Politics latest news: Businesses could be shut down for a week if they flout Covid rules

Cat Neilan
·49-min read
Councils can shut a business for seven days if it flouts Covid rules - PA
Councils can shut a business for seven days if it flouts Covid rules - PA

Councils will be given new powers to shut down and fine local businesses up to £4,000 if they flout Covid-19 rules, Downing Street has said. 

To bolster enforcement in top tier areas, local authorities will be able to issue three types of notice to ensure that premises are operating safely. 

The first is a coronavirus improvement notice, given companies 48 hours to improve their protocols. If they fail to abide by the request, councils can issue fines of £2,000. 

Councils also have the option to issue an immediate restriction notice which requires firms to shut for 48 hours while they make improvements. 

And in the most severe cases, a restriction notice can be sent which requires businesses to shut their doors for seven days.

Breaches of these restrictions notice can results in a £4,000 fine. 

The Prime Minister's spokesman told reporters: "Until now, local authorities have been able to issue fines to businesses who have failed to comply with the legal obligations to be Covid-secure. "The new powers will allow them to formally request rapid improvement or close these premises where appropriate through the issuing of notices."

Follow the latest updates below.

04:00 PM

And that's it for another day...

MPs are quietly digesting Boris Johnson's new tiered system and what it means to them, with plenty of back-channel conversations taking place on Zoom. 

Several Tories have made it clear that they won't back the new form of restrictions, which are designed to see us through until spring. However others have suggested that their support will depend on which tier their constituency is placed in. Either way, the Prime Minister looks likely to have another rebellion on his hands - the only question is how big. 

Our readers were emphatic today: some 67 per cent said MPs should block the whole thing, with a further nine per cent saying they should do so if faced with Tier 3. Only 24 per cent of you felt the tiered system was the right approach. 

However, that fight is for another day: tomorrow Rishi Sunak is likely to take the heat over rumoured plans to cut overseas aid - something high profile names including Jeremy Hunt have warned against. 

But there is still hope that Michael Gove could pull a sizeable Christmas present out of the bag, following his Cobra meeting this afternoon. 

We will bring you all the latest news from Westminster from 8am tomorrow. 

Rishi Sunak readies his spending review for tomorrow - HM Treasury
Rishi Sunak readies his spending review for tomorrow - HM Treasury

03:51 PM

No change to Scottish restrictions despite 'optimism' over drop in cases

No further changes will be made to coronavirus restrictions in Scotland this week despite evidence the virus is in decline, Nicola Sturgeon has said.

East Lothian moved from Level 3 to Level 2 of the Scottish Government's five-tier system on Tuesday morning but the First Minister told MSPs in the Scottish Parliament this will be the only change.

The majority of Scots remain in the first of three weeks of strict measures that have closed all non-essential shops and prevented travel to other areas.

Ms Sturgeon told MSPs that 41 deaths and 771 positive tests have been recorded in the past 24 hours.

She said restrictions "are having an impact" and infection numbers have "stabilised".

"We now have grounds for cautious optimism that numbers may be declining," she said.

03:44 PM

Revealed: The five key metrics that will determine your area’s new lockdown tier

The controversial plan to break England into three tiers is based on five measures shrouded in secrecy, which experts are now rushing to analyse.

Though the Prime Minister's 'Covid Winter Plan' stops short of revealing exact lockdown triggers, it does give the key indicators determining how tough rules will be in different parts of the country from December 2.

Case rates and surges, particularly among the over 60s, as well as pressures on the testing and health systems will all be taken into account by No 10 when the new tiers are announced on Thursday. 

Read the full details here.

03:36 PM

Boris Johnson under fire in the Lords over loyalty to Priti Patel

The Prime Minister has come under fresh fire in the Lords over his decision to stand by Home Secretary Priti Patel after she was found to have shouted and sworn at staff.

Liberal Democrat Lord Tyler said the PM had promised the ministerial code would outlaw bullying and harassment but had "made the process a sham and the outcome shambolic".

Lord Tyler said Mr Johnson had pre-judged the inquiry into the Home Secretary's behaviour and tried to "tone down" the report before "rubbishing its recommendations".

He asked why civil servants or anyone else should now trust the PM's promises.

Lord True said the PM had considered all the inquiry's findings carefully and "weighing up all the factor's his judgment is that the ministerial code wasn't breached". He declined to comment on any individual case but said being at the top of a department was a challenging role for ministers and civil servants alike.

"Frankly, I haven't known many snowflakes in either of those capacities," he added.

03:23 PM

Watch: Grant Shapps urges people to think 'carefully' about travelling over Christmas

We are eagerly anticipating news of how many family members we will be allowed to see this Christmas, with Michael Gove chairing a Cobra meeting with devolved leaders this afternoon. 

But his Cabinet colleague Grant Shapps suggested this morning that, whatever the outcome, people should consider whether they need to do so. 

Watch his interview below. 

03:19 PM

It will take more than vaccines to cure long economic Covid

The vaccines from Pfizer, Moderna, and AstraZeneca have pulled forward the expected timetable of global economic and financial recovery by roughly a month to six weeks.

They reduce the period of maximum damage to the productive base of the economy, and therefore lower the risk of dangerous metastasis. The mere prospect of vaccines amounts to economic stimulus. It lifts output through confidence and helps to unlock frozen capex investment.

The breakthroughs are a superb scientific achievement. Ten years’ work has been packed into ten months.

But, as Ambrose Evans-Pritchard argues, it will take more than that to cure the country from long economic Covid.

03:04 PM

Mark Drakeford warns of 'inevitable' case rise caused by Christmas easements

It is "inevitable" that a loosening of coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will "drive a rise" of infections, Mark Drakeford has said. 

The Welsh First Minister told the Senedd he would not necessarily adopt the three-tiered approach unveiled by Boris Johnson yesterday ahead of the festive period. 

"The Cabinet will meet again before the end of this week to see whether there are lessons for us to draw from what is happening elsewhere and a common approach across the United Kingdom in the lead-up to the Christmas period and importantly as well, in the way in which we will all have to deal with the inevitable consequences of the relaxation, which will drive a rise of coronavirus," he added. 

"That is inevitable and we need to prepare together to cope with the consequences."

02:53 PM

More than 50 MPs urge regulator to freeze their pay

More than 50 MPs have written to Ipsa, the independent regulator which sets their salaries, to ask that their pay be frozen in line with other public sector workers this year. 

"In the current circumstances we do not consider a pay rise appropriate or justifiable," said Bishop Auckland MP Dehenna Davison.

"Whilst so many of our constituents face uncertainty, it is only right we play our part."

02:47 PM

Decision on Christmas should be taken closer to the day, says Jeremy Hunt

Jeremy Hunt has suggested that a decision about whether to lift restrictions for Christmas should not be taken until closer to the festive period. 

"The virus doesn’t care if it’s Christmas and no one would want to let things run riot over Christmas and then have more infections and deaths in January and February as a result," the former health secretary told BBC's World at One.

"If we are disciplined enough in the run up to Christmas, and particularly that period between December 2 and Christmas Eve, then it may well be possible to have a prudent lifting of the restrictions to allow some mixing but we do have to look at what the infection rates are doing a bit closer to the time.”

The chair of the Health Select Committee also called for the Government to do more to financially support those who have to self-isolate, saying the £500 payment is "very welcome" but loss of earnings should be fully refunded. 

He noted that "in the end the cost to the state is much higher". 

Jeremy Hunt: Christmas decision should be delayed - PA
Jeremy Hunt: Christmas decision should be delayed - PA

02:43 PM

Sir Charles Walker demands Boris Johnson explain why elderly lady was arrested over Covid protest

Sir Charles Walker has called for Boris Johnson to come to the Commons today to explain why an "elderly lady peacefully protesting" has been arrested and taken "spread-eagle to a police van". 

"This is a disgrace," the vice-chair of the 1922 Committee has said. "It is un-British, it is unconstitutional and this Government - our Prime Minister - needs to end these injustices now."

He called on the deputy speaker to "bring the Prime Minister and/or the Home Secretary here today". 

"She was an old lady, robbed of her dignity, for having the courage to protest about having her fundamental rights... removed."

02:33 PM

No 'quantifiable answer' to impact of lifting lockdown for Christmas, says Mark Drakeford

Ministers do not have "a quantifiable answer" to what the impact of loosening coronavirus restrictions over Christmas will be, Mark Drakeford has said.

The Welsh First Minister told the Senedd: "While I don't have a quantifiable answer to that at the moment, the general answer is very clear.

"It will lead to more spreading of coronavirus because coronavirus thrives when people get together and the more people get together, the more coronavirus there will be.

"It's why I have been arguing in the meetings we have had for a focus not just on a small number of days of Christmas itself, but the decisions we need to take in the lead-up to Christmas and how we will deal with the aftermath and to try to do that on a broadly common basis as well."

Mark Drakeford - PA
Mark Drakeford - PA

02:26 PM

Christmas lifting of lockdown 'not an instruction to do risky things', says Welsh First Minister

People will be asked to celebrate Christmas responsibility regardless of which restrictions are in place, the Welsh First Minister has said.

Mark Drakeford told the Welsh Parliament that he was "very hopeful" that progress would be made at the Cobra meeting this afternoon, designed to agree a four-nations approach to the festive period.

"Whatever additional freedom we're able to offer over the Christmas period will have to be used responsibly by people," he added. "The fact that a relaxation is possible is not an instruction to go and spend the whole of that period doing risky things."

02:21 PM

Have your say: Should MPs block Boris Johnson's new tiered system

Boris Johnson set out plans yesterday for a new, tougher, three-tiered system which will replace England's lockdown from December 2. 

The putative rebellion so far looks to be smaller than the first time around, receiving a fraction of the Tory criticism he had for the initial plan. 

However that may be because large swathes of the party are biding their time, pressing the case for their constituencies not to be put into Tier 3. Number 10 has said it will confirm where the harshest measures will fall before a vote.

But should they support the principle regardless of the pain, in the knowledge that the vaccine "cavalry" is on the horizon? Or should it be resisted? Have your say in the poll below. 

02:19 PM

UK knew enough about coronavirus to act by January, leading scientist says

Enough was known about coronavirus by January for the UK to have started preparing - well before it actually did - a leading scientist has said.

Sir Jeremy Farrar, director of the Wellcome Trust, said that while information about the virus was "uncertain", action could have been taken.

Speaking at the Imperial College London's Abdul Latif Jameel Institute for Disease and Emergency Analytics's (J-IDEA) symposium on a post-Covid world, Sir Jeremy said: "The information you have early may be uncertain, but it's enough to act on.

"I would say that at the end of January we knew enough to have acted. And we waited. We waited out of uncertainty, we wanted to be more certain than we needed to be.

"But by the end of January, we knew that this was able to transmit asymptomatically, that it caused a nasty clinical syndrome and a significant number of people were dying, that healthcare workers were getting sick and distant family members were getting sick when people moved from Wuhan to Sichuan, that this was going out of China into other parts of south-east Asia, that we had no diagnostics, no treatment and no vaccines.

"To me, at the time - and this is not in retrospect - I think that was enough to have acted then in ways that we delayed."

02:01 PM

Further 353 people die with coronavirus in English hospitals

A further 353 people who tested positive for the coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 38,865.

Patients were aged between 10 and 100 years old. All except nine, aged 31 to 90 years old, had known underlying health conditions. The date of death ranges from 24 October to 23 November 2020 with the majority being on or after 21 November. 

The Midlands was the worst-affected region, with 101 deaths recorded, followed by the North East & Yorkshire, with 80 deaths. That was followed by the North West, with 71 deaths. 

In the South East there were 35 deaths, followed by the South West with 24. Both London and the East of England recorded 21 deaths.  

01:58 PM

Ben Bradley gets into another Twitter spat... this time with MLK's daughter

Conservative MP Ben Bradley is no stranger to the odd Twitter spat, including a memorable row after he linked free school meals with “crack dens” and “brothels”.

But the Mansfield MP might have reached a new high (or low) with his most recent interaction in which he was schooled about his interpretation of Martin Luther King Jr's famous 'I have a dream' speech by the activist's own daughter. 

Bernice King, the youngest child of the civil rights leader, told the MP: “My father’s point and central to his beliefs, teachings and activism (per his speeches/books) was this: We cannot condone racism, but must eradicate it as one of the pervasive, systemic, overt and destructive Triple Evils, with militarism and poverty being the other two.”

01:50 PM

Lord Chief Justice slams MPs for trying to influence decision on Elphicke character statements

The most senior judge in England and Wales has condemned politicians for seeking "to influence a judge" in the case of disgraced former Conservative MP Charlie Elphicke.

Several members of parliament wrote character statements for the ex-Dover MP, who was jailed for two years in September for sexually assaulting two women.

But MPs Sir Roger Gale, Adam Holloway, Colonel Bob Stewart and ex-environment secretary Theresa Villiers MP, along with Lord Freud, wrote to the Lord Chief Justice warning that publishing the character statements could "deter" people from providing similar background details in future cases.

Their letter was also signed also by Elphicke's estranged wife Natalie, who succeeded her husband as MP for Dover at the last election and announced the end of their marriage upon his conviction.

But a response from the office of the Lord Chief Justice for England and Wales said it was "improper" to seek to influence the decision of the judge.

Extracts of the response from Ben Yallop, the private secretary to the Lord Chief Justice, published by the Guardian newspaper, said: "It is all the more regrettable when representatives of the legislature, writing as such on House of Commons notepaper, seek to influence a judge in a private letter and do so without regard for the separation of powers or the independence of the judiciary...

"Judges must be free to make their decision independently of pressure or influence from all, including legislators."

01:40 PM

Sir Graham Brady hints that he will oppose vote on tiers

Sir Graham Brady has said that he is minded to oppose Boris Johnson on the latest set of tiered restrictions, despite not knowing which tier his constituency will be placed in. 

He told BBC Radio 4's The World at One: "We don't have the clarity. The tiers that are being envisaged, particularly the even more stringent Tier 3, would be extremely damaging for places that find themselves locked in it.

"We don't yet know what the Government is proposing to do."

He added: "My preference is to move to a very different approach, which would be trusting people more. Asking people to use their own judgment and common sense to protect themselves, and to protect others.

"And relying on some of the very sensible measures that have been put in place already."

Pressed on whether he would vote against further tiered restrictions, Sir Graham said: "I don't know yet what the substance of the votes that will offered will be, but my inclination would be to oppose this."

01:17 PM

Lobby latest: UK will remain major overseas aid donor, says Downing Street

Downing Street insisted that the UK would remain a major aid donor as speculation mounted that Rishi Sunak will slash the budget on Wednesday.

Numerous high profile Conservatives including Jeremy Hunt have spoken out against suggestions the budget will be cut from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent as the Chancellor looks to balance the books. 

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Boris Johnson had stressed that "the people of this country should be proud of the support we give around the world".

"The UK is and will remain one of the biggest contributors of aid of any country," the spokesman said.

"But, as we have said, it is important to look at where savings can be made and to ensure that aid spending is used effectively."

01:13 PM

Boris Johnson's battle over tiers shifts from North to South MPs

Boris Johnson's never-ending battle with his backbenchers looks set to shift from the North of England to the South, as MPs push back against their constituencies being placed in the highest tiers. 

Yesterday the Prime Minister warned that the majority of the country would fall in tiers two or three, ignoring calls for restrictions to be imposed on a district basis.

Data is being published tomorrow that will set out where the harshest measures are likely to fall, but Tory MPs from around the country are already lobbying to persuade Number 10 to exempt their region. 

MPs from the South East and London are scrambling to save their constituencies from measures which would see hospitality shuttered in the run-up to Christmas, with one MP noting the capital was "on its knees" already. 

The focal point for a potential rebellion is shifting from Jake Berry's Northern Research Group to the Covid Recovery Group, co-led by former chief whip Mark Harper and ex-minister Steve Baker. "The CRF will kick off as they just don't want any restrictions," said one MP.

Another senior backbencher warned that a "significant minority of Bakerites will continue to oppose" any restrictions at all. 

With rates in the North falling, one NRG member said he had "grounds for optimism" although kept the door open to a possible rebellion.

"Tiering decisions will be announced before a vote, so it will be a considerable factor," he said. 

01:09 PM

Lobby latest: UK-wide Christmas plan still expected, says Downing Street

The Government is still hoping for a UK-wide approach to the relaxation of restrictions over Christmas - despite talks taking longer than expected. 

Ahead of a Cobra meeting with the leaders of the devolved administrations chaired by Michael Gove, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have been clear of our desire to try and agree a four-nations approach which will allow families to meet up over the Christmas period."

Agreement has not yet been reached and it is not clear whether the Cobra meeting will provide certainty for families planning their Christmas break.

But the Number 10 spokesman said: "We continue to work with the devolved nations to agree a plan to allow families to meet up over Christmas.

"That work is ongoing and there will be a meeting later of Cobra to discuss it."

12:58 PM

Matt Hancock defends move to cut local leaders from tier decisons

Back at the joint Health and Science committees hearing, Matt Hancock has defended the decision to unilaterally impose tiered restrictions without negotiating with local leaders. 

The Health Secretary notes that the stand-off in Greater Manchester in early October meant "cases carried on going up while we tried to put om please the measures that were necessary". Instead he tells MPs that financial support will be set "by formula rather than by negotiation". 

However ministers "will of course engage with local authorities," he says. "Some of that is going on today ahead of the gold meeting and the decisions that will be announced on Thursday.

"We will engage with colleagues as well - I had a Zoom last night that all cross party MPs were invited to.

"We will have that engagement but wont have a two-week long negotiation while cases can still go up that is bad for public health."

He stresses decisions are "not political but they are ministerial".

Andy Burnham-led stand-off over restrictions in Manchester saw cases rise, Matt Hancock says - Reuters
Andy Burnham-led stand-off over restrictions in Manchester saw cases rise, Matt Hancock says - Reuters

12:48 PM

Brexit: Irish officials working to avoid 'concerning' ban on meat exports with UK

Irish officials are working with the European Commission to avoid a potential "two-way ban" on meat products moving between Ireland and the UK.

A change in the rules after Brexit means certain chilled and processed meat products - such as sausages and mince - would not be allowed to enter Northern Ireland from Great Britain.

This is because Britain will be regarded as a third country by the EU from January 1, while Northern Ireland will continue to operate EU food safety rules under the protocol signed in October last year.

In recent weeks, the UK has indicated it will implement a reciprocal ban on such products coming from Ireland, potentially disrupting the meat trade between the two islands.

Ireland's Agriculture Minister Charlie McConalogue described the issue as "concerning" and said he is working with the European Commission to resolve it.

He told RTE's Morning Ireland: "Obviously it is something which is concerning, it's a reflection of the many issues which Brexit is causing. There's going to be significant work then required in the weeks ahead as well to ensure that trade is as smooth and as efficient as possible on the first of January."

12:33 PM

Matt Hancock defends use of out-of-date chart predicting 4,000 deaths a day

Greg Clark then asks Matt Hancock about the slide presented by the chief scientific adviser Sir Patrick Vallance, predicting 4,000 deaths a day. 

The Health Secretary confirms he had seen it and it was "one of four different projections".

When Mr Clark notes it was out of date, and whether other data might have been better, Mr Hancock says "it was clear and it said so on the chart... it was a reasonable judgement for the CSA, not for me.

"I thought presenting a series of options was important because it made it clear that these things are not certain. we are not dealing in a world of knowing exactly what the consequence of each action will be."

Mr Clark then asks again about publishing the economic data. The Health Secretary says he will ask Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor. 

12:26 PM

Greg Clark grills Matt Hancock over failure to publish economic advice on lockdowns

Greg Clark, chair of the Science and Tech Committee, then takes the reins. His first question to the Health Secretary is about the economic impacts of lockdown alongside health issues. 

Matt Hancock says this is a "precise formulation of being guided by the science". The former business secretary then asks if he has seen the economic advice, to which Mr Hancock says yes. 

Mr Clark then asks why MPs can't see it, given that Sage minutes are published and it is "very clear there is a stream of pure scientific advice". 

Mr Hancock says Sage papers are the result of a scientific discussion, before advice is then put into Cabinet papers. "Those papers are not published, quite rightly, because ministers need to have the space to make decisions".

"It is quite reasonable for cabinet committees to be served papers by the civil service, guided by the science, on which they make decisions that are not fettered by the thought they may soon be published."

"That is a longstanding convention," he adds, stressing the need for a "protected space for decision making".

12:18 PM

Matt Hancock: Accuracy on death certificates is a 'serious challenge'

Matt Hancock is then asked how confident he is that death certificates have been an accurate basis to determine the prevalence of Covid. 

He says it is "a serious challenge" and the question is "entirely reasonable". 

He notes the issue over the summer when it emerged that Public Health England was including anyone who had tested coronavirus without a deadline. 

He quotes Chris Whitty as saying "the only true measure is excess deaths" because that is one "you can't avoid". 

12:08 PM

Matt Hancock: 'Perfectly reasonable' to claim for DohSC takeaways during peak

Matt Hancock is then asked if Eat Out to Help Out was a mistake. 

He says it is important to balance the needs of the economy with the direct impact of social distancing - but doesn't answer the question directly. 

"Obviously supporting the hospitality industry has been a very important part of trying to get through this and in the summer many people could enjoy hospitality outdoors," he says.

Luton North MP Sarah Owen claims that her constituency received almost half the EOTHO funding that his department spent on takeaways - nearly £50,000 - and asks if he will publish risk assessments for activities.

"I haven't claimed for anything," he says. "I will defend to the death that when people are working seven days a week, 18 hours a day, then it is perfectly reasonable we should feed them. I think my team are amazing and have pulled an amazing shift this year."

Matt Hancock during the Health and Science committees hearing - AFP
Matt Hancock during the Health and Science committees hearing - AFP

11:53 AM

Matt Hancock: Biggest challenges with freedom pass are logistics and identity assurance

Matt Hancock is then asked about the freedom pass proposal, whereby people will be granted liberties if they submit to daily testing after they come into contact with a positive case. 

He says this can only be done "because of the enormous testing capability we have built... thanks to these amazing private sector companies". 

The challenge is logistical, identity assurance and making sure tests get to the right people, he adds. It will be rolled out gradually and nationally in January. 

"We will want to know people are doing the test - the evidence is that when people test positive, they are much more likely to isolate," he adds. "Not least because they may well be ill."

UK daily cases line chart with postcode look up
UK daily cases line chart with postcode look up

11:49 AM

Matt Hancock hits out at 'counterproductive' criticism of private sector contact tracing

Matt Hancock has stressed the public-private split in contact tracing is not down to whether it is being handled centrally or locally. 

The Health Secretary noted that some local authorities were outsourcing work to businesses, amid questioning from Labour MP Dawn Butler. 

Asked if central tracing was "easier" than local, he said "not necessarily" noting that local teams were responsible for tracing within care homes, which was easier. 

"To imply that 'public sector good private sector bad', or 'local good national bad', both of those things are completely counterproductive when we are trying to save lives," he said. 

11:41 AM

Matt Hancock: We did consider perceptions of unfairness over Christmas exemption

Matt Hancock is then asked about Christmas plans - but he says he does not know yet. 

Mark Logan, a Conservative MP, asks if he is conscious of the "perception of unfairness" on people of other faiths whose festivals such as Eid and Diwali have been affected by greater restrictions. 

He says this was considered and discussed, but "Christmas is a national holiday - it is the biggest holiday we have... whilst of course we considered the impact on those of other faiths and none, Christmas is a special time for everyone in this country". 

Rishi Sunak marks Diwali by lighting a candle at 11 Downing Street - PA
Rishi Sunak marks Diwali by lighting a candle at 11 Downing Street - PA

11:39 AM

Matt Hancock: Circuit breaker would have been disproportionate

Matt Hancock is then asked why the Government didn't adopt the advice for a circuit breaker lockdown. He says this is because it would have been "disproportionate" at the time. 

"At the time the rate of prevalence and the rate of growth of virus was very, very low... we judged it would have been disproportionate to have put in place a national lockdown at that time."

But over the following "six weeks or so things changed", he added. 

"The trigger that persuaded me that we needed to go into national lockdowm, having essentially been the architect of tiered system, was that we saw case rates going up suddenly and quite sharply," he said. That meant that "even in low prevalence areas, you could see would get to quite high prevalence if we didn't act."

He stresses a circuit breaker is just another name for a lockdown. 

11:34 AM

Matt Hancock: Ministers followed advice 'precisely' on March lockdown

Matt Hancock is then asked about the decision to lock the country down and whether it should have happened earlier. 

He says there will "rightly" be a debate about the advice, but "in defence of the advice we followed" that measures were imposed earlier in the curve than equivalent countries. 

He notes that the four countries of the UK acted at the same time, and that they followed the scientific advice on this. 

Asked by SNP MP Carol Monaghan about his previous comment that he was guided by science, he says "there were times when that wasn't the case" noting that he overruled advice not to quarantine people on return from China. 

"That is why ministers are there to take account scientific advice and make a decision... in the case of the March lockdown, we took that scientific advice and we followed it precisely."

11:25 AM

Test and Trace not to blame for second wave, says Matt Hancock

Test and Trace was not to blame for failing to prevent the second wave, Matt Hancock has said. 

 Jeremy Hunt says Sage had claimed that Test and Trace has only had a marginal impact.

But the Health Secretary told Mr Hunt that the system was "functioning to reduce transmission enormously", adding: "By the time of the second lockdown it had already broken the chains of transmission hundreds of thousands of times.

"The problem was... the number of cases was going up," he added. "I don't lay that at the door of Test and Trace - they had expanded unbelievably fast."

The biggest problem was asymptomatic individuals not getting a test, he added.  

11:21 AM

Exercise Cygnus did not ask the right questions, says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has said that the pandemic exercise carried out by ministers before the coronavirus outbreak started from the wrong assumptions. 

The Health Secretary told his predecessor, under whom Exercise Cygnus was carried out, was "an exercise about what you do when lots of people are already dying."

He added: "Cygnus didn't ask what type of pandemic is most likely, or what are the characteristsic of different pandemics like flu or coronavirus, and can we act to stop getting to the position at which Project Cygnus started off.

"Those are the prior questions that everybody around the world need to be asking," he added. 

11:17 AM

UK scientific advice was 'the best my advisers could give', says Matt Hancock

Matt Hancock has insisted that the UK's scientific advice was "the best that was available" at the start of the pandemic, as he challenges the notion that decisions were dictated by Sage. 

The Health Secretary has quibbled with Jeremy Hunt's description of the approach taken, stressing that all actions were filtered through ministerial decision-making first. This is the difference between being guided by the science and following the science. 

He says that the advice was the best available at the time, adding it was "tough because we started out knowing nothing at all about this virus... that information was built over time".

Mr Hunt suggests that the UK's advice was not as good as that in other countries, such as South Korea. Ministers were told to stop community testing, he says.

Mr Hancock says this was as a consequence of having to focus on hospitals, whereas in South Korea "following their experience of Sars they moved to NPIs [non pharmaceutical interventions] much earlier". 

"I got the best scientific advice that my scientific advisers could give me," he adds, although stresses that lessons can and will be learned. 

11:11 AM

Matt Hancock: We will be getting back to normal after Easter

Matt Hancock is now answering questions from the Health and Science Committees. The first question is about what life will look like after Easter, when the vaccination roll out is expected to have reached a tipping point. 

Could we be back to normal after Easter, Jeremy Hunt asks. 

The Health Secretary says "after Easter, we will be getting back to normal". 

The interventions with "big downsides" should be lifted after Easter "if these two vaccines are approved by the regulator, which of course is an independent decision for the MHRA," he adds. 

11:06 AM

Dominic Raab: We stand with Harry Dunn's family - Anne Sacoolas must face justice

Dominic Raab has told the family of Harry Dunn that the Government will "stand with them" in their fight for justice, after they lost their High Court battle today. 

Mr Dunn, 19, was killed when his motorbike crashed into a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by American Anne Sacoolas outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on August 27 last year.

Mr Dunn's parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, claimed the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) wrongly decided that Anne Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity and unlawfully obstructed Northamptonshire Police's investigation into their son's death by keeping the force "in the dark".

The Foreign Secretary said: “My thoughts today are with Harry’s family. While this judgment makes clear the Foreign Office acted properly and lawfully throughout, I appreciate that won’t provide any solace to the family in their search for justice.

"We stand with them, we’re clear that Anne Sacoolas needs to face justice in the UK, and we will support the family with their legal claim in the US.”

11:04 AM

What's coming up today?

Matt Hancock, the health and social care secretary, is about to start giving evidence to Jeremy Hunt's Health committee and Greg Clark's Science and Tech committee, who are holding a joint inquiry into the pandemic. 

Here is what else to expect from today:

From 11am: Dame Sally Davies, the former chief medical officer for England, and Prof Neil Ferguson, the Imperial College London epidemiologist, speak at an Imperial College symposium on a post-Covid world.

12pm: The Department for Education publishes its latest pupil attendance figures.

12:30pm: An urgent question has been granted over dangerous cladding, with MHCLG Secretary Robert Jenrick down to respond.

1:30pm: Digital minister Matt Warman will publish the Telecommunications (Security) Bill, giving the government greater powers to shut out high-risk vendors such as Huawei from Britain’s telecoms infrastructure.

After 2pm: Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon makes a statement to the Scottish parliament about coronavirus - this could be where we hear about the UK-wide plans for Christmas

2.30pm: Ben Wallace gives evidence to the Defence committee following last week's budget boost for the armed forces. 

10:52 AM

Have your say: Should MPs block Boris Johnson's new tiered system

Boris Johnson set out plans yesterday for a new, tougher, three-tiered system which will replace England's lockdown from December 2. 

The putative rebellion so far looks to be smaller than the first time around, receiving a fraction of the Tory criticism he had for the initial plan. 

However that may be because large swathes of the party are biding their time, pressing the case for their constituencies not to be put into Tier 3. Number 10 has said it will confirm where the harshest measures will fall before a vote.

But should they support the principle regardless of the pain, in the knowledge that the vaccine "cavalry" is on the horizon? Or should it be resisted? Have your say in the poll below. 

10:36 AM

Homes riskier than pubs for spreading coronavirus, Sage scientist warns

Homes could be riskier environments for spreading coronvirus than pubs, a Sage scientist has warned, as she called for renewed focus on social distancing ahead of Christmas. 

Lucy Yardley, professor of health psychology at the University of Bristol, told Radio 4's Today programme: "When people come together with people they know well in their homes it's a particularly risky situation because they let their guard down."

She added: "This message about in the home is particularly important coming up to Christmas where we may be allowed to mix more.

Prof Yardley recommended targeted advice, such as protecting vulnerable members of a household and keeping up social distancing with friends indoors as well as "not sharing plates and cups and so on".

Asked if there is too much focus on pubs and not enough on interactions in the home, she said: "That's absolutely true. We can see that in the evidence because so much of the infection spread is happening at home... pubs are actually better ventilated and have more regular cleaning every hour going on than we do in our own homes."

10:27 AM

Non-Covid excess deaths since pandemic pass 30,000

he number of excess deaths not linked to Covid-19 that have occurred in private homes in England and Wales since the start of the coronavirus pandemic has now passed 30,000.

Excess deaths are the number of deaths that are above the average for the corresponding period in the previous five years.

There were 30,785 non-Covid excess deaths in homes in England and Wales registered between March 7 and November 13, according to the ONS.

The total number of excess deaths in private homes registered during this period was 33,662.

This includes 2,877 Covid-19 deaths. Any death involving Covid-19 is counted as an excess death because Covid-19 did not exist before this year.

10:11 AM

Labour left 'walk out' of meeting as Margaret Beckett named NEC chair

The all-day meeting of Labour’s National Executive Committee appears to be descending into all-too-predictable infighting. 

Veteran MP Margaret Beckett has been named NEC chair - which, as former lobby journalist Steve Hawkes points out, is interesting because she publicly regretted having nominated Jeremy Corbyn for leader. 

Her appointment has apparently provoked a virtual walk-out from the Zoom meeting among some of the Labour left, underscoring just what an unhappy ship the party is currently. 

10:04 AM

Harry Dunn's parents lose High Court battle with Foreign Office

Harry Dunn's parents have lost their High Court battle against the Foreign Office over whether their son's alleged killer had diplomatic immunity.

Mr Dunn, 19, was killed when his motorbike crashed into a car being driven on the wrong side of the road by American Anne Sacoolas outside RAF Croughton in Northamptonshire on August 27 last year.

Ms Sacoolas, whose husband Jonathan Sacoolas worked as a technical assistant at the base, left the country a few weeks later after the US said she was entitled to diplomatic immunity.

The 43-year-old was ultimately charged with causing death by dangerous driving last December, but an extradition request was rejected by the US State Department in January - a decision it later described as "final".

Mr Dunn's parents, Charlotte Charles and Tim Dunn, claim the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (FCDO) wrongly decided Ms Sacoolas had diplomatic immunity and unlawfully obstructed Northamptonshire Police's investigation into their son's death by keeping the force "in the dark".

09:52 AM

Covid deaths hit highest level since May

The number of deaths involving Covid-19 registered each week in England and Wales has risen above 2,000 for the first time since May.

A total of 2,466 deaths that mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate were registered in the week ending November 13, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is the highest number of deaths involving Covid-19 since the week ending May 22.

It is also up from 1,937 deaths in the week to November 6 - a jump of 27 per cent. 

Coronavirus excess deaths - by location (hospital, care home, private home)
Coronavirus excess deaths - by location (hospital, care home, private home)

09:46 AM

Grant Shapps defends UK pandemic response

Grant Shapps has defended his decision not to close Britain's borders to travellers at the start of the coronavirus pandemic on the advice given by England's chief medical officer Professor Chris Whitty.

The Transport Secretary said he had been told that shutting the borders would delay the outbreak by "three to five days, but it's fundamentally already here". 

He pointed to the US, which did close its borders early on, saying: "I don't think anybody is going to tell us the United States' response has been a triumph."

Mr Shapps told Good Morning Britain: "At the beginning it wouldn't have made the difference unless you literally closed off before it came here at all... and a lot of people wouldn't have been able to return - 1.3 million people returned in that period - Brits wouldn't have been able to come home, so we would have created other problems."

Australia and New Zealand are "much more sparsely populated" than the UK while South Korea and Taiwan coped better because "they have been subject of other viruses" and "they have far more authoritarian ability to shut things down... so there is a sort of exchange of freedom in return for some of the responses", he added. 

Grant Shapps - Shutterstock
Grant Shapps - Shutterstock

09:39 AM

Regional leaders will push back against 'bullying' Government, Andy Burnham warns

Boris Johnson is trying to "divide and rule" local leaders over the latest set of tiers, Andy Burnham has claimed. 

Despite the Prime Minister and others hailing the success of measures in Liverpool because local leaders had agreed to restrictions more readily than those in Greater Manchester, the region's mayor claimed his counterparts felt "railroaded" into having Tier 3 restrictions imposed against their will. 

"It doesn't say much about the Government that the minute they are challenged... they say 'we are just going to bulldoze our way through'," he added. "They will get a reputation if they are not careful of being a bullying Government, that if they don't get their own way they take their toys home, take their ball home."

He added: "There is no point in having devolution if you have to bow down every time Government says something... devolution needs to be a check and balance on the system."

Regional leaders are "finding our voice now - we are not going to be pushed around in the way we were in the past," he warned. "They are going to have to get used to it." 

09:29 AM

Government 'punishing everybody over row with us', claims Andy Burnham

Andy Burnham has claimed the Government is "punishing everybody because they had a row with us", in refusing to engage with local leaders over the new Covid tiers. 

Yesterday Boris Johnson confirmed the new set of restrictions would be imposed after lockdown lifts on December 2. Unlike before, tiers will be imposed without negotiation with local leaders first. 

But the Mayor of Greater Manchester said while ministers claimed he was "showboating" it was "a matter of principle that I took a stand on". He argued that the package offered meant workers would only receive 67 per cent of their wages, while self-employed people would get no support, despite furlough having been set at 80 per cent. 

"You cannot take away people's livelihoods," he told Sky News. "I took a stand, I am glad I did, and I would do it again... but the Government can't leave it alone, they want to come back and it and punish me, blame me."

By refusing to negotiate with local leaders over the latest restrictions he suggested ministers were "punishing everybody because they had a row with us".

Andy Burnham: They are punishing me - PA
Andy Burnham: They are punishing me - PA

09:14 AM

Jeremy Hunt warns against 'turning our backs' on global poverty

Jeremy Hunt has reiterated his support for overseas aid amid reports that the 0.7 per cent commitment will be slashed to 0.5 per cent, as Rishi Sunak looks to cut back public spending. 

Last week the former foreign secretary challenged Boris Johnson directly, but his one-time rival gave no firm response. 

Mr Hunt - who is tipped to make a return to the Cabinet in a new year reshuffle - shared an article by former Scots Tories leader Ruth Davidson that argued such a move would be a "counterproductive choice - morally, economically and politically".

The Health and Social Care committee chair tweeted: "The Britain I know and love does not turn it back on such people - whatever our challenges at home."

09:06 AM

Maintain overseas aid as global commitment to levelling up, says former minister

A former Cabinet minister has attacked plans to cut the overseas aid budget ahead of Rishi Sunak's spending review tomorrow. 

Justine Greening, the former DFiD secretary, said the 0.7 per cent commitment showed Britian was playing a leading role in the world", saying it "would be a mistake" to cut that. 

She told Radio 4's Today programme: "Levelling up isn't just something we should be doing at home, also something we should be leading on abroad. It has been the right thing to do for the UK playing a leading role globally but it is also the smart thing to do."

As well as helping to avoid "costly wars, stopping migration crises before they happen" overseas aid also supported the creation of "trading hubs of the future", she added. 

The former Putney MP argued the spending commitment was "extremely important", and should remain, although there was a debate about how - and where - it was best spent. 

Justine Greening said it was 'the right thing to do...but also the right thing to do' - Geoff Pugh
Justine Greening said it was 'the right thing to do...but also the right thing to do' - Geoff Pugh

08:53 AM

What to expect from the new tiered system

Last night, Boris Johnson suggested that social distancing could finally end in the spring. But until then, we have got several more months under the new, strengthened, tier system. 

Spectator sports, concerts and business conferences will resume for the first time in nine months under the revamped tiers system.

Meanwhile, hairdressers, beauty salons, nail bars and massage parlours will reopen their doors in all areas of the country, as will gyms, non-essential retail and places of worship, which will again be permitted to conduct communal services. 

The pub curfew will be extended to 11pm, with last orders called at 10pm to give people more time to leave. Restrictions on socialising at home and outdoors will remain largely the same as before. 

08:45 AM

At last, Boris Johnson had good news to announce. So of course something had to go wrong

Just his luck. After weeks of gloom, Boris Johnson finally had some good news to tell the Commons. Christmas was back on (sort of) – and 100million doses of the Oxford vaccine were on their way (probably). Two chinks of light. This time, perhaps, MPs would go easier on him. Some of them might even thank him.

Unfortunately for the Prime Minister, however, they couldn’t. Because just as he was beginning to field their questions, he vanished into thin air.

Being in self-isolation, Mr Johnson is currently barred from the Commons, and is instead obliged to address it by video link from a room in 10 Downing Street.

Having delivered an initial statement on the next batch of Covid restrictions, he was attempting to reassure Mark Harper, a leading Tory lockdown sceptic – when suddenly, something seemed to go wrong with his laptop. The sound died.

On the giant screens above the chamber, the Prime Minister could still be seen, declaiming passionately away – but no one could hear a word he was saying.

08:40 AM

England's R-rate to fall further before lockdown lifts, says Grant Shapps

Grant Shapps has said he expects the coronavirus R rate of infection, which is currently "somewhere between 1 and 1.1", will have declined further by December 2.

The Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "I think we can see the numbers are coming down... and I think we would expect to see that continuing to decline to the end of the lockdown period next Wednesday, so I think we will be in a much better position."

He added that a "successful mass testing programme" in Liverpool and "brilliant news on the three different vaccines", including the AstraZeneca and Oxford University jab, have given the country a sense of "hope on the horizon".

08:33 AM

More Tier 3 restrictions 'a strong possibility', says Grant Shapps

There is a "strong possibility" that more regions will be placed into Tier 3 restrictions after lockdown ends next week, Grant Shapps has said.

Yesterday Boris Johnson suggested more regions would be placed into the top two tiers than before. However Tier 3 is far more draconian, shuttering hospitality for all but takeaways and deliveries.

The Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "It is the case that we do need to be a bit tighter on the tiers - Tier 3 in more places is a strong possibility - but there's still a difference between that and what we're doing now.

"For example, in terms of the number of people that can meet outside in a public place, and a number of other things.

"We've been living through this nightmare for a long time now, we all know the only way to defeat this virus is, I'm afraid, to keep people apart and separate from the most natural thing, which is human contact.

"You can only breach that in a certain number of places and I think we've made our decisions as a country that that has to be for things like education and work whilst we get through this winter."

Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority
Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority

08:28 AM

Inflation shake-up set to hit incomes for 10m private pensions

The lowest paid and savers could lose out in the Government spending review this week, while overseas aid still seems likely to be cut. 

Chancellor Rishi Sunak is due to address the Commons tomorrow, where he will set out " he best way of returning to sustainable public finances is".

As revealed by the Telegraph this morning, the Chancellor is planning an "inflation shake-up", where the measure will switch from the Retail Prices Index (RPI) to the generally lower Consumer Prices Index plus housing costs (CPIH), which will cost investors more than £100 billion.

The RPI was 1.3 per cent in October, compared with the CPIH - the Office of National Statistics' preferred measure of inflation - which stood at 0.9 per cent.

The change will save the Treasury around £2 billion a year on interest payments for index-linked gilts, or bonds issued by the Government, as a higher inflation rate means higher payments to holders. Read the full details here.

The Times reported a 5.6 per cent increase to the national living wage - which was due to increase to £9.21 an hour in April - will be cut back to £8.90 an hour, a rise of two per cent.  

08:23 AM

Include MPs in public sector pay freeze, says Grant Shapps

MPs' pay should be included in the public-sector pay freeze, Grant Shapps has said, and that if he were given a pay rise he would give his share to charity because it would be "the right thing to do".

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, the Transport Secretary said: "I think MPs should only be paid in line with what other public-service workers are being paid and if we are given a pay rise, I will pay mine to charity, that's my decision."

He added: "Public-sector workers, many are facing perhaps a three-year pay freeze, (so) the right thing to do is that politicians should not be taking a pay rise."

Mr Shapps added that ministers have had a five per cent pay cut and an "ongoing" 10-year pay freeze which he also supports.

MPs' annual salary
MPs' annual salary

08:16 AM

Transport Secretary urges people to avoid Christmas travel if possible

Grant Shapps has urged people to consider whether they need to travel over Christmas, amid concerns that the short period in which restrictions are lifted will cause a bottleneck on the country's network. 

The Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast that he was "going to have to ask people to take a closer look at the journeys and think about the routes they are taking," this year. 

He noted that some of the usual engineering work that is carried out over the holidays will continue as "some has been in the pipeline for 18 months to two years", although it would be minimised where possible. 

However there would still be "limitations to the network". People should pre-book train tickets and "be thinking about whether they travel at all," he added. 

08:12 AM

Rapid testing 'for anybody who travels', says Grant Shapps

Rapid tests alleviating the need for the 14-day quarantine are "for anybody who travels" and not just business travellers, despite them costing between £65 and £120, Grant Shapps has said. 

From December 15, travellers will be able to use the negative test results to come out of quarantine after five days.

The Transport Secretary told BBC Breakfast: "I expect what will happen as this market gets going is we'll see the cost of tests being driven down.

"Particularly as some of these new types of tests have come around, and rather than specifying - people have heard terms like PCR tests and lab tests and lateral flow - rather than specifying a type of test we've specified a specification standard for these tests - medical experts have.

"It's up to companies to innovate if they can produce a test for much less money, or indeed much faster turnaround, then they're welcome to do that as long as it meets the very exacting standards."

As we reveal this morning, the airport tests are the first step towards quarantine-free travel. Read our interview with Mr Shapps here

07:05 AM

More than half of England set to be in highest tiers of new Covid restrictions

More than half the country will be put into tougher restrictions when the national lockdown ends, Boris Johnson has announced.

Under the new tier system, more parts of England are expected to be placed into higher measures than they were before the national lockdown, which ends on December 2, was imposed.

Mr Johnson conceded it was "likely that more of the country is placed into tiers 2 and 3 at first" in order to "control the virus effectively". 

Following the Prime Minister's announcement, a number of MPs urged the Government to put London in the lowest tier or risk economic havoc. The former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith said it "must be put into Tier 1" once the lockdown ends, adding: "London is dominant in the economy and we need it to get back to work immediately."

Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority
Map of UK's seven-day Covid-19 infection rate, by local authority