PM and Sunak ‘set for pensions clash’ as Lib Dem leader eyes Tory ‘blue wall’ seats

Boris Johnson is at odds with his chancellor Rishi Sunak over Treasury plans to suspend the “triple lock” on pensions for a year, with frustration over the prime minister’s desire to make expensive policy pledges, according to reports.

The Sunday Times claimed that officials were said to be examining plans to prevent a rise in average wages over the course of the Covid-19 pandemic leading to a 6 per cent increase in the state pension – costing the government £4bn.

It added that there was “growing consternation” over Mr Johnson’s habit of announcing plans that would cost billions of pounds “when there is no means to pay for them”.

It came as Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey said he believed his party could win a large number of Tory constituencies in the south of England, where the Conservatives had taken voters “for granted”.

Meanwhile, former speaker and Tory MP John Bercow revealed he had defected to Labour due to his former party becoming “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic” under Mr Johnson’s leadership.

Key Points

  • Johnson and Sunak at odds over Treasury ‘plan to suspend pensions triple lock’
  • Lib Dems could win ‘dozens’ of Blue Wall seats from Tories, party leader says
  • Former speaker John Bercow defects to Labour over ‘reactionary’ Tories
  • Justice minister must resign if record-low rape convictions continue, Labour says
  • Bercow insists switch to Labour is ‘not personal against Boris Johnson’
07:43 , Conrad Duncan

Hello and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of UK politics today.

Treasury ‘plan to suspend pensions triple lock’ puts Johnson and Sunak on collision course

07:55 , Conrad Duncan

Boris Johnson and his chancellor Rishi Sunak are thought to be heading for a clash over government spending as Treasury officials are reportedly drawing up plans to suspend the costly “triple lock” on pensions for a year.

The pair are said to be at odds over the PM’s expensive policy commitments, including plans to build a new royal yacht at a cost of £200m, cap social care costs at £50,000 and make further green pledges at the Cop26 climate summit in November.

Our reporter, Peter Stubley, has the full story below:

Boris Johnson wearing a suit and tie

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Treasury ‘plan to suspend pensions triple lock’ puts Johnson and Sunak on collision course

Former speaker John Bercow defects to Labour over ‘reactionary’ Tories

08:06 , Conrad Duncan

Former Commons speaker John Bercow has announced that he has defected from the Conservatives to Labour over Boris Johnson’s leadership of the party, which he branded as “reactionary, populist, nationalistic and sometimes even xenophobic”.

In an interview with The Observer, the former Tory MP said the current government needed to be replaced and that Labour was “the only vehicle that can achieve that objective”.

Our reporter, Matt Mathers, has the full story below:

John Bercow standing in front of a building talking on a cell phone

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Former speaker John Bercow defects to Labour and attacks Boris Johnson’s ‘lies and empty slogans’

Justice minister must resign if record-low rape convictions continue, Labour says

08:20 , Conrad Duncan

Justice secretary Robert Buckland must resign if he cannot reverse plunging levels of prosecutions and convictions for rape within a year, Labour has said.

The party’s shadow justice secretary accused Mr Buckland of shedding “crocodile tears” this week when he apologised for the downward trends in bringing sexual offenders to justice.

Ministers have set out plans for a “system and culture change” to tackle record-low convictions for rape and other sexual offences in England and Wales.

“The justice secretary’s crocodile tears will mean nothing if the government fails to reverse its disastrous failure of rape victims,” David Lammy said.

“The Conservatives’ decade of cuts to the justice system has let rapists and other violent criminals off the hook while denying victims justice.

“Rape convictions and prosecutions have more than halved in three years. If he cannot reverse these figures within a year of his apology, the justice secretary should do the honourable thing and resign.”

The latest CPS figures for 2019-20 show 1,439 suspects were convicted of rape or lesser offences in England and Wales last year – the lowest level since records began.

A Tory spokesperson accused Mr Lammy of choosing to “play politics with such a serious issue” and claimed that the decline could not be reversed “at the drop of a hat”.

Starmer moves top adviser to ‘strategic role’ after by-election disaster

08:47 , Conrad Duncan

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer’s top adviser has been moved from his role as chief of staff following his party’s worst ever by-election performance.

Morgan McSweeney will take up a “strategic role” within the leader’s office going forward, according to the party, amid concerns that Labour could also struggle in a key upcoming by-election in Batley and Spen.

Our reporter, Peter Stubley, has the full story below:

Keir Starmer wearing a suit and tie

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Starmer moves top adviser to ‘strategic role’ after by-election disaster

Justice secretary denies Hancock withheld promising Covid data from PM

08:58 , Conrad Duncan

Justice secretary Robert Buckland has denied that Matt Hancock withheld promising Covid-19 data from a key meeting last week to decide on whether to extend lockdown restrictions beyond 21 June.

The Sunday Telegraph reported that the health secretary failed to tell Boris Johnson about a Public Health England study that showed vaccines were effective against the Delta variant, first identified in India.

On Sunday, Mr Buckland insisted that this report was “wrong” and that “data was provided to the PM in the most up to date way before the decision was made”.

You can find his comments in full below:

Bercow has diminished influence with Labour defection, Tory minister says

09:05 , Conrad Duncan

Former Commons speaker John Bercow has diminished his influence in politics by announcing that he has defected from the Conservatives to Labour, according to the justice secretary.

The Tory minister told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday that Mr Bercow was a private citizen and therefore was “entitled to make decisions about his politics”.

However, Robert Buckland added: “I think as a former speaker he’s somebody that even though he’s left office does carry a degree of authority like his predecessors and I think his predecessors’ authority was enhanced by their refusal to go back into party politics.

“But I think him joining a political party actually has the effect of diminishing the force of his voice in politics, however strong he wants it to be.”

Mr Buckland also said he disagreed “totally” with the former Tory MP’s description of the party today as “reactionary” and at times “xenophobic”.

09:08 , Conrad Duncan

Labour’s shadow justice secretary David Lammy has doubled down this morning on his call for Robert Buckland to resign if record-low prosecution and conviction rates for rape are not reversed in a year:

Justice secretary accuses Labour of being ‘dangerous’ over resignation demand

09:19 , Conrad Duncan

Justice secretary Robert Buckland has accused Labour of being “dangerous” by calling for his resignation if he does not reverse record-low levels of rape prosecutions and convictions in a year.

“First of all, I think that the nature of the challenge and the low politics of it speaks volumes of the complete failure by the Labour Party to actually come up with anything constructive on this most serious of issues,” Mr Buckland told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips on Sunday.

“It’s also constitutionally illiterate. Decisions made to investigate and prosecute are made by the independent police and their operational work and the CPS, which is independent.

“If there was any suggestion that prosecutions were being brought about because of political pressure on me frankly that would make convictions unsafe – it’s a ridiculous argument.”

The Tory minister added: “The idea that somehow a resignation or political pressure should be brought to bear on independent prosecutorial decisions is not only bad politics but it’s actually dangerous. I’m not going to engage in that level of debate.”

Bercow insists switch to Labour is ‘not personal against Boris Johnson’

09:34 , Conrad Duncan

Former Commons speaker John Bercow has insisted that his switch to Labour is “not personal against Boris Johnson” and that he turned away from the Conservative Party over a long period.

Commenting on his defection, Mr Bercow told Sky News: “It’s not personal against Boris Johnson. I do think that he is someone who has only a nodding acquaintance with the truth in a leap year, and I think that the utter contempt with which he has treated parliament is lamentable…

“I think it has exacerbated the very strong feelings of resentment towards him, because I think a lot of people feel that’s not the way to behave.

“Telling the truth in and to parliament matters, circumventing parliament is wrong, treating parliament with disdain is objectionable, but no, I have over a long period evolved my political thinking.”

He added: “I wasn’t a member of a party throughout my tenure as speaker, because it would have been quite wrong to be.

“I didn’t take a view. I sought to facilitate the House of Commons to express its view and all individual members to put their points across because that’s the responsibility of the speaker.

“Now I’m a private citizen, as Robert Buckland says, I’m entitled to take a political view. And my view is a left of centre view. I identify with Labour values, Labour principles, Labour policies.”

You can find more of his comments below:

‘No discussion’ with Labour over peerage after defection, Bercow says

09:37 , Conrad Duncan

John Bercow has said that there has been “no discussion whatsoever” regarding a peerage amid suggestions that the former Tory MP has switched his allegiances to Labour for political gain.

“I’ve had absolutely no discussion whatsoever, either with Keir Starmer or any other member of the Labour leadership about that matter,” Mr Bercow told Sky News’ Trevor Phillips On Sunday.

“There has been no barter, no trade, no deal whatsoever.

“And if I may very politely say so, and I do, the people who make what they think is that potent and coruscating criticism of me are operating according to their own rather low standards. Let’s deal with the issue rather than impugn people’s motives. It’s got nothing to do with that whatsoever.”

Tories took voters in safe seats ‘for granted’, Lib Dem leader says

09:54 , Conrad Duncan

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has credited his party’s recent surprise by-election victory to the idea that the Conservatives have been taking voters in safe seats “for granted”.

“Many people have all said that I was the first politician to knock on their doors and they lived there for 20 or 30 years,” Sir Ed told Sky News following his party’s victory in Chesham and Amersham.

He added: “People not just in Chesham and Amersham but across the blue wall seats I think have been taken for granted, and they saw Liberal Democrats listening to them, responding to them.”

Sir Ed also said many had told him that Boris Johnson was not in tune with traditional Conservative values, adding that he believed his party could take a large number of Tory seats in the south.

Andy Burnham dismisses Labour fears over dire by-election performance

10:13 , Conrad Duncan

Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has dismissed concerns about Labour’s dire performance in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, arguing that tactical voting clearly played a part in their poor result (with just 622 votes cast for the Labour candidate).

Mr Burnham told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that voters who switched to the Liberal Democrats in the constituency “clearly saw who was going to put a challenge up to the Tories”.

“It’s not necessarily been Labour territory in the past so, we would have wanted to do better but obviously we’re pleased that the Tories have been shown the door,” the former Labour MP said.

When asked by presenter Nick Robinson if Labour would have fared better if he had been leader, Mr Burnham joked: “I probably have more reach in the north.”

He added: “I don’t think anything that the party has done recently, I would have done differently.

“I support what Keir is doing. It’s been a really tough time to become leader of the opposition but I think now he’s got a real opportunity to win voters over.”

Scottish government treating North West with ‘contempt’ over travel ban, Burnham says

10:25 , Conrad Duncan

The Scottish government is treating the north of England with “contempt” over a travel ban for the North West due to Covid-19 outbreaks in the region, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham has said.

Nicola Sturgeon announced on Friday that all non-essential travel to Manchester and Salford would be banned from Monday, but the Labour mayor said he or his administration were not contacted before the announcement.

“I was really disappointed on Friday that the first minister of Scotland just announced out of the blue, as far as we were concerned, a travel ban saying that people couldn’t travel from Scotland to Manchester and Salford and people couldn’t go the other way,” Mr Burnham told the BBC.

“That is exactly what the SNP always accuse the Westminster government of doing, riding roughshod over people.

“The SNP are treating the north of England with the same contempt in bringing that in without any consultation with us.”

Mr Burnham said he would be looking for his constituents who planned to travel north of the border to be financially compensated by the Scottish government.

“Why should a couple from Salford who are double jabbed who are about to go on a walking holiday in Scotland not be able to go?” the mayor added.

“It’s completely disproportionate in my view – we could have come up with a different arrangement if the first minister had been in touch with us.”

Lib Dem leader says his party is willing to ‘work with other politicians’

10:42 , Conrad Duncan

Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey has said that his party will stand for “working with other politicians” when asked if he would consider an alliance with Labour to defeat the Conservatives.

“We’ve seen in the past where the Liberal Democrats are strong and the ones who can beat the Conservatives, other parties get behind the Liberal Democrats, and that’s what happened in Chesham and Amersham,” Sir Ed told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show.

“We still stand for working with other politicians on the policies, and we believe in electoral reform and believe in proportional representation, we think the current voting system is unfair.

“And if you do believe that, it means you have to work with other parties, you have to get consensus to bring the best ideas together.”

Government policy adviser poised to become new exams regulator

11:01 , Conrad Duncan

Gavin Williamson has named one of his policy advisers as his pick to lead England’s independent exams regulator following the government’s disastrous attempt at grading GCSE and A-level students last summer.

The education secretary has chosen Dr Jo Saxton, a former academy trust boss, as Ofqual’s new chief regulator – although the recommendation must be approved by Boris Johnson.

Our reporter, Matt Mathers, has the full story below:

a group of people lying on the floor

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Government adviser poised to be new exams regulator

Labour shadow minister ‘not attracted’ to idea of progressive alliance

11:34 , Conrad Duncan

Labour’s shadow housing secretary has said he is opposed to “stitching up” voters’ choices by forming alliances with other parties following speculation about the possibility of a Labour-Lib Dem pact to oust the Conservatives.

Commenting on his party’s disastrous performance in the Chesham and Amersham by-election, Steve Reed told Sky News that voters had taken “their own decision” about the best way to beat the Tories.

However, he added that he was “not attracted” to the idea of a so-called progressive alliance between parties who are opposed to the government.

“I’m not attracted at all to the idea of politicians trying to stitch up the choices available to voters in their own localities,” Mr Reed said.

11:50 , Conrad Duncan

Justice secretary Robert Buckland gave a blunt answer this morning when asked if his refusal to back Dominic Cummings last year over Barnard Castle had been proved right by the former adviser’s behaviour since leaving government.

You can find his full response below:

ICYMI: Why did the Lib Dems win this week’s by-election?

12:12 , Conrad Duncan

There have been many different explanations for how the Liberal Democrats pulled off their shock by-election victory against the Conservatives this week, from anger over new planning rules to Brexit.

Our reporter, Adam Forrest, took a closer look earlier this week at the factors at play:

a group of people holding a sign

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Why did the LibDems win by-election – planning rules, HS2 or Brexit?

Minister cannot rule out winter Covid lockdown despite vaccine success

12:37 , Conrad Duncan

Justice secretary Robert Buckland has refused to rule out another Covid-19 lockdown this winter if infection rates get out of control later in the year.

Mr Buckland told Times Radio that the nature of the coronavirus meant “you can’t ever say mission accomplished” and rule out future measures.

Our reporter, Chiara Giordano, has the full story below:

a woman wearing glasses and smiling at the camera

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Minister doesn’t rule out winter lockdown after PHE expert says it may be necessary

Third attempt to pass assisted dying legislation to be introduced in Scotland

12:56 , Conrad Duncan

A third attempt is being made to pass legislation on assisted dying in Scotland for people who are both terminally ill and mentally competent.

Lib Dem MP Liam McArthur is putting forward proposals for a Members Bill at Holyrood to allow the practice, which he says is supported by almost nine in 10 Scots (87 per cent).

The most recent bid to change the law at Holyrood was voted down by 82 votes to 36 in 2015.

However, a cross party group of a dozen MSPS have already signalled their support for Mr McArthur’s new bid to “introduce safe and compassionate assisted dying laws in Scotland”.

The group, which includes former Scottish Conservative leader Jackson Carlaw, as well as Green co-leaders Patrick Harvie and Lorna Slater, argued Scotland needed to change its laws so that those who are terminally ill can “be assured of dignified death”.

“The current law does not work and should be replaced with a safe and compassionate new law that gives dying people the rights they need to have a good death at a time that is right for them,” the MSPs said in an open letter.

“We know there is a problem and it is incumbent upon us to provide a solution.”

Peter Capaldi: Cummings’s claims go ‘beyond’ anything seen in The Thick Of It

13:14 , Matt Mathers

Actor Peter Capaldi has said claims by Dominic Cummings about the government go “beyond” anything in The Thick Of It.

He said the foul-mouthed spin doctor, Malcolm Tucker, from the political satire would be “too good” to exist in the current political world.

Speaking to the BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show, he said: “I can’t really say what Malcolm would say because the language would be unusable.

“But I think in many ways what we are seeing… is like The Thick of It because of the levels of vitriol and absurdity and ego that are going on.

“At the same time it is beyond that. It is a kind of tragicomic situation without the comic bit and I think it is beyond a joke.

“These are the people who are supposed to look after us and they are behaving in a way that is not funny.

“So I don’t even think Malcolm would exist in this world. He is too good for this world.”

Becoming my baby grandson’s carer was a wake-up call on the urgent need to better support fathers

13:39 , Matt Mathers

As a society we need to be better at talking about fatherhood, masculinity, mental health, and the roles that we imagine men taking on in the household, writes Labour MP Andrew Gwynne.

Read his full piece here:

a young boy riding a skateboard down a street

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Becoming my baby grandson’s carer was a wake-up call on fatherhood | Andrew Gwynne

Unvaccinated young people can travel abroad this summer, Irish deputy PM says

14:01 , Matt Mathers

Unvaccinated young people can travel abroad this summer, Irish deputy prime minister Leo Varadkar has said in an apparent contradiction of advice given by his chief medical officer.

People under the age of 30 are unlikely to have both vaccine doses until September at the earliest and the CMO, Dr Tony Holohan has advised people not to travel if they are not fully vaccinated.

But Mr Varadkar said it would be “unfair” to ask them not to travel, when the EU’s digital travel cert, set to be introduced on July 19, allows for travel for people who take PCR tests or who have previously had Covid.

He added: “The advice from the chief medical officer is very clear.

“He’s saying that people who aren’t fully vaccinated shouldn’t travel, people who are fully vaccinated can.

“Because if you’re fully vaccinated, it’s very unlikely you will pick up the virus, it’s very unlikely you’ll bring it back to Ireland.

“And if I was the CMO, that’s the advice that I would give.

“Because we are the Government, we have to take wider considerations into account, and that’s why the Government advice, the law we’re putting in place is actually different than the CMO’s advice.

“We are saying that people who aren’t fully vaccinated, including all those young people can travel abroad, but they will need to get a PCR test before they return and that is the protection that we’re looking for.”

Lib Dems could win ‘dozens’ of Blue Wall seats from Tories, party leader says

14:11 , Conrad Duncan

The Liberal Democrats could win in “dozens” of constituencies across southern England where voters’ needs are being ignored by Boris Johnson’s Conservatives, party leader Sir Ed Davey has said.

Sir Ed insisted on Sunday that national polling had not yet picked up on a rise in Lib Dem support after the party pulled off a shock victory in the Amersham and Chesham by-election this week.

Our reporter, Jon Stone, has the full story below:

Edward Davey et al. holding a sign

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Ed Davey says Lib Dems could win ‘dozens’ of Blue Wall seats from Tories after by-election win

Labour demands clarity over justice secretary’s plan for rape convictions

14:30 , Conrad Duncan

Labour is demanding clarity from justice secretary Robert Buckland on how the government is planning to tackle record-low rape conviction and prosecution rates following “a series of contradictory remarks” on the issue this morning.

Mr Buckland said on Sunday that Labour’s call for new targets to be met within a year was “constitutionally illiterate”, suggesting he did not have the power to increase the rate of convictions.

“After a decade of Conservative incompetence and cuts has led to record-low conviction and prosecution rates for rape, the last thing victims need from the Justice Secretary is a U-turn,” David Lammy said in a statement.

“The Conservatives must urgently clarify whether or not they intend to stick to the target of increasing the number of rapists who are charged and end up in court.”

Labour Muslims urge Starmer to take action over party official’s ‘vile Islamophobia’

14:38 , Conrad Duncan

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has been urged to take action after a senior party official suggested Muslim voters were abandoning his party over the leadership’s fight against anti-Jewish racism.

An anonymous party strategist was quoted by the Mail on Sunday newspaper as claiming that Labour was “haemorrhaging” Muslim voters because of “what Keir has been doing on antisemitism” ahead of the Batley and Spen by-election.

Our reporter, Jon Stone, has the full story below:

Keir Starmer wearing a suit and tie

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Labour Muslims urge Keir Starmer to take ‘urgent action’ over party official’s ‘vile Islamophobia’

Irish government willing to go ‘extra mile’ to help Northern Ireland, Varadkar says

14:53 , Conrad Duncan

The Irish government is prepared to “go the extra mile” to find a solution for the Northern Ireland Protocol, the country’s deputy premier has said, amid tensions between the UK and EU over post-Brexit trade.

Leo Varadkar said on Sunday that he was willing to engage with the next leader of the DUP to find solutions – although he criticised the party’s unwillingness to compromise.

However, Mr Varadkar ruled out abandoning the protocol altogether as all of the “realistic alternatives” had been rejected by unionists.

“We are willing to engage through the European Union, with the British government, in consultation with all of the parties in Northern Ireland,” he said.

“We’re willing to go the extra mile to provide any kind of practical fixes that we can within the terms of the agreement.”

He added: “The protocol stays, unless somebody can come up with an alternative that means that, somehow, you can protect the single market.”

Labour’s deputy leader condemns official’s ‘Islamophobic’ comments

15:12 , Conrad Duncan

Labour’s deputy leader has condemned comments attributed to a “senior Labour official” who apparently claimed that the party was “hemorrhaging” votes from Muslims because they do not like Sir Keir Starmer’s attempts to tackle antisemitism.

Angela Rayner said on Sunday that the quotes, published in the Mail on Sunday newspaper, were “not condoned or sanctioned in any way” by Labour.

The comments had earlier been condemed by the Labour Muslim Network, which said it was a “patently vile, Islamophobic briefing” and must be urgently challenged.

“As Deputy Leader I want to make clear publicly that these comments that are being attributed to a member of Labour Party staff in a newspaper today are not a Labour Party response or statement, are completely unacceptable & are not condoned or sanctioned in any way by the Party,” Ms Rayner wrote on Twitter.

15:30 , Conrad Duncan

ICYMI: Earlier today, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham demanded “compensation” for his area from the Scottish government after Nicola Sturgeon announced Covid-19 guidance banning travel to the North West of England.

Mr Burnham said on Sunday that the restrictions had been imposed without consultation with his administration and that they would hurt people in his area.

You can find the full story below:

a man wearing glasses and a blue shirt

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Andy Burnham demands ‘compensation’ from Nicola Sturgeon over travel ban

15:50 , Conrad Duncan

Also on Sunday morning, Andy Burnham was asked about whether he still held ambitions to be Labour leader, and even prime minister, one day…

His reply skirted around the issue, but suggested that the Greater Manchester mayor is not looking to return to Westminster any time soon.

You can find his comments below:

15:57 , Conrad Duncan

That’s all from The Independent’s live coverage of UK politics for today – we’ll be back with more updates tomorrow.

15:58 , Conrad Duncan

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