Treasury ‘does not recognise’ reports NCA asked not to investigate coronavirus loan fraud
A minister has said he does not recognise reports that the Treasury refused to allow Britain’s FBI, the National Crime Agency, to investigate fraud associated with the coronavirus bounceback loan scheme.
Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “We simply do not recognise anything to the fact that we interfered with the NCA’s ability to do its job.”
Parliament was told that the Treasury expects to write off about £4.3 billion of Covid loans, with money having gone to “fraudsters”, a figure the Treasury has since disputed.
The issue led to the resignation of Lord Agnew, a government minister, at the despatch box in the House of Lords.
Asked about it, Mr Clarke replied: “He is obviously frustrated, as we all are, by the fact that this is an issue affecting public money.
However, he insisted: “And we have not written off any of this money.”
Boris Johnson: ‘I stick to what I’ve said’ ahead of Gray report
Boris Johnson has said he “sticks absolutely to what he’s said in the past” about alleged lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street.
On a visit to the port in Tilbury, Essex, the Prime Minister refused to be drawn when quizzed whether the imminent report by civil servant Sue Gray into the gatherings would be a “whitewash”.
It is expected to be published with redactions after the Metropolitan Police requested “minimal reference” be made to some of the alleged events which it is investigating.
Mr Johnson said: “Of course I stick absolutely to what I’ve said in the past”.
Minister refuses to rule out VAT cut on fuel bills
A Treasury minister said he could not rule out removing the VAT on fuel bills to help with the soaring cost-of-living.
Chief secretary Simon Clarke told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We genuinely do look at all the options that are open to us, and of course this is one of them now we have left the European Union.
“But… if you go with a blanket cut in VAT, then the risk is that the benefit of that accrues disproportionately to the wealthiest in society, because they will tend to have larger homes, larger energy bills, and will therefore reap the disproportionate benefit from such an intervention.
The measure has been called for by the Labour Party, which it has said could save households £200 off 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 am saying that is not something that at this moment in time we are leaning towards, because we don’t think it is a well-targeted measure.”
Sanctions could stop Russia invading Ukraine, believes former MI6 head
The former head of MI6 has said Russia could be stopped from invading Ukraine through sanctions.
Sir John Sawers told the BBC’s Today programme: “We know that from watching the American forces in Iraq in 2003 a major, sophisticated army can march to the capital and depose a government.
“The really difficult thing is to hold that territory. Ukraine is the size of Germany and France put together and 100,000 Russian troops could march to Kyiv but can they hold the country?”
He added that the danger to Russia was a long-term insurrection – which he did not believe it was willing to risk.
He said: “It’s right that we build up the cost to Russia now, make clear both from the military side and an economic side that they will pay a price, to try to deter them from the option of a major invasion.”
Sue Gray could hand Partygate report over ‘soon’
Senior Whitehall official Sue Gray could hand her report to No 10 “soon”, according to the chief secretary to the Treasury.
Asked on BBC Breakfast whether the inquiry into alleged lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street could be “imminent”, Simon Clarke said: “I believe it will be soon.
“The precise timing of all of this is a matter for Sue Gray.
“It is a completely independent process and I do not know precisely when she will bring that report forward.”
The report is expected to be published this week.
People ‘may have lost jobs needlessly over mandatory vax rules’ says care body chief
The chairwoman of the National Care Association has said she is “frustrated” people may have lost their jobs “needlessly” as the Government reportedly considers a U-turn on requiring staff to be vaccinated.
Nadra Ahmed told BBC Breakfast around 40,000 social care staff had left their roles causing a “devastating” impact over Government-enforced rules to be jabbed.
Ministers are said to be thinking of axing a rule which 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 this is what’s going to happen because it’s an unnecessary burden, and persuasion will bring us to the same outcome.”
The Omicron variant of coronavirus being “less severe” than the Delta variant means there is “space” to “look… again” at the requirement for NHS workers to be fully vaccinated, said Simon Clarke, chief secretary to the Treasury on Sky News.
Sunak clear frontrunner if Boris Johnson ousted, says new poll
Rishi Sunak is the clear frontrunner 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 per cent of the public think the Chancellor has what it takes to be a good Prime Minister – a jump of four points since the last poll in November.
This is nearly 10 points more than Mr Johnson whose satisfaction ratings with the general public have slumped to a record low over ‘Partygate’.
It also puts the Chancellor level with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer who is on 31 per cent and has been enjoying a bounce in the polls.
Government ‘will U-turn’ on mandatory Covid jabs for NHS staff
The Government is expected to U-turn on mandatory Covid vaccinations for NHS and social care staff, according to reports.
Sajid Javid has been facing 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 set to meet ministers on the Covid-Operations Cabinet committee on Monday to confirm the U-turn, according to The Daily Telegraph.
Both the Royal College of GPs and the Royal College of Nursing urged for the deadline to be put back over staffing fears.
Patricia Marquis, RCN director of England, said: “If these reports are correct, this climbdown by government is long overdue.”
Care home residents reunited with loved ones
Limits on visits to care homes have been lifted today, reuniting residents with their loved ones.
From Monday, care home residents in England will be able to have unlimited visits from family and friends.
The Government had announced a planned end to the care home visitor restrictions in November, but introduced a limit of three named visitors plus an essential caregiver when Omicron hit.
However, individual homes will continue to be able to set their own visiting policies and homes with current outbreaks will not be able to lift restrictions immediately.
Top stories this morning
Good morning, and welcome to the Evening Standard’s live coverage of all the top politics stories throughout the day.
Some of the top politics stories this morning are:
– Boris Johnson has pledged a £1bn cut of red tape for businesses in a ‘Brexit Freedoms Bill’
– Ministers confirmed Sunday that a proposed £12bn tax hike in National Insurance will go ahead from April
– Downing St has still not reportedly received the Sue Gray report into Partygate which is expected this week
– The PM’s former adviser Dominic Cummings has said it is his “unpleasant but necessary job” to remove Boris Johnson from office, like “fixing the drains”.