No 10 accused of blackmailing rebel Tory MPs

Evening briefing: Today’s essential headlines

The big story: No 10 accused of blackmailing rebel MPs

This morning it seemed like Boris Johnson had temporarily weathered the storm triggered by the “pork pie plot”. Yet today Number 10 faces accusations of blackmail from a Tory MP. William Wragg, the chairman of the public administration and constitutional affairs committee, claimed several Tories who oppose Mr Johnson had been subjected to “pressures and intimidation” in the wake of the Downing Street party scandal. He also alleged that Downing Street staff, special advisers and government ministers had sought to encourage “embarrassing” stories in the media about those who no longer back the Johnson premiership. In a Commons statement, the Speaker, Sir Lindsay Hoyle, said Government whips and special advisers are “not above the criminal law”. Mr Johnson said he had seen “no evidence to support any of those allegations”.

It comes as senior sources in the Government whip’s office told the Telegraph that between three and seven letters of no confidence were withdrawn on Wednesday night by Conservative MPs apprehensive about booting Mr Johnson out of Number 10. The turning point appears to have been the decision of the former Tory MP Christian Wakeford to defect to Labour, which brought some disaffected MPs in from the cold. Sajid Javid, the Health Secretary, has said a by-election should be held in Bury South after Mr Wakeford’s defection. Nigel Farage sets out why, if he had any integrity, the Bury South MP would do just that.

Treating Covid like flu

Of course, this should have been Mr Johnson’s moment of triumph after announcing in Parliament the impending end of Covid restrictions -which is discussed in this week’s Planet Normal podcast, featuring actress Denise Welch. Sajid Javid said Britain would soon be able to treat the virus like flu, and said he hoped all restrictions could be lifted by March. He said Covid may be with us forever, but we cannot keep “shutting down our entire country” because of it. Meanwhile, Mr Johnson said clearing Covid healthcare backlogs is the “number one issue” for British people, as he visited Rutherford Diagnostic Centre.

Back to work anger

As the Government ditched its work from home guidance from today, workers began returning to the office again. However, commuters have reacted with anger to the announcement by Sadiq Khan that passengers on Transport for London (TfL) services will still be required to wear face masks even after the national requirement is lifted. The London Mayor said wearing a face covering is one of the most important things people can do to prevent the virus from spreading, and said masks would remain on TfL. Read how commuters have reacted, while Matthew Lesh argues why Mr Khan’s mask mandate is stalling London’s recovery.

Comment and analysis

Around the world: A year on, what’s Trump been up to?

On the morning of the inauguration of Joe Biden as President, a year ago today, Donald Trump prepared to depart into exile in Florida by addressing a crowd of several hundred people. He ended with a warning that he “will be watching from his Mar-a-Lago club in Palm Beach, and vowed that “we will be back in some form”. After a year out of the White House, Mick Brown examines what Mr Trump has really been up to. Meanwhile, Mr Biden’s $1.7 trillion (£1.25tn) “Build Back Better” social spending plan, and his electoral reform legislation – key planks of his manifesto – have been stalled by recalcitrant Democrats in the Senate. Nick Allen has this dispatch from the President’s home town and see how Mr Biden became almost as unpopular as Mr Trump in these charts.

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