Sue Gray finds ‘failures of leadership and judgment’ in report on Downing Street parties

Sue Gray’s heavily-abridged report into the partygate scandal has blasted “failures of leadership and judgment” in 10 Downing Street and the Cabinet Office.

Andrew Woodcock 

The report considered a total of 16 separate social events at 10 Downing Street and other government departments which took place while Covid regulations imposed strict limits on gatherings anywhere in the UK.

And it revealed that the Metropolitan Police inquiry launched last week will focus on 12 events – including the ”bring your own booze” party on 20 May 2020 when Boris Johnson joined around 40 No 10 staff to drink alcohol and eat picnic food from trestle tables in the Downing Street rose garden, as well as an alleged party in the prime minister’s flat on the evening of the resignation of former aide Dominic Cummings on 13 November 2020.

The 13 November gathering may be of particular significance in determining whether Mr Johnson survives the scandal, as he has previously denied in a written response to a parliamentary question that it even took place.

In a scathing comment on the culture at No 10 under Boris Mr Johnson’s leadership, the Whitehall mandarin wrote: “Some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time”.

The report led to renewed demands for Mr Johnson’s resignation.

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey said: “Everyone knows Boris Johnson broke the rules and lied to the country. It’s time Conservative MPs did their patriotic duty, listened to their constituents and stood up for decency by sacking Boris Johnson. He must go before he does our country any more harm,”

And Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner said: “I’ve spoken to constituents, people on the street, people on trains, primary school children, care home residents, and not a single person needs Sue Gray to tell them what to think about Boris Johnson.

“He made the rules, he broke the rules, he is unfit for office.”

She said it was “the most absolute failure of any prime minister” and Mr Johnson had “failed in his number one duty as leader of our country” and should immediately resign.

The long-awaited report was published by Downing Street at 2.30pm after being delivered to Boris Johnson at 11.20am on Monday. The prime minister was due to give his response and be grilled by MPs an hour later in a statement to the House of Commons.

After an eleventh-hour intervention by police, senior civil servant Ms Gray was required to strip the report of all but “minimal” references to alleged breaches of Covid regulations in parties and social gatherings in No 10 and Whitehall departments.

Ms Gray said that the police request had made it impossible for her to deliver a “meaningful report” on the full range of events which took place in No 10 during 2020 and 2021.

“I am extremely limited in what I can say about those events and it is not possible at present to provide a meaningful report setting out and analysing the extensive factual information I have been able to gather,” she said.

She described her 12-page report as an “update” on her inquiries, suggesting that a fuller report may be published when the police investigation is concluded.

And she said she will “ensure the secure storage and safekeeping of all the information gathered until such time as it may be required further” but will not share it with Mr Johnson or anyone else in government.

Only four events mentioned over the course of the controversy were not of interest to the police – a photograph taken on 15 May 2020 which showed Mr Johnson and wife Carrie with No 10 staff drinking in the Downing Street garden; a leaving do for aide Cleo Watson on 27 November 2020; a pre-Christmas gathering at the Department for Education on 10 December 2020; and an online Christmas quiz at No 10 on 15 December 2020.

The report did not mention Mr Johnson by name and made direct criticism of individuals for what took place in No 10.

And Ms Gray made clear she was not in a position to pass judgement on whether any Covid breaches amounted to breaking the law, insisting that that was a matter for law enforcement agencies.

She also said that she did not regard it as appropriate, while the police inquiry is ongoing, to deliver a verdict on whether individual gatherings breached guidance and regulations.

But she found: “There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times.”

And Ms Gray concluded: “A number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did.

“There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded. “

The report acknowledged that Downing Street staff were in an unusual position during Covid lockdowns, as they were permitted to attend their workplace under a special exemption.

But Ms Gray made clear that this did not provide an excuse for breaching rules, noting that the same conditions applied to “key and frontline workers across the country who were working under equally, if not more, demanding conditions, often at risk to their own health”.

She said: “It is important to remember the stringency of the public health regulations in force in England over the relevant periods and that criminal sanctions were applied to many found to be in breach of them.

“The hardship under which citizens across the country worked, lived and sadly even died while observing the government’s regulations and guidance rigorously are known only too well.”

And she said: “Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify. “

Ms Gray raised concerns about the ability of Downing Street staff to raise concerns about gatherings and breaches of social distancing rules over which they felt uneasy.

“Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so,” she said.

“No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.”

And she appeared to suggest that too little support had been given to principal private secretary Martin Reynolds, who has been targeted for blame for organising the 20 May garden party.

“Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the prime minister,” said the report. “This should be addressed as a matter of priority.”

Ms Gray said the report looked at a series of gatherings whose “necessity for work purposes has been open to question”.

Her team interviewed more than 70 individuals with knowledge of the events – some more than once – and examined relevant documentary and digital information, including emails, WhatsApp messages, text messages, photographs and official records.

The investigators also had access to entry and exit logs for government buildings in order to build up a picture of when individuals were arriving and leaving – and to pick up mass departures late in the evening after events took place.

Ms Gray said her investigative work is now “essentially complete” – leaving open some room for her to add further information which arises during the police investigation before releasing her final verdict.

Sue Gray’s update: the general findings



Every citizen has been impacted by the pandemic. Everyone has made personal sacrifices, some the most profound, having been unable to see loved ones in their last moments or care for vulnerable family and friends. It is with that context in mind that I make the following general limited findings

General findings

i.                     Against the backdrop of the pandemic, when the Government was asking citizens to accept far-reaching restrictions on their lives, some of the behaviour surrounding these gatherings is difficult to justify.

ii.                  At least some of the gatherings in question represent a serious failure to observe not just the high standards expected of those working at the heart of Government but also of the standards expected of the entire British population at the time.

iii.                  At times it seems there was too little thought given to what was happening across the country in considering the appropriateness of some of these gatherings, the risks they presented to public health and how they might appear to the public. There were failures of leadership and judgment by different parts of No 10 and the Cabinet Office at different times. Some of the events should not have been allowed to take place. Other events should not have been allowed to develop as they did.

iv.                  The excessive consumption of alcohol is not appropriate in a professional workplace at any time. Steps must be taken to ensure that every Government Department has a clear and robust policy in place covering the consumption of alcohol in the workplace.

v.                    The use of the garden at No 10 Downing Street should be primarily for the Prime Minister and the private residents of No 10 and No 11 Downing Street. During the pandemic it was often used as an extension of the workplace as a more covid secure means of holding group meetings in a ventilated space. This was a sensible measure that staff appreciated, but the garden was also used for gatherings without clear authorisation or oversight. This was not appropriate. Any official access to the space, including for meetings, should be by invitation only and in a controlled environment.

vi.                  Some staff wanted to raise concerns about behaviours they witnessed at work but at times felt unable to do so. No member of staff should feel unable to report or challenge poor conduct where they witness it. There should be easier ways for staff to raise such concerns informally, outside of the line management chain.

vii.                 The number of staff working in No 10 Downing Street has steadily increased in recent years. In terms of size, scale and range of responsibility it is now more akin to a small Government Department than purely a dedicated Prime Minister’s office. The structures that support the smooth operation of Downing Street, however, have not evolved sufficiently to meet the demands of this expansion. The leadership structures are fragmented and complicated and this has sometimes led to the blurring of lines of accountability. Too much responsibility and expectation is placed on the senior official whose principal function is the direct support of the Prime Minister. This should be addressed as a matter of priority.


 The gatherings within the scope of this investigation are spread over a 20-month period – a period that has been unique in recent times in terms of the complexity and breadth of the demands on public servants and indeed the general public. The whole of the country rose to the challenge. Ministers, special advisers and the Civil Service, of which I am proud to be a part, were a key and dedicated part of that national effort. However, as I have noted, a number of these gatherings should not have been allowed to take place or to develop in the way that they did. There is significant learning to be drawn from these events which must be addressed immediately across Government. This does not need to wait for the police investigations to be concluded.

Breaking news: Lockdown party report delivered to Downing Street

Unlikely to be a Black and White day more a “Gray” day.

Report likely to be posted in the public domain here after all the niceties are observed on who sees it first, second, third etc Welcome to GOV.UK ( Owl /news/uk-politics-60195620

Boris Johnson has been handed Sue Gray’s report into Downing Street parties, ahead of its expected public release later.

Planning applications validated by EDDC in week beginning 17 January

National Trust reveals first of 20 planned ‘green corridors’

The National Trust has unveiled plans for a “green corridor” to link the centre of Bath to the surrounding countryside and create new habitat for wildlife.

Tess de La Mare

It is the first of 20 such corridors first announced in January 2020 and will run through 40 hectares of riverside meadows newly acquired by the trust.

Bathampton Meadows, on the banks of the Avon was previously a mixture of farmland and council-owned land, and was once mooted as the site of a proposed park and ride.

The trust has plans for a programme of hedgerow and tree planting along the three-mile route to create a network of foraging habitat to help the declining greater horseshoe bat.

It also intends to improve wetlands to support wading birds and provide a boost for wildflowers and insects.

The corridor is aimed at helping people living in the town centre get closer to nature. A consultation on the proposals is due to start in the spring.

The National Trust has acquired Bathampton Meadows (Tom Boden/PA)

The National Trust has acquired Bathampton Meadows (Tom Boden/PA)

The National Trust has plans to create a further 19 green corridors in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by 2030.

Hilary McGrady, director-general of the National Trust, said: “These routes will improve access to nature for those living in urban areas who may feel disconnected from the countryside or cannot access rural areas easily.

Research has shown that engaging with nature is good for our wellbeing and that those connected to nature are likely to do more to help protect it.”

She added: “Connecting up green spaces isn’t just good for people, it’s also good for wildlife, allowing animals and birds to move from one habitat to another.”

The official start and end point of the corridor has yet to be determined, but should start close to Bath Abbey and is expected to finish in the village of Batheaston.

The green corridor will provide new habitat for wildlife (National Trust images/PA)

The green corridor will provide new habitat for wildlife (National Trust images/PA)

Tom Boden, general manager for the trust’s Bath properties, said: “With the meadows now protected forever, we will consult closely with the local community and stakeholders over the coming months to develop an exciting vision for the land to benefit both people and nature.”

He continued: “Hedgerow and tree planting to include the creation of an orchard will particularly help the current greater horseshoe bat population, a nationally rare and dwindling species, by providing wider, more connected foraging habitat on neighbouring land.

“Blossoming trees in the orchard will also be good for attracting pollinators.

“We’re also aiming to create new wildflower meadows to help insects such as the small blue butterfly, and areas of wet woodland planted with trees like willow, birch and alder to attract wading birds such as snipe and scarce native birds like siskin or willow tits.”

The trust is also considering how it can improve cycle access along the route.

Councillor Richard Samuel, deputy leader at Bath and North East Somerset Council, said: “Transferring Bathampton Meadows to the National Trust ensures the land is protected forever against inappropriate development, and it also supports our commitment to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.

“The transfer will provide much improved public access and an enhanced open space.”

‘Impossible’ for Covid inquiry to start on time as PM stalls, experts warn

It is “impossible” for the public inquiry into the government’s response to the Covid pandemic to begin on time after Boris Johnson delayed preparations for it, experts are warning. 

The prime minister is accused of shunting the investigation – which he pledged would begin in “spring 2022” – to the “bottom of the government’s to-do list”, after dragging his heels on agreeing its scope.

Now hearings will not be possible before the summer after hold-ups appointing a chair and agreeing on terms of reference, think tanks that have studied previous inquiries say.

There are fears of further delays with the government “in paralysis” over the Partygate scandal, with one source saying a promised consultation on draft terms is not expected imminently.

A former head of the civil service, Sir Bob Kerslake, has told The Independent he will demand answers from the government, saying: “I am concerned if the inquiry is going to be delayed.”

The Institute for Government warned it was now “very hard to see how the inquiry can begin until the end of May or June, based on previous inquiries such as Grenfell”.

The King’s Fund echoed the criticism, saying it is now “impossible for the inquiry to now start its work in earnest in the spring”.

“The public inquiry is too important to be shunted yet again to the bottom of the government’s to-do list,” Sally Warren, The King’s Fund’s director of policy, told The Independent.

The fresh delay has angered the families of Covid victims after Mr Johnson rejected several pleas to start the inquiry sooner.

He has been accused of stalling in order to prevent likely damning conclusions coming out before a general election in spring 2024, with public inquiries typically taking at least two years.

Lobby Akinnola, spokesperson for Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice, said: “Once the inquiry is officially set up, it becomes an offence to tamper with or destroy evidence. But until that happens, there’s a risk of key evidence being lost. After the attempts to cover up Partygate, that is especially worrying.”

Mr Johnson finally announced the inquiry last May but failed to appoint a chair – former Court of Appeal judge Heather Hallett – until just before Christmas.

He said draft terms of reference would be released “in the new year” but they have yet to be published.

In the Grenfell inquiry, it took two-and-a-half months between publication and hearings getting underway, but the Institute for Government (IfG) warned the Covid inquiry will be “far more complicated”.

The range of controversies is vast, including the timing of lockdown decisions, the scientific advice sought, testing and PPE, the discharge of infected patients into care homes and the initial decision not to close borders.

Many key decisions were devolved, which means there is a need to delve into the handling of the response in Edinburgh, Cardiff and Belfast too.

“Engaging the public and other parties in a consultation on those terms of reference is likely to be more complicated than the Grenfell consultation, because of the sheer scale of people and organisations who will want to be involved,” said Emma Norris, the IfG’s director of research.

“It was always clear that this would be a complex inquiry to set up, so it was important to begin in earnest as soon as possible – so the government should have started earlier.”

Mr Johnson defended his stalling on the grounds it would “weigh down” scientific advisers and take up “huge amounts of officials’ time” if the pandemic flared up again.

In the Commons last week, he appeared to pre-judge the inquiry, when he boasted to MPs: “We have the fastest-growing economy in the G7 and we have got all the big calls right.”

But an inquiry last year by two Tory-led Commons committees was damning, calling his response “one of the most important public health failures the United Kingdom has ever experienced”.

Delaying lockdown in March 2020 – as herd immunity was explored – and failing to protect elderly and vulnerable people in care caused thousands of avoidable deaths, it said.

The cabinet office declined to discuss the reasons for the delay in publishing draft terms of reference, when panel members will be selected, or whether office space for the inquiry has been secured.

A spokesperson said: “As the prime minister has previously stated, the Covid inquiry is set to begin its work in spring 2022.”

Devon covid on way back up

After dropping over the past few weeks, covid cases have once again risen in all parts of Devon.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

In the latest complete seven day period (to Sunday, 23 January) the county recorded 12,745 new cases, 2,290 more than in the previous week. The 22 per cent rise takes the infection rate across Devon to 1,120 per 100,000 of the population, higher than the national average of 954.

The Devon County Council, which excludes Plymouth and Torbay, recorded the largest spike, with a 29 per cent (+1,816) rise. Its 8,176 new cases take the area’s infection rate to 1,009 per 100,000.

Torbay continues to have the highest infection rate in the county, with 1,270 cases per 100,000 of the population. The latest figures record 1,730 infections in the Bay; 181 (12 per cent) more than the previous week.

Plymouth’s 2,839 new cases are 279 (12 per cent) more than the previous week. The infection rate is 1,080 per 100,000 of the population. 

The spike is a setback for the city’s health services. Speaking recently Kevin Baber, chief operating officer of Plymouth Hospitals said the number of people waiting for treatment at Derriford is 40,000; up 10,000 since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than 3,000 people have been waiting over a year and 461 patients, primarily needing elected orthopaedics or spinal surgery, who have waited over two years.

Mr Baber said the pandemic has taken a toll on NHS workers in Plymouth, noting “an increasing number of staff who are off sick with stress, anxiety, depression and covid PTSD.”


As of the most recent data (from Wednesday 25 January) 240 patients with covid were in Devon’s hospitals. The majority (188) are in Derriford. 

Twenty-seven people are being cared for at the RD&E in Exeter, while a further 25 are being treated in Torbay Hospital.

Three patients in Devon are in mechanical ventilation beds. 


Nineteen people died within 28 days of receiving a positive covid test across Devon in the most recent complete seven-day period (to Sunday 23 January), six more than last week. 

Ten people died in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Plymouth and Torbay. Five deaths were recorded in Torbay and four in Plymouth.

Across Devon, a total of 1,518 people have now died within 28 days of a positive covid test.


Eighty-eight per cent of people aged 12 and above have had their first dose of a vaccine in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Plymouth and Torbay, with 83 per cent receiving both doses. Seventy per cent have now had their ‘booster’ dose.

In Plymouth, 85 per cent have had one dose, while 79 per cent have had both. Fifty-nine per cent have had the booster.

In Torbay, 86 per cent have received one dose, while 8q per cent have had both jabs. Sixty-five per cent have had their third vaccine.

The national rates are 91, 84 and 65 per cent respectively.

Devon Covid dashboard shows cases rising in all age groups except 60 to 79 year olds (cases to 25 Jan)

Has Exeter based construction giant Midas lost its Golden Touch?

“One of the South West’s largest employers, the Exeter-based construction giant Midas, has reportedly filed a court notice of its intention to appoint an administrator.”

Steve Hindley, the Executive Chairman of the Midas Group, is also Chair of the “Great South West” which seems to have set itself up to take a leadership role for promoting economic growth across a number of neighbouring Local Enterprise Partnerships in the peninsular. 

In February 2020, with incredibly bad timing, “The Great South West” sent a report to Savid Javid just as he was replaced by Rishi Sunak, see: “The Great South West pitches to the wrong man. A week is a long time in politics” . Then the pandemic broke.

In July 2020 The Great South West appeared to be defunct, but it re-emerged in time for the G7 to publish a new, green, way forward in June 2021. This “greening” report, however, was  written by none other than one of the main polluters of our rivers and seas, the Pennon Group.

Currently we await Michael Gove’s “levelling up” White Paper, supposedly this week, but who knows what the government’s agenda is these days.

Concerns over future of SW construction giant

Colleen Smith 

The £290million turnover company filed the notice for itself and its main subsidiary Midas Construction Limited, the UK’s leading building trade resource Construction News revealed.

It follows a DevonLive exclusive yesterday which revealed that work had come to a virtual standstill on three major hotel construction projects worth £40m-plus in Torbay.

Midas is one of the region’s largest employers, with more than 400 people directly employed and supporting more than 10,000 jobs in supply chains.

The Exeter-headquartered business is ranked as the ninth largest in the Top 150 businesses in Devon and Cornwall 2021.

A notice of intention (NOI) typically means that a company will formally appoint an administrator within 10 days, unless it can find an alternative financial solution to its problems first. It follows the resignation of Midas Group’s commercial director Scott Poulter at the end of December and a nine-page Registration of Charge was posted on Companies House in mid January.

Administration is often used as part of a company restructure if the business is deemed viable. Directors can purchase some or all of the assets, and set up a ‘newco’ to move forward and save the business.

Midas is one of the region’s largest employers, with more than 400 people directly employed and supporting more than 10,000 jobs in supply chains.

The Exeter-headquartered business is ranked as the ninth largest in the Top 150 businesses in Devon and Cornwall 2021.

If they do enter administration there will be eight weeks in which to save the company, with sale as a going concern often the preferred option.

After months of concern within the building trade, fears for the company’s future mounted this week after the Fragrance Group spoke publicly to DevonLive about its fears for the lack of progress over the last three months at its twin £30m new hotel builds on Paignton seafront.

At the same time work ceased at the £11m construction of the Premier Inn in Torquay on The Terrace.

The company said its projects had been affected by the pandemic, Brexit, and labour and material inflation and shortages. “We are working closely with all our stakeholders to resolve the situation,” it said in a statement issued this morning.

A number of subcontractors have today revealed that they are owed five-figure sums by the company, whose HQ is in Pynes Hill, Exeter, and with offices stretching across the South West from Southampton to South Wales.

Last year the company reported a £2m pre-tax loss for the first time in it’s 40 year history. Midas is one of the UK’s largest privately-owned construction and property services companies.

Singapore-based Fragrance Group appointed Midas to build the two new hotels on Paignton seafront in January 2020, but after three months with little progress on the build their patience ran out this week.

A spokesperson for the group told DevonLive : “Over the past three months, the Fragrance Group has become increasingly concerned by the very limited progress on our two new Paignton seafront hotel developments, located on the neighbouring sites of the former Park Hotel and Lighthouse club.

“We are in constant discussions with the main contractors and are now reviewing our options to complete the development of these hotels.

“Our priority is to deliver these two new seafront hotels which mark a vital investment in the wider Torbay. We can confirm that the Fragrance Group is committed to Torbay.”

Torbay Council contracted Midas to build the £11m Premier Inn at The Terrace in Torquay. But after work stopped on site this week a council spokesman said on Thursday: “We are working with Midas to identify any issues that may be affecting the site and any required solutions.”

Midas works primarily in the commercial sector and also delivered jobs in the residential and education markets, with much of its work in the South West. In Torquay they are also currently building a new Special Educational Needs department at St Cuthbert Mayne school.

A spokesman for Midas told DevonLive yesterday: “As is well known in the industry there are issues relating to Brexit, Covid, ongoing shortages of materials and labour, and significant cost inflation, which are providing challenges to project delivery and timescales.

“We are working closely with all our stakeholders to resolve the situation.”

Former councillor to pay almost £50,000 after unsuccessful High Court challenge

A former Hartlepool councillor will have to pay almost £50,000 in legal fees after an unsuccessful High Court challenge to void a result in the May 2021 local elections.

Laura Love

The hearing took place following a petition from Bob Buchan over claims of damaging information in Labour’s campaign material shortly before the 2021 local elections.

Mr Buchan, who previously represented the Independent Union on the borough council, missed out on being one of three councillors elected in the Fens and Greatham ward to Labour’s Jennifer Elliott by 609 votes to 619.

After hearing evidence on Thursday, judge Philip Kramer on Friday concluded the statement in the election material related to “political conduct and character”, rather than a “personal” attack, and ruled in favour of Cllr Elliott.

He said: “The exercise of a vote in committee is a political act, the councillor is discharging a political function.

“Politicians are entrusted to take these decisions on the public’s behalf and when they discharge that trust, they are undertaking a political act, which is correctly characterised as political conduct.”

The defence submitted legal costs of just under £79,000 to the court, with the judge ruling Mr Buchan must pay just over £48,000 of this, after questioning and analysing the fees.

Speaking at the hearing Mr Buchan, said he had kept his legal costs to “about £3,500” and noted he will have to seek “support from family and friends” to pay the defence’s fees.

Speaking after the result, Mr Buchan said: “I’m naturally disappointed with the outcome of this case.

“The reason I brought this case in the first place is that Jennifer had informed 700 residents in the village I voted in favour of a controversial development, when it has now been proven in open court and accepted by Jennifer that this was not true.

“I am astounded that the defence team asked for almost £79,000 and I’m grateful for the judge for slashing the bill down by almost £30,000.”

The fees must be paid within 28 days, however Mr Buchan was told he can make a request to pay in instalments.

The case revolved around a Labour campaign letter just days before the May local elections, which claimed Mr Buchan had voted in favour of a controversial development for 18 council homes in Hill View, in Greatham, which was approved in January 2021.

The former councillor reiterated he was not at the meeting when plans were approved, and voted against a similar previous application in July 2020.

Judge Kramer ruled there was “no dispute” Mr Buchan did not vote in favour, as he was not present at the meeting .

During the hearing, Cllr Elliott had said it was an “honest mistake” in stating Mr Buchan had voted for the application.

However Mr Buchan had said he felt there had been an “attack on his reputation and good standing in the community” with the comments made in election material.

Speaking after the case, Cllr Elliott said she was “very pleased” with the court’s ruling and she is now focused on continuing to “fight for the residents of Fens and Greatham”.

She said: “I would like to thank all those who have supported me through a stressful and unpleasant time.

“I am looking forward to getting back to what really matters.”

Judge Kramer, speaking at the start of proceedings, had said if Mr Buchan had been successful, the result of the election would have been “void” and “have to be rerun”.

GPs nationalised in Javid plan to reduce hospital admissions

GPs would be nationalised under plans from the health secretary to make them do more to keep patients out of hospital.

Chris Smyth

Sajid Javid is considering radical changes to the 70-year-old structure of the NHS that could see many family doctors directly employed by hospitals instead of running their own surgeries.

He has told Boris Johnson that there are “considerable drawbacks” to the system under which GP surgeries are in effect independent contractors paid per patient by the NHS.

A review of primary care planned by Javid will look at how to better integrate GPs with hospital care as part of attempts to do more to stop people developing serious illness.

Sources insisted there would be no forcible state takeover of GPs, who are likely instead to be given incentives to link up with hospital trusts.

The plans are likely to provoke resistance from doctors who said that the independence of GPs boosts innovation and offers value for taxpayers’ money.

Javid is keen to accelerate the pace of reform in the NHS as he feels pressure to deliver tangible progress in exchange for billions of pounds in extra funding.

He is reviewing hospital management to hold NHS chiefs more closely to account as well as considering “academy style” hospitals with more freedoms, which he hopes will start taking over GPs.

This month he wrote to the prime minister setting out his ideas for NHS reform, telling Johnson that he had “an ambitious agenda that has the potential to be a central plank of your domestic policy legacy”.

He suggested setting up a “new National Vaccination Service” to free surgeries from the need to administer regular Covid boosters, which could keep on some of the non-medical vaccinators employed during the pandemic to administer routine immunisations.

GPs in England were told to prioritise boosters before Christmas, but this week they were told by NHS England to “restore routine services” now that demand for jabs has dropped off.

In the letter, seen by The Times, Javid said: “Whilst there are some strengths to the system of primary care, it’s also clear that the historic separation of general practice from the wider healthcare system as created in 1948 comes with considerable drawbacks including an underinvestment in prevention.” He says he will launch “an independent review of the future of primary care”, to look at “workforce, business models and how GPs work with the other parts of the NHS such as hospitals”.

This month, The Times reported that Javid was considering a new class of “reform trust” in the NHS, modelled on the academy school scheme. The letter said that they would “drive innovation with the freedom to improve outcomes by pioneering approaches including by bringing together primary and secondary care”. The idea has been dubbed the Wolverhampton model after the city’s hospital took over GP practices and cut emergency admissions.

Martin Marshall, the head of the Royal College of GPs, said the current model “delivers exceptional benefits for the NHS”, and that the main problem was a lack of qualified staff. “There has to be a very good reason for changing a model that works well” for all.

Aren’t GPs already run by the NHS?

Although GPs are the front door to the health service, practices have never been owned by the government but are owned and managed by GP partners, whose pay in effect comes out of surgery profits.

How are GPs paid?

Surgeries get a fixed sum per patient, currently £155 a year, with extras for hitting targets on chronic conditions and for offering extra services, with allowances for extra staff such as pharmacists.

Why is the NHS set up like this?

It was a compromise struck as Nye Bevan set up the NHS facing resistance from the British Medical Association and others, who compared the plans to Nazism. To buy off their opposition, he allowed consultants to carry on seeing private patients and GPs to remain independent small businesses.

What is the case for reform?

Joining up care and preventing chronic illness is a key goal of health systems globally. Some argue that the divide between GPs and hospitals hampers this integration. Hospitals lack the opportunity to prevent disease while GPs lack the resources and financial incentives to prevent disease they do not pay to treat.

What is the case against?

GPs are established, developing long-term local links and are responsive to patients, not looking to the NHS hierarchy and an unresponsive bureaucracy.

Are any GPs paid a salary?

Yes, and the number is growing as fewer younger doctors want the responsibility of in effect running a small business. The number of salaried GPs in England has gone from 6,650 in 2009-19 to 11,000 in 2019-20, a rise of 65 per cent. GP contractors have fallen 27 per cent from 26,400 to 19,250.

What does nationalisation mean in practice?

Javid’s allies insist family doctors will not be forced to hand over their surgeries. They are more likely to be offered incentives to become part of larger NHS organisations, often hospitals.

What will this mean for patients?

The goal is a more seamless link between doctors and specialists, meaning problems picked up quicker and patients given help staying well. Critics say the changes will not address the fundamental problem of falling GP numbers.

Sidmouth: The clifftop homes that are ‘falling into the sea’ because of the climate crisis

Paul Griew always knew that his home, which sits on top of a cliff in Devon, would not last for ever. 

When he bought it in the late 1990s, he worked out that it would take 300 years for the crumbling edge to reach his property.

But the rate of erosion has since increased. “It’s 30 years at best at the moment,” the retired 73-year-old tells The Independent from his living room overlooking the sea.

His house in Sidmouth is one of many across the UK whose lifespan will be determined by how quickly the cliffs on which they sit crumble.

The Climate Change Committee, which advises the government, has warned that more than 100,000 properties could be at risk of coastal erosion by 2080.

Since Mr Griew has lived in his house on Cliff Road, he has seen around 20 metres of his garden, including a summer house, tumble into the English Channel.

When the first section went, the 73-year-old rushed to check that the gardener – who had been there not long before – was safe. “I told him and he had to sit down,” he says.

Five minutes later, the summer house followed over the side of the cliff.

Mr Griew says he was just about to go and collect some things from it when the bit beyond it collapsed. “And I didn’t, fortunately.”

Even so, the retired consultant says he does not worry too much about getting caught in a collapse. “It happens once every six years and you lose five or six metres. So the chances of it going when you’re there are quite low.”

He adds: “I tend to keep at least a metre away from the edge anyway.”

While he would lose 10cm of his garden every year when he first bought the property, it is now more like a metre.

Mr Griew says one of the reasons is that the flood defences set up to protect the town of Sidmouth have prevented a process known as longshore drift – a natural defence against coastal erosion – which means that shingle has not been able to build up at the base of the cliff.

The Environment Agency has also warned that the risk of coastal erosion is growing as sea levels rise and the frequency of storms increases as a result of the climate crisis.

But for Maria and Richard Dudley, who live further up the road, the threat is a small price to pay for a house in such a scenic position.

“Where else would you get this view for less than a million?” Maria asks from her garden backing out onto the sea.

She explains that the garden has lost just a metre of its 60-metre length since they bought the property around seven years ago.

Her husband tells The Independent that coastal erosion is “not a problem”. However, he says, he is fed up with the publicity.

Another resident, Jasmine Reeves, says house prices are being driven down by the crumbling landscape – but puts this down to a lack of protection rather than media attention.

The 31-year-old says her house – which lost its orchard over the side of the cliff – has been valued at around £750,000. “But the properties around here would go for more than that if it wasn’t for the cliff,” she adds.

But this isn’t a problem for Mr Griew, who is not thinking about selling his house – despite the fact that it could disappear into the sea within the next few decades.

That isn’t to say its estimated lifespan of 30 years doesn’t bother him. It could always end up being faster than that, and it would be nice to pass the house on to his children, he says.

“But also it’s a lovely position,” he adds, as the sea gleams through the huge glass doors at the back of the house. “It’s worth keeping houses along here.”

After years of back and forth between different agencies, engineers, consultants and the council, there are plans for protective measures, including several metres of shingle on the beach and groynes, Mr Griew says.

“We’re told summer of 2023 is a likely start date, but I’m not holding my breath at the moment,” he adds.

An East Devon District Council spokesperson said that the gradual erosion of the East Beach cliffs was “natural and unpredictable”, as the rocks are soft and prone to falls – although periods of heavy rain can increase the rate.

Experts suggested that heavier and more frequent storms as a result of the climate crisis, more rainfall, the collapse of an abandoned railway tunnel, manmade structures on the promenade and the Sidmouth flood defences are all possible reasons behind the increased cliff erosion. “Any of these could be the cause, or it may be simply a combination of all of them,” they said.

The council has faced delays to its beach management plan while trying to secure extra funding, and is aiming to start work on the £14m project in 2024, the spokesperson added.

MP criticises North Devon broadband: “circle of doom”

North Devon’s MP has criticised the government’s “piecemeal” approach to high-speed internet connectivity in her rural constituency. 

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter

Speaking in the House of Commons on Wednesday [26 January], North Devon’s Conservative MP Selaine Saxby said she wanted faster roll-out of fibre internet than currently planned for North Devon.

Ms Saxby said: “The pandemic has clearly showed how vital connectivity is to all our communities, as those without good broadband have struggled with so much during the pandemic. 

“Too many schoolchildren have explained to me the problems of the circle of doom, so I thank [BT] Openreach again for coming to the aid of some of my more rural primary schools and expediting their broadband connection, but I remain concerned that this piecemeal approach to connectivity and the focus on competition in urban conurbations is reducing fibre access altogether in rural Britain.

“If we are truly to level up our rural communities, speeding up our digital roll-out to them is vital.”

Fibre-optic broadband offers much faster internet speeds and a more reliable connection than older home broadband networks that run on old-fashioned copper telephone lines.

The MP, who is also chair of the all-party parliamentary group on broadband and digital communication, added: “In this day and age, fibre broadband is a utility, and there should be universal provision. 

“Rural constituencies such as mine should not be left behind to facilitate market competition in our towns and cities.”

Ms Saxby wants a change of approach: “before any other visitors to my lovely constituency find themselves in an all-too-readily-available North Devon notspot.”

She was speaking at the second reading of the Product Security and Telecommunications Bill.  

It is aimed at speeding up the deployment and expansion of mobile, full-fibre and superfast capable networks across the UK and will introduce new measures to make ‘smart’ products more secure against cyber attacks. 

Plymouth councillor deselected: Senior Tory expresses “complete surprise”

A senior Plymouth Tory councillor has expressed his anger and “complete surprise” after not being selected by his party to run in upcoming elections.

Joe Ives, local democracy reporter 

Councillor Downie has been a city councillor for almost eight years and was planning to stand again as the Conservative candidate for Budshead in the May elections.

The move is particularly surprising given that cllr Downie is also a cabinet member for education, skills and children and young people, and chair of the council’s corporate parenting group.

It’s not clear why he had his application to represent the party rejected by the eight-member approvals panel of Plymouth Moor View Conservative Association on Saturday 22 January. 

Cllr Downie said he was supported by the leader of the council, Nick Kelly (Conservatives, Compton) who, Downie said, “gave a very good testimony” prior to the interview.

“I interviewed extremely well in the opinion of my leader and in my own humble opinion but, for whatever reason, the panel chose not to approve me as a candidate in the ward that I have served for eight years.”

He said it was a “complete surprise…to be deselected by your own association is extremely upsetting and has made me very angry, if truth be told.”

Cllr Kelly says the matter was not directly a matter for the Conservative group at Plymouth City Council, nor a decision the group has control over. 

Cllr Downie said he “could speculate all day” as to why he was rejected but admitted, “there’s no proof of anything.” 

“I have my own thoughts and opinions as to why my own executive wouldn’t support me, although I have an unblemished record.”

Cllr Downie said he had the support of the council leader and that he would be appealing the decision, although he can only appeal on technicalities and processes. 

He added: “I don’t understand it. I’m amazed that in this day and age there can be a secret ballot with no feedback given as to why someone was not chosen.

“These unelected people [at the Conservative Association] are allowed to make unelected decisions about other people’s livelihoods and not give any feedback and any information as to why they declined their application for approval.”

Margaret Boadella, chair of the Plymouth Moor View Conservative Association said she was unable to comment on the decision at the moment.

Cllr Downie said if his appeal fails he would “seriously consider” standing an independent candidate for Budshead.

He said: “I would like to think I would gather quite a few votes because I’m extremely well known there, I’ve done a lot of work for the community over the years.

“I’d like to think I could challenge whoever was put up in Budshead ward and give them a good fight.” 

Joe Lycett says Sue Gray report stunt motivated by anger over friend’s death

The comedian Joe Lycett, who apparently caused chaos and “mass panic” in government when he tweeted a fake version of Sue Gray’s “partygate” report, has said his social media stunt was motivated by anger after the death of a close friend during the first lockdown.

Caroline Davies 

Lycett tweeted a parody Gray report with a fake Cabinet Office letterhead, titled: “A summary of my main findings”, captioning his tweet: “BREAKING: Leaked Sue Gray report reveals shocking abuse of rules. Hard to see how the PM can cling on after this.”

He later shared a message that he said came “from someone who works for a cabinet minister. Source verified.”

The message, purportedly from someone who works in parliament, read: “Your tweet this morning was read as an actual serious leak from Sue Gray’s report. U had MP staff literally running around panicking from what it said. Panic dialling MPs like we need to discuss this right now.”

Among the “findings” on his faked document, Lycett stated that at one party a “senior minister” insisted all cabinet ministers get on to a table and perform Pure & Simple by Hear’Say, that one of Johnson’s staff was referred to as “Twateral Flow”, and that a video of Johnson’s wife, Carrie, confirmed her attendance and she was overheard saying “it could be as few as four and as many as 60 kids”. Games were played called “Slow Dance” and “Pass the Arsehole”, the fake findings said.

He finished the fake report with: “Please forward any queries to my email”

Explaining his motivation, Lycett tweeted on Friday: “I wrote some jokes on Twitter, some dumb people (some in our government) found them plausible rather than funny and now I’m in most of the newspapers. I write comedy sometimes as a way of using anger.”

He said he was “angry right now probably for the same reason many other people are angry”. He explained that his best friend died from cancer in 2020 but he was unable to be there for him “because I was following the rules”.

“So I suppose like thousands of others with their own stories, I’m angry about that.”

Corruption experts warn Boris Johnson’s government is worst since WWII

Experts have warned that Boris Johnson‘s administration is more corrupt “than any UK government since the Second World War”.

Researchers at Sussex University’s Centre for the Study Corruption warned that the “absolute failure of integrity at No 10” could have potentially serious consequences for the UK if allowed to fester.

It comes as opposition figures warned of the “appearance of an establishment stitch-up” over an inquiry into rule-breaking at Downing Street.

The Metropolitan Police on Friday said it had asked civil servant Sue Gray to remove key details of potential illegality from her long-awaited report into the Partygate scandal – citing a need not to prejudice its own separate investigation.

The development means some aspects of behaviour at Downing Street may not be made public at a key moment of political danger for the PM – and even raises the prospect that some facts might never see the light of day at all.

Robert Barrington, Professor of Anti-Corruption Practice at the Centre for the Study of Corruption in the University of Sussex said: “There is more corruption and corruption risk in and around this government than any UK government since the Second World War.

“The PM has direct influence on this through personal example and through what he allows amongst his Ministers and No. 10 staff.

“There has been an absolute failure of integrity at No 10 which has consequences for democracy and Britain’s global influence – and longer term, if unchecked, for the economy and national security.

“The enablers of this are any MPs or Ministers that allow the failure of integrity to go unchecked. But – although standards have slipped, they can still be restored, if there is the political will to do so.”

The latest row over the Partygate inquiry came just 48 hours after new evidence suggested that the prime minister misled the public over his role prioritising the evacuation of animals from Afghanistan last year. He had previously denied any involvement.

The prime minister has also found himself embroiled in a scandal over private donors financing a lavish refurbishment of his private Downing Street flat.

And last year the government was forced to back down after it moved to abolish a standards watchdog which had recommended mild sanctions against a Tory MP who broke lobbying rules.

Dr Sam Power, a lecturer in corruption analysis at the anti-corruption centre, said: “We didn’t really need a detailed inquiry to know what Partygate is. Either having a party, or indeed a work event, is in blatant contravention of the rules as written, and the commonly understood way in which the British public was expected to behave during the height of the pandemic.

“Partygate is indicative of Johnson’s reckless approach to the rules and the kind of behaviour that the public expects of those in the highest office.

“Whilst this cavalier approach to ethics is, in part, baked into his wider electoral appeal his standing is now damaged beyond repair with the British people.

“Whether Conservatives decide Gray’s report is enough to warrant a change of leadership, is an open question. But his standing is now so damaged with the voters that MPs may well consider if one of Johnson’s core strengths, his electability, is now a fatal weakness. To many, the joke simply isn’t funny anymore, if it ever really was.”

The Covid-19 Bereaved Families for Justice group on Friday said the the investigation into No 10 lockdown parties was becoming “circus”.

Fran Hall, whose husband served in the police for more than three decades before dying with coronavirus, accused the Metropolitan Police of letting bereaved families down.

The Met has asked for Sue Gray’s partygate report to make “minimal reference” to events it is investigating to avoid prejudicing inquiries – but this has led to criticism that the findings will be watered down.

Tory MP Roger Gale meanwhile described the latest development as a “farce created in Scotland Yard”, while Liberal Democrat home affairs spokesperson Alistair Carmichael said the proceedings risked giving the “appearance of an establishment stitch-up”.

“First the police were waiting for Sue Gray, now Sue Gray has to wait for the police?” he said.

“Any appearance of an establishment stitch-up between the Met Commissioner and the Government is profoundly damaging. Police officers need the trust and confidence of the public to do their jobs and keep our communities safe.

“That’s why we called for the police to investigate Number 10 weeks ago and put this whole sorry business behind us, instead of waiting for Sue Gray.

“The Sue Gray report must be published in full, including all photos, text messages and other evidence. If it is redacted now, a full, unredacted version must be published as soon as the police investigation is complete.”

‘Residents will be unimpressed with MPs over Boris’

Chair of the East Devon Alliance, Martin Shaw, on politics in the district and beyond…

As it became clear that Boris Johnson was potentially lying about the lockdown-busting parties he attended, it was good to see a local Conservative MP organising the campaign to remove him, while another lost the whip to support removing VAT from our soaring energy bills (she must have read my last column).

Unfortunately, the MPs in question were the members for West Dorset and Newton Abbott respectively, not those for our district. 

Instead the members for East Devon, Simon Jupp, and Tiverton and Honiton, Neil Parish, have avoided criticising Johnson. They also voted down the move to help people with their energy bills. 

I suspect that many residents will be very unimpressed that Messrs Jupp and Parish have not spoken out and expressed what local residents feel about the hypocrisy coming from Number 10.

Their only possible excuse might be, I suppose, that they fear that funding for their constituencies might be withdrawn if they spoke out, since the Tory chair of the Commons Constitutional Affairs MP, William Wragg, has alleged that the Tory whips are using this threat to ‘blackmail’ MPs into supporting Johnson. 

If either Mr Jupp or Mr Parish has been targeted in this way, they have a duty to let us know. Even if they have not personally experienced this, this allegation must surely make them realise that Johnson does not merit their continued support.

This represents an appalling level of corruption, but it follows numerous other instances. 

The Levelling Up Fund was used to support marginal Conservative constituencies and even those of two ministers in the department running it – Axminster lost out, presumably because Tiverton and Honiton was thought too safe. 

The government ran a VIP ‘fast lane’ to enable Tory cronies to obtain pandemic contracts, and this has been ruled unlawful by the High Court, in a case brought by the excellent Good Law Project.

In a memorable recent video take-down, Line of Duty’s AC-12 team told Boris Johnson that ‘your corruption was mistaken for incompetence’. 

However the charge applies to the whole government, not just the charlatan-in-chief, and to the Conservative Party, since not one minister or backbencher has challenged it.

It is also shocking that in his desperation to cling to power, Boris Johnson has prematurely ditched the remaining Covid protections and slashed the isolation period for those who have the disease to five days – against scientific advice that one-third of people are still infectious. 

The timing of the loosening is bizarre from a public health point of view, with 1,000 deaths a week, hospitals still struggling with nearly 20,000 Covid patients, and cases going up again in primary schools. 

It has all been rushed out to buy the support of the anti-health faction in the Tory party, which Mr Jupp supported in December’s votes.


It’s great news for Seaton that East Devon District Council have found the money to implement the Beach Management Plan, which community representatives helped them draw up. 

This will renew the protection which is keeping coastal erosion at bay, and the work will begin in late 2023. 

But we also need movement on the Seaton Seafront Enhancement scheme, which will smarten up the area around Fisherman’s Gap, the sea wall and the Moridunum. 

EDDC and our MP are willing to promote the scheme and it is now time for Seaton Town Council to resubmit the application for planning permission, which was unfortunately allowed to lapse.

It’s less good news, moreover, that the Environment Agency is now so underfunded that it can no longer monitor smaller waterways. 

I recall how the EA worked with a local farm to eliminate slurry spills into the stream which flows to Seaton Hole, which showed how valuable their work is. 

On top of the revelations about sewage outflows polluting local rivers and beaches, we need a radical shift in policy and resources to keep them safe.

UK faces £1B cut to regional development projects post Brexit, MPs warn

Levelling up is down – Owl

Cristina Gallardo 

A post-Brexit British fund for regional development will fall £1 billion short of what the U.K. received from the EU, MPs warned.

The House of Commons Treasury committee said Thursday that the UK Shared Prosperity Fund (UKSPF) is worth just 60 percent of the EU structural funds it aims to replace.

The U.K. government has touted the long-awaited British scheme, due to launch in April, as a “centerpiece” of its so-called “Leveling Up” policy agenda, a looming regional development strategy.

The UKSPF is due to be worth £1.5 billion a year by 2024-25, but the committee said this falls short of the £2.5 billion a year the U.K. received in EU structural cash before Brexit.

“If the new fund is intended to be one of ‘the centerpieces’ of the government’s ambition, it is surprising that the size of the fund is being reduced to such an extent,” the committee wrote in a report. “The government will need to demonstrate how these reduced funds will achieve their defined metrics for leveling up.”

Elsewhere, the committee noted that “leveling up” was mentioned 91 times in the U.K. budget and spending review documents, but said the government should clarify how this policy goal will be measured and attained.

“Rebadging existing programs may not have the impact the government is seeking,” the report warned.

A spokesperson for the Treasury said the government has “an ambitious domestic agenda to boost investment to improve people’s everyday lives,” which includes the UKSPF.

“The upcoming Leveling Up White Paper will set out the next steps in how the huge investment set out in the Spending Review will deliver on this central mission,” the spokesperson said.

Nuclear power: Taxpayers deserve to know that the odd billion or three isn’t being diverted unnecessarily to intermediaries.

What’s plan B if the government can’t attract investors willing to fund Sizewell C? 

Nils Pratley 

A sum of £100m is peanuts in the expensive world of nuclear power stations, so regard the business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng’s funding for a round of development work on Sizewell C as a form of advertising. The cash is intended to send a message that the government is serious about getting the plant built in Suffolk. And it is an appeal for outside investors to volunteer to sit alongside developer EDF, the French state-backed group.

There was also a definition of a desirable investor: “British pension funds, insurers and other institutional investors from like-minded countries”. Note the nationality test. It is the closest we have come to official confirmation that China General Nuclear (CGN), originally slated for a 20% stake in Sizewell, will be kicked off the project. It remains to be seen how, legally, the government will rip up the 2015 deal with CGN signed by David Cameron’s government, but the intention is clear.

So, too, is the intended funding mechanism. It will be a regulated asset base (RAB) model, a version of the formula used at Heathrow Terminal 5 and the Thames Tideway giant sewer. The key point for investors is that they will see some income before Sizewell is built, unlike at Hinkley Point C where EDF and CGN earn their princely cashflows only when the electricity starts to flow.

The switch will lower Sizewell’s lifetime costs by “more than £30bn” versus Hinkley’s contracts-for-difference model, says the government, being economical with the economics. What it doesn’t mention is that any cost overrun (a real risk given nuclear’s reliable record of never hitting its construction budgets) will be shoved on to consumers, who will in any case see £10 a year added to household energy bills during the build phase. But, yes, Kwarteng is correct that the RAB model is the only one with a chance of attracting new investors.

What, though, if those British and like-minded institutions still refuse to play? Nuclear represents unknown territory for most of them. What if competition to invest, which is meant to be the other way in which RAB lowers financing costs, doesn’t materialise? What’s the government’s plan B?

The only possible solution is for the state to invest directly. If that is so, wouldn’t it be better to run an upfront benchmarking exercise at the outset to compare the numbers? Sizewell, unfortunately, is probably inevitable given the current panic over high gas prices and long-term energy security. But taxpayers, on the hook anyway via household bills, deserve to know that the odd billion or three isn’t being diverted unnecessarily to intermediaries.

By the time Sizewell’s sums become enormous, transparency will be essential. The government has just thrown £1.7bn at Bulb, the failed energy supplier, to keep it on life support and it will be a miracle if all the cash comes back in full. In that context, using public money to invest in a productive energy asset doesn’t seem such an awful prospect.

Fibbing is part of Boris Johnson’s toolkit but could be his undoing

“Those who have worked closely with Johnson over the years say fibbing is an entrenched part of his psychological makeup – and his political toolkit. His first instinct, when backed into a political corner, is to tell a wilful untruth, they say. Indeed, they suggest that, over time, Johnson comes to believe the version of reality he weaves for himself as he fibs his way out of trouble.”

Heather Stewart 

If Boris Johnson’s premiership is brought to a humiliating close in the coming days, it will not only be because he allowed Downing Street’s boozy lockdown parties to happen on his watch – but because he lied about them.

When allegations of parties first emerged, Johnson told MPs in the House of Commons that Covid guidance “was followed completely in No 10”, and on another occasion – vehemently – that he had been “repeatedly assured” there were no parties.

Both of those assertions now seem increasingly hard to believe, as has been evident in Johnson supporters’ tortuous efforts to defend him. Slavish loyalist Conor Burns plumbed new depths of absurdity this week by saying the prime minister was “ambushed by a cake”.

On Wednesday Labour claimed there was further evidence of lies when newly released Foreign Office emails appeared to contradict Downing Street’s insistence that Johnson did not personally authorise the controversial rescue of cats and dogs from a British animal charity in Afghanistan.

Even those cabinet ministers who have backed him in recent days have stressed the sanctity of the ministerial code, which says bluntly that “ministers who knowingly mislead parliament will be expected to offer their resignation”.

Citing that rule on Wednesday, Labour leader Keir Starmer called on Johnson to resign immediately. But judging by the prime minister’s half-apology for attending the “bring your own booze” party in May 2020, which he insisted he believed was a “work event”, he appears likely to argue that if he did mislead parliament, he did so unwittingly.

Amber Rudd resigned as home secretary in 2018 when she discovered she had “inadvertently misled” the home affairs select committee but Johnson appears unlikely to take the same approach. His allies have insisted he will fight any vote of no confidence.

Those who have worked closely with Johnson over the years say fibbing is an entrenched part of his psychological makeup – and his political toolkit. His first instinct, when backed into a political corner, is to tell a wilful untruth, they say. Indeed, they suggest that, over time, Johnson comes to believe the version of reality he weaves for himself as he fibs his way out of trouble.

“It’s almost a superpower in a way,” one former colleague said with something approaching awe.

He has twice been sacked in the past for lying. In 1988, the Times got rid of him after he made up quotes in a news story. He later conceded that he had “mildly sandpapered something somebody said”.

As an MP in 2004, he was dispatched from the Tory frontbench, not for having an affair but for failing to come clean about it. He had described the claims of a long-running relationship with Spectator colleague Petronella Wyatt as “complete balderdash”.

During the 2019 Tory leadership contest, Conservative MPs who compared notes afterwards found he had made completely contradictory promises to them about what stance he would take on particular policies.

None of that appeared to matter too much when the odd fib was part of the devil-may-care persona his own MPs believed made Johnson the “Heineken politician”, reaching groups of voters the Tories had previously struggled to win over.

And it was of a piece with the ruthless approach he and his band of Vote Leave veterans took to bulldozing Brexit through – even when that meant proroguing parliament, or taking the whip away from senior and long-serving MPs.

Little more than two years after Johnson secured a thumping parliamentary majority and did indeed “get Brexit done”, he may be felled by the very maverick qualities that helped him into Downing Street – not least his seeming inability to stick to the truth.

Fears new Stealth Omicron strain is surging among children

The new Covid variant labelled ‘Stealth Omicron’ could be 1.5 times more infectious than the original strain, latest studies have revealed.

Brett Gibbons 

The new strain BA.2 has been deemed a variant under investigation (VUI) by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA) because of its similar properties to original cases, the Express reports.

The BA.2 has been nicknamed “Stealth Omicron” because of the challenge for scientists to track, unlike the original strain that stood out on PCR tests without the need for extra genome sequencing.

Experts now fear it may lengthen the current wave, with a growth in Omicron infections among children – with boffins from Imperial College London warning this could lead to another surge in adults.

Results from the government-backed REACT-1 study, based on more than 100,000 random tests across England, show the infection rate in primary school-age children was 7.8 percent — and rising — from January 5 to 20.

In adults, by contrast, infection rates were significantly lower — and falling — with over 75s, at 2.4 percent, least likely to have Covid.

Professor Paul Elliott, director of the REACT programme from Imperial’s School of Public Health, said: “There is good news in our data in that infections had been rapidly dropping during January, but they are still extremely high and may have recently stalled at a very high prevalence.

“Of particular concern is that there is rapidly increasing prevalence among children now they are mixing more following the start of the school term and, compared with December, prevalence in older people aged 65 and over has increased 7- to 12-fold, which may lead to increased hospitalisations.

“It’s therefore vital that we continue to monitor the situation closely to understand the impact of the Omicron variant, which now makes up almost all infections in the country.”

The new sub-lineage of the Omicron strain is “increasing in many countries”, as confirmed by the World Health Organisation. It said BA.2, “differs from BA.1 in some of the mutations, including in the spike protein”.

Early data suggests that BA.2 may be both more transmissible and better able to evade vaccines than the more common BA.1 sub-lineage. While it has not yet caused as much concern as Delta and the original Omicron variant, officials are monitoring the outbreak.

Professor Oliver Johnson, director of the Institute for Statistical Science at Bristol University, said: “Probably one to keep an eye on rather than panic about at the moment, but still potentially annoying.”

He added on social media: “It may mean things being a slog in the ‘1,000 to 2,000 [hospital] admissions’ range for longer than we’d like, so we can’t start to make inroads into waiting lists as a result.”

Dr Meera Chand, Covid incident director at UKHSA, claimed: “It is the nature of viruses to evolve and mutate, so it’s to be expected that we will continue to see new variants emerge as the pandemic goes on.

“Our continued genomic surveillance allows us to detect them and assess whether they are significant. So far, there is insufficient evidence to determine whether BA.2 causes more severe illness than Omicron BA.1, but data is limited and UKHSA continues to investigate.”