Politics latest: 'Skip fire', 'self-destroying', 'bonkersness': Leaked WhatsApps show Tories turning on each other over Johnson allegations (2023)

Key points
  • COVID inquiry issues legal notice to Cabinet Office over Boris Johnson's redacted WhatsApps
  • Sam Coates:Leaked Tory WhatsApps shows MPs turning on each other over Boris Johnson legal woes
  • Downing Street insists government is supplying all relevant material to probe
  • Johnson also back in hot water over lockdown allegations - what you need to know
  • Labour MP who harassed assistant and racially abused journalist gets whip back
  • Braverman gets seat next to Sunak at PMQs after being told she can keep job
  • Liz Bates: But their uneasy alliance may not last much longer
  • Watch: Tory MP asked to leave Commons during PMQs
  • Live reporting by Ben Bloch and (earlier)Faith Ridler

20:47:56

'Utter b******s' - Tory MPs deny reports of by-election threat after Boris Johnson police referral

Earlier this afternoon, reports emerged that three Conservative MPs were threatening to trigger by-elections over Boris Johnson's referral to the police over new claims of lockdown rule-breaking.

It is rumoured that Nadine Dorries, Nigel Adams and Sir Alok Sharma have been granted peerages in Mr Johnson's resignation honours that are expected to be announced at any time.

In order to take up their seats in the Lords, they would have to resign from the Commons, which would trigger by-elections in their constituencies.

This afternoon, The Telegraph reported claims from allies of Mr Johnson that they could resign from the Commons earlier than expected, which would bring forward those by-elections and create an unwanted headache for Rishi Sunak.

But this evening, two of the three MPs have denied the reports, labelling them "b******s".

Former culture secretary Nadine Dorries tweeted: "Hacks need to go and have a lie down. Not been mentioned or discussed. Not happening. It’s b******s."

And Nigel Adams, MP forSelby and Ainsty, told the Guido Fawkes website: "It’s utter b******s. No one has spoken to me, no one has said anything. These people just make things up."

Sir Alok Sharma has yet to comment.

20:19:13

The Take has been cancelled after death of Tina Turner

Following the terribly sad passing of music icon, Tina Turner, The Take with Sophy Ridge will not be airing this evening as Sky News covers this huge news.

The government did not provide a minister for the program this evening, but Labour's shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, Pat McFadden, spoke to Sophy a little earlier.

We will be posting the comments from that interview here shortly to get Labour's view on the politics of the week.

In the meanwhile, for full coverage of the passing of a music legend, follow the Sky News live coverage here:

20:04:48

With record migration figures due tomorrow - the PM and the home secretary will be nowhere to be seen

The government is trying to distance itself from tomorrow’s net migration figures.

There won’t be a minister on Thursday's morning media round, the home secretary and immigration minister will be firmly out of sight.

The reason? Net migration for 2022 is expected to be more than 700,000, the highest level on record, and could well be more than double what it was pre Brexit.

As the labour leader put it in PMQs: "If people want to see what uncontrolled immigration looks like all they have got to do is wake up tomorrow morning and look at the headlines".

There are many reasons behind soaring migration, including schemes helping those coming from Hong Kong, Afghanistan and Ukraine; but the problem the prime minister, and home secretary, is that the have chosen to put migration at the centre of their pitch to the country.

Suella Braverman’s views on immigration are well documented; last week in a speech, seen by some as a future pitch for the leadership, she attacked the "unexamined drive towards multiculturalism" and said migration levels are "unsustainable".

The 'Stop the Boats' pledge, one of Rishi Sunak's top five priorities, has become a defining slogan of this government.

Former Downing Street pollster James Johnson, says voters have a tendency to view illegal and legal migration together, and there is a "tension" between where the public, and the prime minister, stand on the issue.

He believes, unlike with illegal migration, the government are moving towards a position where "control of legal migration is more important than the reduction of migration". Number 10 insist they are committed to bringing down net migration.

The party have certainly been on a journey in the last decade, from David Cameron's pledge to see migration in the tens of thousands, to Rishi Sunak last week appearing to back away from his predecessor, Boris Johnson's, commitment that net migration would fall below 250,000.

The other issue is cabinet politics: the chancellor has already suggested the government is open to immigration in key sectors to help with a labour shortage, a view not shared by the home secretary.

Behind the scenes it has been suggested to me that public backlash to high immigration figures would help Suella Braverman make her case for tougher action on legal migration in cabinet.

Mrs Braverman has toughened the rules on students bringing families to the UK this week, but for some on the right of the party that’s not enough.

Craig Mackinlay, the conservative MP for South Thanet, says the government "has not got a grip of migration".

He narrowly beat Nigel Farage in the constituency in 2015, and believes the issue will dominate in his area at the next election; he fears constituents will vote against the conservatives because "Britain does not feel like it's working".

19:20:01

Tory MP apologises for misidentifying black Labour MP

Earlier today while chairing a debate in Westminster Hall on the private rented sector, Conservative MP Philip Davies misidentified a black Labour MP.

When Abena Oppong-Asare rose to make an intervention during a colleague's speech, Mr Davies, the MP for Shipley, wrongly called the name of Marsha De Cordova, the Labour MP for Battersea.

Ms Oppong-Asare, MP for Erith and Thamesmead, immediately corrected him by saying: "Abena."

When called to speak for Labour later in the debate, shadow communities minister Sarah Owen said: "Thank you, Mr Davies, and it's a pleasure to see you in the chair.

"Before I start, I would like to put on record my disappointment and anger at the misnaming of my wonderful colleague and dear friend, the honourable member for Erith and Thamesmead.

"The frequent misnaming of particularly my black women colleagues in this place is not OK and needs to stop."

Mr Davies intervened to say: "I apologise profusely to the honourable lady. I hope that she will accept that genuine apology.

"It is no one else's responsibility other than mine and the shadow minister is quite right to draw attention to that."

Ms Owen replied: "Thank you, Mr Davies."

19:00:34

What happened at PMQs this week?

Another Wednesday, another parliamentary punch-up between the prime minister and the man who wants to replace him.

Rishi Sunak and Sir Keir Starmer went head to head over migration, the Suella Braverman speeding controversy, the allegations of corruption around the Teesworks development and much more.

A Tory MP even got kicked out of the chamber...

In the video below, Sky News political correspondent Joe Pike explains what happened this week at PMQs:

18:30:01

Exclusive: Leaked Tory WhatsApps shows MPs turning on each other over Boris Johnson legal woes

The Conservative Party is on course to turn into a "skip fire" as the party's MPs turn on each other over Boris Johnson's latest problems, leaked WhatsApp messages reveal.

Sky News has obtained internal Tory WhatsApp messages from earlier today after the decision by Whitehall to refer Boris Johnson to the police over claims of illegal events in Chequers during Covid.

This prompted some speculation that allies of Boris Johnson could destabilise Rishi Sunak by submitting letters of no confidence, claims later denied by friends of the former PM.

According to the exchange obtained by Sky, MPs expressed fury at the notion that the police referral should cause problems for Sunak, who was not involved in the decision.

This was led by Jackie Doyle-Price who said it was "bonkersness. Are you determined to turn our party into a skip fire?"

Simon Hoare, a Tory select committee chairman, said that this "self destroying crap has to end or our party dies".

Here is the exchange in full:

  • 10:02 - Jackie Doyle-Price:FFS - who on earth is spouting this bonkersness? Are you determined to turn our party into a skip fire?
  • 10:03 - Anne-Marie Trevelyan:☝ what Jackie said
  • 10:06- Sally-Ann Hart:WTF.
  • 10:07- Kevin Foster:Spot on Jackie
  • 10:15 - Simon Hoare:would the last Tory MP to leave the building please turn off the lights. The nonsense, self-destroying crap has to end or our Party dies.
  • 10:19 - James Sunderland:These emerging groups, leaks and briefings to the media are helping none of us. All of us already belong to the most successful political grouping ever - It's called the Conservative Party.
  • 10:29 - Andrea Jenkyns:I don't like leakers, I prefer to say things to peoples face. However it is interesting some of those commenting were happy to speak out publicly against the Boris and Liz administrations. So maybe less sanctimony and hypocrisy. Clearly many in the party are unhappy. But those at the top are not doing anything about this to bring people together.
  • 10:29 - Robert Goodwill:There are two very simple rules that must be applied in all situations. 1) Does what I say or do make it more or less likely that we will win the General Election? If the answer is yes then do it, if no then don't. 2) Off the record briefings - see above.
  • 10:32 - Craig Mackinlay:Good advice Sir RG. Never do blue on blue no matter how annoyed one might be.

18:17:13

Government probed on changes to student visas ahead of net migration figures tomorrow

As you may be aware, the government will publish the net migration figures tomorrow, which is calculated by subtracting the number of people leaving the UK from the number of people coming to the UK over a set period of time.

We are expecting that number to hit 700,000 - a new record for the UK.

It won't be ideal for the Conservatives who, in their 2017 manifesto, committed to bring these numbers below 100,000.

After PMQs earlier today, there was an Urgent Question in the House of Commons about the government's changes to student visas.

It followed a written ministerial statement from the government being laid yesterday.

While Suella Braverman wrote the statement, and the question was posed to her, immigration minister Robert Jenrick was the person to respond.

Mr Jenrick touched on many of the same points made by Ms Braverman yesterday.

He said again raised that 136,000 visas were granted to dependents of sponsored students in the year to 2022 - compared to 16,000 in 2019.

Labour restated their position that they support restricting the number of dependent's visas given out.

The changes proposed would only allow postgraduates to bring over family members.

Labour's Stephen Kinnock did however highlight that the government has failed to release its impact assessments of the proposed changes.

He adds that dependents are "only a fraction of the story here" - and pins the blame on 13 years of Conservative government.

17:47:01

Tories 'will take no lectures from Labour who always leave the economy in a worse state'

As you might expect, the Tories have panned shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves' speech laying out her economic philosophy.

In a speech in Washington DC earlier today, Ms Reeves listed what she identified had gone wrong in Britain's economy over the last 13 years of Conservative rule, and unveiled "securonomics" as her strategy for the future (see post at 17.37).

However, the Tory chairman dismissed the plans as "the same old Labour ideas", and declared that his party "will take no lectures from Labour".

Greg Hands said: "While Rachel Reeves is talking down Britain, we are growing the economy and cutting inflation here in the UK.

"Labour’s plan to stick £28 billion a year on the country’s credit card shows Labour haven’t really changed.

"All they are proposing is the same old Labour ideas of more spending and borrowing.

"Today we saw inflation fall to single figures and this week the IMF has revised its growth forecast for the UK, thanks to the steps we have taken.

"We will take no lectures from Labour, who always leave the economy in a worse state, and will continue to deliver on our promises to halve inflation, grow the economy and reduce debt."

17:37:13

Rachel Reeves unveils 'securonomics' as Labour's economic philosophy for the future of Britain

Labour's shadow chancellor has laid out the party's economic philosophy and plans to transform Britain's economy in a landmark speech in Washington DC.

Rachel Reeves - who will become Britain's first female chancellor if Labour wins the next election - described her approach as 'securonomics' - a mission to ensure economic security across the UK.

Here are the key parts of her speech.

The problems of the last 13 years

Ms Reeves opened her speech by identifying what, in her view, has gone wrong in the UK economy since 2010.

She said: "Under successive Conservative governments, progress stalled, wages flatlined, and prosperity turned to stagnation."

She declared that Britain's economy "no longer works for working people", saying hard work is no long rewarded.

The cause of the issues are "two key errors of economic policymaking".

The first, she said, is an "under-appreciation of the role of government" in the economy to balance out the market, which led to "trickle down economics" that did not work, with wealth concentrated in the hands of very few at the top.

The second was "misconceived view held that a few dynamic cities and a few successful industries are all that a nation needs to thrive."

Despite what she said were the successes of the New Labour government, austerity and spending cuts under the Tories did vast damage.

"Demand was sucked out of the economy, and investment, the lifeblood of economic growth, stagnated.And for all the bitterness of the medicine, the patient got no healthier," she said.

The chaos of Brexit, the Boris Johnson government, and Liz Truss's brief stint in power only compounded those issues, she said.

She described Rishi Sunak's government as "out of ideas" and that his measures feel like "managed decline".

The changing economic system

Ms Reeves said fundamental changes in the global economy have occurred, and we have "discovered the limits of globalisation", citing the collapse of global supply chains and countries like China "who haveundercut and ignored the international trading rules".

She declared that "the old model is failing", and said: "No democratic government can be content with a lack of decent work, falling wages and the dimming of people’s hope for a better life."

Therefore, she unveiled a new approach that she calls "securonomics".

This means:

  • "A more active statepursuing a modern industrial strategy";
  • "Meanwhile, the free market does what only it can do - innovating, competing, creating wealth";
  • Expanding partnerships with like-minded countries;
  • Reviving the special relationship with the US;
  • Building on the UK's strengths in life sciences, professional services, and creative industries;
  • Investing in green energy;
  • Reforming the "ludicrous" planning system.

Criticising energy secretary Grant Shapps' comments at Davos that the Biden administration's policies are "dangerous", she said: "What is dangerous is sitting on the side lines while other countries forge ahead."

Her economic plan, she said, "shows how an active, strategic, state will work in harmony with vibrant, open markets.

"And it shows how we can build the industries and create the jobs of the future in the industrial heartlands of the past."

A revival of the "special relationship" with the US is very high on Labour's agenda, she said, which would focus on green energy.

In closing, she said: "If Labour wins the next election, I intend to be a very different chancellor to my recent predecessors.

"In our age of insecurity, we have discovered the weaknesses of our old economic model. Too unambitious about the role an active state can play, too willing to believe that wealth will trickle down and too reliant on the contribution of too few number of industries and too few people.

"From the ashes of hyper-globalisation, securonomics emerges."

You can watch the speech and the Q&A in full here.

16:40:01

Ask The Experts on immigration - submit your question now for live Q&A

At 7pm on Thursday, live on Sky News, Kamali Melbourne will host a live Q&A on immigration.

You can submit your question in the link below - or call 020 8167 2200 to leave one via voicemail.

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