Wednesday briefing: ‘Letters are coming from the left and from the right’

Top story: Johnson’s No 10 ‘a culture that needs changing’

Good morning from me, Warren Murray. You’ve got mail, and so has the 1922 committee.

There is open talk among Conservative MPs of removing Boris Johnson as prime minister after he gave a disastrous interview claiming not to have lied over Downing Street parties. It is thought more likely than not there will be a confidence ballot: “Letters are coming from the left and from the right, from Brexiters and remainers,” said one MP, “because what is slowly dawning on people is that there’s not a policy issue; this is a mindset, a modus operandi and culture that needs changing.”

Christian Wakeford, a 2019-intake MP, revealed he had submitted a no confidence letter on Tuesday; a day that gave us the “pork pie putsch” of MPs elected in 2019. They met in the office of Alicia Kearns – whose constituency contains Melton Mowbray – to discuss Johnson’s future as prime minister. Johnson has defended himself against claims from Dominic Cummings, his former aide, that he lied to parliament about believing a garden party in the first lockdown was a work event.

Play Video 1:45 Boris Johnson denies Cummings’ claims he was warned about Downing St party – video

“I can’t believe we would have gone ahead with an event that people said was against the rules … nobody warned me it was against the rules, I am categorical about that – I would have remembered that,” Johnson told Sky News. Cummings has claimed that two officials warned the prime minister.

Plan B easing likely – In a difficult prime minister’s questions today, Boris Johnson is expected to try again to change the national conversation away from his party problems by announcing the end of Plan B Covid measures, instructing millions to return to workplaces across England and dropping the requirement of vaccine certificates to enter venues like nightclubs and sports stadiums. The cabinet will meet this morning on the subject. In Scotland, restrictions brought in before Christmas are to be lifted from next Monday, the first minister, Nicola Sturgeon, has said. Meanwhile researchers have said more than two-thirds of the common side-effects people experience after a Covid jab can be attributed to the nocebo effect, an opposite version of the placebo effect, rather than the vaccine itself. Stay up to date with our Covid live blog.

Midweek catch-up

> Boris Johnson’s promise of next-generation fast broadband to most homes by 2025 is under threat as rural areas and remote towns and villages miss out, says parliament’s spending watchdog. It says the pledge relies too heavily on commercial internet providers who prefer to make easy money by servicing urban areas.

> The US congressional committee investigating the 6 January 2021 Capitol attack has issued subpoenas to some of Donald Trump’s top lawyers including Rudy Giuliani. Separately, Trump’s second attorney general, William Barr, is to publish his memoirs in March.

> California prosecutors have filed two counts of vehicular manslaughter against the driver of a Tesla on Autopilot who ran a red light, slammed into another car and killed two people in 2019.

> A human rights lawyer has filed a torture complaint against the new president of Interpol, Ahmed Nasser al-Raisi. The Emirati major general is accused by human rights groups of involvement in torture and arbitrary detentions.

> More than 100 members of the global super-rich are calling for governments around the world to “tax us now” to help pay for the pandemic response and tackle the gulf between rich and poor.

Begg seeks passport back – The former Guantánamo detainee Moazzam Begg is planning legal action against Priti Patel to try to restore his British passport, which was revoked eight years ago after two trips to Syria. A terror prosecution relating to Begg’s time in Syria collapsed in 2014, after which police said they accepted he was innocent. Begg was arrested in February 2002 in Pakistan and ended up in Guantánamo before being released without charge in 2005. He works with the Cage advocacy group which campaigns to help people caught up in the “war on terror”. Begg said his trips to Syria in 2012 and 2013 were part of his campaigning activity, and he was told by MI5 that he was free to travel there, but his passport was taken in December 2013 as he returned to the UK from a trip to South Africa.

Meningitis resurgent – Meningitis B cases among students in England are rising sharply to exceed pre-pandemic levels, according to a report by the UK Health Security Agency (UKHSA). Meningococcal group B bacteria are a serious cause of life-threatening infections including meningitis and sepsis that can cause brain damage, epilepsy, hearing loss, the loss of limbs, and death. Linda Glennie from the Meningitis Research Foundation said: “The data published by UKHSA has highlighted that students, particularly those living on campuses, have a higher risk of meningococcal disease than their peers … Meningitis progresses rapidly, so it’s critical to alert someone if ill, and to seek urgent medical advice.”

Straws buried in field forever – A set of ancient gold and silver tubes dating to about 5,500 years ago and unearthed in North Caucasus in Russia could be the world’s oldest surviving drinking straws, experts have claimed. The tubes, each more than a metre in length with a narrow perforated tip, were found in an excavation near Maykop in the summer of 1897.

Facebook Twitter Tubes from the Maykop excavation that are probably drinking straws. Photograph: Antiquity

The relics, now in the Hermitage Museum in St Petersburg, date to the fourth millennium BC, and were made of segments joined together. A team of experts in Russia said they were likely to be straws for drinking beer from a shared pot.

Today in Focus podcast: Year of the squeeze

Households across the UK will see rising prices and stalling wages strain their budgets in the year ahead, money and consumer editor Hilary Osborne reports. Some families are already feeling the pinch.

Today in Focus Year of the squeeze Sorry your browser does not support audio – but you can download here and listen 00:00:00 00:30:48

Lunchtime read: ‘Fix the bloody thing’

With Labour ahead in the polls and the prime minister on the ropes, Keir Starmer is riding high. But can he finally connect with the country? The former lawyer talks to Simon Hattenstone about Boris Johnson’s parties – and his own plan to win power.

Facebook Twitter Keir Starmer, leader of the Labour party, photographed in Walthamstow. Photograph: Linda Nylind/The Guardian


Thomas Tuchel diagnosed a severe case of fatigue among his suddenly struggling Chelsea players after their 1-1 draw at Brighton on Tuesday night and aims to arrest it by giving them two days off before the weekend. At the Australian Open so far today, Ash Barty has put herself another round deeper into the women’s singles draw with a 6-1, 6-1 demolition of Lucia Bronzetti. Rafael Nadal has just beaten Yannick Hanfmann 6-2, 6-3, 6-4. Plenty more to come from Melbourne, including Naomi Osaka versus Madison Brengle right now, so keep up with it all at our live blog.

New Zealand’s limited-overs tour of Australia has been postponed indefinitely due to uncertainty over when the visitors would be able to return home due to Covid-19 protocols. The tour from 24 January to 9 February was to comprise three one-dayers in Perth, Hobart and Sydney and a Twenty20 match in Canberra. The McLaren chief executive, Zak Brown, has warned there is no guarantee Lewis Hamilton will race in Formula One in 2022 after the seven-time champion controversially lost the 2021 title to Max Verstappen. Competitors at the Beijing Winter Olympics will face an “Orwellian surveillance state” in China and could put themselves in danger if they speak out in support of the Uyghur Muslims, human rights and athlete advocacy groups have said.


Asian shares have been falling in cautious trading today after stocks on Wall Street sank to a new low for the year. Tokyo, Shanghai, Seoul and Sydney were lower while Hong Kong edged higher. Expect the FTSE to open around 30 points lower. A pound brings $1.36 and €1.20 at time of writing.

The papers

We have another separate report on today’s front pages – the gist of it follows. The Guardian leads with “Clamour to oust Johnson grows as Tory MPs plot confidence vote”. Emma Raducanu’s successful Australian Open debut grabs the picture slot. The Times has “Red wall Tory MPs team up to topple Boris Johnson”. The Mirror’s take is “Porkie pie plot to ditch PM” – the paper quotes one Tory as saying “His time has gone.”

Facebook Twitter Guardian front page, 19 January 2022. Photograph: Guardian

The Mail has “Exposed: The ‘Pork Pie’ plot to topple PM” but seems to offer the PM some support, saying Plan B Covid curbs are being axed and Britain is “basking in a post-Covid jobs miracle” yet “panicking Red Wall MPs are turning on the man who got them elected”. As you might expect the Express is more shrill: “What a sorry state! New MPs plot to oust PM” saying Johnson apologises “TEN times for partygate” but still faces a rebellion. The Telegraph also mentions the axing of Covid restrictions in its lead with “Plan B to be scrapped as PM faces plot from rebel MPs” alongside a picture of a downcast Johnson wearing a mask.

The i newspaper plays it straight with “Tory plotters in talks to topple Boris Johnson”. The Metro has simply “Nobody told me”. The Sun is out of step with its peers: “Strictly dancer Nadiya Bychkova has split from her footballer fiance”. Johnson’s troubles find a smaller spot under the headline “Pork Pie plot to oust Bojo”.

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