Mark Menzies suspended from role as unpaid trade envoy to Colombia, says No 10 – UK politics live | Politics


Mark Menzies suspended from role as unpaid trade envoy to Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina, No 10 says

Mark Menzies MP has been suspended from his role as one of Rishi Sunak’s envoys following allegations he misused campaign funds, PA Media reports.

At the No 10 lobby briefing, the PM’s spokeperson said Menzies had been suspended from the unpaid, voluntary role aimed at boosting trade with Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina.

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Quarter of Tory voters think Angela Rayner story ‘sounds like smear’, poll suggests

Around a quarter of Conservative supporters believe the row about Angela Rayner’s housing arrangements before she became an MP “sounds like a smear campaign”, according to new polling.

The Savanta polling, commissioned by the pro-Labour website LabourList, found that amongst the population as a whole 40% of people say the story sounds like a smear. Amongst Labour voters that figure is 56%, and amongst Tory voters that figure is 26%.

Tom Belger, editor of LabourList, said:

Labour has attacked rightwing ‘smears’ against Angela Rayner, and this poll suggests a striking number of Tory and Labour voters alike agree there are political reasons this story is getting so much attention.

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Pupil suspensions in England hit record high, rising by nearly a third year on year, DfE figures show

The number of pupil suspensions in England has risen by nearly a third in a year to more than 260,000, PA Media reports. PA says:

Data from the Department for Education (DfE) shows there were 263,904 suspensions in the spring term of 2022/23, compared to 201,090 during the spring term of 2021/22 – a rise of 31%.

The number of suspensions in spring 2023 is the “highest” termly figure recorded, the DfE said.

Suspensions are typically higher in the autumn term, but the figures show the number rose by 7% from autumn 2022 (when there were 247,366 suspensions) to spring 2023.

The rise of suspensions – which are when a pupil is excluded from a school for a set period of time – comes amid warnings of challenging behaviour in classrooms following the Covid-19 pandemic.

The number of permanent exclusions also increased in the spring term of last year compared to the same period in 2022.

There were 3,039 permanent exclusions in spring 2023, compared to 2,179 in spring 2022 – a rise of 39%, the figures show.

The most common reason for suspensions and permanent exclusions was persistent disruptive behaviour, the DfE said.

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In the Commons William Wragg, the MP who recently resigned the Tory whip after admitting divulging colleagues’ phone numbers to a stranger threatening him on WhatsApp, had been due to open a backbench debate on access to redress schemes, according to the Commons order paper. But he did not speak, and the Lib Dem MP Richard Foord opened the debate instead.

He said compensation schemes like those for victims of the Post Office Horizon scandal and the infected blood scandal were “frequently blighted by unnecessary complexity, delays [and] a huge emotional and legal burden on the victims”. Redress schemes should be “effective, timely, proportionate and fair”, he argued.

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No 10 says it hopes to end Commons/Lords deadlock on Rwanda bill on Monday night

During questions in the Commons on next week’s business, Penny Mordaunt, leader of the house, said that MPs would debate the latest Lords amendments to the Rwanda bill on Monday and that, if necessary, time would also be set aside on Tuesday for MPs to vote again on Lords amendments to the bill.

But, at the No 10 lobby briefing, the PM’s spokesperson told journalists that the government wants to conclude the “ping pong” process (when the bill shuttles between the Commons and the Lords until both sides agree on its wording) on Monday night. He said:

Our intention is to get this passed on Monday such that we can then set out the timetable for getting flights off as soon as possible.

Downing Street is prepared, if necessary, for the Commons and the Lords to sit late into the night until the deadlock is broken.

Ultimately, the Lords almost always does back down, but sometimes peers might send a bill back to the Commons up to about five times in the hope of getting ministers to “think again” and grant concessions.

When the Lords first debated the Rwanda bill, they inserted 10 amendments that were later removed by MPs. Since then, rather than accept the government version, peers have now sent the bill back to the Commons three times with changes opposed by the government. The last debate was last night, when peers dug their heels in on just two issues.

At the lobby briefing this morning the PM’s spokesperson indicated that the government would not be making any further concessions on the bill.

But the spokesperson did not offer a clear explanation as to why MPs were not debating the bill again until Monday afternoon. It had been expected that they might debate it again late last night, or today.

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Anneliese Dodds, the Labour party chair, has written an open letter to Richard Holden, her Tory counterpart, raising questions over his party’s handling of the allegations about Mark Menzies.

As PA Media reports, Dodds said the allegations raised “extremely serious questions relating to potential criminality” and asked whether the matter had been or would be reported to the police.

She also asked when the Conservative party had become aware of the allegations, what action had been taken and whether it was “common practice for Conservative party MPs to use money donated for campaigning activities to instead pay their personal expenses”.

She wrote:

A long-serving Tory worker involved in this disturbing incident says they believe the Conservative party wants to ‘brush it under the carpet’. I trust you will now take all steps to show this is not the case.

In a statement about the allegations, first report by the Times, Menzies said:

I strongly dispute the allegations put to me. I have fully complied with all the rules for declarations. As there is an investigation ongoing I will not be commenting further.

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Mark Menzies suspended from role as unpaid trade envoy to Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina, No 10 says

Mark Menzies MP has been suspended from his role as one of Rishi Sunak’s envoys following allegations he misused campaign funds, PA Media reports.

At the No 10 lobby briefing, the PM’s spokeperson said Menzies had been suspended from the unpaid, voluntary role aimed at boosting trade with Colombia, Chile, Peru and Argentina.

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The polling company Ipsos has now published online the charts accompanying the polling it released today showing Rishi Sunak’s approval rating at a record low. (See 10.15am.)

Here is the chart comparing Sunak’s ratings with other prime ministers’.

Approval ratings for PMs Photograph: Ipsos

And here is the chart comparing Keir Starmer’s ratings with other opposition leaders’.

It shows that, compared to other opposition leaders at the same point after their election, Starmer is doing a lot better than Jeremy Corbyn, a lot worse than David Cameron and Neil Kinnock, and about the same as Ed Miliband and William Hague on this measure.

Approval ratings for opposition leaders Photograph: Ipsos

Those final three words in the paragraph above are important. On the net satisfaction measure, Starmer is only average as opposition leader. But if you judge him by how popular his party has become under his leadership (a more relevant measure if you care about election results), Starmer is doing far better than any opposition leader since Tony Blair.

Polling figures Photograph: Ipsos
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Neil Gray, the Scotish government’s health secretary, has welcomed the decision of two health boards – one of which covers the only gender clinic in the country for young people – to pause the prescription of puberty blockers to new patients, PA Media reports. PA says:

NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde (NHSGGC) and NHS Lothian said the decision came with the support of Scotland’s chief medical officer, Prof Sir Gregor Smith, following a review by Dr Hilary Cass in England and the same decision being taken south of the border.

NHSGGC covers Scotland’s only gender clinic for under-18s while NHS Lothian provides care to those aged 17 and over at its Chalmers gender identity clinic.

Gray said it was right for the decision to be made by clinicians rather than politicians, adding that the Scottish government and boards are considering the recommendations of the Cass Review.

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Mordaunt says government won’t change Commons procedure to allow all MPs to question Lord Cameron on foreign affairs

During business questions Lucy Powell, the shadow leader of the Commons, also asked Penny Mordaunt why the government is refusing to change parliamentary rules to allow David Cameron, who sits in the Lords as foreign secretary, to be questioned by all MPs.

After Cameron’s surprise appointment last year, Mordaunt initially suggested she was open to the idea of all MPs getting the chance to question Cameron, perhaps in Westminster Hall.

In January the Commons procedure committee published a report proposing instead that all MPs should get the chance to question Cameron, and other secretaries of states who sit in the House of Lords, by allowing them to take questions at the bar of the Commons chamber (the line in the carpet near the entrance to the chamber, where non-MPs stand or sit if summoned to appear).

But in its reponse to this report, which has just been published, the government has said it will not adopt this proposal. (It does not categorically reject the idea, but it argues the current arrangements work well, it claims letting MPs question ministers from the Lords at the bar of the Commons would create various practical problems, and it says it would welcome “further consideration” of the proposal.)

Mordaunt told Powell that the government was going to stick to the current rules because MPs already have plenty of opportunity to question ministers about foreign policy. She said that, since Cameron was appointed foreign secretary, there have been eight ministerial statements on foreign policy, three prime ministerial statements on foreign policy, a debate on the situation in the Red Sea and 17 Westminster Hall debates on foreign policy, as well as the usual question time sessions.

In its reponse to the procedure committee, the government said:

Throughout its history, the Commons has called non-members to give evidence in various formats, and in living memory the preferred format for scrutiny of non-members has been via select committees. This is an arrangement that has worked well in facilitating Commons scrutiny of secretaries of state in the House of Lords, and Lord Cameron has already given evidence to select committees in the Commons since his appointment.

By contrast, the use of the bar of the House for routine scrutiny of non-members is entirely untested. Indeed, there is no evidence yet brought forward that suggests any Peer has responded to routine scrutiny from members of parliament at the bar of the House of Commons.

A lack of modern – or even historic – precedent does not mean that the Commons should not consider novel measures to achieve the level of scrutiny it demands. It does, however, demand thorough consideration of the potential consequences of such a procedural change.

Penny Mordaunt in the Commons today. Photograph: HoC
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Labour says Tory response to Mark Menzies allegations ‘too weak’ and suggests they should be reported to police

In the Commons Lucy Powell, the shadow leader of the Commons, asked Penny Mordaunt when the government first knew about the allegations against Mark Menzies. And she asked if the matter had been referred to the police. “If not, why not?” She went on:

It seems that yet again, like with [William Wragg] and so many of the recent cases of sleaze and scandal, they’re too weak to act decisively and instead choose to brush things under the carpet. The truth is, they’ve given up on governing.

In her response, Mordaunt, the leader of the Commons, did not refer directly to the Menzies case, but she said some “very serious allegations” had come to light during the Easter recess (she seemed to be referring primarily to the Wragg revelations] and she said she could not comment on them.

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Sunak’s approval rating hits record low for a PM, poll suggests

Rishi Sunak’s approval rating is at a record low for a prime minister in modern times, according to the polling company Ipsos.

In its latest Political Monitor report it says net satisfaction with Sunak (% satisfied with how he is doing his job minus % dissatisfied) is now at -59. This matches John Major’s -59 score in August 1994, the record low for a prime minister in the Ipsos data going back to the 1980s.

The record low for an opposition leader on net satisfication was the -60 that Jeremy Corbyn achieved in September 2019.

Keir Starmer’s appoval rating has also fallen, although it is still a lot higher than Sunak’s. Ipsos says:

Starmer’s ratings have also fallen since February. 25% are satisfied with his performance as Labour leader (-4) and 56% are dissatisfied (+1). His net score of -31 is his worst as Labour leader since he recorded a -29 in May 2021. Among Labour supporters, satisfaction with his performance has also dropped from 58% to 51%.

Ipsos found that, when people were asked who would make the most capable PM, Starmer has a clear lead over Sunak.

When presented with a head-to-head choice, the public think Keir Starmer would make the most capable prime minister over Rishi Sunak by a margin of 22 points (44% to 22%). 22% say neither and 10% don’t know.

This is an increase in Keir Starmer’s lead since January (from 13 points to 22), and is similar to Starmer’s 20pt lead over Boris Johnson in July 2022. Although 2019 Conservative voters still prefer Sunak over Starmer by 49% to 20%.

On voting intention, Ipsos has Labour on 44% (down 3 points from February), the Conservatives on 19% (down 1 point), Reform UK on 13% (up 5), and the Lib Dems on 9% (unchanged).

Ipsos also found that none of the potential alternative Tory leaders it included in its survey were seen as capable of being a better PM than Starmer. It says:

Nobody from a list of 6 potential alternative Conservative leaders stands out as doing particularly better versus Keir Starmer in a head-to-head contest

Starmer leads each of the following as most capable PM:

-Penny Mordaunt by 17 points (42% to 25%). 10% say neither and 22% don’t know.

-James Cleverly by 29 points (47% to 18%). 11% neither. 24% don’t know.

-Grant Shapps by 33 points (47% to 14%). 12% neither. 26% don’t know.

-Kemi Badenoch by 34 points (48% to 14%). 9% say neither. 29% say don’t know.

-Suella Braverman by 35 points (53% to 18%). 10% say neither and 19% don’t know.

-Priti Patel by 35 points

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David Cameron, left, at the G7 foreign ministers’ meeting in Italy this morning with EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell, top left, US Secretary of State Antony Blinken, top, second from left, German foreign minister Annalena Baerbock, bottom left, Japanese foreign minister Yoko Kamikawa, bottom right, Canadian minister of foreign affairs Melanie Joly, top right, French foreign mnister Stephane Sejourne and Italian foreign minister Antonio Tajani, right. They are on Capri island, Italy. Photograph: Remo Casilli/AP
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Grant Shapps attacks Labour over Rwanda bill and says RAF planes could be used for deportation

Good morning. Yesterday Richard Holden, the Conservative party chair, plonked himself on the moral high ground yesterday, issuing a statement attacking Keir Starmer for ignoring the “serious ethics scandal” around Angela Rayner. He is looking rather less principled today in the light of extraordinary allegations in the Times about Mark Menzies MP.

EXCLUSIVE: A Tory MP is under investigation over allegations that he misused campaign funds and abused his position after making a late-night phone call saying he’d been locked up by “bad people” who were demanding thousands of pounds | @billykenber https://t.co/KRP4AS56C1

— The Times and The Sunday Times (@thetimes) April 17, 2024

Our write-up of the story is here. According to Billy Kenber in the Times, CCHQ (which means Holden) knew about the Menzies allegations more than three months ago, but did not suspend him until the Times published his story. Menzies says he strongly disputes the allegations made in the story.

Grant Shapps, the defence secretary, was on media round duties for the government this morning. He said that there should be a proper investigation into the allegations, but the Menzies sounded like “potentially somebody who’s quite troubled”. It is not clear if the story will move on much today, and for legal reasons there is a limit to how much we can say, and so the story won’t feature much in the blog today. If people start commenting on it directly BTL, comments may get closed.

In his interviews, Shapps was also asked about the government’s Rwanda policy. The government had been hoping to get its Rwanda bill onto the statute book this week but last night the Lords voted again to insert two safeguards opposed by the Commons and, instead of getting MPs to vote again on the bill today, ministers have postponed the next debate until next week.

In his Times Radio interview, Shapps claimed that this showed Labour did not want the bill to pass, and that it wanted small boat arrivals to continue. He said:

Labour have once again locked the ability for parliament to pass this law. Labour don’t seem to have an answer [to the small boat problem], they don’t seem to want it [the Rwanda policy] to happen. It’s directly at Keir Starmer’s door if they don’t go [ie, if asylum seekers are not send to Rwanda].

Labour sources say they do expect the bill to become law, and that it could have become law this week if ministers had scheduled more “ping pong” debates last night or today.

In his interviews Shapps also confirmed that RAF planes could be used for deportation flights to Rwanda.

As PA Media reports, it is understood RAF Voyager aircraft could be deployed after the Home Office failed to find an airline that would charter the flights. Downing Street has drawn up plans to order the Ministry of Defence to repurpose at least one of the leased aircraft for this, according to The Times.

Asked about this on Sky News this morning, Shapps said:

We will do whatever we need to do to make sure that we can get these flights off, whether they are charter flights or other kinds of flights.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Lucy Frazer, the culture secretary, takes questions on the Commons.

10.15am: Kemi Badenoch, the business secretary, speaks at the CityUK conference in London.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

11.30am: Oliver Dowden, the deputy prime minister, gives a speech at Chatham House.

12pm: Humza Yousaf, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions from MSPs at Holyrood.

Afternoon: William Wragg, the MP who recently resigned the Tory whip after admitting divulging colleagues’ phone numbers to a stranger threatening him on WhatsApp, is due to speak in the Commons, opening a backbench debate on access to redress schemes.

Afternoon: Màiri McAllan, the Scottish government’s climate minister, is due to make an announcement to MSPs ditching a greenhouse gas target for 2030.

Also, Keir Starmer, Rachel Reeves and Ed Miliband are doing a visit today in the north-east of England to promote Labour’s plans for investments in ports. And David Cameron, the foreign secretary, is a the G7 foreign ministers’ summit on the Italian island of Capri.

If you want to contact me, do use the “send us a message” feature. You’ll see it just below the byline – on the left of the screen, if you are reading on a laptop or a desktop. This is for people who want to message me directly. I find it very useful when people message to point out errors (even typos – no mistake is too small to correct). Often I find your questions very interesting, too. I can’t promise to reply to them all, but I will try to reply to as many as I can, either in the comments below the line; privately (if you leave an email address and that seems more appropriate); or in the main blog, if I think it is a topic of wide interest.

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