Politics latest: Boris Johnson allies say Chequers visits 'entirely within COVID lockdown rules' as ex-PM faces fresh scandal (2023)

Key points
  • Boris Johnson is back in hot water - here's what you need to know
  • Allies of Johnson insist Chequers visits 'entirely within the rules'
  • Joe Pike:Rishi Sunak is being dragged back to the past when he wants to focus on the future
  • Students to be banned from bringing dependents as migration rises
  • How many student visas are issued?
  • New voter ID rules to be extended to postal and proxy votes
  • Ed Conway: No recession for UK - but cost of living crisis will still cause pain
  • Live reporting byFaith Ridler


What have the main players said in Johnson row?

We've already heard from all the key players involved in new allegations around ex-prime minister Boris Johnson, along with a number of his allies - and outraged members of the opposition.

This is what they have all had to say:

Boris Johnson: 'This is both bizarre and unacceptable'

"No contact was made with Mr Johnson before these incorrect allegations were made both to the police and to the Privileges Committee. This is both bizarre and unacceptable.

"For whatever political purpose, it is plain that a last-ditch attempt is being made to lengthen the Privileges Committee investigation as it was coming to a conclusion and to undermine Mr Johnson.

"Mr Johnson's lawyers have tonight written to the police forces involved to explain in detail why the Cabinet Office is entirely wrong in its assertions.

"The events in question were all within the rules either because they were held outdoors or came within another lawful exception. They include regular meetings with civil servants and advisers."

Cabinet Office: 'Information came to light in COVID inquiry'

"Information came to light during the process of preparing evidence for submission to the COVID inquiry.

"It was identified as part of the normal disclosure review of potentially relevant documents being undertaken by the legal team for inquiry witnesses.

"In line with obligations in the Civil Service Code, this material has been passed to the relevant authorities and it is now a matter for them."

Police: 'It relates to potential breaches'

The Metropolitan Police said: "We are in receipt of information from the Cabinet Office passed to us on May 19 2023, which we are currently assessing.

"It relates to potential breaches of the health protection regulations between June 2020 and May 2021 at Downing Street."

Thames Valley Police said: "On Thursday we received a report of potential breaches of the health protection regulations between June 2020 and May 2021 at Chequers, Buckinghamshire.

"We are currently assessing this information."


ICYMI: Call for probe into Chinese genetics company over pregnancy test data

(Video) The Latest Tory Skip Fire | Morning Brew with Phil Moorhouse

Let's turn away for the situation around Boris Johnson for a moment.

A Chinese company selling pregnancy tests in the UK must be investigated over the potential risk that genetic data may be shared with the government in Beijing, a cross-party group of parliamentarians has warned.

MPs and peers have called for the Information Commissioner's Office (ICO) to launch a probe into BGI Group, China's leading genomics company.

They raised an investigation by the Reuters news agency in 2021 which suggested the firm was using the genetic information collected from expectant mothers around the world "for sweeping research on the traits of populations".

The report claimed the NIFTY non-invasive pre-natal test is a source of genetic data for the company, which it said was working with the Chinese military to improve "population quality" and on genetic research to combat hearing loss and altitude sickness in soldiers.

The company has denied being linked to the Chinese state, and said it had "previously refuted" allegations made by the politicians in their letter to the ICO.

You can read more from Sky News in the link below...


What were the lockdown rules at the time?

There is likely to be a lot of talk of COVID lockdown rule breaking today - so here's a quick reminder of how the pandemic played out in the UK...

March 2020 - Britons were told to "stay at home" as much as possible.

June 2020 – Rules are relaxed to allow a maximum of six people to meet outdoors for non-work purposes.

July 2020 – Two households of any size are allowed to meet in indoor or outdoor settings.

August 2020 – People are encouraged to go out again with the introduction of the "eat out to help out" scheme.

September 2020 – Rules begin to be tightened again with the "rule of six" banning any social gathering of more than six people.

November 2020 – Second national lockdown – people can leave home to meet only one person outside their support bubble.

Restrictions were eased through December and over Christmas, with a tier system being introduced for different regions in England.

January 2021 - Third national lockdown for England – people were again told to stay at home and not meet anyone outside their support bubble, with limited exceptions for religious gatherings and weddings.

March 2021 - Six people or two households, regardless of size, allowed to mix outdoors again.

May 2021 - Restrictions further lifted with 30 people permitted to mix outdoors, the rule of six or two household rule applied indoors.


(Video) 'People are still paying the price' for Liz Truss' mini-budget - Labour

Allies of Johnson insist Chequers visits 'entirely within the rules'

Boris Johnson loyalists have spoken out in defence of the ex-prime minister after fresh allegations of lockdown rule breaking emerged last night.

It is claimed that Mr Johnson's ministerial diary suggested the politician had broken pandemic restrictions by allowing visits by his friends to Chequers.

But senior Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg told GB News he had visited the residence with his family during the pandemic - and it was "entirely within the rules".

He said: "I can tell you that during that period I went to Chequers, I was invited there with my children, entirely in accordance with the rules.

"Another senior government ministers was going to come but the prime minister cancelled him because you were only allowed to have one family present at the time."

The Daily Mail quoted a friend of the former prime minister as saying he was "seriously considering" legal action against the government over the police referrals, of which a spokesman said he had received no notice.

The fallout has piled further pressure on Rishi Sunak, who was fined over a gathering in Downing Street during the pandemic along with his former boss in June 2020.

Mr Sunak faces Prime Minister's Questions today, in which the subject of Mr Johnson's past conduct is likely to be raised, along with the outstanding issue of whether he will launch an investigation into Home Secretary Suella Braverman's handling of a speeding ticket.


Boris Johnson is back in hot water - here's what you need to know

A flurry of lockdown scandals and poorly timed work parties marked the beginning of the end for Boris Johnson, who stepped down almost a year ago after dozens of ministerial resignations.

It emerged last night that Mr Johnson has been referred to the police again over fresh claims of rule breaking in lockdown, this time relating to visits to Chequers.

The scandal will likely rumble on throughout Wednesday, but as of now, here's what we know:

  • New allegations claim Boris Johnson broke COVID lockdown rules after his ministerial diary revealed visits by his friends to his grace-and-favour home, Chequers;
  • The trips to the country residence were highlighted during preparations for a public inquiry into COVID, as well as new allegations about his behaviour in Downing Street, according to The Times which first reported on the story;
  • Mr Johnson was referred to the police by the Cabinet Office, who said the information was shared "in line with the civil service code";
  • In a statement, the ex-prime minister dubbed the allegations "bizarre and unacceptable", while complaining of a "politically motivated stitch-up";
  • Sky News understands all legal options are being considered by his team;
  • Mr Johnson was previously handed a fixed-penalty notice, along with Rishi Sunak, over a June 2020 Downing Street gathering for his 56th birthday.


Good morning!

Welcome back to the Politics Hub, where we'll bring you live updates from the heart of Westminster.

It's a busy day ahead - here is what's coming up:

(Video) Downing Street: Video shows car crashed in front of the iconic gates

  • Boris Johnson is facing fresh scandal after reports the ex-PM was referred to the police over new claims of lockdown rule breaking. Mr Johnson has described the allegations as "bizarre and unacceptable". We're expecting reaction continue into Wednesday;
  • Prime Minister Rishi Sunak will face Sir Keir Starmer at Prime Minister's Questions for the first time since new questions were raised about the conduct of Home Secretary Suella Braverman;
  • Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is addressing the Wall Street Journal CEO Council in London, where he will discuss plans to reboot the economy;
  • Labour's Rachel Reeves is still in the US today, where she will address the Peterson Institute for International Economics in Washington DC;
  • Meanwhile, pressure continues to mount on Mr Sunak to ask his ethics adviser Sir Laurie Magnus to investigate whether Suella Braverman breached the ministerial code.
  • We'll be speaking to Labour'sAnneliese Dodds at 8.05am.

We'll have all the latest right here, as it happens.


That's all from the Politics Hub tonight

Thank you for following along for another day of live updates from the heart of Westminster.

We'll be back in the morning, but until then, here are today's highlights:

  • It was revealed that the Cabinet Office referred Boris Johnson to the police after entries in his ministerial diary were spotted that showed friends visiting Downing Street and Chequers during the pandemic;
  • Rishi Sunak spoke at a defence conference where he said his message to Putin is that "we are not going away";
  • The IMF updated its forecasts to show the UK will not enter a recession this year and the economy will grow by 0.4%;
  • Minister announced that international students will bebanned from bringing dependents to the UK amid rising migration figures;
  • Downing Street still did not make a decision on launching a probe in allegations the home secretary asked civil servants to help arrange a private speed awareness course;
  • Labour was fined for the late reporting of donations;
  • And the government announced new voter ID rules for postal and proxy votes.

We'll back with the very latest from Westminster from 6am - and we’ll have Prime Minister’s Question live at 12pm, which is sure to be a blockbuster session.

Do join us.


Boris Johnson's team is considering legal options, Sky News understands

As we have been reporting this evening, the Cabinet Office has referred the former PM to police after entries in his ministerial diary were spotted that showed friends visiting Downing Street and Chequers during the pandemic (see post at 18.03).

Police are "assessing" claims he may have broken lockdown rules, but Mr Johnson's team insists that no breaches occurred.

Sky News now understands that Mr Johnson's team is considering all legal options in the wake of the Cabinet Office's referral to police.

In a statement earlier this evening, a spokesperson for Mr Johnson said that lawyers have advised the events in question were lawful, and added that Mr Johnson was not contacted before the referral to police and the privileges committee was made, which they described as "bizarre and unacceptable."

The spokesperson continued: "For whatever political purpose, it is plain that a last ditch attempt is being made to lengthen the privileges committee investigation as it was coming to a conclusion and to undermine Mr Johnson.

"Mr Johnson’s lawyers have tonight written to the police forces involved to explain in detail why the Cabinet Office is entirely wrong in its assertions."


Tomorrow's papers today

The newspaper front pages are starting to be published, and as you might imagine, the latest Boris Johnson saga splashes many of them.

Here are the front pages so far - and the key points from each:

The Daily Mailreports that Boris Johnson is threatening to sue the Cabinet Office after extracts from his ministerial diary were passed to police.

A source close to the former PM described the allegations published this evening as "seriously defamatory".

The Daily Expressquotes unnamed friends of the former PM who declare the police probe a "stitch up" and a "witch hunt".

The i paperalso reports on Boris Johnson's latest woes, and says he is "fighting for his future".

Boris Johnson takes up half ofThe Independent digital's front page.

The other half is dedicated to their home affairs editor Lizzie Dearden's six-month investigation that found that Home Secretary Suella Braverman failed to declare links to Rwanda before she elected.

The Guardiannewspaper also splashes on the fresh allegations of rule-breaking at Chequers and Downing Street.

The Mirroralso splashes on the police referral, and quotes a COVID campaigner as saying Boris Johnson's legacy "is one of lying".

As well as splashing on Boris Johnson's alleged rule breaches, The Daily Telegraphalso writes about an article Rishi Sunak has penned for them in which he says "must be controlled and it must be fair".

The Timesmentions the Boris Johnson probe briefly at the bottom of the pages, but splashes on comments from the IMF who has urged the chancellor not to cut taxes yet.

And the Financial Timessplashes on an admission from the governor of the Bank of England that it has "very big lessons learn" after it failed to forecast persistently high inflation.

(Video) Downing Street Crash: 'This isn't a situation where Westminster is locked down'


Labour won't oppose ban on international students bringing dependents to UK amid rising migration figures

As we reported earlier today, international students who come to study in the UK will no longer be able to bring family with them except under specific circumstances in a government bid to bring immigration down (see post at 12.39).

International students will no longer be able to bring dependants with them unless they are on postgraduate courses that are currently designated as research programmes.

The package will remove the ability for international students to switch out of the student route and into work routes before their studies have been completed.

The Labour Party has confirmed that it will not oppose the plans because "proper enforcement" is "long overdue".

Shadow home secretary Yvette Cooper said: "International students are important to the UK but there do need to be sensible arrangements for family members and proper enforcement measures are long overdue.

"That is why Labour has already made clear we won’t oppose these changes for master’s students.

But she said the measures do not address the problems both in the immigration system and the economy.

"These measures still don’t address the serious problem in the Conservatives’ immigration system, which is their failure to tackle skills shortages and the 95% increase in work visas as employers increasingly turn to overseas recruitment while there isn’t proper training or support for people to get back in the workplace in the UK," she said.

(Video) Downing Street: Watch moment man arrested after car crashes into the gates


1. Rishi Sunak was in Downing Street when car crashed into front gates
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2. Home Office: Migration's policies under scrutiny ahead of 2022 net migration figures
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3. What next for Boris Johnson as police look at claims of Covid lockdown breach at Chequers?
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4. Boris Johnson: What are the new claims against the former Prime Minister?
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5. News At Ten: Cardiff riot and Madeleine McCann police search
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