UK politics live: minister defends expected U-turn on jabs for NHS staff as No 10 poised for Sue Gray report | Politics

Good morning. The most moving feature on the BBC’s Today program this morning was Rory Cellan-Jones talking about the death of his much-loved dog, Cabbage. But the main news agenda today is dominated by another tale of canine mortality, and it appears that the No 10 “Big Dog”, after two weeks in fear of being put down by his own party, has staged a comeback. Yesterday in the Sunday Times (paywall) Tim Shipman said that Johnson’s team are now “confident” that he is not facing an imminent no-confidence vote (unless there is some surprise development), and this morning it is hard to find anyone saying that Shipman, or his sources, are wrong.

Two weeks ago we saw No 10 embark on an “Operation Red Meat” strategy that flopped. Priti Patel, the home secretary, announced that the military would take charge of Channel crossings, only to annoy the Tory rightwingers who were supposed to be impressed and who felt it was a pointless stunt. And Nadine Dorries, the culture secretary, announced the end of the BBC license fee – before having to retreat somewhat 24 hours later.

This week we have another raft of “Red Meat” initiatives that seem to contain a bit more substance. A Brexit freedoms bill has been announced today, the leveling up white paper is expected on Wednesday, and Johnson is expected to visit Ukraine. My colleague Jessica Elgot has a summary here.

Of course, “Operation Red Meat” was all about protecting Johnson from the fallout from Sue Gray’s report into partygate. The intervention of the Met police on Friday means that when the report does appear, all the most incriminating passages will be removed or redacted. But it is still a potentially difficult moment for Johnson, and it may very well come today (although, given reporters have been saying that since last Wednesday, you will be forgiven for concluding it might just be best to wait).

As we do wait, in another “Red Meat” concession, ministers are also reportedly on the verge of dropping the requirement for frontline NHS staff to be fully vaccinated. In December 62 Conservative MPs voted against this plan, and in the Daily Telegraph (paywall) Gabriella Swirling spirit Ben Riley-Smith report: “Multiple government sources said ministers are expected to end the requirement because the Omicron Covid variant, now dominant in the UK, is milder than previous strains.”

Simon Clarke, the chief secretary to the Treasury, was doing the morning interview round this morning. Without formally making an announcement, he come close to confirming the U-turn. He said the original policy was drawn up when Delta was the dominant variant, but that a rethink was justified because people are now catching the Omicron variant, which is “more transmissible but less dangerous”. Speaking to LBC, he said: “Obviously we will reflect that new reality in any decision that’s made, and that’s the right thing.”

The Royal College of Nursing has welcomed the expected move. In a statement, Patricia Marquis, its England director, said:

If these reports are correct, this climbdown by government is long overdue. Vaccination is hugely important but this was the wrong policy, especially as it added to the current pressure on NHS and care services.

My colleague Peter Walker has more on this story here.

Here is the agenda for the day.

11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.

Morning: Boris Johnson is doing a visit, where he is expected to record a pooled TV interview.

12pm: Mourners attend Jack Dromey’s funeral.

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