Politics latest news: Liz Truss pledges 100pc support for Boris Johnson despite rumours of leadership ambitions

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Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary is in Australia today for talks with her counterparts - Getty Images AsiaPac 
Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary is in Australia today for talks with her counterparts - Getty Images AsiaPac

Liz Truss has said that she is "100 per cent" behind the Prime Minister following pressure over partygate, despite reports that she is secretly canvassing MPs in a bid to replace him.

The Foreign Secretary, who is currently in Australia, insisted that Boris Johnson is “doing an excellent job”.

Speaking at the Australia-United Kingdom Ministerial Consultations (Aukmin) in Sydney, she added that she wants to see him continue in his role for “as long as possible” and that there is “no leadership election”.

This is despite reports that Ms Truss has been meeting with Tory MPs for drinks, dubbed "Fizz with Liz", to sound out her levels of support if Mr Johnson were to resign over 'partygate'.

Ms Truss flew to Australia on Wednesday, when the PM faced an onslaught of criticism during PMQs over his admission that parties were held at Downing Street during lockdown.

Mr Johnson now faces a weekend of keeping the support of his backbenches before the publication of the Sue Gray report next week.

Other potential contenders for the top job have not been as vocal in their support of the PM, with Rishi Sunak on Tuesday declining to confirm his unequivocal backing for Mr Johnson.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

12:40 PM

Schools should follow guidance to allow children to have a 'normal' education

Boris Johnson has urged teachers who insist masks are still worn in lessons to follow the rules that no longer require their use in classrooms.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Children have been one of the hardest hit as a result of the disruption throughout the pandemic and we recognise the impact it has had on their education.

"The Prime Minister believes it is vital that children are receiving face-to-face education and can enjoy a normal experience in the classroom and the Prime Minister also thinks that the schools should follow the latest guidance.

"We've been clear that we removed the requirement for face masks to be worn in classrooms and we will remove advice for face masks to be worn in communal areas from January 27."

12:33 PM

Lobby briefing: Meat Loaf on their minds

The sad news of the death of Meat Loaf, he of the red hankie and sweaty white shirts, has not gone unnoticed at today's lobby briefing, according to the FT's Jim Pickard.

12:20 PM

Investigation into blackmail not ruled out or confirmed by Number 10

Downing Street signalled that the Government would not seek out evidence following the allegations of blackmail by whips.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said "we would look at it very carefully" if evidence was presented to them.

But the spokesman declined to say whether there was any investigation taking place or if any evidence was being sought out.

12:07 PM

Former MP says he was threatened by whips over Brexit votes

Former Tory MP Ben Howlett said he received threats by a then-whip that funds would be withheld from his constituency if he did not support the Government in Brexit votes.

Mr Howlett, the MP for Bath between 2015 and 2017, told BBC News: "I was campaigning for a range of different things for my constituents, particularly my constituents will remember my campaign on link road.

"There were some very dicey votes for the Government and I was campaigning to receive Government funding, and of course one of the tactics used to make sure I fell into line on some of the Brexit rebellions was to threaten the withholding of money to pay for an investigation into whether or not this link road would have been built."

11:50 AM

Liz Down Under

UK and Australian minsters today concluded defence and security talks following the first Australia UK Foreign and Defence Ministerial meetings (AUKMIN) since the pandemic began.

The government said that ministers agreed on the "vital need to defend freedom in the face of Russia’s growing aggression" and "their steadfast solidarity with Ukraine."

Foreign Secretary, Liz Truss said: “With the world facing increasing aggression from malign actors, it is vital that the UK strengthens and deepens our partnerships with our closest allies.

“Today we have committed to new and enhanced opportunities to collaborate with Australia in areas including maritime security, counterterrorism, misinformation, cyber and technology.

“Alliances between freedom loving democracies like the UK and Australia are essential if we are to win the battle of ideas.”

Liz Truss holds a call with Vice President of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic from her hotel in Sydney - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street 
Liz Truss holds a call with Vice President of the European Commission Maros Sefcovic from her hotel in Sydney - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street
Liz Truss gives a speech at the Low Institute in Sydney, Australia - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street 
Liz Truss gives a speech at the Low Institute in Sydney, Australia - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street
Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace, Marise Payne, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Australian Defence Minster Peter Dutton hold a press conference following AUKMIN consultations - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street 
Liz Truss, Secretary of State for Defence Ben Wallace, Marise Payne, the Australian Minister of Foreign Affairs and Australian Defence Minster Peter Dutton hold a press conference following AUKMIN consultations - Simon Dawson / No10 Downing Street

11:31 AM

The Telegraph weekly news quiz

In the week where David Davis told Boris Johnson "in the name of God, go!" and Conservative MP Christian Wakeford defected to the Labour party, The Telegraph's news quiz is here to find out how closely you have been paying attention to the headlines.

How closely have you been paying attention to this week's news? Find out by taking The Telegraph's weekly news quiz.

Click here to test your knowledge.

How closely have you been paying attention to this week's headlines? 
How closely have you been paying attention to this week's headlines?

11:19 AM

Watch: Grant Shapps announces curbing of pointless train announcements

The “endless torrent” of unnecessary train announcements is to be curbed, Grant Shapps has announced.

The Transport Secretary vowed to make the journeys of passengers “a little more peaceful” by working with rail operators to identify and axe dull or repetitious announcements.

11:04 AM

Spotted: Dominic Cummings leaves home following news he will give evidence to Sue Gray

It's understood that the Prime Minister's former advisor is due to be interviewed Sue Gray as part of her investigation into the Downing Street parties.

Mr Cummings has claimed that Mr Johnson misled Parliament over his various denials over the last few weeks.

“I said to the PM something like: ‘Martin’s invited the building to a drinks party, this is what I’m talking about, you’ve got to grip this madhouse’. The PM waved it aside,” he wrote on his blog.

“The events of May 20 alone, never mind the string of other events, mean the PM lied to Parliament about parties."

Dominic Cummings the former special advisor to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, poses for a photograph outside his hone in London - AP/Alastair Grant 
Dominic Cummings the former special advisor to Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson, poses for a photograph outside his hone in London - AP/Alastair Grant

10:48 AM

Hospitality industry won't be getting more support, suggests Business Secretary

Kwasi Kwateng told Sky News: “I think we’ve provided very liberally for the sector over the last two years. The chancellor’s been extremely generous with furlough schemes.

We’ve had a business rates holiday, they’ve also had a VAT holiday as well - there’s been huge support.

“I speak to hospitality leaders all the time and I’m suggesting that what has been a great success has been the vaccine rollout - that’s managed to keep the economy going and all the hospitality leaders, the CEOs have said the one thing that will destroy the hospitality sector will be a return to lockdown.

10:34 AM

Police may be brought in to deal with allegations of withholding money from MPs constituencies

Tory rebels plotting to oust Boris Johnson on Thursday claimed the police should be brought in to deal with allegations that party whips tried to "blackmail" critical MPs.

Ben Riley-Smith, our Political Editor, Christopher Hope, our Chief Political Correspondent, and Harry Yorke, our Whitehall Editor have the full story:

Rebels accused whips of threatening to withhold funds from their constituencies and release compromising material on them.

But Mr Johnson denied knowledge of bullying tactics and whip sources accused the rebels of lying, demanding they provide proof.

It formed a fightback from the "pork pie plotters" - so named because a critical MP represents the area of Melton Mowbray - aimed at damaging the whips, who oversee party discipline.

A group of eight MP critics met on Thursday to compare hardline messages from the whips, The Telegraph can reveal. Some are threatening to release a dossier of evidence.

Advertisement "We want the chief whip's head on a spike," said one MP who is seeking Mr Johnson's political demise.

You can read their full piece here.

William Wragg is one of the MPs who has led criticism of the Tory whipping operation - NurPhoto via Getty Images
William Wragg is one of the MPs who has led criticism of the Tory whipping operation - NurPhoto via Getty Images

10:17 AM

Tory defector may be using blackmail allegations to discredit the government, minister says

Kwasi Kwarten earlier today said that Christian Wakeford, who was elected to Bury South in 2019 on a wafer-thin majority, of having "essentially turned coat" in switching to Labour.

"I don't know what his motivations were, and as you'll appreciate he's a Labour MP now and, of course, part of his job is to try and discredit the Government," he told Sky News.

09:59 AM

Partgate has hurt the union, Scottish poll suggests

More than half of people in Scotland think the Downing Street "partygate" saga has hurt the case for the Union, according to a new poll.

The research, carried out for The Scotsman, also found that almost four in five (78%) respondents think Prime Minister Boris Johnson should resign over the allegations of coronavirus rule-breaking parties.

The survey of 1,004 Scots asked to what extent the alleged parties in Downing Street have hurt the case for the Union, with 54 per cent saying they have hurt it either a lot or a little.

More than a third (35 per cent) said the claims have either not really hurt it or not hurt it at all, while 11% said they did not know.

The survey was carried out between January 14 and 18, after allegations emerged on January 13 that a party took place at Downing Street on the eve of the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral.

However support for Scottish independence remains split down the middle despite the partygate allegations.

09:49 AM

Wait for spring statement to find out if housholds are getting help for winter, says minister

Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said he is listening to poverty campaigners over the rising cost of energy.

He told ITV's Good Morning Britain that households will have to wait until the Spring Statement in March to find out whether a reported scheme to hand out one-off £500 payments to help with bills will come to fruition.

But he said the Government is "trying to work out the best way to deal with what is a really, really serious problem".

09:38 AM

Sue Gray finds all-important email that confirms objections to No 10 party

The civil servant leading the investigation into Downing Street parties, has found an email that allegedly confirms concerns were raised over a lockdown garden drinks event before it took place.

The message is said to have been sent by a senior Number 10 official after an invitation for “socially distanced drinks” on May 15 2020 was circulated to Downing Street staff.

The email allegedly questioned whether the invitation, issued by Martin Reynolds, Boris Johnson’s principal private secretary, broke lockdown rules.

You can read the full story here from Ben Riley-Smith, our Political Editor.

09:25 AM

Tobias Ellwood does not rule himself out of running for leader

Tobias Ellwood, the chairman of the Defence Select Committee, said that he had never been blackmailed by a Government whip.

“There are all sorts of methods that they use to encourage people to act the right way," he said.

“I’m sorry to read what’s been happening here. I understand that the Cabinet Secretary recommended that these are looked into.

“I would just say that my party, the government, is going through a difficult time.”

He told TalkRadio that he had not put a letter in to Sir Graham Brady.

Addressing the speculation that he wants to stand for the leadership of the party, Mr Elwood said that there was no vacancy "at the moment".

"I'm not going to speculate about that."

Mr Ellwood today did not rule himself out of running for Tory leader - Getty Images Europe /Chris J Ratcliffe 
Mr Ellwood today did not rule himself out of running for Tory leader - Getty Images Europe /Chris J Ratcliffe

09:12 AM

Putin's threat is genuine, says Conservative MP

Tobias Ellwood said that the time to stand up to Putin has “come and gone” and that the UK could have realised that he was after some further territory in Ukraine.

“It is part of Europe and there are consequences if we allow a chunk of that to be taken,” he said. On TalkRadio.

“The threat is genuine and this is all about Putin trying to look strong as a distraction from his own domestic issues.”

09:03 AM

Boris Johnson should 'come out fighting' and ditch 'fluffy' policies, says ally.

The Prime Minister can survive the "partygate" scandal but must cut taxes and replace "fluffy" environmental policies to relaunch his leadership, Lord Marland of Odstock has said.

The Conservative peer, who has been a friend and informal adviser to Mr Johnson for over a decade, said he must refocus his agenda and "come out fighting".

Speaking to The Telegraph's Chopper's Politics podcast Lord Marland said the Prime Minister had the ability to survive the crisis and lead the Tories into the next election.

As pressure mounts on Boris Johnson over 'Partygate" allegations he is seen running with his trusty friend Dilyn this morning - Nigel Howard Media 
As pressure mounts on Boris Johnson over 'Partygate" allegations he is seen running with his trusty friend Dilyn this morning - Nigel Howard Media

08:58 AM

Inside the Tory whips’ office: How MPs are being pushed away from Boris Johnson

Earlier today the Business Secretary denied any knowledge of tactics used by Government whips, including alleged blackmail and intimidation.

Mr Kwarteng even suggested that such reports weren't true.

Yet Camilla Tominey, our Associate Editor, has the full story inside the "dark arts" of the Tory whipping operation:

It is fair to say that the whips' office has not covered itself in glory since Mr Johnson romped to victory with an 80-seat majority in the 2019 general election.

Long accused of "arrogant complacency", its seeming inability to invoke party discipline in the face of a string of recent rebellions could not have been more in evidence than on Wednesday, when Christian Wakeford defected to Labour.

It is worrying enough for the Tories that the MP for Bury South would rather be led by Sir Keir Starmer than the prime minister who helped him become the first Conservative to be elected to the seat since 1997.

Yet of far more concern to his former colleagues should be the fact that the whips' office didn't appear to have an inkling of what the disgruntled former insurance broker was planning.

You can read her full analysis here.

08:46 AM

Tory MPs are fighting like 'ferrets in a sack'

Mark Drakeford said that Boris Johnson will "never escape the damage to his reputation" over lockdown-breaking parties at Number 10.

Speaking to Sky News, he said: "Conservative MPs have been fighting each other like ferrets in a sack this week, and it's very hard to see how the Prime Minister survives.

"Even if he were to survive, he will just limp on because he's never going to escape the damage that this week has done to his reputation."

Mr Drakeford continued: "From my point of view, the thing that worries me the most is the fact that the UK Government is frozen by the impact of what has happened to them."

08:44 AM

Wales is led by the science in reopening, insists Mark Drakeford

The Welsh First Minister accused the UK Government of hastening the end of restrictions in England to escape negative headlines around parties at No 10 during lockdown.

He said the contrast between his country's approach to lifting the measures and that of England "has been pretty stark this week", as Wales lifted restrictions on oudoor sporting events and hospitality.

"I'd have to say, anybody watching what has gone on in Westminster will know that those announcements are not driven by the science," Mr Drakeford told Sky News.

"They're not part of a carefully thought-out plan, they're just an effort by UK ministers to find a different headline from the one that has dominated the news."

He continued: "Here in Wales, we are in a better position than that - our Government is able to go on making sensible, cautious planning decisions rooted in the science and in keeping people in Wales safe."

08:39 AM

Parents should ‘follow official guidance’ rather than the decisions on schools, minister says

This morning the Telegraph revealed that headteachers are defying the Government over face masks in the classroom as dozens insist they will remain in place.

You can read the full story here from Camilla Turner, our Education Editor.

Today, when asked what parents of children at schools that insist on wearing masks should do, Kwasi Kwarteng, the Bussiness Secretary said: “I think they should follow official guidance.

"How the schools are run is a matter for teachers and parents to negotiate but the guidance from the Prime Minister is very clear, that we won’t need to be wearing masks."

Masks have been worn by children in secondary schools following the Christmas holidays - KEVIN COOMBS /REUTERS 
Masks have been worn by children in secondary schools following the Christmas holidays - KEVIN COOMBS /REUTERS

08:31 AM

‘Not the case’ that PM must resign if he knew party broke lockdown rules

Asked whether whether Boris Johnson has to resign if it he was sent an email which proved that he was aware that any parties he attended were against the rules, Mr Kwarteng said:

“No, I don't think that’s the case at all. We’re prejudging. I don’t want to come to conclusions before we can do so, we’ve got to see what Sue Gray says, and once the report is out we can draw our own conclusions as the Prime Minister has consistently said.

“We’ve got to wait for the report, let’s see what Sue Gray says and then after that I’m sure the Prime Minister will make a statement."

08:21 AM

I don’t think MPs are being blackmailed, says business secretary

Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News that he “didn’t know what the conclusion is” to reports of blackmail and intimidation by Tory whips.

“I’ve been an MP for 12 years now, and I’ve never heard of the kind of allegations which are being made: blackmail, the idea that somehow money is being withheld from communities that need it on account of the behaviour of the MPs - I’ve never heard of anything like that.

“I haven’t seen any evidence to back them up, but we have to look and see what’s actually gone on.

“For the specific allegation being made about whips withholding funds, I think that’s completely unacceptable, any form of blackmail or intimidation of that kind simply has no place in British politics.

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