anybody who will reply to him.. but it's not just David Cameron," Sir Keir added.

"It is increasingly obvious that the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson himself has been involved," he added.

"That defence is busted."

10:11 AM

Boris Johnson: Celebrate St George's Day 'without shame or embarrassment'

Boris Johnson has said people should celebrate St George's day "without shame or embarrassment".

"Today is the day when without embarrassment, without shame, we can raise a glass to everything that makes England such a great part of our United Kingdom," he said in a video posted to Twitter.

Watch the clip in full below.

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10:07 AM

Gus O'Donnell and Mark Sedwill to give evidence to Lords

Gus O'Donnell was known as 'God', a reference to his initials - and his power - Getty
Gus O'Donnell was known as 'God', a reference to his initials - and his power - Getty

Two former cabinet secretaries will appear before a committee of Lords next week, as the row over second jobs continues.

Gus O'Donnell, who held the most senior Whitehall role between 2005 and 2011, and Mark Sedwill, who held the role from 2018 to 2020, will be giving evidence to the Constitution Committee, which is currently looking at updates to the Cabinet manual.

On the same day, the current incumbent Simon Case, will appear before the Commons' public administration and constitutional affairs committee.

10:00 AM

Dyson texts 'distasteful', admits senior Tory MP

It's not just Labour MPs who are unhappy about the revelations of the last few days.

Amid the ongoing row over lobbying - which has blown up further because of claims that Dominic Cummings was behind the leaks - one senior Conservative backbencher admits "the Dyson texts are distasteful".

The former minister adds: "Do we really have to fix the tax system so a billionaire will build ventilators for us?"

09:48 AM

Covid pandemic over in Britain, say experts

Britain is no longer in a pandemic, experts have said, as new data showed the vaccination programme is reducing symptomatic Covid infections by up to 90 per cent.

In the first large real-world study of the impact of vaccination on the general population, researchers found that the rollout is having a major impact on cutting both symptomatic and asymptomatic cases.

Sarah Walker, Professor of Medical Statistics and Epidemiology at Oxford and Chief Investigator on the Office for National Statistics Covid-19 Infection Survey, said that Britain had ‘moved from a pandemic to an endemic situation’ where the virus is circulating at a low, largely controllable level in the community.

The new research, based on throat swabs from 373,402 people between December 1 last year and April 3, found three weeks after one dose of either the Pfizer or AstraZeneca jab, symptomatic infections fell by 74 per cent and infections without symptoms by 57 per cent.

09:31 AM

Simon Case to be grilled on Greensill next week

The head of the civil service will be appearing before a Commons committee on Monday, at a critical point in the ongoing row over lobbying, access and leaks.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, has been overseeing an internal investigation into how widespread double jobs are within Whitehall, after it emerged that senior officials including Bill Crothers were moonlighting at Greensill Capital.

Mr Case gave departments a week to report back to him - although his findings have not been made public.

He is due to give evidence to the public administration and constitutional affairs committee as part of its inquiry into the work of the Cabinet Office.

That will include questions about "the relationship between Greensill, current and former ministers, and senior civil servants".

09:17 AM

Labour tells Rishi Sunak to publish all communication over lobbying row

Earlier this week Labour activists dressed as Rishi Sunak and others, as part of a stunt over the lobbying row - Getty
Earlier this week Labour activists dressed as Rishi Sunak and others, as part of a stunt over the lobbying row - Getty

Labour has called on Rishi Sunak to publish records of all his "texts, calls and secret meetings with lobbyists" about changes to tax rules and Covid-19 support schemes.

The Chancellor has already published text messages he sent to David Cameron over the Greensill affair, but shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds has called on her counterpart to go further, saying Mr Sunak is "hiding from scrutiny".

She added: "We now know that his officials were fully aware that Greensill Capital was in financial trouble months before the Government opened the door for it to lend hundreds of millions of pounds of taxpayer-backed loans.

"But we don’t know what the Chancellor told David Cameron he “pushed his team” to do a day before Greensill’s affiliation to a Covid loan scheme was discussed at the Treasury, or what role he played in dishing out tax breaks by text to Sir James Dyson.

“The Chancellor should come clean by publishing in full the details of every text, every message and every secret meeting he had with lobbyists about changes to tax rules and Covid-19 support schemes.”

09:09 AM

Civil servants’ second jobs to be scrutinised after Greensill saga

Simon Case became Cabinet Secretary last September
Simon Case became Cabinet Secretary last September

Britain’s top civil servant has ordered senior colleagues to more tightly police officials who take second jobs after the Greensill saga, The Telegraph can reveal.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, also said behind closed doors that the current rules would be looked at again to see whether they should be changed.

The message was communicated by Mr Case at a meeting he held with the top civil servants in government departments on Wednesday morning.

Earlier this month it emerged Bill Crothers, a former head of Whitehall procurement, became an adviser to the lender Greensill Capital while still working in the civil service.

08:59 AM

Timeline: The Downing Street leaks in the last few months

There have been a series of leaks coming out of Downing Street in recent months - some of them more damaging than others.

From the cost of the Number 10 refurb to the "chatty rat" who revealed plans for the second lockdown ahead of time, it is safe to say that Boris Johnson's office is a leaky ship.

As the timeline below shows, the leaker (or leakers) have been very busy indeed...

08:48 AM

Have your say: Is Boris Johnson right to blame Dominic Cummings for the leaks?

The behind-the-scenes battle between the Prime Minister and his former adviser has been blown up into open warfare - and Conservative MPs are concerned it will backfire.

Dominic Cummings has been named by Number 10 sources as being behind a series of hostile leaks that put Boris Johnson in the spotlight on the lobbying row.

But some Tories believe that far from exonerating the Prime Minister, it has put him more squarely in the spotlight, by dragging a household name like Mr Cummings into the row.

Others have warned that it will backfire for Mr Johnson because his former adviser knows the "location of all the bodies".

So is Number 10 right to have named Mr Cummings - or will it come back to bite him? Have your say in the poll below.

08:37 AM

Tom Harris: Keir Starmer's hysterical sleaze hunting is no substitute for a proper strategy

Which Labour Party member wouldn’t want to revisit the period in the mid-90s when their new leader, Tony Blair, swept all before him? People forget and others are too young to remember, but the few years after Blair became leader were a joyful, incredibly exciting time, writes Tom Harris.

And not just for party members. The country at large saw something in Blair they had not seen in a politician before – or at least, not for many years. One part of Blair’s strategy to defeat the Conservatives was his focus on “Tory sleaze”, which reached its apogee in the “cash for questions” row and the withdrawal of all the opposition parties’ candidates from the “safe” Conservative seat of Tatton, allowing journalist Martin Bell to triumph over former minister Neil Hamilton.Who can blame Keir Starmer for yearning after those halcyon days and seeking to recreate them with a resurrection of the Tory sleaze accusation? He and his shadow cabinet haven’t missed an opportunity to repeat the phrase. And while national polling suggests this latest tactic hasn’t yet had any serious cut-through with voters, it’s early days yet.

Read the rest of Tom's column here.

08:18 AM

Minister admits she does not have Boris Johnson's number

Culture minister Caroline Dinenage admitted during a live interview that she does not have Boris Johnson's phone number, when quizzed about the controversy over the Prime Minister's text exchanges with Sir James Dyson.

Asked why certain people have access to Mr Johnson's number, she told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "Of course they don't hand them out willy-nilly, and I'm not even sure I have got the Prime Minister's number, to be honest with you.

"We are talking about someone who is one of the top British business people in the world."

Ms Dinenage then looked through her phone contacts to see if she does have Mr Johnson's number, before saying: "No, I don't have it."

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08:08 AM

Welsh First Minister denies lifting Covid restrictions to influence election

Mark Drakeford has denied bringing forward the easing of some restrictions in Wales by two weeks to improve his standing in the forthcoming Senedd election.

Indoor supervised activities for children, indoor organised activities for up to 15 adults such as exercise classes, and the reopening of community centres are being brought forward from May 17 to May 3.

That has prompted the Welsh Conservatives and Plaid Cymru to accuse Mr Drakeford of seeking to unfairly influence the forthcoming election.

The Welsh Labour leader told Sky News on Friday: "If I had to be announcing more difficult news today, opposition parties would be demanding that I was there making that announcement.

"I make that announcement every three weeks. I've had to do it on some very difficult days when the news has not been good.

"Today I have to return to the podium, as I have every three weeks, to let people in Wales know the assessment of the current state of the virus in Wales, the decisions we're able to make on their behalf, our assessment of what can happen in the future, and to remind people in Wales that coronavirus is by no means over."

07:53 AM

Government did not delay putting India on red list because of PM's trip, says minister

A minister has rejected suggestions that the UK delayed putting India onto the red list until today because the Prime Minister was planning to visit the country.

Boris Johnson was forced to cancel his much-delayed trip on Monday - just a couple of hours before Matt Hancock announced the travel ban, which came into force this morning.

But Caroline Dinenage said the two things had no relation, insisting the decision had been taken because "thee situation in India has worsened an incredible amount over the last few days".

Asked specifically if India had not been added because of the trip, she replied: "The Prime Minister didn't go to India."

She added: "We take advice from the health experts on this. We don't want to add countries to the red list unnecessarily, but the priority is to protect people in the UK."

Asked how many planes had arrived in the UK from India this week, she said: "I don't know. I am a culture minister."

07:48 AM

India joins the UK's red list

People arriving in the UK from India must now enter hotel quarantine as the country is officially added to the travel red list.

As of 4am on Friday, people returning from India must quarantine in a Government-approved hotel for 10 days, while anyone who is not a UK or Irish resident or a British citizen will be banned from entering the country if they have been in India in the previous 10 days.

The restrictions come in response to mounting concern about the number of Covid-19 cases in India and the emergence there of a variant of the virus. The variant - also known as B.1.617 - was first noted internationally in October and first identified in the UK on February 22.

More than 100 cases have now been identified in the UK.

Boris Johnson was forced to cancel a trip to India on Monday as the country struggles to cope with a dramatic surge in cases.

07:30 AM

Was Dominic Cummings behind other leaks?

Number 10's claim that Dominic Cummings was responsible for a series of leaks has got Westminster abuzz this morning.

The former chief adviser to Boris Johnson is the prime suspect in the leaking of messages which implicated the Prime Minister in two separate lobbying scandals. The leaks included messages sent between Mr Johnson and the Saudi Crown Prince, Mohammed bin Salman, and separate texts between the Prime Minister and the businessman Sir James Dyson.

But one senior backbencher and former minister said there were now questions about his involvement in other leaks, including the ones putting David Cameron in the spotlight over his lobbying for Greensill.

"The whole thing looks like a Cummings hatchet job," said the MP. "I presume Cummings is behind the flat makeover story too."

07:24 AM

Liaison committee will not 'interfere' in other MPs' inquires

Sir Bernard Jenkin: 'The select committees themselves don't much like the liaison committee interfering in their inquiries.' - AFP
Sir Bernard Jenkin: 'The select committees themselves don't much like the liaison committee interfering in their inquiries.' - AFP

The chairman of the liaison committee, made up of select committee chairs, has defended his decision to reject calls by Labour to launch an investigation into Boris Johnson's conduct.

"The Liaison Committee doesn't have the remit to carry out its own inquiries," Sir Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"The select committees themselves don't much like the liaison committee interfering in their inquiries.

"There are a very comprehensive set of inquiries in progress and they are co-ordinating effectively together."

07:20 AM

New adviser on ministerial interests to be named 'imminently', says senior Tory

The chairman of the liaison committee said that the appointment of a new adviser on ministerial interests, a post which has been empty since November when Sir Alex Allan resigned, was "pretty imminent".

Government sources had suggested the new name was going to be made public early on this week, amid pressure to demonstrate their commitment to standards, but the announcement appears to have been delayed.

However Sir Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "My understanding is that the appointment of a new adviser on ministerial interests is pretty imminent.

"The Committee on Standards in Public Life has been scrutinising that question and wrote a letter to the Prime Minister.

"It's not as though the Prime Minister is not being addressed on these matters and I believe that the Prime Minister is actually addressing the question."

07:18 AM

We don't do business by WhatsApp, minister says

A culture minister has pushed back against suggestions that Boris Johnson's top team is governing via WhatsApp, amid ongoing allegations about lobbying.

Caroline Dinenage told Sky News that she did not give her phone number out "willy-nilly" - seemingly in contrast to the Prime Minister's attitude.

Yesterday the Telegraph revealed that Boris Johnson had been told to change his number by the head of the civil service, because his current one is too widely known.

But Ms Dinenage said that was not the case.

"I don't tend to massively interact with people by text but there are very clear rules about what to do if you are approached," she said.

"We don't do business via text or WhatsApp."

07:15 AM

Ministers must not be 'locked away in ivory towers', says senior Tory

Ministers should not be "locked away in ivory towers" with people unable to contact them, a senior Tory MP has said.

"The Government is now under intense scrutiny - every meeting, every conversation that ministers have had with their officials," Sir Bernard Jenkin told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

"What's got to come out of this is obviously a system of managing conflicts of interest, which commands more public confidence, and is more rigorous, but also, a balance, there has to be a balance.

"We don't want ministers to be locked away in ivory towers, out of touch with the real world, with people unable to contact them. It is going to stifle proper conversation within government departments if all this is effectively a public conversation.

"Ministers and officials have got to be able to discuss policy options in private."

07:03 AM

Cummings accused of being ‘Chatty Rat’ leaker

Dominic Cummings has been named by Downing Street sources as the person suspected of leaking text messages sent by the Prime Minister.

The former chief adviser to Boris Johnson is the prime suspect in the leaking of messages which implicated the Prime Minister in two separate lobbying scandals.

Number 10 sources believe Mr Cummings, 49, is “bitter” that the Government has been “making great progress” since he departed in acrimonious circumstances last November.

The revelation that Mr Cummings may be behind the leaks threatens to reignite the damaging briefing war which erupted in Number 10 after the former adviser was forced out last year.

The Prime Minister and his fiancée Carrie Symonds have faced a wave of hostile leaks and briefings in the past six months.