Top story: ‘No longer a question of if PM will go, it is when’
Hello, I’m Warren Murray and here’s what we have in front of us.
Boris Johnson is facing intense pressure from senior Conservatives to publicly confess he attended a rule-breaking garden party in Downing Street, with the Scottish Tory leader suggesting the prime minister should resign if he broke Covid rules. They are awaiting his explanation at prime minister’s questions today. Senior Conservatives have said MPs are discussing who would replace Johnson. One said Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, could be prime minister within months: “It is no longer a question of if the PM will go, it is when.”
It has been claimed that Martin Reynolds – Johnson’s aide who threw out the invitation for about 100 Downing Street staff for the “bring your own booze” party on 20 May 2020 – also attended another alcohol-fuelled gathering for No 10 staff on 18 December, the same night as a controversial press office party. A No 10 spokesperson said of the event allegedly attended by Reynolds: “A number of private office staff worked late into the evening on the Covid response.”
If police officers saw laws broken while on guard at Downing Street they would be expected to report it, a former Scotland Yard assistant commissioner says this morning. With the Met under pressure to investigate, Robert Quick, who was once in charge of protection operations for Downing Street, said: “The garden at Downing Street would be monitored by police officers. You would have thought the police would be reasonably aware of what was going on there.”
Smart motorways brought to halt – The rollout of smart motorways has been suspended by the government until at least 2025. The motorways, which convert the hard shoulder to a live running lane, have been heavily criticised by safety campaigners and relatives of people who have died in crashes after being left unable to find safe refuge when their vehicles broke down. Schemes to convert stretches of the M3, M25, M62 and M40 will be put on ice until five years’ worth of safety data are available, ministers have said. The government has promised £900m for safety measures on existing smart motorways in the meantime, including more emergency refuge areas.
> Novak Djokovic has blamed his agent for an “administrative mistake” in declaring he had not travelled in the two weeks before his flight to Australia and apologised for an “error of judgment” in attending an event after testing positive to Covid-19.
> The UK government is being sued over its net zero climate strategy, which lawyers argue illegally fails to include the policies needed to deliver the promised cuts in emissions.
> YouTube is a major conduit of online disinformation and misinformation worldwide and is not doing enough to tackle the spread of falsehoods on its platform, according to a global coalition of factchecking organisations.
> UK households have suffered the sharpest fall in the amount of cash they have available to spend for almost eight years, amid a worsening cost of living crisis driven by high inflation and rising energy bills.
> Waitrose is to start selling “tearless onions” that are the result of decades of selective cross-breeding.
Covid latest – One in seven people who have tested positive for Covid could still be infectious if released from isolation upon receiving a negative lateral flow result after five days, new data suggests. The prime minister has indicated he favours reducing the quarantine time from seven to five days. Britain’s parents are being warned to look out for signs of the Respiratory Syncytial Virus (RSV), which can leave children struggling to breathe. Covid lockdowns last year meant there were fewer RSV infections than normal, so this year there may be less immunity among children. Keep up with Covid developments at our live blog.
Tuition scheme branded failure – Labour says the national tutoring programme (NTP) is failing children and taxpayers, with just 10% of this academic year’s target for children receiving one-to-one or small group tutoring from NTP tuition partners reached so far. Official figures show headteachers in England are favouring their own school-led tuition programmes over the national scheme, which was controversially awarded to the Dutch multinational Randstad. The Department for Education has said pupils in England began just over 300,000 tutoring courses last term and insisted the NTP was on track to deliver its target of 2m courses this academic year. DfE figures also revealed that more children stayed off school last week because of Covid than at the end of last term.
Demining rat sniffs his last – A rat that won a British heroism award for finding landmines in Cambodia has died peacefully in retirement. Magawa, a giant African pouched rat originally from Tanzania, helped clear mines from about 225,000 square metres of land – the equivalent of 42 football pitches – over the course of his career after being trained to sniff out explosives. He was retired from the field in June of last year. Landmines and unexploded bombs remain a huge danger in Cambodia, with four reported deaths just in the last few days.
Today in Focus podcast: The winter of Omicron
Hospital trusts across England have declared “critical incidents” in record numbers as the Omicron wave brings rising admissions and staff sickness. But the strains on NHS capacity long predate Covid, says Denis Campbell.
Lunchtime read: Vasectomies for the planet!
With the climate crisis becoming ever more urgent, a growing number of young, childless men are taking the drastic decision of being sterilised for environmental reasons, writes Simon Usborne.
Trevor Bayliss, the World Cup-winning former England head coach, has emerged as the in-house favourite to take charge of the Australian men’s team should Justin Langer’s contract not be renewed after the Ashes. Goals from Jan Bednarek, Armando Broja and Che Adams alongside an own goal from Álvaro Fernández gave Southampton a 4-1 win over Brentford in the Premier League. Newcastle are poised to make Chris Wood their second January signing, with the striker scheduled for a medical after the club agreed to meet the release clause of about £20m in his Burnley contract.
The Leicester captain, Ellis Genge, has apologised to his teammates for losing his head at Wasps on Sunday and collecting a yellow card which he believes “potentially cost us the game”. The Yorkshire interim coach Ryan Sidebottom has apologised for using “a poor choice of words” when suggesting in a television interview that the county should “forget” the racism scandal that has engulfed the club. Emma Raducanu, the US Open champion, lost her first match of the year in 55 minutes, falling 6-0, 6-1 to Elena Rybakina in Sydney, while Andy Murray defeated Viktor Durasovic in his first-round match. And Kelechi Iheanacho’s excellent first-half goal handed Nigeria a deserved 1-0 victory over a below-par Egypt in their Africa Cup of Nations Group D clash in Garoua.
Asian stock markets followed Wall Street higher on Wednesday after Federal Reserve chairman Jerome Powell said monetary policy would return to normal and interest rates might be raised earlier than planned. Shanghai, Tokyo, Hong Kong and Sydney advanced. Oil prices edged higher. Futures trading suggests the FTSE should be half a per cent higher at the open as well. A pound is worth $1.364 and €1.199 at time of writing.
We have a separate round-up of the major front pages today – a summary follows. The Times’ headline says “Say sorry or doom us all, ministers tell Johnson”. The Telegraph says “Johnson losing Tory support” and the junior minister Michael Ellis is shown bearing the brunt of MPs’ anger in the Commons.
The Guardian captures the Tory anger too and gives prominence to the suggestion of Douglas Ross, the Tory leader in Scotland, that Johnson should resign if he broke Covid rules. The Daily Mail asks: “Is the party over for PM?”, calling it the “gravest crisis of his premiership”. The Mirror is more emphatic, saying “The party’s over, Boris”. In the Metro, “Contempt for the victims” is the headline, alongside Johnson appearing to “smirk” during an interview about the crisis.
The Financial Times says “Johnson faces ‘potentially terminal’ showdown over Downing Street parties” with PMQs taking place today and two polls showing majority support for his resignation. The Sun has the strapline “No 10 garden partygate” and reports Johnson “went into hiding” … “It’s my party and I’ll lie low if I want to” is the headline. The i says “PM’s future in jeopardy as Tories rage at lockdown drinks party”. The Express does its thing and claims support within the party is still strong for Johnson after “delivering Brexit and winning the war against Covid” … “Don’t blow it now, PM!” it urges in the headline.
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