Aides insist Boris Johnson is ‘OK’ as briefing war breaks out with Treasury

2021-11-24 14:39:32

The fallout from Boris Johnson’s poor handling of a series of political decisions in recent weeks continues today, with what looks like the beginnings of a briefing war breaking out between the offices of the prime minister and his No 11 Downing Street neighbour, Rishi Sunak. Sources inside the chancellor’s Treasury are said to be increasingly concerned by the PM’s tendency to overpromise and underdeliver and are calling for a shake-up of his Downing Street team, a view shared by several senior Tory MPs who are worried that Johnson’s people are unable to spot political danger in advance and whose incompetence over the Paterson scandal and poorly received rail and social are plans may have terminally damaged party discipline. At PMQs later, Johnson faces a resurgent Keir Starmer, who is buoyed by a bounce in the polls and a well-received speech to the CBI conference on Monday. Elsewhere, the PM is being urged to tighten up the government’s messaging on Covid and there are fresh concerns about his “levelling up” agenda.

Inside the bubble

Our political commentator Andrew Grice on what to look out for today:

After a bumpy three weeks, Boris Johnson will not be relishing prime minister’s questions, while Keir Starmer will be. Will Tory MPs rally round or will some vote with their feet and stay away, as they did from last week’s session?Liz Truss will answer questions in her role as minister for women and equalities, while the women’s and equalities select committee will hear from experts about the government’s plan to ban conversion therapy.Also on the committee corridor: Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the international trade secretary, on the trade deal with New Zealand; Peter Schofield, permanent secretary at the Department for Work and Pensions on ending the £20-a-week uplift to universal credit and officials from four departments on how Brexit is working at UK borders (or not). Minister for Universities Michelle Donelan will announce a package of measures to ensure universities are doing more to levelling-up education.

Coming up:

Deputy PM and justice secretary Dominic Raab on BBC Radio 4 Today at 8.10am

– Shadow education secretary Kate Green on Times Radio Breakfast 8.35am

Daily Briefing

WAR OF WORDS: Such was the shock and awe at the PM’s bizarre speech to business leaders on Monday that it is still being referenced on the front of several news outlets this morning. And yesterday, Downing Street was forced to insist that the PM is not unwell after a concerned ITV journalist asked about his wellbeing following the rambling address. “The prime minister is well and he is focused on delivering for the public,” his official spokesman said. Challenged over whether the prime minister has “got a grip”, the spokesman replied simply: “Of course.” He played down the significance of the difficulties experienced by Johnson during his address, pointing to the warm reception it had received in an official statement released later by CBI director-general Tony Danker. One place where the speech doesn’t appear to have gone down well is in No 11 Downing Street, where Sunak aides, who may fear that their move next door might never materialise with the way things are currently going, are calling for heads to roll over a host of botched decisions. “In the end what happened was that we blew a £96bn announcement that really should have been a lot more positive,” a Treasury source told this morning’s Guardian of the scaled-back integrated rail review. A No 10 source hit back: “I’m not really sure how moving a date on the calendar would have made a substantive difference.” Elsewhere, the Mail focuses on the Whitehall “hunt” for the Downing Street source, thought to reside in No 11, who described the PM’s CBI speech as “shambolic”.

OFF MESSAGE: Johnson is being urged by scientific advisers and experts to tighten up the government’s messaging on Covid amid fears that ministers are no longer reinforcing the need for the public to continue practising measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing, which will help stop the spread of the disease heading into the crucial winter months. One member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies said that this advice needed to “be continually reinforced by the people in power”. Kamlesh Khunti, a professor of primary care diabetes and vascular medicine, added: “We’ve lost the message; we don’t hear it as much now.” The warning came as Northern Ireland strengthened its work from home advice as cases and hospitalisations there rise.

LEVELLING UP WOES: There are fresh concerns about the government’s “levelling up” agenda today with the news that £1.65bn is set to be slashed from a post-Brexit development funding package for the north, with several red wall constituencies set to lose out on getting a cash injection. South Yorkshire is poised to lose £900m and Tees Valley and Durham £750m over six years, business groups and local leaders are telling Michael Gove. The government pledged to match lost EU funding after Brexit – to “tackle inequality and deprivation”, it said – but is now accused of a second broken promise. “Our network cannot support economic growth or fulfil its potential with the existing patchwork of funding,” National Enterprise Network chairperson Alex Till told The Independent. The department for levelling up, housing and communities described the claims of a loss of funding as “unfounded”, but without explaining why.

ASYLUM SEEKER CHANGES: Councils across the UK will be forced to take child asylum seekers who have arrived in the country without parents or guardians in new plans announced on Tuesday by Priti Patel’s Home Office. Ministers are writing to more than 200 local authorities telling them that the voluntary National Transfer Scheme (NTS) is to become compulsory. The move means that young people will be moved out of hostels on the south coast, where they arrived, and into permanent accommodation across the rest of England. The changes came as the home secretary faces growing pressure from No 10 and senior Tory MPs to stem the flow of people making the treacherous journey across the Channel in search of a better life.

PING PONG: Tory mutiny over controversial changes to the health and social care plan may have slipped slightly down the news agenda but we have certainly not heard the last of this story as it looks increasingly likely that the Lords will send the government’s bill back to the Commons for reconsideration. Peers said that the Upper House will be “emboldened” in revising the PM’s plans both by the size of the Conservative rebellion in Monday’s vote and by the fact that crucial details of the cap’s operation were released only days before the legislation cleared the Commons, giving MPs almost no time for scrutiny. Former pensions minister Lady Altmann told The Independent: “Undoubtedly there will be amendments. I am hoping that the government might address some of the problems that have arisen from this bill, particularly relating to the way it may be very good for the well-off, but not at all for middle and working-class families across the country. If we are committed to levelling up, I’m not sure this fits in.

RIP SIR DAVID: Hundreds of mourners – including the PM, several of his predecessors and Labour leader Starmer – attended the funeral of the late Sir David Amess, who was stabbed to death in a terror attack while holding a surgery in his constituency last month. The Pope praised Sir David’s “devoted years of service” in a message read out at a Westminster Cathedral service for the much-loved Conservative MP. The message from Pope Francis praised the politician for his “deep concern for the poor and disadvantaged” and called on mourners to “reject the ways of violence” and “combat evil with good” following the devout Catholic’s death.

On the record

“Probably my kids.”

Culture secretary Nadine Dorries when asked by a committee what a ‘snowflake lefty’ is.

From the Twitterati

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Financial Times Whitehall editor Sebastian Payne on Conservative Party’s electoral challenges.

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