tv Dateline London BBC News January 16, 2022 2:30am-3:01am GMT
now on bbc news, it's time for dateline london. hello and welcome to dateline, the programme that brings together bbc specialists and the foreign correspondents who write, blog and broadcast to audiences back home from the dateline london. this week, britain's prime minister admits he partied in downing street after all. and he was not the only one. is the party over for borisjohnson? milder and less deadly, but what will omicron mean for countries largely unvaccinated 7
and putin's gambit or gamble? joining us are suzanne lynch, brussels correspondent with politico. jeffrey kofman, a former news anchor and correspondent for channels in north america. and in the studio, the bbc�*s up health editor, hugh pym. welcome to all of you. good to have you with us again. levelling up, the idea of opening up opportunities to those left behind by decades of political neglect gave british conservatives a landslide election victory under boris johnson's leadership. so anything that smacks fo the old politics, favours to those with the ear of the people in power, one rule for them and a different role for us holds particular dangers for mrjohnson. when both the favours and the rules involve covid, the mix becomes toxic. on wednesday, a judge ruled
a vip lane for covid contracts unlawful, and the prime minister apologised for attending during lockdown a drinks do at number ten. jeffrey, you may well be losing track of the number of parties and social events that appear to have taken place in downing street during one or other of the lockdowns. i certainly have. but how perilous is the situation now for the prime minister, do you think? conventional wisdom has been a bit like donald trump, borisjohnson is teflon, meaning that things just don't stick to him and i think until now, when he was mayor of london, you know, he could make these mistakes, he could hang from a wire and make fun of it and people would be on his side — all that kind ofjovialjoking managed to cover a lot. it feels now like there's been this kind of inflection point and people are seeing the real boris and he does not have answers and the country has problems and he's not solving them, so whether or not he survives, i don't think... it's dangerous to get a crystal ball out, but i will say
i think it's 58 seats in that red wall, when he won that massive majority in 2019, about 80 seats, 58 of those seats were labour seats that went tory, because he was so charismatic and becausejeremy corbyn was such a catastrophically unappealing labour leader. those seats now are up for grabs. there is zero assumption and zero assurance that they will stay tory. if they go back, the ability to hold power is very much in peril and you have got to think, that there are a lot of people in his caucus who really like power and will do anything to hold onto it, including dump him. so, how perilous is it? i think it's pretty perilous, but watch this channel. indeed, and you mentioned the number 58 and it only takes 53 conservative mps to collectively require that there have to be some kind of vote of confidence, although they only get one shot at it in every 12 months. hugh, remind us what the law said at the time of this party for which borisjohnson has apologised. it was one that took
place in may 2020. that's right. two social gatherings, including a party but the second one was some sort of work do and that's where the ambiguity lies going back to may 2020 and what the rules were at the time, in england. the rules were that you could not be outside your home without a reasonable excuse but that excuse included work so that's where this grey area emerged. was this a work do or not? the party that involved the e—mails going around and bring your own booze looks very much like a social event. but of course, it happened in the downing street garden, so borisjohnson's view was given that quite a lot of work did happen in the garden in the summer, that this was a work do, and of course it was his home. he and carrie, his wife's home, that is where his position lies although he's clearly
apologised for it. even in those you have to maintain social distancing. keep apart from people. guidance was then published around that time which said that clearly people in offices who are key workers, that's another important bit of this, key workers could be in office but did have to avoid mixing where possible. workers should "try to minimise all meetings and gatherings in the workplace". so, it does look as if the spirit of these rules were certainly very much in question here. the big question is what sue grey, the senior civil servant who is looking into all of this, concludes
about what happened and the metropolitan police have said they will wait for her report to see whether there was anything that needs following up in terms of the law. 0n the other, we have got further examples of parties — we have got two parties the night before the queen, the funeralfor the duke of edinburgh, a time when there were quite serious restrictions also, then and this is back in the spring of last year. and we have got a revelation on friday evening that the head of the covid task force had a leaving party in december 2020. presumably she would have known what the restrictions are. these are two social events. these revelations which don't involve borisjohnson, kate joseph was head of the government, the task force and she had a leaving party in the cabinet office in december 2020 when restrictions would have prevented most indoor mixing between different households, and said she's truly sorry and knows, she is aware it would cause anger amongst people and she is the chief executive council and downing street had to apologise to buckingham palace over two leaving which happened in downing street the night before the duke of edinburgh's funeral. hugh mentioned there this sue grey report, and mrjohnson�*s colleagues seemed to be saying wait
for sue grey's investigation. but a senior civil servant is investigating, making it sound like a quasi judicial process we can't possibly interfere with, but she is not going to make a guilty or innocentjudgment on an elected prime minister, is she? yeah, i think a lot of people found this unsatisfactory that borisjohnson pushing this problem down the roadand tying his fortune to this investigation. but ultimately it will come down to whether or not his party is prepared to wait that long, whether they are prepared to back him and i think one of the key issues we spoke at the beginning about, his huge popularity and electoral success in the last election when he got that majority. just as we come into the weekend now there are polls showing his popularity is sinking. and that i think is a real worry for the conservative party. and that was one of his calling cards of a politician. the public loved him and he brought it home in terms of the votes and if there is a sense that he is now losing, a disconnect building between borisjohnson, the prime minister, and the voters, particularly in those old labour heartlands,
i think he could be in trouble. of course now there's going to be a lot of speculation about a successor, who is in the wings. so far his cabinet have backed him but i think they will be no leadership until there is a possible successor lined up or in the wings. meanwhile, he waits for something to turn up. is it possible he can ride this out? of course it's possible. there is at least two years till an election, that's an eternity in politics as we know. but i do think he is a damaged brand and the interesting thing about the parties, i have to say i don't have much sympathy for boris, but i understand how hard civil servants work and these people are forced to come in to 10 downing street and they are working very long hours in summer, let's have a glass of wine and in principle that idea
is not really so scandalous. it's when they do it repeatedly and have parties and it moves from working outside and being exhausted and having a bit of refreshment, to having these consistent ignoring the rules the rest of us are living by because as we all know it was pretty oppressive to have to cut yourself off from the world so i don't think people are going to forgive him for this and i think the big problem is if he could ride this out, if he could behave and be productive and keep his mouth shut about silliness and just stay focused, but everything we have seen about boris says he incapable of doing that so i guess when i think about those things, it becomes hard to see how he could ride it out because he's going to self—destruct as he continues. he does not have the self—discipline to say i'm just going to be a good prime minister and a good leader. thank you very much. scotland is starting to turn the corner according to its first minister nicola sturgeon. speaking on wednesday, she announced the easing of coronavirus restrictions. on friday mark drakeford, her equivalent in wales, said all restrictions
there will be lifted by the end of the month. in the uk, western europe and north america, there is a relief that omicron has proved generally less serious and certainly less fatal than the covid variant which preceded it. hang on, though — is that because the virus is weakening? or immune systems are strengthening? or because of vaccination? the secretary—general at who pointed out this week that 85% of people in africa have yet to receive a single vaccine dose. never mind the three injected into many of us. in terms of the impact of omicron, it was first identified in southern africa, even there we are told it was comparatively mild. what is it then that he is particularly worried about? i think it's this broader question about inequality. vaccine inequality. and huge differences in uptake in different countries with the developed, richer nations moving ahead
with boosters and first and second doses in some countries really not being available to anything like the majority of the population or they have not been jabbed so far. i think with omicron which has emerged in southern africa as you say, the evidence there from south africa is that it caused quite a sharp spike and the hospitalisations but then it receded quite quickly and people have looked at that and said, well, it's not quite as bad as delta and of course south africa has a younger population and there are different factors, but the evidence from the uk
and more has emerged from scientific experts in recent days, is that it's without a doubt less severe than delta in terms of the risk of getting hospitalised and certainly with a booster jab, that gives very good protection against hospitalisation but it does spread more rapidly and more people become infected and become mildly ill. so that i think has been the challenge that it has spread so much but it does seem to be beginning to recede for now in the uk, but nobody wants to say this is the end of the pandemic by any means. nobody knows what might follow it. we hope it's getting milder but we can't know that for certain. whether there may be more variants that appear that could be milder but still causes surges in cases, who knows. suzanne, the secretary—general of who seems particularly worried about the impact this might have in eastern europe as it spreads across the continent, including some eu member states with low vaccination rates. how varied is the picture across europe? it's very uneven and has been since the outset of this pandemic. quite generally, countries in the western part of the eu, portugal, spain, ireland have had the highest take—up of vaccines and then into the east and eastern countries like slovakia and other countries in the east near the old borders there on the russian side, they have had a very low take up in places like bulgaria and there's been a very
difficult messaging challenge for a lot of governments and eu to try and encourage more people to get vaccinated. we also have the situation in the centre in austria and germany and france, there's been a move to introduce mandatory vaccinations to try and encourage more people to get vaccinated there. germany, before christmas and austria, was concerned that their vaccine levels were not high enough. austria went the furthest saying it wanted a vaccination, mandatory vaccination and became the first western country to do so, but interestingly over the last week we have seen this shift, and the new german government and the chancellor has said he planned to bring a mandatory vaccinations but he seems to be backing away from that. macron in france has said similar. it's a sensitive subject, he had hoped to bring forward a vaccine, a vaccination pass. this has been delayed and bogged down in the parliament, so maybe again linking to what you were saying, there is a sense that maybe we could be shifting away from the peak and is there a need to bring in this mandatory vaccination now, so i think it'll be a hot political issue for a lot
of those big countries in the next few months. that raises questions for the uk because the british government said workers in the national health service from april have to have this, if they are front line workers so in social care giving it, the possibility if the pandemic really is in decline or the current variant is endocrine that that bat in the end not happen because it might put potential strain on the health service. nhs employers are certainly concerned about the potential for people to leave before this becomes mandatory in a couple of months. of course they could be shifted to non—frontline jobs. it's front line workers who will be required to be vaccinated or it could be that they just leave the health service altogether. although most trusts, as they are known in england, but in england,
although they have had a good take—up, 90% have been vaccinated which is higher for the age groups as a population as a whole, it still leaves quite a few who have not been. in a service that was already understaffed. exactly. it raises questions for the health service but more broadly borisjohnson did drop a hint a month or so ago about the longer—term future for the uk which was that more or less we cannot go on with restrictions and lifting restrictions and imposing more. we have to learn to live with this virus and the answer as well as drugs and therapy will be vaccinations. so he just dangled the idea of would pushing people toward something that may be mandatory for the population as a whole, but that clearly would go against libertarian instincts of a lot of politicians. it's not on the table on the agenda in the moment in the uk, but it's not far off. thank you. joe biden talked very big about the importance of vaccinating the world
and when he talked about the us being an arsenal of vaccines, how has that worked out? it is mixed. i think he did it with good intention and the challenge is that the moderna and pfizer vaccines require a big freeze in order to travel in developing countries and countries in africa for example don't have the infrastructure to distribute it and it requires something more flexible and novavax has a vaccine that's been much delayed that they had hoped would be a solution and would be a much simpler response. it's still having problems, it's not been produced yet in the us, so there have been technical and logistical problems but they are also financial problems for this grand pledge of a billion vaccines to the world is not getting enough funding and has said if we don't get more
funding we cannot keep this going because it's not simply about sending vaccines to countries in the developing world and saying go for it, there has to be a huge amount of support and education and training involved in order for these things to be successful. the health threat to all of us and to everyone on the planet is even if we are triple and quadruple vaccinated a year or two from now, if a huge part of the planet is not an coronavirus keeps mutating and if we go through the greek alphabet and run out of letters for these mutations and we are all going to be vulnerable to something potentially lethal if we don't get this level of vaccination to stop it from spreading and creating some new threat. now, putin demands, biden obeys. that's the impression, at least, that's been left in the year since joe biden took office. vladimir putin wanted a face
to face summit last summer. in geneva he got one. president putin wanted talks on nato's footprint in europe. this week, he got them, too. i was going to ask you, on that subject, it appears as if putin demands and biden delivers. given how critical he was of his predecessor cosying up to the kremlin, what is he up to? well, there's a chess game going on and the consequences are catastrophic here. we've got a mercurial, dictatorial leader in russia who wants to recover greater russia, who is still bruised deeply by the break—up of the soviet union and nato's expansion into eastern europe, and he said he wants ukraine, he wants guarantees that ukraine will neverjoin nato. and nato has said that's just not possible and not going to happen. and i thinkjoe biden is trying to find ways to conciliate, to give putin a way out
of this, but it's really hard to see how you can act rationally given what putin is doing. he seems to be setting the stage for a repeat of the invasion of crimea. he may not invade all of the ukraine, it may be just the areas that are sympathetic to russia. and putin really needs that land bridge to crimea, which he took in 2014, but there are not a lot of ways that the west and biden can deter him. there are significant threats of sanctions. that's been tried, of course, historically and really had much impact, but russia is dependent on a whole range of imports and bank transactions in order to be a global citizen, and so it is possible. but i don't think you can assume that president putin thinks in those kind of terms. suzanne, there have been different attitudes amoung european union countries towards russia over the years. germany is one country that had been a lot warmer to russia, perhaps because of energy.
have the latest troop movements over the last 12 months made europe come together a bit on this subject? because after all a lot of eu countries are represented at the nato talks, certainly at the osce talks that ended the week, and even on the nato—russia council? absolutely. i mean, there's been a lot of speculation and commentary this week making the point that the european union, europe, wasn't at the table for some of these key decisions. it was really a bilateral discussion between the united states and russia, although as you say, at the osce, all parties including ukraine were around the table there. as you say, most of the eu member states — 21 out of the 27 — are members of nato, and again, like a lot of things in europe, there are different opinions. the countries to the east, the baltic nations like lithuania, latvia, estonia, they are very, very worried about what's happening close to them in ukraine. and it's this difficult balancing act, because on the one hand you've got
countries like france who wants the eu to have more power and defence, and try and improve its strategy and its autonomy when it comes to security and foreign policy. but on the other hand, you've got countries in the east who don't want to duplicate or challenge nato. nato's everything to them. they want the us presence there. nato is very important and they want to keep the russian issue right up on the agenda. so, yes, to answer your question, there's a lot of fear here around europe. i think the talks effectively ended in a stalemate. there's been no developments. and then, on friday, the ukrainian government announced that it had been subject to a major cyber attack. now, we don't know who's responsible for that but that is another concern. people in europe have been warning for some time about the possibility of a hybrid attack. warfare is notjust traditional warfare as we think it. it can be in other ways as well. so, yes, i think there's a real worry here now. i think the us ambassador to the osce talked about
the drumbeats of war, and that's where we have ended up at the end of a week of diplomacy between the west and russia. and, suzanne, jeffrey mentioned sanctions. that was the tool used to punish russia — what, almost exactly eight years ago now after the annexation of crimea? what impact have they made? yeah, it's a good point. for all the talk of the eu and europe not having that much power in defence, it does have power when it comes to sanctions. arguably more than the us. after all, europe have got a lot more trade with russia and in particular its a huge relationship in terms of energy. it depends on russia for a lot of its gas, so that's where i think europe has a big role to play here. one of the most controversial issues is the new pipeline, nord stream 2, that has been built between russia and germany. there's been a lot of pressure coming from washington on germany to basically use
this as leverage to stop it if russia invades ukraine. so the new german government in berlin, it's a very tricky issue for them. angela merkel was sometimes accused of being too soft on russia, mainly because of this dependence on gas. so, again, ithink the german government are in a tricky position. they're saying they're not going to do anything unless russia invades ukraine, but at the end of this week that threat has simply not gone away. up a thank you very much. no, there isjust a couple of minutes left. it will have to be quick. but i just want to ask each of you if there's a story you think we should be focusing on a bit more than perhaps we have been? jeffrey? i think, very quickly, it is this end of entitlement. these masters of the universe. novak djokovic, the number one tennis player, prince andrew and borisjohnson, these people born or who have earned celebrity, impunity to do what they want are suddenly finding that blank check that lets them get away with anything — getting into australia, these allegations of sexual abuse, orjust running rampant in 10 downing street. suddenly they're being held accountable — it's really fascinating. suzanne? i think the brexit negotiations
are still happening, believe it or not, and it's all about the northern ireland protocol. and this really still hasn't been resolved. we have got elections coming up in northern ireland in early may. there's a lot of tensions there at the moment. in the republic of ireland, they're celebrating 100 years since the signing of the treaty between the uk and ireland which set up irish independence and also effectively lead to or cemented the creation of northern ireland, carving out from the island of ireland. so a lot of these big political issues that have been there between ireland and britain are really coalescing around this northern ireland brexit discussion. so i think that's something to watch over the next few weeks. both sides are hoping for a breakthrough, but i think the people of northern ireland really do need to get that settled.
just a quick thought on that. there are northern ireland assembly elections coming up in the spring, is there a sense in brussels as well as in london, and dublin as well, that they really want to get this sorted before that campaign starts? absolutely. i think that's the new deadline for this. the dup, the main unionist party, has threatened to pull—out of government if its needs are not met on the northern ireland protocol. so there's a sense that it's pretty politically fragile in northern ireland at the moment. so i think there is an incentive now for both sides to get this over the line — by the end of february is one of the the new dates we're looking at here. brilliant. thanks for marking our card on this, suzanne. 30 seconds or so for you to end the programme on a high. one to watch, or more than one. the six nations rugby next month, because scotland and wales have indicated restrictions being eased with a few caveats — that means one of the great sporting tournaments will have crowds in some of the great venues — cardiff and edinburgh — for rugby weekends. can't wait. and i have an interest to declare — i've got some tickets. you lucky man.
at least they will be tickets you will be able to enjoy at last. hugh pym, suzanne lynch, jeffrey kofman, thank you all very much, whatever your sporting endeavours are this weekend or in the future. thanks very much for spending this half hour with us. thank you, too, for spending it with us on dateline london. don't forget, we are always available online anytime you like on the bbc website and throughout the weekend. we're back same time next week. goodbye. hello there. hello there. sunday's looking much sunday's looking much brighter than saturday. brighter than saturday. we've got more sunshine we've got more sunshine around, but it will be around, but it will be breezier, particularly breezier, particularly across the northern half of the country where we'll have gales across northern scotland and into the northern isles. you can see why in the pressure chart — lots of isobars here, two weather fronts, as well, across the northern half this one sinking south
across the country, will fizzle out — this one will clear away early on in the morning, taking any showers from the southeast of england. some patchy cloud around, but this next weather front will be fizzling out as it moves southwards across england and wales through the day — so barely anything on it by the time it reaches the midlands. so increasing amounts of sunshine, plenty across the north — it will be windy though, particularly across northern scotland, where we'll have some blustery showers, slightly lighter winds further south and, with our air source coming in off the atlantic, it will be a touch milder — and with more sunshine around, we will see highs of 9—11 celsius. as we move into next week, it looks like high pressure dominates the scene. a few showers or outbreaks of rain across the north of the country on tuesday. elsewhere, it will be fine and dry.
welcome to bbc news — i'm tim willcox. our top stories... novak djokovic arrives for his final appeal novak djokovic arrives for his final appeal to stay in australia — to stay in australia — judges are currently judges are currently deciding on his deportation. deciding on his deportation. a huge underwater volcanic a huge underwater volcanic eruption near tonga eruption near tonga triggers tsunami warnings triggers tsunami warnings across the pacific ocean. across the pacific ocean. siege at a texas synagogue — siege at a texas synagogue — police are negotiating police are negotiating with a hostage taker in the us with a hostage taker in the us state state and the first case and the first case of the omicron variant of the omicron variant is officially confirmed is officially confirmed in beijing, just three weeks before the start in beijing, just three weeks before the start