Michael Gove puts chance of Brexit deal at 66% but warns UK will not be 'held hostage'

Cat Neilan
·59-min read
Michael Gove said sufficient safety nets were in place for the UK to leave without a deal - Reuters
Michael Gove said sufficient safety nets were in place for the UK to leave without a deal - Reuters

The UK stands a two in three chance of forging a Brexit deal, Michael Gove has claimed, despite warning that Britain will not be "held hostage" in negotiations. 

The Cabinet Office minister told the Lords' Brexit Committee it was "emphatically not our preference" to leave the transition period without a deal but sufficient preparations had been concluded that the UK could walk away if necessary. 

Mr Gove said the Internal Market Bill was one of several steps taken "to ensure this country is not held hostage in a negotiation process, but that we honour the vote people made in 2016 and again in 2019 to ensure we are properly independent".

He added: "No one  will be happier than me if we can conclude an agreement but we have an absolute obligation to ensure the country is ready in the event that we don't."

However, he later struck a more optimistic tone when he agreed that the chance of striking a deal was at 66 per cent.

It comes as chief negotiator David Frost warned the two sides were still "some way from a deal" with just eight days left until the deadline. 

Informal talks are taking place in London this week, and Boris Johnson is due to call the European Council president Charles Michel later today. 

However Lord Frost said he was "uncertain" if a deal could be reached by the nominal deadline of October 15, not ruling out the possibility that talks could carry on thereafter. 

The UK's chief negotiator suggested that any agreement would be "the outline of a deal" with the details filled in subsequently.  

​Read the latest updates below

05:29 PM

That's all for today...

It's been a day dominated by Brexit in Westminster, but north of the border Scotland's new restrictions are making waves.

Michael Gove has put the chances of a deal between the UK and EU at 66 per cent, and also urged people to blame him if there is chaos at the Kent border in January.

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster also warned that Britain will not be "held hostage" in negotiations, with fisheries thought to be the main stumbling block.

There's been some tough talk from the backbenches on the Government's coronavirus restrictions, with even loyal allies of the Prime Minister expressing their concern.

It seems the vast majority of you agree with them, with 71 per cent of you saying the Government has gone too far.

And in Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon has announced that indoor hospitality venues will be allowed to operate only between 6am and 6pm daily, selling food and non-alcoholic drinks only.

However, all licensed premises in some areas, including the cities of Glasgow and Edinburgh, will be closed.

That's it for today - I'll leave you with the latest offering from Matt.

05:04 PM

Neither side has negotiated in bad faith, Lord Frost insists

The UK's leading negotiator insists that neither side in Brexit talks has been negotiating in bad faith, saying both teams are "trying to get an agreement".

Lord Frost admits that "some forceful things have been said" but claims there is generally a "good rapport" between UK and EU teams.

04:51 PM

Peter Bone asks for a Brexit deal as a 'really wonderful birthday present'

The Tory MP tells the key Brexit figures that October 19 is his birthday and asks if the Government could sign the agreement on that day.

Michael Gove tells him negotiators are doing "everything we can" to try to secure a deal.

04:41 PM

66% chance of trade deal, Michael Gove says

The Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster puts chances of striking a trade deal with the EU at around two thirds.

Asked if the probability is 66 per cent, Mr Gove says: "That's about right."

"I think that a deal is eminently achievable," Lord Frost adds, without giving a figure.

04:37 PM

There could be a 'glide path' to fishing resolution, Lord Frost suggests

Lord Frost notes that the EU fishes close to half of the stock in our waters and says there needs to be a "huge change in that situation in the future".

He says that is "obviously" going to effect EU fishing communities but says there could be a "glide path" to finding a resolution.

"We are trying to find a way of dealing with what's politically realistic and possible," he adds.

04:27 PM

Michael Gove says 'put the blame on me' if there is chaos in Kent

The Cabinet Officer Minister is asked if he is in touch with Kent authorities, who have expressed concerns about the preparedness for the end of the transition period.

Mr Gove says that the Government has been working with local authorities and Kent County Council.

"If things do go wrong, then to paraphrase Rag N Bone Man, put the blame on me," he adds.

04:22 PM

Michael Gove admits EU has expressed opposition to Internal Market Bill

"It is certainly the case that actors in the EU have expressed opposition to the Internal Market Bill," the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster admits. 

Lord Frost adds that there is "determination on both sides" to keep moving forward.

04:16 PM

Deal 'eminently achievable', Lord Frost says

The Brexit chief negotiator says a trade deal is "eminently achievable" but says it is also possible both sides will not resolve their differences.

He tells the Future Relationship with the European Union Committee that "we'll have to see what the next few weeks brings".

04:11 PM

Ministers move to reduce quarantine

 Grant Shapps announces the creation of a Global Travel Taskforce to develop a testing regime that would allow the UK to reduce the quarantine period for incoming travellers.

03:58 PM

Remove the 'manacles of state control', PM ally urges

Rossendale and Darwen MP Jake Berry says his constituents want to "remove the manacles of state control" when discussing northern restrictions.

He says Downing Street has fallen into the “fatal trap of making national decisions on a London-centric view with London-centric data” and claims that people have been left confused by the array of measures.

The Tory MP adds: "As a nation the liberties and freedoms we take for granted haven’t been given to us by a benevolent government. They have been hard-fought and hard-won, and in fact on many occasions they have had to be torn form the hands of the powerful.

"Day by day we see those liberties and freedoms being given away back to the Government in the name of Covid. I’m afraid that has to stop because once we give those up, they will not come back to us. The Government will not return them to us.”

03:41 PM

'Prison for pension pot pinchers'

Work and Pensions Secretary Therese Coffey told the Commons that the Government will "strengthen protections for savers" as part of the Pension Schemes Bill.

Introducing the second reading of the Bill, Ms Coffey told MPs: "This Bill delivers on our manifesto commitments to legislate for a new style of pensions scheme, establish pensions dashboards and tackle those who try to plunder the pension pots of hard-working employees.

"It creates a new style of pension scheme that has the potential to increase future returns for millions of working people while being more sustainable for employees and employers alike.

"The Bill has consumer interests at its heart. It strengthens protections for savers by extending the pension regulator's sanctions regime.

"Prison for pension pot pinchers will, I hope, deter reckless bosses from running schemes into the ground."

03:27 PM

UK records 14,162 new coronavirus cases

Wednesday's figure is a slight fall compared with the 14,542 new infections announced yesterday.

The Department for Health confirmed a further 70 people had died within 28 days of testing for Covid-19 as of Wednesday, bringing the UK's total to 42,515.

03:22 PM

President of the European Council says it's 'cards on the table' time

Charles Michel confirms that he has spoken to Boris Johnson and warns the EU will not make a deal "at any cost".

"Time for the UK to put its cards on the table," he says.

03:18 PM

UK close to Brexit deal tying it to European Court of Human Rights

British negotiators are close to clinching a deal that commits the UK to remaining subject to rulings by the European Court of Human Rights after Brexit, James Crisp reports.

The UK would sacrifice a new extradition treaty and access to EU criminal databases if it quit the international agreement, under the terms of the potential deal,  Brussels sources told the Telegraph

The EU insists that respect for the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), and its Strasbourg court, is a condition for cooperation in law enforcement after the end of the transition period on December 31. 

Either party can trigger a “guillotine clause” suspending or terminating the judicial cooperation agreement if they had serious concerns about the protection of human rights and the rule of law, under a British proposal put to the EU.

David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, told peers in the Lords EU Committee on Wednesday: “I think I can see a way forward on that that satisfies all sides’ needs. We aren’t there yet but I think I can see it."

Read more here:

03:07 PM

Pubs would shut if it weren't for test and trace, Health Minister suggests

Hospitality venues such as pubs and restaurants would be forced to shut were it not for the Government's new contact tracing measures, Lord Bethell has claimed.

During a Lords debate, former Tory minister Lord Robathan was among the peers to criticise the rules which require establishments to gather personal details, saying they were "destroying the hospitality industry".

Responding for the Government, Lord Bethell said the alternative to the regulations would be to close the hospitality sector again, as happened in March.

He said: "There would be a grave danger that hospitality would once again be closed altogether because hospitality is a vector of infection and the specific purpose of these regulations is to try and keep our pubs, clubs and hospitality sector open.

"And there is a binary alternative if we don't seek to protect these industries and these venues by measures like these contact-tracing arrangements then they are vulnerable to being perceived - and to be identified - as places where the disease spreads and where in order to break the chain of transmission we are simply obliged to close them down."

02:51 PM

Watch: How the Queen's conduct during the Covid-19 pandemic restored faith in the monarchy

With Brexit talks coming to the drama of their inevitable (we hope) conclusion while the pace of the second wave builds, you would be forgiven for seeking a stabilising force. 

Under strict lockdown rules, the Queen - just like many of us - faced an unprecedented challenge. 

In the video below, Camilla Tominey explains how the monarch managed to remain ever-present and restore faith amid a sense of widespread uncertainty. 

02:28 PM

Health secretary hints pubs could be forced to shut, as No 10 mulls traffic-light lockdowns

Pubs and restaurants could be closed in local lockdown areas under a new 'traffic light' system being finalised by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, as Health Secretary Matt Hancock warned that infection data is “not good news” for the hospitality industry.

Different options for the three-tiered model of low, medium and high-risk areas have been sent to the Prime Minister and could be announced later this week.

The most extreme measures under consideration would involve the closure of pubs and restaurants, a ban on households mixing, and possibly even the closure of non-essential retailers.

My colleagues Gordon Rayner and Harry Yorke have the full story here

02:17 PM

Nicola Sturgeon thanks hospitality firms as she pledges £40m support

Nicola Sturgeon said she was "grateful" for the work done by hospitality businesses to stop the spread of coronavirus, pledging £40m to those firms affected by the latest restrictions. 

Speaking in Scottish Parliament, the First Minister said: "However, the evidence paper published today sets out why these settings present a particular risk.

"The R number seems to have risen above 1 approximately three weeks after the hospitality sector opened up.

"We know that more than one fifth of people contacted by test and trace, report having visited a hospitality setting."

She added: "All of these reasons, significantly restricting licensed premises for 16 days temporarily removes one of the key opportunities the virus has to jump from household to household.

"It is an essential part of our efforts to get the R number significantly below 1."

02:13 PM

Scots urged to avoid public transport for next two weeks under circuit breaker restrictions

Further to the new restrictions on Scottish hospitality, people in the central belt of Scotland have been asked to avoid public transport unless absolutely necessary in the next two weeks.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced that those in the five health board areas should only use public transport when travelling to work, school or other unavoidable reasons.

While a travel restriction is not being enforced on people in the central belt, Ms Sturgeon urged those living in these areas not to travel beyond their own health boards.

For those, like me, who are no au fait with the "central belt": 

02:12 PM

Nicola Sturgeon confirms Scottish circuit breaker for hospitality

I am just turning away from the Brexit Committee - which is winding down - as Nicola Sturgeon has confirmed the new circuit breaker-style restrictions being brought in across Scotland.  

Indoor hospitality venues will only be allowed to operate between 6am and 6pm daily, selling food and non-alcoholic drinks, the First Minister has just confirmed.  Outdoor bars, restaurants and cafes will be allowed to remain open up until 10pm and will be allowed to sell alcohol up to that time.

The restrictions will come into force at 6pm on Friday and are intended to end after October 25.

You can read the latest updates on our coronavirus blog here

02:04 PM

UK will not be 'held hostage' to the EU's 'intransigent' approach, says Michael Gove

The UK will be "ready" if the EU does not back away from its "intransigent" approach, because planning has ensured we are not being "held hostage", Michael Gove has said. 

The Cabinet Office minister told the Lords' Brexit Committee it was "emphatically not our preference" to leave the transition period without a deal. 

"But one of the reasons work is going on is that we can, if we conclude there is no good deal on offer" accept that and walk away, he said.

Pointing to the Internal Market Bill as an example of the no deal planning he has been undertaking, Mr Gove said he had been taking "steps to ensure this country is not held hostage in a negotiation process, but that we honour the vote people made in 2016 and again in 2019 to ensure we are properly independent".

He added: "No one  will be happier than me if we can conclude an agreement but we have an absolute obligation to ensure the country is ready in the event that we don't."

01:58 PM

Lorries with Kent-access permit will 'whiz through' Brexit border, says Michael Gove

Back at the Brexit Committee, Michael Gove has promised that lorries will be able to "whiz through" the de facto Brexit border in Kent. 

The 'Kent-access permit' is intended to prevent queues of 7000 lorries through the county after Brexit, however it has provoked concerns that it will effectively border off Kent. 

Michael Gove told peers that those who had not filled out forms might find themselves subject to a fine, although he stressed there will be exemptions for those who live in Kent and others. The idea is just to ensure that those who are not allowed to clear the border at Calais don't make the journey, blocking those who are allowed to travel on. 

"If businesses have done their preparation beforehand it will be easy," he adds. After filling out a form once, subsequent visits to the website are easy, and as a result "lorries will be able to whiz through". 

01:53 PM

Lobby latest: Downing Street rejects herd immunity recommendations

Number 10 has rejected a suggestion that young and less vulnerable people should be able to live more freely while those at greater risk are protected.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "We have considered the full range of scientific opinion throughout the course of this pandemic and we will continue to do so.

"But what I would also say is that it is not possible to rely on an unproven assumption that it is possible for people who are at lower risk, should they contract the virus to avoid subsequently transmitting it, to those who are at a higher risk and who would therefore subsequently face a greater chance of ending up in hospital or worse in an intensive care unit."

01:53 PM

Lobby latest: Government will not hesitate to take further action... but not now

The Government "will not hesitate" to take further action to stem the "concerning" rise in coronavirus cases, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "We are seeing coronavirus cases rising across the country but they are rising faster in the North East and the North West and that is concerning.

"We will not hesitate to take further action in the areas where cases and hospitalisations are rising significantly in order to protect communities, protect the NHS and to save lives."

Asked why the Government was not already taking more action, the spokesman said: "We keep the data under constant review and we continue to receive advice from scientific and medical experts, and should we feel that it is necessary to make further interventions then we will do so."

01:52 PM

Lobby latest: Downing Street plays down seriousness of Roche supply disruption

Downing Street has played down the impact of the Roche problems on the coronavirus testing systems.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Roche alerted DHSC yesterday to an issue with their supply chain and they are working to resolve this urgently.

"It is expected to have little to no impact on Covid testing and Roche are already prioritising the dispatch of tests to ensure uninterrupted supplies.

"Measures are also being put in place to ensure that other NHS supplies can continue and Roche have extended their working hours and recruited extra staff so they can return to normal as quickly as possible."

01:51 PM

Lobby latest: 70pc of missing cases have now been contacted

Around 70 per cent of almost 16,000 people who tested positive for coronavirus but whose cases were unreported had now been contacted, Downing Street has said. 

A technical problem using Excel by staff at Public Health England (PHE) meant the details of thousands of people were not passed to NHS Test and Trace.

The Government has not yet given figures or estimates for how many contacts these people had, or how many have been successfully traced.

01:40 PM

Boris Johnson to speak with European Council president today

Boris Johnson will speak with European Council president Charles Michel later today in relation to the Brexit negotiations, Downing Street said.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Johnson would tell Mr Michel that the UK wants to "work constructively and at pace to secure a deal".

"But (the PM) will also underline that time is in short supply and... we remain focused on the date of October 15 and the meeting of the European Council," the spokesman added.

However, Number 10 said Mr Johnson is not expected to attend the Council meeting in Brussels next week.

The spokesman said talks focusing on the "key areas of difference that remain" were taking place in London this week between the EU and UK.

"The EU's negotiating team is in London today and talks are taking place and they will continue until Friday," they said.

"It is not classed as a formal negotiating round so there is not a published agenda, but they are focusing on some of the key areas of difference that remain between us."

01:38 PM

Negotiators still 'some way from a deal', Lord Frost warns

The UK and EU negotiators are "some way from a deal but we are at least having a decent discussion" about outstanding issues such as state aid, Lord Frost has said. 

Speaking to the Lords' Brexit Committee, the UK's chief negotiator noted that "historically the French and German have subsidised very much more" than Britain has. 

"I still find it a bit strange that this issue has loomed quite so large given the track records on both sides, but there we are. We will be in new situation after transition and the EU must come to conclusions about what it wants.

"Whether we can satisfy that I don't know yet," he added. "It is quite difficult to agree the level of detail they want to see."

01:27 PM

Have your say on: the Government's approach to lockdowns

Ministers are treading the tightrope on responding to the second wave, fearful of allowing coronavirus to rip through the population on the one side, while being equally concerned about the economic and wider health consequences of a second lockdown. 

Yet leaders in the North of England argue that restrictions such as the pub curfew aren't working, with many zones under restrictions for weeks with no sign that transmission is abating. 

On the other side, a "declaration" by medics around the world have called for a relaxation of restrictions in favour of a herd immunity strategy. 

So which should it be? Have your say in the poll below. 

01:25 PM

EU not taking 'constructive approach' on third party listing, says Michael Gove

Returning to the Brexit Committee, where Michael Gove has been asked to be "more precise" about claims that the EU was going to "blockade" exports between Britain and Northern Ireland. 

The Cabinet Office minister points to the EU's refusal to give the UK third country listing. 

Lord Kerr interrupts to ask for specific evidence for the blockade. Mr Gove says there would be "no opportunity" for Britain to export food to Northern Ireland without the third party listing. 

"It should have been the case, we would have thought, that third party listing would have been granted by June of this year," he says. "It struck several fair minded observers as curious the EU would not grant that, and the courtesy they granted to Mongolia they would not extend to their partner the UK at that point."

He suggests it was "not the most constructive approach". 

01:20 PM

Snap PMQs poll results: Nearly two-thirds back Sir Keir Starmer

Just breaking away from the Brexit Committee briefly as I'm closing the snap poll - and Downing Street won't be happy. 

Some 62 per cent of you think Sir Keir Starmer defeated Boris Johnson in today's PMQs, while just 38 per cent think the Prime Minister had the better showing. 

This is the first time the Labour leader has won since we started this series a month ago - and suggests our readers are getting fed up with being fobbed off.

Perhaps it was the pub curfew questions that won it. 

01:16 PM

Michael Gove dodges question about whether EU is negotiating in good faith

Michael Gove and Lord Frost are asked if the Government believes the EU breached good faith, the reason given for the Internal Market Bill. 

Mr Gove says this bill is a safety net "to ensure the integrity of the UK is protected if no agreement is reached". 

He says the UK Government received the EU's legal letter last week and understand the reasons why. They believe progress can still be made in the Joint Committee. 

On the question of good faith, Mr Gove says he "wouldn't want to pronounce definitively" on that point. 

Pressed on this, and whether there is evidence for it, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster says he "wouldn't want to prejudice" the negotiations. He says he has laid out the reasons before in the Commons, but is hopeful since the bill was introduced that talks are moving forward.  

Asked why the Government didn't opt to use the dispute mechanism, Mr Gove says the necessary safety net has been prepared in the event that an agreement was reached and protecting the integrity of the UK is something "all governments" have to take seriously. 

01:10 PM

'Outline' of Brexit deal could be reached before deadline with 'clarity' added afterwards, says Lord Frost

Asked about the progress made so far, Lord Frost says he is pleased with what has happened so far. 

Clarity is required on the FTA because there are "one or two bits that aren't clear" and there is "a huge amount of textual work" that needs to be carried out, which will come after October 15 "if we can get the outline agreed" before that point. 

Lord Frost says there will have to be "clarity on the precise text" after the deadline, he adds.

Asked when  decision will be made on equivalence for financial markets, Lord Frost is not particularly forthcoming.

"We await decisions from the EU on most areas," he says.  

UK's chief Brexit negotiator, Lord David Frost - PA
UK's chief Brexit negotiator, Lord David Frost - PA

01:08 PM

Brexit talks deadline 'uncertain' because of number of stakeholders involved, says Lord Frost

Michael Gove and Lord Frost have just started giving evidence to the Lords' Brexit Committee. But because it's being done virtually it's virtually impossible to hear. 

Asked when the negotiations are likely to conclude, Lord Frost said the teams are "working very hard to get there" although would be "content" to trade on Australian terms (ie no deal). 

He points to the PM's words on the timeframe, which set October 15 as a deadline, but says it is "uncertain" because of the number of stakeholders involved. 

Asked if this was a hard deadline, Lord Frost says "both sides need to take [the Prime Minister's statement] fully into account". 

But Lord Frost will advise the PM closer to the deadline whether talks could carry on.

01:00 PM

Further 54 people die with coronavirus in English hospitals

A further 54 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 30,280.

Patients were aged between 43 and 93 years old. All but one had known underlying health conditions.

Date of death ranges from 28 September to 6 October 2020 with the majority being on or after 2 October.

The North West was the worst-affected region with 22 deaths recorded, followed by the North East and Yorkshire, where there were 16. The Midlands registered seven deaths while London and the South East registered four apiece.

Just one coronavirus death was registered in the East of England, while the South West continued to remain free of Covid fatalities.  

12:50 PM

Is Labour set to break with Unite?

Labour appears to be breaking with the country's biggest union, Unite, threatened to pull its multimillion-pound funding if the new leader shifts the party away from the left.

The union is understood to be reducing affiliation by about 10 per cent after a vote of its executive on Tuesday.

Len McCluskey told Newsnight that while he did not think there would be "any dramatic move to disaffiliate from the Labour Party", the "funding arrangements is undoubtedly an issue that may come up"> 

Speaking today Sir Keir Starmer's spokesman said: "Unite have taken their decision. We have seen Len's remarks and we acknowledge that. But Labour will continue to take the decisions that are in the best interests of the country.

"Keir's focus and the entire Labour movement's focus is restoring trust in the Labour Party and winning in 2024."

Asked if it could benefit Sir Keir to appear to have distance from Unite, his spokesman said: "Len has taken his decision, Unite has taken its decision; it is for others to speculate and analyse that decision."

He added: "The whole Labour Party needs to take responsibility for the fact that we have lost four elections in a row."

12:33 PM

Boris Johnson has a serious party management problem on his hands

An online speech delivered in an almost empty room to a virtual party conference did not exactly play to the Prime Minister’s rhetorical strengths. But there was enough of the old Johnsonian optimism on show to remind his party why they elected him leader and the country returned the Tories to office last December.  

Many of the themes - from levelling up to the UK's future as a wind power giant - had been rehearsed long before the pandemic changed every equation.  

But for those whose bars and restaurants have been shut for good, whose artistic careers have been wrecked because theatres and concert halls are closed, or whose jobs working in cinemas or firms running events have been lost, the promise of jam tomorrow offers little consolation for the misery now

12:21 PM

Leaked documents reveal plan for Scotland's 'brake' on hospitality

Leaked documents have emerged that purport to show what Nicola Sturgeon will announce this afternoon in her latest lockdown restrictions for Scotland.

They were published by Donald Macleod, a Glasgow businessman and nightlife supremo who has criticised curbs on hospitality. While he could not prove they were genuine, he said they read as if they were government guidance.

According to the documents, entitled "The hard decisions we are taking", Scotland's pubs and bars will be forced to close for 16 days from Saturday, October 10 to Sunday, October 25 under a "brake to the virus".

This could continue after that date in the Central Belt, which includes Glasgow and Edinburgh, where the second wave has been worst.

Cafes and holiday accommodation will remain open, although they will not be able to serve alcohol. Some "financial compensation" is being prepared for the holiday sector.

12:16 PM

MPs told to mask-up on parliamentary estate

MPs and other parliamentary passholders have been told to mask-up when they are walking between buildings or queuing for food and drink in catering outlets from now on. 

The Speaker lead his procession into the Chamber today wearing a face covering for the first time ever – to encourage everyone in Parliament to keep themselves safe from Covid-19. 

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said the best way to encourage MPs and staff to wear face coverings when moving around the parliamentary estate “was to lead by example”. 

“Just as we have all had to wear them in supermarkets and on public transport, it makes sense that we all wear face coverings to protect each other on the estate,” he said. 

Staff and MPs are not expected to wear face coverings in meetings or when working in their offices. While Members are not expected to wear face coverings in the Chamber, they have been advised to wear them in the lobbies during a division.  

Last week one (Conservative) MP told me that "only the lefties" wear them when walking around the estate - it will be interesting to see if that changes now. 

Boris Johnson wears a mask as he leaves 10 Downing Street to attend PMQs - AP
Boris Johnson wears a mask as he leaves 10 Downing Street to attend PMQs - AP

11:58 AM

Sir Lindsay Hoyle attacks Matt Hancock over 'totally unacceptable' delays in responding to MPs

Sir Lindsay Hoyle has said it is "totally unacceptable" for ministers to fail to respond to MPs' requests for information, calling on the Department of Health to hire more staff if necessary. 

Sarah Owen, Labour MP for Luton North, said getting an answer out of the Health Secretary was "almost as hard as getting a test at the moment". 

She also accused Matt Hancock of claiming they were using "divisive language when we just raise our constituents concerns". 

Replying, the Speaker said MPs around the House were getting "frustrated" by this repeated behaviour. "We are the representatives of the electorate. We must get this message through to the Government. This is not an isolated case."

He suggested MPs raise it with the Procedure Committee, noting: "In the end it is all members, not one particular side. The people we represent want the answers.

"The responsibility lies with the Department of Health and Social Care... [Mr Hancock] may have a lot of questions placed to him. In the end, bring the extra staff in, but they must be answered."

11:45 AM

Northern mayors are involved in local lockdown plans, insists minister

Northern mayors are involved in local lockdown plans, a Cabinet minister has insisted today, as she defends the "delicate balance" of protecting lives and livelihoods. 

This morning Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, defended the Government's approach to local lockdowns, saying ministers were in constant contact with the likes of Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham and other regional leaders.

She said the strategy was "evolving" as more was learned about the disease, but argued they were getting the balance right, with some calling for lighter restrictions and the return of the so-called herd immunity strategy. Conservative rebels last night spoke against the "rule of six" during a heated debate in the Commons, in a sign of further agitation to come.

Others meanwhile are calling for tighter restrictions, following several weeks of local lockdowns with relatively minimal impact on transmission rates.   

"We are hearing voices on side of debate saying do more and the other say do less," Ms Truss told Sky News. "We are trying to keep the balance and I do think we have got the balance right. 

She added: "If we end up locking down further or having a national lockdown that would set us back hugely... We are putting our shoulder to the wheel to restrict the flow of coronavirus while keeping the economy going."

11:43 AM

Snap poll: Who won today's PMQs?

Sir Keir Starmer got visibly annoyed with Boris Johnson today, twice telling him off for not listening and not answering the question. 

But was he any good - and did he move the dial? 

Today the Labour leader grilled the Prime Minister about the impact of the lost 16,000 tests and flipped an oft-made criticism that he is 'Captain Hindsight', turning it against the Government instead. 

However it was arguably his questions about local lockdowns and the pub curfew that will have done most damage, with more than a handful of Tory rebels quietly agreeing with him. 

So who won today's PMQs? Have your say in our snap poll below - you have an hour to vote. 

11:39 AM

PMQs: There is 'abundant' space for new homes, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson is then asked where "precisely" he expects the new housing to be built under plans announced recently

He tells Taiwo Owatemi, Labour's MP for Coventry North West there are "abundant brown field space across the whole of the UK". 

But restrictions are caused by "cumbersome planning procedures" and the inability of young people to get onto the housing ladder, which is why the Government will introduce the new scheme with fixed rate mortgages of 95 per cent of the property. 

"We are going to turn Generation Rent into Generation Buy," he adds. 

And that is it, PMQs is over. 

11:36 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson dodges Universal Credit question (again)

Stephen Timms, Labour's MP for East Ham, raises the £20 Universal Credit uplift again, following a similar question by Ian Blackford. 

Boris Johnson says "we keep all these things under review", but offers no commitment to making it permanent. 

The Prime Minister is then asked about social mobility by Tory David Johnston, which he says is "exactly what this Government was elected to do". 

11:34 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson tells Labour to accept 'consequences' of lockdown

Liz Twist, Labour's MP for Blaydon, asks for assurance that Boris Johnson will provide support to retain those employed in hospitality. 

The Prime Minister says she is "entirely right to raise support for hospitality" and says he will do "whatever we can". 

But he argues that Labour needs to decide whether they are in favour of restrictions or not, because if they are "they must recognise there will be consequences to that". 

11:32 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson bemoans 'wretched' loss of jobs

Maria Eagle, Labour's MP for Garston and Halewood, asks Boris Johnson about the ending furlough scheme in the face of tighter local lockdown. 

She asks what can be done to "prevent this economic carnage worsening". 

The Prime Minister says he shares her feeling about the "wretched" loss of jobs.

He points to existing support for the North West, adding; "We will continue to provide support across the country... as we have done throughout the pandemic."

11:29 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson hits back against suggestion Chancellor told musicians to retrain

Chris Elmore, Labour's MP for Ogmore, claims the Chancellor Rishi Sunak yesterday told musicians to retrain and asks where the opportunities are. 

This is not quite what he said but it is certainly what was being said on Twitter yesterday afternoon. 

Boris Johnson says is it "simply not what the Chancellor said". He points to the "massive economic value" of those industries, which is why they are being supported "through these tough times". 

11:27 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson shrugs off question about student testing gaps

Matt Western, Labour's MP for Warwick and Leamington, asks about the spread of coronavirus in universities, saying students need immediate access to testing. 

He says Deloitte will only make their testing facility available at the end of this month. He asks if the Government was not expecting students to return to university. 

Boris Johnson says it is important that students do return to universities. He says there are "particular problems" in some parts of the country authorities are doing what they can to resolve them. 

"We will be pursuing measures we have outlined to bring them down and I hope he will support them," he adds. 

11:24 AM

PMQs: Internal Market Bill will protect UK from 'barriers', says Boris Johnson

Sir Jeffrey M Donaldson, DUP MP for Lagan Valley, asks Boris Johnson to "hold firm and commit to protecting Northern Ireland's place within the UK" when it comes to unfettered trade. 

The Prime Minister says he is "entirely right" and his words "will have been heard loud and clear by our friends in Brussels".

But if they haven't "we have the excellent Internal Market Bill to prevent against such barriers being erected," he adds. 

11:22 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson tells Ian Blackford he can 'ask again next week'

Ian Blackford has another go, urging the Prime Minister to consider this "lifeline" to prevent poverty. He asks him to "answer the question". 

Boris Johnson replies saying he won't "underestimate the importance" of what Mr Blackford is saying. 

He says another £1.7bn is being put into UC by 2023/24 "and if that doesn't give him the answer he wants he can ask again next week," he says. 

11:21 AM

PMQs: Boris Johnson challenged over Universal Credit uplift

Ian Blackford, SNP's Westminster leader, asks the Prime Minister to commit to making the £20 uplift to Universal Credit permanent.

Boris Johnson says he welcomes his support for Universal Credit, and "we will continue to support people across the country". 

He says so far UC has meant 200,000 fewer people in absolute poverty. But he doesn't respond to the question itself. 

11:19 AM

PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer challenges Boris Johnson over pub curfew

Sir Keir Starmer has called on the Government to publish the evidence behind the pub curfew. 

"He can't explain why area goes into restriction, he can't explain what the different restrictions are, how restrictions end. This is getting ridiculous," the Labour leader says. 

"The Prime Minister knows there are deeply held views across the country about this.

"Is there a scientific basis for the 10pm rule? If there is, why doesnt the Government do itself a favour and publish it before the vote next Monday," he adds. 

Boris Johnson says it is the same basis as Sir Keir supported two weeks ago. 

11:16 AM

PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer and Boris Johnson clash over local lockdowns

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer claims 19 of the 20 areas subjected to local measures for two months had seen infection rates increase.

He asks why constituencies such as Boris Johnson's were spared extra curbs while northern seats with similar levels of coronavirus were hit with restrictions.

Mr Johnson says "alas" the disease continues to spread. The Government is using a combination of local and national measures, he says. 

The Prime Minister repeats his claim that Sir Keir Starmer "cannot be bothered" to organise his MPs and asks if he supports the rule of six. 

The Labour leader responds simply: "yes" - but adds; "If the Prime Minister can't see when communities tell him the infection rate has gone up ten-fold under restrictions, and he doesn't realise that is a problem, then that is the problem."

He adds: "Prime Minister if you actually listened to the question we might get on better". 

11:13 AM

PMQs: Labour's duty to "point out" where Government is "messing it up", Sir Keir Starmer says

Sir Keir Starmer then lists the instances were cases are going up in local lockdown areas, saying "something has gone wrong here". 

Boris Johnson says the Government is "continuing to provide support" for areas that have extra restrictions, and will do so "for all parts of the country that have to go under" local lockdowns, he says. 

The Prime Minister then challenges him, saying last night the Labour party abstained on the rule of six having previously backed them. 

The Labour leader says "let me take this slowly for him", saying they want measures to work but "the Government is messing it up and it is our duty to point it out". 

These are "not trick questions", he adds. 

11:08 AM

PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer accuses Boris Johnson of running 'Government of hindsight'

Sir Keir Starmer says Boris Johnson's excuse "just doesn't wash", noting that because it has taken so long, for many the self isolation period has already been expired. 

The Labour leader says £12bn has been invested in the system , but a basic error brings it down. He asks why it took so long to discover what had gone wrong. 

The Prime Minister says the "crucial thing is yes of course there has been an error" but it doesn't change "the distribution of the disease". 

The regional lockdown approach "remains correct I think", he adds. 

SIr Keir says it "patently" has an effect on the disease because thousands of people have been walking around when they should have been self-isolating. 

He claims it is "a Government of hindsight", flipping Mr Johnson's description of him as Captain Hindsight. 

Countries with the best testing regimes have kept deaths low
Countries with the best testing regimes have kept deaths low

11:04 AM

PMQs: Sir Keir Starmer hammers Boris Johnson over 'basic mistake' of missing 16,000 tests

Sir David Ames asks the first question of Boris Johnson - plugging his book launch before asking if the Prime Minister agrees the last election was "categorically" about ensuring the Brexit referendum was "implemented in full". 

The Prime Minister assures him "that this country has not only left the EU but on January 1 we will take back control of our money, borders and laws". 

I suspect the rest of the questions won't be so easy. 

Sir Keir Starmer kicks off with the 16,000 missing tests and asks if he accepts that very "basic mistake" has cost lives. 

Mr Johnson says the "computer glitch has been addressed". All 16,000 have got their test results and a further 800 people were brought in to chase their contacts. 

"It will be for the reassurance of the house and the country that the missing data points do not change in any way our assessment... of the spread of the disease," he adds. 

10:54 AM

Jeremy Warner: As a nation we thought we were good at stuff. It turns out we aren’t

We thought that, as a nation, we were good at stuff, even “world beating”. So, apparently, did everyone else.

As recently as a year ago Britain was assessed by the Global Health Security Index to be second only to the United States both in its overall preparedness for an epidemic and in its rapid response and mitigation strategies.

That was then. The latest fiasco in test and trace, with 16,000 positive tests going missing, has heaped further ridicule on a growing catalogue of failings in the Government’s pandemic response. This is particularly apparent in test and trace, which from the start has been dogged by wrong turns, shortages, laboratory and test centre inadequacies, technical difficulties, and poorly trained contact tracers.

Yet, argues Jeremy Warner, these shortcomings are just a proxy for much wider failings in the Government’s Covid response, resulting in the worst per capita death rate of any major advanced economy, the worst hit to the economy, and the deepest impact on the public finances.

10:45 AM

Scottish Labour launches petition to force Margaret Ferrier to quit

Scottish Labour has launched an online petition calling for Margaret Ferrier to quit as an MP.

Demands for Ms Ferrier's resignation have intensified in recent days after she admitted travelling from Glasgow to Westminster while awaiting a Covid-19 test result, and making the return trip when she knew she had the virus.

She is also reported to have attended a church service before receiving the result of her test.

First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford are among those calling on the Rutherglen and Hamilton West MP  to stand down.

The MP has not made any public statement since announcing her test results last Thursday.

Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has told Margaret Ferrier to quit as an MP - AFP
Scotland's First Minister and SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon has told Margaret Ferrier to quit as an MP - AFP

10:38 AM

Boris goes jogging as Dominic Cummings arrives ahead of PMQs

Behind the scenes preparation is underway for PMQs today, as Boris Johnson goes head to head with Sir Keir Starmer from 12pm. 

The pair are likely to cross swords over the testing fiasco earlier this week, in which nearly 16,000 cases were not added to the Test and Trace system, with ministers unable to say how many people who should have been self-isolating were not contacted. 

Dominic Cummings and co have been helping the boss get ready for the weekly joust. 

Dominic Cummings, special advisor to Boris Johnson, arrives at Downing Street in London - Reuters
Dominic Cummings, special advisor to Boris Johnson, arrives at Downing Street in London - Reuters
Dominic Cummings this morning - Reuters
Dominic Cummings this morning - Reuters

As we have seen already, Mr Johnson's preparation included a swift morning jog. Of course, it's not just the Labour leader who gets to ask questions of the Prime Minister. The full list is here.

Boris Johnson goes for a morning run with his trainer Harry Jameson in Westminster - London News Pictures
Boris Johnson goes for a morning run with his trainer Harry Jameson in Westminster - London News Pictures

10:25 AM

Don't pack your bags yet: Airport testing announcement expected to just be a taskforce

The UK Government had been expected this week to unveil plans for airport testing which could enable UK arrivals to reduce their 14-day quarantine by up to six days.

However, despite Transport Secretary Grant Shapps and chief secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay both saying an announcement was due imminently, it now seems likely that ministers will be merely announcing a taskforce to develop the plans.

What's more, a final decision on how the UK plans to implement Covid-19 testing for international arrivals will not be made until at least November.

Read the latest travel updates here.

10:21 AM

Camilla Tominey: Boris Johnson gave us his vision of the future – but was anyone actually listening?

Ordinarily, the Westminster bubble would briefly burst for the Prime Minister's party conference speech. 

Beamed on televisions across the land, the keynote Conservative address is normally guaranteed to transcend Toryville and touch down in the offices and living rooms of Great Britain.

Yet, asks Camilla Tominey, as Boris Johnson spelled out his long-term vision for the nation to an empty room on Tuesday was anyone actually listening?

10:12 AM

Local leaders 'offering to help' as Government 'clearly struggling', says Newcastle Council boss

Local leaders are "coming forward with an offer of help" rather than just criticism,  the leader of Newcastle City Council has said. 

Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of the council, said the local measures had "clearly dampened down" transmission but they were "not enough in their own right". Regions needed support for businesses and an "effective" Test and Trace regime, he said. 

"The Government is clearly struggling here... we are coming forward with an offer of help," he said. "We are offering our assistance to try to get things moving forward."

Ministers "just tried to shut it down" whenever concerns were raised about the pub curfew, he added, noting a review was overdue. 

"We have tried it, we have seen it has had some limited success but we need to think more broadly about what we need to do to beat Covid," he said. "We are not going to beat Covid through regulations and restrictions but through people power."

That means "reminding people why social distancing is important" and "rebuilding trust", he told Sky News. 

09:57 AM

Significant rise of ‘no confidence’ in Government’s handling of Covid-19, study finds

Researchers at UCL have found a significant rise in people saying they have no confidence in the Government's handling of the pandemic, up from six per cent at the start of lockdown in March to 27 per cent now.  

Less than five per cent of respondents in England report having ‘full confidence’ in Boris Johnson and co.

However the devolved administrations are enjoying higher ratings, with 17 per cent of Scots having full confidence in Nicola Sturgeon - an increase on the 10 per cent in March.  In Wales, 15 per cent said they have ‘full confidence’.

Lead author Dr Daisy Fancourt said: “Confidence levels in the government have decreased markedly in England since the beginning of lockdown.

“This loss of confidence could be down to perceived government mismanagement of the pandemic coupled with a high number of Covid-19 cases in England. Early easing of lockdown in England and scandals such as government adviser Dominic Cummings’ journey to Barnard Castle appear to have contributed to the fall."

She added: “This loss of confidence is deeply concerning as it is related to people’s willingness to follow guidelines and rules. So it is vital that the government listens to people’s concerns and tries to rebuild people’s trust.”   

09:43 AM

Public consultation launched for proposed HS2 design changes

A public consultation has been launched by HS2 Ltd on proposed design changes to phase 2b of the high-speed railway.

The proposals include expanding the number of HS2 platforms at Manchester's Piccadilly and Airport stations, and adding an extra northbound HS2 service from Crewe.

HS2 Minister Andrew Stephenson said: "HS2 and Northern Powerhouse Rail are an integral part of this country's future rail network, vital for improving connections between our biggest cities and regions, boosting jobs and kickstarting economic growth as we build back better.

"This consultation will ensure passengers and business have their say in delivering a rail network that meets their needs, providing better journeys across the Midlands and the North as quickly as possible."

HS2: An expensive journey, with few still all aboard
HS2: An expensive journey, with few still all aboard

09:32 AM

What's on the agenda today?

Several MPs are currently debating the rapid expansion of China's labour programme in Tibet, with reference to the ongoing situation in XinJiang province.

There has been some suggestion that the Magnitsky amendment be used to bring sanctions against those involved in the "cultural genocide" currently happening in parts of the country. It makes for bleak listening, but there is cross-party agreement that something should be done now the UK has an independent sanctions regime. 

The tone will be somewhat different for the rest of the day - here is what to expect:

12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs.

12.15pm: The Welsh government holds its coronavirus briefing.

1.30pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.

2pm: Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and David Frost, the UK’s chief EU negotiator, give evidence to the Lords' Brexit Committee 

2.30pm: Richard Hughes, the new chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility, and other economists give evidence to Mel Stride and the rest of the Treasury committee about tax policy after coronavirus.

From 2.50pm: Nicola Sturgeon gives a statement to Holyrood about new coronavirus restrictions.

5pm: Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and David Frost, the UK’s chief EU negotiator, give evidence to Hilary Benn and the rest of the Commons' Brexit committee. 

Later this afternoon: MPs debate the regulations imposing the latest restrictions in the north of England.

09:27 AM

Ministers warned not to 'squander window of opportunity' to get virus under control

Ministers must not "squander the window of opportunity" they have to get coronavirus under control or the country will have to go under another March-style lockdown, a Sage scientist has said. 

Prof Stephen Reicher, professor of social psychology at the University of St Andrews, who advises the Scottish government as well as sitting on Sage, told the Today programme this morning that ministers still had some time to stem the spread of the virus. 

"I do think it’s important to do something because if you look at the figures at the moment, the level of infections is about 10 per cent of what it was at the peak in March, but, at the rate of doubling, it would probably be at the same as the peak in March by the end of October," he said. "So the good news is we have a window of opportunity to do something.

"If we squander that window of opportunity, then we really are in trouble, then we really would be talking about going back to March in terms of lockdown measures. But we’re not talking about that now. We’ve got time."

09:14 AM

Have your say on: the Government's approach to lockdowns

Ministers are treading the tightrope on responding to the second wave, fearful of allowing coronavirus to rip through the population on the one side, while being equally concerned about the economic and wider health consequences of a second lockdown. 

Yet leaders in the North of England argue that restrictions such as the pub curfew aren't working, with many zones under restrictions for weeks with no sign that transmission is abating. 

On the other side, a "declaration" by medics around the world have called for a relaxation of restrictions in favour of a herd immunity strategy. 

So which should it be? Have your say in the poll below. 

 I'll let you know the results at the end of the day.

08:53 AM

Tories spent nearly £16.5m on 2019 election, says watchdog

The Conservatives spent nearly £16.5m on the last General Election campaign, which saw Boris Johnson return as Prime Minister with an 80-seat majority, the watchdog has said.

The Electoral Commission stated that the party spent £16,486,871 across the country in order to gain its 80-seat Commons majority in December 2019.

The biggest chunk of the money, £5,818,998 went on "unsolicited material to electors", the commission said.

Marketing and canvassing cost £4,471,937, and advertising came in at £3,011,665. 

Some £1,689,000 went to campaign guru Lynton Crosby’s firm CTF Partners and another £700,000 with the strategic advisory firm Hanbury Strategy.

Rallies and other such events cost the party £529,650.

08:33 AM

Scotland's pubs and bars braced for closure in Nicola Sturgeon crackdown

Nicola Sturgeon has warned she will target Scotland's pubs and bars in a fresh crackdown being unveiled on Wednesday that could see them being forced to shut their doors later this week.

The First Minister will deliver a statement to Holyrood detailing new national restrictions to tackle the Covid-19 second wave, after local lockdowns and a ban on indoor visits failed to reduce case numbers.

Although the original 'circuit breaker' lockdown plan was supposed to provide a short shock to aggressively reduce the spread of the virus, she refused to give any indication of how long they would be in place. 

However as we have so often seen during this pandemic, where Scotland leads the rest of the UK tends to follow, so it is a useful indicator of the future direction of travel. 

She is expected to update Holyrood at around 2:50pm today. 

What is a circuit breaker and how would it help slow the spread of coronavirus?
What is a circuit breaker and how would it help slow the spread of coronavirus?

08:24 AM

Pub curfew 'having the wrong effect', says Liverpool Mayor

The Government's pub curfew is having "the wrong effect" and local leaders should be able to set restrictions on their own areas, the Mayor of Liverpool has said. 

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Joe Anderson said the city had seen 2,500 new cases in the last week, but restrictions imposed in Manchester and Newcastle were "not working and the increasing infection rate going up".

He added: "It's about common sense, it's about getting the balance right and about what we can do, what we should do and how local lockdowns work, working with local leaders to get it right.

"There's a lack of consistency, a lack of clarity, but most of all a lack of communication and collaboration."

He described the 10pm curfew as having "the wrong effect" and said it should be down to local authorities to work with businesses in the area.

08:15 AM

Ministers must act on Roche disruption, Lib Dems say

Ministers have been urged to act quickly to ensure people have access to tests for Covid-19 and other illnesses, following a supply chain problem with Roche.

The pharmaceutical giant has experienced a "very significant drop" in its processing capacity due to a problem with its Sussex distribution centre, the only one in the UK. Roche warned the issues with the supply chain may not be resolved for two to three weeks, but is prioritising the dispatch of Covid-19 and antibody tests.

Munira Wilson, MP for Twickenham and health spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats, said: "These reports will leave many people incredibly anxious, and rightly so.

"This does not only have serious consequences for our ability to test for Covid-19, but others with potentially incredibly serious illnesses will also be unable to get the blood tests or screening they need."

She added: "Our NHS must be able to treat everyone, whatever their illness, and ministers must do everything in their power to resolve this issue with the supply chain as quickly as possible.

"We cannot allow this virus to get further out of control, as well as further risking the health of thousands of individuals whose diagnosis of serious illness could either be delayed or go undetected."

 

08:05 AM

Primary school children could be removed from rule of six, Sage scientist suggests

Primary school children do not play a major role in spreading coronavirus and health experts are now considering whether they should be removed from the rule of six, a Sage scientist has said. 

Professor Calum Semple, a member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), said there was "growing evidence that primary school children are not amplifying this disease".

"We're quite confident now that primary school children are probably a quarter to half as likely to become infected and are also much less likely to pass the infection on," the professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool told BBC Radio 4's Today programme.

Secondary school age children had less of an impact than adults, although there was a "gradient of effects" with six-formers akin to adults, Prof Semple added. 

Asked about the rule of six, he said some countries have taken primary school-aged children out of the rule "and I certainly think it's something that many scientists and public health doctors are considering".

This is something that many backbenchers, including 1922 Committee chair Sir Graham Brady, have called for since the rule of six was devised. 

Rule of six
Rule of six

07:58 AM

Government should 'certainly' be considering national circuit breaker, says Sage scientist

Another Sage scientist has called on the Government to consider a "circuit breaker" lockdown at a national level, to help control the spread of coronavirus as we enter a second wave.

Calum Semple, professor of child health and outbreak medicine at the University of Liverpool, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that "perhaps a circuit breaker a couple of weeks ago would have been really good idea".

He added: "It's always easier to reduce an outbreak at the earlier stage than to let it run and then try to reduce it at a later stage.

"So, yes, circuit breakers are certainly something we should be thinking about on a national basis."

07:47 AM

Scientists urge 'return to normal' now to avoid future health crises

Liz Truss was pretty insistent throughout her broadcast round this morning that the Government is striking the "delicate balance" right when it comes to lockdown measures. 

Her argument was that one group of critics say they are not going far enough, while others say they go too far. 

That second group has been bolstered by a declaration signed by almost 2,500 medics and scientists from around the world, calling for societies to be allowed to reopen, with efforts focused on protecting the most vulnerable.

Dr Sunetra Gupta, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor of theoretical epidemiology at the University of Oxford, is among those to have signed.

You can read more about that here or listen to her speak to Planet Normal's Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan about those very concerns just a couple of weeks ago. 

Planet Normal podcast - Sunetra Gupta
Planet Normal podcast - Sunetra Gupta

07:34 AM

Liz Truss hits back at lockdown critics claiming no alternatives are being proposed

Liz Truss has hit back at critics of the Government's approach, claiming none of them "are proposing alternative measures". 

She claimed the local lockdowns were "the best way we have dealing with it now" until a vaccine is developed. 

But she was challenged on this assumption, after an international group of scientists has called on governments to overturn their coronavirus strategies and allow young and healthy people to return to normal life while protecting the most vulnerable.

Described as “the Great Barrington declaration”, the plan calls for herd immunity to be reconsidered as restrictions are having “devastating effects” on public health by disrupting routine care and harming mental health, with the underprivileged bearing the greatest burden.

Ms Truss said teaching was going ahead and people were able to work because of the Government's approach, adding "there is no easy solution", pointing to the fact it was a global problem. 

"Of course we will listen to new thoughts, new ideas... the way we are experiencing the second wave is much more different to the first wave."

07:28 AM

Country should be braced for 'tough winter', says Liz Truss

It will be a "tough winter", Liz Truss has said as she failed to rule out a second lockdown this year. 

The International Trade Secretary told the BBC's Today programme that ministers were "constantly" meeting to discuss and review the measures, playing down suggestion that those meetings had been stepped up in light of rising cases. 

She added: "What we don't want is to have to have a further lockdown, because it will have a huge impact on the economy. That is why we have local measures, local restrictions and we keep them under review as we see what happens."

The current approach meant it could "allow the economy to keep going, schools to keep going" through what is going to be a "tough winter," she added. 

07:23 AM

Pubs and restaurants could close to keep schools open, Liz Truss suggests

Liz Truss has not ruled out shutting pubs and restaurants down if scientific advisers suggested it was necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus. 

Nicola Sturgeon is discussing further restrictions for Scotland with her Cabinet this morning, and will update Holyrood later today. 

Asked if the UK Government would take similar steps, the International Trade Secretary told the BBC: "If we were given new advice I am sure the Covid committee would indeed take that on board."

It was "no doubt what Nicola Sturgeon is doing in Scotland," she added. 

"The important point is keeping schools open and keep the economy going," Ms Truss said. 

07:19 AM

Country must 'trust our scientific experts', says Liz Truss

Liz Truss has said the country must "trust our scientific experts" who are helping to shape the restrictions, despite local lockdowns having limited impact.

The International Trade Secretary said "absolutely the restrictions are right", she told the BBC, stressing that Prof Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the Chief Scientific Adviser, understand the virus best.

They had "consistently" helped to shape policy throughout the crisis, she added. 

Ms Truss added: "This is a moving situation. As you mentioned, we have seen a rise in cases in some of those areas so of course our advisers will be looking at that and telling us what to do. 

"This is not a perfect science, we are learning all the time. I am not pretending the Government is all knowing and all seeing."  

Coronavirus UKLA current
Coronavirus UKLA current

07:15 AM

Liz Truss plays down suggestions of Cabinet rift

Liz Truss has tried to play down suggestions that there is a rift in the Cabinet, claiming ministers are fully behind the current approach. 

The International Trade Secretary said the Cabinet was "completely united behind the Prime Minister", adding she personally was "fully in support of the measures we are taking across the country". 

Ms Truss added: "We don't want to have to take these measures, it is very difficult... but it very important we keep that balance between protecting lives and livelihoods."

Yesterday, Rishi Sunak said the Cabinet was not composed of "robots" who agreed on everything. 

Read more: Cabinet split over tougher Covid lockdown measures

07:12 AM

Liz Truss does not rule out second lockdown as cases grow

Liz Truss has not ruled out the chances of a second lockdown, saying everything is kept "under review". 

The International Trade Secretary told the BBC the Government was "trying to steer a path" of protecting lives and livelihoods, adding: "We are working very carefully across the country to make sure we have the right measures in place to restrict the virus.

"We don't want to go back to a second lockdown where we end up having to close the economy [but] we have always said we will keep everythig under review. 

"We absolutely want to avoid another lockdown. The right approach is to have local restrictions in place, to restrict spread of the virus."

Where are the UK's coronavirus hotspots?
Where are the UK's coronavirus hotspots?

07:07 AM

Local leaders write to Matt Hancock over 'couter-productive' local lockdowns

Senior politicians from four major northern councils have warned the government that existing coronavirus restrictions are "not working", describing some as confusing and others as counter-productive.

Leeds City Council leader Judith Blake, Manchester City Council leader Sir Richard Leese, Newcastle City Council leader Nick Forbes, and Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson have all written to Health Secretary Matt Hancock, saying they were "extremely concerned" about the sharp increase and the "national responses".

The four centres are among the worst-affected areas as the pandemic worsens - the UK reported 14,542 new coronavirus cases on Tuesday, almost 2,000 more than the previous day. Hospital admissions in England also hit a four-month high.

"The existing restrictions are not working, confusing for the public and some, like the 10pm (curfew) rule, are counter-productive," they said.

06:51 AM

Cabinet split over tougher Covid lockdown measures

A Cabinet row has thrown a major overhaul of local lockdown rules into disarray as the leaders of the worst-affected cities warned that the current measures are "not working".

A "traffic light" system of different levels of restrictions was due to be announced on Wednesday – but an intervention by Rishi Sunak, the Chancellor, is threatening to delay the plans.

The row erupted as Boris Johnson faces a growing Conservative backlash over his handling of the coronavirus crisis, with critics arguing that lockdown measures such as the 10pm curfew for pubs and restaurants are damaging the economy and could even be increasing infections.

A Parliamentary vote on the curfew – which had been expected by MPs on Wednesday – has been delayed until next week after dozens of Conservatives threatened to rebel and Labour refused to publicly back the measure.  

Now Mr Sunak is understood to be insisting that decisions about which towns should be put in the "red" zone of the "traffic light" system should be made by a new committee of himself, Mr Johnson and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary.