Without Dominic Cummings, there is a good chance Boris Johnson would not be in No 10 Downing Street. How fitting then, would it be, if the former Brexit supremo, instrumental in delivering victory for Leave and the prime minister’s 80 seat majority that followed at the 2019 election, was one of those to deliver the fatal blow to his premiership. Johnson’s former chief of staff is back in the headlines this morning after making another explosive claim about partygate. He says Johnson was made aware, and waved aside concerns about, the boozy party he admitted attending in the Downing Street garden in May 2020 and is willing to swear under oath to prove the veracity of this claim. If Cummings, who has not hidden his desire to remove the PM from office, is telling the truth and his claim (denied by No 10) can be proven true, then this would surely be the end for Johnson, who would find it extremely difficult to wriggle out of accusations he has knowingly mislead parliament. Away from partygate, which makes the front of a few outlets more than a month after the first report emerged, a senior navy chief has warned the plan to send the military to the Channel will aid people smugglers. Elsewhere, the Lords has rejected several measures in the government’s crime and policing bill.
Inside the bubble
Our chief political commentator John Rentoul on what to look out for:
The cabinet meeting this morning will be interesting for the body language and the side glances, as the prime minister tries to convince them there is life in the government yet. This will be followed by health questions in the Commons and the second reading (which is really the introduction) of the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. In select committees, representatives from YouTube, TikTok, Twitter, Instagram will be questioned about protecting children online. Richard Meddings, the former banker, will be asked about his suitability to be the chair of NHS England.
– Shadow work and pensions secretary Jon Ashworth on Sky News at 8.05am
– Deputy PM and justice secretary Dominic Raab on BBC Radio 4 Today at 8.10am
DOM BOMB: Opposition parties are calling for Johnson to come before the House of Commons to set out his version of events and tell MPs who is telling the truth after Cummings’s latest claim. Writing on his Substack blog page last night, Cummings, who was ousted from Downing Street in November 2020 following a bitter power struggle with Carrie Johnson and Allegra Stratton, said evidence will show Johnson “lied to parliament” when he denied knowing about the No 10 garden party. An email sent by “a very senior official” warned the “bring your own booze” event broke Covid rules. “Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened,” Cummings added. No 10 said: “It is untrue that the prime minister was warned about the event in advance. As he said earlier this week, he believed implicitly that this was a work event.” The problem for Johnson and his spinners is that there are now several sources, all anonymous, backing up Cummings’s version of events. The claim that Johnson was warned about the party was first slipped out by Dominic Lawson in his Sunday Times column. Sources told the BBC and Sky News last night that Cummings’s version of events is correct.
OPERATION DEAD CAT: The plan to save Johnson’s premiership, reportedly dubbed ‘operation red meat’ by Downing Street officials, has not got off to the best start, according to an ex-navy chief, who says the PM’s plan for the military to tackle Channel crossings will aid people smugglers. Lord West of Spithead said giving the navy command over the operation in the English Channel would backfire by providing a more “efficient conduit” for the work of traffickers. “This will not stop the migrant crisis. Picking them up at sea does not solve the problem of not giving them back. We don’t have an agreement with France to give them back yet,” he said. Labour also accused Johnson of trying to “distract” from partygate after home secretary Priti Patel confirmed on Monday that she had asked the Ministry of Defence to put the royal navy in charge of the operation to police migrant boats. Maritime laws mean the military will not be given any more powers than those afforded to Border Force officials, suggesting that the move to bring in the former to deal with the issue is little more than government PR. Elsewhere in operation red meat Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, came under fire from MPs in the Commons yesterday as she confirmed that the BBC’s funding would be frozen for the next two years, and confirmed that the “long-term” future of the current licence fee model was in doubt.
CRIME BILL DEFEATS: Following a weekend of protests in cities across the country, the controversial crime and policing bill went through the House of Lords yesterday where peers inflicted a series of defeats on the government. The bill includes a suite of measures proposed by ministers to crackdown on protest groups such as Insulate Britain and others. New powers turned down by the House of Lords included allowing police officers to stop and search anyone at a protest “without suspicion” for items used to prevent a person being moved, known as “locking-on”.A move that would allow individuals with a history of causing serious disruption to be banned by the courts from attending certain protests was also dismissed, along with a proposal to make it an offence for a person to disrupt the operation of key national infrastructure, including airports and newspaper printers.
COST OF LIVING LATEST: April is just around the corner and warnings about the looming cost of living crisis over rising energy bills keep coming. Soaring prices threaten to “devastate” the UK’s poorest families, who face pending more than half of their income after housing costs on gas and electricity this year, a leading charity is warning. Single-adult families on low incomes will be hardest hit, spending 54 per cent of their income, the Joseph Rowntree Foundation estimated. The anti-poverty charity called for urgent action to ease the cost-of-living crisis, while Labour said the analysis revealed “shameful” levels of child poverty. Households face an average 47 per cent increase in their energy bills when the price cap is increased in April, with a further rise expected in October.
RUSSIA FEARS: Britain is providing further “self-defence” weapons and training to Ukraine over concerns of a possible Russian invasion. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, said light anti-armour defensive weapons systems would be supplied to Ukraine, with a “small number” of UK personnel travelling to the country to provide training. The announcement came after he warned tens of thousands of Russian troops are positioned next to the Ukrainian border, explaining the deployment is “not routine” and they are equipped with tanks, armoured fighting vehicles, rocket artillery and short-range ballistic missiles. He told MPs there is “real cause of concern” over the scale of the force being assembled by the Kremlin supported by Russian air and maritime forces.
On the record
“Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.”
Cummings claims Johnson knew about No 10 garden party.
From the Twitterati
“One ex-minister’s Monday update on partygate: ‘My voters are not angry. They’re incandescent. And these are my supporters, Tory voters.’”
Ex-minister relays constituents’ anger to i chief politics commentator Paul Waugh.
- Tom Peck, The Independent: Boris Johnson has broken the glass on the box marked ‘BBC culture war’
- Rupert Hawksley, The Independent: PM has done nothing wrong – his sister told us so
- Liam Byrne, The Guardian: As long as party donations can be obscured, British politics will not be clean
- Yasmeen Sheerman, The Atlantic: The silent, vaccinated, impatient majority
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