Asylum claims made in the UK have risen to their highest level for nearly 20 years, according to new figures from the Home Office, as the head of the Refugee Council calls for less “nationalist posturing” over people fleeing war zones.
Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, has announced a radical reorganisation of the British army, with an additional PS8.6bn to be spent on equipment and a new ranger regiment created to help counter extremist organisations and hostile state threats. Labour has said that this will leave the army “too small” and “too thinly stretched” and that it confirms Boris Johnson has broken a pre-election promise not to cut the size of the armed forces. (See 1.43pm. )
HM Revenue and Customs has struck a deal to relocate tax officials into a new office complex in Newcastle owned by major Conservative party donors through an offshore company based in a tax haven, the Guardian can reveal.
Downing Street has insisted no decision has yet been taken on a diplomatic boycott of the Beijing Winter Olympics. Earlier Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, prompted speculation that the government might stay away when he told MPs that “no tickets have been booked” for ministers for the event. But No 10 said:
We have said that the prime minister’s long-standing view is that boycotts don’t work. We stand the same as before: no decision has been taken on the government’s participation at the games.
Labour is calling for an investigation into the conduct and honesty of the Conservative peer Michelle Mone after she repeatedly denied any association with a PPE (personal protective equipment) company it has since emerged she recommended to the government.
Hundreds of thousands of parents are missing out on help paying for childcare and billions allocated to the government’s flagship “tax-free childcare” scheme is going unspent, data has revealed.
at 3. 52am AEDT
Tory MP recommends that women take on roles such as Dr Who to encourage young men to commit crime
MPs held a debate on international men’s day (last Friday) in Westminster Hall today. The Conservative MP Nick Fletcher, who won Don Valley from Labour in 2019, opened the debate, and he argued that many problems facing men and boys were not receiving enough attention. He emphasized the importance of positive role models and said that masculinity should be celebrated. He said that Dr Who’s popularity as a character played by women is encouraging young men to commit crimes. He said:
I would also like to reiterate something that seems to be very topical at the moment, although much more for women than men, and that is the need for men to have their own identity and for masculinity to be something that can be celebrated at times, rather than continually vilified.
Everywhere, not least within the cultural sphere, there seems to be a call from a tiny, and very vocal, minority that every male character, or good role model, must have a female replacement. You only have to look at the debate about who will play James Bond. It’s not just James Bond. We have seen Dr Who and Ghostbusters, Luke Skywalker and the Equalizer replaced by women in recent years. Men are left with Tommy Shelby and the Krays. It is no surprise that young men are committing crimes. These programs make crime seem cool. Trust me, living in prison for a lifetime is not cool.
“Every male character or good role model must have a female replacement… and it’s not just James Bond”
Tory MP Nick Fletcher says men are left with the Krays and Tommy Shelby and asks “is it any wonder we are seeing so many young men committing crime? “https://t.co/ERAlZ3BJ2p pic.twitter.com/noFNWmocpf
at 3. 27am AEDT
Boris Johnson, a former colleague at the Spectator, launches a website to catalog all of his lies
The journalist Peter Oborne has launched a new project to catalogue the lies told by Boris Johnson. The website is here.
Today I am starting to publish a detailed, annotated record of the lies, falsehoods and misleading statements made by Boris Johnson and colleagues dating back to his appointment as prime minister in July 2019. They are available here: https://t.co/jfJbqc9AT3
This website documents how Johnson and his ministers have persistently deceived the British people about the great issues of our time: above all Covid and Brexit. Over the next few days, I will publish new lies and fabrications every day.
Oborne launched a version of the website soon after Johnson became prime minister, but he abandoned work on it after the 2019 general election. Oborne used crowdfunding to raise funds and was able hire staff. The new version is even better. It is still unfinished – it only covers untrue or misleading statements made by Johnson and his ministers up to February 2020 – but the entries are well researched, with extensive links explaining why comments have been labelled as false.
Oborne says the project will be “like painting the Forth Bridge”. He explains: “The task can never be completed because he and his ministers are constantly producing more examples.”
In a mission statement, Oborne explains why he feels so strongly about politicians who lie (he has written two books on the subject, focusing on Tony Blair and Johnson). Oborne also explains why he uses such a broad definition of lying to include statements that are “reckless as the truth”.
The Washington Post conducted a similar exercise with Donald Trump, and by the time he left the White House it concluded he had made 30,573 false or misleading claims as president.
If you did not know otherwise, you might assume from the website that Oborne is vehemently leftwing. Oborne is a great critic of Johnson. But, what makes him so interesting and authoritative is the fact that he spent his entire career writing columns for right-wing newspapers. He was a columnist for the Daily Telegraph, the Daily Mail, and was for many years the political editor for the Spectator. Johnson was the editor.
Often it is people who have worked with Johnson closely who turn out to be his strongest critics. Sonia Purnell, who was Johnson’s deputy in the Daily Telegraph’s Brussels office, went on to write a damning biography of him. Oborne has written his own book about Johnson in which he said: “I have never encountered a senior British politician who lies and fabricates so regularly, so shamelessly and so systematically as Boris Johnson.” Alan Duncan was Johnson’s deputy when Johnson was foreign secretary, and later published diaries describing Johnson as an “embarrassing buffoon”. When Johnson became the PM, his closest advisor was Dominic Cummings. Cummings is now his most dangerous enemy. Like Oborne, Cummings believes that Johnson is a liar, although Cummings has also said that this label is sometimes hard to justify because Johnson does not particularly care what the truth is anyway. According to a strict definition of lying, you must lie if you are able to prove it. This is how Cummings put it in a blog earlier this year.
[Johnson] rewrites reality in his mind afresh according to the moment’s demands. He lies so often, so openly, and so frequently that it is impossible to distinguish between truth and lie with him. He tells people what he wants to hear, but he never means it.
Peter Oborne. Photograph by Peter Oborne
at 2. 59am AEDT
This is from General Sir Mark Carleton-Smith, who as chief of the general staff is head of the army, on the army restructuring announced today.
The Chief of the General Staff
Warfare is changing rapidly and the Army is changing with it. Our Army must be the best in the world, modernising skills, culture and structure.
A generational step-change in capability for a different form of warfare in the Information Age. pic.twitter.com/iDQbzaMfev
The army says it is the most radical transformation it has undergone for 20 years.
We’re delivering the most radical transformation to our Army in 20 years – #FutureSoldier.
It involves thinking differently, how we deal with emerging threats, and the skills, capabilities, and equipment that we need.
Here is more from Sky’s Deborah Haynes on the army restructuring.
The @BritishArmy will base hundreds of infantry fighting vehicles & tanks in Germany and rotate more troops on exercises through the country barely a year after withdrawing a large, Cold War-era presence. 1/
The mini U-turn, part of a major modernisation plan for the army unveiled by the defence secretary on Thursday, will see Germany becoming one of three new “regional land hubs” for the army, along with Oman and Kenya. 2/
The aim is for more troops to be deployed to different parts of the globe for longer – training with partner forces for months rather than the current exercise schedules of weeks – to strengthen relations with allies and deter threats from states such as Russia and China. 3/
Wallace says restructured army will offer more exciting career for recruits than he had as soldier in 1990s
During his Commons statement Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, was asked by the Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone if the army restructuring announced today would discourage people from seeking a career in the military. Quite the opposite, argued Wallace, who served as an officer in the Scots Guards in the 1990s. In an response that revealed quite a lot about the motivations of people joining the army, Wallace said:
I would have stayed in the army if it had looked like this. However, I was part of an army I felt was hollowed out. Equipment didn’t quite work. Your greatest adventure was likely every two years to Northern Ireland. But that was it. Hong Kong was closed. There was also a lackluster sense of purpose and an unidentified enemy that we were facing. This was very important.
So I think this army is going to be more exciting, more rewarding, and more enabling for young people to grow their skills. It is going to be more fluid with the integration of the reserves, and allow reserves and regulars to be much more able to move between each other, depending on their personal circumstances ….
The determination to be out and about around the world – the one thing soldiers don’t want to be is stuck in a barracks, in the UK, sometimes doing not very much. They want to be outside. The Omanis were very active when I visited them in Oman the other week. It was so much fun and exciting that they couldn’t stop talking about it. Last week I was in Poland, where I saw the United Kingdom forces live-firing alongside Polish and United States forces. This is what I want my army to do.
Ben Wallace Photograph: HoC
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Labour confirms Johnson’s pre-election promise to not reduce size of armed forces
This is what John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, told MPs earlier when he said the army restructuring announced today (see 1. 21pm) showed Boris Johnson had broken his election promise not to cut the size of the armed forces. Healey said:
[Ben Wallace, the defence secretary] cannot say he’s reduced the role of the army. He can’t say that the army has all the technology it needs to replace the boots on the ground. He can’t say that the UK is under less threat every day. In fact, he claims they are growing daily.
Yet he’s still cutting the army established strength by 9,000 over the next three years, and that’s on top of 16,000 soldiers cut since 2010.
The prime minister promised in his election manifesto launch in 2019, on behalf of all Conservative members: “We will not be cutting our armed forces in any form … We will be maintaining the size of our armed forces.”
The prime minister may take the pledges he makes to our armed forces and the public lightly, but we do not. By the time of the next election Britain will have the smallest army in 300 years. Size is important. It is important to consider the size of your troops.
The Conservative manifesto did not include a promise to maintain the size of the armed forces, but Johnson did make this promise at an event during the election campaign.
Healey also said the plan would leave the army too small. He said:
I fear that this plan leaves the British army too small, too thinly stretched, too poorly equipped to deal with the threats that the UK and our allies now face, which are growing and diversifying.
John Healey. Photograph by HoC
at 12. 47am AEDT
The Ministry of Defence has now published a summary of its “Future Soldier” plan to restructure the army.
And this is what Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, said about it in his opening statement to MPs.
The army will now be reorganised to operate on a continuous basis, fielding all the relevant capabilities for this era of constant competition and persistently engaged around the globe supporting our partners and deterring our adversaries.
Crucially it will also be an army designed for genuine warfighting credibility as an expeditionary fighting force that will be both deployable and lethal when called upon to fight and win.
at 12. 47am AEDT
In the Commons Priti Patel, the home secretary, has just started making a statement about the deaths of 27 people who drowned trying to cross the Channel in a small boat yesterday. My colleague Damien Gayle is covering what she says in our live blog on the tragedy.
HMRC to move to Newcastle office, which is owned by Tory donors via tax-haven
HM Revenue and Customs has struck a deal to relocate tax officials into a new office complex in Newcastle owned by major Conservative party donors through an offshore company based in a tax haven, my colleague Harry Davies and Rowena Mason report.
According to Sky’s Sam Coates, members of the executive committee of the Conservative 1922 Committee gave the impression they liked what they heard after they left their meeting with Boris Johnson at No 10. (See 12.40pm. )
Sam Coates Sky
They came out laughing and smiling and there was a big group photo on the steps of Downing Street just before we were on air https://t.co/6GEOYJzeJm
Sports minister suggests independent regulator could be established for football quickly following Crouch’s review
Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, told MPs earlier that the government would “work at pace” on setting up an independent regulator for football. Responding to a question on the fan-led review that Tracey Crouch, the former sports minister, had conducted of football governance.
The report shows that fundamental change is needed in our national game and fans deserve that. This is a pivotal moment for football in the country.
The review is a detailed and worthy piece of work that will require a substantive response and plan of action from across government, but the primary recommendation of the review, that football requires a strong independent regulator, is a recommendation that I and the government endorse in principle today.
The government will now work at pace to determine the most effective way to deliver the independent regulator and any powers that might be needed.
But Huddleston also said the government could not “commit 100%” to implementing all the report’s recommendations.
The report is here (pdf), and here is my colleague Paul MacInnes‘s overnight preview story about it.
According to Bloomberg’s Kitty Donaldson, Boris Johnson has had a meeting this morning with the executive of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee, the shop stewards of the Conservative parliamentary party. It must have been a fascinating meeting, although the 1922 executive are a relatively discreet bunch and so we may learn little about what was actually said.
NEW: The executive of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs has been in en masse to see Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Deborah Haynes, Sky’s defence editor, has more on the Wallace statement.
NOW: Defence Secretary @BWallaceMP announcing in Parliament what is being billed as most radical restructuring of @BritishArmy in more than 20 years. It is called “Future Soldier” (And yes it means an even smaller army but apparently it will be a lot more capable)
No cap badges will be lost & there’ll be no redundancies despite a cut in 9,000 posts as part of the restructuring. The army will be arranged under 4 administrative divisions of infantry:
The Queens Division
The Union Division
The Light Division
The Guards & Parachute Division
The Army’s headquarters will also be affected by this restructuring with a reduction of 40% of personnel
And here is her preview story on the announcement.
The restructuring of labour claims will leave an army ‘too small ‘
Responding for Labour, John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, says today’s announcement contradicts a promise made by Boris Johnson during the 2019 election campaign not to cut the size of the armed forces.
Johnson may take his promises lightly, but Labour does not, says Healey.
He says, despite Ben Wallace’s claims, this restructuring is driven by the need to save money.
He says this plan will leave the British army “too small, too thinly-stretched and too poorly-equipped” to deal with the threats the UK faces.
at 11. 33pm AEDT
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