Shapps refuses to deny Johnson suggested Sue Gray abandon publication of her report – UK politics live

At cabinet this morning Boris Johnson praised Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, for helping people get back into work. Johnson believes work is the best route out of poverty and, with unemployment at its lowest level for almost 50 years, he is using this as part of his attempt to show there is a Tory response to the cost of living crisis.

According to PA Media, Johnson opened cabinet by saying:

I want to give a special shout out to Thérèse Coffey, the secretary of state for DWP, because under her plans, the Way To Work scheme, since we launched it this year it has got 380,000 people off welfare and into work. That’s the way forward.

I want to see people not on benefits, I want to see them in work – that’s the Conservative answer and that is the answer we are offering to the people of this country.

As welfare experts and poverty campaigners regularly point out, for many people work does not provide a route out of poverty. According to the Child Poverty Action Group, 75% of children growing up in poverty live in a household with at least one person working.

Johnson also said that some cabinet minsters were not even born when unemployment was last as low as it is now.

I want to remind you, in fact I don’t want a single cabinet to go by without repeating that unemployment is now down to its lowest level since 1974.

I look around this table and I realise there are probably members of this cabinet who weren’t even born then.

I think the chancellor of the exchequer wasn’t even born!

This is the lowest level of unemployment in the lifetime of the chancellor of the exchequer, which is a tribute to all he has done.

It is down at 3.7% and youth unemployment at or near record lows. These are incredibly important data and is incredibly encouraging.

Boris Johnson at cabinet. Photograph: Daniel Leal/AFP/Getty Images

These are from my colleague Jessica Elgot, with more detail of what happened at the Lee Cain leaving drinks in No 10 on 13 November 2020 (where Boris Johnson was photographed drinking).

Shapps says that PM walked down and said cheers to a staff member who was leaving. But that’s not exactly what those present have told us (and others). They say Johnson instigated the leaving speech, poured drinks and gathered people round. https://t.co/kAMw8i1B6k

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) May 24, 2022

According to those present:
– Johnson came into press office as Cain was packing (it was not exactly happy occasion).
– Staff in the press office were having regular Friday drinks.
– Johnson poured the toasts and gathered people round for the speech
– They say Met told all this

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) May 24, 2022

Those present say it also showed how Johnson was aware that Friday drinks in the office were a regular feature

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) May 24, 2022

Shapps also said the PM came in and out quickly. Those present say it was about 20-25 minutes. No10 saying less. https://t.co/WxbyjiOEVh

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) May 24, 2022

Boris Johnson chairing cabinet this morning.
Boris Johnson chairing cabinet this morning. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Dominic Grieve, the former Conservative attorney general who left the party over his opposition to Boris Johnson’s Brexit policy, told BBC News that the Metropolitan police’s decision not to fine Johnson over the leaving do drinks at No 10 was “incomprehensible”. He said:

I certainly think the police decision is incomprehensible. If, as suggested, they fined other participants attending this party then I just can’t see how the prime minister wasn’t fined as well. I would have to ask the police for their reasoning on this. I do find it extraordinary.

According to the Mail on Sunday’s Dan Hodges, Johnson was not even sent a police questionnaire about the leaving drinks event on 13 November 2020.

One thing that needs to be clarified. I’m told that not only was Boris not fined for the 13 November event – even though others who attended were – he wasn’t even sent a questionnaire over it. So if that’s true, on what basis did the Met determine his attendance was legal.

— (((Dan Hodges))) (@DPJHodges) May 24, 2022

If this is true, this would support the claim from Dominic Cummings, the PM’s former chief adviser, yesterday that the police simply decided to ignore some of the allegations relating to Johnson.

Khan says it is important for ‘trust and confidence’ in police that Met explain why PM not fined over No 10 leaving drinks

On the Today programme this morning Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, said the Metropolitan police should explain why Boris Johnson was not fined over the No 10 leaving do on 13 November 2020, where he was photographed drinking. Khan said:

I think it’s important, when it comes to trust and confidence, when it comes to policing by consent, when it comes to questions being asked about the integrity of an investigation, that the police explain why they’ve reached the conclusions they have.

Yesterday was the first time I saw the photograph of Boris Johnson raising a glass, clearly bottles of wine laying around, others with wine in their hand, on a day when he said in the House of Commons, and I speak as a former parliamentarian and I know the importance of not lying or misleading in the House of Commons, that there wasn’t a party.

So you know, of course, Sue Gray will publish her report this week and of course the prime minister will have to answer for himself, but I think the police should explain why they reached their conclusions and provide that clarity.

Khan also claimed that generally he had tried to stay “well away” from the Met investigation into Partygate, particularly because he was a Labour mayor, and a Conservative PM was being investigated.

But in December last year, as new allegations about Partygate emerged, Khan said he thought the Met should investigate them. At that point the Met was resisting pressure to launch an inquiry, and it did not change its mind and open an investigation until more than a month later.

Sir Roger Gale, one of the Conservative MPs most critical of Boris Johnson over Partygate, is urging his colleagues to back a vote of no confidence in him.

I believe that the PM has misled the HoC’s from the despatch box. That is a resignation issue. I have made my own position clear. It is now a matter for my Conservative parliamentary colleagues to decide whether or not to instigate a vote of no confidence.

— Sir Roger Gale MP (@SirRogerGale) May 24, 2022

For a no confidence vote to take place, 54 Tory MPs (15% of the parliamentary party), have to write to Sir Graham Brady, chair of the 1922 Committee, calling for one. When the Partygate scandal erupted earlier in the year, before Russia invaded Ukraine, one report claimed that Johnson’s critics were only two letters short of the threshold. (Apart from Brady, no one knows, because the process is confidential.) But since then some MPs who submitted letters have withdrawn them, and now a leadership challenge seems unlikely.

Chris Mason, the BBC’s political editor, says the Sue Gray report may be published at lunchtime tomorrow.

Downing Street thinks it may well get the report from Sue Gray as soon as tomorrow morning, with a statement in the Commons from the Prime Minister at lunchtime. https://t.co/bsm8XHaGXu

— Chris Mason (@ChrisMasonBBC) May 24, 2022

Shapps refuses to deny Johnson suggested Sue Gray abandon publication of her report

Good morning. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, drew the short straw last night and he has been touring the studios defending Boris Johnson following the publication yesterday of photographs of the PM drinking at what has been described as the leaving party for his director of communications, Lee Cain, on 13 November. From the pictures, it certainly looks like a party. But when Johnson was asked, at PMQs a year later, if a party had taken place in No 10 on that date, he said no.

Shapps is probably the most accomplished media performer in the cabinet – he is certainly the most capable of sounding reasonable in the face of persistently hostile questioning – but even he was struggling this morning. On certain points he could not really defend Johnson at all. Here are the key lines.

  • Shapps would not deny reports that when Boris Johnson met Sue Gray a few weeks ago to discuss her report into Partygate he suggested she should abandon plans to publish it. This claim is in a story by Steven Swinford and Oliver Wright in the Times who report:

The Times has been told that Johnson suggested Gray should drop her plans to publish her report during a secret meeting with him earlier this month. Steve Barclay, his chief of staff, was also said to have been present.

“He asked her, is there much point in doing it now that it’s all out there?” a Whitehall source said. “He was inferring that she didn’t need to publish the report.” Another added: “They were exploring this idea of not having any report. It was being talked about [in Downing Street]. But politically they realised they couldn’t do it.”

Asked if this was correct, Shapps told Sky News:

I wasn’t in the room so I don’t know that’s the case. Exactly what was discussed, I don’t know.

Occasionally things get reported that are not entirely accurate. The civil service were there to make sure that all the correct processes were followed so I have no particular reason for concern about the two of them meeting.

  • Shapps refused to accept that the event where Johnson was photographed was a party. He told Sky News:

The question is, was [Johnson] down there partying? No, clearly not. He’d gone by to say thanks and raise a glass to a colleague who was leaving.

On BBC Breakfast, when asked to accept it was a party, Shapps said: “It’s certainly a leaving event.” And on the Today programme he explained why he did not think the picture showed Johnson partying:

It looks to me that he was asked to go and thank a member of staff who was leaving, raises the glass to them, and I imagine comes in and out pretty quick, which is presumably why the police have not issued a fixed-penalty notice to the prime minister for a moment.

Shapps also said the photographs showed Johnson standing by his ministerial red box. He went on:

Those are the boxes that ministers carry their work in. It rather suggests that he potentially left his office, came via that office, thanked a member of staff who was leaving [and left soon afterwards].

  • Shapps could not explain why Johnson told MPs that there was no party in No 10 on 13 November 2020. Asked why Johnson said that, Shapps replied: “The prime minister will answer for himself. He has said that when the Sue Gray report comes out, he will come to the house and answer fully.”
  • Shapps said Johnson would be “disappointed” by what happened and that he would now wish he had not attended the event. Shapps said:

I also accept the prime minister has long since apologised, has made fundamental reforms in No 10 and have no doubt if he had his time again he wouldn’t have dropped by to say thank you to a member of staff leaving.

  • Shapps refused to back calls for the Metropolitan police to explain why Johnson was not fined over this event. Earlier Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, told the Today programme the Met should explain its decision-making. But, asked if he agreed, Shapps said:

I don’t think the police should fight running commentaries, no. They will have had access to all of the evidence, hundreds of photographs … If you’re asking for transparency, there are lots of different ways for this to happen. But I wouldn’t expect the police, be it the Met or the Durham police [who are investigating Keir Starmer over an alleged breach of lockdown rules] to provide running commentaries either.

  • He said the publication of the Sue Gray report was “imminent”.

Here is the agenda for the day.

Morning: Boris Johnson chairs cabinet.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

12pm: Ofgem officials give evidence to the Commons business committee about energy pricing. At 1pm Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, gives evidence.

After 12.30pm: MPs debate the Northern Ireland Troubles (legacy and reconciliation) bill.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com.



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