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Current location: Scotland
Member since: Mon Sep 7, 2009, 12:57 AM
Number of posts: 5,071

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Cummings to drop in on Britain's most secret defence installations

London: Boris Johnson's controversial adviser Dominic Cummings will tour some of Britain's most highly classified national security sites as part of his plan to radically shake up the military amid a major turf war in Westminster over how Britain will defend itself in the future.

According to internal correspondence obtained by The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age, the Prime Minister's top adviser requested visits to five classified sites including facilities that specialise in defence intelligence.

Such are the high stakes of the review, due for publication from September, that Defence Minister Ben Wallace expressly forbade ministry officials from talking to Number 10 or Cummings directly about the itinerary for his planned trip.

"The Secretary of State explicitly does not wish anyone to engage Number 10 or Dominic Cummings on this," officials were told. "It is for the [the Minister's special adviser] and the Secretary of State to engage in the first instance before delegating to officials."


Why is Dominic Cummings still in No 10? Because Vote Leavers never say sorry

The adviser is at the heart of a government that is treating the pandemic just like the 2016 Brexit referendum campaign

Dominic Cummings is a lucky man. A couple of weeks ago, Boris Johnson’s chief strategist – and his lockdown-busting trip to north-east England – dominated the news headlines. Now the global outpouring of Black Lives Matter protests and other vital issues in the coronavirus pandemic have captured the news agenda. With the prime minister’s vocal support, Cummings still has a job, and the world seems to have moved on.

But Cummings’s continued presence at the heart of the British government is not just down to luck, of course. Johnson’s special adviser has probably the most valuable asset in Downing Street right now: the unswerving loyalty of the Vote Leave campaign that now holds the key levers of power in British politics.

On paper, Vote Leave disappeared almost four years ago. Having won the Brexit referendum, the campaign packed up its spartan office beside Lambeth Bridge. Cummings left politics to advise an artificial intelligence startup (which subsequently won lots of NHS contracts, but that’s another story).
When Johnson, Vote Leave’s public face, came to power last July his first significant act was to bring in a large swath of the campaign’s backroom operation into the heart of his new administration: from Cummings as his right-hand man to Lee Cain as Downing Street’s truculent head of communications. All the great offices of state are now held by Brexit true believers, from Priti Patel to Dominic Raab.

Why does any of this matter? Well, for one thing, now that Vote Leave has managed to take control of government – and looks set to take us to the brink of a no-deal Brexit, again – many of its ranks are worried about what would happen if their eminence grise were not around to oversee the project.


UK abandoned testing because system 'could only cope with five coronavirus cases a week'

Disastrous decision is now seen as the key reason why UK has Europe's highest death rate

Britain’s disastrous decision to abandon testing for coronavirus occurred because health systems could only cope with five cases a week, official documents show.

Newly-released papers from the Scientific Advisory Group on Emergencies shows routine testing and tracing of contacts was stopped because Public Health England’s systems were struggling to deal with a handful of cases.

At a meeting on Feb 18, advisors said PHE could only cope with testing and tracing contacts of five Covid-19 cases a week, with modelling suggesting it might only be possible to increase this to 50 cases.

Advisors then agreed it was "sensible" to shift to stopping routine testing - despite acknowledging that such a decision would “generate a public reaction”....


(Text after the .... only viewable with a Telegraph subscription.)

I've not been posting much, if at all, about the pandemic and fuck-ups around lockdown etc. because the situation's so messed up and we're all up to our necks in it anyway, so why add to the air of doom we're powerless to do anything about apart from try to safeguard ourselves and those around us? But this revelation seems appalling enough to be noted.

The fact that abondoning testing may have suited the initial (and perhaps ongoing in some UK government quarters, who knows?) drive for mythical "herd immunity" and prioritizing economic considerations over our health and lives may also be a significant factor.

"the Health Ministry produced its own timeline and pushback"

That "pushback", judging by its length, style and tone, didn't originate from the Health Ministry, but from Johnson's adviser Dominic Cummings, a major proponent of the initial "herd immunity" policy that would now be totally discredited if it didn't appear to be the last desperate hope, since the UK government has made no serious preparations for an emergence from the current lockdown and social isolation that doesn't involve mass infection, with the accompanying proportion of deaths.

It's the old dilemma between whether events as they've panned out were the result of a conspiracy or a cock-up. Quite possibly a bit of both. Here's Johnson in early February:

Oli Dugmore

Further evidence the UK’s initial coronavirus strategy was wilfully negligent.

Johnson argues global lockdown is an economic opportunity to profit.

Swashbuckling much.

[Twitter video]

It was born of the same demented delusion of Little Britain exceptionalism that fueled Brexit.

Jacob Rees-Mogg's investment firm set to make fortune from the coronavirus crisis

EXCLUSIVE: Somerset Capital Management, which the MP co-founded, says market volatility offers a “once or twice in a generation” opportunity to make “super normal returns”
The MP owns at least 15 per cent of a company investing in businesses hit by falling share values.

Somerset Capital Management says investors have a “once in a generation” chance of “super normal returns”.

Mr Rees-Mogg stood down as a director of SCM to become Leader of the House of Commons. SCM said it was focusing on clients’ long-term security.
As millions face financial misery, SCM managers are buying into businesses where valuations have tumbled – but should bounce back. Potential gains of 500 per cent are touted.
Investments so far include private hospitals in Brazil, pharmacies in South Africa and a firm behind a scanning device which checks if people are wearing masks in China.


The other "once or twice in a generation opportunity" would be Brexit. That's evidently on the back burner for now.

Home Office chief Sir Philip Rutnam quits over Priti Patel 'bullying'

Rutnam announces plans to sue government for constructive dismissal over ‘vicious and orchestrated campaign’ against him
Rutnam was emotional as he said he would step down after 33 years because he had become the “target of vicious and orchestrated campaign against him,” which he accused Patel of orchestrating.
Rutnam made clear his anger in his statement on Saturday, which he read to the BBC outside an address in north London. He said he had received allegations that Patel’s conduct had included belittling people and making unreasonable demands.

He said: “One of my duties as permanent secretary was to protect the health, safety and wellbeing of our 35,000 people. This created tension with the home secretary and I have encouraged her to change her behaviours.

“I have received allegations that her conduct has included shouting and swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands – behaviour that created fear and that needed some bravery to call out.”

He claimed the Home Office offered him a financial settlement to avoid his public resignation, and he said he hoped his stand “may help in maintaining the quality of government in this country”.


The Tories' house rag, The Telegraph, has wasted no time launching a counter-spin operation, hot from the desk of Stephen Pollard:

Sir Philip Rutnam’s real agenda was surely ousting Priti Patel

This briefing war is just the latest battle in a long history of civil servants v Home Secretaries

The knives were out for Priti Patel from the moment she was appointed Home Secretary last July. Ms Patel is not one of those ministers who puts her head down, keeps quiet and does what she’s told. She makes waves – and enemies – wherever she goes.

None of us really knows what transpired between Ms Patel and Sir Philip Rutnam, her now departed permanent secretary. Sir Philip has taken the extraordinary step of making his grievances public. According to him, Ms Patel is an all-round monster, responsible for days of hostile stories about the department. He says he will now sue the government for constructive dismissal. Needless to say, Ms Patel denies these allegations....


The rest of the Telegraph's story fades into blah behind a paywall, but you no doubt get the drift.

It remains to be seen whether another of the Telegraph's better-known and more colourful columnists will be able to find the time to drag himself away from not holding COBRA meetings about widespread flooding, instead understandably preoccupied with singing onstage at a Tory party fundraiser, to offer his view on the kerfuffle in the Home Office.

Pentagon reveals deal with Britain to replace Trident

MPs dismayed after US defence officials leak news of nuclear weapons deal before parliament is told

Britain has committed itself to buying a new generation of nuclear warheads to replace Trident, which will be based on US technology. The decision was revealed by Pentagon officials who disclosed it before an official announcement has been made by the government.

The revelation has dismayed MPs and experts who question why they have learned of the move – which will cost the UK billions of pounds – only after the decision has apparently been made. It has also raised questions about the UK’s commitment to staunching nuclear proliferation and the country’s reliance on the US for a central plank of its defence strategy.

Earlier this month, Pentagon officials confirmed that its proposed W93 sea-launched warhead, the nuclear tip of the next generation of submarine-launched ballistic missiles, would share technology with the UK’s next nuclear weapon, implying that a decision had been taken between the two countries to work on the programme.

In public, the UK has not confirmed whether it intends to commission a new nuclear warhead. The Ministry of Defence’s annual update to parliament, published just before Christmas, says only: “Work also continues to develop the evidence to support a government decision when replacing the warhead.”

But last week Admiral Charles Richard, commander of the US strategic command, told the Senate defence committee that there was a requirement for a new warhead, which would be called the W93 or Mk7. Richard said: “This effort will also support a parallel replacement warhead programme in the United Kingdom, whose nuclear deterrent plays an absolutely vital role in Nato’s overall defence posture.”


Brexit - UK loses 6.6 billion a quarter since referendum, S&P says

LONDON (Reuters) - The United Kingdom has lost £6.6 billion in economic activity every quarter since it voted to leave the European Union, according to S&P Global Ratings, the latest company to estimate the damage from Brexit.

In a report published on Thursday, the ratings agency’s senior economist, Boris Glass, said the world’s fifth-biggest economy would have been about 3 percent larger by the end of 2018 if the country had not voted in a June 2016 referendum to leave the EU.
“Immediately after the referendum, the pound fell by about 18 percent. This was the single most pertinent indicator of the impact of the vote and the drag it created, via inflation, has been spreading through the economy,” he said.
The estimate is slightly lower than an assessment by Goldman Sachs earlier this week, which pegged the cost to the economy at about 600 million pounds per week. That equates to 7.8 billion pounds a quarter, according to Reuters calculations.


And now the good news:

HS2 go-ahead controversial and difficult, admits Boris Johnson

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has announced that the controversial HS2 high-speed rail link will be built.

The first phase of the route will travel between London and Birmingham, with a second phase going to Manchester and Leeds.

"It has been a controversial and difficult decision," Mr Johnson said.

The prime minister added he was going to appoint a full-time minister to oversee the project and criticised the HS2 company's management of the scheme.


The identity of the minister is as yet unknown, but Chris Grayling has to be in the running.

Meanwhile, Johnson seems intent on spaffing £20 billion and counting on a bridge from the middle of nowhere to the middle of nowhere (with apologies to those who live in the middle of nowhere, as I've done at various times in my life).

Slated to link Portpatrick in south-west Scotland and Larne on the east coast of Northern Ireland as the currently favoured route, the progress of the bridge (or tunnel, tunnel/bridge, details, details ...) will apparently be unhindered by the facts that the infrastructure at either end as it stands would have no chance of coping with increased traffic flows by road, the Irish and mainland UK rail gauges are incompatible, the current ferry services seem to have no problem coping with traffic, and whatever might eventually be cobbled together would have to span Beaufort's Dyke - a 30-mile by 2-mile chasm up to 1,000 feet deep that's been used in the past as a messy and ill-bounded massive dumping ground for incalculable amounts of surplus munitions (MoD estimates run at a million tons or more, but record-keeping has been patchy to non-existent), nuclear waste and anything else governments of the time felt like ditching out of sight and out of mind, which periodically throws up items such as old incendiary bombs to litter the Irish and Scottish coasts.

Evidence to the Scottish Parliament in 2000 found that:

exhaustive investigations into exactly what munitions were present eventually revealed that alongside the everyday variety of bombs, grenades, rockets, bullets and explosives might lie a bewildering cocktail of canisters of sarin, tabun, mustard gas, cyanide, phosgene and anthrax. Phosphorus bombs abound and, in June 1997, it was finally revealed that radioactive waste containing both caesium 137 and radium 226 had been systematically dumped in Beaufort's dyke in the 1950s. It has now been freely admitted that some of that waste was thrown overboard in 40-gallon steel drums encased in concrete.

Now that's what I call Project Fear.

Sajid Javid's At War With Dominic Cummings Over The "Control Freakery" Of Boris Johnson's Top Aide

Allies of Javid have accused Cummings of plotting to get him sacked at the looming cabinet reshuffle — expected in the next seven days — and replaced with a more junior minister such as chief secretary to the Treasury Rishi Sunak, or another figure more amenable to Johnson’s senior aides.

The attempt failed and the prime minister has privately assured the chancellor that his position is safe, with Johnson and Javid maintaining a strong personal and working relationship, a Whitehall source said.

The bruising fight between the chancellor and Johnson’s chief aide — and Cummings’ struggle to convince the prime minister, cabinet and senior civil servants of the merits of some of his proposals — have been the early themes behind the scenes in Downing Street since the Tories won an 86-seat majority in December.

BuzzFeed News can also reveal that:

* Javid’s allies have complained that Johnson’s advisers were responsible for “poison pen” briefings to the newspapers criticising the chancellor, as Number 10 aides blasted Treasury officials for unauthorised briefings against them.

* A longtime friend said Javid’s relationship with Cummings had broken down “irrevocably”.

* Ministers worried about losing their jobs during the reshuffle have been holding “new pizza club” meetings to discuss how to combat the “control freakery” of Johnson’s de facto chief of staff.

* Even some of Cummings’ closest allies have started to question his decisions, in the first sign of dissent among the Vote Leave faction of advisers.

* Number 10 aides have lost internal arguments on a range of decisions from High Speed 2 to knocking down walls inside Downing Street.


Oh dear oh dear oh dear.

During the election, the very reasonable assumption was that anything reported by Laura Kuenssberg et al. as coming from a "No. 10 source" was something Cummings wanted reported. That may no longer be such a certainty, judging by a comment later in the article:

"One minister told BuzzFeed News that they have been playing a game where they send journalists anonymous quotes in the unique style of Cummings in order to see if they can make him look ridiculous in the media."

Maybe they've been at it for ages, because I've always thought Cummings has looked ridiculous in the media.

The article goes on to point out that there are ministerial concerns that there's been a lot of hot air from the government so far, but very little of the sort of "substantive activity" that might be expected with such a sizeable majority. I'm not sure I'm unhappy about that, given what they could get up to.

Boris Johnson wants Brits to crowdfund 500,000 pounds to bong Big Ben on Brexit night

The Prime Minister admitted it'd cost a small fortune to ring out the bell at 11pm during restoration work - so he has a plan for the public to 'bung a bob' to pay for it instead

Scores of Tory MPs have been calling for the bell to toll to celebrate the moment Britain legally becomes the first nation to leave the EU.

But so far no plan has been revealed because the Elizabeth Tower, which holds the Great Bell known as Big Ben, is being restored.

The issue was discussed at a meeting of the House of Commons Commission on Monday. But the cost was estimated at £500,000 - so the idea was ditched.
Yet in an interview with BBC Breakfast, Boris Johnson said the Government was working up a plan to fund the costs.
Commons authorities said for the Bell to ring on 31 January, the temporary striking mechanism used for Remembrance Sunday and New Year’s Eve would need to be reattached and tested to ensure the timing is correct.

A temporary floor of the belfry would also need to be installed as "extensive work is currently taking place in this area." The total costs of this would be £120,000.

But it would in turn push back the works by two to four weeks, and with delays costing £100,000 a week, the total cost would come to between £320,000 and £500,000.


Follow-up article:

Boris' bonkers 'bung a bob for Big Ben Brexit bongs' bid bombs

Prime Minister Boris Johnson's plan to crowdfund £500,000 cost of ringing the country's most famous bell has unravelled less than five hours after he suggested it


Meanwhile ...

Christopher Hope📝 ✔

Big Ben Brexit bongs latest:

Brexit Party founders @Nigel_Farage and @TiceRichard are planning to play Big Ben's bongs through loud speakers on Parliament Square on Brexit night, I am told. 1/4

More at our live blog: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/01/14/brexit-news-latest-boris-johnson-labour-leadership-liam-fox/

Christopher Hope📝 ✔

Richard Tice, the chairman of Leave Means Leave, says he will arrange for the bongs to sound through his "excellent speaker system" to the estimated 15,000 Brexiteers who have applied for tickets for their Brexit night celebration. 2/4 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/01/14/brexit-news-latest-boris-johnson-labour-leadership-liam-fox/

Christopher Hope📝 ✔
· 8h
Replying to @christopherhope

He tells The Telegraph: "We find it disappointing that Big Ben will not be allowed to ring out on this momentous night, despite recently chiming for New Year's Eve.

"However, we still hope common sense can prevail... 3/4 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/01/14/brexit-news-latest-boris-johnson-labour-leadership-liam-fox/

Christopher Hope📝 ✔

Richard Tice: "If not, we will provide the sound of the famous bell tolling from our excellent speaker system. This will, of course, be watched and listened to around the world."
The Greater London Assembly is yet to give permission for the party. 4/4 https://www.telegraph.co.uk/politics/2020/01/14/brexit-news-latest-boris-johnson-labour-leadership-liam-fox/
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