The Telegraph 2024-03-19 10:00:39

Penny Mordaunt has built £26,000 war chest since Rishi Sunak became PM

Penny Mordaunt has built up a £26,000 campaigning war chest from donations since Rishi Sunak became Prime Minister, as speculation continues about whether he could be toppled.

The money was given to the House of Commons leader’s local party in Portsmouth North, the seat she has represented as an MP since 2010.

Some £20,000 was donated by a company run by Terence Mordaunt, a businessman not related to the MP, who gave similar amounts before she bid for the Tory leadership in 2022.

Analysis by The Telegraph of MP financial declaration documents found that others tipped to run for leader in the future have also been taking in donations.

Grant Shapps, the Defence Secretary, has raised £21,490 since the last Tory leadership contest and Tom Tugendhat, the security minister, has raised £11,310.

Few of the declarations detail what the money can be spent on. Suella Braverman, the former home secretary, and Kemi Badenoch, the Business Secretary, have not registered donations since Mr Sunak became leader.

A spokesperson for Ms Mordaunt said: “Penny’s well known to be a great fundraiser and puts a lot of time and effort into supporting her local association in Portsmouth.”

Re-election in the balance

Ms Mordaunt is facing a battle to retain her seat, despite winning it in the 2019 election with a 15,780-vote majority and 61 per cent of the ballots cast.

She has found herself at the centre of leadership speculation in recent days after The Telegraph revealed that a group of Right-wing MPs now want her to replace Mr Sunak. Ms Mordaunt, who is politically positioned on the moderate wing of the Conservative Party, has previously been criticised by the Right.

Leadership speculation reflects the despondency on the Tory benches at the party still being around 20 percentage points behind Labour in the opinion polls, though whether there are really enough critics to trigger a no-confidence vote is unclear.

A Downing Street fightback against the anonymous briefings continued on Monday, with the Prime Minister insisting he could personally deliver the country a “brighter future”.

Mr Sunak said: “I’m not interested in Westminster politics. It doesn’t matter. What matters is the future of our country and that’s what I am squarely focused on.”

Meanwhile, a No 10 source claimed that Tory MPs briefing against the Prime Minister were actually increasing the chances of colleagues losing their jobs, since voters could punish divided parties.

The source said: “They are doing their colleagues a disservice. It is distracting ahead of the local elections.

“They are not only letting themselves down, they’re letting their colleagues down. Our mantra is crack on, just ignore them, zone them out.”

Badenoch calls for unity

Ms Badenoch, who is widely seen by colleagues as a Tory leadership front-runner whenever another contest comes, used a series of interviews to tell Tory MPs to rally behind Mr Sunak.

She told rebels to “stop messing around and get behind the Prime Minister” and said those plotting against the Tory leader were being “self indulgent”.

Meanwhile, Ben Wallace, the former defence secretary and a Boris Johnson ally, said it was “too late” to switch leader, given the general election will be held at the latest in January 2025.

He told Times Radio: “There comes a moment in time in the electoral cycle where you effectively put on your best suit, you stand up and you march towards the sound of the guns and you get on with it.”

Ms Mordaunt’s financial declarations detail four donations for her local party in the past year.

Two donations, each of £10,000, were made by First Corporate Consultants, a company which has Terence Mordaunt as a director, according to official government records.

The company has given money to Ms Mordaunt over multiple years, including before she ran for the Tory leadership in the summer of 2022 and then again that autumn.

Mr Mordaunt has made headlines in the past because of his links to a group that raises questions about climate change.

In past media reports about his donations in The i and on the website Open Democracy, no comment was issued for publication by Mr Mordaunt.

Mr Shapps, the MP for Welwyn Hatfield who also ran for the Tory leadership in 2022, has received four donations totalling £21,490 in the past year.

A source close to Mr Shapps said: “This is normal funding for constituency campaigning. It is nothing out of the ordinary.”

Mr Tugendhat received three donations. One, a sum of £2,810 in January 2023, was used to thank staff for his Tory leadership bid in the preceding summer.

The other two donations were given in November 2022, shortly after Mr Sunak became Prime Minister, and April 2023.

Fears of a ‘Jo Swinson moment’

The chance Ms Mordaunt could lose her seat at the next election is being cited by backers of Mr Sunak to warn that if Right-wing Tory MPs succeed in replacing him with her, it could backfire.

A government source told The Telegraph: “She’s set to lose her seat. Losing the election would be awful, but it would be 10 times [more] embarrassing if we have our own Jo Swinson moment.”

Ms Swinson was the Liberal Democrat leader at the 2019 election who proclaimed during the campaign that she had a chance of becoming prime minister.

But she lost her seat in East Dunbartonshire to the SNP, whose candidate Amy Callaghan won by fewer than 200 votes. It left the Lib Dems without a leader on the morning after the election. 

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Sunak set for fresh battle with Lords after MPs vote down Rwanda Bill amendments

Rishi Sunak faces a showdown with the Lords on Wednesday over his Rwanda Bill after he used his Commons majority to reverse their amendments to his flagship legislation.

MPs sent the Bill back to the Lords after voting down their 10 amendments which the Immigration Minister Michael Tomlinson said would delay, frustrate or undermine the Government’s efforts to get deportation flights off to Rwanda this spring.

The Lords will on Wednesday attempt to reinstate some of the amendments in a “ping-pong” battle with the Commons which, if voted through by peers, could delay the passage of the legislation until after Parliament returns from its Easter break on April 15.

If successful, the Home Office has identified 150 migrants for the first two deportation flights who would be detained within days of the Bill gaining royal assent. The legal process of appeals, laid out in legislation, would, however, mean that they would not take off until mid- to late May at the earliest.

Officials “are identifying and have identified the cohort of people who will be the first to board flights” to Rwanda, the Prime Minister’s official spokesman confirmed on Monday. “We’re obviously continuing to work at pace on that, such that the first flights are ready to go in the weeks after the Bill passes.”

The Bill is central to the Prime Minister’s pledge to stop the boats and his electoral fortunes by getting the first deportation flights off to Rwanda following nearly two years’ delay from legal challenges to the scheme.

These culminated in the Supreme Court ruling Rwanda unsafe, which the Bill and accompanying Treaty sought to answer by putting in place a legal infrastructure and safeguards to protect deported migrants from being repatriated to countries where they could face persecution or torture.

Crossbenchers could be pivotal

Government whips have asked all 280 Conservative peers to turn up on Wednesday to defeat further attempts by Labour, Liberal Democrat and crossbencher Lords to amend the Bill. They can expect up to 220 to turn up which will roughly match the combined numbers of Labour and Lib Dem peers.

Its passage in the Lords will hinge on Mr Sunak getting his vote out and persuading 60 to 70 crossbench peers to back it. “I would have thought most of the crossbenchers will vote against the Government,” said Lord Carlile, a crossbench critic of the Bill and a former independent adviser to ministers on terror legislation.

“It comes down to how many Tories the Government can persuade to attend. I would have thought many will have lumps in their throats in deciding whether to turn up. There is no disciplinary measure of any value that can be taken against them. If they lose the whip, they probably won’t mind too much.”

The Lords will not block the Bill but could delay it through further rounds of “ping-pong” either next week or after Easter, depending on the size of any majorities, in favour of further amendments.

Mr Tomlinson rejected amendments seeking to ensure the Bill complied with domestic and international law by saying there was nothing in the Bill that breached it. He warned that changes to introduce independent checks on the safety of Rwanda would allow “lengthy legal challenges which will delay removal”.

He said Lords’ amendments to extend the right of appeal would lead to “systematic legal challenges” that would “frustrate and delay” removals, warning they were “unnecessary” and would “completely undermine” the purpose of the Bill.

MPs voted by majorities of between 57 and 78 votes to reject the Lords’ amendments.

Support from Labour

For the first flights, ministers are to use migrants drawn from some 5,000 handed notices of intent to deport to Rwanda last year. Internal documents showed only 760 of these were in regular contact with the Home Office, of which officials believed they would be able to round up half. Some 150 will be detained.

Rwanda and UK Government sources on Monday denied suggestions of a two-month pause after the first flights, but confirmed there would be a “staged” approach.

There are only 200 places in the official Hope Hostel in Kigali but Rwanda sources said they had agreements with hotels to take “thousands” more if required before they moved into longer term accommodation.

Labour backed all 10 amendments, as the shadow immigration minister Stephen Kinnock said they made the Bill “marginally less absurd”. “Not one of these amendments is designed to prevent the departure of flights to Rwanda, as the Prime Minister has repeatedly and wrongly implied that they will,” he said.

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Village clock silenced after 150 years following single complaint

A village clock that has chimed for 150 years was silenced on Sunday night after a single complaint it was too loud.

The clock tower of St John the Baptist in Witheridge, Devon, was banned from chiming last December following the complaint, leading residents to begin a petition to save the church centrepiece. 

The unnamed complainant said the quarter-hourly chimes, which rang out 24 hours a day, had been interrupting their sleep.

North Devon council issued the local parish council with a noise abatement notice on Dec 22 last year and warned it could be prosecuted for a breach. 

But villagers responded with the petition calling for the “beloved church clock” to be allowed to chime again, which was signed by more than 300 people. 

Becka Cook, one signatory, said: “I believe one person’s grievance should not change or affect the joy of many. 

“For hundreds of years the bells have chimed, and it’s criminal to silence them now!”

Matt Price, another resident, added: “It’s a church clock – it’s meant to chime!

“We should keep the clock chiming,” said Lynne Bull. “It’s a part of the church and a traditional part of village life.”

The parish council has now been forced to install a £2,000 silencer, meaning the clock will sound only once an hour between 7am and 11pm.

Rev Adrian Wells, the church’s vicar, told the BBC: “I think the work of the parish council to fit a silencer is a good compromise because the bell can ring during the daytime and be silent at night. 

“It is lovely to have the chimes and bells back during the day. The clock is a real focal point for the village.”

‘Disappointing to see tradition eroded’

David Gale, a Witheridge resident, said villagers would have to “settle” on the bells only ringing during the day.

“It is disappointing when we see all these little traditions that we have got used to over a long period of time to be eroded by some of these laws that were developed in the modern era,” he said.

North Devon council said its “environmental protection team” had assessed the noise level of the clock and deemed it too loud.

A spokesman said: “They considered the loudness, the frequency and duration of the noise – it was considered that the chime every 15 minutes was likely to wake or disturb the sleep of the complainant and other residents nearby. 

“The council has been contacted by other residents expressing disappointment at the silencing of the clock bells.

“However, most of these were not in close proximity to the bells and unlikely to be significantly impacted by the noise.”

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Welsh Labour ‘allowing children to change gender without telling parents’

Schools are allowing children to change gender without telling parents under Welsh Labour, The Telegraph can reveal.

Parents have raised the alarm about the “shocking” approach being taken to children who question their gender in schools in Wales, saying it’s taking place behind their backs.

The Welsh Government has promised to publish draft guidance for schools on how to respond to gender-questioning children in the spring, months after the first guidance of its kind was published in England that told schools to presume that a child cannot change gender.

But Merched Cymru, which describes itself as a grassroots group of ordinary women from across Wales, warned that children’s safety was being put at risk by an absence of guidance for schools on trans pupils.

All 68 schools in Wales that answered freedom of information requests submitted by the group said they would facilitate the gender transition of a pupil.

Only 28 per cent of the schools stated clearly that they would inform parents.

Some 38 per cent said they would not inform parents automatically, while a further 29 per cent said they would only inform parents with a child’s permission.

LGBT training

The findings come two years after an NHS-commissioned report by Dr Hilary Cass, a paediatrician, warned that allowing children to socially transition to their preferred gender was “not a neutral act” and could have a “significant” impact on their “psychological functioning”.

Rishi Sunak has said that teachers must not let pupils change gender without telling parents. Department for Education draft guidance for schools in England states that there should be exceptions for abusive families.

The report by Merched Cymru found that 76 per cent of schools instruct or encourage pupils to recognise their classmates’ preferred pronouns.

Some 70 per cent of schools offer a unisex option for toilets or have all unisex toilets.

More than one in five, or 22 per cent, of schools allow children to use toilets according to their gender identity.

The report also found that more than half of schools allow children to take part in sport according to the gender they identify by.

Where schools have had training on gender issues, the most commonly cited groups providing advice included LGBT charities Stonewall Cymru or Proud Trust.

Tanya Carter of Safe Schools Alliance, a parents’ group that has campaigned for the removal of contested gender ideology in schools in England, said that “systemic safeguarding failures in Wales, under the Labour administration, are even worse than the appalling situation we are in here in England”.

She added: “We want reassurances from Keir Starmer that should Labour also come to power in England he will work to address these serious failures, rather than allow schools to become even more dangerous places for vulnerable children at the behest of political lobby groups.”

Ali Morris, of Merched Cymru, said that schools “have been seriously let down by an absence of clear, legally compliant guidance”. She added: “As a result they’re putting children’s safety and wellbeing at risk, and leaving themselves exposed to legal challenge.”

Teachers have told Merched Cymru that their schools have “no policies” for dealing with the rise in the number of children questioning their gender. One teacher said: “No one wants to take responsibility. We’re being hung out to dry.”

Another teacher said: “The one thing you’re not allowed to do is sit these kids down and ask ‘Why’ because that makes you transphobic. Anything but ‘Yes, that’s great’ is assumed to be just like homophobia.”

‘Parents will be horrified’

Jeremy Miles, the Labour education minister, has previously said he believes that “trans women are women, trans men are men”, while Vaughan Gething, the new Welsh leader, has vowed to make Wales “the most LGBTQ+ friendly nation in Europe”. 

He has pledged to support the relationships and sex education curriculum in Wales, which says pupils will be taught “an awareness of how positive and negative social and cultural norms regarding sex, gender and sexuality influence relationships and behaviours”.

Mr Gething previously criticised Mr Sunak for blocking Scotland’s attempt to change the law to make it easier for people to change gender from the age of 16, claiming the trans community were being used as a “wedge issue”.

He has pledged to “continue to support the right of trans people to self-identify as the gender of their choice”.

Andrew RT Davies, leader of the Welsh Conservatives, said: “Welsh parents will be rightly horrified to see pupils placed at risk of serious harm.

“The new First Minister Vaughan Gething must intervene urgently and take action to safeguard pupils’ wellbeing.”

A Welsh government spokesman said: “We agree this is an area that needs national guidance. That is why we are developing guidance for schools in Wales so that staff can ensure all young people are fully included in education and have a positive experience at school.

“We will be holding a full public consultation on our draft trans guidance over the coming months.”

Case study: ‘At parents’ evening, they called my son Ruby’

The father of an autistic child at school in Wales says he only found out that teachers were treating his 14-year-old son as a girl at a parents’ evening.

He said secrecy by the school, which allowed his son to change his name, pronouns and dress code, had damaged his child’s health and put other pupils at risk.

“Robert is autistic so while his understanding is good, he really struggles with social situations,” the father said. “He’s a big strong boy, impulsive. He’s keen to learn, but his social and emotional development have been assessed as being delayed by about seven years, and he has a statement of special needs.”

He added: “On parents’ evening, my wife went in and some of the teachers were saying things like, ‘Ruby has done very well in English this year. Oh, sorry, should it be Rob?’ 

“I’d had suspicions already that he was asking to be treated as a girl in school.

“Then he started self-harming in school. We got a call about him stabbing himself with a ruler and they referred to CAMHS [Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services]. The letter from CAMHS called him Ruby.

“The school have never contacted us to discuss any of this. When we queried it they just said: ‘We’ve said he can wear a skirt if he wants to. I don’t know which toilet he is using.’ When we visited they told us that the toilets had been redone to be unisex. We’re terribly worried that he’s being encouraged to behave in ways that could be dangerous to others and therefore to himself.”

‘I felt hoodwinked’

The father said: “I talked at length about transitioning with the assistant head, and asked about policy, but they never sent us the policy or told us it was on the new website. Once I’d read the whole document I felt hoodwinked, powerless, disenfranchised. We realise that whatever we say or do, we have been checkmated by the school. The policy states that parents will only be informed about a social transition if the child gives permission.”

He said his son has repeatedly been suspended from school for his response to transphobic bullying by other pupils, and questioned whether their parents had been told about policies at the school, such as allowing children to use toilets and changing rooms according to the gender with which they identify.

“We feel they’ve really harmed him and let him down,” he said. “It’s really broken my sense of trust in schools and in the teaching profession.”

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Watch: Man kidnapped on street in Bradford

A gang of kidnappers was caught dragging a man into a van by a homeowner’s CCTV camera.

The footage shows the man being coaxed into an alleyway in Bradford, West Yorkshire, before being hauled into the back of the van and driven off. Police arrested a 28-year-old man from Bradford on Monday morning.

Ali Rafiq, 40, was at home when the incident occurred shortly on March 6, and captured it on three of his security cameras.

“I was in total shock when I saw it,” he said. “I felt guilty as I had been at home at the time and thought I heard somebody moaning and groaning – but I just thought it was an argument.”

In the footage, the victim can be seen walking into the alleyway behind a clipboard-carrying man wearing a high-visibility jacket.

Meanwhile, three masked men are lying in wait in the back of a red van parked outside. The footage shows two of the men jumping out of the van’s sliding door and running into the alley after them, where they are then joined by the third.

‘It’s very scary’

What happens next is not captured by Mr Rafiq’s cameras, but after 20 seconds the man with the clipboard jogs out of the alley, followed by the three other kidnappers carrying the victim.

The cameras capture the man writhing and clinging on to a drainpipe. West Yorkshire Police said he suffered jaw and rib injuries.

A black saloon car then drives past the scene as the victim is bundled into the back of the van, which drives off.

“It was only when I watched the footage back I realised what had happened and immediately phoned police,” Mr Rafiq said. “Had I not been at home and watched it back, nobody would have known it happened – it’s very scary.”

West Yorkshire Police said: “Police are investigating a report of kidnap after a man suffered injuries on Westcroft Road, Bradford at around 11.10am on Wednesday 6 March.

“The victim suffered injuries to his jaw and ribs. Enquiries are ongoing by Bradford CID.”

The arrested man is still in custody and has not been charged. The other three kidnappers remain at large.

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JK Rowling vows to defy ‘ludicrous’ new hate crime laws

JK Rowling has vowed to continue “calling a man a man” in defiance of controversial new SNP hate crime laws…

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Couple ordered to demolish £100,000 extension despite planning permission

A couple have been ordered to demolish a £100,000 extension which had planning permission after it emerged that the land did not actually belong to them.

Wayne and Natalie Noke, were given planning permission to begin work on their £2.1 million eight-acre home in the New Forest last summer.

However, they have been forced to abandon the project after Forestry England (FE), which is a division of the Forestry Commission, threatened them with legal action.

The couple, who bought the five-bedroom home and accompanying cottage in the village of Bartley, in Hants, in August 2021, were told the land they were building on was “Crown land”.

Mr and Mrs Noke had bought the home and grounds along with Mrs Noke’s parents – Michael and Catherine Drummond – in what was a “dream” scenario that would see them all live close together.

The couple had gained planning permission for an extension on the cottage to provide a living space on the ground floor for Mr Drummond, 80.

The family claim that neither they, nor their solicitor, knew that not all of the land was theirs. But in September, officials from Forestry England visited the family and said the cottage has a strip around it on three sides that does not belong to them.

A licence for use has been in force since 1983 preventing other people using it but it does not permit the Nokes to build on it.

The couple insisted they only learnt of the land’s real ownership in a subsequent letter sent by Forestry England because the licence had not been included on the title deeds.

Work has now been halted amid fears they will have to tear down the oak frame and slate roof.

The couple, who run a haulage company together, hope an agreement can be reached via a land swap, purchasing the land, or by changing the terms of the licence to allow them to build on it.

About 90 per cent of The New Forest,  which was established in 1079 by William the Conqueror, is owned by The Crown. Forestry England manages around half of the national park.

Mrs Noke, 53, said: “It’s a house we’ve known for many, many years and we were fortunate enough to be able to buy it and have my parents in the cottage.”

She admitted it was a “dream” scenario to have her parents nearby, but wanted to help maintain her father’s independence by building an extension, which meant he didn’t have to climb the stairs.

The proposal was granted permission by New Forest National Park and work commenced in summer last year.

However, in September 2023 the couple received a letter from Forestry England which informed them the extension they were building “was partly on Crown land”.

Attached to the letter was a copy of a licence which informed the homeowners the “land around the cottage” was owned by Forestry England.

Mr Noke said that neither their solicitors nor the previous homeowners were aware of this licence as it is not on the title deeds.

Mrs Noke, 53, said: “I know ignorance isn’t an excuse, but there wasn’t anything we were told about that made us aware of it. We have made an error in innocence, it’s a genuine mistake.

Mrs Noke said that because of the project being abandoned her father is living in their lounge, so he can access a toilet without having to go upstairs.

“Our thing is, if there are possible options, however lengthy, who is gaining from hauling it down?” she said. “The fence is still there, people won’t be able to use the land.

“What are they gaining by insisting we take it down? If we had done it on purpose, then I’d get it.

“I just feel we are in such a different position to that: can we find a way around it with humility.

“We are the innocent party that has fallen foul of a procedure,” she added.

In January, Mr Noke, 52, who has lived in the New Forest for 30 years, appealed to the New Forest’s Verderers’ Court, the body responsible for the upkeep of the forest for their support of a land swap solution.

He told the open court: “I applied for planning permission on the belief that I had ownership of the land having had no indication otherwise.

“I would not have applied for planning permission if l thought that the land did not belong to me.”

He continued: “We are therefore left in a situation whereby there is a small area of forestry land, which we previously believed to be ours, inaccessible to Commoner or the public.

”[Forestry England] have written to us to demand that we take down the extension failing which legal proceedings will be taken against us.

“We regard ourselves as innocent parties in all of this and want to try and resolve the matter amicably.”

The Verderers

The couple suggested they would be willing to do a “land swap” with Forestry England which ‘would require the consent of the Verderers’.

In response to the “illegal encroachment”, the Verderers said: “It was agreed that it is not for the Court to decide the way forward to resolve this dispute.

“A land swap will be considered should Forestry England bring forward a proposal that is supported by all landowners concerned.

“The Court has generally only agreed land swaps in exceptional circumstances and where such a swap is in the public, rather than merely a private interest.”

In light of the comments, the couple are now awaiting a response from Forestry England.

Dr Julian Lewis, MP for the New Forest East, is “supportive” of the couple’s case.

In a letter to New Forest National Park Authority, Dr Lewis said: “I feel compelled to intervene to allow humanity and common sense to prevail.

“This is not one of those cases where people irresponsibly construct an extension and then seek retrospective permission, which they should have obtained in advance.”

A spokesman for Forestry England said: “We have been in discussion on this matter with Mr Noke directly and via legal representation since the very early stages of the building work.

“The issues focus on building carried out on Forestry England land designated and protected as part of the New Forest. Whilst these discussions are ongoing we can’t provide further comment.”

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