Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe tells Boris Johnson 'I lived in the shadow of your words'

·34 min read
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella visited Downing Street on Friday afternoon - Victoria Jones/PA Wire
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard Ratcliffe and daughter Gabriella visited Downing Street on Friday afternoon - Victoria Jones/PA Wire

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe "clearly and categorically" told Boris Johnson she lived in the "shadow of his words", her local MP has said as she met with him for the first time since her release.

Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe was held hostage in Iran for six years before her release in March amid a £400million deal with Iran.

Mr Johnson was accused by some commentators and activists of prolonging her detention in 2017 when, as foreign secretary, he wrongly stated that she was in Iran 'teaching people journalism'.

After Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe visited the PM with her family and Tulip Siddiq, her local Labour MP, at Downing Street on Friday afternoon, Ms Siddiq told reporters: "I was really proud of Nazanin.

"She was sitting next to the Prime Minister, and she told him very clearly and categorically that his words had had a big impact on her and that she had lived in the shadow of his words for the best part of four-and-a-half years.

"I have to say the Prime Minister looked quite shocked, I think, when she said that, but I was really proud she did say that because she wanted to make it clear to him that she's happy now, she's grateful... but there was a time when the words had a big impact."

Richard Ratcliffe, Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe's husband, said Mr Johnson did "not specifically" apologise to her, while earlier on Friday a Downing Street spokesman pointed to a previous apology he made.

03:08 PM

That's all for this week...

"I'm afraid it's the same old approach, dithering and delaying, talking with no action."

Not Boris Johnson's words at the height of the Brexit impasse, but a rebuke to the Prime Minister from DUP leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson as his party refused to vote for a speaker at Stormont.

Speculation has raged all week about whether the Cabinet will finally trigger Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

The coming days - which follow months of protracted discussion and fruitless negotiation - could prove a defining moment for the political futures of all involved.

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont - Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson speaking in the Great Hall of Parliament Buildings at Stormont - Liam McBurney/PA Wire

In a separate foreign policy criticism, Mr Johnson was later said to have been told at Downing Street by Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe she lived in the "shadow of his words" for four of six years as a hostage in Iran after comments he made in 2017.

My brilliant colleague Jack Maidment will be back from early Monday morning, bringing you the latest news, analysis and reaction from Westminster. Until then, have a good weekend!

02:49 PM

Vladimir Putin’s ‘mistress’ and ex-wife sanctioned as noose tightens on ‘shady’ inner circle

The UK has imposed sanctions on Vladimir Putin’s alleged girlfriend, as well as his ex-wife and several close friends who are believed to be holding lucrative assets on his behalf.

Alina Kabaeva, a 38-year Olympic medallist long rumoured to be the Russian president’s mistress, will face a visa ban and an asset freeze, the Government said - along with a dozen friends and relatives of Putin.

“We are exposing and targeting the shady network propping up Putin’s luxury lifestyle and tightening the vice on his inner circle,” said Liz Truss, the Foreign Secretary.

“We will keep going with sanctions on all those aiding and abetting Putin’s aggression until Ukraine prevails.”

Nataliya Vasilyeva has the story

02:40 PM

Covid jobs will be first to go in civil service ‘purge’ as unions threaten national strike

Covid jobs will be among the first to be cut from Government departments, it is understood, as the UK’s largest civil service trade unions threatened a national strike over proposed cuts.

The Telegraph understands that those leading the drive to reduce the size of the civil service are looking at shrinking units which led the UK’s response to the pandemic.

The pandemic saw an increase in civil servants working on pandemic-related activities such as Covid-19 task forces, test and trace, and the Government’s new public health body.

Jacob Rees-Mogg said that the number of civil servants needs to be reduced to the levels seen in 2016, and that numbers had increased due to taking on “specific tasks” such as the pandemic and Brexit.

Mason Boycott-Owen and Ben Riley-Smith have the full story

02:27 PM

Brandon Lewis suggests actions of DUP 'disappointing'

The Northern Ireland Secretary is not all that impressed with this morning's scenes at Stormont:

02:22 PM

Slashing civil service jobs 'perfectly reasonable', says Rees-Mogg

Slashing 91,000 civil service jobs is "perfectly reasonable" after Brexit and the pandemic, Jacob Rees-Mogg has insisted.

The minister for Brexit opportunities and efficiency noted the civil service had "taken on extra people for specific tasks... but now we're trying to get back to normal".

In an interview with Sky News, Mr Rees-Mogg revealed the cuts would come from arms-length bodies, including quangos, and cracking down on "duplication".

"There are many savings that come from that. Therefore you have to make sure people are being used as efficiently as possible," he said.

Asked if it marked a return to austerity, he responded: "I don’t think it is, because what is being done is getting back to the efficiency levels we had in 2016. That’s a perfectly reasonable and sensible objective. The only bit that is ideological is we should spend taxpayers’ money properly, not wastefully."

Separately, Mr Rees-Mogg said Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, was being "reasonable" in his party's plans to block the election of a speaker at the Northern Ireland Assembly today.

02:04 PM

Cochrane's Scotland: Nicola Sturgeon will bang the drum for breaking up Britain on US trip

Because she’s never one to miss a political opportunity, I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Nicola Sturgeon is hoping to cash in on whatever anti-British opinion is kicking around in her forthcoming visit to the USA, writes Alan Cochrane.

American public opinion generally enjoys the sight and sound of rebels, as they’d see it, thumbing their noses at the "Brits"; and given the huge proportion of Yanks, including President Joe Biden, who claim Irish heritage the UK government is being ultra-careful in seeking not to inflame transatlantic relations over its efforts to moderate the effects of the Northern Ireland Protocol.

However, La Sturgeon wouldn’t mind in the least if a row erupts, as she could then tell the congressmen she meets that Boris Johnson is as averse to another referendum on Scottish independence as he is to the idea of Irish unity. It’s all nonsense, of course, but I can’t really see any other reason for her to embark on a two-day visit than to bang the drum about Indyref2.

​Alan Cochrane: Nicola Sturgeon will bang drum for breaking up Britain

01:35 PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s department has more than doubled in size since Brexit

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s own department has more than doubled its workforce since Brexit, analysis by The Telegraph shows, writes Ben Butcher.

Two Whitehall departments, the Cabinet Office and the Department for Education, have seen the largest increase in staff since December 2015.

It comes amid plans to cut civil service jobs by 90,000 which would reduce the workforce to levels below those seen in the run-up to the Brexit vote.

Around 475,000 people worked across the government departments and their executive agencies in December 2021, up from 391,360 at the same point just months before the UK voted to leave the EU.

Full story: Figures come amid announcement of plans to cut civil service jobs

01:10 PM

Fraser Nelson on Boris Johnson: All of us are paying the price for PM's ‘cakeism’

The Cabinet meeting in Stoke-on-Trent yesterday will have been a counsel of despair, notes Fraser Nelson. The idea was to brainstorm solutions to the cost of living crisis, but ministers have no tools: they can’t control inflation any more than they can control the weather.

They can control taxes and try to stoke economic growth. But lockdown left Britain with the worst economic hit in Europe and one of the slowest recoveries – made all the slower by what is, now, the highest tax rate for 71 years.

Far worse is to come. The Bank of England thinks inflation will soon pass 10 per cent, with almost no growth for the next three years. It envisages a future of rising unemployment and, perhaps, outright recession (the economy contracted in March). Already, the statistics are translating into stories of real human misery: yesterday, we heard of a woman who asked to be evicted so she could qualify for social housing.

A food bank manager in Rhondda Cynon Taf in Wales said he had seen three months’ worth of clients in three weeks. And that’s with food price rises only beginning.

And what do the Conservatives have to say? So far the ideas have been laughably weak or criminally old.

Fraser Nelson: The PM faces a painful choice he cannot avoid

12:53 PM

Civil service could see compulsory redundancies

Downing Street has not ruled out compulsory civil service redundancies under the plans confirmed by Boris Johnson last night.

A No 10 spokesman said: "I'm not going to pre-empt specific measures."

The spokesman said a lot of the cuts are hoped to be done through "natural wastage".

12:38 PM

If we sacked working-from-home civil servants, would anyone notice?

Something or other about saving money on paperclips. A few Brexit opportunities so vague no one could remember what they were. Some targets for leveling up, and a commitment to cutting taxes some time in the 23rd century.

The Queen’s Speech earlier this week revealed a Government that is as bereft of ideas as it is of energy. And yet, there was also an opportunity for it to try something genuinely radical, bold, and transformative. Perhaps this experiment in public sector economics would do: it could sack all the civil servants working from home, and then sit back and see if anyone really noticed the difference.

Over the last few weeks, some genuinely shocking figures have emerged about how completely our so-called public servants have embraced the Zoom-and-Pajamas culture (otherwise referred to as working from home).

Only a quarter of officials at the Department of Education are at their desks on any given day, according to a recent survey; 27 per cent at the Department of Work and Pensions, and 31 per cent at the Foreign Office. Even at the Ministry of Defence, the attendance rate is only 67 per cent (still it's lucky the world is completely at peace right now so there is not much for them to do).

Matthew Lynn: There's nothing wrong with fewer administrative staff

12:17 PM

DUP blocks new Northern Ireland Assembly over Brexit Protocol

The DUP will block the appointment of a speaker to the Stormont Assembly, which will stop it from working after recent elections, because of its opposition to the post Brexit Northern Ireland Protocol.

Stormont’s other four major political parties attacked the DUP after its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he would prevent a functioning Northern Ireland Assembly unless Boris Johnson removed or replaced the treaty.

Sir Jeffrey said “I have both patience and resolve in equal measure to see the Irish Sea border removed and stable as well as sustainable devolution restored.”

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson walking through Stormont - Paul Faith/AFP
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson walking through Stormont - Paul Faith/AFP

The move came as Dublin warned the EU would have to retaliate if the Government carried out its threats to unilaterally override the Protocol, which created the Irish Sea border between Northern Ireland and Britain.

Brussels told London it would not table fresh proposals for the Protocol after Liz Truss told the European Commission she would table legislation to override the border checks next week unless the EU caved.

James Crisp has this full write-up

12:04 PM

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and family to meet Boris Johnson

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe and her family are to meet Boris Johnson at Downing Street this afternoon for the first time since the end of her six-year detention in Iran.

A spokesman for the Prime Minister said: "We've said previously that the Prime Minister was open to meeting both Nazanin as well as Mr (Anoosheh) Ashoori.

"It is something we have been trying to arrange. I've set out that he is going to welcome her to Downing Street to discuss her ordeal in Iran."

Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard Ratcliffe, their daughter, and Tulip Siddiq, their local MP, posing for a picture outside Downing Street - John Sibley/Reuters
Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe, her husband Richard Ratcliffe, their daughter, and Tulip Siddiq, their local MP, posing for a picture outside Downing Street - John Sibley/Reuters

On whether Mr Johnson should apologise to Ms Zaghari-Ratcliffe, the spokesman added: "

I think it is important to remember that it was the Iranian government who were responsible for her unfair detention, and the decision to release her was always in their gift.

"However, I would point back to the Prime Minister's words, his answers to questions on this before and he has previously apologised for his comments in 2017."

11:56 AM

DUP action blocking Assembly is 'unsatisfactory', says Taoiseach

The Irish Taoiseach described the DUP's actions today as "unsatisfactory" and disappointing.

"The people elected an Assembly, the Assembly should meet, and then the Assembly should form an executive," Micheal Martin said.

"Yes there are issues that unionism has raised with us in respect of the Protocol.

"But those issues should not prevent the establishment and convening of the Assembly and the formation of the executive."

11:43 AM

Michael Fallon: Putin has made his biggest blunder yet

If anybody doubted Vladimir Putin’s capacity for miscalculation, the decision of Finland to apply for Nato membership, almost certainly to be followed by Sweden, is probably his biggest blunder yet, writes former defence secretary Michael Fallon.

Let’s be clear what this means. Both countries want to join Nato, not because they fear any imminent Russian attack but because they believe that a strong alliance is the best guarantee of European security.

They also understand that Russia and Nato cannot be equal partners. Russia has shown repeatedly that it does not respect international treaties: Putin has breached agreements on international borders, on the use of chemical and biological weapons, on the stationing of troops in Georgia and Moldova, on the development of intermediate nuclear weapons, and on the notification of military exercises.

Finland and Sweden already know that Russia cannot stop them joining, nor need they fear any reprisal. If Russia’s quarter of a million strong army couldn’t capture Kviv, it’s hardly likely to be able to take Helsinki. Russia now faces a long attritional war in the Donbas and will find it difficult, with a cratered economy and under Western sanctions, to refit its forces properly.

​Michael Fallon: Nobody can be neutral on autocratic terror

11:14 AM

Analysis: Moment of truth on Protocol edges ever closer

There was no secrecy around the DUP's refusal to nominate a Speaker ahead of the reopening of Stormont today.

But there was something particular stark about the sight of party leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, surrounded by his fellow Assembly members, confirming the drastic action his party plans to take for the foreseeable future.

It was in November 2019 Boris Johnson despaired of the "prevarication, procrastination, dither and delay" which delayed Brexit in the three years after Britons voted to leave the European Union.

Emma Pengelly, a DUP member, arriving at Stormont this morning - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images
Emma Pengelly, a DUP member, arriving at Stormont this morning - Charles McQuillan/Getty Images

Sir Jeffrey this morning used the Prime Minister's own turn of phrase against him, accusing the Government of "the same old approach" and "talking with no action" amid feverish speculation in recent days about whether Article 16 would be triggered as soon as Tuesday.

Now, as he says, the ball is in Boris Johnson's court. It would be a significant geopoltical moment and something of a gamble for the Prime Minister - but until the Protocol is either tweaked or torn up, DUP MPs will not be sitting any time soon in what, for the time being, remains a paralysed Stormont.

10:56 AM

DUP piles pressure on Boris Johnson over Protocol

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson said he would "keep my word" on not electing a Speaker at the Northern Ireland Assembly until the issues at the heart of the Protocol are resolved.

"The ball is firmly at the foot of the Government. It is for the Prime Minister now to outline what he intends to do, and as I have stated it will not be words that will determine how we proceed, it will be actions.

"I've used the term 'decisive action'. That's what we're looking for and I'm looking now to the Government to see what they intend to do. It's not just what the DUP wants, it's what Northern Ireland needs."

10:54 AM

'Let's get serious' and take 'decisive action', urges DUP

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson echoed the words of Sinn Fein when they boycotted the Northern Irish institutions.

"Let's get serious, all of us, and resolve these difficulties. Let's get down to that work and address the challenges together.

"I'm happy to sit down with the other parties, I'm happy to work with them, to examine all of the issues before us... But fundamentally powersharing can only be restored on the basis of consensus. That's where we need to get to.

"And I hope that in the days, weeks and months ahead we will see the decisive action taken that is necessary to restore the political system here and to see these institutions working properly and working for everybody in Northern Ireland."

Sir Jeffrey said his party was the only one with a "plan" for the cost-of-living crisis.

10:51 AM

'The same old approach - dithering and delaying'

Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the leader of the DUP, is speaking to reporters at the Northern Ireland Assembly.

"We have taken the decision at this stage not to support the election of a speaker," Sir Jeffrey said, flanked by the 25 members of his party at Stormont.

"I believe that we need to send a very clear message to the European Union and to our Government that we are serious about getting this Protocol sorted out because of the harm that it is doing, undermining political stability, damaging the agreements that have formed the basis of political progress made in Northern Ireland, harming our economy and contributing to the cost-of-living crisis.

"This matter needs to be dealt with and whilst others sit on the hands we are not prepared to do that. We need decisive action taken by the Government, so the message we are sending today is that the choice is clear.

"If the European Union is serious about protecting the political institutions under the Belfast Agreement and its successor agreements, the basis of political stability in Northern Ireland, then they know what they need to do. And equally the same message is there for our own government as well. I'm afraid it's the same old approach, dithering and delaying, talking with no action."

10:46 AM

'The Tories' economic mismanagement has doomed us all'

As it turns out, 'fix the roof while the sun is shining' wasn’t just another political catchphrase, reflects Kate Andrews. It was a critical piece of advice that no one took, and now we find ourselves in a terrible mess.

After being told that the financial crash and the pandemic were both ‘once in a generation’ events, we are looking down the barrel of possibly a third major hit to the economy in just over a decade, and we are running out of levers to pull.

Or, to be more accurate, we are running out of levers the government is willing to pull. There’s no doubt that the past two years of emergency measures and lockdowns have made politicians from all parties more comfortable with the idea of splashing the cash in response to a crisis, but their unwillingness to consider bolder free market reforms goes much further back than Covid-19.

The Tories have been in office for 12 years. Yet we still have extortionate childcare costs, rising energy bills, and a housing system that operates more like a cartel than a market due to an extreme under-supply of homes.

Kate Andrews: Neglect of Conservative principles risk recession

10:36 AM

Champagne signed by Boris Johnson labelled 'souvenir of partygate' at auction

A bottle of champagne signed by Boris Johnson was labelled a “souvenir of partygate” as it was sold off at a charity event in Hertfordshire.

Oliver Dowden, the chairman of the Conservative Party, donated the item “in good faith” several months before the auction on Thursday night.

But it ended up being listed by organisers with the description: “A bottle of champagne signed by Boris.

Tweet by Jay Rayner - Jay Rayner/Twitter
Tweet by Jay Rayner - Jay Rayner/Twitter

“Hugely valuable as a souvenir of partygate and the exemplary behaviour and morality of our dear leader!”

The bid gained traction after Jay Rayner, a food writer at The Guardian newspaper, posted a photograph of the event brochure on Twitter. This was shared thousands of times and Mr Rayner claimed it showed the Conservative party did not take "partygate" seriously.

But a spokesman for Mr Dowden was quick to distance him from the caption, and said: “This item was donated in good faith several months ago for a local charity auction.

10:31 AM

'There are some things one has to do remotely'

Jacob Rees-Mogg was asked by Sky News why he brought "three [or] four" policy aides with him to the studio for this morning's broadcast round.

Niall Paterson, the Sky presenter, asked Mr Rees-Mogg: "How many advisers did you arrive with this morning? Because it looked like more than two - three? Four?"

Mr Rees-Mogg responded: "Yes, they don't all work directly for me. They work within the Cabinet Office. Two work within the Cabinet Office and two are my special advisers."

The Brexit opportunities and government efficiencies minister proceeded to give a remote interview with Times Radio.

"There are some things one has to do remotely," he told the programme.

"It’s a pity that we’re not face-to-face, but it depends on the working circumstances."

10:15 AM

Liz Truss: Putin humiliating himself in Ukraine

Vladimir Putin is "humiliating himself" in front of the entire world, foreign secretary Liz Truss has said.

Speaking at a meeting of fellow G7 foreign ministers in Germany, Ms Truss called for further military support for Ukraine and urged countries to continue to press with economic sanctions until Russia fully withdraws from the conflict.

Liz Truss briefed the media this morning on arrival at the G7 Foreign Ministers Summit in Wangels, Germany - Georg Wendt/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Liz Truss briefed the media this morning on arrival at the G7 Foreign Ministers Summit in Wangels, Germany - Georg Wendt/Pool/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

"(Vladimir) Putin is humiliating himself on the world stage. We must ensure he faces a defeat in Ukraine that denies him any benefit and ultimately constrains further aggression," she said.

"The best long-term security for Ukraine will come from it being able to defend itself. That means providing Ukraine with a clear pathway to Nato-standard equipment."

Marcus Parekh has your essential Ukraine updates here

10:00 AM

Dominic Raab seeks to block serial killer's plans to marry in jail

Serial killer Levi Bellfield’s plans to marry in jail prompted a Government review on Thursday as Boris Johnson said he was "sickened and appalled", writes Charles Hymas, our Home Affairs Editor.

Dominic Raab is taking urgent legal advice to see if there is a way he can block the application by Bellfied to marry his fiancee, said to be a prison visitor in her 40s whom he has befriended while in the high security Frankland jail in county Durham.

Levi Bellfield, who has requested a prison wedding - Metropolitan Police/PA Wire
Levi Bellfield, who has requested a prison wedding - Metropolitan Police/PA Wire

Even if he cannot stop it, Mr Raab said the Government’s planned new British bill of rights would aim to close the loophole that allowed criminals like Bellfield to marry in jail under article 12 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR). The Justice Secretary told the Telegraph:

This is exactly the kind of case where we need written down in UK law a clear set of criteria, that shouldn’t be trapped by an elastic interpretation of human rights.

I think most people will think it defies common sense that the Government today can’t insist, in relation to Category A high security prisoners, the proper safeguarding consideration is taken into account so they can protect the public and respond accordingly.

​Full story: Milly Dowler's killer could be allowed to marry

09:45 AM

More Britons buying less food as cost-of-living crisis continues to bite

More than four in 10 Britons are now buying less food amid the cost-of-living crisis.

Some 41 per cent of adults surveyed between April 27 and May 8 said they had cut back on their grocery shopping, according to polling from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This constitutes a rise of two percentage points on the equivalent figure covering the end of March and the start of April.

Around 88 per cent of adults said they had experienced a rise in their cost of living during the past month.

09:34 AM

Smart motorways are twice as dangerous for drivers whose car has stopped

Stopped drivers are twice as likely to be killed or seriously injured on a smart motorway than on a traditional motorway with a hard shoulder, new figures suggest.

Despite the shocking statistics, the government-owned National Highways insists that smart motorways are "our safest roads" overall for serious or fatal casualties.

Data from the organisation revealed eight people were killed on motorways without a permanent hard shoulder in 2020, representing 0.64 per cent of the 1,246 fatalities on England’s roads.

Concerns have been raised about fatal incidents where vehicles stopped in traffic on smart motorways were hit from behind.

Will Bolton has more here

09:14 AM

Lord Frost: We had to agree to the Northern Ireland Protocol. Now we have to scrap it

And so the great drama of our exit from the EU may yet have one final act, writes Lord David Frost. Northern Ireland is about to return to centre stage. Maroš Sefčovič, the EU negotiator, told Liz Truss yesterday that there could be no change to the Protocol.

The Foreign Secretary responded that the Government would then have “no choice but to act”. The stage is set for confrontation.

Last week’s Stormont elections have forced the Government’s hand. Of course, the real story from the elections was not a supposed nationalist landslide. Unionism collectively still has more seats and more votes than nationalism.

Sinn Féin has no more seats than in 2017. The real story is the one that was obvious before the elections – that unionists and Unionist parties have withdrawn consent for the Protocol arrangements, and that Northern Ireland can’t be governed properly until this situation changes.

We could endlessly go over the circumstances that produced the Protocol in 2019, as many seem to want – preferring that to dealing with today’s problems. We knew the deal was far from perfect. We never wanted the arrangements that limited trade into Northern Ireland. But our Protocol got rid of the hated “backstop” that would have left us stuck in the EU customs union and unable to run a trade or economic policy of our own.

David Frost: The Government has a duty to Northern Ireland

08:52 AM

More than half a million adults waiting for social care

More than 500,000 adults are currently waiting to receive social care in England, new data show.

This constitutes a major increase on last year's estimate of 294,000, according to the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services (Adass).

Sarah McClinton, the Adass president, told the BBC the wait was having a "devastating impact" on the lives of those affected.

David Fothergill, chairman of the Local Government Association's community wellbeing board, told the PA news agency: "While it is positive the Government has set out longer term reforms to adult social care, there is an urgent need to address immediate pressures facing social care in the here and now, including on capacity, recruitment and retention, care worker pay and on unmet and under-met need."

08:37 AM

Computer says no to the Chancellor

Rishi Sunak has blamed a "complicated" IT system for not raising welfare benefits to shield the most vulnerable from the cost-of-living crisis.

The Treasury this week downplayed a suggestion made by Boris Johnson that further help would be made available within days and some Tory MPs have privately argued it may be needed before the summer.

Asked about further benefits support, Mr Sunak replied: "The operation of our welfare system is technically complicated. It is not necessarily possible to [increase benefits] for everybody.

"Many of the systems are built so it can only be done once a year, and the decision was taken quite a while ago."

The Chancellor said his answer "sounds like an excuse" but insisted he had been "constrained somewhat by the operation of the welfare system".

Rishi Sunak: I can't raise benefits because of 'complicated' IT flaws

08:21 AM

'What the EU wants and thinks is secondary'

Jacob Rees-Mogg has claimed the EU is trying to punish the UK for its decision to leave the bloc.

In an interview with Mr Rees-Mogg, he said Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, is making clear that "we are, if not at the end of the road, very close to it".

"I think it (the EU) wants to make the UK feel bad about having left the European Union and that underpins its whole policy and it doesn't really mind about the consequences of that," he said.

"And we just have to get on with life and recognise that we have left. We have to make our own way. We are an independent country, and what the EU wants and thinks is secondary."

08:11 AM

No 10 accused of ‘cover-up’ for withholding security advice on Lord Lebedev’s peerage

The security advice on Lord Lebedev’s peerage has been withheld by the Government, as ministers have been accused of a "cover-up".

The detailed advice was not published by the Cabinet Office in order to "protect national security", Michael Ellis, the Paymaster General, said in a statement.

Labour has cried foul over the Cabinet Office’s decision not to publish details relating to the Russian-born businessman - Mike Marsland/WireImage
Labour has cried foul over the Cabinet Office’s decision not to publish details relating to the Russian-born businessman - Mike Marsland/WireImage

Parliament approved a motion earlier this year which would force the Government to release the documents about how Boris Johnson was involved in the appointment of the Russian-born businessman.

Instead, the Cabinet Office published a nine-page document which contained the blank form that Lord Lebedev was required to fill in, as well as a note congratulating him on the news.

​Mason Boycott-Owen has the full story

07:56 AM

Labour: No 10 wants to 'pick fights' rather than solve Northern Ireland issues

The Government cares more about "picking fights" with Brussels than trying to resolve the issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol, the shadow Scotland secretary claimed this morning.

Labour's Ian Murray also warned the cost-of-living crisis in Northern Ireland would be significantly worsened by a "trade war" with the European Union.

"Everyone did see this coming because they said it was an oven ready deal and we said if you put a border in the Irish Sea there'll inevitably be problems," he told Sky. "To rip up something that they signed only a couple of years ago or to threaten to rip it up is not really resolving the problem."

Ian Murray - Ken Jack/Getty Images
Ian Murray - Ken Jack/Getty Images

Mr Murray said the EU had "offered various solutions already" and a compromise had to happen through negotiation.

"It takes two parties to come together to negotiate what should be a relatively simple negotiation because both parties are in roughly the same place in both wanting trade to happen.

"Let's get the European Union and the UK Government together, but it seems to me that this current Government is more interested in picking fights with the EU than trying to resolve it, and the only people that suffer here are the people of Northern Ireland."

07:48 AM

‘Porn MP’ Neil Parish could stand against Conservatives in by-election

Shamed former Conservative MP Neil Parish is threatening to stand against the Tories as an independent candidate in the forthcoming Tiverton and Honiton by-election to save his political career.

Mr Parish told The Telegraph’s Chopper’s Politics podcast he had been pledged the necessary financial backing to stand in a move that would risk splitting the Conservative vote and letting in the Liberal Democrats.

Neil Parish appears on this week's Chopper's Politics podcast - Eddie Mulholland
Neil Parish appears on this week's Chopper's Politics podcast - Eddie Mulholland

Speaking on his final day as an MP this week, Mr Parish also disclosed that he had written to Sir Graham Brady, the 1922 committee chairman, to urge Conservative colleagues to be nicer to each other.

His political career is in ruins after he admitted he had viewed pornography on his mobile phone in the House of Commons following complaints from two female Conservative MPs, and resigned a seat he has held since 2010.

Listen to this week's episode of Chopper's Politics here

07:31 AM

Lord Frost: Boris Johnson must face down EU threats and rip up Northern Ireland Protocol

Lord Frost has urged Boris Johnson must show the same leadership over Northern Ireland as he has on Ukraine by ripping up the Northern Ireland Protocol, Nick Gutteridge and Joe Barnes report.

The former Brexit minister, the architect of the 2019 withdrawal deal, said efforts to broker an agreement had "reached the end of the road". He urged the Prime Minister to act now to save the Union even if that meant "confrontation" with the EU.

Writing for The Telegraph, he said Sinn Fein's victory in last week's Stormont elections and the refusal of the DUP to enter a power-sharing agreement had "forced the Government's hand".

"The Government has no option now other than to act unilaterally to disapply part or all of the Protocol. The Belfast Good Friday Agreement, which the Protocol is supposed to protect, is on life support," he wrote.

Full story: Get tough on the Protocol, Lord Frost urges PM

07:24 AM

Johnson and Sunak's race to tackle the cost-of-living crisis

There was a back to school feel in the sunny Downing Street garden on Tuesday night as Tory MPs gathered for a tete-a-tete with colleagues and "the boss".

Boris Johnson had just seen his legislative agenda, packed with "red meat" for the backbenches, read out by the Prince of Wales at the state opening of Parliament. But as the Prime Minister attempted to address his MPs, newly reunited after Sir Keir Starmer’s "beergate" police investigation woes, there was persistent heckling from one present.

Boris Johnson - Toby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty Images
Boris Johnson - Toby Melville/WPA Pool/Getty Images

Time after time, he was interrupted by a barking Dilyn, the Johnsons’ over-eager Jack Russell. So much so that the Prime Minister joked: "Take this dog to a place of execution."

If the gag drew laughs from the crowd, more serious topics were discussed as Mr Johnson chatted to colleagues in smaller groups about the cost-of-living crunch.

Ben Riley-Smith looks at the dilemmas facing the PM

07:18 AM

How will the money saved actually be spent?

"You’ll have to get the Chancellor on" to answer that, Jacob Rees-Mogg said this morning.

He told BBC Breakfast: "My job is to find the savings, it’s up to the Chancellor how he spends them. I believe in taxpayers’ money being spent efficiently, don’t you?

It will be for Rishi Sunak to decide how the savings are spent, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said - Oli Scarff/Pool Photo via AP
It will be for Rishi Sunak to decide how the savings are spent, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said - Oli Scarff/Pool Photo via AP

"This is a fundamental duty of government that there is no money other than that which comes from hard-pressed taxpayers."

07:17 AM

Jacob Rees-Mogg: We won't do less, we'll just do things more efficiently

Asked what he wanted to do "less of" on the Today programme, Jacob Rees-Mogg said the civil service cutbacks would not be "a question of doing less of, it's doing things more efficiently".

Mr Rees-Mogg said Covid and Brexit are "now fading and therefore we can get back to the numbers we previously had. We can also automate and use technology more, so you can have processes more efficiently carried out."

He said "each department" would be asked to come up with their own suggestions about where redundancies and savings could be mad, adding the Home Office "may decide" the Passport Office does not need staffing cuts but other areas do.

On whether this would include the Department for International Trade, he said: "They've rolled over the treaties, so that part of their work has been successfully completed. There is always work to be done. The issue is are you doing it efficiently, and do you have the right people?

"Overall the civil service needs fewer people and that will be something that is down to every department. I don't believe you will find any department that is working at 100 per cent efficiency... The Passport Office needs to be more efficient, that is probably having better technological solutions and a degree of better planning for the flows. We need fewer people across the civil servants."

07:09 AM

'No sign' of a serious plan, claims trade union leader

The general secretary of a trade union has poured scorn on the Government's announcement tens of thousands of Whitehall staff are to be axed as he said there was "no sign" of a serious plan.

Dave Penman, the general secretary of the FDA, accused ministers of plucking a point in time "out of thin air" despite the impacts of coronavirus and Britain's exit from the European union.

"Unless we can undo Brexit and undo the pandemic, it’s unclear what the government means," Mr Penman told BBC Radio 4's Today programme. "A serious government can decide what size it wants for the civil service but also has to say what it wants to stop doing if it’s going to have cuts of this magnitude.

On the idea the same work would be done more efficiently by fewer people, Mr Penman noted existing delays at the passport office and "all the issues around Brexit and customs", adding: "If the Government is going to be serious about this, we have to do all these things, which is what the extra staffing was for.

"In 2016 the civil service was at its lowest level since the Second World War. It had already delivered huge efficiencies at that point, so thinking you can just squeeze those savings again is just unrealistic."

07:02 AM

'Many savings' to be made by getting back to pre-Covid civil service

Boris Johnson's pledge to cut 91,000 civil service jobs may sound "eye-catching" - but Jacob Rees-Mogg said it is "just getting back to the civil service that we had in 2016".

"We’ve taken on extra people for specific tasks – so dealing with the aftermath of Brexit and dealing with Covid so there’s been a reason for the increase, but now we’re trying to get back to normal," the Brexit opportunities minister told Sky News.

"Up to 38,000 people a year leave the civil service [every year], so the simplest way to do it is to have a freeze on recruitment, which we’ve done in the Cabinet Office. We need to have with the reductions a very effective learning and development programme, so that civil servants whose roles may not be the optimal use of their time can be trained so they can fulfil other roles within the civil service."

Asked where the cuts will come from, he said: "Arms-length bodies - this includes the quangos. What I’ve seen within the Cabinet Office where I work, and bear in mind each Secretary of State will be responsible for his own department, is that there is duplication within the Government.

"You have a communications department and you have in another department some people doing communications. So it’s trying to ensure that you use the resource that you’ve got rather than duplicating it bit by bit. Therefore there are many savings that come from that."

06:58 AM

Good morning

Slashing 91,000 civil service jobs is "perfectly reasonable" after Brexit and the pandemic, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the minister for Brexit opportunities and government efficiency, insisted.

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