Ministers are setting out a flurry of policies, under the title Operation Red Meat, which are designed to revive Boris Johnson’s fortunes as he faces continuing anger over “partygate” allegations.
Fury over the gatherings was compounded when it emerged that two events were held in No 10 the day before the Queen had to sit alone at the funeral of her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh, last year.
The Prime Minister had already apologised for personally attending a “bring your own booze” party in the Downing Street garden in May 2020, during the first coronavirus lockdown.
Six Tory MPs have publicly called for Mr Johnson to go, while many others are believed to have privately agitated for a vote of no confidence in him as Tory leader.
But, anticipating the potential flashpoint of senior civil servant Sue Gray delivering the result of her inquiry into the partying allegations, the Government has launched a fightback on multiple fronts.
– Threat to scrap the BBC licence fee
Among the “red meat” initiatives designed to please riled Tory backbenchers and voters is putting the BBC on notice that the licence fee could be replaced after the current deal ends in 2027.
Culture Secretary Nadine Dorries is expected to confirm that the annual payment will be frozen at £159 until 2024.
She said the next review of the BBC’s funding model in five years’ time “will be the last”, signalling a major upheaval for the public broadcaster.
Labour has described it as a “really obvious, pathetic distraction from a Prime Minister and a Government who has run out of road and whose leadership is hanging by a thread”.
– Ending coronavirus restrictions
Mr Johnson seems set to end England’s Plan B measures, including mask-wearing and work-from-home guidance, on their current expiry date of January 26.
Not only would this be warmly welcomed by the lockdown-sceptic MPs on the Conservative backbenches, it would also prevent another massive rebellion if he tried to renew them.
Conservative Party chairman Oliver Dowden signalled over the weekend that the “signs are encouraging” for lifting the remaining restrictions.
– Tougher action against Channel crossings
The Prime Minister is considering tasking the military with reducing the number of small boats crossing the Channel.
Plans are being drawn up to send migrants, including asylum seekers, to countries such as Rwanda and Ghana for processing, according to the Times.
The Ministry of Defence did not deny it could be called in, with a spokesman saying: “The Government is exploring every avenue to prevent further crossings and details of how that can be achieved will be made known in due course.”
– Levelling up the nation and tackling the NHS backlog
Senior Cabinet minister Michael Gove is reported to be preparing to publish his “levelling up” plans to improve lives in neglected areas across the country.
But it has been suggested he will be given no new money to implement his proposals and has been touring Whitehall departments seeking already costed announcements.
New plans are also expected to alleviate the impending cost-of-living crisis and further tackle the backlog of operations in the health service caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
– Sacrifice staff to save “Big Dog” and curb drinking in No 10
Nicknamed “Operation Big Dog”, in the press at least, there are reported efforts to blame Mr Johnson’s staff in order to save his position as Prime Minister.
The Sunday Times suggested Martin Reynolds, Mr Johnson’s principal private secretary, could go after he sent the email inviting more than 100 staff to the “bring your own booze” event in No 10’s garden on May 20 2020.
Despite this being during the first Covid lockdown, the Prime Minister admitted attending the gathering but insisted he believed it was a work event which could “technically” have been within the rules.
Chief of staff Dan Rosenfield is also said to be in the firing line, as well as members of the communications team.
Mr Dowden has also said there are plans to “address the kind of culture that has allowed” alleged rule breaches, with reports suggesting this will include a crackdown on drinking in Downing Street.
I have regretfully come to the conclusion that Boris Johnson’s position is now untenable, that his resignation is the only way to bring this whole unfortunate episode to an end and I am working with colleagues to impress that view on Number 10.https://t.co/HhjiUHVpPW
— Tim Loughton MP (@timloughton) January 15, 2022
But whether all this will succeed in appeasing anger is another matter, with former minister Tim Loughton suggesting policy changes or sackings cannot “put things right”.
“In this case all roads lead back to Downing Street and the person whose name is on the front door,” the MP said as he set out why he thinks Mr Johnson must resign.