Today’s daily politics briefing
Former Scottish first minister Alex Salmond believes there was a “conspiracy” to prevent his political comeback.
SNP MSP Alex Neil, an ally of Mr Salmond’s, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the former leader alleges Nicola Sturgeon was involved in the plot.
“Everyone involved” would have to resign if the allegation was proven, Mr Neil added.
Ms Sturgeon has insisted that political influence played no part in the decision to redact evidence submitted by Mr Salmond to an inquiry into the Scottish government’s handling of harassment claims made against him.
On Wednesday, the Tory leader at Holyrood, Ruth Davidson, said the saga had brought Scottish democracy into disrepute.
Over in Westminster, Tory backbenchers in the ERG have called on the prime minister to ditch the Northern Ireland protocol, a move backed by the DUP.
Downing Street issues warning to Tory MPs over budget vote
No 10 has warned Conservative MPs they could be stripped of the Tory whip if they vote against the government at next week’s Budget.
Asked by reporters if the votes will be considered a confidence issue for Tory MPs, Boris Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, told a briefing: “Yes.”
Ms Stratton also used the time to reject former chancellor Lord Philip Hammond’s suggestion that the PM is running a “populist” government and lacks the appetite to be unpopular by doing the right thing.
“The Prime Minister has spoken about the tough choices ahead. There have been difficult choices he has had to make in responding to the pandemic and indeed over the months and years ahead there will be more of them,” she said.
“So, I don’t recognise the picture the former chancellor makes.”
She cited “difficult” policy decisions made by Mr Johnson, including to cut foreign aid, and to order people to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.
“This is a prime minister who is prepared to take difficult decisions and is weighing up very hard choices at the moment,” Ms Stratton added.
Sam Hancock25 February 2021 13:03
Former French ambassador labels Johnson ‘unrepentant liar’
Boris Johnson is an “unrepentant and inveterate liar”, who will blame the problems of Brexit on coronavirus, France’s former ambassador to the UK has said.
In her new book Sylvie Bermann, France’s top representative in London during the EU referendum, said the prime minister uses “lies to embellish reality, as a game and as instrument of power”.
Describing the prime minister’s approach, she said: “The ends justify the means. He has no rules.”
Her book, Goodbye Britannia, characterises the Brexiter mindset of “reciting a history in which the UK is never defeated, never invaded”.
Our policy correspondent Jon Stone has more:
Sam Hancock25 February 2021 12:57
Thatcher considered Hussein a ‘selfish dictator’, old papers show
Previously classified documents from the start of the Gulf War reveal Margaret Thatcher compared Saddam Hussein to Adolf Hitler following the Iraqi dictator’s invasion of Kuwait.
The former prime minister and her foreign secretary privately agreed that Hussein was “behaving like Hitler” in 1990 after his military attack on the neighbouring country.
Thirty years on from Operation Desert Storm, which ended 30 years ago this week, the documents, which were first made public in 2017, underline how Mrs Thatcher viewed Hussein – as a “selfish, despotic dictator” who engaged in “psychological warfare”.
My colleague Clea Skopeliti reports:
Sam Hancock25 February 2021 12:47
Man who sent abusive emails to MPs case sent to crown court
A man accused of sending abusive emails to a number of current and former MPs, including Jeremy Corbyn and Amber Rudd, has had his case sent to the crown court.
Paul William Maciver Ritchie appeared at Westminster Magistrates’ Court by video-link on Thursday for a brief administrative hearing. He spoke only to state his name, address and date of birth.
The 34-year-old, from Lanarkshire, is accused of 28 counts of sending a letter, communication or article conveying a threatening message against a series of politicians.
Alleged victims included former Commons Speaker John Bercow, former attorney general Dominic Grieve QC, ex-Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson, former home secretary Amber Rudd, one-time London mayoral candidate and Cabinet minister Rory Stewart, SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford, and current Lib Dem leader Sir Ed Davey.
Court documents show Mr Ritchie is accused of sending former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn an email in March 2019 containing the message “You should be hung for treason you f****** terrorist”.
In an email on May 2019 to former politician Chuka Umunna, who represented several parties, Mr Ritchie is alleged to have written: “You have been warned… shut your f****** mouth boy”.
In July that year, he is said to have followed up with: “If you kill brexit… (w)e will kill you and your entire family.”
Mr Ritchie was released on bail.
Sam Hancock25 February 2021 12:36
Academics shunned for wasting hours of MPs’ time over fake emails
Jacob Rees-Mogg has said he is “appalled” that MPs’ staff have wasted 650 hours responding to spoof emails from King’s College London.
“I am absolutely appalled by [Mr Green] telling me 650 hours of time have been wasted. It shows how deeply foolish the behaviour of King’s College has been, especially in the context of the pandemic, and this is clearly being taken up Mr Speaker by you,” he said in the Commons earlier.
“But I hope the condemnation of the House rings out in the ears of this unethical ethics committee.”
On Wednesday, ministers and unions criticised academics from King’s College London (KCL) and the London School of Economics (LSE) after they sent out over 1,000 emails to MPs, pretending to be made-up people who calimed to be concerned about their financial situation during the pandemic.
The emails included fake job descriptions, including a lawyer and a cleaner, and in some cases claimed to support a specific political party – they were part of a research project to see whether these factors had an impact on MPs’ responses.
But the study, which was conducted alongside academics from other European universities where academics sent similar emails to their national parliaments, has been described as “unethical”.
Professor Rosie Campbell, professor of politics at KCL, said in a statement it was “absolutely not our intention” to waste MPs’ time, adding that the group wanted to “sincerely apologise if we misjudged the imposition this would place on MPs and their staff”.
Sam Hancock25 February 2021 12:20
Immigration detainees’ lack of access to lawyers is unlawful, High Court rules
The legal aid provision for immigration detainees held in prisons is unlawful, the High Court has ruled.
The judgment comes after one man was unable to access a lawyer for nine months and had to represent himself.
Our social affairs correspondent May Bulman reports:
Rory Sullivan25 February 2021 11:58
Williamson claims student progress protected by government
Gavin Williamson has claimed students’ progress has been protected by govenrment policy.
Giving a statement in the Commons, the minister told MPs that young people had paid “a considerable price” for the disruption during the pandemic.
He highlighted the government’s catch-up schemes for pupils, including tutoring programmes and summer schools.
“Our approach in the face of the worst disruption to education since the Second World War has been to protect the progress of pupils and students,” Mr Williamson said.
Rory Sullivan25 February 2021 11:52
Teachers to give students exam grades this year, Williamson announces
Education secretary Gavin Williamson has announced that teachers will assign students their exam grades this year.
Speaking in the Commons on Thursday morning, the minister said there was “wide support” for the approach the government was taking.
Last year, the government faced fierce criticism over an algorithm used to issue exam results.
Rory Sullivan25 February 2021 11:38
PM ‘aggressively undermining’ Wales and Scotland through levelling up programme
Boris Johnson has been accused of “agressively undermining” devolution in Wales and Scotland through his government’s levelling up programme.
This comes after the government revealed on Wednesday that the whole of the UK would be covered by the scheme, which was initially planned for England alone.
The devolved administrations are angry that Westminister will have control over this levelling up fund and how it is spent.
My colleague Tom Batchelor reports:
Rory Sullivan25 February 2021 11:28
Labour hits out at ERG over its position on NI protocol
Shadow Northern Ireland secretary Louise Haigh has hit out at the ERG, after it released a report calling for the Northern Ireland protocol to be abandoned.
The Labour MP pointed out that this was the Brexit the Eurosceptic group of Tory MPs had wanted.
“Now they would rather tear things down, and provoke further instability, than show even a hint of responsibility,” she added.
Mark Francois, the ERG chairman, has said the protocol has to go or “we will not let matters rest there”.
Rory Sullivan25 February 2021 11:17