Thursday briefing: Johnson vows to battle on after bruising day

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<span>Photograph: AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: AFP/Getty Images

Top story: Byelection rumblings after Tory MP defects

Hello, Warren Murray with you in the name of good morning here is the news.

Boris Johnson has faced a defection by a junior MP and a demand to quit from one of the most senior Tories during a dramatic day in Westminster, with even allies of the prime minister warning the current situation cannot go on. David Davis caused shockwaves when he told Johnson in the Commons: “In the name of God, go.” Tory MPs have estimated that as many as 30 letters may have been submitted of the 54 required to bring about a confidence vote, with more expected to come in after Sue Gray, a senior civil servant, delivers her finding on alleged rule-breaking in Downing Street next week.

In Bury South, some constituents want a byelection after Christian Wakeford defected from the Conservatives to Labour because of partygate. In a letter to Johnson, Wakeford said he believed “the policies of the Conservative government that you lead are doing nothing to help the people of my constituency and indeed are only making the struggles they face on a daily basis worse”.

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‘What are Republicans for?’ – Joe Biden has spoken of a “winter of peril and possibility” and blasted US Republicans for “a stalwart effort to make sure that the most important thing was that President Biden didn’t get anything done”. In only his second solo White House press conference – lasting nearly two hours – Biden said: “One thing I haven’t been able to do so far is get my Republican friends to get in the game at making things better in this country … What are Republicans for, what are they for? Name me one thing they’re for.”

Referring to the leader of the Republicans’ obstructionist Senate minority, the president insisted: “I actually like Mitch McConnell. We like one another. But he has one straightforward objective: make sure that there’s nothing I do that makes me look good, in his mind, with the public at large … I think that the fundamental question is, ‘What’s Mitch for?’” Biden suggested his biggest mistake had been underestimating the radicalisation of the Republican party under Donald Trump. He told the story of five Republican senators who privately told him they agreed with him but told him “Joe, if I do it, I’ll get defeated in a primary.”

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Student watchdog to police course value – More than 60,000 full-time students in England are doing degrees at institutions that could be punished for low quality and poor value for money. The Office for Students (OfS) has said 80% of students should continue past their first year and 75% complete their degree if universities and colleges want to avoid being sanctioned. Under proposed rules, institutions could also be investigated and penalised by the OfS if fewer than 60% of their graduates go on to work in what it classifies as skilled employment. There are another 150,000 part-time undergraduates at institutions that may not meet its requirements, says the OfS. The rules are being put out for consultation.

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Alcohol lessons funded by alcohol – Schools are using “misleading and biased” information funded by the alcohol industry to teach pupils as young as nine about drinking, according to a study by the London School of Hygiene & Tropical Medicine. Academics said the materials “portray alcohol as a normal consumer product to impressionable young minds”. They analysed materials put together by Drinkaware for Education, Smashed, and Talk About Alcohol. Teachers in thousands of UK schools employ their lesson plans, factsheets and films. Drinkaware has removed the materials concerned from its website, saying it was out of date. The Alcohol Education Trust and Diageo, which sponsors Smashed, defended their programmes and said underage drinking in the UK was falling.

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GM crops ‘have not delivered much’ – Research into the gene editing of plants in the UK will become easier under new rules brought forward by the government. Ministers have repeatedly voiced support for genetic modification as an aid to modernising farming and reducing its environmental impact. Campaigners have expressed concern: Pat Thomas, the director of Beyond GM, said “farmers don’t really want to grow genetically engineered crops and citizens don’t want to eat them … After 35 years of use, genetically engineered crops have not delivered much in terms of real value and they have largely been a distraction from more meaningful discussions about what kind of food system we want and need to transition to.” But Prof Nick Talbot from the Sainsbury Laboratory in Norwich said it would “produce nutritious crops requiring much lower fertiliser inputs and with greater resilience”.

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‘I’ve read every Marvel comic’ – Did Dark Reign foresee Trump? Was Iron Man about US military might? Who was Unbeatable Squirrel Girl – and was her superpower really non-violent conflict resolution? Only one man knows … Douglas Wolk who has read all 27,000 Marvel comics. Here is what he learned.

Today in Focus podcast: The Chinese agent in Westminster

Britain’s security services have named Christine Lee as an agent of the Chinese state attempting to run influence operations in parliament. Dan Sabbagh explains what is behind the extraordinary statement and what it means for British politics.

Lunchtime read: ‘Let them talk, then in for the kill!’

Lorraine Kelly has been a cheery face on daytime TV for nearly 40 years – all the while tackling big issues and making evasive guests squirm. She discusses going viral, covering tragedies and fighting the taxman.

Lorraine Kelly
Lorraine Kelly. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Sport

Australian Open wildcard Andy Murray is due out on court at the as we speak, with Emma Raducanu up later – follow the buildup and the action at our live blog. Meanwhile there have been raised eyebrows at the revelation that at the same time as taking an anti-vaccination stance, Novak Djokovic holds an 80% share in a Danish biotech firm developing a non-vaccine treatment for Covid-19.

Manchester United rode their luck in the first half, but were ruthless in the second to continue their push for the top four, beating their hosts Brentford three goals to one, while it was Leicester 2-3 Spurs at the King Power Stadium. The Women’s Ashes are getting under way in Hobart against a backdrop of off-field issues for both England and Australia. More than two-thirds of male football fans harbour hostile, sexist or misogynistic attitudes towards women’s sport, a study led by Durham University claims. Progressive opinions among men were strongly represented but not as common as hostility and sexism. The study was set in the context of increased visibility of women’s sport in recent years.

Business

Asian stock markets have been on the rise after China cut interest rates to shore up flagging economic growth and Japan reported a double-digit rise in exports. Benchmarks in Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Seoul advanced. Wednesday on Wall Street saw the S&P 500 index fall 1%. The FTSE is trending about 30 points higher in futures trading ahead of the open. A pound is bringing $1.362 and €1.200 at time of writing.

The papers

Boris Johnson’s tenuous situation warrants another separate round-up of today’s front pages, which we summarise as follows. The Guardian splashes with “‘In the name of God, go’: Tory anger builds as Boris Johnson clings on”. The Mirror too goes with the Davis quote. Johnson “hanging by a thread”, it writes, above the headline “In the name of God, go”. And the Metro’s take is “In the name of God GO!” squeezed between pictures of Davis and Johnson.

The Mail splashes with “Boris and Carrie’s baby hit by Covid”, reporting that six-week-old Romy was badly ill but is now on the mend. Above that a story dismisses the “narcissistic rabble of Tory MPs” trying to topple the PM – and tells Davis “In the name of God, grow up!”. The Express follows a similar sentiment with its lead: “In the name of party unity, go … and back the PM!” The Times has “PM fights on as plotters pull back from the brink” – it says the prime minister has been granted a reprieve by MPs plotting to oust him as concern builds that the Gray inquiry will be more critical of the prime minister than expected.

The Telegraph leads with Johnson’s defiance, “Johnson: I won’t quit if rebels force vote”. The Sun plays with the theme of the so-called pork pie plotters, “As our Bojo pork pie chart shows ...” it writes, underneath the headline “Battling PM crust ahead” and a shot of a pie sliced up according to the pressing issues of the day. The FT splashes with “Johnson buys time after defection to Labour rallies restive Tory MPs”. The i paper has a similar feel with “Johnson clings on to power … for now”.

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