Friday evening UK news briefing: Ex-Covid taskforce head's leaving party

1 week ago 14

Evening briefing: Today's essential headlines

The big story: Covid rules head's Downing Street party

Another afternoon goes by and details of another Downing Street party emerge. 

The former head of the government unit responsible for drawing up Covid-19 restrictions was given a "boozy" leaving party just days before Christmas, it can be disclosed. 

The Telegraph has been told that "dozens" of officials from the Cabinet Office's Covid-19 taskforce attended the event on Dec 17, 2020, while the country was still under draconian restrictions. 

Those present are alleged to have gathered in the taskforce's office in 70 Whitehall that evening, where they consumed alcohol and held a party to mark the departure of Kate Josephs, the then director-general, pictured below. 

It has also been claimed that Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, was invited, although the Cabinet Office said "categorically" that he did not attend. Harry Yorke has this exclusive.

The news comes hours after Downing Street apologised to Buckingham Palace over two "deeply regrettable" parties held on the eve of Prince Philip's funeral, as revealed by the Telegraph

The apology is understood to have been communicated by "official channels" and over the telephone. Downing Street declined to specify exactly who had communicated the apology. 

Read what the Prime Minister's official spokesman told reporters and here is a reminder of the details, including how one member of staff was sent to the Co-op on the Strand, a busy street nearby, with a suitcase which was then filled with bottles of wine.

Markets celebrate PM's fall

An embattled Prime Minister on the brink of being forced from office and a governing party at war with itself would usually create the kind of political turmoil that would see investors flee. 

If it were an emerging market, the currency would have tumbled, and the central bank would be working furiously to restore confidence, with the IMF on standby. 

Yet, the opposite is happening to the UK – the pound is up over the week, and even amid choppy global trading, the FTSE looks perky. 

Matthew Lynn analyses why the markets would celebrate Mr Johnson's downfall.

The Boris Effect

Telegraph readers have shared their disappointment at the Downing Street party revelations but there are some among them who suggest that "no Prime Minister is going to fall because of a drinks party". 

After the nation made sacrifices - missing loved-ones' last moments, funerals, education, career opportunities - Judith Woods examines the baffling Boris Effect and why so many still love him

As Sue Gray, the civil servant charged with investigating the Downing Street parties, sifts through the archives for useful precedent, she will surely stumble across the story of London's war-time blackout and its shameful enforcement in Whitehall. 

Paul Nuki details the blackout's worrying lesson for No 10.

Comment and analysis

Around the world: Putin's options for Ukraine invasion

Discerning Vladimir Putin's military plans for Ukraine quickly runs into a simple problem: he has the capability to do almost anything. He could launch airstrikes similar to Nato's campaign against Serbia in 1999. He could try a demonstrative but destructive ground incursion, as he did in Georgia in 2008. Or he could launch a grand Second World War-style invasion, encircle Kyiv, and annex half the country. Roland Oliphant analyses Mr Putin's five options for the invasion of Ukraine.

Friday big-read

The 'stupid American' exposing the dark side of the Chinese dream

Jessica Kingdon's unnerving, Oscar-nominated documentary Ascension was four years in the making – and led to accusations of espionage

Read the full story

Sport briefing: Novak Djokovic to be detained tonight

Novak Djokovic will be detained by Australian immigration officials in a matter of hours, after his visa was cancelled for a second time. As time slips away before the Australian Open starts on Monday, the nine-time title holder heard in an emergency hearing that he will be in immigration detention from Saturday morning - not on the Melbourne Park tennis courts. It comes after Immigration Minister Alex Hawke decided to use his "personal power of cancellation" to revoke the Djokovic's visa, overruling a decision by a judge. Australian officials have earned plenty of criticism for their inconsistencies over the past week, but as his visa is cancelled again, Simon Briggs analyses why the Serbian only has himself to blame for his headstrong, often selfish approach to life.

Editor's choice

  1. Sally Solves | 'Amazon embarrassed me when I tried to return a Christmas present'
  2. The Midults | 'My fiancé takes no interest in planning our wedding'
  3. My six decades as a football fan | How the beautiful game has changed

Business briefing: Rate rise looms as economy grows

Markets have raised their bets on a Bank of England rate increase next month after data showed stronger-than-expected growth in November. The economy returned to its pre-pandemic size for the first time after a 0.9pc rise, faster than the 0.4pc expected by economists. It left output 0.7pc above its February 2020 level. Growth was driven by a 1.4pc jump in retail. Despite the market's expectations, Tim Congdon laments that Labour created a Bank that does not understand inflation. Rising prices may increase interest in cheaper-to-run electric vehicles but James Foxall reveals the hidden costs of charging an electric car at home.

Tonight starts now

The House, review | Wes Anderson's 2009 adaptation of Roald Dahl's Fantastic Mr Fox invented the new genre of stop-motion animation starring cutesy animals weighed down with existential angst. Anderson was not involved in The House but the spirit of the animated Fantastic Mr Fox infuses this weird, sometimes unhinged anthology. Ed Power reviews the eerie animated adventures available now on Netflix.

Three things for you

And finally... for this evening's downtime

Meet Ben Houchen | The young Northern Powerhouse mayor has been touted as the future of the Conservatives. But is Houchenism what the Tories need right now? Daniel Capurro profiles the popular mayor who'd have Mrs Thatcher spluttering into her tea.

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