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Minister Rejects Claim That Government Is Announcing Cost Of Living Package To Distract From Gray Report

4 min read

A senior Cabinet minister has dismissed claims that the government is announcing further cost of living support on Thursday in a bid to distract from the publication of the Sue Gray report.

Stephen Barclay, the chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster, this morning insisted ministers had no control of the timing of the Gray report being released, and that they always planned to decide on a new package of support once Ofgem had advised them on the energy cap.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is set to give a statement today setting out additional financial support for households after Ofgem's chief executive on Tuesday said he expected the energy cap to be raised by £830 to £2,800 in October.

Asked by the timing of the announcement on Sky News, Barclay, who is also Boris Johnson's chief of staff, told host Kay Burley: "We've had that guidance this week from Ofgem, that is why the chancellor's coming forward today."

The minister said: "On the Sue Gray report, we don't control the timing of that... indeed the timing of that is shaped by the Met Police investigation".

"We wanted to see from the Ofgem guidance what the full impact would be in the autumn on families so that we can get the design of that package right so it's absolutely logical".

Sunak is expected to unveil a windfall tax on oil and gas companies when he announces the latest swathe of measures for helping people deal with rising bills, PoliticsHome reported last night.

This would represent a significant U-turn, with government whips last week having told Conservative MPs to vote against a Labour amendment calling for a one-off tax on the profits of major energy companies.

Rachel Reeves, the shadow chancellor, this morning tweeted Sunak was "finally being dragged kicking and screaming to a U turn" on windfall tax and added "Why has it taken so long?".

Sunak is set to say that he will scrap the £200 energy bills reduction he announced earlier this year, which was widely criticised for being a loan, and replace it with a larger reduction on bills – potentially up to £400 – that will not have to be repaid, according to multiple reports.

The government will hope that the announcement will shift focus to its attempts to tackle the cost-of-living crisis and away from the fallout of the Gray report.

The report, which was published yesterday morning, said "senior leadership at the centre, both political and official, must bear responsibility" for a culture of breaking lockdown rules in Downing Street.

The events investigated "should not have been allowed to happen," and the attendance of senior figures at them gave the impression to junior employees that they were permitted, concluded senior civil servant Gray.

Julian Sturdy, Tory MP for York Outer, yesterday became the latest MP to call for Johnson to resign, releasing a statement that said he was "unable to give the Prime Minister the benefit of the doubt" following Gray making her report public.

"It is clear discussions about parties in Downing Street remain a damaging distraction at a time when our country faces massive challenges with war returning to Europe, a global cost of living crisis, and our recovery from the pandemic being more important than ever," he wrote.

"This is clearly a time when we cannot have any doubt about the honesty, integrity, and personal character of the Prime Minister".

However, the feeling among Conservative MPs is that the Prime Minister will survive this latest threat to his leadership because there is no serious momentum to oust him.

A senior backbencher who is highly critical of Johnson yesterday told PoliticsHome that the Gray report was "bad, but not fatal" for Johnson's leadership.

Another senior Conservative MP said that while the prime minister will probably survive this latest chapter in the partygate saga, it means the party is on course to lose the next general election.

"Today is the day he [Johnson] got in the clear, but also the day when I realised we will lose the next general election," they said.

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