Good morning. Sajid Javid, the health secretary, has been fielding questions on the behalf of the government this morning. The war in Ukraine is still dominating the news agenda, the cost of living is set to be the second biggest story of the week, because we’ve got the spring statement on Wednesday, and Javid had to address concerns about the rise in the number of coronavirus cases, but he also found himself fending off questions about Boris Johnson’s Ukraine/Brexit gaffe – a remark so insensitive that it is still at the top of the news two days later.
In his speech to the Tory spring conference on Saturday, Johnson compared the Ukrainians’ fight for freedom to Britons voting for Brexit. “I know that it’s the instinct of the people of this country, like the people of Ukraine, to choose freedom, every time,” he said. “I can give you a couple of famous recent examples. When the British people voted for Brexit, in such large, large numbers, I don’t believe it was because they were remotely hostile to foreigners.”
Yesterday Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, claimed Johnson was not saying the two situations were “directly analagous”. Today Javid went even further, telling Nick Robinson on the Today programme:
[Johnson] was talking about the general desire for people, no matter who they are, where they live, for self determination, and that can be in any setting, in any country. I don’t think at all he was trying to link the specific situation in Ukraine with the UK.
In response, Robinson pointed out that the PM’s speech specifically did link the two situations. He suggested that the fact that two cabinet ministers have now effectively disowned the connection made by Johnson suggests that No 10 accepts it was a mistake.
This is what Matt Dathan is reporting in the Times (paywall). He writes:
Johnson regrets making the comparison, a close source told The Times. “It sounded better written down than it did when spoken,” the insider said.
I’ll post more from the Javid interview shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
12pm: Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe will hold a press conference at Westminster with her husband, Richard Ratcliffe, and their MP, Tulip Siddiq.
2.30pm: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, takes questions in the Commons.
After 3.30pm: MPs begin a debate on a Labour motion saying the government should suspend all contracts with DP World, the company that owns P&O Ferries, and pass a law banning fire and rehire tactics.
4pm: Sir Philip Barton, permanent secretary at the Foreign Office, gives evidence to the Commons foreign affairs committee about Afghanistan.
At some point today Boris Johnson is also hosting a roundtable meeting with leaders from the nuclear power industry to discuss how nuclear power stations can be build more quickly. He has also got a call lined up with Joe Biden, the US president, and their French, German and Italian counterparts to discuss Ukraine.
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 email@example.com.