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Boris Johnson news: Starmer wonders if PM will ‘make it to next election’, as Labour retains poll lead

·40-min read
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Labour has kept its lead in the latest Westminster opinion poll, beating Boris Johnson’s party by two points, at 38 per cent, while the Tories sit at 36. The gap between the two parties is closing – with Labour down two overall, and the Conservatives up the same amount – but Sir Keir Starmer’s performance at PMQs could well translate into the next set of data.

The Labour leader jeered his political opponent in the Commons, reminding him of the turbulent few weeks he has had before asking the PM if “everything is OK” – echoing the words of a reporter who asked the same thing after the PM’s rambling Peppa Pig speech on Monday.

In a session aimed at scrutinising the government’s social care changes, Sir Keir Labour asked Mr Johnson whether he believed he had stuck to his “election promise” to ensure people would not have to sell their homes to pay for care. “Who knows if he’ll make it to the next election, but if he does how does he expect anyone to take him and his promises seriously?” Sir Keir said.

It comes after it was claimed a dozen Tory backbenchers had written letters of no confidence to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 committee, which deputy PM Dominic Raab dismissed as “Westminster tittle tattle”.

Read More

Boris Johnson not unwell, says Downing Street after shambolic speech

Home Office should be stripped of responsibility for compensating Windrush victims, MPs say

Tory MPs try to trigger Boris Johnson leadership contest with ‘no confidence’ letters

Key points

  • Starmer wonders if PM will make it to next election...

  • ...amid reports Johnson at risk as ‘a dozen Tory MPs send in letters of no confidence’

  • Labour ahead by two points in latest opinion poll

  • HO should be stripped of Windrush compensation responsibilities, MPs say

  • Cox accused of skipping parliament to conduct BVI business – again

  • UK ‘in the dark’ about queues caused by post-Brexit EU border checks, Cabinet warns

Good morning...

07:53 , Sam Hancock

Hello, and welcome to The Independent’s rolling politics coverage. Stay tuned as we bring you the latest updates from Westminster and beyond. It’s Wednesday, which means one thing: Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs) at 12pm.

HO should be stripped of Windrush compensation responsibilites, MPs say

07:58 , Sam Hancock

The Home Office should be stripped of responsibility for compensating victims of the Windrush scandal, MPs on an influential parliamentary committee have said.

A report by the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee said Priti Patel’s department had presided over a “litany of flaws” and that an independent organisation should take over, reports our policy correspondent Jon Stone.

They found that, as of the end of September, only 20.1 per cent of the initially estimated 15,000 eligible claimants had applied for compensation, and just 5.8 per cent had received any payment. Meanwhile, they said the design of the compensation scheme contained the same “bureaucratic insensitivities” that led to the Windrush scandal in the first place.

Home Office should be stripped of responsibility for Windrush compensation, MPs say

PM at risk as ‘a dozen Tory MPs send in letters of no confidence’

08:07 , Sam Hancock

After weeks of sleaze accusations, U-turns and a rambling Peppa Pig speech, a “flurry” of Tory MPs are said to have had enough and have submitted letters of no confidence in Boris Johnson.

Downing Street on Tuesday dismissed concerns that the PM had lost his “grip” despite dozens of people inside his own party – including one whip, writes The Telegraph – claiming letters had been sent.

One senior Tory MP reportedly told The Sun: “He is like Jose Mourinho - he was good a decade ago and his powers have been fading ever since.

“Yes he won an election, but a bowl of soup could have beaten Jeremy Corbyn.

“There is real anger. He has until Spring to get back on track or he will be in real trouble.

“Letters have gone in. I am on the cusp myself.”

Tory MPs can only trigger a leadership challenge, like that placed on ex-PM Theresa May, if 15 per cent of them write letters to the 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady asking for one.

As there are currently 360 Tory MPs in parliament, 54 of them would have to send such a letter.

The news comes after No 10 was forced to assure the British public on Tuesday that Mr Johnson is not unwell, following concerns raised after his speech to CBI leaders which has been called “excruciating” and “not a good moment for the PM”, again by figures inside the Conservative Party.

Johnson delivers his so-called Peppa Pig speech to business leaders on Monday (Getty)
Johnson delivers his so-called Peppa Pig speech to business leaders on Monday (Getty)

Key sessions to watch out for in parliament today

08:10 , Sam Hancock

House of Commons

11.30am Women and equalities questions

12pm Prime Minister’s Questions

12.40pm Urgent questions/statements

A 10-minute rule motion on Social Media Platforms (Identity Verification)

Commercial Rent (Coronavirus) - second reading

A motion to approve a statutory instrument relating to terrorism

A short debate on the death of Captain David Mockett

House of Lords

3pm Oral questions

3.40pm Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - committee stage (day 11)

Raab dismisses reports of no confidence in PM as ‘Westminster tittle tattle’

08:19 , Sam Hancock

Deputy PM Dominic Raab appears to have rubbished suggestions Tory backbenchers are writing letters to the 1922 committee’s chair to demand a leadership challenge.

Speaking to LBC radio, he said only the reports were “the usual Westminster tittle tattle and I’m not aware of that”.

Elsewhere, speaking to BBC Breakfast, he defended his boss as being “on great form”.

“The reality is people speak about speeches in the Westminster village, the gossip and all the rest of it,” Mr Raab said. “It’s the job of Westminster commentators to pick up on one anonymous source from wherever they found it to criticise the government of the day, that’s fine.”

Quizzed about the PM’s seriousness, the justice secretary said Mr Johnson is “focused on the job at hand”.

“The prime minister is an ebullient, bouncy, optimistic, Tiggerish character and he livens up his speeches in a way that few politicians past and present have done,” Mr Raab told the BBC, before going on to say he supports “glowing references to Peppa Pig”.

Deputy PM defends ‘ebullient’ leadership of his boss

08:26 , Sam Hancock

More from Raab now, who’s appearing on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

Grilled about the PM’s premiership, Mr Raab repeats much of the same lines he gave to LBC and BBC Breakfast (see post below), however he seems to get more defensive about suggestions Boris Johnson “doesn’t have what it takes”.

Pointing to Britain’s Covid vaccine campaign, and the fact it has “come out of an awful lockdown” under the PM’s guidance, Raab suggests Mr Johnson is an “ebullient” leader and is doing a good job.

He also claims the British public, and more importantly “the voters”, are not “interested” in hearsay about the PM’s state of mind - and instead that they care “about us delivering on the issues that matter”.

Finally, asked about the Peppa Pig speech, Mr Raab goes on a tangent about the UK doing “too much self flagellating” and says we should be shouting about “great British exports” like the children’s cartoon.

Stella Creasy’s shock as she is told no babies allowed in Commons

08:35 , Sam Hancock

Labour MP Stella Creasy has been informed that it is against the rules to bring a child to a debate in Westminister Hall, after having her three-month-old son in a sling as she spoke at parliament on Tuesday.

The Walthamstow representative previously took her infant child into the Commons without complaint but after leading a debate on buy-now-pay-later consumer credit schemes on Tuesday afternoon, she was reprimanded by the House’s authorities.

An email from the private secretary of chairman of the ways and neans committee reportedly told Ms Creasy that bringing her baby into parliament was not in line with recently published rules on “behaviour and courtesies” - the handbook for MPs.

Thomas Kingsley reports:

Stella Creasy’s shock as she is told no babies allowed in Commons

ICYMI: Watch PM talk about Peppa Pig World during speech to CBI

08:46 , Sam Hancock

Tory MPs try to trigger leadership contest with ‘no confidence’ letters

09:06 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (just after 8am), here’s our policy correspondent Jon Stone with more on reports Tory backbenchers are attempting to trigger a leadership challenge against the PM.

Boris Johnson‘s deputy has insisted the prime minister is “on great form” despite reports that Conservative MPs have written to their party asking for him to be replaced.

A dozen Tory MPs are said to have written to the chair of the Tory backbench committee, with one senior MP telling The Sun newspaper: “There is real anger. He has until Spring to get back on track or he will be in real trouble.”

Meanwhile Tory whips told the Telegraph there was an “assumption” that no confidence letters had been written, while another suggested “the usual suspects” were calling for the PM to go. “It will not get anywhere near the 50 letters you would need, but it does cause angst,” the newspaper was told.

Tory MPs try to trigger Boris Johnson leadership contest with ‘no confidence’ letters

Peppa Pig ‘not the basis for making public policy,’ says Labour MP

09:17 , Sam Hancock

The shadow education secretary ridiculed Boris Johnson’s Peppa Pig speech this morning, saying she would never knock the cartoon, but didn’t think it should be associated with creating public policy.

Asked by Sky News if she had ever been to Peppa Pig world - the theme park Mr Johnson went on a tangent about in his CBI speech - Kate Green laughed and said she she had not.

Holding the PM to account, she continued: “I would never knock Peppa Pig, who gives great pleasure to many children in this country ... but I don’t think Peppa Pig is the basis for making public policy if you are the prime minister.”

‘Rule for working mums but not for masks’: Creasy questions Commons

09:33 , Sam Hancock

Stella Creasy, the Labour MP caught up in a row with the House of Commons over bringing her child into the chamber, has questioned the legitimancy of parliament creating a rule aimed at making working mums’ lives harder when there is no rule on face masks amid the pandemic.

Ms Creasy told the BBC the new rule is “yet another barrier to getting mums into politics” which she said she thinks is “wrong”.

She also said it was strange the measure had come into force during an ongoing pandemic despite the Commons not yet having “a rule on wearing masks” which all MPs follow. It follows weeks of the Conservative Party facing criticism for often refusing to wear coverings when inside the House.

“I don’t have maternity cover and I’m still feeding my [13-week-old- baby, so I’ve written back to the Commons asking what they would like me to do instead,” she said.

There is confusion over the fact Ms Creasy prviously took a small baby into the chamber and recieved no complaints. The Commons says it is in contact with Ms Creasy about this, and the change came as part of recently published updates on MPs’ “behaviour and courtesies”.

Elsewhere, speaking to Sky News, she said she believed the issue “is just representative of the way in which often if you’re a mum, you can’t win”.

Mandatory life sentences for those who kill emerency workers while committing crime

10:15 , Sam Hancock

Offenders who kill an emergency services worker while committing crime will be given mandatory life jail sentences, the justice secretary has announced.

The law change marks the end of a two-year campaign by Lissie Harper after her husband, police officer Andrew Harper, was killed in the line of duty while answering a late-night burglary call.

Mrs Harper, 30, previously said she was “outraged” over the sentences handed to the three teenagers responsible for her husband’s death.

The so-called Harper’s Law is expected to make it on to the statute books via an amendment to the existing police, crime, sentencing and courts bill, meaning it is likely to get Royal Assent and become law early next year.

“It’s been a long journey and a lot of hard work. I know Andrew would be proud to see Harper’s Law reach this important milestone,” Mrs Harper said on Tuesday.

PC Harper, 28, died from his injuries when he was caught in a strap attached to the back of a car and dragged down a winding country road as the trio fled the scene of a quad bike theft in Sulhamstead, Berkshire, in 2019. Henry Long, 19, was sentenced to 16 years and 18-year-olds Jessie Cole and Albert Bowers were handed 13 years in custody over the manslaughter of the Thames Valley Police traffic officer.

The sentences prompted Mrs Harper to lobby the Government to better protect emergency services workers on the front line.

Government has emergency service workers' backs, says Raab

10:16 , Sam Hancock

Speaking to BBC Breakfast this morning, Raab said the so-called Harper’s Law showed the government had emergency workers’ “backs”.

He did, however, outline the law would not be retrospective, meaning the sentences given to Andrew Harper’s killers would not be extended. The Court of Appeal previously rejected a bid by the attorney general to increase their sentences.

“That is one of the things that made us look very carefully and focus on changing the law, but of course it only applies to crimes and sentences going forward, I think that’s the right thing to do,” the justice secretary said.

“That’s a change Lissie wanted, it’s a change I agree needs to take place ... I think for the public it’s the kind of change they’d like to see.”

Poll: What do you feel has been the Coservative Party’s biggest blunder?

10:25 , Sam Hancock

Is the uproar around Boris Johnson’s Peppa Pig speech simply a “Westminster bubble” story? Tory MP Jeremy Hunt has said that he does not expect people to remember the prime minister’s faltering address.

“In politics you have speeches that go well, that don’t go well. I mean, you’re talking to someone who as the foreign secretary called his Chinese wife ‘Japanese’ and I managed to get through that,” the former Tory minister told reporters this week. “So I don’t think in the grander scheme of things people will remember that particular speech.”

But what do you think? How do you feel about the current government? Will the growing number of problems end up sticking or is this another issue that Boris Johnson can emerge from unscathed? If you think the government’s made mistakes, what are they?

Let us know in our poll below.

What do you feel has been the Conservatives’ biggest blunder? Tell us in our poll

UK faces fewer food items on shelves at Christmas, trade body warns

10:36 , Sam Hancock

Let’s get a Christmas update now. Shane Brennan, chief executive of the Cold Chain Federation, a trade body representing the temperature-controlled logistics industry, told MPs today there will be fewer food items on the shelves this Christmas due to pressures in the supply chain.

Speaking before the Commons transport select committee, he said: “People have made decisions about what they think is achievable, and so we’ve got quite a significant scaling back in the amount of work we’re trying to do, particularly around Christmas.

“The food supply chain gears itself up to deliver at Christmas, and it’s quite a lot [to be] scaling back at the ambition of that.

“Whereas normally it’d be get as much out as possible, to sell as much as possible, to make as much revenue as possible for customers that time, we’re having to sort of scale that ambition back to try and deliver what we absolutely can.”

Giving evidence, Mr Brennan went on to clarify “it’s not about shortages, it’s about simplifying, so having less range obviously is one of the key decisions you can make in trying to make supply chains more efficient”.

He said the industry is “very good at piling high and selling cheap at Christmas time” but what is necessary now is to “strategically scale that back in order to meet the promise that there will be the stuff you expect to see on the shelves, but not necessarily all the extras”.

While Mr Brennan signalled he believes the move is doable, he acknowledged that “the knock-on effect of that is lost revenue, lost profitability”.

Empty Waitrose shelves are pictured in the weeks leading up to Christmas (Victor Jack/Reuters)
Empty Waitrose shelves are pictured in the weeks leading up to Christmas (Victor Jack/Reuters)

Lord Frost to appear before 1922 committee today

10:55 , Sam Hancock

PoliticsHome’s Adam Payne is reporting that Lord Frost will address the 1922 committee for the first time today, as cross-party MPs continue to flag concerns about ongoing issues with the “unworkable” Northern Ireland Protocol.

“A bit of Brexit fighting talk to calm the troops, perhaps?” Payne quips.

One senior Tory MP is said to have told the website Mr Frost’s appearance is “unlikely” to calm the overall mood within the party, amid reports of a dozen Conservatives submitting letters of no confidence to the 1922 committee.

Another government source said the Brexit minister would update MPs on talks with Brussels but wouldn’t be making any kind of announcement – suggesting talks remain at a standstill.

Covid families accuse PM of breaking pledge to let them choose head of inquiry

11:00 , Sam Hancock

Families of Covid victims are claiming Boris Johnson broke a pledge to involve them in choosing the head of the planned public inquiry, after weeks of silence.

In September, the PM finally met with the families – after refusing to do for almost 400 days – and agreed to give them a “clear role” in both the inquiry’s terms of reference and in selecting its chair, writes our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.

But, the Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group says it has heard nothing from Downing Street in the eight weeks since, prompting mounting anger among its members.

Covid families accuse PM of breaking pledge to involve them in choosing inquiry head

Watch: Raab rubbishes rumours of leadership challenge against PM

11:10 , Sam Hancock

Starmer and Johnson to face off at PMQs in 45 minutes

11:15 , Sam Hancock

It’s less than an hour to go until Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), where Boris Johnson will butt heads once more with Sir Keir Starmer.

The Labour leader is expected to continue taking advantage of the faltering PM, amid reports his MPs have begin submitting letters of no confidence.

More tory controversy in the form of the Windrush compensation scheme could become a key topic of Sir Keir’s, as well as his opponent’s rambling speech on Monday and ongoing allegations of Tory dissatisfaction with the PM’s premiership.

Rayner shares graphic illustrating social care ‘con’ and its impact on north

11:21 , Sam Hancock

Labour’s deputy leader is back with another graphic, this one by the Labour Party, it seems, outlining the disproportionate costs placed on poorer families by the Conservative’s changes to England’s social car system.

“A family in a terraced house in my constituency will lose almost everything they own,” Angela Rayner tweeted, adding: “A millionaire in a mansion will lose less than 9 per cent.”

BREAKING: Speaker to give statement about babies in Commons

11:26 , Sam Hancock

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, speaker of the Commons, will make an urgent statement to MPs at 11.30am on rules around babies being allowed in Westminster.

It follows backlash to Labour MP Stella Creasy being reprimanded on Monday for taking her three-month-old son to a Westminster Hall debate.

Ms Creasy was left baffled having previously taken her older daughter to the Commons in 2019, with no complaint.

It is thought Sir Lindsay will clarify whether the rule, which is an apparent ban on MPs being allowed to bring their children to parliament, is a longstanding or a new one.

Hoyle orders Commons procedure committee to look at baby rule

11:41 , Sam Hancock

Following my last post, Sir Lindsay Hoyle has given his brief statement to the Commons.

The speaker said he understood there were conflicting views raised by Stella Creasy’s case, and that he had considered all of them.

As a result, he says, he has asked the chair of the Commons procedure committee to bring forward “suggestions” for a resolution, which MPs will then be able to consider.

Making the announcement, he insisted the House must be able to conduct business “without disturbance” – referring to a baby’s needs – but acknowledged “we must also move with the times”.

He added “it’s important that parents of babies and young children are able to participate fully in the work” of Westminster, pointing to the onsite nursery and creche as proof of this.

Ms Creasy’s argument is that her child is to young to be placed in such care.

Watch live as Boris Johnson faces Keir Starmer at PMQs

12:03 , Sam Hancock

PMQs begins with Starmer accusing Johnson of breaking election promise

12:12 , Sam Hancock

PMQs has begun, with Keir Starmer kicking off proceedings by asking Boris Johnson if he has broken an election promise over his pledge to ensure no one would have to sell their home to pay for social care costs.

Johnson replies “no” and goes on to issue a rambling response about what his party is doing to fix the system, which he says the Labour Party has failed to do.

Starmer, in turn, responds the PM appears to have “described the very broken system he claims to be fixing”.

He asks again if Johnson has stuck to his promise to ensure no one has to sell their home to pay for care costs - quoting the £86,000 cap figure, asking how many Britons can hope to afford that without selling their home.

The PM says he is doing his best to “explain this issue to the befuddled mind to the” opposition leader’s mind. He again defends his plan.

Starmer wonders if PM will make it to next election

12:16 , Sam Hancock

Starmer says people will still be forced to sell their homes to pay for care, “it’s simple,” he says. This is another broken promise, like his promise not to put up tax, his promise of 40 new hospitals, and his promise of a rail revolution in the north.

He says “who knows if [Johnson] will even make it to the next election” but if he does, “how will anyone take his promises seriously?”

PM delivery only high taxes and low growth, Labour leader says

12:18 , Sam Hancock

Starmer continues on his attack, saying the only thing Johnson is delivering is high taxes, high prices and low growth. He says the social care plans will protect the wealthy. But everyone will have to pay for it.

How could he have possibly delivered a working class dementia tax? Starmer asks.

Johnson says the government is doing more for working people than Labour ever did.

(It seems pertinent to note there is an extremely loud show of support for the PM in today’s session, which comes amid rumours of a dozen backbenchers sending letters of no confidence to the 1922 committee.)

‘Is everything OK prime minister?’ Starmer asks PM

12:22 , Sam Hancock

Starmer finishes up his questions by saying it is “working people” who will have to “pay twice”.

They are the ones paying national insurance when they work, and when they retire they will have to sell their homes, because they will not be protected. He says it is a classic Covent Garden pick-pocketing operation. “The PM entertains the crowd, while the chancellor picks their pocket,” Starmer says, echoing a line he has used before.

He quotes from what Tories have said attacking Johnson’s operating, that his leadership “just isn’t working”, and he ends with the words of the ITV reporter after the CBI speech - “is everything OK prime minister?”

Johnson claims the only thing that isn’t working is Starmer’s “line of attack”. He claims the government is fixing problems no one else has tried to fix. And he ends by saying, again, if we had listened to Captain Hindsight [Starmer], the country would still be in lockdown.

Blackford asks PM if he has considered stepping down

12:26 , Sam Hancock

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, describes the past few weeks as some of the worst in Tory history, listing a corruption scandal, broken promises, tax rises, and a cancelled bridge to Ireland. “Has the PM considered calling it a day before he is booted out?” Blackford asks.

Johnson says people want to know what the government is doing for the people of Scotland, not about “politics, politics, politics”.

He says on Friday, or later this week, the union connectivity review will be published, showing what the government will do for rail links to Scotland.

Blackford repeats questioning about the PM’s leadership, asking why he is clinging on.

Johnson, in turn, asks again why Blackford is asking about party politics when people want to know what the government is doing for Scotland.

Green grills PM over fossil fuel commitments

12:31 , Sam Hancock

Caroline Lucas (Green) says she “doesn’t normally agree with the PM” but says she did last week when he suggested Cop26 was the government’s way to show it was serpious about ending the use of fossil fuels.

However, she goes on to ask why then the government is proceeding with oil, gas and coal developments. She also says she doesn’t want an answer about “everything else he is doing”.

Johnson says the government is “powering past coal” and wants to end fossil fuel reliance.

Tory MP demands money for victims of adverse vaccine reactions

12:33 , Sam Hancock

Tory MP Nigel Mills asks the government to speed up payments to people who have suffered very rare, adverse reactions to vaccines.

Johnson says more money is being put into the system for this.

Lib Dem asks what govt is doing to support businesses amid supply chain issues

12:39 , Sam Hancock

Lib Dem Layla Moran is up now, and she asks what the government will do to encourage businesses to give away spare food at Christmas.

It comes after renewed concerns about supplies, following statements made by industry experts before the transport select committee this week.

Johnson says he thinks businesses do a good job already. He cites Iceland as an example. On supply chain problems, he claims they are starting to ease. He claims they are the result of the economy bouncing back, which “simply would not have happened” under Labour, he claims.

‘Is everything OK prime minister?’: Keir Starmer taunts PM

12:42 , Sam Hancock

That’s it for a very noisey PMQs today.

Here’s a full report on Starmer’s remarks by our deputy political editor Rob Merrick.

‘Is everything OK prime minister?’: Keir Starmer taunts Boris Johnson after gaffes

Watch: Starmer questions if PM ‘will make it’ to next election

12:59 , Sam Hancock

Sean O’Grady: Why there is a surprise contender for next Tory leader

13:14 , Tom Batchelor

Could Jeremy Hunt be prime minister by this time next year – if not sooner? It’s not implausible, writes Sean O’Grady.

Such is the modern Tory party’s addiction to faction and plotting, it is an open secret that a substantial number of Tory MPs, from various sides and places, are thinking about the succession to Boris Johnson, and with some urgency.

Here is his analysis of the what the future might hold for Mr Johnson and the country:

In the Hunt: why there is a surprise contender for next Tory leader

Watch: Tory MPs cheer for Johnson amid rumours of leadership challenge

13:29 , Tom Batchelor

Should MPs be allowed to take their children into the Commons? Tell us in our poll

13:44 , Tom Batchelor

After a review was announced into whether MPs should be allowed to take their babies into the Commons, where do you stand on the issue?

Labour MP Stella Creasy was told not to bring her three-month-old into the chamber, sparking anger from some parliament.

The Independent is seeking the views of our readers on this, and you can fill in our poll below:

Should MPs be allowed to take their children into the Commons? Tell us in our poll

Watch: Starmer accuses the PM of ‘picking the pockets of working people’

13:58 , Tom Batchelor

PMQs reaction: ‘Exaggerated cheers’ and ‘pleading chief whip'

14:12 , Tom Batchelor

Some reaction from political journalists to PMQs amid rumours Boris Johnson’s position is less than sound:

Downing Street says PM did ‘absolutely not’ break manifesto pledge over social care

14:19 , Sam Hancock

Let’s hear from Boris Johnson’s spokesman now, who in the last hour has been taking his daily questions from journalists based at Westminster.

First up, the spokesman set out Boris Johnson’s intention to see “further improvements” on making parliament family friendly, following a debate over Stella Creasy’s actions yesterday.

While acknowledging ther matter was “one for the House”, Downing Street said “we want the workplace in any circumstances to be modern and flexible and fit for the 21st century”.

Next up, the spokesman was repeatedly asked in the briefing whether the PM’s manifesto promise that people would not have to sell their homes to pay for care had been broken. It comes after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer suggested this was the case during PMQs.

“Absolutely not,” the No 10 representative said. “This is a detailed plan that will protect people from unfair costs and, I think, one you are not seeing from the Opposition.”

PM’s spokesman refuses to answer questions about leadership challenge

14:24 , Sam Hancock

Last bit from the PM’s spokesman now, who was also asked earlier whether Boris Johnson was concerned about reports that some Tory MPs had submitted letters of no confidence in his leadership.

“That wouldn’t be a question for me, and, again, I’m not going to comment on anonymous briefings,” reporters were told. “The prime minister is entirely focused on delivering his ambitious agenda.”

Asked if Boris Johnson had spoken to 1922 committee chairman Sir Graham Brady about whether he had received letters, the spokesman said simply: “No.”

Boris Johnson ‘flouted mask rules during theatre trip'

14:25 , Tom Batchelor

Boris Johnson has been accused of again flouting mask rules during a visit to a London theatre.

Following anger over the PM’s lack of face covering during a recent visit to a hospital and while taking a train trip, Mr Johnson attended Tuesday night’s performance of Macbeth at the Almeida Theatre in north London and was reportedly spotted without a mask.

Downing Street today insisted that Mr Johnson complies with all rules on mask-wearing.

Here is the story:

Boris Johnson ‘spotted without mask in theatre’

Cox accused of skipping Commons to conduct BVI business ‘from Westminster office’ – again

14:45 , Sam Hancock

Geoffrey Cox has angered MPs once again by appearing to conduct business on behalf of the British Virgin Islands (BVI), instead of being in a sitting Commons chamber.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner was quick to call out the Tory figure - who recently caused a stir after being accused of conducting business for the BVI in his Westminster office - saying Boris Johnson had to take a stand and decide if Mr Cox is an MP or a representative of “a tax haven against our own government”.

“Geoffrey Cox is taking the mick and the prime minister is letting him get away with it,” Ms Rayner tweeted.

There is speculation Mr Cox was, again, using his Westminster office to conduct such business - with critics on social media saying his decision to blur out the background (refer to image below) “didn’t help”.

It comes after Boris Johnson pushed through measures to stop MP’s holding certain second jobs, and to ensure their main focus is always on representing their constituents.

Labour ahead by two points in latest opinion poll

14:55 , Sam Hancock

Sir Keir Starmer’s party is still exploiting recent weeks in Westminster, taking a two-point lead over the Conservatives in the latest opinion poll.

The Labour Party was up two points on Wednesday, at 38 per cent, while Boris Johnson’s party were up two as well, but only at 36 per cent.

Sir Keir’s performance in the Commons on Tuesday is bound to help in the polls over the next few days, after he was able to poke fun at the PM for his performance of late and repeatedly tried to push his opponent to admit he lied about ending the trend of people selling their homes to pay for expensive care costs.

Brexit chief Lord Frost said leaving EU single market would cost Britons £1,500 each

14:55 , Sam Hancock

Britain’s chief Brexit negotiator warned that leaving the single market and customs union would cost £1,500 per person, it has emerged.

Lord Frost is now among the hardest line Brexiteers in the government – this week arguing that the UK needs to ditch a European-style economy entirely.

But before the referendum while a lobbyist for the drinks industry Lord Frost struck a different tone – acknowledging Brexit’s massive costs.

Here is the story:

Brexit chief Lord Frost said leaving EU single market would cost Brits £1,500 each

Watch: Tory MPs cheer for Johnson amid talk of leadership challenge

15:24 , Sam Hancock

Hard to know effect of Brexit on trade due to Covid, says Cabinet secretary

15:32 , Sam Hancock

Let’s get a Brexit update now. A senior government official said it is currently “pretty hard to be sure” of the effect Brexit has had on trade.

Alex Chisholm, permanent secretary at the Cabinet Office, told the public accounts committee today that statistics experts believe “it’s too early to disentangle the impact of both Covid-19 and the EU exit”.

“I’m sure that is a wise view of the matter,” he told MPs.

“It looks as if there’s been a slight rebalancing of trade between UK and EU versus UK and the rest of the world ... and that’s obviously been a trend over a long period of time. What we don’t know is whether or not this apparent acceleration in that reflects EU exit effects versus Covid, because you’ve got some very substantial distortions there.”

Mr Chisholm added: “So it’s basically pretty noisy and pretty hard to be sure what the effect of EU exit on trade is at this point in time.”

It comes after months of defence from the government, with ministers claiming the majority of UK financial struggles are a result of the economy “waking up” post-coronavirus.

BREAKING: At least five migrants die after boat sinks in Channel

15:34 , Sam Hancock

At least five migrants are thought to have died while trying to cross the Channel in an inflatable dinghy on Wednesday.

The French news channel BFM TV first reported the news, citing French police sources. A coastguard official said a rescue operation was still underway.

It comes just days after the government confirmed Stephen Barclay, chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster, had been drafted in to conduct a cross-Whitehall review into the migrant crisis, which home secretary Priti Patel is struggling to keep under control.

Follow Holly Bancroft’s breaking report:

At least five migrants die after boat sinks in Channel

Calls for emergency social care winter funds ‘falling on deaf ears,’ says boss

15:45 , Sam Hancock

It is a “tragedy” that calls for emergency funding to stabilise the social care sector over the winter seem to have “fallen on deaf ears”, a boss in the industry has said.

Stephen Chandler, president of the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (ADASS), said money pledged for the sector over the next three years is “grossly inadequate”.

Boris Johnson’s government has allocated £5.4bn to social care over the next three years, out of a total £36bn to be raised from the new health and social care levy. ADASS has called for £1.5bn emergency funding for the winter and a further £1.5bn to help family carers.

The amount is necessary, Ms Chandler said, because the organisation is hearing reports from across the country of staff quitting for better pay and less responsibility, in sectors such as retail and hospitality, while unpaid carers are “buckling under the strain”.

“So far, our calls seem to have fallen on deaf ears,” he told the National Children and Adult Services Conference today, adding: “Which is a tragedy, because that £3bn would be less than 1 per cent of what the government has spent in response to the Covid pandemic and yet it would see us safely through the months ahead.”

Additional reporting by PA

‘Taking the mick’: Geoffrey Cox appears at British Virgin Islands inquiry while Commons sitting

15:52 , Sam Hancock

Following my earlier post (2.45pm), here’s our political correspondent Ashley Cowburn with more detail on the latest allegations of “dodgy dealings” against under-fire Tory MP Geoffrey Cox.

Sir Geoffrey Cox has been accused of “taking the mick” after appearing on a livestream for duties involving private legal work while Parliament was sitting.

The former Tory minister, who was accused of breaking Commons rules earlier this month, was taking part in hearing day 55 of the British Virgin Islands Commission of Inquiry – shortly after the weekly prime minister’s questions session.

It comes amid intense scrutiny on MPs’ second jobs and consultancy work after the government’s botched attempt to create a Conservative-dominated committee to review the work of the Commons standards watchdog.

Geoffrey Cox appears at British Virgin Islands inquiry while Commons sitting

UK ‘in the dark’ about queues caused by post-Brexit EU border checks – Cabinet

16:00 , Sam Hancock

The government has admitted it does not yet know the full effect post-Brexit biometric border checks could have on holidaymakers visiting the EU.

Transport chiefs have raised the alarm over long queues when the entry/exit system (EES) – requiring data to be collected at the border for all non-EU arrivals – is introduced next year. But, quizzed by worried MPs, the Cabinet Office acknowledged it did not know how the checks will be implemented – as the number of cross-Channel tourists is expected to bounce back after Covid, our deputy political editor Rob Merrick reports.

Asked what it would mean for car or coach passengers, Emma Churchill, director general of the border delivery group, said the French government had yet to disclose its plans.

UK ‘in the dark’ about risk of queues from new EU border checks, government admits

Watch: Lord Frost says in 2015 single market membership worth £1,500 a year to most

16:10 , Sam Hancock

Dodds demands government stick to promise and publish Randox comms

16:20 , Sam Hancock

Labour’s shadow women and equalities secretary has pushed Tory ministers to stick to their promise and publish “every email, letter and message relating to the award of over half a billion pounds in Covid contracts to Owen Paterson’s Randox”.

It follows a pledge made by Downing Street after a gruelling round of questions put to health minister Gillian Keegan last week in the Commons about the scandal.

“Parliament expects ministers to keep that promise,” Anneliese Dodds said. “Labour will keep asking questions until they do.”

Nearly half of Britons unconfident government will level up

16:47 , Jane Dalton

Nearly half of British adults lack confidence that the government will succeed in levelling up parts of the UK over the next decade, a new poll suggests.

The survey, from research agency Public First, found that a majority of people think their own area needs levelling up (65%), with the proportion highest in Yorkshire and The Humber (82%).

But only 23% are confident the government will successfully help level up areas in the UK in the next 10 years.

Asked what sort of things the government should focus on to level up the country, people were most likely to say “helping to retrain people in areas where industries have declined” (44%) or “encouraging business investment into particular areas” (43%).

On what policies they would support to encourage business investment outside London and the South East, people were most keen on developing expertise in green technologies, primarily in areas that have lost traditional manufacturing (40%).

A spokesperson for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities said: “We are leading efforts to level up across the UK by empowering local leaders and communities to seize their own destiny; boosting living standards, particularly where they are lower; spreading opportunity and improving public services, particularly where they are weak; and restoring local pride across the UK.

“The government will publish a White Paper that will drive forward our central mission to level up every corner of the UK, setting out further details on future devolution and our plans for strengthening local accountable leadership.”

Labour MP writes to Truss over conversion therapy ban

17:12 , Tom Batchelor

A Labour MP has said if the government allows informed consent for conversion therapy it will permit abuse and “risks introducing consent defences to other forms of abuse like domestic violence”.

Labour MP Kate Osborne said: “The national LGBT survey found that 51 per cent of conversion therapy happens in religious settings. And the government-commissioned research found that adult victims often undertake religious conversion practices voluntarily.

“The government’s proposal to allow informed consent for conversion therapy will permit this abuse to continue and risks introducing consent defences to other forms of abuse like domestic violence.”

She asked: “If a conversion therapy ban will cover non-physical conversion practices in religious settings including prayer? And will she remove the dangerous consent loophole?”

Foreign Secretary and minister for women and equalities Liz Truss said: “What is important is that we make sure that people are not coerced into conversion therapy.”

Ms Osborne later tweeted:

MPs back plans to proscribe Hamas as terror group

17:28 , Tom Batchelor

MPs have backed plans to proscribe Hamas in its entirety as a terrorist organisation.

Security minister Damian Hinds said any distinction between the Palestinian Islamist group’s political wing and military wing is now considered “artificial”.

The proposed ban will cover the political wing of Hamas and means anyone who expresses support for the organisation, which controls the Gaza Strip, will be in breach of the Terrorism Act 2000 - and could face up to 14 years in prison.

Actions expected to be outlawed from 26 November would include arranging meetings for the group, flying their flag or wearing clothing that is seen to support them.

Labour also backed the regulations, which will be considered by the House of Lords on Thursday.

Israel has thanked the UK government for taking such action.

Speaking in the Commons, Mr Hinds said: “Groups like Hamas train members in terrorism as well as preparing and committing terrible acts of violence against innocent members of the public.

“We have a duty to our allies as well as to our own people to tackle groups that inspire or coordinate terror on the international stage.”

Fines for train travel without ticket increased

17:46 , Tom Batchelor

Penalties for dodging rail fares in England and Wales will be increased to £100, the government has announced.

The Department for Transport said it is hiking the penalty fare in response to “growing concern” its impact is limited due to being frozen at £20 for 16 years.

The penalty will be issued as a surcharge on top of the price of the single fare for a passenger’s journey.

It will be reduced to £50 if paid within 21 days.

British Red Cross urges government to rethink asylum plans after Channel deaths

18:02 , Tom Batchelor

British Red Cross chief executive Mike Adamson said: “Reports of more lives lost today in the English Channel are truly heartbreaking and come far too soon after other recent deaths on this route.

“Our thoughts are with their loved ones, who may not even know yet what has happened.

“Nobody puts their life at risk unless they are absolutely desperate and feel they have no other options.

“Everyone deserves to live in safety and it should be unacceptable to us that people have no choice but to make dangerous crossings in their search for this.

“There are no simple answers, but we urge the government to rethink its plans for making the UK’s asylum system harder to access.

“This should start with ambitious plans for new safe routes and a commitment to resettle 10,000 people a year.”

Northern leaders offer to help fund new rail line if Boris Johnson cancels cuts

18:21 , Tom Batchelor

Northern leaders have urged Boris Johnson to re-think his rail cuts for their region and offered to stump up extra cash themselves to fund improvements.

Speaking at a press conference on Wednesday the mayors of city regions like Greater Manchester, West Yorkshire, and Merseyside said the North could make a contribution funded by the increased land values new projects would create.

The approach, known as “land value capture” was used to help finance London’s Crossrail line – which raised £4.1 billion through a business rate supplement.

Read more here:

Northern leaders offer to help fund new rail line if Boris Johnson cancels cuts

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