UK politics live: Zahawi says Johnson is safe in his job and says Starmer should apologise for drink

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UK politics live: Zahawi says Johnson is safe in his job and says Starmer should apologise for drink
© Photograph: Leon Neal/Getty Images Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, said that Boris Johnson had apologised.

LIVE – Updated at 09:35

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Latest updates: education secretary refuses to answer question of whether PM is capable of changing the way he operates.



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Starmer says he knows Sue Gray, the civil servant doing the partygate inquiry. He says he respects here. But he says he is sure that her report will only establish the facts. It is not for her to decide whether or not the law was broken, he says.

Q: So the Sue Gray report will not be the end of this?

Global Tech News Daily

No, says Starmer.

He says he thinks the public have already made their mind up.

There is anger at the PM, and ridicule too.

Once the public is now longer laughing with you, but at you, you are in a bad place as prime minister.



Starmer says he has not spoken to Barry Gardiner, the Labour former shadow cabinet minister, about the fact that he took £500,000 in funding for his office from a woman now exposed as a Chinese spy. He says Gardiner has done nothing wrong.



Q: Would you ever favour renationalsing the energy companies?

Starmer says he is not in favour of top-down nationalisation. But he says there other ways of looking at their ownership.

(This will be seen by many as a betrayal of a promise he made when he was running for the Labour leadership. He issued 10 pledges, one of which was his backing for “common ownership” of energy companies. Starmer argues that common ownership is not the same as nationalisation.)



Ferrari asks about the news that Gary Neville has joined the Labour party.

Related: Gary Neville joins Labour and considers move into politics

Starmer says he has spoken to Neville.

Neville told him he thought Labour should have voted against the government’s tier restrictions. Starmer says he told Neville he disagreed.

He says he likes arguments. He is not one of those leaders who only wants to hear people who agree with him, he says.

Q: Would you like Neville to be a Labour candidate?

Starmer says he would like to see him go as far in the party as he wants.



Q: Do you feel threatened by reports that Jeremy Corbyn will start his own party?

Starmer says he does not know if that is true. But he does not feel threatened by it.

The vast majority of Labour supporters want to see a Labour government.

When he took over, he thought it was important to ensure the party did not blame the electorate for its defeat.

Now he has to show the party is fit for office.

Q: Would you rather fight Boris Johnson at the next election, wounded by this scandal, or an invigorated Tory party under Rishi Sunak or Liz Truss?

Starmer says he will fight whoever the Tory leader is, and he does not really care.

But he says he does not think Johnson remaining as PM is in the national interest.

Zahawi says Johnson is safe in his job – but ducks question about whether PM can change how he operates


Good morning. Is Boris Johnson safe in his job? You would not have thought so reading the weekend papers (here is Toby Helm’s assessment of what is likely to happen next in the Observer) but this morning Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, claimed that he is. Zahawi implied that Johnson deserved credit for his apology, and for his judgment on “big decisions” in the past.

But, in an interview on the Today programme, it took the presenter, Nick Robinson, three goes to get Zahawi to say Johnson was safe. It wasn’t the strongest vote of confidence ever. Here is how the exchange went.

Here is how the exchange went.

NR: Do you believe that Boris Johnson is safe in his job?

NZ: I think Boris Johnson has done the right thing to apologise.

NR: Is he safe in his job?

NZ: I think the prime minister on the big, big decisions – if you look at what he did on Brexit, on vaccines, on Omicron pre-Christmas, on the economy being the most open economy in Europe – has called it right. But he’s human.

NR: Is he safe in his job?

NZ: Yes, he is because he’s human and we make mistakes and actually he came to the despatch box and apologised and said he will we absolutely submit himself to parliament when [the Sue Gray investigation] is concluded.

Robinson also tried three times to get Zahawi to say whether or not he thought Johnson was capable of changing the way he operated, but Zahawi dodged the question each time. This was probably wise; Johnson is 57, and his modus operandi has been rackety and chaotic all his adult life. Any significant change in how he operates that seems unlikely.

The interview was also notable for Zahawi saying that Keir Starmer should apologise for having a drink with Labour staff when they were working last year. The Tories, with help from the Daily Mail, are trying to suggest this amounts to equivalence with partygate, but, as my colleague Peter Walker reports, it sounded as if even Zahawi could tell this was not really a runner.

On R4, Nadhim Zahawi briefly tries to bring up the No 10 counter argument about Keir Starmer needing to apologise but allows Nick Robinson to immediately change the subject back again. Felt a bit like his heart wasn’t in that part of the agreed lines to take.

— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) January 17, 2022

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: Keir Starmer hosts his ‘Call Keir’ LBC phone-in.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

2.30pm: Priti Patel, the home secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

After 3.30pm: MPs debate the remaining stages of the elections bill.

There will be some UK Covid coverage here, but for further coronavirus coverage, do read out global live blog. It’s here.

Related: Covid news live: Covid isolation period in England cut to five days; China reports highest cases in nearly two years

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at



Q: Why won’t you back decriminalising cannabis use?

Starmer says he looked at many drug cases when he was head of the CPS. He has seen the damage drugs do. He does not support changing the law.

Q: Do you support the London mayor’s plan to decriminalise minor cannabis offences?

Starmer says the police have always had discretion in how they apply drugs laws. He says he will look at the results of Sadiq Khan’s pilot scheme. But he is not in favour of changing the law.

Starmer refuses to apologise for drinking beer during work dinner with colleagues, dismissing it as Tory smear


Keir Starmer is holding his LBC phone-in now. Nick Ferrari is presenting.

There first question is about the Daily Mail splash. The caller says what Starmer did was “the same” as what Boris Johnson did.

Starmer says the picture shows him in a constituency office in the north before the May elections last year. He was working with Labour staff. They stopped for a meal and then carried on working.

There was no party, he says.

Q: But you broke restrictions, which said you should not mix with other people?

Starmer says the restrictions allowed people to work.

He says restaurants were closed at the time. The hotel was not serving food. They needed to eat.

Starmer says he had about six people with him. He was in Durham.

Q: What is the difference between that and the No 10 event that was photographed?

Starmer says that photograph showed a group including the PM’s wife. And there was a tressle table set up, with a large number of people there.

Q: Why don’t you apologise?

Starmer says he was working. He did not break any rules. He was working in the office

There comes a point where the Tories try to take everyone into the gutter with them.

The caller claims Starmer has misled the country. You don’t need beer at a work meeting, he claims.

Starmer says he disagrees. There has been “industrial-scale partying” at No 10, he says.

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