Top story: PM backer hands in letter of no confidence
Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories this morning.
Boris Johnson’s government faces more damaging allegations about lockdown-era parties in Downing Street after reports that staff held two leaving dos featuring alcohol, and one with loud music, on the evening before Prince Philip’s funeral in April last year. Social contact was banned at the time and the Queen’s solitary mourning for her late husband became one of the defining pictures of the period. According to the Daily Telegraph, witnesses said a combined total of about 30 people took part in what appeared to be social events in different parts of Downing Street, before both gatherings combined in the garden. In echoes of the infamous “bring our own booze” email invite to a party in May 2020 revealed this week, one staff member was allegedly sent to the shops with a suitcase to fill up with wine.
Johnson was not at the alleged event in April, but was forced to apologise to MPs this week for attending the May 2020 gathering. He is facing calls to resign, including from some of his own MPs. Andrew Bridgen became the fifth Tory MP to say he had lost confidence in his leader, while Labour deputy Angela Rayner said the “buck stops” with Johnson. Scottish Tory leader Douglas Ross has already said Johnson should quit, leading to Johnson being effectively barred from the Scottish Tory conference in March. The prime minister says he will abide by the findings of an investigation into the alleged parties by civil servant Sue Gray. Whitehall sources said last night that her inquiry might well uncover Downing Street’s “farcical culture” of drinking and impromptu socialising, which goes on with little oversight by ministers.
China warning – An unprecedented security warning from MI5 has been circulated to MPs and peers accusing a lawyer, Christine Lee, of seeking to improperly influence parliamentarians on behalf of China’s ruling Communist party. It is the first time that MI5 has issued an “interference alert” relating to China and concerns a high-profile Anglo-Chinese lawyer who received an award from Theresa May and who has donated £584,177 to the former shadow cabinet member Barry Gardiner. Lee, who has a law firm in Birmingham, has allegedly “knowingly engaged in political interference activities on behalf of the United Front Work Department of the Chinese Communist party”. Gardiner said he had been “liaising with our security services for a number of years about Christine Lee”. China has denied the allegations. The MI5 alert is being seen as a clear warning to China’s allies in the UK.
Meta case – The tech giant Meta is being sued for £2.3bn in a class action lawsuit that claims 44 million Facebook users in the UK had their data exploited after signing up to the social network. The case argues that Meta has broken the 1998 Competition Act by setting an “unfair price” for Facebook’s UK users when they are given access to the service. The lawsuit argues that the price for joining Facebook, which does not charge its users, is handingover personal data that generates most of the company’s income. A Meta spokesperson said people “choose our services because we deliver value”.
School choice ‘illusion’ – Parents in England feel more “cynical, fatalistic and disempowered” about school choice than their peers in other parts of the UK, according to new research. Families in England can name up to six state schools for their children to attend, but although children in Scotland are generally assigned to local state schools, people north of the border were were still more likely to be satisfied with the outcome, the study found. Some English parents said choice was “an illusion”.
Tech hub – Google has announced a £871m deal to buy the London development Central Saint Giles, calling the move a show of confidence in the return to more office working. The US tech firm currently rents space in the brightly coloured development designed by the architect Renzo Piano, which is at the eastern end of Oxford Street. Google is currently building a new headquarters in King’s Cross, and the new deal will expand its workforce capacity in the capital to 10,000 people.
Today in Focus podcast: a royal mess
The Duke of York’s attempts to get a civil case over allegations of sexual assault thrown out have failed. Ed Helmore in New York examines the case against the prince and his narrowing options to salvage his reputation
Lunchtime read: ‘Songs are a form of survival’ – Big Thief
The folk-rockers Big Thief have weathered divorce and trauma to become one of the US’s best bands. With a new, 20-song album coming out in February, they explain their need for imperfection, intra-band marriage and divorce – and why recording is like sex.
The global surge in demand for energy could spark another three years of market volatility and record power plant pollution unless countries make major changes to how they generate electricity, the world’s energy watchdog has warned. Half the increase in demand last year came from China. There are more jitters today on the markets about likely US rate rises. The Nikkei is down 1.5% and the Kospi index slumped 1.45% in South Korea, where the central bank announced back-to-back hikes today for the first time since 2007. The FTSE100 looks like shedding 0.5% at the opening while the pound is on $1.373 and €1.195.
The Sun’s splash head is “Throne out”, as is the Metro’s, and the main head in the i is “Prince Andrew cast out by the Queen”. The Mirror splashes on the latest revelations about parties at No 10 – “No 10 ‘parties on eve of Philip’s funeral’”. The FT lead is “Russian threat to Ukraine persists after talks with west hit ‘dead end’”.
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