Nicola Sturgeon with deputy first minister John Swinney. Photo: Getty
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Leak inquiry ordered over memo that claimed Nicola Sturgeon wants David Cameron to remain prime minister

The cabinet secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has confirmed that an official inquiry will take place.

An official inquiry will take place into the leaking of a memo which suggested SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon wanted David Cameron to remain prime minister, the cabinet secretary has announced.

In a statement, Jeremy Heywood wrote: "You have asked me to investigate issues relating to the apparent leak of a Scotland Office memo that forms the basis of this morning’s Daily Telegraph story. I can confirm that earlier today I instigated a Cabinet Office-led leak inquiry to establish how extracts from this document may have got into the public domain. Until that inquiry is complete I will not be making any further comment either on the document or the inquiry."

The Daily Telegraph reported this morning that the SNP leader told the French ambassador to the UK that she did not see Ed Miliband as "prime minister material" and that "she'd rather see David Cameron remain as PM". The quotes are said to come from an official memo prepared by a civil servant after speaking to France's consul general in Edinburgh, Pierre-Alain Coffinier, who was present at the meeting.

Sturgeon has denied saying the words quoted in the memo, and that she wished to discover  "how did it come to contain such an inaccuracy and how did it get into the hands of the Tory-supporting Daily Telegraph?"

Mr Coffinier has also denied that the ambassador and Sturgeon discussed who she wanted as prime minister. "At no stage did anyone comment on their preference regarding the elections," he said earlier today.

Ed Miliband said: "I think these are damning revelations. What it shows is that while in public the SNP are saying they don’t want to see a Conservative government in private they’re actually saying they do want a Conservative government. It shows that the answer at this General Election is that if you want the Conservatives out the only answer is to vote Labour for a Labour government."

My colleague Stephen Bush has more on the likely fallout here, as well as the suggestion that the leak may have come from the office of Scotland secretary Alistair Carmichael, with the aim of helping the Lib Dems hold on to their 11 Scottish seats. The BBC's Scotland correspondent James Cook concurs that some of Sturgeon's alleged comments are not as revelatory as they might first appear. "OF COURSE there are some SNP strategists - I know, I've spoken to them - who say in private a Tory victory would hasten independence," he tweeted today.

Former Labour spinner Damian McBride gives his take on the news here, and asks the following pertinent question: "Are Sturgeon, the Ambassador and the Consul General disputing the entire version of the conversation reported in the Scottish Office memo, or just the line about the First Minister’s supposed preference for David Cameron as PM. Did she say, for example, that “she wouldn’t want a formal coalition with Labour”; that “the SNP would almost certainly have a large number of seats”; that “she had no idea ‘what kind of mischief’ Alex Salmond would get up to”; and that she “didn’t see Ed Miliband as PM material”. If those four points are accurate, then it makes it all the more remarkable that the fifth point (about the preference for Cameron) was not. If, on the other hand, all five points are disputed, then it raises even more serious questions about how this account of events found its way into the official FCO memo."

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

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The problems with ending encryption to fight terrorism

Forcing tech firms to create a "backdoor" to access messages would be a gift to cyber-hackers.

The UK has endured its worst terrorist atrocity since 7 July 2005 and the threat level has been raised to "critical" for the first time in a decade. Though election campaigning has been suspended, the debate over potential new powers has already begun.

Today's Sun reports that the Conservatives will seek to force technology companies to hand over encrypted messages to the police and security services. The new Technical Capability Notices were proposed by Amber Rudd following the Westminster terrorist attack and a month-long consultation closed last week. A Tory minister told the Sun: "We will do this as soon as we can after the election, as long as we get back in. The level of threat clearly proves there is no more time to waste now. The social media companies have been laughing in our faces for too long."

Put that way, the plan sounds reasonable (orders would be approved by the home secretary and a senior judge). But there are irrefutable problems. Encryption means tech firms such as WhatsApp and Apple can't simply "hand over" suspect messages - they can't access them at all. The technology is designed precisely so that conversations are genuinely private (unless a suspect's device is obtained or hacked into). Were companies to create an encryption "backdoor", as the government proposes, they would also create new opportunities for criminals and cyberhackers (as in the case of the recent NHS attack).

Ian Levy, the technical director of the National Cyber Security, told the New Statesman's Will Dunn earlier this year: "Nobody in this organisation or our parent organisation will ever ask for a 'back door' in a large-scale encryption system, because it's dumb."

But there is a more profound problem: once created, a technology cannot be uninvented. Should large tech firms end encryption, terrorists will merely turn to other, lesser-known platforms. The only means of barring UK citizens from using the service would be a Chinese-style "great firewall", cutting Britain off from the rest of the internet. In 2015, before entering the cabinet, Brexit Secretary David Davis warned of ending encryption: "Such a move would have had devastating consequences for all financial transactions and online commerce, not to mention the security of all personal data. Its consequences for the City do not bear thinking about."

Labour's manifesto pledged to "provide our security agencies with the resources and the powers they need to protect our country and keep us all safe." But added: "We will also ensure that such powers do not weaken our individual rights or civil liberties". The Liberal Democrats have vowed to "oppose Conservative attempts to undermine encryption."

But with a large Conservative majority inevitable, according to polls, ministers will be confident of winning parliamentary support for the plan. Only a rebellion led by Davis-esque liberals is likely to stop them.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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