Tory party on cusp of 'civil war' over North-South divide, claim MPs

Cat Neilan
·37-min read
Esther McVey, who also signed the letter, and Jake Berry are said to be angry with Team Boris - Eddie Mulholland
Esther McVey, who also signed the letter, and Jake Berry are said to be angry with Team Boris - Eddie Mulholland

The Conservative party is on the cusp of a civil war over the North-South divide, Tory MPs have claimed, after more than 50 backbenchers signed an open letter to Boris Johnson. 

The Northern Research Group is the biggest threat to Mr Johnson's authority since he came to power. Led by Jake Berry, a former Northern Powerhouse minister, it has led to comparisons with the European Research Group, which was a constant thorn in the side of Theresa May.

One senior Conservative told the Telegraph the NRG letter "shows the Balkanisation of the Tory party. The party is now divided into so many factions that civil war in the future will be inevitable."

"Jake is very serious and very upset with Boris," he said. 

Another former minister agreed. "Jake is bitter that he was one of Boris' lieutenants but was moved out of attending Cabinet. He has a seriously inflated view of his own abilities. He also has Esther [McVey] onboard - also bitter... But will it be as united as the ERG?"

A third Tory MP said: "Jake is a very angry man, and that will be a problem... the tension between the South and the North is going to be here for a long time."

A fourth noted that Mr Berry was "very angry at his treatment from Boris' new team" and warned that the hated housing algorithm - attacked by Ms May "has basically created a Southern Research Group". 

Allies have insisted that Mr Berry is seeking to be supportive and constructive, however NRG member Simon Fell, the Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness, warned Number 10 it faces a "tussle" with backbenchers. 

Follow the latest updates below.

04:22 PM

And that's it for another day...

Boris Johnson might have hoped the days of Conservative party civil war were behind him. But the letter from the newly-formed Northern Research Group of MPs is threatening to erupt into yet another psychodrama. 

The Prime Minister was warned of a looming "tussle" with northern backbenchers over the growing North-South divide - something one MP said was all but inevitable. "It's just a question of damage limitation at this stage," he said. 

While Mr Johnson was nowhere to be seen Hampshire-born Rishi Sunak was doing his best to persuade northern MPs that he was one of them by virtue of his Yorkshire seat, if not his Yorkshire accent. 

The Chancellor - who was the subject of a misguided attack ad - was in the hot seat today as his team pushed back against claims he had blocked funding for free school meals, amid rumours of a row between him and (northern) Cabinet colleague Gavin Williamson

Whether the popular Mr Sunak stands to benefit from the row remains to be seen, however nearly half of you - 49 per cent - believe that once the PM has Got Brexit Done they party will Get Boris Gone. 

Just 18 per cent said he could smooth things over with some ego-stroking: the remaining 33 per cent said he would need to genuinely tackle the North-South divide. 

That's it for today - read on for all the days news.

03:57 PM

Andy Burnham names and shames Tesco for not enforcing face mask rules

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has accused Tesco of failing to be "Covid-safe" over the use of masks, accusing the supermarket giant of having failed to take a "responsible attitude".

He told the Lords economic affairs committee that local leaders had called for the Government to hand over powers to take targeted enforcement action against firms that fail to protect staff and customers.

"We asked for summary closure powers of all premises that were not deemed to be Covid-safe," Mr Burnham said.

"I'm not just talking about pubs and restaurants. There are large supermarkets in Greater Manchester who in my view have not properly implemented the requirements around face coverings. And I'll name one chain: Tesco.

"I don't believe they've taken a responsible attitude to this issue, they've said it's not for them to enforce. Well I do think it is for those organisations to enforce.

"We have asked for targeted summary closure powers to be able to temporarily close venues which we do not believe are adhering properly to the protocols," he added. "We think that would be a better approach than blanket restrictions that may or may not have the impact that the Government wants on the virus."

Andy Burnham has asked for powers to close venues - AFP
Andy Burnham has asked for powers to close venues - AFP

03:45 PM

Racism still considered low priority issue despite Black Lives Matter protests

Tackling racism is still considered to be of less importance than issues such as housing and the environment for the majority of Britons, a new survey has suggested. 

Despite the summer being rocked by Black Lives Matter protests, leading to several statues of figures linked to slavery being toppled, just 17 per cent of the general population said racism was a high priority.

Dealing with health (65 per cent), Covid (54 per cent) and poverty (47 per cent) topped the list, followed by unemployment, the environment, education and housing. In fact, some 32 per cent of people said it was a low priority topic to be addressed. 

Conversely younger respondents and those from BAME backgrounds ranked racism higher than reducing unemployment, with 30 per cent of respondents to the Engage Britain survey saying it was high priority. 

Yesterday, the Telegraph reported that Black Lives Matter had registered to become a formally recognised political party. 

03:34 PM

Tom Harris: Labour class war attacks on Rishi Sunak are woefully misguided

Following Tony Blair’s departure, and right up until the last election, Labour called it woefully wrong in calculating that the country would balk at being run by privileged people.

It’s not just the so-called hard Left; a swathe of normally sensible MPs and activists – often from positions of considerable personal wealth themselves – too easily fall for the fallacy that highlighting their opponents’ wealth will bring electoral dividends, despite decades of hard experience proving otherwise.

Yesterday we got the latest shots fired in the class war that was fought and lost years ago: a Twitter account called “One Rule For Them” posted a short video attacking the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, for the crime of – yes, you guessed it – being rich. It was an unapologetically personal attack, featuring shots of the interiors and exteriors of Sunak’s various family homes.

So why anyone believes it is worth the effort to attack him now is a mystery.

03:25 PM

Have your say: Can Boris Johnson survive the looming Conservative civil war?

Boris Johnson might have thought Andy Burnham was his worst nightmare, but now it seems there is another King of the North he must do battle with. 

Jake Berry, former Northern Powerhouse minister, is leading a group of 50-plus Tory MPs in warning the Prime Minister that voters in "Red Wall" seats which the Tories they won from Labour last year will turn against him if they feel "forgotten".

Multiple backbenchers have told the Telegraph the Northern Research Group presents an ERG-style threat to Mr Johnson, with anger over the treatment of the regions exacerbated by career snubs. 

It comes amid increasing chatter that once the transition period is over, he will be jettisoned by the party. So can he ride this latest storm out? Or is winter finally coming for the PM? Have your say in the poll below. 

03:17 PM

Child among three deaths after migrant boat capsized attempting Channel crossing

Three people, including an infant, are now feared have died after a migrant boat capsized off the French coast in stormy weather while trying make the crossing to the UK.  

At least 18 people have been rescued but one drowned and two others, including a child, died of a cardiac arrest, according to local French newspaper Voix Du Nord.

Earlier today (1:49pm) French authorities reported a single death. 

Reacting to the news Dover MP Natalie Elphicke said: "It is terrible that tragedy has struck in the Channel again. People traffickers have no regard for life, no matter how old or young.

"These perilous crossings must be stopped, once and for all, before there is more loss of life in these stormy winter seas."

03:05 PM

Hong Kong-based newspaper warns locals they are 'bitter disappointment' if they move to UK

The editor of a Hong Kong-based newspaper has warned people thinking of relocating to the UK over the controversial new security law imposed on the city that they are in for "bitter disappointment". 

Yonden Lhatoo, chief news editor of the Alibaba-owned South China Morning Post, urged would-be immigrants to reconsider or risk finding - "just like the young Dick Whittington of English folklore" that the streets of London are not paved with gold. 

"As magnanimous and warm as the offer sounds, the cold, hard reality behind it is that life in Britain looks harsh enough to make “suffering” in Hong Kong feel like a picnic," he claimed in a slick video posted online today.  

02:56 PM

Further 207 Covid-related deaths recorded in England

A further 207 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 32,117.

Patients were aged between 36 and 101 years old. All except six had known underlying health conditions.

The date of death ranges from 24 September to 26 October 2020, with the majority being on or after 20 October.

The North West was the worst-affected region, with 77 deaths recorded, followed by the North East & Yorkshire with 44 and the Midlands with 26. London and the East of England recorded 17 deaths apiece,  while both the South East and the South West registered 13 deaths. 

02:50 PM

On Matt Hancock's chilling logic, fading Covid immunity will condemn Britain to permanent lockdown

Following this morning’s warning by Imperial College scientists that immunity from Covid-19 is "waning quite rapidly" in the population as levels of antibodies fade, it would be rude to point out that their colleague, Professor Neil Ferguson, expounded a rather different view on the robustness of immunity back in May. 

When he was caught breaking lockdown rules to meet his married lover, he explained: “I acted in the belief that I was immune, having tested positive for coronavirus” - without any sign of worry that his antibodies might be waning.

But now, argues Ross Clark, it seems we are facing the possibility that even if the billions being spent on vaccines does produce a viable drug, we could find that its effect wears off too rapidly to be of much use.

02:35 PM

Not funding free school meals 'a political choice', claims economist

Not funding free school meals over the October half term is "a political choice" and not a financial necessity, an economist has said. 

Alfie Stirling, head of economics at the New Economics Foundation, conceded that while there was a debate "about how you reach people", the most appropriate way to support those most in need was already well-established. 

"We know how to do it, we know the systems that need funding, the problem is now just the amount of money that the Government is willing to invest," he told Sky News. 

Mr Stirling noted that even with the £20 uplift in Universal Credit, people were "still far worse off than they were in 2010 and the system is weaker than it was in our recent history". 

He said the £20 million-a week cost of free school meals was a "tiny rounding error" compared to the vast sums being spent on the pandemic, noting that Rishi Sunak had approved spending worth "twice as much every day on Eat Out to Help Out, to subsidise meals for those who could afford to eat in restaurants as one week of free school meals."

He added: "It is about political choice and the things the Government chooses to prioritise."

02:19 PM

Andy Burnham 'hopeful' Greater Manchester will get at least £65m in support

Andy Burnham has said he is "hopeful" Greater Manchester will now receive the £65 million package he had asked the Government to give before talks collapsed a fortnight ago. 

Boris Johnson walked away from negotiations after local leaders rejected his offer for £60 million, having dropped their demands from a £90 million-package to £60 million.

The Prime Minister subsequently said the region would get £22 million for Test & Trace, although Matt Hancock later said the Government's initial offer was still on the table -albeit with Mr Burnham cut out of talks. 

But today the regional mayor told a press conference that "because of the decision to backdate Tier 2 support we are hopeful we have at least £65 million - hopefully more". 

He said the leaders of the 10 councils in the region were working on a business support package that would "do what we were saying" during the talks, including to "ensure people on the lowest wages whose workplaces close will get the support they are entitled to... and also people who haven't had the support they need so far" including the self-employed, taxi drivers, and freelancers.

02:07 PM

Minister 'extremely hopeful' that sniffer dogs can be used to detect Covid-19

A health minister has said he is "extremely hopeful" sniffer dogs can be used to help detect Covid-19 in the UK.

Lord Bethell praised an "extremely exciting" trial taking place to assess whether trained dogs can be used to identify unique odours associated with coronavirus infection.

It is hoped they could be used to screen crowds at airports and other busy venues to seek out infected people.

Finland has already deployed coronavirus-sniffing dogs at its main international airport in a four-month trial.

Lord Bethell told his fellow peers that Matt Hancock was visiting the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine "this very afternoon in order to get an update on that trial.

"Dogs can be used as a way of screening crowds in places like airports and high-density venues," he added. "The validation of that method hasn't been proven yet, but I am personally extremely hopeful and remain grateful to those involved in the pilot."

01:49 PM

One feared dead and 18 hospitalised after migrant boat sinks off coast of France

At least one man is feared to have drowned and 18 people have been taken to hospital, after a migrant boat sunk off the coast of France this morning. 

A large-scale search and rescue operation was launched on Tuesday after a sailboat spotted the vessel in difficulty.

Customs and Navy patrol boats went to the vicinity, assisted by a lifeboat and fishing vessel. People have been taken to hospitals in Calais and Dunkirk, according to the Maritime Prefecture of the Channel and the North Sea.

A search operation for any other passengers continues.

Police officers stand near a police car at Dunkerque port, northern France - AFP
Police officers stand near a police car at Dunkerque port, northern France - AFP

01:45 PM

Marcus Rashford, charities and cross-party politicians must tackle child hunger together, peers told

England footballer Marcus Rashford, charities and politicians from all parties should form a group to find long-term solutions to help feed vulnerable children, peers have been told.

Lord Woolley of Woodford, former chair of the Government's race disparity unit, told the House of Lords that "the subject of free school meals should not be embroiled in this present poisonous political space". 

He added: "While we entrench our political positions and we're afraid to say, on either side, 'I may have got this wrong', our kids go hungry, families descend into despair and... destitution beckons."

He called on education minister Baroness Berridge to "show leadership and create a unified party group to form a strategy for today, tomorrow and the long-term that includes young, dynamic men such as Marcus Rashford, and organisations such as FareShare and the Trussell Trust and others".

Baroness Berridge said: "Working together is a solution and the suggestions put forward by the new child poverty task force convened by Marcus Rashford, whose activities we commend, will be considered as part of the forthcoming spending review."

01:29 PM

British voters would overwhelmingly back Biden, new poll finds

Britain would overwhelmingly vote Donald Trump out of the White House if given a vote, with new poll suggesting 80 per cent would back Joe Biden as the 46th President. 

Despite the incumbent having backed Brexit and given Boris Johnson a thumbs up, just 38 per cent of Leavers and 39 per cent of Conservative voters said they would back Trump in a vote. 

Support for his Democratic rival rises to 99 per cent among those that voted Labour or Lib Dem in the 2019 General Election and 96 per cent among Remainers. 

Trump is more popular with men, with a quarter (24 per cent) of those who gave a preference saying the POTUS would get their vote, compared to 14 per cent of women. 

Some 77 per cent of those surveyed on behalf of Betfair believe Trump is not fit to be US President, however Biden doesn’t garner much more support himself, with only 37 per cent claiming he is fit to take on the role. 

01:10 PM

Police investigating road collision involving Sir Keir Starmer

Police are investigating a road collision involving Sir Keir Starmer, in which a cyclist was taken to hospital.

The Labour leader is understood to have been driving in the Kentish Town area of north London when the incident happened around midday on Sunday.

A spokesman for Sir Keir said he stayed at the scene until an ambulance arrived and reported the incident at a police station later that day.

The Met Police said the driver was not arrested nor interviewed under caution. They added that the male cyclist suffered a minor injury to his arm and was taken to hospital by ambulance "as a precaution".

Sir Keir Starmer was involved in "a minor road traffic accident on Sunday" - PA
Sir Keir Starmer was involved in "a minor road traffic accident on Sunday" - PA

12:46 PM

No longer a difference in Covid rates between travellers and non-travellers: ONS

There is "no longer a difference" in the rate of coronavirus infections between those who have travelled abroad and those who have not, the Office for National Statistics has said.

Between September 25 and October 8 just three per cent of participants had travelled abroad. Some 0.49 per cent of those who had said they had not travelled abroad in the last 30 days tested positive for the virus, compared with 0.58 per cent who had travelled.

The ONS study also found that 34 per cent of those who tested positive had no symptoms when they were tested, while 32 per cent of those who tested positive had cough, fever or anosmia at the time of their test.

Katherine Kent, co-head of analysis for the Covid-19 Infection Survey, said: "Unlike before, there is no longer a difference in the rate of infections between those who have travelled abroad and those who haven't.

"When looking back at the whole duration of the survey, we are still seeing that a fairly low percentage of people who test positive report any symptoms at the time of their test, although this has increased since a low in late June and July."

12:36 PM

Claws out: Speaker's cat named Purr Minister

Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle is well known for his menagerie of pets, including Boris the parrot and Maggie the tortoise.

But it is his Maine Coon Patrick who is putting the cat amongst the pigeons in Westminster, after being named the public’s favourite politicat. He fended off competition from  Bertie, owned by Stephen Hammond, MP for Wimbledon;  Collar, owned by Maria Caulfield, MP for Lewes and Toby, owned by David Simmonds, MP for Ruislip, Northwood and Pinner.

According to Battersea Cats & Dogs' home:

Patrick’s popular pawlicies were set out in his Manifursto in which he pledged impurrtiality, a better work/mouse balance, empawment for staff, purrtection for all, regular repawts, no fur flying in the chamber, and, most importantly, feline fine moments for everyone.

12:25 PM

Students self-isolating at more than half of England's secondary schools

More than half of secondary schools in England sent home at least one student because of coronavirus last week, Government figures show.

Around six to seven per cent of state school pupils - excluding schools on half term - did not attend class for Covid-19-related reasons on October 22, the Department for Education (DfE) statistics suggest.

More than a quarter (26 per cent) of schools said they had one or more pupils self-isolating due to potential contact with a case of coronavirus inside the school.

This equates to 55 per cent of secondary schools and 20 per cent of primary schools.

Overall, approximately 86 per cent of students on the roll in state schools, excluding schools on half-term breaks, were in attendance on October 22.

Around 82 per cent of secondary school pupils and 90 per cent of primary school pupils were in school last week, the figures show.

12:09 PM

Northern Research Group warns Number 10 of looming 'tussle' with backbenchers

A member of the newly formed Northern Research Group of Conservative MPs has warned Number 10 there is going to be in "a bit of tussle" with backbenchers for "a while".

Simon Fell, Conservative MP for Barrow and Furness, said the group was "trying to essentially keep the government honest on its promises to the north".

Mr Fell, who signed the letter, told Times Radio: "When we start to look at issues like Covid and the restrictions that have been brought in we need to understand that some of these things hit the North disproportionately badly."

"Levelling up isn't just about investment in big chunks of infrastructure. It's about making sure that our towns and our cities have got a route out of this and that they'll still be standing at the end of this crisis."

He suggested levelling up was "one of those brilliant phrases that captures everyone's aspirations, but perhaps doesn't have any meat to the bones of it."

"It's going to be a bit of tussle for a while getting Number 10 into the position where they understand what our voters are hoping for and what they expect to get out of us, but that's a good conversation to be having I think."

11:52 AM

UK and Australia to 'work at pace' on new trade deal

Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison, the Prime Minister of Australia, have agreed to "work at pace" to strike a free trade deal between the two countries as soon as possible. 

The pair also set out plans to “intensify the partnership between the UK and Australia on developing and scaling up green technologies", Downing Street said.  

 “Building on the long-standing friendship and partnership between the UK and Australia, the leaders welcomed progress on a free trade agreement and resolved to work at pace to secure a mutually beneficial deal.  

“They agreed on the importance of like-minded states working together to tackle global issues, including building open societies, strengthening democratic values and boosting free and fair trade.  

“The Prime Minister also stressed that we need bold action to address climate change, noting that the UK’s experience demonstrates that driving economic growth and reducing emissions can go hand-in-hand."

Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during less socially distanced times - PA
Boris Johnson and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison during less socially distanced times - PA

11:48 AM

Government should not 'dictate things' on free school meals, says Rishi Sunak

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said that he is "absolutely committed" to ensuring vulnerable children do not go hungry but that central Government should not "come in and dictate things". 

But he told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat that there is a "debate about what the best way to do that is".

"We've taken the view that we have provided resources for local authorities to help in a targeted way the most vulnerable children that they need to look after," he said.

"We've got to trust local councils in their area and we provide them with resources, as we have done in this case, and directly to families.

"But ... we should be able to trust local councils in different areas to make decisions for their people.

"So I don't think it's always the right answer that central government comes in and dictates things."

11:40 AM

Rishi Sunak: I share my northern colleagues' frustrations

Rishi Sunak has said he shares the "frustration" of a group of Tory backbenchers representing northern constituencies who have demanded to know how lockdowns will be eased.

More than 50 MPs have signed a letter from the Northern Research Group, calling for the Prime Minister to reassert his commitment to the Red Wall and other regional seats struggling under Tier 3 restrictions. 

The Chancellor, whose Richmond (Yorkshire) constituency is a safe Conservative seat, told BBC Radio 1's Newsbeat: "I absolutely share my colleagues' frustration at restrictions - of course that's frustrating if you're having to live under these things and you want to know when it's going to be over.

"But I also share their passion and ambition for the North. I want my constituents to make sure they have the same opportunities that everyone else does. The conversation can't always just be about what's going on in London, marvellous as London is." 

Rishi Sunak is trying to appease aggrieved colleagues - AFP
Rishi Sunak is trying to appease aggrieved colleagues - AFP

11:25 AM

Lord Sumption: Ministers stoked fear to justify lockdowns

A former supreme court judge will today accuse the Government of using “propaganda and stoking fear” in order to justify Covid lockdowns.

Lord Sumption, a retired supreme court judge, will say the Government has been able to impose draconian measures on the public by instilling fear about the dangers of the Covid-19 virus.

Giving the Cambridge Freshfields annual law lecture he will say ministers sidestepped Parliament through the Public Health Act which, unlike other legislation, allowed them to introduce lockdowns and other measures without the same level of scrutiny by the Commons or Lords.

My colleague, Charles Hymas, has the full details here

11:06 AM

Have your say: Can Boris Johnson survive the looming Conservative civil war?

Boris Johnson might have thought Andy Burnham was his worst nightmare, but now it seems there is another King of the North he must do battle with. 

Jake Berry, former Northern Powerhouse minister, is leading a group of 50-plus Tory MPs in warning the Prime Minister that voters in "Red Wall" seats which the Tories they won from Labour last year will turn against him if they feel "forgotten".

Multiple backbenchers have told the Telegraph the Northern Research Group presents an ERG-style threat to Mr Johnson, with anger over the treatment of the regions exacerbated by career snubs. 

It comes amid increasing chatter that once the transition period is over, he will be jettisoned by the party. So can he ride this latest storm out? Or is winter really coming? Have your say in the poll below. 

10:36 AM

'Some of us feel very expendable': Tory MPs hit out at arms-length PM

Conservative MPs are hitting out at the arms-length relationship Boris Johnson has with his backbenchers. 

Last week the Prime Minister made a rare appearance in the tea room, as he sought to smooth ruffled feathers among some of the new intake who had rebelled over the pub curfew. 

But other, more established, backbenchers are bemoaning the Prime Minister's absence from Parliament, and the distance his team has put between them. 

"Number 10 have no idea about Parliament - the PM has never been a lover of the place, and the people around him treat MPs with contempt," one told the Telegraph. "They operate as if it is a mayoralty."

The former minister said the "complete lack of engagement" from the whip's office was particularly risky, saying there was no one "making sure everything is ok and [asking] what support people need. Some of us feel very expendable." 

10:24 AM

More than 61,000 Covid-related deaths recorded in the UK

More than 61,000 deaths involving Covid-19 have now occurred in the UK, new figures show.

A total of 59,927 deaths have so far been registered in the UK where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases, according to the latest reports from the UK's statistics agencies.

This includes 54,609 deaths in England and Wales up to October 16 (and registered up to October 24), which were confirmed by the ONS on Tuesday.

Since these statistics were compiled, a further 1,044 deaths are known to have occurred in England, plus 36 in Scotland, 62 in Wales and 47 in Northern Ireland, according to additional data published on the Government's coronavirus dashboard.

Together, these totals mean that so far 61,116 deaths involving Covid-19 have taken place in the UK.

Are Covid-19 cases rising or falling in your area? All local authorities with lookup. Updates automatically
Are Covid-19 cases rising or falling in your area? All local authorities with lookup. Updates automatically

09:45 AM

Rishi Sunak and Gavin Williamson not at war over school meals, minister insists

There is no "battle" between Rishi Sunak and the Education Secretary, a minister has insisted, amid rumours that the pair are embroiled in a row over funding for the country's poorest children. 

Over the weekend the Chancellor was blamed for blocking a £20 million-a-week extension of free school meals with vouchers for deprived children over the half-term and Christmas holidays.

But allies of the Chancellor yesterday insisted that he was not to blame, arguing his Cabinet colleague Gavin Williamson had not put forward a proposal for the Treasury to approve.

 “There has been no new proposal from the Department for Education about releasing cash for this half-term,” one source, who suspected Mr Williamson’s team of briefing the story, told the FT. “It’s pathetic, really.”

This morning Nadhim Zahawi insisted Mr Sunak and Mr Williamson were "in absolute lockstep" over free school meals, alongside the Prime Minister, and this was "speculating on stuff I don't recognise". 

"I don't think there is a battle," he told Sky News. "The Education Secretary is to be commended for his pilots on school activities and food programmes.

"It’s a team effort - it isn’t about pointing fingers."

09:31 AM

Prime Minister must 'build on the Red Wall', says Jake Berry

Jake Berry has urged Boris Johnson to capitalise on the 2019 election result and "build on the Red Wall" as part of the post-Covid recovery. 

The former minister said the 50-strong group of MPs in the Northern Research Group represented an "economic powerhouse" and that the Government should be "putting the North of England absolutely at the heart of those recovery plans". 

He told the BBC: "We have got a real opportunity here. Many people voted Conservative for the first time in their life [in December]... there is a real opportunity, not just for Conservative party to hold those seats in the North of England but to build on the Red Wall."

Despite comparisons being drawn between the NRG and the European Research Group, which contributed to the downfall of Theresa May, Mr Berry said he believed "the Prime Minister is absolutely committed to driving the North forward."

"There have been difficult times with negotiations with regional mayors [but] he and his government have really prioritised the businesses and people of the North of England."

09:22 AM

Jake Berry calls for 'bespoke plan' to bolster North after Covid

Jake Berry has called for a "bespoke plan" to get harder-hit parts of the country back on their feet after Covid, amid concerns that restrictions are exacerbating the North-South divide. 

The former Northern Powerhouse minister and chair of the newly-formed Northern Research Group, told the BBC the Government's promise to "build back better" should revolve around a "bespoke plan, ensuring the things we really excel at in the North, like manufacturing, are at the heart of it."

He reiterated the call made in his open letter to Boris Johnson for the Government to publish "easy, digestible data" so those in the highest tier of restrictions know what their route out is, saying: "I am sure the Government knows, but it is like a conclave, where you have to wait for 28 days for white smoke."

Mr Berry said ministers should "level with the public" which would make it easier to "truly bring people with them". 

09:12 AM

Liverpool mayor backs Tier 4 restrictions 'if necessary'

Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson has backed the idea of a possible fourth tier of coronavirus restrictions if Tier 3 measures do not go far enough to halt the spread of Covid-19.

Mr Anderson, whose brother Bill was one of 61 people to die with the virus in the city in one week, said he would support "tougher measures if necessary".

He told BBC Breakfast: "It has taken untold damage on people's wellbeing and a huge toll on families where people have died. If anything was required to bring it down faster I would do that.

"However, I want to make sure that we are giving tier three a chance to see if the measures have an impact."

He added he would review the results of the Tier 3 restrictions in 14 to 16 days' time.

A fourth tier could see restaurants and non-essential retail stores close, the paper said, and the suggestion comes after the Scottish Government opted for a five-tier model in which Level 4 is closer to the full lockdown implemented in March.

Yesterday Matt Hancock said the Government would "take nothing off the table" when asked about the prospect of a new fourth tier of restrictions. 

 

08:49 AM

Holiday clubs has better impact than benefits, says Government's food tsar

Holiday clubs which provide meals for hungry children would be a better way of addressing the problem than money through the benefits system, the Government's food tsar has said.

Henry Dimbleby, co-founder of restaurant chain Leon told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "This problem is real, it should go without saying it's serious, it's immediate and it's going to get worse as employment gets worse and the Government isn't doing enough. One in seven families already are reporting not be able to afford enough food."

Mr Dimbleby, the head of the national food strategy, said he has been lobbying ministers to act, noting that "in-kind support" through holiday clubs, providing food and education, had been shown to have a better impact than putting the same "small amount of money" into Universal Credit.

"I haven't been backward in coming forward with ideas that I have been feeding in to Treasury, to Education and to Number 10, ideas of how they could rapidly implement this by Christmas," he said. "But ... the dark centre of government is invisible to me and I have no idea exactly what they're working on as we speak."

Revealed: Free school meals climbdown could see Government fund 'holiday clubs' 

08:44 AM

Minister hails 'good news' as Tier 3 restrictions appear to slow virus spread

Nadhim Zahawi has said there is "good news" about some of the regions under Tier 3 restrictions, suggesting the rate of increase in coronavirus transmission appears to be slowing. 

The Business Minister emphasised that those areas under the highest level of restrictions were subject to 28-day reviews and that bringing the virus under control was the route out of restrictions, following concerns raised by northern Tory MPs about the coronavirus exit strategy.

Mr Zahawi told LBC Radio: "There is some good news. I have to be very cautious about this... but what I would say if you look at the the data, where we are working really well together, the rate of increase has slowed down.

"It's still too high, and we've got to continue to protect our hospitals, make sure that we save lives, protect the NHS and of course protect livelihoods and businesses, which is why this is a balancing act."

He added: "It's a choice between two harms - the harm of the virus and the harm to the economy and to livelihoods, which ultimately also leads to health harms as well."

Three-tier postcode tool
Three-tier postcode tool

08:27 AM

William Hague: The school meals row is the first skirmish in a looming political war

The sad spectacle of Her Majesty’s Government being repeatedly tackled by a well-known footballer is becoming a familiar one, repeated every time school holidays are in prospect.

Half term and the approach of Christmas has brought another campaign from Marcus Rashford, a new effort by the Cabinet to dig in its heels, and then a familiar cracking of Conservative unity under the pressure of public opinion.

Compromise or surrender often follows. Try as it might to limit the scale of increased public expenditure, the Government can’t win when faced with a campaign about hungry children and a general belief that the available supply of money has become infinite.

If the country can borrow £350 billion this year, argues William Hague, who wants to hold out against another £200 million?

08:24 AM

ICYMI: That Rishi Sunak attack ad

While Rishi Sunak finds himself in the middle of a row with his Cabinet colleague Gavin Williamson, the Chancellor has also been made the subject of a new attack ad by a group calling itself One Rule For Themselves. 

The video, unveiled yesterday afternoon, has already had more than 400,000 views - but it's safe to say the reaction is mixed. 

The ad is heavy-handed and hardly slick compared to his own social media presence, so it is unlikely to give him any sleepless nights. But it's certainly an interesting target, given Mr Sunak's almost unrivalled popularity among the electorate. 

08:15 AM

Northern Research Group not planning a 'revolt' against Boris Johnson, says Jake Berry

The leader of the new Northern Research Group, who sent an open letter signed by more than 50 Conservative MPs last night, has insisted the backbenchers are not planning a revolt against Boris Johnson. 

The emergence of the NRG is the biggest threat to Mr Johnson's authority since he came to power and threatens to frustrate the will of the Prime Minister in a way that echoes the European Research Group's beasting of Theresa May.

The intervention is the most significant to date by the group, which is rapidly becoming a party within a party that has the power to overturn Mr Johnson's parliamentary majority.

Former Northern Powerhouse minister Jake Berry said he and other MPs want to "revitalise" the Prime Minister's levelling-up agenda.

Asked if he and other northern MPs are staging a "revolt", the MP for Rossendale and Darwen told the Today programme: "No it's not a revolt.

"I mean I don't know how it can be a revolt for northern MPs to write to the Prime Minister to ask to work with him on delivering his exciting manifesto that he has a mandate for from December 2019."

08:09 AM

Publish 'consistent and clear data' on exiting Tiers, says Northern Research Group boss Jake Berry

The head of the newly-formed Northern Research Group has called for "consistent and clear data to be published that shows not just council leaders, but also the public and businesses alike, how they are doing in tackling this pandemic".

Jake Berry, the former Northern Powerhouse minister, wrote an open letter to the Prime Minister yesterday, calling on him to fix the North-South divide in the tier system. The letter was publicly signed by 40 MPs, with a further 14 signatories whose names had been redacted. 

Mr Berry told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "First of all it's good that the Government's identified the metrics, if you like, that are going to enable areas to leave Tier 3 or Tier 2 respectively.

"What I would like to see on a personal basis is that information provided in an easily digestible consumer-facing, public-friendly way that can show people a route out of these restrictions."

Esther McVey, who also signed the letter, and Jake Berry when they were both ministers - Eddie Mulholland
Esther McVey, who also signed the letter, and Jake Berry when they were both ministers - Eddie Mulholland

08:04 AM

Ending Universal Credit uplift will be 'bigger headache than free school meals', warns former minister

Yet another former minister has said the Government should have conceded on the issue of school meals last week - and warned that Universal Credit will become "a much bigger headache".

Stephen Crabb, the former Wales Secretary, joins the likes of Caroline Nokes and Sir Bernard Jenkin in calling for Number 10 to change tack in the short-term. 

"I think the Government should just deal with this head on, concede on the issue of vouchers but say very clearly and firmly that vouchers at best are not a long-term solution," he said.

Mr Crabb said the Government has created a political problem with ministers talking up the role of Universal Credit, adding: "We are on course to cut that money back in just a few months time and for me that's just unconscionable.

"You can't give money to some of the poorest people in the country and then go out publicly and celebrate that fact and then say 'oh by the way, even though we may still be living with the consequences of the pandemic next April we are going to cut that money back by around £20 per week, £100 per month'.

"And that's going to be a much bigger headache for the Government than school meals."

07:46 AM

Unclear if Nottingham has sufficient support for Tier 3, says council leader

Councillor David Mellen, leader of Nottingham City Council, said it is "difficult to tell" whether the city has the Government support it needs for Tier 3, adding that all areas have been given a "flat rate".

He told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "I think we have additional responsibilities of running a big city, and the city centre in particular has additional needs.

"I'm not sure that all of that will be covered in what we've been promised from the Government."

He said costs and lost income from the first wave of Covid-19 "were not fully met as was promised", meaning that budgets are "strained and stretched".

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

07:41 AM

Northern Tory MPs demand 'clear roadmap out of lockdown'

Tory MPs in the North have demanded that Boris Johnson sets out a "clear roadmap out of lockdown" as they warn him he cannot leave people "with no end in sight".

The newly-established Northern Research Group of more than 50 Conservative MPs wrote to the Prime Minister to make it clear that voters in "Red Wall" seats which the Tories they won from Labour last year will turn against him if they feel "forgotten".

More than eight million people are now living under Tier 3, the harshest level of England's restrictions, almost all of them in the North, with "greater clarity" needed on how they escape from the strict coronavirus measures.

The intervention is the most significant to date by the group, which is rapidly becoming a party within a party that has the power to overturn Mr Johnson's parliamentary majority.