Downing Street has announced that it is holding an inquiry into the leak of the prime minister’s text messages to Sir James Dyson. Yesterday No 10 said there were no plans for an inquiry. But at today’s lobby briefing, which has just ended, the PM’s spokesman said that the Cabinet Office would now be holding an inquiry. It is understood that the police are not involved.
Explaining the U-turn, the spokesman said:
We have instructed the Cabinet Office to look into this. The position has changed from yesterday. It was correct at the time yesterday. But, as usual, we keep these things under review and we’ve now decided to undertake this internal inquiry.
You might have assumed that only Johnson and Dyson had access to these messages. But, according to Alex Wickham in his London Playbook briefing this morning, Johnson forwarded his text messages “to a small circle of senior aides serving in Downing Street last year”.
I will post more from the lobby briefing soon.
An Australian MP from the governing Liberal party has blasted the British government’s “amateurish” tactics to influence trade talks between the two countries, suggesting post-Brexit negotiating inexperience could be behind the “megaphone” diplomacy, my colleague Daniel Hurst reports.
Robin Swann, health minister in the Northern Ireland executive, has voiced concern about the supply line of medicines to Northern Ireland as a result of a looming Brexit regulatory barrier, PA Media reports. PA says:
Under the terms of Brexit’s contentious Northern Ireland protocol, the region is to operate under different regulatory rules for medicines and medical devices than the rest of the UK.
Northern Ireland currently secures 98% of its supplies from Great Britain.
A one-year grace period delaying the implementation of this aspect of the protocol is due to expire at the end of the year.
Swann told his assembly scrutiny committee this morning that the EU’s ill-fated attempt to suspend a part of the protocol in January, amid a dispute with vaccine manufacturers over exporting jabs out of the bloc, had impacted efforts to prepare for the end of the grace period.
“It is something that concerns me and that’s why we have been engaged quite significantly in regards to this,” he said.
“The derogation period for medicines was one of the longest that was actually agreed at the start which gave us to the end of this year actually to get things sorted out and in a better place.
“Everyone thought that work was progressing well until the EU triggered article 16 over vaccines – that unnerved people, that unsettled people and that has, I suppose, increased the level of concern that we’re seeing, especially from the smaller and the more intricate suppliers of medicines and medical devices.”
The UK is pressing the EU to agree to a further year extension of the grace period on medicines and medical supplies.
Here is the full report (pdf) from the special committee set up by the Commonwealth War Graves Commission covering what it describes as “historical inequalities in commemoration”.
And here is an extract.
Founded over a century ago to commemorate the First World War dead of the British Empire, from the outset the IWGC’s [Imperial War Graves Commission’s] work was defined by the principle of equality of treatment in death. Whatever an individual’s rank in social or military life, whatever their religion, they would be commemorated identically – with their name engraved either on a headstone over an identified grave or on a memorial to the missing. While that principle was admirable, and in Europe effectively achieved, this report finds that the promise of equality had limits elsewhere.
In conflict with the organisation’s founding principles, it is estimated that between 45,000 and 54,000 casualties (predominantly Indian, East African, West African, Egyptian and Somali personnel) were commemorated unequally. For some, rather than marking their graves individually, as the IWGC would have done in Europe, these men were commemorated collectively on memorials. For others who were missing, their names were recorded in registers rather than in stone.
A further 116,000 casualties (predominantly, but not exclusively, East African and Egyptian personnel) – but potentially as many as 350,000 – were not commemorated by name or possibly not commemorated at all. Most of these men were commemorated by memorials that did not carry their names – in part because the IWGC was never furnished with their names or places of burial by the military or colonial authorities, in part because it chose to diverge from its principles in the belief that the communities these men came from would not recognise or value such individual forms of commemoration.
This report finds that in the 1920s, across Africa, the Middle East and India, imperial ideology influenced the operations of the IWGC in a way that it did not in Europe, and the rules and principles that were sacred there were not always upheld elsewhere. As a result, contemporary attitudes towards non-European faiths and differing funerary rites, and an individual’s or group’s perceived ‘state of civilisation’, influenced their commemorative treatment in death.
Here are some of the passage from Ben Wallace’s opening statement about the failure of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission to commemorate African, Asian and other soldiers from what was then the British empire who died in the first world war.
- Wallace, the defence secretary, apologised for the failure to commemorate these soldiers properly. He said:
On behalf of the Commonwealth War Graves Commission and the Government both of the time and today, I want to apologise for the failures to live up to their founding principles all those years ago and express deep regret that it has taken so long to rectify the situation. Whilst we can’t change the past, we can make amends and take action.
- He said there was “no doubt” prejudice played a part in the fact that more than 100,000 soldiers were not commemorated properly. (See 11.50am.) He said:
The IWGC [Imperial War Graves Commission] relied on others to seek out the bodies of the dead and where it could not find them, it worked with the offices of state to produce lists of those who did not return and remained unaccounted for. Given the pressures and confusion spun by such war, in many ways it is hardly surprising that mistakes were made at both stages.
What is surprising and disappointing, however, is that a number of the mistakes, the number of casualties commemorated unequally, the number commemorated without names and the number otherwise entirely unaccounted for is not excusable.
There can be no doubt prejudice played a part in some of the commission’s decisions.
In some cases, the IWGC assumed that communities of forgotten personnel would not recognise or value individual forms of commemoration. In other cases, they were simply not provided with the names or burial locations.
In some circumstances, there was little the IWGC could do, with neither bodies nor names, general war memorials were the only one way in which some groups might be commemorated at the time.
Nonetheless, there are examples where the organisation also deliberately overlooked the evidence that might have allowed it to find those names.
In others, commission officials in the 1920s were happy to work with local administrations on projects across the empire that ran contrary to the principles of equality in death.
- Wallace, a former soldier, said true soldiers were “agnostic to class, race or gender”. He said:
True soldiers are agnostic to class, race or gender because the bond that holds us together is a bond forged in war. When on operations we share the risk, we share the sorrow and we rely on each to get through sometimes the toughest of times.
The friendships I made in my service are still strong. Those common bonds were what lay behind the imperial war grave commission’s principles and it is truly sad that on the occasions identified by the report those principles were not followed.
I feel it is my duty as a former soldier to do the right thing by those who gave their lives in the first world war across the Commonwealth and take what necessary steps we can to rectify the situation.
Wallace said the Commonwealth War Graves Commission will search out inequalities, and act on what it found.
It will renew its commitment to equality in commemorations, he said.
And it would act to ensure the hidden history of former empire communities, and their contribution in the two world wars, is brought to life, he said.
Wallace says when the Imperial War Graves Commission was set up, it was supposed to commemorate all soldiers equally.
But this did not happen, he says. He says there were cases where it deliberately overlooked evidence that might enable the discovery of names of the dead.
He says after the first world war in parts of Africa, the Middle East and India, the dead were not treated equally.
He said the graves of up to 54,000 soldiers, who were mostly Indians, east Africans, west Africans, Egyptians and Somalis, were not marked by individual headstones.
Some were only remembered in inscriptions or in registers, and another 116,000 personnel, mostly east Africans and Egyptians, were not named, or even commemorated at all, he says.
He says there is no doubt that prejudice played a part in that.
In the Commons Ben Wallace, the defence secretary is now making a statement about the failure of the Commonweath War Graves Commission to properly commemorate black and Asian solidiers.
Here is my colleague Rajeev Syal’s preview story about this announcement.
The section of the public accounts committee hearing devoted to Greensill is now over.
Sir Bernard Jenkin (Con) goes next.
Q: People need a safe space where ministers and officials can have private conversations. What impact will this have on that?
Scholar says he would go back to the public interest point. The public has a right to know about certain things. But the public interest is also served by government business being conducted effectively. He says the Freedom of Information Act sets out to balance those two principles.
He says there is a question as to at what point the balance shifts, and the public interest tips in favour of disclosure.
Q: Are these stories having a chilling effect?
Scholar says it is too early to say.
Q: How did the chancellor’s text messages to Cameron come out?
Scholar says Rishi Sunak decided to release them.
Q: Would he have had to do so under the Freedom of Information Act?
Scholar says that is a legal question. He cannot answer that, he says.
Q: Ministers are constantly assailed by people giving them advice. It would be odd if they weren’t. Does this mean every person they have contact with is subject to scrutiny. If so, all these contacts would become public interviews.
Scholar goes back to the Nolan report of 1995. People have a right to lobby ministers. But it is for government to decide how these approaches are handled appropriately.
Q: Do you have rules about WhatsApp?
Scholar says Treasury officials have clear rules in their heads about the need to record conversations, and the basis on which decisions were taken.
Meg Hillier, the committee chair, says there is a “danger of government by WhatsApp”.
Q: Greensill came back to you time and time again. Did other businesses do that?
Roxburgh says Greensill were persistent.
In the second stage of the process (see 10.46am), the Treasury thought it was worth considering whether there was an industry-wide solution to supply chain issues that might work.
Nick Smith (Lab) is asking the questions now.
Q: Did David Cameron speak to Michael Gove or the governor of the Bank of England about this?
Scholar says he does not know.
Roxburgh says he is not aware of any contacts like that. He says Cameron spoke to Scholar, Rishi Sunak and John Glen. Details of those contacts will be released soon.
Q: Were people listening in?
Scholar says some were minuted conversations, and some were unsolicited calls where the contents were then passed on.
Q: How many calls were there in total?
Scholar says he and Roxburgh were on one call with Cameron. Scholar took another call. There were also calls to Sunak and Glen.
Q: Should supply chain finance be regulated?
Scholar says business lending in general is not regulated.
Clifton-Brown says the Greensill proposal sounds to him like Ponzi scheme. Again, he expressed surprise that the Treasury was looking at it.
Scholar stresses that the Greensill plan was not taken forward.
Q: Did you know that Greensill was leveraging future income? Would you have had a conversation if you did?
Scholar says they were learning about what Greensill was doing.
Q: If you knew then what you know about them now, would you have had a conversation with them.
Scholar says if he knew everything they found out by the time they took a decision, the answer would have been no.
Q: Would you have even taken the phone call if you had known what you know now?
Scholar says if they had known what they had to find out, that would have saved a lot of time. But they did not know.
He says it is not the job of the Treasury to make assessments of private companies – except where that is relevant to the Treasury’s responsibilities. It considered if Greensill was eligible for its scheme, and rejected it.
Clifton-Brown turns to Scholar.
Q: Did you know of all David Cameron’s contacts with Treasury ministers?
Scholar says they knew Cameron was an adviser to the company, because that was mentioned in an original letter from the company. He says Rishi Sunak declared his call with Cameron after it happened.
He says he thinks Cameron’s contacts with John Glen, the economic secretary, were recorded around the same time. He says the details will be set out in the Treasury’s response to a freedom of information request.
Roxburgh explains why Greensill Capital was not given access to the Covid corporate financing facility (CCFF). He says the scheme was for firms able to offer commercial paper that was investment grade. But Greensill Capital was not in this category, he says. He says it wanted the CCFF to buy commercial paper on non-standard terms.
Sir Geoffrey Clifton-Brown (Con) says that it sounds as if it should have been obvious that Greensill was not eligible. He says he is surprised the Treasury spent so long considering this.
These are from Sky’s Sam Coates on the significance of Sir Tom Scholar saying that he would always take a call from a former minister he had worked with. Scholar implied that this was just a matter of common courtesy. (See 10.54pm.) But, as Coates points out, this illustrates why former ministers are not in the same position as others engaged in corporate lobbying and why their involvement implies favouritism is in play.
Meg Hillier is speaking to Sir Tom Scholar again?
Q: Did you take the call from David Cameron because he was a former PM?
Scholar says he would always take a call from a minister he has worked with.
But he did not have a substantive discussion with Cameron about the scheme, he says.
He says he knew Cameron was an adviser to Greensill Capital.
He says he was only involved in one call with the company about its application for the corporate finance facility. Otherwise Roxburgh dealt with it, he says.
He quotes from the original Nolan report in 1995, which said that everyone has a right to lobby parliament and ministers. It is for institutions to decide how they handle these approaches, the report said. It said institutions should consider the public interest. Scholar says this is what the Treasury did.
Scholar says since Cameron left office, he has seen him two or three times, but never to discuss government business.
Q: Why did you talk to Greensill?
Roxburgh says his job involved talking to a lot of companies. It is normal for him to discuss proposals like this.