Politics latest: 'Skip fire', 'self-destroying', 'bonkersness': Leaked WhatsApps show Tories turning on each other over Johnson allegations (2023)

Key points
  • COVID inquiry issues legal notice to Cabinet Office over Boris Johnson's redacted WhatsApps
  • Sam Coates:Leaked Tory WhatsApps shows MPs turning on each other over Boris Johnson legal woes
  • Downing Street insists government is supplying all relevant material to probe
  • Johnson also back in hot water over lockdown allegations - what you need to know
  • Labour MP who harassed assistant and racially abused journalist gets whip back
  • Braverman gets seat next to Sunak at PMQs after being told she can keep job
  • Liz Bates: But their uneasy alliance may not last much longer
  • Watch: Tory MP asked to leave Commons during PMQs
  • Live reporting by Ben Bloch and (earlier)Faith Ridler


That's all for tonight

Thank you for following along for another very busy day of live updates from the heart of Westminster.

We'll be back in the morning, but until then, here are today's highlights:

  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak decided that his home secretary, Suella Braverman, will not face an investigation after a speeding row;
  • The COVID inquiry issued a legal notice to the Cabinet Office to turn over all WhatsApps from Boris Johnson during the pandemic;
  • Leaked Tory WhatsApps showed MPs turning on each other over Boris Johnson's legal woes;
  • It was announced that inflation has fallen to 8.7% - the lowest rate in over a year;
  • A probe was ordered into the Teesworks site;
  • A Tory MP was kicked out of the Commons during PMQs as the PM and Sir Keir Starmer went head to head;
  • Shadow chancellorRachel Reeves unveiled 'securonomics' as Labour's economic philosophy for the future of Britain;
  • A Labour MP who harassed an assistant and racially abused a journalist got the whip back.

We'll back tomorrow from 6am for another busy day - do join us.


Boris Johnson allies demand apology from Deputy PM over 'misleading' statements

Sources close to Boris Johnson have accused the Cabinet Office of putting out two "misleading" statements regarding the referral of the former PM to the police amid fresh claims of lockdown rule breaking.

Allies of Mr Johnson believe that two statements made by the department were factually inaccurate.

The first is a statement that said the Cabinet Office had not made any assessments of the alleged rule-breaking events themselves, nor accused anyone of lawbreaking directly.

However, the former PM's allies say this is contradicted in a letter sent to the Commons privileges committee that is currently investigating whether Mr Johnson misled parliament over partygate.

The second allegation is that Cabinet Office minister Jeremy Quin authorised the handing over of material to the Commons committee.

As a result, sources close to Mr Johnson are demanding public apologies from Deputy Prime Minister Oliver Dowden and Mr Quin.


Tory MP responds after WhatsApp messages leaked to Sky News

Earlier today, Sky News published internal Tory WhatsApp messages leaked to our deputy political editor Sam Coates showing MPs turning on each other over Boris Johnson's latest woes (see post at 18.30).

The messages from this morning showed one Tory MP asking her colleagues if they are "determined to turn our party into a skip fire", and another quipped: "Would the last Tory MP to leave the building please turn off the lights"?

Andrea Jenkyns, the Tory MP forMorley and Outwood who was briefly a minister under Boris Johnson and Liz Truss, had sharp words for her colleagues and Prime Minister Rishi Sunak.

She wrote in a leaked WhatsApp: "I don't like leakers, I prefer to say things to peoples face.

"However it is interesting some of those commenting were happy to speak out publicly against the Boris and Liz administrations. So maybe less sanctimony and hypocrisy.

"Clearly many in the party are unhappy. But those at the top are not doing anything about this to bring people together."

Sky News revealed the messages at 6.30pm, and Ms Jenkyns has now responded the report.

Tagging Sam Coates, she tweeted: "You may be salivating thinking Cons MPs are turning on each other, but we would all much rather have a Cons Gov than a socialist wokeafest destroying our beloved country & way of life.

"We have been through worse, look at the groundhog day [Theresa May] years!"


Why has an investigation been ordered into the Teesworks project?

You will have seen or heard reports about the Teesworks project and allegations of "corruption".

The first question posed to Rishi Sunak at Prime Minister's Questions earlier today was about the project, and it has turned into something of a partisan fight.

With lots of news swirling around, here is what you need to know.

What is the Teesworks project and what are the "corruption" allegations?

Teesworks is the site of the former Redcar Steelworks, which is being redeveloped into an industrial site and a freeport with thousands of jobs in the pipeline.

The Conservative Party has hailed the project as a huge success led by the the Tory mayor of the Tees Valley, Ben Houchen.

However, there have been allegations of "corruption" made, including by Labour MPs.

Concerns have been raised around claims the private companies which now own the majority of the Teesworks project have profited to the detriment of the taxpayer.

What is the government doing about it?

Earlier today, Levelling Up Secretary Michael Gove wrote to Mayor Houchen, to say that he will "appoint a panel, in line with established practice, to undertake an independent, external assurance review".

It had been expected that a statutory National Audit Office (NAO) inquiry would be instructed by Mr Gove, but this has not materialised.

Mr Houchen, shadow levelling up secretary Lisa Nandy, levelling up committee chair Clive Betts and Labour MP Andy McDonald had all called for an NAO probe.

Mr Houchen wanted one as he is adamant there is no corruption. The Labour MPs want one as they want to know more about what is going on.

However, the probe will be carried out bya panel as the soon-to-be-created Office for Local Government (Oflog) watchdog - which is not yet operational.

Labour has said the announcement "falls way short" of what is needed, while a Conservative MP has welcomed the news.

You can read the full details on the saga here.


Team Boris Johnson denies fresh reports of undisclosed gatherings - as calls mount to scrap honours list

Fresh allegations of lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street and Chequers have emerged this evening.

The Guardian newspaper has been told that about a dozen previously undisclosed gatherings held during the COVID period have been referred to police.

The paper cited government sources saying that around 12 potentially illegally gatherings were referred to police by civil servants in a dossier two weeks ago.

However, Boris Johnson's team has tonight denied the reports.

Sources close to the former PM say the number is incorrect, while the Met Police and the Cabinet Office said they had nothing to add to the statements made last night.

The Cabinet Office reiterated its statement yesterday that said: "Ministers played no role in deciding whether the information should be handed over to the police."

Amid these new allegations, Rishi Sunak is facing fresh calls to delay or cancel Mr Johnson's resignations honours list that is thought to reward many of his allies.

Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, said: "With the disgraced former prime minister now facing new allegations and under multiple investigations, there should be no question of Rishi Sunak approving honours for his cronies and cheerleaders.

"The prime minister should refuse to do Boris Johnson's bidding and make it clear that he will reject these demands.

"His top priority right now should be tackling the cost of living crisis facing ordinary people, not handing out more rewards for thirteen years of Tory failure."

And Lib Dem chief whipWendy Chamberlain added: "The days of exiting prime ministers nominating peers should be left in the past, particularly when they leave under such a cloud of scandal as Johnson.

"At the very least Sunak must step in and delay this list while Johnson is under police investigation."


'The Blob has replaced Brussels in Tory demonology'

Asked by Sophy Ridge whether he would be more scared to go up against Boris Johnson or Rishi Sunak at the next general election, Labour's Pat McFadden said: "If you turn round for five minutes, the Tories have changed their leader."

Pivoting to the fresh claims of lockdown rule-breaking in Downing Street, the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury said that "everything Boris Johnson touches is a gigantic mess" and it's "very hard to keep track" of the latest Boris Johnson news.

He continued: "The other thing is it's always someone else's fault, it's always a plot."

In reference to the Tories and civil servants, he said: "They keep referring to this thing called 'the blob', and in my mind, 'the blob' has replaced Brussels in Tory demonology.

"They used to blame Brussels for everything. Now for the Tories, it's 'the blob ate my homework', and it's always someone else's fault."

He added: "It will never happen, but it would nice for Boris Johnson to take responsibility for his actions just once."

But pushed by Sophy Ridge on whether he would prefer to go up against Mr Johnson or Mr Sunak, he said: "There's a saying in football - 'you can only play the team in front of you'. So, I really don't care who the Tories pick.

"We're confident that we'll be in a much better position to take them on this time than for many years."


Labour frontbencher declines to commit to not raising taxes if elected

Although The Take with Sophy Ridge is not airing this evening after the terribly sad death of Tina Turner, Sophy spoke to Labour frontbencher Pat McFadden earlier, and we wanted to bring you his comments.

Sophy first asked about the figures today showing inflation has dropped to 8.7%, but the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury said they were "higher than expected" and that markets had expected them to be lower.

"What this means is even though it has dropped a little bit, prices are rising faster here than any other major industrialised economy," he said.

He laid the blame for sky-high mortgage rates squarely at the door of former PM Liz Truss, saying: "People are still paying the price for that mini-budget.

"It was a reckless act that put booster rockets under mortgage rates and put pensions on life support."

Asked if the Bank of England should bring interest rates down to help families, he said: "It's not a good idea for politicians to start saying the bank is right or wrong in interest rates decisions."

He noted that it was Labour under Tony Blair that made the Bank of England independent, with the power to decide interest rates for itself.

Sophy noted that Labour has been talking a lot about fiscal responsibility, but also huge public service reforms, notably the NHS.

Asked if these reforms will require tax rises, Mr McFadden said: "If you look at the tax burden, it's already at a 70-year high.

"We've to make our decisions about those if we're ever in a position in government, but I think we're very conscious of the size of the tax burden..."

He said the last Labour government did "a lot of reform of public services" and said that was a combination of investment and reform.

But he declined to say anything substantive on taxes, saying those policies would be announced "at the time of an election."


'Utter b******s' - Tory MPs deny reports of by-election threat after Boris Johnson police referral

Earlier this afternoon, reports emerged that three Conservative MPs were threatening to trigger by-elections over Boris Johnson's referral to the police over new claims of lockdown rule-breaking.

It is rumoured that Nadine Dorries, Nigel Adams and Sir Alok Sharma have been granted peerages in Mr Johnson's resignation honours that are expected to be announced at any time.

In order to take up their seats in the Lords, they would have to resign from the Commons, which would trigger by-elections in their constituencies.

This afternoon, The Telegraph reported claims from allies of Mr Johnson that they could resign from the Commons earlier than expected, which would bring forward those by-elections and create an unwanted headache for Rishi Sunak.

But this evening, two of the three MPs have denied the reports, labelling them "b******s".

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted: "Hacks need to go and have a lie down. Not been mentioned or discussed. Not happening. It’s b******s."

And Nigel Adams, MP forSelby and Ainsty, told the Guido Fawkes website: "It’s utter b******s. No one has spoken to me, no one has said anything. These people just make things up."

Sir Alok Sharma has yet to comment.


The Take has been cancelled after death of Tina Turner

Following the terribly sad passing of music icon, Tina Turner, The Take with Sophy Ridge will not be airing this evening as Sky News covers this huge news.

The government did not provide a minister for the program this evening, but Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Pat McFadden, spoke to Sophy a little earlier.

We will be posting the comments from that interview here shortly to get Labour's view on the politics of the week.

In the meanwhile, for full coverage of the passing of a music legend, follow the Sky News live coverage here:


With record migration figures due tomorrow - the PM and the home secretary will be nowhere to be seen

The government is trying to distance itself from tomorrow’s net migration figures.

There won’t be a minister on Thursday's morning media round, the home secretary and immigration minister will be firmly out of sight.

The reason? Net migration for 2022 is expected to be more than 700,000, the highest level on record, and could well be more than double what it was pre Brexit.

As the labour leader put it in PMQs: "If people want to see what uncontrolled immigration looks like all they have got to do is wake up tomorrow morning and look at the headlines".

There are many reasons behind soaring migration, including schemes helping those coming from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine; but the problem the prime minister, and home secretary, is that the have chosen to put migration at the centre of their pitch to the country.

Suella Braverman’s views on immigration are well documented; last week in a speech, seen by some as a future pitch for the leadership, she attacked the "unexamined drive towards multiculturalism" and said migration levels are "unsustainable".

The 'Stop the Boats' pledge, one of Rishi Sunak's top five priorities, has become a defining slogan of this government.

Former Downing Street pollster James Johnson, says voters have a tendency to view illegal and legal migration together, and there is a "tension" between where the public, and the prime minister, stand on the issue.

He believes, unlike with illegal migration, the government are moving towards a position where "control of legal migration is more important than the reduction of migration". Number 10 insist they are committed to bringing down net migration.

The party have certainly been on a journey in the last decade, from David Cameron's pledge to see migration in the tens of thousands, to Rishi Sunak last week appearing to back away from his predecessor, Boris Johnson's, commitment that net migration would fall below 250,000.

The other issue is cabinet politics: the chancellor has already suggested the government is open to immigration in key sectors to help with a labour shortage, a view not shared by the home secretary.

Behind the scenes it has been suggested to me that public backlash to high immigration figures would help Suella Braverman make her case for tougher action on legal migration in cabinet.

Mrs Braverman has toughened the rules on students bringing families to the UK this week, but for some on the right of the party that’s not enough.

Craig Mackinlay, the conservative MP for South Thanet, says the government "has not got a grip of migration".

He narrowly beat Nigel Farage in the constituency in 2015, and believes the issue will dominate in his area at the next election; he fears constituents will vote against the conservatives because "Britain does not feel like it's working".


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