London party

Politics latest from London: Boris Johnson tries to take control of the agenda as wait for party report continues

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Treasury ‘doesn’t acknowledge’ reports NCA asked not to investigate coronavirus loan fraud

A minister has said he does not acknowledge reports that the Treasury refused to allow Britain’s FBI, the National Crime Agency, to investigate fraud associated with the coronavirus bounce-back loan scheme.

Simon Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: ‘We just don’t give credit for the fact that we interfered with the NCA’s ability to do its job.

Parliament has been told the Treasury plans to write off around £4.3billion of Covid loans, with the money going to “fraudsters”, a figure the Treasury has since disputed.

The issue led to the resignation of Lord Agnew, a government minister, to the House of Lords dispatch box.

Asked about it, Mr Clarke said: “He is obviously frustrated, like all of us, that this is an issue involving public money.

However, he insisted, “And we didn’t write off any of that money.”

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Boris Johnson: ‘I stand by what I said’ before Gray report

Boris Johnson has said he “stands absolutely by what he has said in the past” about the alleged lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.

During a visit to the port of Tilbury, Essex, the Prime Minister refused to be raffled off when asked if civil servant Sue Gray’s impending report into the rallies would be a ‘whitewash’.

It is set to be released with redactions after the Metropolitan Police asked for ‘minimal reference’ to be made to some of the alleged events they are investigating.

Mr Johnson said: ‘Of course I stand absolutely by what I have said in the past.

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Minister refuses to rule out lower VAT on fuel bills

A treasury minister said he could not rule out removing VAT from fuel bills to help tackle the soaring cost of living.

Chief Secretary Simon Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: ‘We are really looking at all the options available to us, and of course this is one of them now that we have left the European Union.

“But… if you opt for a general reduction in VAT, the risk is that the benefit will fall disproportionately on the wealthiest in society, as they will tend to have bigger houses, lower energy bills more important, and will therefore reap the disproportionate benefits of such intervention.

The measure has been demanded by the Labor Party, which it says could save households £200 on their bills and be paid for by taxing gas companies and North Sea oil.

Mr Clarke said: ‘I’m not ruling it out, but I’m saying it’s not something we’re looking at at the moment because we don’t think it’s a well-targeted measure.

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Sanctions could prevent Russia from invading Ukraine, says ex-MI6 chief

The former head of MI6 said Russia could be prevented from invading Ukraine through sanctions.

Sir John Sawers told the BBC’s Today programme: “We know that by watching US forces in Iraq in 2003, a major and sophisticated army can march to the capital and overthrow a government.

“The really difficult thing is to hold this territory. Ukraine is the size of Germany and France combined and 100,000 Russian troops could march to Kiev, but can they hold the country?”

He added that the danger for Russia was a long-term insurgency – which he did not believe it was willing to risk.

He said: “It is right that we increase the cost to Russia now, that we make it clear both on the military side and on the economic side that they will pay a price, to try to dissuade them from the option of a major invasion.”

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Sue Gray may submit Partygate report ‘soon’

Senior Whitehall official Sue Gray could deliver her report to No 10 “soon”, according to the Chief Treasury Secretary.

Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the investigation into the alleged Downing Street deconfinement parties could be “imminent”, Simon Clarke said: “I think it will be soon.

“The precise timing of all of this is a question for Sue Gray.

“It’s a totally independent process and I don’t know precisely when she will present this report.”

The report is expected to be released this week.

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People ‘may have lost their jobs unnecessarily because of mandatory vax rules’, says head of care body

The president of the National Care Association said she was ‘frustrated’ that people may have lost their jobs ‘unnecessarily’ as the government considered doing an about-face to require staff to be vaccinated.

Nadra Ahmed told BBC Breakfast that around 40,000 social care staff had left their posts, which had a “devastating” impact on the rules imposed by the government.

Ministers are said to be considering scrapping a rule that would require NHS staff to be fully vaccinated by April. The rule is already in force for social care.

Ms Ahmed said: ‘I think we’re really happy for our NHS colleagues if that’s going to happen, because it’s an unnecessary burden, and persuasion will get us to the same result.’

The Omicron variant of the coronavirus being “less severe” than the Delta variant means there is “room” to “look…again” at the requirement for NHS workers to be fully vaccinated, Simon said Clarke, Chief Secretary to the Treasury on Sky News.

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Sunak is the clear favorite if Boris Johnson is ousted, new poll suggests

Rishi Sunak is the clear favorite to succeed Boris Johnson if he is ousted by Tory MPs over the Partygate affair, an exclusive poll for The Standard reveals today.

According to the Ipsos MORI survey for The Standard, 32% of the public believe the Chancellor has what it takes to be a good prime minister – a jump of four points since the last poll in November.

That’s nearly 10 points ahead of Mr Johnson whose ratings of general public satisfaction have plummeted to an all-time low over ‘Partygate’.

It also puts the Chancellor level with Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer, who is at 31% and has seen a rebound in the polls.

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Government ‘to flip-flop’ on mandatory Covid shots for NHS staff

The government should backtrack on mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care staff, reports say.

Sajid Javid has come under pressure to scrap the requirement for health workers in England to be vaccinated by April over fears of a staff exodus.

The Health Secretary is expected to meet ministers from the Covid-Operations Cabinet Committee on Monday to confirm the U-turn, according to the Daily Telegraph.

The Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Nursing have both urged that the deadline be extended due to staffing fears.

Patricia Marquis, RCN director for England, said: ‘If these reports are correct, this government raid is long overdue.

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Nursing home residents reunite with loved ones

Limits on visits to care homes were lifted today, reuniting residents with their loved ones.

From Monday, residents of care homes in England will be able to receive unlimited visits from family and friends.

The government had announced the planned end of restrictions on care home visitors in November, but introduced a limit of three named visitors plus one essential carer when Omicron hit.

However, individual homes will continue to be able to set their own visiting policies and homes affected by current outbreaks will not be able to lift restrictions immediately.

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Top stories this morning

Hello and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live coverage of all the major political stories throughout the day.

Some of the top political stories from this morning are:

– Boris Johnson has pledged to cut £1billion in red tape for businesses as part of a ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’

– Ministers confirmed on Sunday that a proposed £12billion National Insurance tax hike will continue from April

— Downing St still reportedly hasn’t received Sue Gray’s report on Partygate which is due this week

– Former Prime Minister’s adviser Dominic Cummings has said it was his ‘unpleasant but necessary job’ to remove Boris Johnson from duties such as ‘fixing the pipes’.