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Nicola Sturgeon regarded Boris Johnson as ‘a clown’ because of his handling of Covid, inquiry learns – UK politics live | Politics


14.31 CET

Shoplifting up 32% in England and Wales compared with previous year, ONS figures show

Labour says crime figures out today, one set published by the Office for National Statistics and another set published by the Home Office, show knife crime and shoplifting getting worse. Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said:

This disturbing further increase in knife crime in the last year shows how badly the Tories are failing on law and order and means that knife crime is now 77% higher than in 2015, with a devastating impact on young people, families and communities. Serious violence is rising with gun crime also increasing, yet the government just isn’t getting a grip.

At the same time shoplifting has soared by 32% in the last year alone, as criminals run rife in our town centres, and the number of cases dropped because no suspect was identified has reached record highs.

In its report on crime in England and Wales in the year ending September 2023, the ONS says:

Police recorded theft has increased by 9% (to 1.8 million offences) compared with the year ending September 2022. This rise was predominantly the result of increases in shoplifting offences. The year ending September 2023 saw a 32% increase in the number of shoplifting offences recorded compared with the previous year, with 402,482 offences compared with 304,459 offences in the year ending September 2022.

Updated at 14.37 CET

14.18 CET

Humza Yousaf announces inquiry into Scottish government’s use of WhatsApp

Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, has announced an externally-led review into the use of WhatsApp and other unofficial technology in the Scottish government.

Speaking during first minister’s questions, he told MSPs that Covid inquiry revelations about official communication processes being sidelined had been embarrassing. He said:

I do believe that there are challenges in relation to our use of WhatsApp. It has not been frankly the government’s finest hour in relation to handling those requests [for WhatsApp messages] and I put my hands up to that, unlike of course other governments.

That’s why I have commissioned officials to deliver an externally-led review – not a government review but an externally-led review – into the use of mobile messaging apps and the use of non-corporate technology in the Scottish government, and that should take particular account of our interaction with statutory public inquiries.

When it comes to being transparent, the government handed over 28,000 messages, 19,000 documents. I myself as first minister of the government have handed over my WhatsApp messages.

Yousaf will appear at the Covid inquiry this afternoon.

Humza Yousaf speaking during first minister’s questions at Holyrood today. Photograph: Ken Jack/Getty Images

Updated at 14.18 CET

14.12 CET

Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s former first minister, may have communicated with Liz Lloyd, her chief of staff, using a personal mobile phone during Covid, the inquiry has heard.

Lloyd told the inquiry this morning that Sturgeon only ever communicated with her using one phone. She said she did not know who had issued it.

When it was put to her that, if the inquiry heard that Sturgeon did not have a government phone and only used a personal one, then she must have used that personal one to conduct government business with Lloyd, Lloyd replied:

Evidently we had discussions about government business on the phone that she had.

Usman Tariq, counsel to the inquiry, went on:

As her chief of staff, did you ever advise her that it might be a good idea to use a government-issued phone to conduct government business?

Lloyd replied:

I don’t know that I did. I am aware that on ministers’ personal phones the government installs a sort of secure app, so I would be less concerned with the device and more concerned with the security.

Updated at 14.15 CET

14.03 CET

£9.9bn of £13.6bn spent on PPE during Covid written down because it’s unusable or its value has fallen, DHSC reveals

Some £9.9bn of the £13.6bn spent on personal protective equipment (PPE) has been written down because it was unusable or its value has crashed since the pandemic, PA Media reports. PA says:

The Department of Health and Social Care’s accounts published today said some items were defective or not suitable, while others will not be used before their expiry date.

The accountability report by the National Audit Office (NAO) said that the department plans to dispose of “nearly all” of its current PPE stock held in warehouses and containers.

Gareth Davies, the head of the NAO, said the majority of the PPE recorded was of “insignificant value”.

He said that “ongoing efforts to detect, prevent and recover fraud must continue, improving public confidence that this drain on the public finances is being tackled effectively and efficiently”.

Downing Street defended the losses by stressing the havoc that Covid-19 wreaked.

The prime minister’s spokesperson said: “It’s important not to forget the circumstances in which the UK and countries globally found themselves during a pandemic when globally PPE was in extremely short supply. The costs as a result increased significantly and the government took the decision very transparently to do everything possible to secure protective equipment for frontline health and care workers, that was right.”

Updated at 14.03 CET

13.48 CET

No 10 brushes aside warning from ECHR’s top judge that ignoring Rwanda flight injunction would be unlawful

No 10 has brushed aside a warning from the president of the European court of human rights saying it would be against international law for the UK to ignore injunctions blocking flights to Rwanda.

At a news conference this morning, Síofra O’Leary, president of the court, said there was a “clear legal obligation” on states to obey injunctions, known as rule 39 orders, from the court.

The government’s first attempt to send a deportation flight to Rwanda in 2022 was stopped by an order from the court. The government’s new Rwanda bill, which is still going through parliament, says it is for ministers to decide whether or not to obey any future injunctions in these cases, but Rishi Sunak has angered some of his MPs by not firmly stating that injunctions will definitely be ignored.

Instead, he has just said that in some circumstances he would ignore them.

At her news conference, O’Leary said:

There is a clear legal obligation under the convention for states to comply with rule 39 measures.

In a speech proceeding her Q&A, O’Leary said injunctions were only issued “in exceptional circumstances where there is a real and imminent risk of irreparable harm”.

She also said the UK “has always complied with rule 39 measures”, except in one very particular case, and has “publicly declared the need for other states to comply with rule 39 indications” – including urging Vladimir Putin’s Russia to abide by a 2021 measure in relation to the release of opposition leader Alexei Navalny.

Asked to respond to O’Leary’s comment, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists at the No 10 lobby briefing that the government did not think rule 39 orders would be justified in relation to Rwanda given changes made to the policy. He also restated the PM’s willingness to ignore them.

The spokesperson said:

I think, firstly, we are confident our legislation is compliant with our international obligations. We’re clear the bill and the treaty address the supreme court’s concerns. There should be no need for Strasburg to intervene to block flights in the way they did in 2022.

We’ve also drafted the bill to give ministers the power not to comply with those rulings if necessary. And obviously every case is assessed on its individual facts, but the prime minister has been clear repeatedly that we will not let a foreign court block flights from taking off.

The spokesperson also said it was “bizarre” to compare the UK ignoring rule 39 orders to Russia. He said:

I think it would be bizarre to draw any comparison between Russia’s cruel treatment of Alexei Navalny, who was a victim of an attempted assassination, and our plan to protect and deter vulnerable migrants from making perilous crossings across the Channel.

Updated at 13.54 CET

13.11 CET

New ban on zombie-style knives ‘goes nowhere near far enough’, Labour claims

The Home Office has now published a news release with details of its ban on zombie-style knives.

Yvette Cooper, the shadow home secretary, said the new ban “goes nowhere near far enough and it is also too little, too late”.

Speaking on a visit to a police station in Milton Keynes, she said the penalties were not strong enough, and the new ban was not going to take effect until the autumn.

She also said it was still too narrow. She told journalists:

It doesn’t include ninja swords, it doesn’t include a whole series of dangerous weapons …

We need much faster action, at a time when knife crime has gone up by a further 5% this year, 77% increase since 2015. This is an epidemic, we need action.

Updated at 13.11 CET

13.03 CET

Knife crime offences recorded by police forces in England and Wales rose year-on-year in the latest figures, but have not yet returned to levels seen before the Covid pandemic, PA Media reports. PA says:

Some 48,716 offences were recorded in the 12 months to September 2023.

This is up 5% from 46,367 in the previous 12 months, but is 5% lower than the 51,228 in the year to March 2020.

These figures do not include Devon & Cornwall and Greater Manchester police, due to issues involving the supply of data.

There has been a “notable increase” in the number of robberies involving a knife or sharp instrument, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) which compiled the figures.

These jumped from 16,746 in the year to September 2022 to 20,000 in the year to September 2023, a rise of 19% – though the total is still below pre-pandemic levels.

Knife-enabled homicides stood at 240 in the 12 months to September 2023, broadly unchanged on the 241 recorded in the previous year and also lower than pre-pandemic figures.

Updated at 13.03 CET

12.48 CET

At the Covid inquiry hearing in Edinburgh Liz Lloyd, Nicola Sturgeon’s former chief of staff, was asked about her wanting a row with the UK government. (See 11.35am.)

Asked if she was looking for a spat, Lloyd replied:

I was looking for a spat with a purpose.

It had been shown in the past that they would sometimes change their mind if they felt that pressure and I wanted them to change their mind.

As PA Media reports, handwritten notes shown earlier in evidence showed Lloyd suggesting a possible strategy of “calling for things” that the Scottish government could not do to “force the UK government to do things”.

Liz Lloyd giving evidence this morning. Photograph: Covid inquiry

Updated at 12.48 CET

12.35 CET

Nicola Sturgeon regarded Boris Johnson as ‘a fucking clown’ because of his handling of Covid, inquiry learns

Nicola Sturgeon called Boris Johnson “a fucking clown” in a private message when he announced a further Covid lockdown on 31 October 2020, the inquiry has heard.

As PA Media reports, at a hearing in Edinburgh this morning the inquiry highlighted WhatsApp messages between Sturgeon and Liz Lloyd, her chief of staff. PA says:

Sturgeon said his address was “fucking excruciating” and that the UK communications were “awful”. Sturgeon also told Lloyd: “His utter incompetence in every sense is now offending me on behalf of politicians everywhere.”

Lloyd said she was “offended” on behalf of special advisers everywhere. Sturgeon replied: “He is a fucking clown.”

Lloyd told Sturgeon she wanted a “good old-fashioned rammy” with the UK government so she could “think about something other than sick people” in WhatsApp messages.

Asked about the messages, Lloyd said the Scottish government were “clearly not complimentary about [the UK government’s] communications handling”.

She said: “We had to mitigate the chaos that appeared around some of the decisions they took.”

Junior counsel to the inquiry Usman Tariq asked Lloyd if the relationship between the then first minister and then prime minister had “broken down”.

Lloyd replied: “That overstates what was there to break.”

Commenting on Johnson, she said: “He didn’t want to be on those calls, he wasn’t well briefed, he wasn’t listening, engagement with him became slightly pointless. They didn’t get us anywhere. We started with the approach we should work together, in co-ordinated fashion, but a substantive discussion isn’t what we got. The prime minister was reading a script and would largely ignore points made.”

She said Sturgeon’s strong language showed her “frustration” towards Johnson.

Kathryn Samson from Channel 4 News has posted the WhatsApp exchange on X.

“This is fucking excruciating.”
“He is a fucking clown.”

Nicola Sturgeon WhatsApps her closest advisor during Boris Johnson’s address to the nation during the second lockdown in Oct 2020. pic.twitter.com/EbXREu0p0H

— kathryn samson (@KathrynSamsonC4) January 25, 2024

Updated at 12.41 CET

12.01 CET

40% investigations into crimes closed without suspects being identified, Home Office figures show

The government has been accused of “failing” on crime following the publication of Home Office figures showing that 2.18m offences were closed in England and Wales in the year ending September 2023 without a suspect being identified. That was 40% of all recorded offences – up from 37% the previous years.

The figures also show that only 5.9% of recorded offences have so far resulted in charges. That is up from 5.5% the previous year.

Some 8% of cases are recorded as not yet having an outcome, which means they are still being investigated. Other recorded offences have not resulted in charges largely because of evidential difficulties.

The figures were highlighted by the Liberal Democrats. Alistair Carmichael, their home affairs spokesperson, said:

The Conservative government has totally failed to get a handle on crime, and they have no one but themselves to blame.

For years, they have taken resources out of frontline policing at the expense of our communities. It’s no surprise that more and more criminals are getting away with it as victims are left without justice.

Updated at 12.04 CET

11.34 CET

Former adviser to Rishi Sunak working with Tory rebels trying to oust him

Will Dry, a former special adviser to Rishi Sunak, is reportedly working with a group of rebels trying to oust the prime minister and helped commission polling which predicted a landslide Labour victory, Tom Ambrose reports.

There are further details in the Times, which says Dry has been “working with a loose grouping of about a dozen former government political advisers and MPs who believe that the Tories are doomed under Sunak’s leadership”. It reports:

The rebel group is based in central London. They are said to be working with around ten Tory MPs as they draw up plans to remove Sunak from office. Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, is said to be among those who believe there needs to be a new prime minister. She has repeatedly said that Sunak needs to “change course”.

Updated at 11.39 CET

11.20 CET

Sturgeon denies concealing emails relevant to Covid crisis from inquiry

Nicola Sturgeon has denied concealing emails about the covid crisis from her private Scottish National party account, and said those “relevant to the management of the pandemic” have been handed over.

Yesterday opposition leaders demanded full disclosure of emails from her SNP account after the UK Covid inquiry released evidence from the public health expert Prof Devi Sridhar that Sturgeon offered to use her private party account for government business. Sturgeon told Sridhar: “Don’t worry about protocol.”

In response, a source close to the former first minister said:

Any emails relevant to the management of the pandemic received by Nicola to her private email were passed to the Scottish government so that they could be actioned and recorded appropriately.

Yesterday Scottish Labour urged John-Paul Marks, the Scottish government’s permanent secretary, to establish whether or not emails on government business had been handed over to the inquiry. The Scottish government has not yet responded on his behalf.

The Scottish Tories said Sturgeon should publish them – a demand she seems to have rejected.

Jackie Baillie, Scottish Labour’s deputy leader, said Sturgeon’s carefully-worded response was far from enough. She said:

The full disclosure of all communications is necessary and it’s for the inquiry to determine what is relevant.

The former first minister has form here: during the Salmond inquiry [into the Scottish government’s handling of sexual misconduct allegations against him], reference was made to use of SNP emails to avoid scrutiny. All SNP emails need to be disclosed.

And the former first minister knows that government business shouldn’t be conducted on private emails and she was breaching those rules.

Updated at 11.44 CET

11.13 CET

Last night ITV published fresh polling, carried out by YouGov for Labour’s Fabian Society, showing that Labour’s lead in its 150 top target seats is even bigger than its lead across the country as a whole. The polling suggests Labour has a 24-point lead nationally (Lab 46%, Con 22%), but a 34-point lead in the battleground seats (Lab 52%, Con 18%).

The full details of the polling are in this Fabian Society report.

Updated at 11.13 CET

10.50 CET

Philp says technology should be available in 2025 to allow police to scan people for knives as they’re walking down street

Chris Philp, the policing minister, also said that within about a year the police might have technology that would enable them to scan people for knives as they walk down a street. He told GB News:

We’re also investing, in the Home Office, in some new technology. It’s not ready for deployment yet but I’m hoping in about a year it will be. That will enable people to be scanned for knives as they walk down high streets to take more knives off the street.

Updated at 10.50 CET

10.45 CET

Philp says he wants police to feel ‘more confident’ about using stop and search

In his morning interviews Chris Philp, the policing minister, said he wanted the police to feel “more confident” about using stop and search to tackle knife crime. He told BBC Breakfast:

I also want the police to be much more confident in using stop-and-search powers to stop people on the street when they’re suspected of carrying knives or drugs and performing a search ….

More does need to done, that’s why from April we’re going to be really stepping up these hotspot patrols.

He also claimed that “some Labour politicians, like Sadiq Khan [the London mayor] in particular, I don’t think give the police the encouragement they need”.

Updated at 10.45 CET

10.24 CET

Policing minister Chris Philp admits that previous crackdown on zombie knives contained obvious loophole

Good morning. Labour and the Conservatives are in a bidding war over knife crime today, with Keir Starmer announcing or re-announcing various plans to deal with the problem on the day when the Home Office is laying legislation before parliament to ban zombie-style knives. Pippa Crerar has the details here.

You may think the government was meant to have banned them already. According to Labour, the government has made 16 announcements on this theme since 2015. But, as Chris Philp, the policing minister, admitted this morning, a previous crackdown contained a rather obvious loophole.

When the government legislated to ban zombie knives, it defined them as blades having a cutting edge, a serrated edge and “images or words that suggest that it is to be used for the purpose of violence”. When the legislation came into force, manufacturers came up with a cunning ploy to get round the ban; they just left off the images or logos.

When asked why the legislation contained such an obvious flaw, Philp told LBC:

I wasn’t responsible at the time. There was essentially a loophole where the knives that were banned in 2019 had to have threatening words or pictures on them … What happened then is the manufacturers responded by taking the words and pictures off … that, amongst other loopholes, is being closed.

When it was put to him that it should have been obvious manufacturers would do this, he replied:

That may be so. I can answer for what we’re doing now. This came to my attention and we’re fixing it today.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Kemi Badenoch, the business and trade secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

Morning: Keir Starmer is on a visit in Buckinghamshire.

10am: Alister Jack, the Scottish secretary, gives evidence to the UK Covid inquiry in Edinburgh. Liz Lloyd, Nicola Sturgeon’s former chief of staff, follows him and Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, gives evidence at 2pm.

10.30am: Penny Mordaunt, leader of the Commons, takes questions on next week’s business in the chamber.

11am: Mark Drakeford, the outgoing Welsh first minister, takes part in a Q&A at the Institute for Government thinktank.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

After 11.30am: Karen Bradley, the chair of the Commons procedure committee, makes a Commons statement on her committee’s proposal for David Cameron to be questioned by MPs in the chamber.

Afternoon: Rishi Sunak is on a visit in Yorkshire.

If you want to contact me, do try the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

Updated at 10.45 CET





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