No 10 rejects Kremlin claim PM most active anti-Russian leader, saying he’s just anti-Putin
This morning the Kremlin described Boris Johnson as the most active anti-Russian leader during the war in Ukraine. As Reuters reports,Dmitry Peskov, the Kremlin spokesperson, said:
As for Mr Johnson, we see him as the most active participant in the race to be anti-Russian … It will lead to a foreign policy dead end.
In response, the PM’s spokesperson said that Johnson was anti-Putin, not anti-Russian. The spokesperson said:
The prime minister is among the most active anti Putin leaders: we have no issue with the Russian people. And in fact, we’ve seen many bravely protest, not least Alexei Navalny, against Putin’s regime, and call them to cease this war.
But we are among some of the world leaders that have been most proactive when it comes to taking steps to both defend Ukraine’s interest and up the pressure on on Putin to change course.
In truth, the Kremlin “endorsement” is probably one that Johnson relishes – not least because it goes some way to refuting claims that the Tories have been soft on Moscow in the past because their relationship with Russian donors.
The most interesting evidence in the P&O Ferries committee hearing this morning came from the company’s boss, Peter Hebblethewaite. But a range of other witnesses spoke to the committee before he appeared, and here are some of the key points they made.
Mick Lynch, general secretary of the RMT union, said P&O Ferries had “made flagrant breaches of the law”. He said: “They’ve done it deliberately and they’ve factored in what they’re going to have to pay for it.”
(Later Hebblethwaite confirmed this. See 11.20am.)
Lynch also said that the law was not protecting seafarers and that the merchant navy was at risk. He said:
The politicians and the lawyers in this country have watched over the last 30 years, while not only workers have been made vulnerable, but our merchant marine has been decimated and destroyed.
If this goes the way it’s likely to go from what I’ve seen, we won’t have a merchant navy in this country.
There will be no ratings working in British ports. British ships will cease to exist, and British ratings will cease to exist.
That’s what P&O are aiming to achieve, to kill our merchant marine and to kill our employment laws, and something’s got to be done about it today.
Dean Beale, CEO of the Insolvency Service, told the committee the government may not receive an answer on whether P&O Ferries broke the law until 8 April. He said:
My team are working through all of the facts on this case and looking at the law. We will quickly, I think, arrive at a determination as to whether there have been breaches and what action can be taken as a result of that ..
The secretary of state has asked for a response from us by April 8 – so we’re working very hard.
Andrew Burns QC, a barrister at Devereaux Chambers, told the commitee that he thought P&O Ferries had broken employment law. He explained:
In broad terms, all employers with ships must give a notice to the appropriate authority 45 days before dismissal. My understanding from what I’ve been told this morning is that the notice was given to the appropriate authorities in the countries where the ships are flagged only on the day of the dismissals and not in advance.
At the P&O Ferries committee hearing earlier MPs were told that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, was told last November that the company was planning some changes to its operation. (See 11.34am.)
But a Department for Transport spokeswoman said DP World did not tell Shapps of “any changes it would be making to P&O Ferries” and there was “no indication of the completely unacceptable changes it has subsequently made”.
In an interview this morning, asked about the controversy about Russia expressing an interest in hosting the Euro 2028 football tournament, Boris Johnson suggested it should be handed to Ukraine.
Later, at the No 10 lobby briefing, the PM’s spokesperson insisted that the PM’s remark did not mean the government was not still committed to the joint UK/Ireland bid to host the contest.
Huw Merriman, the chair of the transport committee, ends the session by saying they have heard “a tale of corporate thuggery”.
He says that he hopes the government will look at going immediately to the high court to seek an injunction against P&O Ferries. And he says he hopes the government will legislate too.
That’s it. The session is over.
I will shortly post some of the evidence given by the witnesses who spoke before the P&O Ferries chief executive, Peter Hebblethwaite.
Huw Merriman (Con) asks what the PM was referring to during PMQs yesterday. What law will be changed?
Courts says the government is still looking at this.
Scully says the government is looking at loopholes in minimum wage legislation as it applies to seafarers.
Andy McDonald (Lab) is asking the questions now.
Q: Will ministers consider stepping in and operating these ferries as an operator of last resort?
Courts says what P&O have done is “disgusting”. But the government has to act within the law.
McDonald replies: “This is the law factory. We can make the law.”
Courts ignores the point, and just says government has to act within the law.
Q: Will you cancel DP World’s involvement in two freeports?
Courts says the government is looking at this. But these schemes have implications going beyond transport. And, as the PM said at PMQs yesterday, the government also wants to protect inward investment.
Minister agrees to consult attorney general about possibility of immediate legal action over P&O sackings
Ben Bradshaw (Lab) is asking the questions now. He asks why the government won’t seek an interim injunction now to suspend the sackings in the light of the P&O Ferries’ admission that they broke the law.
Scully says the government has already asked the Insolvency Service to look at this. He says he is speaking to them on a daily basis.
Bradshaw asks if they have consulted the attorney general, the government’s most senior law officer, about what might be done.
Scully implies he hasn’t. Huw Merriman, chair of the transport committee, asks if he will now consult the attorney general in the light of the new evidence heard today. Scully says he will.
Scully tells the committee that, when companies realise that they rise unlimited fines for breaking these laws, that will stop them.
Here is my colleague Gwyn Topham’s snap story on the committee hearing.
Minister says he was ‘horrified’ to hear P&O boss say they knowingly broke law
The committee is now taking evidence from Paul Scully, the business minister, and Robert Courts, the transport minister.
Scully says he was “horrified” to hear Peter Hebblethwaite say earlier that the company had broken the law by not consulting its workers. (See 11.48am.)
The government is writing to the Insolvency Service about this. It will look at the liability of individual directors, he says.
He says ministers want answers as soon as possible.
Huw Merriman (Con), chair of the transport committee is asking the questions.
Q: What are you going to do immediately? They are laughing at parliament.
Scully says the government is looking at whether directors are fit and proper; at whether the government broke the law on notification, in Cyprus and in the UK; and at whether they broke the law on consultation.
Q: Have you considered an injunction? They have just said they broke the law.
Scully says the government has looked at this. An official giving evidence alongside him says they have not found any powers they could use to seek an injunction.
Merriman says the government should go to the high court anyway, even if there is risk of losing.
Scully says, if the company has breached notification law, the company could face an unlimited fine.
Q: Have you seen the notification letters sent to three different jurisdictions?
Scully says the government has not. A failure to notify Cyprus would come under Cypriot law, he says. The government is looking at the implications under UK law.
He says P&O Ferries has responded to requests for information. But the government is not taking that at face value.