UK politics live: Grant Shapps calls on P&O Ferries boss to resign over mass sackings

UK politics live: Grant Shapps calls on P&O Ferries boss to resign over mass sackings

World News

PM backs calls for P&O Ferries boss to resign over mass sackings

Asked if the prime minister supported a call by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, for P&O Ferries chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, to resign, a No 10 spokesperson replied: “Yes.”

P&O Ferries chief Peter Hebblethwaite answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commmons on Thursday.
P&O Ferries chief Peter Hebblethwaite answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commmons on Thursday. Photograph: House of Commons/PA

Shapps has called for Hebblethwaite to quit over the sacking of 800 workers, describing his performance in front of MPs on Thursday as “brazen, breathtaking, and showed incredible arrogance”.

Summary

  • Asked if the prime minister supported a call by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, for P&O Ferries chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, to resign, a No 10 spokesperson replied: “Yes.” Shapps called for Hebblethwaite to quit over the sacking of 800 workers, although it later emerged he had met the DP World boss Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem last November and told him that he was “aware of the issues at P&O Ferries”.
  • In a 50-minute call today, Boris Johnson had a “frank and candid discussion” with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, about a “range of issues of mutual interest” including the situation in Ukraine, Downing Street said. The two leaders “agreed to speak again soon”, it added.
  • The number of coronavirus infections across the UK rose by an estimated 1m cases compared with the previous week, data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed. An estimated 9% of the population in Scotland had Covid in the week ending 20 March, the highest recorded by the survey since it began looking at the situation in Scotland in October 2020.
  • More survivors of rape and modern-day slavery in England and Wales will be able to give video evidence pre-recorded outside a live trial. Under the measure known as section 28, survivors can apply to the court to be cross-examined in front of a limited number of people. It will then be played during the live trial, removing the need for them to attend in person.
  • Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, criticised the government over delays in processing visas for Ukrainians fleeing conflict. She called on the government to “urgently publish” more information to show the progress of the visa scheme.
  • Leaked emails suggest that the Conservative peer Michelle Mone lobbied a health minister on behalf of a company seeking Covid contracts – five months after the point at which her lawyers said she had stopped doing anything for the firm.

Labour’s shadow home secretary, Yvette Cooper, criticised the government over delays in processing visas for Ukrainians fleeing conflict.

Calling on the government to “urgently publish” more information to show the progress of the visa scheme, Cooper said:

A month after Putin’s invasion began, the continuing delays and problems with the Home Office visa processes for Ukrainian families are just shameful.

The British people have shown huge generosity in wanting to support Ukrainians fleeing Putin’s invasion but the design of this scheme is causing real problems with continuing delays, huge confusion about how to make it work and safeguarding concerns.

She added:

Warm words from ministers about helping Ukrainian families just aren’t good enough if their system just isn’t working.

Weekly Covid cases in UK increase by 1m, figures show

Nicola Davis

Nicola Davis

The number of coronavirus infections across the UK rose by an estimated 1m cases compared with the previous week, with figures in Scotland at a record high, data from the Office for National Statistics has revealed.

According to the latest information from the ONS, based on swabs collected from randomly selected households, an estimated 9% of the population in Scotland had Covid in the week ending 20 March – about one in 11 people. The figure is the highest recorded by the survey since it began looking at the situation in Scotland in October 2020.

Infection levels also increased in England and Wales, although they decreased slightly in Northern Ireland, with data revealing that about one in 16 people in England had Covid in the most recent week, compared with one in 20 the week before, a rise from about 2,6 53,200 to 3,485,700 people.

The national Covid memorial wall on London’s South Bank
The national Covid memorial wall on London’s South Bank Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

The figure is just shy of the all-time high for England, when about 1 in 15 were estimated to have Covid in the week between Christmas and New Year’s Eve last year, at the height of the Omicron wave.

Experts have suggested that the recent surge in infection levels in the UK is due to a number of factors, including the lifting of Covid restrictions to various degrees across the UK, changes in behaviour, waning immunity after the booster programme, and – crucially – the rise of the BA.2 variant, which appears to be more transmissible than the earlier form of Omicron.

“The percentage of people with infections compatible with the Omicron BA.2 variant increased in England, Wales and Scotland and decreased in Northern Ireland,” the ONS report states.

Josh Halliday

Josh Halliday

Conservative leaders insist they are on track for strong results in local elections across England, predicting they will seize control of one of Labour’s longest-held councils, despite many admitting more should be done to ease the “nightmare” of soaring bills.

More than a million people are expected to be pushed into absolute poverty after Rishi Sunak’s mini-budget, which has attracted heavy criticism from experts and Tory backbenchers.

However, Tory leaders outside London said they did not believe the party would be punished at the polls on 5 May, when local elections take place in England, Wales and Scotland. Elections for the Northern Ireland assembly will take place on the same day.

Tory strategists have set their sights on taking control of Sunderland city council for the first time in its 48-year history, in what would represent a headline-grabbing victory for Boris Johnson and a serious blow for Keir Starmer.

Antony Mullen, the leader of the Conservatives in Sunderland, said it was “probably likely” that Labour would lose control of the council in six weeks, despite conceding that the chancellor could have done more to protect voters from the cost of living crisis.

“One area where it would be good to have seen more would be an increase to universal credit,” he said.

Any intervention he does make will have to be targeted at those who need it most, but when that category of people is widening considerably it becomes an almost unmanageable problem. I wouldn’t be surprised if in April there is more intervention.

Patrick Harley, the Conservative leader of Dudley council, said he was confident the party would make gains, with 24 seats up for grabs in the former “red wall” stronghold.

Officials from the National Union of Rail, Maritime and Transport Workers (RMT) met with P&O this afternoon to discuss the sacking of 800 British crew.

In a statement, RMT said from “the outset the full obnoxiousness and hostility of the company” towards their staff and union officials was “on display”.

It said:

P&O were not prepared to listen to any scenario or develop any idea that would provide a means to create a solution to the current disastrous situation.

The meeting “broke up inside 20 minutes” as the company was “simply unprepared to change their course” from the illegal dismissal of 800 seafarers, it said.

RMT will continue to press the government for an immediate intervention by whatever means necessary to make P&O perform a U-turn and get our members reinstated, as per Transport Secretary Grant Shapps’ statement on BBC this morning.

We also call on the entire labour movement, the public, the freight & logistics sector and the political community to support an immediate and total boycott of all P&O services.

The people of the UK need to pull P&O to account and make sure that the law in the workplace is upheld, that British workers can have job security and decent pay, and that P&O workers get workplace justice.

Gwyn Topham

Gwyn Topham

The UK transport secretary, Grant Shapps, met the DP World boss Sultan Ahmed bin Sulayem last November and told him that he was “aware of the issues at P&O Ferries” but recognised “you will need to make commercial decisions”, according to official minutes of the meeting.

The revelation raises further questions about whether Shapps could have acted to head off the mass sackings last week at the Dubai-owned ferry operator.

On Monday, Shapps told the Commons that “the first I heard about it was at 8.30 in theevening, not through the memo, which I did not see, but instead through communication with my private office to indicate that P&O would be making redundancies the next day”.

Shapps said he expected P&O Ferries to consult on more redundancies rather than instigate mass sackings.

The Department for Transport minutes show Bin Sulayem welcomed Shapps to DP World’s pavilion at the Dubai Expo on 22 November. During the face-to-face encounter, the sultan warned Shapps:

In respect of our ferry business, there’s a new low-cost competitor from Irish Ferries. This poses challenges in respect of P&O’s operations. We kept ferries operating during the height of the pandemic to support movement of people and goods.

Shapps thanked Bin Sulayem and told him:

I’m aware of the issues relating to P&O. I recognise you will need to make commercial decisions, but please do keep us informed.

Johnson and Xi have ‘frank and candid discussion’ about Ukraine crisis

Following on from an earlier confirmation by Downing Street that Boris Johnson held a 50-minute call with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, we now have a readout from No 10.

Johnson had a “frank and candid discussion” with Xi about a “range of issues of mutual interest” including the situation in Ukraine, it said.

Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson
Canada’s Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, U.S. President Joe Biden, Germany’s Chancellor Olaf Scholz, and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson pose for a G7 leaders’ family photo during a Nato summit on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, during which Nato leaders urged Beijing to “abstain” from supporting Russia’s war effort Photograph: Henry Nicholls/Reuters
Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China February 4, 2022.
Russian President Vladimir Putin meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Beijing, China February 4, 2022. Photograph: SPUTNIK/Reuters

Here’s the readout in full:

The Prime Minister spoke to China’s President Xi Jinping earlier today.

The Prime Minister expressed again his sympathy with the victims of the flight that crashed in China last week.

President Xi asked the Prime Minister to convey his best wishes to Her Majesty the Queen on her Jubilee.

The leaders discussed a range of issues of mutual interest – including the situation in the Ukraine.

It was a frank and candid conversation lasting almost an hour. They agreed to speak again soon.

More rape survivors allowed to pre-record evidence in England and Wales

Haroon Siddique

Haroon Siddique

More survivors of rape and modern-day slavery in England and Wales will be able to give video evidence pre-recorded outside a live trial in a step ministers hope will boost confidence in the criminal justice system.

Under the measure known as section 28, survivors can apply to the court to be cross-examined in front of a limited number of people, to reduce the stress of giving evidence. It will then be played during the live trial, removing the need for them to attend in person.

On Friday, the government announced that the provision, already available in a limited number of crown courts, would be expanded to north-east England with the intention of introducing it countrywide as soon as practicable.

Dame Vera Baird QC, the victims’ commissioner for England and Wales, said: “The rollout of section 28 to more courts is a positive move that will help to reduce unnecessary stress and trauma for more victims, and I’m pleased to see this work gather momentum.”

The failure to secure more convictions in rape cases has led to accusations that the offence has effectively been decriminalised. Office for National Statistics figures published in January showed that in the 12 months to September 2021, only 1.3% of the 63,136 rape offences recorded by police resulted in a suspect being charged.

The section 28 provision is already available at Liverpool, Leeds, Kingston upon Thames, Harrow, Isleworth, Wood Green and Durham crown courts. The government said it would be extended to York, Grimsby, Hull, Bradford and Teesside in the coming weeks.

Wednesday’s spring statement “does nothing” to support the incomes for low-earning and out-of-work people in Britain, the Resolution Foundation said.

It listed three case studies of how the mini-budget would affect a single parent working 20 hours a week, a couple working full-time at median wage and a single out-of-work person – all examples of people who would “lose out”, it said.

Three example case studies show the support package announced for 2022-23 does nothing to support incomes for low-earning and out-of-work people: a single parent working 20 hrs a week, a couple working full-time at median wage and a single out-of-work person would all lose out 🧵 pic.twitter.com/n8oTA5eQyw

— Resolution Foundation (@resfoundation) March 25, 2022n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/resfoundation/status/1507301338161557504″,”id”:”1507301338161557504″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”42bb7024-c248-404b-98eb-51efdd327839″}}”>

Three example case studies show the support package announced for 2022-23 does nothing to support incomes for low-earning and out-of-work people: a single parent working 20 hrs a week, a couple working full-time at median wage and a single out-of-work person would all lose out 🧵 pic.twitter.com/n8oTA5eQyw

— Resolution Foundation (@resfoundation) March 25, 2022

The chancellor had promised to support families through the cost of living crisis, the Resolution Foundation said.

But his failure to deliver means absolute poverty is expected to rise by 1.3 million people next year – including 500,000 children.

It said typical household incomes are forecast to fall by 2% across the parliament as a whole, making this parliament “the worst on record for living standards”.

And while it is true that the policies announced in the #SpringState ment2022 offered something for everyone, gains were focused mainly on richer households, who will receive £2 of every £3 spent. pic.twitter.com/bmCnUVEGCq

— Resolution Foundation (@resfoundation) March 25, 2022n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/resfoundation/status/1507304551652765698″,”id”:”1507304551652765698″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”c0c6cb20-ebfc-428d-a7ab-a9e80abbf042″}}”>

Following on from the last post, the Department for Transport has said that in a meeting with the chief executive of DP World in November, Grant Shapps was not told about any planned redundancies.

Following the release of the minutes by the Commons Transport Committee, a DfT spokesperson said: “DP World did not mention to the Transport Secretary any changes it would be making to P&O Ferries and there was no indication of the completely unacceptable changes it has subsequently made.”

The chief executive of DP World – the parent company of P&O Ferries – warned the Transport Secretary about a new “low-cost competitor” that would pose a challenge to the business in a meeting in November, newly-published minutes have revealed.

The minutes of a meeting between Sultan Ahmed Bin Sulayem and Grant Shapps have been published by the Commons Transport Committee, PA Media reports.

In the record of the meeting, the DP World boss told Shapps that Irish Ferries had emerged as a “new low-cost competitor” and added: “This poses challenges in respect of P&O’s operations.”

He said the company was making “a significant amount of income from the passenger side of our business”, but “the margins are so tight on the cargo side”.

Shapps is reported to have said: “I’m aware of the issues relating to P&O. I recognise you will need to make commercial decisions, but please do keep us informed.”

Anoosheh Ashoori ‘angry’ at government over detention

Anoosheh Ashoori, one of the British-Iranian detainees released by Tehran last week, accused Boris Johnson of “opportunism” and of ignoring his wife’s pleas to meet about his case while he was foreign secretary.

Ashoori, 68, from south London, was arrested in August 2017 while visiting his elderly mother in Tehran and jailed for 10 years on charges of spying for Israel.

Speaking to Sky News in an interview broadcast last night, Ashoori said Johnson, who was foreign secretary when he was detained, ignored his wife’s pleas to meet about his case.

She made many attempts and all of them were unsuccessful.

Johnson had now sent them a letter and was “eager to see us”, he said. “I think that it’s a bit of opportunism,” he said.

“Unfortunately he did not expend even five minutes to give a telephone call to my family.”

Anoosheh Ashoori says Boris Johnson did not respond to any appeals from his family while he was detained, but since his release the PM has asked to meet. #Rigby https://t.co/tb9a0iaiAi pic.twitter.com/dAWSQqDqsH

— Sky News (@SkyNews) March 24, 2022n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/SkyNews/status/1507115099777081350″,”id”:”1507115099777081350″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”eca1662c-ecb2-4e8a-b5ce-17b69d6f359b”}}”>

Ashoori revealed that he had sent a voice message to the PM while he was detained.

I was blaming those who had captured us, I was blaming the British government, why don’t you do anything about it?

I was really angry and that’s why I decided to send that voice message hoping that it would make a change.

The government has revised its Russian sanctions guidance to make clear that British entities cannot help Moscow sell off its gold reserves in an attempt to evade the punitive measures.

The online guidance was updated today, with the following summary:

Guidance updated to clarify that the prohibition on providing financial services for the purposes of foreign exchange reserve and asset management also applies to transactions involving gold.

It is prohibited to provide financial services to carry out transactions with the Central Bank of the Russian Federation involving its gold.

From Reuters’ William James:

Britain has tweaked it sanctions guidance to make clear that gold transactions are included in the ban on UK entities providing financial services to the Russian central bank.

The update comes after Johnson said on Thursday he had evidence was using gold trade to dodge sanctions

— William James (@WJames_Reuters) March 25, 2022n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/WJames_Reuters/status/1507321391657402371″,”id”:”1507321391657402371″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”f6f88649-e89c-4a26-9086-ac1d2cde56b5″}}”>

Britain has tweaked it sanctions guidance to make clear that gold transactions are included in the ban on UK entities providing financial services to the Russian central bank.

The update comes after Johnson said on Thursday he had evidence was using gold trade to dodge sanctions

— William James (@WJames_Reuters) March 25, 2022

Covid rates still increasing in most of UK, ONS says

According to the Office for National Statistics, Covid rates were continuing to increase in England, Scotland and Wales last week. Rates have decreased in Northern Ireland, however.

The ONS coronavirus infection survey, which is regarded as the most reliable guide to the prevalence of Covid, because it involves testing people randomly, regardless of whether or not they have symptoms, has published these estimates for the spread of coronavirus in the four nations last week.

England: One person in 16 (equivalent to around 3,485,700 people)

Wales: One person in 16 (equivalent to around 192,900 people)

Northern Ireland: One person in 17 (equivalent to around 108,700 people)

Scotland: One person in 11 (equivalent to around 473,800 people)

#COVID19 infections continued to increase across England, Wales and Scotland in the most recent week, but decreased in Northern Ireland.

These high infection levels are driven by the Omicron BA.2 variant https://t.co/zjZZxROXBX pic.twitter.com/C6Sjbi6IxM

— Office for National Statistics (ONS) (@ONS) March 25, 2022n”,”url”:”https://twitter.com/ONS/status/1507326951048024064″,”id”:”1507326951048024064″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”33bd7483-0cfd-4fbd-a7ec-3148da8debe4″}}”>

PM backs calls for P&O Ferries boss to resign over mass sackings

Asked if the prime minister supported a call by the transport secretary, Grant Shapps, for P&O Ferries chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite, to resign, a No 10 spokesperson replied: “Yes.”

P&O Ferries chief Peter Hebblethwaite answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commmons on Thursday.
P&O Ferries chief Peter Hebblethwaite answering questions in front of the Transport Committee and Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy Select Committee in the House of Commmons on Thursday. Photograph: House of Commons/PA

Shapps has called for Hebblethwaite to quit over the sacking of 800 workers, describing his performance in front of MPs on Thursday as “brazen, breathtaking, and showed incredible arrogance”.

Downing Street has confirmed that Boris Johnson spoke with the Chinese president, Xi Jinping, this morning to discuss the war in Ukraine.

The call lasted around 50 minutes, a spokesperson for the PM said, adding:

Obviously, the Prime Minister has been talking with a lot of world leaders and quite regularly throughout the course of what has happened in Ukraine.

This is part of the Prime Minister’s wider engagement with world leaders so he can set out our position on where we think the current situation is.

Paul Kissack, chief executive of the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, writes for us today that the UK’s poorest people have been utterly abandoned by Rishi Sunak:

I can’t recall a worse fiscal event than Wednesday’s spring statement.

It had nothing meaningful to say on the big strategic challenges our economy faces. According to the prime minister, levelling up is the defining mission of this government. The chancellor couldn’t bring himself to even mention it. There was similarly nothing to learn about net zero or the UK’s productivity challenge.

It was fiscally incoherent. Even the mild-mannered Institute for Fiscal Studies was left shouting “Oh for goodness sake” at the news that Sunak is raising national insurance while cutting income tax, increasing taxes on people who work to protect the incomes of those who often don’t, including landlords and wealthy pensioners.

As a set-piece event, it unravelled within hours. Sunak woke on Thursday to a full spread of hostile front pages. During media interviews that morning, he became increasingly rattled and tetchy. He seemed taken aback that so many of the questions put to him focused on those who will struggle most to bear the cost of living crisis.

This should not have come as a surprise. The rising cost of essentials affects us all, but not equally. People on the lowest incomes are at greatest risk, because unavoidable spending on energy and food takes up a higher proportion of their budget than any other group. Already they have nothing to cut back on.

Faced with the greatest threat to living standards for generations, it is impossible to justify the decision to leave almost everyone at the sharp end of the crisis out in the cold. Rather than strengthen the support available, he chose to cut benefits in real terms, leaving households in poverty £445 out of pocket for the year ahead; 600,000 more people will be pulled into poverty by this decision. Around a quarter of them are children.

Read more here:

‘Sunak woke on Thursday to a full spread of hostile front pages. During media interviews that morning, he became increasingly rattled and tetchy.’
‘Sunak woke on Thursday to a full spread of hostile front pages. During media interviews that morning, he became increasingly rattled and tetchy.’ Photograph: Simon Walker Hm Treasury

YouGov has published the latest results from its Westminster voting intention poll.

The latest figures show a two-point gap between Labour and the Conservatives, with Labour now holding 37% of the vote (+1 from their previous survey on 22 – 23 March) to the Conservatives’ 35% share.

Elsewhere, the Liberal Democrats have 10% of the vote (+1), while the Greens have 7% (-1) and Reform UK have 4% of the vote (-1).

Latest Westminster voting intention (23-24 Mar)

Lab: 37% (+1 from 22-23 Mar)
Con: 35% (n/c)
Lib Dem: 10% (+1)
Green: 7% (-1)
Reform UK: 4% (-1)
SNP: 4% (n/c) https://t.co/fWe771BdBq pic.twitter.com/kvT3isNrPm

— YouGov (@YouGov) March 25, 2022n”,”url”:&qu ot;https://twitter.com/YouGov/status/1507317541093392388″,”id”:”1507317541093392388″,”hasMedia”:false,”role”:”inline”,”isThirdPartyTracking”:false,”source”:”Twitter”,”elementId”:”6d7f9f72-2e2c-40d7-9b42-f39874930fef”}}”>

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