Rishi Sunak

Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak Fined Over Partygate. Will They Go?

Boris Johnson, Carrie Johnson and Rishi Sunak are to receive fixed penalty notices for attending lockdown parties, having been found by police to have broken the law. Isabel Hardman at the Spectator has more.

The police fines for breaking Covid laws, which [Johnson and Sunak] created, throw everything around the Prime Minister and the Chancellor into the air. Previously, many Tory MPs had said this would be a resigning matter for a serving PM to be found to have broken the law.

A No. 10 spokesperson confirmed the fines, saying: “The Prime Minister and Chancellor of the Exchequer have today received notification that the Metropolitan police intend to issue them with fixed penalty notices.”

The Prime Minister’s wife Carrie Johnson has also been fined. A spokesperson for Mrs Johnson said: “In the interests of transparency, Mrs Johnson can confirm she has been notified that she will receive a Fixed Penalty Notice. She has not yet received any further details about the nature of the FPN.”

The Prime Minister has now not only been found by police to have broken the law, but he also misled Parliament about the matter, saying he had been assured that there was no party. Now we know the police have concluded that on at least one occasion there was a party and that Johnson attended it.

What will Tory MPs do now? Parliament is in recess at the moment, which makes it harder for them to organise an immediate response. But what it does mean is that MPs will face the reaction of their constituents. Remember that it was the fury within constituency parties and among local voters that tipped many Conservatives into calling for Johnson to resign when the row reached its height. 

Keir Starmer has of course called on Johnson and Sunak to resign: “Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak have broken the law and repeatedly lied to the British public. They must both resign.”

And Finally..

In this week’s episode of London Calling, James and I discuss the latest wave of environmental protests, Boris’s double U-turn on banning conversion therapy, the lower rates of Covid infection among the unvaccinated than the vaccinated in New Zealand, Rishi Sunak’s wife’s non-dom status, Macron v Le Pen, Boris’s surprise visit to Ukraine and, in Culture Corner, the Dropout, WeCrash and Jimmy Saville: A British Horror Story.

You can listen to the podcast here and subscribe on iTunes here.

Treasury Staff Held a Party During Last Winter’s Lockdown Restrictions, Government Sources Claim

Government sources have unveiled that, last year on November 25th, Treasury staff held a party to celebrate Rishi Sunak’s spending review, even though the Government’s official Covid guidance at the time strongly advised that members of the public must only leave home for exercise or shopping. Although officials say that the event was unplanned and that it “wasn’t a formal party”, attendees had brought alcohol into the Treasury. MailOnline has the story.

Around two dozen civil servants attended the drinks party in the Treasury on November 25th last year.

The party was held despite Covid restrictions which had asked people to stay at home unless exercising or food shopping. 

At the time, non-essential shops, bars and restaurants were closed. 

Sources revealed that Sunak’s officials who had been working on his spending review announcement stayed for a drinks party afterwards. 

Wine and beer were brought into the Treasury but the officials insisted the party had been spontaneous.

A source said: “They’d all been working really hard. They had to be in the office anyway that day.

“It was not a formal party but perhaps in hindsight it was not the most sensible thing to do.” 

Another insider said nobody had questioned the drinks party or thought there was anything wrong with the event.

They described the situation with parties and events coming to light as a “blame game”, according to the Times.  

Sunak was not at the event and it is understood he did not know it was happening.

The latest revelation comes after the Prime Minister’s ex-COP26 Spokeswoman Allegra Stratton resigned this week over a video released by ITV which showed her laughing and joking with other staff about last year’s Downing Street Christmas party on December 18th.

Staff joked about the party as families and friends were separated, many of whom had lost loved ones to Covid.

People had been told to stay at home in their own bubbles for Christmas and to not mix households. 

The video left many people outraged, with some calls for the prime minister to resign.

Despite the footage being released, Johnson has maintained that there was no Downing Street Christmas party.

A spokesman said of the Treasury drinks party: “In line with the guidance at the time, a number of staff came into the office to work on the Spending Review 2020.

“We have been made aware that a small number of those staff had impromptu drinks around their desks after the event.”

An inquiry is set to take place into the three parties which came to light before this latest drinks party was revealed. 

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, is leading the investigation into last year’s Downing Street Christmas party on December 18th, a leaving event on November 27th and an education department party on December 10th.

He will decide whether to also investigate the drinks party held at the treasury. 

Worth reading in full.

Rishi Sunak to Announce £6 Billion Spending Package to Fight Growing NHS Backlog

In an effort to turn the tide on the expanding NHS backlog, estimated to encompass a record 5.7 million people on the waiting list, with an additional 100,000 being added every month, Rishi Sunak is set to announce a £6 billion spending package to help solve the crisis. In turn, roughly £2.3 billion will be earmarked for diagnostic services in an attempt to treat patients who have yet to receive access to NHS services. The Guardian has the story.

In an effort to get a grip on the crisis, the Chancellor will unveil plans for investment in NHS capital funding this week to help deliver about 30% more elective activity by 2024-25 compared to pre-pandemic levels. This is equivalent to millions more checks, scans and procedures for non-emergency patients.

“We are committed to getting health services back on track and ensuring no one is left waiting for vital tests or treatment,” said Sunak. “This is a game changing investment in the NHS to make sure we have the right buildings, equipment and systems to get patients the help they need and make sure the NHS is fit for the future.”

Dr. Layla McCay, Director of Policy at the NHS Confederation, said health leaders would welcome the funding, but added that it still “falls short” of what is needed “to get services completely back on track”.

McCay also warned that the funding would only deliver results if there were “the right number and mix of workers”. She said: “Recruitment is ongoing but with 80,000 vacancies across the NHS and fully qualified GPs per patient having dropped by 10% over the past five years, this is a long-term issue that cannot be fixed quickly.”

The waiting list is now rising by about 100,000 a month as more people who did not seek or could not access NHS treatment over the past 18 months visit a GP and are referred to hospital. The number of patients waiting more than two years has risen to nearly 10,000.

Worth reading in full.

Rishi Sunak Expected to Extend Covid Recovery Loan Scheme

In his budget speech next week, the Chancellor is expected to announce an extension of the Government’s Covid recovery loan scheme – the amount of money that has been spent under which has not yet been published – which was due to end on December 31st. The Times has the story.

The scheme was launched in April as a bridge between the more generous coronavirus loan schemes and more normal credit conditions.

It provides credit worth up to £10 million and comes with an 80% Government guarantee for lenders. Its terms are less generous than previous pandemic loan schemes. Lenders are allowed to ask for personal guarantees from directors on loans over £250,000. Fees must be paid from the start and businesses must show that they would be viable were it not for the pandemic and had been affected adversely by the Covid crisis.

Data has not yet been published on how much money has been lent under the scheme. However, banking sources have said that the volume of loans has been lower than expected. Under three earlier Government-backed lending programmes, including the business interruption loan and bounce back loan schemes, almost £80 billion of loans were issued to help companies through the pandemic.

An industry source said: “The take-up [of the recovery loan scheme] was never really expected to be as big as the other schemes, but it also hasn’t been as big as they had expected.” The source said it would “make sense” to continue to provide an alternative to bank lending for businesses into the new year.

The economy grew by 0.4% in August, which was weaker than economists expected. It contracted for the first time in six months in July. …

A Treasury spokesman said: “We have provided over £79 billion to 1.6 million businesses through our government-backed Covid loans, including the recovery loan scheme, to ensure firms had finance they needed throughout the pandemic.”

Worth reading in full.

Leaked Documents Reveal Chancellor’s Concerns about Cost of Moving Towards a Zero-Carbon Economy

Leaked documents obtained by the Observer reveal deep concerns within the Treasury about the economic cost of moving towards a zero-carbon economy. The Chancellor is worried that additional costs from green initiatives would push companies to move production elsewhere.

As Johnson prepares to position the U.K. at the head of global efforts to combat climate change and curb greenhouse gas emissions as host of the Glasgow COP26 meeting, the documents show the Treasury is warning of serious economic damage to the U.K. economy and future tax rises if the U.K. overspends on, or misdirects, green investment.

Green experts said the “half-baked” and “one-sided” Treasury net-zero review presented only the costs of action on emissions, rather than the benefits, such as green jobs, lower energy bills and avoiding the disastrous impact of global heating. They said the review could be “weaponised” by climate-change deniers around the world before COP26, undermining Johnson’s attempts at climate leadership on the global stage.

The internal Treasury documents say that while there may be economic benefits to U.K. companies from swift and appropriate climate action, there is also a danger that economic activity could move abroad if firms found their costs were increasing by more than those of their overseas competitors.

The leaked papers are understood to have been produced to accompany a slide show given confidentially to key groups outside Government in the last month. The documents state: “The investment required to decarbonise the U.K. economy is uncertain but could help to improve the U.K.’s relatively low investment levels and increase productivity.

“However, more green investment is likely to attract diminishing returns, reducing the positive impact of ever more investment on GDP. Some green investments could displace other, more productive, investment opportunities. If more productive investments are made earlier in the transition, this risk may be accentuated later in the transition.”

On the risk of additional costs to companies from green initiatives, the documents say: “Climate action in the U.K. can lead to economic activity moving abroad if it directly leads to costs increasing, and it is more profitable to produce in countries with less stringent climate policies.”

On the fiscal implications, the documents say the cost of moving towards net zero could mean tax rises because of “the erosion of tax revenue from fossil fuel-related activity”. They say: “The Government may need to consider changes to existing taxes and new sources of revenue throughout the transition in order to deliver net zero sustainably, and consistently with the government’s fiscal principles.”

Worth reading in full.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak Will Spend “Freedom Day” in Self-Isolation After Speedy U-Turn Due to Backlash Over Quarantine Exemption

When it was first suggested that Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak would need to self-isolate after coming into contact with Health Secretary Sajid Javid, who has tested positive for Covid, Downing Street reported that the pair would be exempt from the rule as part of a pilot scheme (how convenient!). They have since been forced to U-turn due to the backlash following the announcement and will spend ‘Freedom Day’ in isolation. Sky News has more.

“The Prime Minister has been contacted by NHS Test and Trace to say he is a contact of someone with Covid,” a spokesperson said.

“He was at Chequers when contacted by Test and Trace and will remain there to isolate. He will not be taking part in the testing pilot.

“He will continue to conduct meetings with ministers remotely. The Chancellor has also been contacted and will also isolate as required and will not be taking part in the pilot.”

Mr Sunak tweeted: “Whilst the test and trace pilot is fairly restrictive, allowing only essential Government business, I recognise that even the sense that the rules aren’t the same for everyone is wrong.

“To that end, I’ll be self-isolating as normal and not taking part in the pilot.” …

Mr Javid revealed on Saturday that he had tested positive for Covid – only a day after the Health Secretary reportedly met with Mr Johnson in Downing Street.

But this morning, Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick appeared on Sky News to defend Downing Street’s initial announcement that the PM and chancellor would not be isolating.

He said: “I appreciate the frustration [the public] might feel listening to this.

“They, like me, or other members of the public who are pinged will have to self-isolate in the usual way.”

Having seen Mr Jenrick sent on to the morning politics programmes to defend the original decision, Sky’s Political Correspondent Rob Powell described the situation as “baffling”.

“This is a pretty speedy U-turn,” he said.

While Mr Jenrick referred to being “pinged”, the PM and chancellor were in fact contacted by NHS Test and Trace directly rather than simply being alerted by the NHS Covid app.

That means that there is a legal obligation to self-isolate for 10 days, whereas being pinged by the app is only guidance. …

Mr Jenrick encouraged people to keep the app installed and self-isolate when pinged.

Worth reading in full.

“Big Risk” of Inflation Spiralling Out of Control as Government Borrows Another £24 Billion in May

Government borrowing came in lower than estimated in May, but there is little else in the state of the country’s economy to be cheery about. Following more than a year of lockdowns and heavy borrowing, the national debt stands at £2.2 trillion and a former Chancellor has warned there is a big risk of inflation spiralling out of control. The MailOnline has the story.

The Government was in the red by £24.3 billion last month, down from £43.8 billion a year earlier at the height of the pandemic – and crucially below the Office for Budget Responsibility’s forecasts.

However, the figure was still the second highest on record for the month and £18.9 billion more than in May 2019 before the pandemic struck, while national debt now stands at a staggering £2.2 trillion.

The grim fiscal backdrop was highlighted as former Chancellor Ken Clarke warned that there is a “big risk” of inflation running out of control – and urged Mr Sunak to raise more revenue now to make the Government less vulnerable to a resulting spike in interest payments.  

Responding to the figures, Mr Sunak reiterated his pledge to “get the public finances on a sustainable footing”.

“That’s why at the Budget in March I set out the difficult but necessary steps we are taking to keep debt under control in the years to come,” he added.

Concerns over the rebounding economy overheating and causing an inflation spike have been intensifying after the headline rate surged ahead of expectations to hit 2.1% last month.

Graphic from the MailOnline.

In the U.S. it is also at worryingly high levels, as Joe Biden pours money into stimulating the economy. 

Mr Sunak has been wrestling with Boris Johnson over how to fund ambitious “levelling up” spending commitments and a new social care plan.

Downing Street has insisted that the “triple lock” on the state pension will stay in place, even though the warping effects of furlough could mean it rises by 6% this year.  

Number 10 also says the manifesto commitment not to raise income tax, national insurance or VAT in this parliament stands – even though the respected IFS think-tank says that makes it “extremely difficult” for the Chancellor to find ways of raising money.    

Worth reading in full.

Rishi Sunak Confirms His Split From Boris Johnson Over September “Circuit Breaker” Lockdown

Rishi Sunak has confirmed that he opposed the imposition of a “circuit breaker” lockdown in September due to the impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods, but that the “ultimate” decision was Boris Johnson’s. ITV News has the story.

In a wide-ranging interview with ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston, Mr Sunak said in Cabinet he made the case against a circuit-breaking lockdown due to the “impact” it would have on “people’s jobs and livelihoods”, and that he believed it would be “bad for the economy” and “long-term health as well”.

Despite Sage recommending a lockdown in a bid to stop Covid cases increasing, Mr Sunak said it was his “job” to “provide the Prime Minister with the best advice” in his “area of expertise”. 

“In the same way that you’d expect the Education Secretary to feed in about this –the impact on children’s education and learning – you’d expect me in my job to talk about the impact on people’s jobs and livelihoods and ultimately things that are bad for the economy are bad for our long term health as well and our ability to fund things like the NHS. 

“And those things have to go into the decision. 

“These are difficult decisions to make, and it’s why we weigh up all those factors.”

Mr Sunak insisted that “at the time it wasn’t a clear-cut case” and that one of the deputy chief medical officers said it would “not be appropriate… for a national intervention”.

He continued that there was a “varied epidemiological picture” across the country so a “national intervention… wasn’t considered one that wouldn’t necessarily make sense”.

“And actually, you know, Wales went down that route and it didn’t in the end stop what needed to happen.”

The 40-year-old continued that while he and other ministers provided “input” from their respective rolls, “ultimately” the decision was made by Boris Johnson who “has to weigh these things up”.

A little later, in November, the Treasury admitted that it produced no forecasts in the run up to the second lockdown. Kate Andrews reported the details in the Spectator.

The impact of the specific restrictions on the economy were not forecast or predicted by the Treasury before they came into force.

Clare Lombardelli, the Chief Economic Adviser to the Treasury, said in November:

As the Chancellor set out in Parliament last week, we haven’t done a specific prediction or forecast of the restrictions… what we do is ongoing policy that feeds into decisions ministers take, which they consider alongside the health impacts, the social impacts, and they also consider the economic impact.

As Kate Andrews commented: “That the institution did not produce any forecasts or predictions also raises serious questions about the extent to which the economic implications of such radical measures were considered before the Government brought them in.”

ITV News’ report is worth reading in full.

Fact Check: “Rishi Sunak Was the Main Person Responsible for Covid’s Second Wave”

The Times has published the latest instalment in Jonathan Calvert and George Arbuthnott’s new book Failures of State, an exercise, it seems, in recording the Official Narrative.

In the excerpt the authors lay the blame for the second wave at the feet of Chancellor Rishi Sunak, quoting a SAGE source that he was “the main person who was responsible for the second wave”. The editors picked this incendiary quote as the title of the piece.

Calvert and Arbuthnott write:

The Government had been warned about the consequences of a second wave but, by the end of July, the scientists on SAGE were reporting that they had no confidence that R was not now above the one threshold. The Government’s limited room for manoeuvre was acknowledged by Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, at a hastily arranged press conference. “We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society,” he said.

The following Monday, August 3rd, was going to be the start of Eat Out to Help Out, come what may. According to a Conservative MP source, both Matt Hancock and Michael Gove were concerned about pressing ahead, but “the voices that were prevailing in government, for whatever reason, were those that were pushing a case that was based purely on economic recovery at all costs as fast as possible”.

By mid-August, positive tests had risen to more than a thousand a day. The Commons all-party coronavirus group wrote directly to the Prime Minister. “It is already clear that to minimise the risk of a second wave occurring . . . an urgent change in government approach is required,” said the letter.