Tuesday briefing: Rebel Tories deploy Operation Rinka

Good morning, I’m Warren Murray and this is your briefing – none shall be turned away.

Rebel Tories are upping pressure on Boris Johnson to quit over the Downing Street parties scandal, with one naming their plan “Operation Rinka” in reference to the dog killed in the Jeremy Thorpe affair in the 1970s. It comes in answer to Downing Street insiders reportedly devising a plan to sack officials and save Johnson, referred to as “Operation Save Big Dog”, and its sibling “Operation Red Meat” to divert pubic attention on to other issues. A senior government source said multiple groups were angry with Johnson: lockdown sceptics, disgruntled ex-ministers, and MPs from former Labour red wall seats. “It only takes a dozen letters from each group to get you close to the 54 you need [to trigger a no-confidence vote in the prime minister].” Outside parliament, 40% of grassroots Tories want Johnson to resign.

Dominic Cummings has accused Johnson of lying after No 10 denied the prime minister was warned against allowing a “bring your own booze” party. Cummings said he personally told the principal private secretary, Martin Reynolds, who organised it that the invitation broke the rules, and that Reynolds replied: “So long as it’s socially distanced I think it’s OK, I’ll check with the PM if he’s happy for it to go ahead.” Cummings said in a blogpost: “Not only me but other eyewitnesses who discussed this at the time would swear under oath this is what happened.” John Griffin, the taxi firm tycoon who has given £4m to the Tories since 2013, has joined calls for Boris Johnson to resign. Peter Hargreaves, the Brexit-backing billionaire who gave £1m to the Tories for the 2019 general elections campaign, said of Johnson: “He doesn’t want to do good – he just wants to be prime minister. That’s his only agenda.”

Covid latest – Speaking of Operation Red Meat: No 10 has signalled plans to phase out England’s remaining pandemic restrictions from as early as March. Some scientists have warned against downgrading laws that reduce the spread of Covid, while others have said it is a logical next step. In the US, four jail inmates have filed a lawsuit saying they were unknowingly given ivermectin by a prison doctor as a form of medical experimentation despite US health officials warning it should not be used to treat Covid-19. Australia has reported its highest ever Covid daily death toll – more on this and other developments at our global live blog.

Tonga under veil of ash – Some of the first images have emerged from Tonga’s volcano and tsunami-hit islands, after a New Zealand defence force surveillance flight returned from the cut-off country, as two deaths from the disaster on Saturday have been confirmed. Land and trees are shown coated with ash and other damage. The Fua’amotu international airport runway appears inundated.

Other satellite images show that flooding came in several blocks from the coastline. On Tuesday, New Zealand’s ministry of foreign affairs and trade said there had been two confirmed deaths, one of them a British national as previously reported. Australia and New Zealand are sending planes and ships to assist. The islands’ undersea communications cable is believed to be cut about 37km offshore and could take weeks to repair.

‘Heat or eat’ – Energy bills could eat up more than half of some UK households’ incomes, poverty charity the Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) has said. Households across the board faced bill increases of 40% to 47% from April and there would be huge variations in their ability to cope: single-adult households on low incomes could be forced to spend 54% of their income on gas and electricity when the energy price cap changes on 1 April, the JRF found. Martin Lewis from MoneySavingExpert, said the government must provide billions in support to poorer households facing “heat or eat” decisions. A government spokesperson said: We will continue to look closely at the pressures facing people and what further measures might be needed on abating high energy costs.”

Lords rebuke – The House of Lords has voted to make misogyny a hate crime in England and Wales – an idea rejected by both Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab – in a night of several defeats for the government in the upper chamber. The vote came during debate over the crime, sentencing and courts bill. The government lost 14 divisions, including plans to make people locking themselves on to objects punishable by up to 51 weeks’ imprisonment, suspicion-less stop-and-search and introduction of “serious disruption prevention orders” against protesters. Peers also voted to block proposals to give police new powers to stop noisy and disruptive protests in England and Wales. Once the Lords have completed their scrutiny, the bill will return to the House of Commons. It needs both houses’ approval.

‘Loud’ lecturer wins sacking case – A senior academic who says she was sacked from her University of Exeter physics post because of her loud voice has been awarded more than £100,000 after winning a claim for unfair dismissal. Dr Annette Plaut told the Guardian she had a “naturally loud voice” that came from her middle European Jewish background and it was the combination of her being “female and loud” that led to her dismissal. Plaut, who worked there for 29 years, said she was taking medication for stress since her sacking. The university argued during a tribunal that she was dismissed over the way she dealt with two PhD students and insists it had nothing to do with her background or her sex. The university has said it will appeal against the tribunal’s decision.

As Boris Johnson faces questions over his future, Conservative members and MPs are looking at their options for who might replace him – and one name keeps coming up.

“We knew it would be a long meeting, but it was surreally, incomprehensibly long. We made no progress over the duration of several meals, many hours and many more spreadsheets … but as the hours spun out I began to enjoy the surreal experience.” Emma Beddington kicks off a Memories of Office Life special.

Novak Djokovic may not be allowed to defend his French Open title in May after the French government ruled that all athletes will have to be vaccinated in order to attend and compete in sporting events in France. At the Australian Open, Andy Murray has opened his campaign against Nikoloz Basilashvili, with Nick Kyrgios and Emma Raducanu also due on court. Follow it all at our live blog.

Everton’s attempt to rehire Roberto Martínez has hit an immediate problem with the Royal Belgian Football Association rejecting a proposal for their head coach to combine his role with managing the Premier League club. Eddie Jones is free to select unvaccinated players in a bumper 36-man rugby Six Nations squad despite strict travel rules that look set to rule them out of two of England’s three away fixtures, including a potential decider against France on Super Saturday. Ali Martin writes that excuses can be made for England’s Ashes shambles, but the status quo cannot hold, and England’s muddled selections, fitness issues and abject batting suggest a deeper malaise.

The International Olympic Committee’s new transgender framework has come under fire from medical experts who work for multiple sports federations, who say it opens the door to unfair competition in female sport. In a notable intervention, the scientists warn that the IOC’s new guidance – which states there is no need for trans women to lower their testosterone to compete against natal women – ignores the science on sex, gender and performance and focuses mostly on inclusion.

Asian shares have mostly been higher in the absence of big market-moving news following the Martin Luther King Day holiday in the US. The Bank of Japan wrapped up a two-day policy meeting with no major changes, keeping the benchmark interest rate at a longstanding -0.1%. Benchmarks in Japan, China and Australia rose in early trading but shares fell in South Korea. Futures trading predicts the FTSE opening about 10-15 points lower. The pound is worth $1.363 and €1.196 at time of writing.

The splash in the Times today is “Cummings: PM lied to parliament about party” while the Mirror calls this a “New bombshell claim” saying Johnson “gave the go-ahead”. Metro’s top story is “I’ll swear PM lied to house”, paraphrasing Cummings – readers might recall that on a previous occasion, when testifying did not suit his ends, the same individual was found in contempt of parliament for refusing to appear.

The Guardian’s front page leads with “Cummings accuses PM of lying over No 10 party”, and also featured are “UK sending anti-tank weapons to Ukraine”, as well as “Inquiry launched into Mone over ‘VIP lane’ deal”. The i is more general: “Tory angst at Johnson leadership growing”. The Express would prefer we look over there at something else, while still appearing to chastise the PM, telling him to “sort energy bills crisis” . The Financial Times has that one too: “Ministers explore paying energy suppliers to ease household bills”.

The Mail says “British troops sent to Ukraine”; the Telegraph leads with “Tougher powers for magistrates to clear trial backlog”; while the Sun has a totally bizarre lead story about Prince Andrew and plush toys.

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