Sunday, February 25

Labour’s Rochdale byelection campaign engulfed in antisemitism row – UK politics live | Politics


Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

David Cameron has asserted that it would be wrong for the House of Lords to frstrate the government over its plans to declare Rwanda a safe country and deport asylum seekers there for processing.

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Sky News quotes the foreign secretary, who is a member of the unelected second chamber, saying:

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n

All over the world you see problems of very visible, illegal migration and that’s what we have coming to our south coast with this terrible human trafficking of people getting into very dangerous dinghies and crossing the Channel.

n

Many lose their lives. You’ve got to make sure you can’t get in a boat, arrive in Britain and stay in Britain. Rwanda is a safe country in our view.

n

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The Lords begins its committee stage scrutinising the Bill at 3.20pm today, and has published 38 pages of potential amendments in advance. [See 9.43am GMT]

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During his visit to Harrogate this morning, Rishi Sunak has claimed that local buses have benefited from his government’s decisions to scrap the northern leg of HS2.

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PA Media reports the said:

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n

Every penny from HS2 in the North, almost £20bn, is going to stay in the North. We’re here at a bus depot, which is benefiting from the £2 bus fare that we were able to put in place as a result of the reprioritisation.

n

Local road schemes across the North, railway stations being reopened – those are the types of the projects I think people want us to invest in alongside road maintenance, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

n

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Sunak said “Talking to the team here, as a result of that policy, they’ve seen a 15% increase in bus numbers in this area – I’m here in Harrogate, in North Yorkshire. That demonstrates that policy is working and the plans we’ve put in place are the right ones.”

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Sunak meets with bus drivers in Harrogate this morning.”,”caption”:”Rishi Sunak meets with bus drivers in Harrogate this morning.”,”credit”:”Photograph: WPA/Getty Images”}},{“_type”:”model.dotcomrendering.pageElements.TextBlockElement”,”html”:”

The prime minister said the £2 bus fare cap was a direct result of his decision on HS2. The initial three month cap came into effect in January 2023, with the Department for Transport saying the average fare for a three-mile journey was about £2.80, meaning that passengers would save 30% of the price every time they travelled.

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Sunak announced the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2 in October 2023. Last week the public accounts committee of MPs said the remaining London-Birmingham line will be “very poor value for money” and the government does not yet understand how the remaining £67bn high-speed line will now function as a railway.

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The writing off of £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans by the Conservative government was “unacceptable” a Tory cabinet minister has said, suggesting more should have been done to tackle fraud during the pandemic.

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Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, has been touring the broadcasters to push the government’s announcement of new anti-fraud measures this morning. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he described as an “extremely good point” the suggestion it would be better to rethink now how Covid fraud was addressed.

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n

The point I’m making is that £4.3bn is an awful lot of money. And, frankly, this is a completely unacceptable outcome for the British people.

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In 2022, HMRC figures showed fraudulent claims for furlough and other business relief schemes had resulted in a loss of an estimated £5.8bn. Of that, £4.3bn was written off. The scandal led to the resignation of the anti-fraud minister Theodore Agnew, who called the oversight of the scheme “nothing less than woeful” and accused officials of “schoolboy errors” on multiple fronts.

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Speaking in the House of Lords at the time, he accused the government of “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” in its attitude to tackling fraud estimated to cost £29bn a year.

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The Labour party’s shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Azhar Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory, and that his apology should be taken at face value.

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“Councillor Ali has apologised unreservedly, he’s retracted those remarks, and he’s also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused, and the need now to do tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, which is going to be absolutely essential. So it’s for those reasons that he hasn’t been suspended.”

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Mike Katz, the national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said his group would not campaign in Rochdale because Ali had “destroyed his past record of allyship with the Jewish community” with his “totally reprehensible” comments.

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But he stopped short of calling on Labour to drop the candidate, warning that the “alternative in Rochdale is George Galloway”, whose victory would “harm the Jewish community far more than electing Ali”.

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He added: “We know how far the party has come under Keir Starmer in tackling antisemitism and that the party, from Starmer down, is as shocked and disgusted by Ali’s comments as we are.”

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You can read Kevin Rawlinson’s report here: Labour criticised for backing Rochdale candidate after ‘offensive’ Israel remark

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The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

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After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

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Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Also Read  He challenged his all-white city council in Alabama. Now he's on it | US voting rights

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Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

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McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

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A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

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Good morning. I would say we were expecting a quiet week in UK politics with most of our institutions – including Andrew Sparrow – enjoying a half-term break, but there are significant political headwinds gathering for both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

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Sunak faces the prospect of potentially losing two byelections in Kingswood and Wellingborough later this week. Before that his flagship Rwanda deportation plan faces scrutiny in the Lords this afternoon, inflation figures are due out midweek, and Thursday’s GDP figures might show the country has been in a recession. He is out campaigning in Yorkshire today, and will sit through a one hour grilling from voters on GB News at 8pm, which will be another test of how well he is likely to hold up in contact with the public during an election campaign.

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It is the Rochdale byelection on 29 February that is giving Starmer a headache, with George Galloway threatening the party’s votes from the left with his uncompromising stand over Gaza and Palestine, while Labour try to work out how to handle comments by candidate Azhar Ali back in October suggesting that Israel might have let the Hamas attack happen on purpose in order to justify significant military intervention. Shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds has been having an uncomfortable time on the morning media round as a result.

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Here are the headlines …

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  • Labour’s candidate for the Rochdale byelection has “apologised unreservedly” to the Jewish community after comments emerged in which he claimed Israel had let the 7 October attacks happen. He remains the party’s candidate.

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  • A damning parliamentary report has said the UK government’s controversial Rwanda legislation that deems the African country as a safe place to deport people to is fundamentally incompatible with Britain’s human rights obligations and places it in breach of international law.

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  • UK workers can expect smaller pay rises this year, the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD) has said.

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  • More than 1.5 million patients in England had to wait 12 hours or longer in A&E in the past year.

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  • Defence secretary Grant Shapps has ordered a review of Ministry of Defence diversity policies.

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The Commons is in recess. The Lords is sitting from 2.30pm, and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will begin its committee stage there at 3,20pm. The Senedd and the Scottish parliament are not sitting. In Stormont there is a plenary session from noon.

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It is Martin Belam here with you this week. I do try to read and dip into the comments when I can, but if you want to get my attention the best way is to email me – [email protected] – especially if you have spotted an error or typo.

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Key events

The Northern Ireland assembly is sitting in Stormont today, with a Sinn Féin motion on childcare costs to be debated. Unlike England, Scotland and Wales there is no free childcare provision in the country.

Deputy first minister Emma Little-Pengelly (DUP), speaking on the BBC yesterday, said she was glad there was cross-party support to make a plan, and suggested that actually it was an advantage to be able to learn from mistakes made in other areas of the UK. “The DUP had set out a 30-hours free childcare promise but that doesn’t mean it’s a cut and paste from the English system,” she said.

Before that, in the assembly there was some confirmation of the allocation of the chairs and deputy chairs of all the Stormont committees, and this has angered Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, and its only representative in the Northern Ireland assembly.

He claims he has been deliberately excluded from the committee working on post-Brexit arrangements and the Windsor framework. PA Media quotes him saying:

Last week we had a carve-up by the main parties and then an offer of the crumbs to the four of us in this corner of the assembly. And of course crumbs which didn’t meet any of the desires of those of us sent here on an equal mandate with everyone else.

The result of course, in my own case … I have been denied a place on the EU Brexit committee because deep-dive scrutiny is not what is required; rather it is the form rather than the substance of scrutiny that the protocol-implementing parties in this House wish to see.

On that committee or not, elsewhere I will continue to shine a light on to the dark deeds of colonial rule from the EU in this place.

The committee, which is to meet for the first time on Thursday, is charged with examining and considering new EU Acts and replacement Acts as they arise, and itcan recommend the application of the Stormont brake to the UK Government.

Crouch is the eighth MP – and the sixth Conservative – this year to announce they will quit Parliament at the next election, which is expected to take place later in 2024.

Overall, more than 80 MPs – of whom more than 50 are Conservatives – have already said they intend to stand down then. That is more than retired at the 2019 election and almost as many as retired in 2015.

In her resignation letter, Crouch says she will “continue to work tirelessly for my constituents” until the election, and looks forward to supporting whoever is selected as the Conservative candidate for her relatively safe seat.

In 2021, she chaired the review of football governance in England triggered by the backlash to the short-lived proposals to form a European Super League. The review had been promised in the 2019 Conservative manifesto following the collapse of Bury FC.

Among the recommendations were the creation of an independent football regulator to oversee financial regulation of the men’s professional game and the imposition of a “stamp duty” on transfers between Premier League clubs.

The UK has sanctioned four extremist Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank, the Foreign Office says.

Tracey Crouch, the Conservative MP for Chatham & Aylesford, has become the latest MP to announce they are standing down at the next election.

In a statement she said her reasons for not wishing to stand are “entirely personal and positive.”

Crouch, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2020, and in 2023 reached the summit of Kilimanjaro while raising funds for a breast cancer charity, said:

While everyone’s cancer journey is different, for me going through a diagnosis and coming out the other side of treatment has been a life affirming experience. It has been an opportunity to pause and reflect on my own personal priorities, and based on that, I truly believe it is time to seek a new professional challenge. We spend far too much time in our relatively short lives putting things off but at some point, you have to say to yourself if not now, when and for me I have realised that when is now.

A bit of personal news… pic.twitter.com/pE5huBwiEt

— Tracey Crouch (@tracey_crouch) February 12, 2024

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The former sports minister resigned from government in 2018 because she believed pro-gambling MP Philip Davies successfully went above her head to secure a delay to curbs on fixed-odds betting terminals (FOBTs), defying her on a policy she had overseen. Crouch was also the author of the fan-led review into football governance.

Cameron: it would be wrong for House of Lords to ‘frustrate’ Rwanda plan

David Cameron has asserted that it would be wrong for the House of Lords to frstrate the government over its plans to declare Rwanda a safe country and deport asylum seekers there for processing.

Sky News quotes the foreign secretary, who is a member of the unelected second chamber, saying:

All over the world you see problems of very visible, illegal migration and that’s what we have coming to our south coast with this terrible human trafficking of people getting into very dangerous dinghies and crossing the Channel.

Many lose their lives. You’ve got to make sure you can’t get in a boat, arrive in Britain and stay in Britain. Rwanda is a safe country in our view.

The Lords begins its committee stage scrutinising the Bill at 3.20pm today, and has published 38 pages of potential amendments in advance. [See 9.43am GMT]

James Cleverly, meanwhile, has also added to the social media pressure on Labour’s candidate for the Rochdale byelection, reposting a message that asked how Labour could still be supporting Azhar Ali’s candidacy when the party had withdrawn the whip from Kate Osamor and Andy McDonald over comments which included references to Gaza the party had deemed offensive or controversial.

Osamor, the MP for Edmonton, appeared to have said Gaza should be remembered as a genocide on Holocaust memorial day, and McDonald was placed on a “precautionary suspension” after a Labour party spokesperson said comments he made that included the words “between the river and the sea” at a pro-Palestine rally were “deeply offensive”. McDonald subsequently threatened legal action against Conservative MP Chris Clarkson for defamation after Clarkson commented.

Diane Abbott, herself also suspended by the Labour party after comments in a letter to the Observer about racism, has added pressure on Keir Starmer’s stance over a ceasefire in Gaza this morning. Quoting Starmer’s message yesterday in which he said “an Israeli offensive [in Rafah] would be catastrophic”, she said:

Surely the decision for Labour to oppose a ceasefire was a mistake, then? An apology is called for and the party should vote for immediate ceasefire at the first opportunity. Otherwise, this is fraudulent. Just hot air before a tricky byelection.

On the government’s media grid this morning was the launch of a new anti-fraud campaign, which was being championed by home secretary James Cleverly and security minister Tom Tugendhat.

Describing the new campaign as “a powerful tool”, Cleverly said that as well as the campaign, the government was delivering “a world-first agreement from tech firms to prevent online fraud and the rollout of a national fraud squad that has 400 expert investigators.”

The campaign website – Stop! Think Fraud – can be found here.

💻 Fraud costs the taxpayer an estimated £6.8 billion per year.

Our new campaign takes the fight to criminals, giving you the skills to spot fraud and protect you from its devastating impacts.

— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) February 12, 2024

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💻 Fraud costs the taxpayer an estimated £6.8 billion per year.

Our new campaign takes the fight to criminals, giving you the skills to spot fraud and protect you from its devastating impacts.

— Home Office (@ukhomeoffice) February 12, 2024

During the morning media round, Tugendhat cautioned that “fraud ruins lives”, while also claiming that the Conservative givernment he was representing was wrong to write off £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans. [See 9.58am GMT]

Labour’s Emily Thornberry was somewhat less impressed, with the shadow attorney general pointing out the government had overseen a near eightfold increase in the crime, adding that “After 14 years spent sleepwalking through the escalation of the crisis, launching an ad campaign in response is the definition of too little, too late.”

Updated at 

Sunak: scrapping northern leg of HS2 has benefited local bus routes

During his visit to Harrogate this morning, Rishi Sunak has claimed that local buses have benefited from his government’s decisions to scrap the northern leg of HS2.

PA Media reports the said:

Every penny from HS2 in the North, almost £20bn, is going to stay in the North. We’re here at a bus depot, which is benefiting from the £2 bus fare that we were able to put in place as a result of the reprioritisation.

Local road schemes across the North, railway stations being reopened – those are the types of the projects I think people want us to invest in alongside road maintenance, and that’s exactly what we’re doing.

Sunak said “Talking to the team here, as a result of that policy, they’ve seen a 15% increase in bus numbers in this area – I’m here in Harrogate, in North Yorkshire. That demonstrates that policy is working and the plans we’ve put in place are the right ones.”

Rishi Sunak meets with bus drivers in Harrogate this morning. Photograph: WPA/Getty Images

The prime minister said the £2 bus fare cap was a direct result of his decision on HS2. The initial three month cap came into effect in January 2023, with the Department for Transport saying the average fare for a three-mile journey was about £2.80, meaning that passengers would save 30% of the price every time they travelled.

Sunak announced the scrapping of the northern leg of HS2 in October 2023. Last week the public accounts committee of MPs said the remaining London-Birmingham line will be “very poor value for money” and the government does not yet understand how the remaining £67bn high-speed line will now function as a railway.

Police have announced they will take no further action against Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell after he was arrested on suspicion of rape, sexual assault and misconduct in a public office. Scotland Yard said a “thorough investigation” had been carried out and the evidence threshold for criminal prosecution had not been met. In a statement, a spokesperson for the Romford MP said he had been “completely exonerated”.

I must confess that if I was looking for “woke extremists” myself, then the British armed forces would be unlikely to be my first port of call, but the idea has gripped defence secretary Grant Shapps, who has complained that “time and resources are being squandered to promote a political agenda which is pitting individuals against each other” because “there is a woke culture that has seeped into public life over time and is poisoning the discourse.”

He has ordered a review of diversity and inclusion policies at the Ministry of Defence (MoD) after it was reported that the army wants to relax security checks for overseas recruits to increase black, Asian and minority ethnic representation.

The Telegraph is also spluttering today that it has uncovered “93 diversity networks including 10 for gender issues” within the MoD, some of whom have put posters up, and have online messageboards to discuss staff issues including race, gender and mental health. The MoD has about 60,000 civilian employees, and the armed forces consist of about 185,000 people.

Security minister Tom Tugendhat has been drawn into the debate during the morning media round, telling GB News:

This is a time when only our enemies want us to be divided and we have absolutely no time for this – sort of putting ideology before security. It is absolutely clear, and let me be totally clear, there is no way we are going to be easing up security requirements for ideological requests. That is simply not going to happen.

You know, the British armed forces have one purpose and one purpose alone, and that’s to defend the British people and bring death to the king’s enemies. There’s no way we’re going to be putting ideology before security.

A few more quotes from shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds who was out defending Labour’s Rochdale candidate on the broadcast round this morning. Azhar Ali has apologised after a recording emerged of hi, suggesting that Israel allowed Hamas’s 7 October attacks to take place to provide grounds to invade Gaza.

Asked whether the incident reflected a problem at large with the Labour party in Rochdale, Thomas-Symonds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “We’ve got, as I understand it, a short clip from a meeting, so I think it would be unfair to draw a wider conclusion in that way. Let me first say the remarks that have been made are completely and utterly unacceptable. I was very shocked and appalled to see them and they in no way represent the views of the Labour party.”

Labour recently suspended the MP Kate Osamor after she appeared to say the Gaza war should be remembered as genocide on Holocaust Memorial Day.

On Sky News, Thomas-Symonds was pressed about whether, should he win in Rochdale, Ali would be allowed to stand again by the larty later in the year at a general election, but wouldn’t be drawn, saying “we are all sunject” to a selection process for that.

Labour under fire for standing by Rochdale candidate @CllrAzharAli

The deadline to replace him as candidate for this month's by-election has passed, but will they stand by him in the general election?

We ask Labour's @NickTorfaen#KayBurley PO pic.twitter.com/86zpI3AGsG

— Kay Burley (@KayBurley) February 12, 2024

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Minister: writing off £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans by government was ‘unacceptable’

Kevin Rawlinson

The writing off of £4.3bn in fraudulent Covid loans by the Conservative government was “unacceptable” a Tory cabinet minister has said, suggesting more should have been done to tackle fraud during the pandemic.

Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, has been touring the broadcasters to push the government’s announcement of new anti-fraud measures this morning. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he described as an “extremely good point” the suggestion it would be better to rethink now how Covid fraud was addressed.

The point I’m making is that £4.3bn is an awful lot of money. And, frankly, this is a completely unacceptable outcome for the British people.

In 2022, HMRC figures showed fraudulent claims for furlough and other business relief schemes had resulted in a loss of an estimated £5.8bn. Of that, £4.3bn was written off. The scandal led to the resignation of the anti-fraud minister Theodore Agnew, who called the oversight of the scheme “nothing less than woeful” and accused officials of “schoolboy errors” on multiple fronts.

Speaking in the House of Lords at the time, he accused the government of “arrogance, indolence and ignorance” in its attitude to tackling fraud estimated to cost £29bn a year.

Rishi Sunak has insisted the economy “has turned a corner”, despite the anticipation that official figures this week will show a rise in inflation and that the country has been in a “technical recession”.

Speaking to reporters while visiting a bus depot in Harrogate, Sunak said:

At the start of this year I really believe the economy has turned a corner and we are heading in the right direction. You can see inflation has come down from 11% to 4%, mortgage rates are starting to come down, wages have been rising consistently now.

He said recent years had been “undoubtedly difficult”, PA Media reports.

Rishi Sunak visits a bus depot in Harrogate. Photograph: Carl Recine/Reuters

“What is a technical recession?”, I hear some of you ask. The ONS defines it as “two consecutive quarters of negative growth”, with Darren Morgan, ONS Director of Economic Statistics saying “You could get a -0.1% or +0.1% change, but how different really was the economy at that point in time? I would say it was broadly flat, but some people do get excited about it.”

Back to Rishi Sunak’s week for a moment, we know that he has already acknowledged that he has failed to keep his promise to cut healthcare waiting lists in England, with the situation worsening under his watch. Official figures on Thursday will show whether the UK slipped into recession, despite Sunak’s promise to grow the economy, the day after an anticipated rise in inflation is announced.

Chief secretary to the Treasury Laura Trott, fresh from her tricky appearance with Radio 4’s PM presenter Evan Davis last week, told the Sunday Times: “There will be bumps in the road and on Wednesday we can expect inflation to slightly increase when data for January is published.”

UK inflation rose unexpectedly to 4.0% in December in the first increase for ten months. The Bank of England target is 2%.

The main challenge today for Sunak however is the House of Lords beginning its committee consideration of the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill.

There are 38 pages of amendments to be debated, including moves that would insert into the bill clauses that require positive UNHCR advice on the safety of Rwanda to be laid before parliament before claims for asylum in the UK may be processed in Rwanda, would seek that the House of Commons have to reassert that Rwanda is still a “safe country” every six months, and delay any possible deportations until after all the clauses of the separate UK-Rwanda treaty, which require some reforms on Rwanda’s part, are implemented.

A quick scoot around the newspaper front pages. For the Daily Mail, the Labour Rochdale story leads, with the paper asking “So has Labour really changed?”

Introducing #TomorrowsPapersToday from:#DailyMail

So has Labour really changed

For a comprehensive collection of newspapers, explore: https://t.co/zvOl5CpDm7

Don't forget to support journalism – #buyanewspaper or #buyapaper for the latest updates! pic.twitter.com/xjrGc3Ki7O

— #TomorrowsPapersToday – The Press Room (@channel_tsc) February 11, 2024

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That story also made the front of the Times, with the bonus ban at water companies being the lead item. Our Helena Horton reports the plans have been described as “a gimmick”.

Introducing #TomorrowsPapersToday from:#TheTimes

Bonus ban for water bosses who break the rules

For a comprehensive collection of newspapers, explore: https://t.co/zvOl5CpDm7

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The Daily Express headline lucky dip came up with “woke” again today, although the Telegraph also decided to go with the accusation that there are “woke extremists” in the British armed forces.

📰The front page of tomorrow's Daily Telegraph:

'Shapps: Woke extremists are rife in Army'#TomorrowsPapersToday

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The Sun features King Charles on the front, as did the Independent, while the Mirror had an interview with kidnapped chid Alex Batty as its lead. The Independent also ran with a story about another Brexit black hole.

Introducing #TomorrowsPapersToday from:#Independent

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For us at the Guardian we led with Amelia Gentleman’s exclusive on the Home Office English test scandal, and Emine Sinmaz reporting from Jerusalem.

Introducing #TomorrowsPapersToday from:#TheGuardian

Cousin of Gaza girl haunted by last call

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Louise Ellman has reacted to Azhar Ali’s remarks by saying that they were out of character for him, and saying that over a long period of time he had been an ally of her when she had been subjected to antisemitic attacks.

She said:

I have known Azhar for over twenty years and he consistently supported me when I was subjected to antisemitic attacks. He should now have the opportunity to work with the Jewish community to restore the loss of trust his actions have caused.

Ellman rejoined Labour after quitting over former leader Jeremy Corbyn’s handling of antisemitism.

Labour: Rochdale candidate had ‘fallen for a conspiracy theory’

Kevin Rawlinson

The Labour party’s shadow minister without portfolio, Nick Thomas-Symonds, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that Azhar Ali had fallen for a conspiracy theory, and that his apology should be taken at face value.

“Councillor Ali has apologised unreservedly, he’s retracted those remarks, and he’s also shown a sense of the gravity of the offence that has been caused, and the need now to do tremendous amounts of work to rebuild trust with the Jewish community, which is going to be absolutely essential. So it’s for those reasons that he hasn’t been suspended.”

Mike Katz, the national chairman of the Jewish Labour Movement, said his group would not campaign in Rochdale because Ali had “destroyed his past record of allyship with the Jewish community” with his “totally reprehensible” comments.

But he stopped short of calling on Labour to drop the candidate, warning that the “alternative in Rochdale is George Galloway”, whose victory would “harm the Jewish community far more than electing Ali”.

He added: “We know how far the party has come under Keir Starmer in tackling antisemitism and that the party, from Starmer down, is as shocked and disgusted by Ali’s comments as we are.”

You can read Kevin Rawlinson’s report here: Labour criticised for backing Rochdale candidate after ‘offensive’ Israel remark

Labour’s Rochdale byelection candidate apologises ‘unreservedly’ to Jewish community after Israel comments

The Labour candidate for the 29 February Rochdale byelection, Azhar Ali, has “apologised unreservedly to the Jewish community” for comments which he described as “deeply offensive, ignorant and false.”

After comments emerged in which he suggested Israel had allowed the 7 October to happen in order to have a pretext to attack Gaza, he said “Hamas’s horrific terror attack was the responsibility of Hamas alone, and they are still holding hostages who must be released.”

Describing them as “my inexcusable comments”, Ali said that “the Labour party has changed unrecognisably under Keir Starmer’s leadership” after years in which it has been claimed the party had failed to deal adequetly with antisemitism.

Pat McFadden, Labour’s national campaign coordinator, said Ali’s comments were “completely wrong” and did not represent the party’s view, but that he would remain the party’s candidate for the byelection, where Labour faces a challenge from George Galloway.

McFadden told Sky News: “He’s issued a complete apology and retraction. And I hope he learns a good lesson from it because he should never have said something like that in the first place.”

A recording obtained by the Mail on Sunday quoted Ali saying: “The Egyptians are saying that they warned Israel 10 days earlier. Americans warned them a day before there’s something happening. They deliberately took the security off”. He went on to suggest Israel allowed a “massacre that gives them the green light to do whatever they bloody want.”

Welcome and opening summary …

Good morning. I would say we were expecting a quiet week in UK politics with most of our institutions – including Andrew Sparrow – enjoying a half-term break, but there are significant political headwinds gathering for both Rishi Sunak and Keir Starmer.

Sunak faces the prospect of potentially losing two byelections in Kingswood and Wellingborough later this week. Before that his flagship Rwanda deportation plan faces scrutiny in the Lords this afternoon, inflation figures are due out midweek, and Thursday’s GDP figures might show the country has been in a recession. He is out campaigning in Yorkshire today, and will sit through a one hour grilling from voters on GB News at 8pm, which will be another test of how well he is likely to hold up in contact with the public during an election campaign.

It is the Rochdale byelection on 29 February that is giving Starmer a headache, with George Galloway threatening the party’s votes from the left with his uncompromising stand over Gaza and Palestine, while Labour try to work out how to handle comments by candidate Azhar Ali back in October suggesting that Israel might have let the Hamas attack happen on purpose in order to justify significant military intervention. Shadow minister without portfolio Nick Thomas-Symonds has been having an uncomfortable time on the morning media round as a result.

Here are the headlines …

The Commons is in recess. The Lords is sitting from 2.30pm, and the Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill will begin its committee stage there at 3,20pm. The Senedd and the Scottish parliament are not sitting. In Stormont there is a plenary session from noon.

It is Martin Belam here with you this week. I do try to read and dip into the comments when I can, but if you want to get my attention the best way is to email me – [email protected] – especially if you have spotted an error or typo.




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