Brexit latest news: Michel Barnier blinks first and agrees to 'intensive' talks on key sticking point

Cat Neilan
·52-min read

European Union negotiator Michel Barnier has agreed to put everything on the table and "intensify" talks, just as Brussels was accused of shutting talks down in the Commons. 

Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove had told MPs that the UK was walking away from Brexit trade talks, saying they would be "meaningless" without a shift in the EU's stance.

"The conclusions of that council reaffirmed the EU's original negotiating mandate, they dropped a reference to intensive talks that has been in the draft and they declared that all, all future moves in this negotiation had to be made by the UK," he said, adding it was "almost incredible" that the EU had so far refused to discuss legal texts so far.

But in a tweet posted almost simultaneously Mr Barnier said the EU was prepared to continue talks across all subjects in the negotiations.

Crucially, he indicated the EU was prepared to discuss "legal texts" for a deal, following a phone call with his counterpart David Frost. 

Relations between London and Brussels broke down last week after a European Council summit failed to provide a breakthrough on a deal and watered-down commitments to round-the-clock negotiations.

​Read the latest updates below

04:08 PM

Labour 'far more supportive' of Government than they say, claims Matt Hancock

Labour's Jon Ashworth is "far closer and more supportive of the Government's position than he is able to express at this despatch box", Matt Hancock has said. 

It's a different approach to the one usually rolled out at PMQs, when any questions are met with amazement that opposition MPs might take a different view on things to the Government. 

The Health Secretary said there would be more support, more testing and more contact tracing but these were already "the things the Government is delivering". 

He added: "Of course we put the most support into the areas that need it most. This approach of targeting support and measures is at the core of how you retain the consent of people while we go through these difficult actions."

But he didn't even come close to responding to the question about the circuit breaker.

04:03 PM

Jon Ashworth: Circuit breaker will avoid 'deeper, longer, fuller lockdown'

Jon Ashworth echoes Matt Hancock's words about Bill Anderson and Yasmin Quresh, before turning to the substance of his response. 

He notes that while critical care admissions were starting to fall at this stage in the first wave, because of the lockdown, they are still rising currently. 

The shadow health secretary also challenges his counterpart about testing, contact tracing and the financial package on offer, which is failing despite consultants being paid £7,000 a day. 

He says that ministers "just shrug their shoulders and say 'well, the virus is accelerating so contact tracing is less useful'. It is simply not good enough".  Better contact tracing must be "everywhere, not just the hotspots" , Mr Ashworth adds. 

He then turns to an intervention from the Bishop of Manchester - "a bishop, for goodness sake" - attacking the restrictions and the Government's handling of the situation.  

Mr Ashworth asks Matt Hancock if it is now time to adopt the Sage advice for a circuit breaker, saying the "cost of a delay could be a deeper, longer, fuller lockdown". 

03:56 PM

Matt Hancock pays tribute to Liverpool mayor's brother who died this weekend

Matt Hancock says talks are taking place with Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick and local leaders in Greater Manchester, as well as South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire, Nottinghamshire, the North East and Teeside.

"Sadly over the weekend we have seen very directly the direct impact of this disease," he says, paying tribute to Bill Anderson, the brother of Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson, who died from coronavirus this weekend. 

"My heart goes out to the whole Anderson family and the people of Liverpool, who have lost a brother". 

He also wishes Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi a speedy recovery after she was hospitalised with pneumonia, after contracting coronavirus a fortnight ago. 

03:51 PM

Matt Hancock praises Lancashire for 'putting politics aside'

Matt Hancock says it would be "unethical" to let coronavirus run without taking actions. 

"I know this is difficult and I know this I relentless but we must have resolve," he adds. 

The Health Secretary stresses the value of the localised approach, which means that Cornwall is not under the same level of restrictions, he adds. 

He confirms that Lancashire that now moved into the very high level - although of course, that was agreed on Friday.

"We knew we had to take rapid action to suppress the epidemic in Lancashire," he says, noting the Government will also stand "side by side" local authorities. 

 He thanks Lancashire's local leaders for their "willingness to put politics aside in the national interest, and the people we serve", saying it would "save lives and protect livelihoods". 

03:47 PM

Still no agreement reached for Greater Manchester, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock is giving a statement to the Commons about the "perilous" situation with cases doubling every 12 days. 

He says he is very worried about the rise in cases above people aged 60. 

In Greater Manchester this has risen from 171 to 283 in the last week, he says, which is why the Government has been trying to act so quickly. 

But he confirms there is still no agreement reached to put the region into Tier 3. 

03:43 PM

Michael Gove: 'Absolutely right' to be more optimistic about prospects of Brexit deal

Michael Gove has agreed that there is room for optimism in light of Brussels' agreement to share legal texts this week, after talks were called off by Boris Johnson on Friday.

Michel Barnier had been due to come to London this week for more negotiations, but this was cancelled by Downing Street and downgraded to a phone call. This afternoon he tweeted that he would be willing to share legal texts and put all topics on the table in a sign of intensification of talks. 

Asked by Stella Creasy if he was no longer as pessimistic about the prospects of a no deal Brexit as a result, he said "she's absolutely right". 

The Cabinet Office minister said: "As a result of the Prime Minister standing firm, in defiance of criticism from some in this House, it appears the EU has moved in a way which intensified talks and sees legal text being exchanged.

"I sincerely hope that is the case - we will find out more in the days ahead."

03:27 PM

UK will 'not be back' for trade talks if they fail this autumn, says No 10

The UK “will not be back to negotiate next year” if a post-Brexit trade deal is not secured in the coming days, Downing Street has warned. 

Boris Johnson last week told the UK to start preparing for a no deal after saying Brussels had not shown sufficient flexibility by his nominal deadline of October 15. 

His spokesman today did not rule out talks ongoing over further weeks, although stressed the ratification process would take “a period of time”. 

He added: “We have been repeatedly clear that any agreement will need to be in place before the end of the transition period. We will not be back to negotiate further next year. We must provide assurance and certainty to our businesses and citizens and endless prolonged negotiations won't achieve this.”

“Our view is that if the EU is willing to change their position then we are willing to talk to them,” said the spokesman. “But they must be ready to discuss the detailed legal texts of the treaty in all areas with a genuine wish to find a deal and respect UK sovereignty and independence.”    

Asked he meant that leaving without a deal would preclude one from being struck next year, he said “correct”. 

03:23 PM

Lords brand Brexit legislation 'dangerous' and 'baffling'

While Michael Gove is fending off questions in the Commons, Boris Johnson's controversial Brexit legislation, enabling ministers to break international law, has been branded "dangerous" and "baffling" in the Lords.

Peers warned they will seek to overturn key parts of the UK Internal Market Bill, which has already cleared the Commons despite opposition from some senior Tories.

Lord Newby, Liberal Democrat leader in the Lords, said it was the "most dangerous and baffling" piece of legislation to come before the House in the 23 years he had been a member.

Lord Newby urged peers to be ready for repeated parliamentary "ping pong" with the Commons if they succeeded in removing "law-breaking" clauses from the Bill during its later stages.

03:20 PM

Theresa May unimpressed by Michael Gove's security assurances

Theresa May appeared to mouth "utter rubbish" as Michael Gove claimed the UK can "co-operate more effectively" in many areas over border security outside the EU than "we ever could inside".

The Conservative former prime minister told the Commons: "The Government appears resigned to the prospect of no deal, yet one area which they should not be resigned to the prospect of no deal is in security."

Mrs May said neither Mr Gove nor Prime Minister Boris Johnson had mentioned security in recent statements.

Mr Gove said "significant progress" has been made over security co-operation, however the EU was "insisting that before we have access to systems, like the Schengen Information System, we have to accept the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice - we cannot accept that".

Secondly, he argued "there are many, many areas in which we can co-operate more effectively to safeguard our borders outside the European Union than we ever could inside", adding that they were able to "intensify the security that we give to the British people".

He concluded by adding that "when it comes to everything, security and other matters, no deal is better than a bad deal."

03:14 PM

Brexit talks cannot have 'illusion of engagement without reality of compromise', says Michael Gove

Michael Gove has suggested Michel Barnier's statement (4:12pm), saying that he will engage on the basis set out by the UK, was down to Boris Johnson's decision to pull back from talks. 

The Cabinet Office minister told the Commons that the EU had increasingly taken an approach that was "not constructive, not designed to achieve progress". 

But he added: "If as a result of our clear view couldn't proceed ton that basis, there has been movement - and it seems as though there has been today - no one would welcome it more than me."

However we "can't have the illusion of engagement without reality of compromise", he added. 

03:07 PM

Michael Gove hails Barnier's concession as he accuses Labour of making 'dog's dinner' over Brexit

Michael Gove has accused Labour of making an "indigestible dog's dinner" of Brexit under the former leadership, which has still not been resolved. 

The Cabinet Office minister claimed Sir Keir Starmer still "would not eat his words". 

Defending the Government over the talks, he says David Frost has been in conversation and "it is the case that Michel Barnier has now agreed to the intensification of talks, and also to working on legal texts. 

This was "a reflection of the strength and resolution that our Prime Minister showed, in stark contrast to the approach on which the opposition have often enjoined us, of accepting what the EU want at every stage," he added.

In response to a question from Iain Duncan Smith, he later added there "has been constructive move on the part  of the European Union and I welcome that," saying he preferred to "look forward in optimism to looking back in anger". 

03:00 PM

Michel Barnier: I am willing to come to London to for intensive talks based on legal texts

Michel Barnier has said he is willing to come to London this week to "intensify talks... on all subjects and based on legal texts". 

His tweet was posted just before Michael Gove stood up in the Commons to tell MPs that this was precisely the sticking point in the Brexit talks, and the reason why the UK had effectively walked away. 

02:57 PM

Labour claims Boris Johnson's 'oven ready deal' was just the starter

Labour's Rachel Reeves claims the "oven ready deal" promised by Boris Johnson was just "the starter" and that the county is still waiting for "the main course". 

The shadow chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster told her counterpart of the many missed deadlines and asked "why the Government finds it hard to meet its own deadlines and meet its own promises".

She also asked Michael Gove what the probability is of a deal being struck, following his admission that they are effectively over, and says while everyone must take responsibility "it is a bit rich, when the Government can't even tell them what to get ready for". 

02:52 PM

Michael Gove: Businesses preparation will be intensified in next 10 weeks

Michael Gove then turns to preparation required for the end to transition, praising the work they have undertaken so far and highlighting trade deals such as the one struck with Japan. 

He thanks the haulage and customs industries for "constructive engagement" and says he and the Prime Minister will speak to business communities again this week to discuss preparations for life outside the EU. 

The XO Cabinet, which meets daily, will intensify its focus on business, the Cabinet Office minister. And the public awareness campaign will also be intensified. 

New IT systems will be put in place, and they have planned how to fast-track vital goods, he adds. 

02:47 PM

Michael Gove: UK has come so far and will not falter now

Michael Gove says he hopes that the EU will make " a fundamental change" its position, be prepared to discuss all issues, and "accept it is now dealing with an independent and sovereign country". 

The Cabinet Office minister tells the Commons that the Government has been "clear from the start" that it would not agree anything that undermined "our new sovereign status". 

"We cannot accept the negotiators' proposals that would require us to provide full, permanent access to our fishing waters with quotas substantially unchanged," nor a state aid system "that is essentially the same as the EU's, with great discretion for the EU to retaliate against us". 

He adds that "in a nutshell" the UK has been asking for nothing more than the Canada-style deal, despite the EU saying it would offer this last year. The UK is not asking for special favours as a former member state, he adds. 

"Though it is not my preferred outcome, nor is it the Prime Minister's, we recognise there will be some turbulence. But we have not come so far to falter now," he adds. 

02:42 PM

Michael Gove: European Council summit made clear Brexit talks were 'meaningless'

The European Council summit saw the original mandate be reaffirmed, and the removal of the suggestion of "intensification" of talks, Michael Gove says.

They also declared "all - all - future moves in this negotiation had to be made by the UK," he says. 

This "unfortunate sequence of events has in effect ended the trade negotiations because it leaves no basis on which we can actually find an agreement," he adds. 

"Such talks would be meaningless."

There is no point in talks continuing as long as the EU keeps to this posotion which is "why the Prime Minister had to make it clear" that the UK was now planning for an Australian-style deal "based on the simple principles of global free trade."

02:40 PM

Michael Gove: As things stand there will be no Brexit trade deal

Michael Gove is updating the Commons on Brexit talks, telling MPs "as things stand [a deal] will not now happen". 

The Cabinet Office minister says the UK is "absolutely committed to securing a Canada-style FTA, but there does need to be a fundamental change in approach from the EU" to do it. 

The target date was last Thursday, he adds, and both sides had agreed to work "intensively". "But I have to report to the House this intensification was not forthcoming," he adds. "The EU was only willing to conduct negotiations on fewer than half the days available...

"Moreover the EU refused to discuss legal texts on any area," he says. It is surprising to the UK that "we have reached this point in negotiations without any common legal texts of any kind". 

02:27 PM

Matt Hancock pictured without a face mask in his ministerial car

Matt Hancock has had his knuckles wrapped after he was pictured being driven without wearing a face mask, despite ministers being told they should. 

Number 10 has previously said "the PM and ministers will be wearing face coverings in line with the guidance", in order to set a good example, despite Government vehicles being exempt from the rule that applies to taxis. 

Asked if the Health Secretary would be reprimanded, the Prime Minister's spokesman said: "I haven't seen the picture.

"On the general point, we set out at the time that we were making face coverings available in all ministerial cars so that ministers would be able to wear them."

The spokesman added: "The advice was that ministers should wear face coverings and they were made available within the cars which ministers use."

Matt Hancock was pictured without a face mask in his ministerial care today - London News Pictures
Matt Hancock was pictured without a face mask in his ministerial care today - London News Pictures

02:07 PM

Work and Pensions Secretary unable to answer question about sick pay for single parents

Single parents whose children have to self-isolate due to Covid-19 "should be eligible" for statutory sick pay (SSP), Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey has said.

During work and pensions questions, Labour MP Chris Elmore (Ogmore) asked what support is available to single parents if their child has to isolate.

He said: "They're not able to claim SSP because it's their child that is having to self-isolate... and it also means if they were to apply for Universal Credit they would have to start the process each and every time and I have had constituents who have had to self-isolate on multiple occasions because their school-aged children have been told they have to stay at home."

Responding, Ms Coffey told the Commons: "I certainly will ask my honourable friend the minister to look into the detail on SSP.

"The reason being if a person is required to self-isolate as a consequence of somebody in their household having symptoms, then SSP in my view should be eligible but given it's such a legal, technical issue I will ask my honourable friend to write to him specifically."

01:54 PM

Second DUP politician attacks Northern Ireland circuit breaker

It is not just Boris Johnson who is struggling to keep his party behind him.

A DUP Assembly member has branded some of the new coronavirus restrictions introduced by the Stormont executive - and his own party - a "shame and disgrace".

Last week First Minister Arlene Foster announced a four-week circuit breaker to try to curb the spread of the virus, beginning on Friday October 16. 

But today Paul Frew asked who was going to "protect the people" from the decisions being made by an administration his party jointly leads.

His intervention follows that criticism made by DUP minister Edwin Poots' of the circuit breaker, a series of measures all the five executive parties, including the DUP, agreed to last week. Mr Poots has also faced calls to apologise after claiming that Covid-19 infection rates were higher in nationalist areas than unionist areas.

There were a further six Covid-19 linked deaths and 820 new cases of the virus reported by the Department of Health on Monday.

01:42 PM

Boris Johnson's Government has a serious credibility problem

After test and trace failures, vaccine delays and the much ridiculed £100 billion Operation Moonshot plan for rapid testing, Boris Johnson’s government has a credibility problem. “No one believes a word they say any more,” complains one former minister.

The Prime Minister is in part to blame. Over the past six months, Mr Johnson has gone from saying the tide could be turned on the virus in 12 weeks, to a hope to get back to “normality” by Christmas, to a promise of no social distancing by next autumn.

With promises of world-beating systems to tackle coronavirus and expectations over the effectiveness of a vaccine scaled down, Tory MPs complain that the Government has a record for overpromising and underdelivering.

Boris Johnson - Tory handling of coronavirus
Boris Johnson - Tory handling of coronavirus

01:28 PM

Further 76 people die with coronavirus in English hospitals

A further 76 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 31,047.

Patients were aged between 47 and 99 years old. All except one, aged 85,  had known underlying health conditions. The date of death ranges from 9 to 18 October 2020.

The North East & Yorkshire was the worst-affected region, with 25 deaths, followed by the North West, with 24. 

They were followed by the Midlands (16), East of England (five), London (three), South West (two) and South East (one).  

01:19 PM

Cheer us all up Boris, and stick the boot into our woke BBC this winter

For someone who wanted to be king of the world when he grew up, Boris Johnson is doing a really good impression of Greta Garbo these days, writes Julie Burchill.

Sometimes it feels like he’s ‘ghosting’ – the word the youngsters have for ‘the practice of ending a personal relationship with someone by suddenly and without explanation withdrawing from all communication’ – the whole nation.

It’s understandable that one man can’t hold back the coronavirus, but in hard times such as these, we all need a circuit-break to the gloom and doom ahead, something which vivifies us and makes us realise that we can be the masters of our fate in other ways. In lieu of Bonfire Night and Halloween, how about a brisk defunding of the BBC?

01:06 PM

Lobby latest: Lords told not to block UK Internal Market Bill

Number 10 has urged the House of Lords not to block the UK Internal Market Bill following criticism from Anglican archbishops.

"We consider the UKIM Bill to be vital," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"It was passed with the support of the House of Commons and we believe it is a necessary legal safety net to protect the integrity of the UK's internal market."

The clerics, led by Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby, used a letter to the Financial Times to say the legislation has "enormous moral, as well as political and legal, consequences" by paving the way for a breach of international law by over-riding parts of the Withdrawal Agreement with Brussels.

Internal Markets Bill | 14 September 2020
Internal Markets Bill | 14 September 2020

12:52 PM

Lobby latest: Test pilots running in coronavirus hotspots, Downing Street confirms

Trials of new tests are taking place across England, including in coronavirus hotspots, Downing Street has said.

Pilots are designed to test asymptomatic NHS staff in "the worst-affected regions", including hospitals in Manchester, Liverpool, Birmingham, Leeds, Newcastle, Basingstoke and Southampton, explained the Prime Minister's official spokesman. 

Three of them - Southampton, Manchester and Basingstoke - are already able to start testing staff while the other four will be able to shortly.

There are two kinds of test: Lamp (loop-mediated isothermal amplification) tests, which give a result in 60-90 minutes and 'lateral' tests, which can give a result in "potentially significantly less than an hour" and have been compared to home pregnancy tests because of their ease of use.

The spokesman added: "We will also be sending the lateral flow tests - the swab tests that don't require a lab for processing - to care homes, schools and universities in the areas which have been hardest hit."

12:48 PM

Lobby latest: No white smoke in Manchester yet, Number 10 admits

Talks with Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham and local leaders are continuing, Number 10 has said.

It is thought that there is another crunch meeting scheduled for 3pm today in a bid to agree a deal. Robert Jenrick this morning said if a deal was not struck today he would refer it back to the Prime Minister for his more direct involvement - including unilateral action. 

"If at all possible we do want to engage constructively with Greater Manchester and agree on a way forward," the PM's official spokesman said.

But if agreement cannot be reached the Government will need to intervene "in order to protect hospitals and save the lives of residents".

Profile | Andy Burnham
Profile | Andy Burnham

12:44 PM

Lobby latest: Tier 3 talks underway with Yorkshire leaders, says Number 10

Discussions about coronavirus restrictions were also taking place with leaders from the North East, South Yorkshire, West Yorkshire and Nottinghamshire, Downing Street has said. 

With Labour demanding a national "circuit-breaker" and the Welsh Government announcing its own "fire break" lockdown, the Prime Minister's official spokesman defended the regional approach.

"We keep all of our measures under review but the PM has made very clear that he doesn't want a return to something like a national lockdown and he believes that our three-tiered approach is the right way forward," the spokesman said.

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

12:39 PM

EU must show 'maturity' and 'respect' to strike last-minute deal, says minister

The EU must show Britain more "respect" and "maturity" if an 11th-hour Brexit trade deal is to be secured in the remaining time, a Cabinet minister has said.

Today's meeting between David Frost and Michel Barnier, the two chief negotiators, has been downgraded to a phone call after Boris Johnson last week put the UK on notice to prepare for a no deal at the end of this year. 

Speaking this morning Robert Jenrick, the Housing Secretary, said Brussels hadn't "shown the flexibility and respect that a sovereign nation negotiating with another sovereign nation" should. 

"In a pandemic, in a health crisis, we want to make sure we have the best possible relationship with our nearest trading partner," he told Sky News. "It would be sensible for them to go the extra mile, to come closer to us on the points that remain. They haven't done so yet.

He noted the "door is still ajar" for a deal, if although stressed that businesses shouldn't be "overly concerned" about the prospect of leaving without. 

12:23 PM

Lobby latest: Manchester's hospitals to be overwhelmed by November 12, Downing Street warns

Greater Manchester's intensive care capacity could be overwhelmed with Covid-19 cases by November 12, Downing Street said as it increased pressure on the region to accept Tier 3 coronavirus restrictions.

The best case scenario modelled by the SPI-M group of advisers estimates that all free ICU capacity would be used by Octover 28, and we would pass the peak of the first wave by November 2 without action. 

Covid patients would take up the whole ICU capacity by November 8, and go on to pass the entire surge capacity by November 12, online with the peak of the first wave. 

Asked if that meant hospitals being overwhelmed, the PM's official spokesman said: "Yes, that's the entire surge ICU capacity."

12:04 PM

Chefs and farmers lead noisy protest against 'devastating' Tier 2 restrictions

Outside the Houses of Parliament this morning there was a noisy demonstration in central London against "devastating" Tier 2 coronavirus restrictions.

Around 200 workers including high-profile chef Yotam Ottolenghi filled Parliament Square with noise, by banging metal cooking utensils. 

Mr Ottolenghi, 51, a chef and food writer, said the restrictions would "kill viable businesses" and called for "proper Government support" to avoid having the industry "killed" by 'tiered' restrictions.

Max Ruddle, a farmer who supplies restaurants and bars in London, told PA: "We're making a noise so that they over there can start creating solutions instead of making more problems. We just need a bit of support so we can keep supporting our families. When one (restaurant) closes, it has a knock-on effect, and the chain reaction is devastating."

Wearing chef whites and a toque executive chef Ronnie Murray said: "I don't know whether we're going to be made redundant, whether something's going to happen or not - it's not looking great." 

Protesters banged pots and pans outside Parliament - Reuters
Protesters banged pots and pans outside Parliament - Reuters
Hundreds of protesters have taken part in the demonstration outside Parliament - Reuters
Hundreds of protesters have taken part in the demonstration outside Parliament - Reuters

11:51 AM

Mark Drakeford must be 'honest' about future of 'rolling lockdowns', says Conservative leader

The leader of the Welsh Conservatives has called on Mark Drakeford to "be honest this road they are taking us down is committing Wales to rolling Wales-wide lockdowns".

Paul Davies, leader of the opposition in the Senedd, said: "This is not a two-week break to solve the pandemic, it is likely that we will see regular lockdowns across the rest of the year...  this national lockdown is not proportionate."

He added: "The impact on businesses in areas such as Powys, Pembrokeshire and Ceredigion, who have the lowest rate of Covid-19 cases in Wales, will be severe at a time when they are desperately struggling to recover from the pandemic so far this year.

"The First Minister needs to urgently come to the Welsh Parliament and answer these questions, to face effective scrutiny by elected representatives and not run his government by media."

Three-tier postcode tool
Three-tier postcode tool

11:46 AM

Watch: Circuit breaker in England 'worst-case scenario', says Jenrick

While it has now been confirmed that Wales will have a two-week mini-lockdown (or "firebreak" in Mark Drakeford's terminology), the UK Government is still holding out on putting one in place for England. 

Scotland and Northern Ireland have both imposed circuit breakers, with the government in Belfast opting for a four-week long period of restrictions. 

Asked about the prospects of England following suit this morning, Robert Jenrick said it was not his preference - but he didn't exactly rule it out. See what he said in the video below. 

11:41 AM

Wales will use firebreak to 'come out better prepared', says First Minister

The Welsh Government will undertake a "whole series of things" during the firebreak lockdown so the nation can "come out of it better prepared for the winter ahead", Mark Drakeford has said. 

That will include giving people who work in Wales' Test, Trace and Protect system time to catch up on work and allow the NHS "to accelerate plans for the deployment of field hospitals".  

Officials will also "review and regularise different fixed penalty notices to ensure they are fair, proportionate, and have continuity of approach," he added. 

11:37 AM

No Firework's Night or Halloween gatherings in Wales - but Remembrance Sunday will go ahead

The firebreak rules in Wales will not allow for bonfires on Fireworks Night or gatherings for Halloween, Mark Drakeford has said. 

But the First Minister has confirmed that events planned by the British Legion and others to mark Remembrance Sunday on November 8 can still go ahead. 

"Every little action we take to work together will make a difference," he told his press conference. The rules would be "self policing" as it would be "very obvious if people try to break the law".

But marking Remembrance Sunday "seems more important than ever at a point where further sacrifices are being asked of us all," he added. 

"They will be small in scale, very different to previous years, but those are the only gatherings that will be an exception," Mr Drakeford confirmed. 

No public bonfires or Hallowe'en gatherings in Wales - Christopher Pledger
No public bonfires or Hallowe'en gatherings in Wales - Christopher Pledger

11:33 AM

Wales has 'small window' to get coronavirus back under control, says Mark Drakeford

Wales has just a small window to get coronavirus back under control, Mark Drakeford has said. 

The First Minister stressed the firebreak would only run until November 9, warning that the benefits would not be seen at that point. 

Noting the widespread lockdown fatigue and desire to return to normality, he said: "Unfortunately we do not yet have a vaccine that would allow that to happen and a firebreak is our best chance of regaining control of the virus and avoiding a much longer and much more damaging national lockdown. The window we have is only a small one and to be successful we need everybody's help. 

"This is the moment to come together to play our part in a common endeavour... if we act together we can succeed."

Mr Drakeford says he has written to the Chancellor to give Welsh businesses "early access" to schemes ahead of the November start. The Welsh Government has offered to pay the difference, he says, but "it is only the UK Government that has the financial power" to guarantee support. 

11:25 AM

People of Wales told to 'stay at home' for two weeks from Friday

Everyone in Wales "will have to stay at home" unless they have to leave for work, Mark Drakeford has said, as he confirms the two-week firebreak. 

All non-essential retail and leisure and tourism will close, "just as they had to during March", the First Minister said.  There will be no household mixing, "either indoors or outdoors", he added. 

Libraries and community centres will be shut, along with recycling centres. All places of worship will be closed except for funerals and weddings. 

Primary schools will reopen as normal after the half term break, while early years childcare can continue to operate as normal. 
Secondary schools will reopen but for children in years seven and eight only, although those taking exams can also attend. "Everyone else must stay at home for an extra week," said Mr Drakeford. Universities can offer a blend of in person and online learning.

What is a circuit breaker?
What is a circuit breaker?

11:21 AM

Two-week firebreak confirmed for Wales

Wales will be entering a two-week firebreak from this Friday, First Minister Mark Drakeford has confirmed.

It will include half term and until until November 9, he added. It was the shortest we could make it but it will have to be "sharp and deep" to have the necessary impact. 

During his regular press briefing, he said there were "no easy answers" but without doing anything, the number of people being hospitalised would surge and the NHS overwhelmed. 

Mr Drakeford added; "Unless we act, the NHS will not be able to look after the increasing number of people who are falling seriously ill, even with the extra 5,000 beds we have available for this winter. And most starkly of all, even more people will have to die from this serious disease."

He warned that an "open-ended lockdown" like the one in the spring would be enforced without the "short sharp shock" of a firebreak now. 

First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford speaks during a press conference  - Getty
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford speaks during a press conference - Getty

11:13 AM

The week on Planet Normal: our Government's rocket is heading for lockdown

Rather than recognising the growing gap between cases and deaths, Boris Johnson is now turning the screw even tighter. The new three-tier system, given the huge north-south rift it’s causing, could yet become a de facto national lockdown by the back door, as discussed in this week's episode of Planet Normal.

The Prime Minister is being pushed by his medical advisors to, once again, close down the country almost entirely. They, like so many lockdown enthusiasts, are paid by the state – it’s not their jobs and mortgages on the line. Johnson must weigh the now very questionable gains of lockdown against the absolutely certain drawbacks of economic collapse – which will cost lives, as well as livelihoods.

“We oldies should just use our common sense, while everyone else gets on with their lives,” says James, who is 79, writing to us at

“We’re sacrificing the health, wealth and well-being of millions for this messianic, ill-founded belief that curtailing freedom can control a virus,” says Deborah, who is 71.

Planet Normal podcast - Sue Cook
Planet Normal podcast - Sue Cook

10:58 AM

Government 'pulling the wool over people's eyes' on Brexit, says Ed Miliband

Labour has attacked the Government for "trying to pull the wool over people's eyes" after a Cabinet minister this morning said the difference between an Australian-style Brexit and a no deal Brexit was "semantics".

Discussing Boris Johnson's decision to put the country on notice for an "Australian-style" departure from the EU, Alok Sharma told LBC: "You can use the phrase 'no deal', but the point is there is a deal," before adding:"It's a question of semantics at the end of the day, sure.

Ed Miliband, former Labour leader and shadow business secretary, said: "A 'No Deal' might just be semantics for Alok Sharma, but it's not semantics for the manufacturers, farmers and many businesses across the country who have been clear that it could have serious economic consequences for them.

"The Government is trying to pull the wool over people's eyes to pretend No Deal doesn't mean No Deal. The Business Secretary should be listening to businesses and pulling out all the stops to deliver the deal Ministers promised was oven ready, not dismissing their concerns."

Ed Miliband: Unimpressed - Reuters
Ed Miliband: Unimpressed - Reuters

10:44 AM

Labour leader praises NHS as he wishes hospitalised MP well

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has said his thoughts are with the MP who was admitted to hospital with pneumonia after contracting coronavirus.  

He also praised the staff at the Royal Bolton Hospital, who are caring for Yasmin Qureshi, "along with NHS staff across the country who are on the frontline against Covid-19."

10:40 AM

Grenfell refurbishment project manager 'binned' notebooks a year after fire

A project manager involved in the Grenfell Tower refurbishment has told the inquiry she "binned" her own notebooks relating to the revamp after she left her job at the Grenfell Tower landlords almost a year after the fire in June 2017.

Claire Williams, who worked for the Kensington and Chelsea Tenant Management Organisation (TMO), told the inquiry: "I didn't keep them. If the police didn't take them, I binned them... Everything that was in there I would have thought is actually documented elsewhere."

Sir Martin said: "I find it difficult to understand why you should have thought first of all the notes you had kept might not add something of value to the formal records and why you should think it right to take it upon yourself to decide that question."

Ms Williams said: "As I'm sitting here now, I agree with you. The police may have taken them but I know there was none left in the office when I left ... I cleared my desk.

"I think I just tidied up the desk, I would have looked at them and thought 'there's nothing here that isn't in formal evidence' and so I got rid of them."

Grenfell Tower was destroyed by a fire, killing 72 people, in June 2017 - Reuters
Grenfell Tower was destroyed by a fire, killing 72 people, in June 2017 - Reuters

10:28 AM

Students to get same 'generosity' in exams grading next summer, says Ofqual

Students who are sitting GCSE and A-level exams this autumn will be given the same "generosity" in their grades as in the summer, Ofqual has confirmed.

England's exams regulator has said it is "working with exam boards to carry forward the generosity from summer 2020 grades", the majority of which were based on grades submitted by schools or colleges.

In a blog, Ofqual adds: "Examiners will be guided by proxy grade boundaries. Exam boards will generate these by looking at how far the 2019 grade boundaries for each specification would have to move to achieve the proportion of students at the key grades we saw for each of those specifications in summer 2020.

"Archive student work, as well as several other sources of evidence about where grade boundaries should be set, will also be considered."

Last week, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson announced that the 2021 exams will go ahead in England, but they will be delayed by three weeks next year.

10:19 AM

Labour MP hospitalised with pneumonia after contracting coronvirus

A Labour MP has been hospitalised with pneumonia, after contracting coronavirus two weeks ago. 

Yasmin Qureshi, the MP for Bolton South East and shadow international development minister, has posted an update on Facebook, saying that she had self-isolated along with her family after she "began to feel unwell" and tested positive for Covid-19 a fortnight ago. 

"I continued to work as best I could remotely, attending virtual meetings and doing casework, but after 10 days, I began to feel much worse and on Saturday I was admitted to the Royal Bolton Hospital with pneumonia," she added.  

"I'm being very well looked after and have nothing but praise and admiration for the wonderful staff at the hospital.  They have been amazing throughout the process and I would like to extend my thanks to everyone working here in such difficult circumstances."

Yasmin Qureshi - AP
Yasmin Qureshi - AP

10:10 AM

Government readying 'test and release regime', says Grant Shapps

The Government is developing a coronavirus "test and release regime" for international arrivals, Grant Shapps has said.

The Transport Secretary told the Airlines 2050 conference: "My ministerial colleagues and I have agreed a regime, based on a single test provided by the private sector and at the cost to the passenger, after a period of self-isolation and doing those things could achieve our objectives.

"The next step is to develop how this approach can be implemented."

He added: "It will mean a single test for international arrivals, a week after arrival."

Grant Shapps - Reuters
Grant Shapps - Reuters

10:08 AM

Scrap quarantine to save aviation industry, ministers told

New British Airways chief executive Sean Doyle has called on the Government to scrap the self-isolation requirement for international arrivals, saying "we do not believe quarantine is the solution".

The Government has been petitioned for some months now to introduce airport testing in order to cut the amount of time people are forced to self-isolate after travelling from red list countries. Earlier this month, ministers announced the creation of a taskforce to look into it.

He told the Airlines 2050 conference: "We believe the best way to reassure people is to introduce a reliable and affordable test before flying. For the UK, this approach reduces the stress on the NHS testing systems within the UK and on policing the quarantine system.

"If we look abroad to our near neighbours, we see that business travel and indeed tourism is being prioritised by some countries," he added. "We need to get the economy moving again and this just isn't possible when you're asking people to quarantine for 14 days.

"It's our view that even if that quarantine period is reduced to seven days, people won't travel here and the UK will get left behind."

09:49 AM

Matt Hancock dragged into Tony Blair's quarantine row

A row over Tony Blair seemingly ignoring quarantine rules by failing to self-isolate after a trip to the US is threatening to engulf Matt Hancock. 

The former prime minister is understood to have contacted the Health Secretary directly before flying to Washington DC for an event at the White House. Ten days after his return to London, Mr Blair was photographed leaving a private members club in Mayfair, four days ahead of the quarantine end.  

It is suggested that Mr Blair was aware of the quarantine rules but had sought special dispensation by obtaining an official exemption letter needed to circumvent them. Sources confirmed Mr Hancock had spoken to Mr Blair but advised the 67-year-old to apply to the Foreign Office for the necessary exemption.

Read the full story here.

09:32 AM

Deploy £14m-a-month 'shielding programme' instead of shutting down Manchester, says council leader

The leader of Manchester City Council has called for the Government to deploy a £14million-a-month "shielding programme" to protect those most at risk from coronavirus while keeping the economy open. 

Sir Richard Leese, who joined Andy Burnham on the steps of Manchester Town Hall during last week's press conference, has written a blog claiming that the Government's approach "is not based on the evidence or supported by the science".

"The dispute is often represented as being simply about money," he wrote. "However, more important than money are the actions to address the problem."

Sir Richard noted that while case numbers are rising, the vast majority of people who test positive "are not getting particularly ill" while improved treatments mean that hospital staff are expecting much lower fatality rates this winter than in the spring. 

"Wouldn't it be much better to have an effective shielding programme for those most at risk, rather than have a blanket business closure policy of dubious efficacy," he wrote. "Greater Manchester have estimated the cost of a shielding programme at around £14m a month, less than a fifth of the estimated cost of business closures.

"Sadly, government, having forced through badly thought regulations, seem unwilling to think again."

09:23 AM

Have your say on: Brexit deal or no deal?

On Friday Boris Johnson told the UK it was time to prepare for a no deal Brexit when transition comes to a close at the end of the year. 

Downing Street doubled down on that, saying "talks are over", and pointed the finger of blame at Brussels. Michel Barnier's trip to London was cancelled, and a new business-focused awareness campaign has been launched, in a demonstration of just how serious things have got. 

But over the weekend, Michael Gove made it clear things weren't quite so black and white suggesting the "door is ajar" if the EU shows some flexibility. 

That was echoed by Robert Jenrick this morning, adding that the EU must show "respect" and "maturity" from here on, and Mr Barnier's meeting has been resurrected in the form of a phone call. 

So is this just more negotiating tactics - or does Number 10 mean business? Have your say in the poll below. 

09:00 AM

ONS: Most of 25,000 excess deaths in homes not caused by Covid

There have been more than 25,000 excess deaths in private homes in England since the start of the pandemic - and the majority of them were not caused by coronavirus, ONS figures show. 

Between December 28 last year and September 11 there were more than 108, deaths registered, 25,472 more than the five-year average. 

In Wales over the same period there were 7,440 deaths registered, which is 1,624 higher than the five-year average.

These excess deaths in private homes in England and Wales were mostly due to deaths not involving coronavirus, the ONS said. 

The leading cause of death for males was Ischaemic Heart Disease, which was was 25.9 per cent above the five-year average for private homes in England. However in hospitals these deaths were 22.4 per cent lower than the five-year average.

08:50 AM

Brexit: Difference between Australia deal and no-deal 'semantics', Cabinet minister admits

The difference between an Australia-style post-Brexit trade deal and no deal are "semantics", a Cabinet minister has admitted.

Number 10 has been pretty insistent that an Aussie deal is not like a no deal because there are agreements around data, security and so on. 

But Alok Sharma appears not to have got the memo. The Business Secretary told LBC: "The Australia deal is the deal that you have with countries where you are predominately working on a WTO (World Trade Organisation) basis."

"You can use the phrase 'no deal', but the point is there is a deal."

He added: "It's a question of semantics at the end of the day, sure.

08:36 AM

No Manchester deal until 'framework' for guaranteed salary subsidy is agreed, says Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham has said "nothing has changed" for Greater Manchester's leaders, calling on the Government to go further before they agree to Tier 3 restrictions. 

The Greater Manchester mayor told Sky News it was "not about the size of the cheque", following the Telegraph's report that the Government was offering £100 million to pave the way for a deal. 

"Tier 3, I think, should have fair financial framework, set out and endorsed by Parliament," he explained. "At the moment it's side deals with local areas but who knows if that money will be enough."

He called for a guaranteed 80 per cent of salaries for those who cannot work under these restrictions to "give people that certainty", saying it should not be left "to these deals that the Government is trying to do" behind closed doors. 

It should be the same for people who are self-employed, he added. 

08:23 AM

Adding to the agenda...

We will also be hearing from Michael Gove, about Brexit, and Matt Hancock, about coronavirus, today. 

It's not clear exactly when yet but they should be back-to-back from 3:30pm this afternoon.

08:16 AM

What's on the agenda today?

Most of the action today is likely to take place behind closed doors, not least the David Frost-Michel Barnier phone call and ongoing conversations between officials and ministers and the leaders of Greater Manchester. 

However there is plenty taking place in public too:

9.30am: The ONS publishes figures on deaths in private homes in England and Wales.

10:30ish: Grant Shapps to speak at the  Airlines 2050 conference

12pm: Downing Street is due to hold its lobby briefing.

12.15pm: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh First Minister, will hold his regular coronavirus briefing where he is expected to confirm the nation's new "fire break" restrictions from the end of this week.

12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon will hold her regular coronavirus briefing.

From 1.30pm: Lords begin the first day of the second reading debate on the internal market bill.

2:30pm: DWP questions with Therese Coffey and others from the team.

4pm: Sir Patrick Vallance, Chief Scientific Adviser, gives evidence to joint national security strategy committee.

08:01 AM

Wales poised to confirm 'fire break' mini-lockdown

Speaking of devolution, all eyes are on Cardiff, where the Welsh Government is meeting this morning to make a decision on whether to bring in a two-or-three week "fire-break" lockdown.

Last week a leaked letter revealed plans for a mini-lockdown to begin at 6pm on October 23 and last until November 9, and will see all but essential retail outlets close. If Wales goes into such restrictions that will leave England as the only nation in the UK to resist a "circuit breaker".

Yesterday a Welsh Government spokesperson said: "There is a growing consensus we now need to introduce a different set of measures and actions to respond to the virus as it continues to spread across Wales more quickly during the autumn and winter months ahead.

“Ministers have held a number of meetings over the weekend with senior Welsh Government officials, scientists and public health experts to consider their advice on a potential need for a ‘fire break’ set of measures to control the virus."

Mark Drakeford, the First Minister, is expected to confirm any plans during his regular press conference at 12:15pm today. 

07:56 AM

Nick Timothy: Devolution is a mess that fails the public and endangers the Union

When it comes to the Union, the Government has only two modes: complacency and panic. We will soon see ministers switch from the former to the latter, writes Nick Timothy.

Next May, Scotland will go to the polls and Nicola Sturgeon will seek a further term in office and mandate for a second independence referendum. The polls suggest she will win a resounding majority: Labour in Scotland remains an empty shell, while Tory strategists report that Conservative supporters, and avowed unionists, say they will vote SNP because “we have to keep Nicola”.

While the desire to break the Union motivates everything the Scottish government does, the UK Government does precious little to strengthen it. While Westminster devolves and forgets, the Nationalists dominate the Scottish state, purge unionists from positions of influence, bully critics into silence, and steer Scotland to an ever more distant relationship with England.

07:46 AM

Tory MPs' letter to Andy Burnham 'not helpful', says Cabinet minister

A letter signed by 20 Tory MPs to Andy Burnham, urging him to drop his opposition to Tier 3 restrictions for Greater Manchester, is not "helpful", a Cabinet Minister has said. 

Organised by Jerome Mayhew, the MP for Broadland, the letter called on Mr Burnham to “engage” with the Government’s regional approach in order to spare other areas the “pain” of tougher blanket restrictions. But it backfired with Red Wall MPs publicly hitting out against it, and the whole thing descending into (yet another)  ‘blue on blue’ row.

Asked about it this morning, Robert Jenrick said: "I don't think it’s helpful to pit one part of the country against another. It is clear that there are different rates of cases in different parts of the country....

"I do think it’s important we don't get into a narrative that it is North vs South or one part of country vs another," he added. "This is affecting all of us."

07:29 AM

Communities Secretary says he 'hopes' Tier 3 will be lifted by Christmas

Robert Jenrick has said he "hopes" those regions in Tier 3 will be able to have restrictions lifted before Christmas. 

The Communities Secretary said the local lockdowns were part of a "four week process, at the end of which measures subject to a sunset clause".

At that point "we will have comprehensive discussion with local leaders about what is the best way to proceed," he added.

Robert Jenrick - PA Wire
Robert Jenrick - PA Wire

07:26 AM

No circuit breaker 'for as long as wide variations' remain in cases, says Cabinet minister

The Government will resist calls for a national circuit breaker "for as long as there are such wide variations in infection", Robert Jenrick has said. 

The Housing and Communities Secretary told BBC's Today programme that "the argument for a national circuit breaker is not one that I personally find at all persuasive", pointing to the difference between case rates in Nottingham, where they are "well over 700" per 100,000, compared with Somerset or Herefordshire, where cases are around 40 per 100,000. 

A circuit breaker would see schools and most workplaces shut, which would cause "very, very significant" damage to the economy and the country's well being, he argued. 

"The Government's approach is a proportionate and localised approach for as long as such wide variations in infection [and] that is supported by the evidence," he said. 

Coronavirus UKLA current
Coronavirus UKLA current

07:20 AM

Government to have 'final discussions' on Greater Manchester today

The Government will have "final discussions" with local leaders in Greater Manchester today, Robert Jenrick has said, saying they need to be drawn to a conclusion now. 

The Communities Secretary said: "We have had productive and constructive conversations for many days now. The situation remains serious, number of cases is concerningly high... and the number of cases going into hospitals and the strain on hospitals in Manchester is now very clear. 

"We do now need to draw these conversations to a conclusion. We are willing to have final discussions with council leaders and mayor in Greater Manchester today to see if we can reach an amicable agreement."

Asked about points made by Conservative MPs such as Sir Graham Brady, who argue that the evidence for putting the region into Tier 3 is weak, Mr Jenrick stressed that the case rates were "concerning" and the trend would result in more hospitalisations than at peak if left unchecked.  

Are Covid-19 cases rising or falling in your area? All local authorities with lookup. Updates automatically
Are Covid-19 cases rising or falling in your area? All local authorities with lookup. Updates automatically

07:13 AM

Manchester to get equivalent 'resources' to Merseyside for Tier 3 deal, says Robert Jenrick

The Government will offer Manchester an equivalent sum to those given to other regions in order to agree a deal with local leaders to impose new coronavirus restrictions, the Communities Secretary has said. 

This morning the Telegraph reported that the Government will offer Manchester £100 million to accept Tier-3 restrictions or risk having them imposed against their will. Liverpool was given almost £50 million in support when it agreed to tier three status, covering extra money for local businesses and for enhanced test and trace.

Manchester, with double the population of Merseyside, is expected to be offered twice as much.

Asked about the sum, Robert Jenrick said: "It isn’t primarily about money, it should be about public health, that is our priority. We are  willing of course to support the council and the local business community. We did that in Merseyside and Lancashire, and if Manchester is willing to do the same then obviously we will put in the resources to do that."

But he stressed ministers were offering other forms of support too. 

Mr Jenrick added: "I have offered, in discussions that we have had, a range of different things that local leaders would like.

"Whether that's greater control over local tracing, whether it is use of the armed forces, whether it is more resources for local councils. We want to put together a package of measures that will actually work."

07:02 AM

Greater Manchester talks have 'gone on too long', says Cabinet minister

Robert Jenrick has urged Andy Burnham and other leaders in Greater Manchester to agree a deal today, saying the "uncertainty" caused by the stand-off is not helpful to the region's residents.

The Cabinet minister, who has been involved directly in the talks, told Sky News: "I think the discussions have been productive but they have probably gone on too long now. We need to reach an agreement with local leaders.

"I am hopeful that we can reach an agreement, but we do need to conclude this now.

"There has been a sense of uncertainty, which isn't helpful to people living in Greater Manchester," added the Communities Secretary. 

"More importantly, the number of cases is rising and the pressure on some of the hospitals in Greater Manchester is there for all to see. I think further measures and action now is important."

Three-tier Covid lockdown map
Three-tier Covid lockdown map

06:59 AM

'Contours of an agreement' in place for Manchester, says Robert Jenrick

Discussions between the Government and local leaders in Greater Manchester continue today, with the Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick saying he was "hopeful" an agreement will be reached. 

"The contours of an agreement are there," he told Sky News. 

"But, as I say, every side needs to now come together and reach an amicable conclusion for the sake of people in Greater Manchester."

Mr Jenrick said the Government was "willing to put in the resources" to strike a deal, which he said could come today or tomorrow at the very latest. 

He didn't reject the £100m figure when it was put to him, as reported in today's Telegraph, although stressed there was more to the deal than just money such as local control over Test and Trace.

06:51 AM

Michael Gove says the door remains 'ajar' for post-Brexit trade deal with EU

The door to a trade deal with the EU remains “ajar” Michael Gove has said, as he and Boris Johnson’s chief negotiator prepare for talks with their counterparts on Monday.

Mr Gove said the EU had “drawn stumps” on a deal by insisting that any further compromises must come from Britain, but the two sides will continue talking this week.

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has cancelled a planned trip to London on Monday, but he and his counterpart Lord Frost are expected to speak by telephone today.

Meanwhile, Mr Gove will hold face to face talks in London with Maros Sefcovic, who co-chairs the EU-UK joint committee dedicated to solving outstanding problems with the EU Withdrawal Agreement.