People will have made “their own judgment” about whether Dominic Cummings is a reliable witness following his lockdown-breaking trip to Barnard Castle last year, a Cabinet minister has said.
The former chief adviser to the Prime Minister was forced to give a lengthy press conference in Downing Street’s rose garden last spring, after driving his family to County Durham during the coronavirus lockdown.
Boris Johnson stood by Mr Cummings during the massive row, which cost him a minister and attracted much criticism from within the Conservative party.
Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think that people will have come into contact with Dominic Cummings for the first time last year, when he did a press conference in the Rose Garden.
“They, I’m sure, will have made their own judgment on what they think of that.
“Dominic Cummings is no longer an adviser to the Prime Minister or the Government, but he served the Prime Minister, particularly post-Brexit, towards getting to Brexit, which is now being done.”
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Watch: The three ways Boris Johnson could deny Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP a second referendum
Nicola Sturgeon hopes to win an SNP majority on May 6 and with it a mandate to call a second referendum on Scottish independence.
Boris Johnson has repeatedly indicated that whatever the outcome, he does not intend to grant permission for a referendum to be held.
But what if Scotland’s pro-independence parties hold an illegal referendum? Or try to force the argument that they have a moral mandate to hold one?
The Telegraph’s columnist Alan Cochrane explains the options on the table.
Vaccine programme reaches people aged 42 and over
Healthy people aged 42 and over have been invited to get their Covid vaccine, in a sign that the drop in supply may be coming to an end.
The national booking system has been extended for the second time in two days to allow more healthy adults in their 40s to book their jab.
People in England who are aged 42 and over, or those who will turn 42 before July 1, can now arrange their vaccine appointment through the national booking website.
The system only opened to those aged 44 and over on Monday.
NHS Medical Director, Professor Stephen Powis, said: “We are now ready to invite those aged 42 and 43, as the largest vaccination programme in NHS history continues at speed.
“The rapid rollout of the NHS vaccination programme, the swiftest in Europe, hasn’t happened by accident – it is down to months of careful planning and sheer hard work by nurses, doctors and countless other staff supported by our volunteers.”
Boris Johnson must say who is ‘beholden to’ for ‘posh cushions’, says Labour
Boris Johnson must explain who donated the cash that enabled him to buy his “posh cushions and a rug”, Labour’s shadow health secretary has said.
Jon Ashworth told Sky News that the public must be told “who is he beholden to” for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
“He did this because he didn’t think John Lewis furniture was good enough,” the frontbencher added, noting that he thought it was “pretty posh stuff”.
“We know they were asking business people to fund it, so we need to know whether he has had a loan, whether he has to pay it back with interest… who is he beholden to, whether they have an interest in policy, and interest in winning government contracts.
“If you’re the most powerful politician in the country… we need to know what you owe that business person,” he added. “We need to know who the Prime Minister has obligations to.”
Sketch: Boris Johnson, Simon Case, Michael Gove… and a masterclass in ducking awkward questions
If nothing else, the latest Dominic Cummings saga will be of huge value to aspiring MPs, writes Michael Deacon.
The most important lesson any politician needs to learn is how to answer – or, better still, not answer – awkward questions. And yesterday, they were treated to fascinating demonstrations of three very different techniques.
The first came from Boris Johnson. At a factory in Wales, the Prime Minister was asked about the startling allegations made by his former adviser. In response to each question, Mr Johnson’s technique was to deny wrongdoing – and then swiftly change the subject.
“Here at Net World Sports, look at what they’ve done,” said the Prime Minister earnestly, after denying he’d ever said he would rather “let the bodies pile high” than approve a third lockdown. “I’ve just helped export a golf net from Wrexham to Australia…”
The second demonstration came in Parliament, where Simon Case, the head of the Civil Service, was being questioned by MPs. Mr Case’s technique, it seemed, was simply not to answer at all.
Exclusive: Donald Trump discussed the Queen, vaccines and a 2024 presidential run with Nigel Farage
Donald Trump is “thinking very, very hard” about running to be President in 2024 and is in “listening mode” at his home in Mar-a-Lago, where he met Nigel Farage on Monday evening.
In a half-an-hour sit down at the Palm Beach resort, the pair discussed the Queen and Prince Philip, Britain’s vaccine rollout and postal voting, in what the former Brexit party leader described as a “meeting of friends”.
Mr Trump “has got a massive decision to make” and is “thinking very, very hard,” Mr Farage told The Telegraph about a potential third run for the presidency.
UK should ‘clear our debts’ with Iran to free Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, says Labour MP
A Labour MP has suggested the UK “clear our debts” with Iran to secure the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, after the charity worker was jailed for a further year yesterday.
Tulip Siddiq, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s constituency MP, told Sky News that while paying the £400m “doesn’t mean it is the end of hostage-taking”, the UK was not able to negotiate properly with the situation outstanding.
“The fact is, if we owe someone money – and we do owe them money, we owe them £400 million, it went through a huge court case and a hearing, at the end it was said that the verdict is we owe them the money – maybe we should pay the money anyway,” she said.
“Whatever the result is, we should try to clear our debts, then we have a stronger position to negotiate releases of Nazanin and other prisoners.
“At the moment we can’t negotiate with them properly because they don’t trust us and we haven’t paid the money.”
Labour questions Boris Johnson’s ‘bodies pile high’ denial
Labour has questioned Boris Johnson’s claims that he did not make “sickening” and “crass” comments such as ‘let the bodies pile high’.
Jon Ashworth, shadow health secretary, told Sky News that further to the original report, which the Prime Minister denied, there were more “sources telling very respected journalists that apparently he shouted it in anger”.
He added: “It is serious if there are more sources saying he said it…. these are very respected journalists saying they definitely have sources.”
Asked about Michael Gove’s comments in the Commons chamber yesterday, Mr Ashworth said: “Michael Gove didn’t entirely deny it, he just said he wasn’t in the room.”
That is not strictly the case, however: yesterday the Cabinet Office minister told MPs: “The idea that he would say any such thing I find incredible. I was in that room, I never heard language of that kind.”
Labour ups the pressure: Who paid for Boris’ new bed?
Labour is upping the pressure on Boris Johnson over the lack of transparency regarding the payment for the works carried out in the Downing Street flat.
Jon Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, told Radio 4’s Today programme the Prime Minister had “lied yesterday”, as he demanded that he set out who the secret donor was.
“If you’re the Prime Minister, the most powerful politician in the country, it is important to know who you are beholden to.
“Who is loaning you the money to buy your cushions, your sofa, the bed you sleep in at night?
“Whether these people have an interest in any government issues, an interest in procurement – we don’t know any of this.”
Ursula von der Leyen: Some progress made on Northern Ireland protocol
There has been “some progress” on resolving the issues around Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit arrangements, Ursula von der Leyen has revealed.
The European Commission president gave a positive assessment of the work being carried out by the EU’s Maros Sefcovic and the UK’s Lord Frost.
She said: “In recent days and weeks, we have seen a new, constructive dynamic and we will continue to work closely with the UK to find constructive solutions that respect what was agreed.
“The next step is to mutually agree on compliance paths, with concrete deadlines and milestones.”
She added: “We need solutions, not soundbites, if we are to make the protocol work for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.”
No 10 flat refurbishment funding doesn’t matter as long it wasn’t the taxpayer, claims leading Tory
A leading Conservative MP has said questions over the cost of the Downing Street flat refurbishment are “the least important issue” because it did not come out of the public purse.
Sir Charles Walker, who admitted he was “not a signed up member of the Boris Johnson fan club” told Newsnight that he was unfazed by the various allegations relating to the matter, saying: “Either the Prime Minister paid for it or a Tory party donor paid for it.
“I don’t really care as long as my constituents didn’t pay for it.
He added: “The least important issue because at the end of the day it didn’t cost the taxpayer a penny.”
Brexit is ‘failure of European Union’, says Michel Barnier
Brexit is a mark of “failure of the European Union”, the former chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said.
He told MEPs: “This is a divorce. It’s a warning, Brexit, and it’s a failure – a failure of the European Union.
“And we have to learn lessons from it as politicians here in the European Parliament, in council, in the Commission, in all of the capitals.
“Why did 52% of the British vote against Europe? There are reasons for that – social anger and tension which existed in many regions in the UK but also in many regions of the EU.
“Our duty is to listen and understand the feelings of the people.”
He added that the anger felt by citizens “shouldn’t be confused with populism” and the EU should do “everything to respond to that”.
Minister says she will ‘take Boris Johnson at his word’
A Cabinet minister has said she will “take the Prime Minister at his word”, after fresh claims were levelled against Boris Johnson.
Yesterday the Prime Minister was forced to deny he had ever said ‘let the bodies pile high’, following an explosive allegation that he had made the remark before ordering the second lockdown last autumn.
However, further sources have since backed the original claim – while a further allegation emerged this morning that he said he should allow Covid to ‘let rip’ rather than return to restrictions in September.
Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told Sky News: “The Prime Minister says he didn’t say them, and he said that yesterday… so I take the Prime Minister on his word.
“I’m not aware that any politician has said anything like that, or indeed any other person that I’m aware of.”
Asked similar questions on BBC Breakfast, she added: “I take him absolutely at his word.”
Boris Johnson has ‘record of being late’ declaring interests
Boris Johnson “has a bit of a record of being late” in declaring his interests, the deputy director of the Institute of Government has said.
Hannah White told Radio 4’s Today programme that ministers had a “calendar month” to declare donations, amid ongoing questions about how the Prime Minister paid for the refurbishment of the Downing Street flat.
She added: ” The Prime Minister has a bit of a record of being late on these things
“There was a report by standards committee which detailed 10 incidents where he had been late in declaring interests in code of conduct.
“It’s fair to say it’s possibly not something he has a history of giving great priority to.”
Sherelle Jacobs: No 10 must move on from the warped tragedy of Dominic Cummings
There is nothing like a Westminster scandal to expose the chasm between the public and the metropolitan commentariat, writes Sherelle Jacobs.
While the chattering classes salivate with appallment over claims that Boris Johson was willing to let “the bodies pile high” to avoid a third lockdown, and the Left launch a Twitter revolution against Tory sleaze, ordinary people merely feel irritation.At this time of national crisis, the Dominic Cummings saga seems a decadent distraction.Tory backbenchers who are no Boris loyalists report not to have received a single letter from constituents on the affair; they are more preoccupied by the prudence of low traffic neighbourhoods as high streets recover from the pandemic, and cancer waiting lists.
Government will ‘just keep making representations’ on Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe
The Government will continue to support the family of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and to try to get her “reunited with her family as quickly as possible”, a Cabinet minister has said.
The mother-of-one was handed a further jail sentence by the Iranian authorities yesterday, ending her hopes of being able to return home. The British-Iranian charity worker was first jailed in Tehran in 2016.
Asked about the situation today Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told Sky News: “I think that we just keep making representations in the standard diplomatic way.
“Just as we have tried to support this family along the way, we will keep doing so and keep making the case on why we don’t think this is appropriate, in order to try and get Nazanin reunited with her family as quickly as possible.”
Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s constituency MP, Labour’s Tulip Siddiq, has an urgent question on the matter, after criticising government efforts to secure her release.
Boris Johnson will publish details of flat refurb costs, minister insists
Boris Johnson will make “declarations in the usual way” after questions were asked about who paid for refurbishments to his Downing Street flat, a Cabinet minister has said.
Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary, told Sky News: “The Prime Minister will make the declarations in the usual way.
“These sorts of things often get tied up in something called the annual accounts, which get published by departments every year.
“The right declarations will be made, the Prime Minister paid for it personally, and in the meantime he is out leading the Government in trying to get back on the road map to recovery, and I think we’re making good progress on that.”
Big Ben to bong again in 2022
Big Ben will ring again from early next year as the restoration of Parliament’s Elizabeth Tower nears completion.
The refurbishment of the Westminster landmark, which has already spiralled to at least £80 million, was originally expected to be finished this year but was delayed as the Covid-19 crisis held up work.
In a statement, UK Parliament authorities said: “The Elizabeth Tower conservation project is due to complete in the second quarter of 2022, and Parliament has revealed a number of important milestones that are expected on the project over the next twelve months.
“These include the removal of further scaffolding, the re-installation of the Great Clock and the return of Big Ben’s world-famous chimes.”
They added the “complex task” of installing the restored clock mechanism would begin this summer.
Early next year the bells, including Big Ben, will be reconnected to the original Victorian clock mechanism “and will ring out across Westminster once again”.
Cabinet minister: I take the Prime Minister on his word
A Cabinet minister has insisted she is not aware of any politician who had said anything about letting ‘bodies pile high’.
“The Prime Minister says he didn’t say them, and he said that yesterday, I think to Sky, so I take the Prime Minister on his word,” Therese Coffey, Work and Pensions Secretary, told Sky News.
“I’m not aware that any politician has said anything like that, or indeed any other person that I’m aware of.
“There’s an element here about trying to keep on with the main task at hand. We’ve got through this challenging time, we’re still not out of it, that’s why we’re still encouraging people to take up their vaccines.”
Labour frontbencher slams Boris Johnson’s ‘sickening’
The claims that Boris Johnson said he was prepared to ‘let the bodies pile high’ rather than order a third lockdown are “crass” and “wrong”, a Labour frontbencher has said.
“It’s so upsetting, there is more sources telling the most senior journalists in the country that he did say it,” Jon Ashworth told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.
“There will be so many viewers who have lost a loved one, perhaps lost a mum, or a grandma, a dad, a grandfather, who never got the opportunity to say goodbye properly – probably didn’t have a decent funeral,” the shadow health secretary added.
“The remarks are sickening, they are disgusting, they are crass, they are wrong
Boris Johnson fights to move on from leaks row
Boris Johnson today tell his Cabinet to be “totally focused on the public’s priorities” in an attempt to move on from a series of Downing Street leak controversies.
The Prime Minister was on Monday night embroiled in a row over whether he had said he would rather “let the bodies pile high in their thousands” than order a second lockdown.
He categorically denied making the remark – allegedly said last autumn after agreeing to a second lockdown – answering “no” when asked whether he had done so.
But both the BBC and ITV led their evening news bulletins by citing sources who contradicted the denial. ITV reported that at least one of its sources was willing to go on the record if necessary, raising the possibility of the row escalating further.