Early evening summary
- Sir Keir Starmer has reignited a conflict with the Labour left by refusing to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the parliamentary party, despite a disciplinary panel deciding yesterday that his suspension from the party should be lifted. Twenty seven Labour MPs have signed a statement describing Starmer’s decision as “wrong and damaging”. (See 5.13pm.)
- The UK has recorded 19,609 further coronavirus cases - its lowest daily total for more than two weeks. (See 4.45pm.)
- Tough restrictions on socialising will be needed before and after Christmas to keep the spread of coronavirus under control if families and friends are to be allowed to meet over the festive season, government advisers have said.
- Starmer has described Boris Johnson as the “single biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom” following his comments about Scottish devolution, during a history-making prime minister’s questions in which Johnson appeared via video link.
- Care bosses are demanding £500m in extra government funding to make care homes safe in the run-up to Christmas, while some councils have been accused of taking infection control too far by banning tinsel or advising against trees.
- Johnson is expected to announce on Thursday that the Ministry of Defence has been awarded a multi-year funding settlement, after it emerged this week that several billions would be cut from the aid budget.
That’s all from me for today. But our coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog. It’s here.
According to a snap YouGov poll, half of voters think Sir Keir Starmer was right not to reinstated Jeremy Corbyn as a Labour MP, and only 21% think he was wrong.
But amongst Labour voters, opinion is much more divided. Some 38% support Starmer on this, but 32% think he made the wrong decision, the poll suggests.
The poll also suggests 63% of people view the Labour party as divided.
McCluskey says Corbyn suffering 'persecution' from leadership 'capitulating to external pressure'
Len McCluskey, who as Unite general secretary is one of the most powerful figures in Labour and effectively one of the party’s biggest donors, has described Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the parliamentary party as “vindictive and vengeful”. He has also said Corbyn is suffering “continued persecution” from a leadership “capitulating to external pressure”.
Failing to commit to £20 per week uplift to universal credit beyond April would be 'madness', MPs told
Failure by the government to commit to extending the £20 a week uplift to universal credit payments next April during a pandemic and rising child poverty would be “madness”, MPs have heard.
Torsten Bell, chief executive of the Resolution Foundation, told MPs that ministers were “delaying the semi-inevitable” by refusing to signal whether they would continue with the top-up, which was introduced last April as a temporary 12-month boost for millions of struggling families.
Bell said ministers spent much of the autumn had been spent debating the “relatively small issue” of providing food support for children on free school meals during school holidays, rather than addressing the central issue of universal credit.
The successful campaign headed by footballer Marcus Rashford occupied the news headlines for weeks in the autumn before the government finally abandoned its original plans not to provide food support for struggling families during the Christmas school holidays.
Bell said that while that decision was important, and had led to a £200m support package for local authorities, the £9bn spent on uplifting universal credit was much more significant. “It’s so large, and payments are so focused on young families in particular, that this is what matters for whether people can look after their children,” he said.
If ministers were to retain the top-up they should announce it as soon as possible to give families time to plan, Bell urged: “Telling families they may or may not be losing £1,000 [just] two months before it happens is madness.”
Paul Johnson, the director of the Institute for Fiscal Studies, told MPs it would be odd if the increases for universal credit were not extended to those people on other benefits, such as jobseekers’ allowance and employment and support allowance. He said:
We still do not know what is going to happen to the supposedly temporary increase to universal credit next spring but if those increases are to be kept then it would be particularly bizarre not to do the same for legacy benefits.
Starmer faces revolt as 27 of his MPs publicly condemn his decision to exclude Corbyn from PLP
Twenty seven Labour MPs have signed a statement from the Socialist Campaign group describing Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the PLP as “wrong and damaging” and saying the decision should be swiftly reversed. Another MP, Claudia Webbe, who is currently suspended from the party, has also signed .
Given the state of the parties in the Commons, this represents one in seven of the PLP.
Peers inflict further huge defeat on government over internal market bill
Boris Johnson has suffered a further heavy defeat in the House of Lords on the internal market bill. By 367 votes to 209 - a majority 158 - peers have backed an amendment to the bill intended to stop Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland being sidelined when internal market rules for the UK are being drawn up.
The amendment, tabled by the former supreme court judge Lord Hope of Craighead, would protect the “common frameworks” process that allows the devolved administration to diverge.
Speaking in the debate, he said:
Not only does the bill ignore the common frameworks process, it destroys one of the key elements in that process, which brought the devolved administrations into it in the first place.
It destroys policy divergence. It destroys those administrations’ ability through that process to serve the interests of their own people and innovate.
As HuffPost’s Paul Waugh reports, 15 Conservative peers rebelled in the vote.
There is a link to the division lists here.
7% of teachers in England self-isolating, survey suggests
The proportion of teachers who are self-isolating in England due to Covid has jumped from 4% before half-term to 7% this week, according to a Teacher Tapp survey of more than 3,000 teachers. Numbers are likely to be significantly higher in areas with high levels of Covid transmission, where some schools have already had to close due to staff absences.
The increase matches a rise in the number of pupils out of school for Covid-related reasons, most of whom are self-isolating. Official figures published by the Department for Education yesterday showed up to 600,000 pupils were out of school last Thursday, with two-thirds of secondary schools affected.
With numbers deteriorating, Unison, which represents school support staff, called on the government to allow schools to go online from 10 December to reduce risks to families ahead of Christmas.
Unison’s head of education, Jon Richards, said:
Schools in Covid-hit areas are struggling to stay open. High numbers of children and staff are sick or self-isolating - and it’s only going to get worse.
Schools and local authorities know what is best for pupils, staff and the wider community. Government officials must step back and let education leaders make their own decisions.
UK records 19,609 more Covid cases - lowest daily total for more than two weeks
The UK government has just updated its coronavirus dashboard. Here are the key figures.
- The UK has recorded 19,609 further coronavirus cases - its lowest daily total for more than two weeks. That is down from 20,051 yesterday and it means the daily total for new cases has now been falling for six days in a row (admittedly from an all-time high of 33,470 on Thursday last week). A week ago today the total was 22,950. The daily total has not been this low since Monday 2 November, when it was 18,950. Today’s figure is also well below the average for the last seven days - 24,802. On Monday Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director of Public Health England and medical adviser to NHS test and trace, said at the No 10 press conference that, if the lockdown was working, we should expected to see the number of cases falling this week. Although these are UK figure, and the lockdown is England-only, these figures may be evidence that the lockdown is having the impact intended.
- The UK has recorded 529 further deaths. That is lower than yesterday’s total (598) but otherwise higher than any other day since last Thursday (563). It is also well above the average for the last seven days (416).
Northern Ireland has recorded 518 further coronavirus cases. That is down from 549 yesterday, 791 a week ago today and 679 two weeks ago today.
The number of coronavirus patients in hospital is levelling off, according to this chart on the dashboard.
But there have been 11 further deaths, up from nine yesterday, eight a week ago today and 10 two weeks ago today.
Public Health Wales has recorded 640 more coronavirus cases. That is down from 705 yesterday, 928 a week ago today and 1,202 two weeks ago today.
And there have been 41 further deaths, up from 34 yesterday but down from 45 a week ago today.
Diane Abbott, shadow home secretary when Jeremy Corbyn was leader, has also criticised Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to readmit him to the parliamentary Labour party. She posted these on Twitter.
Law firms have had to increase their security or even shut their offices due to their involvement in cases where there have been judgments seen as “favourable to migrants”, MPs have been told.
In evidence to the Commons home affairs committee this morning Michelle Knorr, of Doughty Street Chambers, said the government’s use of the term “activist lawyers” was “dangerous and depressing” and an “attack on the rule of law”.
In a hearing on Channel crossings, migration and asylum-seeking routes through the EU, Knorr was asked if she thought the term “activist lawyers” was “fair” and whether criticism over last-minute applications for halting deportations is justified. She replied:
I would say that the way the term is being used it’s obviously being used in a certain way that appears to be some sort of propaganda campaign.
And certainly, I would say, it’s dangerous and depressing, and we’ve seen that the profession and legal regulatory bodies have pushed back very, very strongly against the use of that term in the way it has been deployed by the prime minister and the home secretary.
I think it’s really important to remember that us lawyers can only advise on the law as parliament makes it, so we don’t get to bring a case and make up the law when we get to court.
Last month more than 800 former judges and senior legal figures signed a letter saying government attacks on the profession were endangering lawyers.
In the summer the Home Office deleted a tweet condemning “activist lawyers” following a complaint to the home secretary. But that has not stopped Boris Johnson and Priti Patel continuing to denigrate the profession. In their speeches to the online Tory conference in the autumn, they both singled out “lefty lawyers” for criticism.
NHS England has recorded a further 282 coronavirus hospital deaths. There were 98 in the north-west, 62 in the north-east and Yorkshire, 52 in the Midlands, 23 in London, 20 in the south-east, 16 in the east of England and 11 in the south-west. The details are here.
This is below the equivalent figures for yesterday (330), for last Wednesday (361) and for the Wednesday two weeks ago (302).
Aslef, the train drivers’ union, has welcomed the decision by the NEC to readmit Jeremy Corbyn as a member of the Labour party, but is disappointed that the Labour whip, in parliament, is still withdrawn.
Mick Whelan, Aslef’s general secretary, said:
We are delighted with the decision, which is the right decision, to readmit Jeremy. He has been a member of the Labour party all his adult life, and made an enormous contribution to his Islington North constituency, to the party, and to the labour movement. But we are disappointed that he will not be able to sit as a Labour MP in the House of Commons as the whip is still withdrawn.
Jeremy has called for the recommendations of the Equality and Human Rights Commission to be implemented so that antisemitism is rooted out once and for all. And that is right.
We believe it is vital that we move forward, as a Labour party and a labour movement, together. We need to look to the future, and come together, to take on the Tories and rebuild Britain after the ravages of the pandemic. We do not want – or need – factional infighting.
New No 10 press secretary seeks to repair relations with media
At the post-PMQs Downing Street lobby briefing today Allegra Stratton made her debut as the prime minister’s new press secretary. Most of the briefing was done by the civil servant who performs the official spokesman’s role (and who did not have much new to announce today) but Stratton responded to a few party political questions.
In a sign that No 10 wants to improve relations with the press now that Dominic Cummings and Lee Cain have departed, Stratton effectively disowned an anti-media briefing from No 10 earlier this year.
After the Guardian reported in April that Cummings was on Sage, the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, a No 10 spokesman issued an angry response that ended with the claim:
Public confidence in the media has collapsed during this emergency partly because of ludicrous stories such as this.
Ever since journalists have been periodically asking No 10 at the lobby briefings to provide evidence that confidence in the media has collapsed during the pandemic. The spokesman has never been able to supply any (mainly because the claim is not true), but he has never retracted the original briefing.
Today Stratton effectively did. Asked if the PM still thought there had been a collapse in public confidence in the media, she said:
The prime minister as a former journalist has, I think, spoken publicly about the role the media has played during this pandemic in spreading information about what we need people to do, to observe social distancing and so on, and indeed inside the building the prime minister can be heard saying he’s seen such and such a TV broadcast, it’s very powerful, what are we doing about this particular issue? So it’s certainly my understanding that the prime minister believes the media has had a very good and powerful role during the pandemic so far.
Nissan boss says without UK-EU trade deal its Sunderland business will not be sustainable
Nissan has warned that its future in Sunderland will “not be sustainable” if there is no Brexit deal.
With fewer than 10 days to strike a trade deal, Nissan’s chief operating officer, Ashwani Gupta, told Reuters that the prospects of tariffs on cars it exports to the continent would be ruinous to its plant, which employs 7,000 people. He said:
If it happens without any sustainable business case, obviously it is not a question of Sunderland or not Sunderland, obviously our UK business will not be sustainable, that’s it.
He denied reports it was seeking compensation for the financial cost of a no deal. “We are absolutely not thinking that and we are not discussing it,” he said.
This is from Richard Burgon, the Corbynite Labour MP and chair of the chair of the Socialist Campaign group in parliament.
Northern Ireland businesses call for Brexit transition extension
Northern Ireland businesses have called for an extension of the Brexit transition period in the region, warning they “simply will not be ready” for the mandatory border checks on 1 January, my colleague Lisa O’Carroll reports.
At his post-PMQs briefing Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman said that the decision to speed up Jeremy Corbyn’s disciplinary case was taken by party HQ.
The spokesman also refused to say what Corbyn would need to do to regain the party whip. “I’m not going to pre-empt any of that,” the spokesman said, when asked if a clear retraction and an apology would be sufficient.
The spokesman also said Starmer and Corbyn have not spoken since the night before the publication of the EHRC report last month. This morning Corbyn was told he was not having the whip restored by Nick Brown, the chief whip.
Ian Lavery, a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn’s and chair of the Labour party under his leadership, told the World at One that Sir Keir Starmer should have accepted the decision of a national executive committee panel to reinstate Corbyn as a party member. He said:
If you’ve got committees in place – and these committees are individuals elected by the membership – if you’ve got committees to deal with disciplinary, they come out unanimously with something how on earth is it correct that anybody in the party can overrule that?
But Lavery ruled out resigning the whip himself out of support for Corbyn. He went on:
What we want to do is exactly what Keir wants, exactly what Jeremy is saying: we want to root out antisemitism from the Labour party, undoubtedly so, and by prolonging this issue, by what the leader has done this morning, doesn’t really help because it just continues the pain in every constituency.
The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Jessica Elgot and Michael Savage discuss the latest on Labour’s Corbyn conundrum, Johnson’s self-isolation, and lockdown restrictions in Scotland. Patrick Wintour reports on the trip to Moscow by Foreign Office minister Wendy Morton. Plus Salma Shah and Jason Stein describe what it’s like to be a spad in times of crisis. Thanks!
Stephen Pollard, the former editor of the Jewish Chronicle, says he is not impressed by Sir Keir Starmer’s announcement about Jeremy Corbyn.
UPDATE: I have corrected this to say Pollard is a former editor of the Jewish Chronicle. He was editor for many years, but he is now an editor at large.
Jeremy Corbyn has been tweeting - but not about his relationship with the PLP. He has just posted this.
Andrew Scattergood, co-chair of the pro-Corbyn Labour group Momentum, has described Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to admit Jeremy Corbyn to the PLP as “farcical”. In a statement he said:
A disciplinary panel found that Jeremy Corbyn had not broken any rule, so now Keir Starmer is making it up as he goes along. This is not only farcical and incompetent, it is a blatant political attack on the left at a time when Labour should be united in taking on the Tories.
The recent national executive committee election results show that there is a clear socialist majority amongst the membership. Together we will fight for a socialist Labour party, committed to getting rid of our broken system and transforming Britain in the interests of the many. They can’t remove the whip from our movement.
Turkey farmers have received a welcome pre-Christmas boost after being told by the government that thousands of seasonal workers coming to the UK from Europe to help slaughter and pluck birds for festive tables are exempt from 14-day quarantine.
The British Poultry Council (BPC) last month demanded an urgent exemption from Covid-related travel restrictions to avoid shortages of highly skilled turkey pluckers and butchers which, it said, could have triggered the collapse of this year’s supply. Around 9 million British turkeys are reared for Christmas each year but the seasonal sector cannot survive without non-UK labour, it warned.
The exemption will cover some 5,500 seasonal workers who normally travel from Poland, Romania, Hungary, Bulgaria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Slovenia – typically on two-month contracts - to help slaughter, pluck and prepare birds destined for UK Christmas dinner tables. Farmers are promising workers Covid-secure accommodation and work “bubbles”.
Welcoming the move, the BPC said: “If the exemption helps us deliver a fantastic Christmas and helps our smaller seasonal producers, then it can only be a good thing.”
Mass testing programme for Merthyr Tydfil to start on Saturday
The whole area testing programme for Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales (see 11.29am) will be launched on Saturday 21 November. The first site will open at the leisure centre in the town with further sites due to open throughout the county borough later this month.
Merthyr Tydfil county borough council leader Kevin O’Neill said:
We’ve all been alarmed by the high number of cases in Merthyr Tydfil and action is needed to respond as a community to protect our residents.
The council will be throwing its support behind this significant undertaking in the coming weeks and encouraging as many of our residents as possible to play their part in trying to bring this virus under some sort of control.
The health secretary, Matt Hancock, said: “I urge everyone in Merthyr to play their part in bringing this virus under control by getting a test, and by following restrictions in place.”
Covid deaths in Scotland pass 5,000
The total number of Covid fatalities in Scotland has surged past 5,000 after National Records of Scotland reported another jump in deaths last week where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate.
NRS said 5,135 Covid-related deaths had been registered in Scotland by Sunday 15 November, after 278 were recorded last week. Last week’s total was 71 higher than the previous week, and the highest since mid-May, with 69% of those killed aged 75 or over and 198 deaths in hospitals.
Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, announced that 54 people with confirmed Covid infections had died in the last 24 hours, with 1,241 people still in hospital and 88 people in intensive care.
“The figures I have just reported will be really grim and distressing,” she said at her daily briefing. She told MSPs on Tuesday the incidence of Covid cases in Scotland, however, remained lower than in all the UK’s other nations.
PMQs - Snap verdict
That was a historic PMQs, but not a memorable one. It was historic because for the first time a prime minister responded to questions virtually. Given that the video quality was not great, and the atmospherics were somewhat lacking, the PM probably won’t be keen to repeat this any time soon. But in parliamentary terms it was still a moment, and one that will even harder for Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, to continue his rearguard fight against virtual participation in the chamber.
But PMQs was not memorable because the exchanges between Boris Johnson and Sir Keir Starmer did not really take us into new territory, and they were rather lacking in bite. One problem, of course, was that other events at Westminster this morning have been far more interesting.
Starmer focused on three issues: Scotland, financial support for people self-isolating and the problems with PPE procurement. When the history of this decade gets written, Scotland may turn out to be the biggest story, and Starmer’s line, that “the single biggest threat to the future of the United Kingdom is the prime minister every time he opens his mouth”, was true enough to hit home. But Johnson successfully deflected the question about his “disaster” jibe by focusing on separatism, not devolution, and this primarily felt like a battle between Johnson and the SNP, in which Starmer is not a principal agent.
On financial support for people who are self-isolating, Starmer was clear and persuasive, if not particularly original. Johnson’s defence of the current arrangements as “reasonable” sounded glib, and his attempt to depict Labour as performing a U-turn on test and trace was unconvincing. But he was on stronger ground on the third topic, the PPE procurement failings. Last week when this was raised Johnson conceded that there had been problems (“some of them more effectively than others”), but this week he was more gung-ho, focusing on the “we were in an emergency” argument and pointing out that at the time Labour was criticising the government for ignoring offers to supply PPE. He was right; Labour was. That does not justify the remarkable profligacy documented by the NAO and others, but in this particular bit of the exchange Johnson held Starmer to a draw.
For Starmer, perhaps none of this matters much. The outcome of his battle with a section of his party over the future of Jeremy Corbyn will matter much more to his leadership than anything said here.
The most interesting parts of PMQs came elsewhere. Johnson did not deny that the government was planning to abandon the 0.7% international aid spending target. (See 12.02pm.) And it was surprising how hopeless his answer was when asked why the UK now seemed to have the worst Covid record in Europe for deaths and the economy. (See 12.29pm.) Given how central this question will be to the coronavirus inquiry, you might have expected Johnson to have given it more thought.
Bambos Charalambous (Lab) says BAME people are twice as likely as white people to get coronavirus, and more likely to go into intensive care. A study says structural inequalities are to blame. How will this be addressed as the vaccine is rolled out?
Johnson says the government is considering this issue now. He says work might be a factor. People in some jobs may be exposed to a higher viral load. He says the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation will address this when it makes recommendations.
And that’s it. PMQs is over.
Ian Byrne (Lab) asks if the PM will put a right to food into law.
Johnson says Byrne is right to raise this issue. He says the government will ensure that no child goes hungry this Christmas.
Douglas Ross, the Scottish Conservative leader, says his constituency, Moray, would benefit more from the government’s growth deal if the money were spent more quickly.
Johnson thanks Ross for his lobbying on this.
Mohammad Yasin (Lab) says six out of 10 people dying from Covid have been disabled. Why have disabled people been so let down?
Johnson does not accept that. He says the government has offered disabled people all the support it can.
He says the way forward is to get the disease under control.
Sir Christopher Chope (Con) says 1m people have recovered from Covid. That means they won’t be reinfected for six months. Will the government follow Sweden and exempt them from the rules?
Johnson says the evidence points both ways on this issue.
Chi Onwurah (Lab) says some families will lose £1,000 from planned cuts to universal credit in April. Will the PM reverse those cuts?
Johnson says the government wants to tackle child poverty. It will continue to support people. The most important thing it can do is support people into work. He says 400,000 children have been lifted out of poverty in the last 10 years as a result.
Johnson says he is pleased that Facebook, Twitter and Google have said no company should profit from vaccine misinformation. The government will publish its plans in relation to this soon.
Margaret Ferrier (ex-SNP, now independent) asks about an application to the EU settlement scheme.
Johnson says he understands this case is being considered urgently.
Mark Pawsey (Con) says supermarkets have been able to sell clothing while clothes shops are closed. And they have benefited from the suspension of business rates. Should they pay?
Johnson says he understands the feeling of unfairness. The government is hoping to help all retailers.
James Murray (Lab) says in March Sir Patrick Vallance said keeping Covid deaths below 20,000 would be a good outcome. Now deaths are over 50,000. Why has the UK had the deepest recession and the highest number of Covid deaths in Europe?
Johnson says it has been a global problem. The UK has been supporting people. But he has no doubt that the UK can get through it, he says.
Kate Osborne (Lab) asks if the government will offer a lifetime skills guarantee, so that people can retrain at any point in their life.
Johnson says that is what he announced only a few weeks ago.
Gareth Bacon (Con) asks about people living in flats with dangerous cladding who cannot move because it needs to be replaced.
Johnson says he has deep sympathies with people in this situation. The government is working as fast as it can to remove cladding where necessary.
Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader at Westminster, asks if Northern Ireland would prove ideal for a roll out of mass testing.
Johnson says that is an excellent proposal. The government will talk to the Northern Ireland executive about it.
Sir Graham Brady (Con) says tens of thousands of jobs have already been lost in aviation. Will the government taskforce ensuring testing can replace quarantine when the lockdown ends?
Johnson says the government is working on this. It wants to help airlines.
Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, lists a range of policies imposed on Scotland over the last 20 years. And he lists a string of popular Scottish government policies. Does the PM understand why people think Johnson is the real disaster.
Johnson says he referred to this earlier. He says the SNP should focus on “the real priorities of the people of Scotland”. He says when he ran a devolved administration, that is what he did. He did not focus on constitutional issues, he says.
Blackford says Johnson’s comment was not just a slip of the tongue, it was a slip of the Tory mask. The Tory power-grab bill (the internal market bill) proves this, he says. He says another 20 years of Westminster government would be a disaster for Scotland.
Johnson says he could not disagree with Blackford more. What the UK does collectively is far, far better than what it could do as individual nations. He cites examples such as the furlough scheme and support for business during Covid. The UK has shown its value and will continue to show its value.
He says the SNP would take Scotland back into the EU, which would be a massive surrender of power, he says.
Karl McCartney (Con) asks the PM to join him at a football match in Lincoln when that is possible again.
Johnson says the government wants to ensure no football club goes out of business.
Starmer says Johnson cannot call him Captain Hindsight, because Johnson is now implementing the circuit breaker lockdown that Labour proposed.
He says Johnson has defended the £21m payment.
Can the PM give an assurance that from now on all contracts will be subject to full transparency?
Johnson says all contracts are being published. He says it is extraordinary that Labour is attacking the government on this. He quotes Rachel Reeves, the shadow Cabinet Office minister, writing to the government complaining it was not using various firms offering to make PPE, including a company specialising in historical costumes. He is proud of what the government did. Any government would do the same, he says.
Starmer says there is a huge gap in the system. If people cannot afford to isolate, there is no point tracing them.
He says the government spent £21m on an intermediary for a PPE contract. A few weeks ago the government could not find that for free school meals for the poor. Was that a good use of money?
Johnson says the government shifted “heaven and earth” to get PPE into the country. He says now the UK can procure 70% of the PPE it needs. Originally it was 1%. He calls Starmer Captain Hindsight. Starmer used to complain about the government not getting PPE quickly enough, he says.
Starmer says it is Tory MPs who are opposed to Johnson’s policy.
It is estimated only 11% self-isolate when they have to. That is not because they don’t want to, but because they can’t afford to. Does the PM accept we need to make it easier and more affordable for people to do so?
Johnson claims Labour has continuously attacked test and trace. It is extraordinary that Starmer is supporting it now. He says an extra £13bn has been spent on welfare. We need to encourage people to self-isolate, so businesses can get back to normality as soon as possible.
Starmer says of course he does not want the break-up of the UK. But it is the PM who is fuelling it.
He asks if the PM would be able to self-isolate if he were on just statutory sick pay, at £13 a day, or getting the one-off payments, worth £35 a day.
Johnson says he thinks it is a reasonable package. People can qualify for other support too.
He says he is glad Labour is now supporting test and trace.
Starmer says the single biggest threat to the UK “is the prime minister every time he opens his mouth”. When the PM said he wanted to take back control, people did not think that was from Scotland. Instead of talking down devolution, does the PM agree Scotland needs more power?
Johnson says Tony Blair has admitted he did not see the rise of nationalism after devolution. He says devolution worked for London. But the SNP are not focusing on services. They are concentrating on breaking up the UK.
Sir Keir Starmer sends his best wishes to the PM for doing the right thing and self-isolating.
He says devolution was one of Labour’s proudest achievements. Until now there was cross-party support for it. Why did the PM call it a disaster?
Johnson says what has been a disaster is the SNP constantly campaigning for the break-up of the UK. Otherwise devolution is a sensible policy. He benefited from it as mayor of London, he says.
Andrew Rosindell (Con) asks about a flyover in Romford.
Johnson says the Labour mayor of London is to blame because he “blew” Transport for London’s finances.
(Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has called that a lie.)
Anna McMorrin (Lab) asks why the government is breaking its own manifesto commitment and cutting global aid. Will the PM rule that out?
Johnson says the country can be proud of its aid record. And people can be even prouder of the commitment made to tackle climate change he says. The UK is leading the world in this, he says.
At PMQs Boris Johnson starts by telling the Speaker has has been updated by his officials about the inquiry into the leak of the lockdown announcement.
This is from John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.
PMQs is about to start.
Here is the “call list” with the names of MPs down to ask a question.
These are from Dame Margaret Hodge, one of the Labour MPs most critical of Jeremy Corbyn for his handling of complaints about antisemitism.
From my colleague Jessica Elgot
Easing of Covid rules at Christmas may have to be followed to further tightening, health chief says
Here are some of the main lines from the No 10 coronavirus data briefing.
- Ministers have been told that for every day restrictions are lifted, two days of tighter rules are needed. Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director of Public Health England and the medical adviser for NHS test and trace made the comment. She said that Sage scientific advice indicated that “for every day that we release (measures) we will need two days of tighter restrictions”. She went on:
So, coming into Christmas we need to be very careful about the number of contacts that we have, to reduce transmission before Christmas and get our cases as low as possible.
Hopefully the government will make the decision that will allow us to have some mixing, but we will wait and see what that is.
Then, I think, once we have got past the Christmas period if there has been a release and some socialisation we will all have to be very responsible and reduce those contacts again.
This is how Jason Groves from the Mail interpreted this.
- Prof Dame Angela McLean, the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, said Sage had given ministers advice about what to allow at Christmas. She said:
We did send some advice in over the weekend. But we genuinely don’t know what decisions have been made.
- McLean said it would not be a problem for easing England’s lockdown if the R rate remained above one next week, due to the lag in calculating the value.
- McLean said an increase in people’s activity on the day before England’s lockdown came into effect was a “worry”.
Here is some Twitter comment from journalists on the Starmer/Corbyn decision.
From Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall
From Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of the leftwing Tribune magazine
From the Mail on Sunday columnist Dan Hodges
From Justin Cohen, the news editor of Jewish News
Marie van der Zyl, president of the Board of Deputies of British Jews, has welcomed Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the parliamentary Labour party. She said Corbyn had been “shameless and remorseless for what he put the Jewish community through”.
Ministers urged to treat toy shops as essential retail
Toy industry chiefs have today appealed directly to Boris Johnson to “save” Christmas by adding bricks and mortar toy retailers to the “essential” list – the latest sector to plead for help.
Andrew Laughton, Chairman of the British Toy and Hobby Association and Alan Simpson, Chairman of the Toy Retailers Association, have written an open letter to the prime minister in which they implore: “Please don’t allow Covid to steal Christmas from children and families across the country.”
We need you to ensure that Christmas isn’t cancelled in a year when we all need some joy to lift the country’s spirits, to assist the UK toy industry and, most importantly, to support families that need our toys for essential child development and pure joy this Christmas.
They have called on the government to add toys to the list of essential retail as soon as possible, and at a minimum, ensure that toy shops are allowed to operate from 2 December when the current lockdown will be lifted in England, but areas of the UK will continue to remain in tiers of restrictions. The letter says:
Toys are essential tools of play to contribute to child development and learning and have been essential to families this year during lockdown, keeping children entertained, keeping them active, maintaining positive mental health and underpinning the morale of families across country.
The industry is worth £3.2bn to the UK economy with 50% of toys sold in the last quarter of the year. £820m of sales take place in December alone.
From the Labour MP Toby Perkins
A mass testing programme is to take place in Merthyr Tydfil in south Wales, the Welsh government has announced.
Everyone living or working in Merthyr Tydfil will be offered Covid-19 testing in the first whole area testing pilot in Wales.
The health minister, Vaughan Gething, said there would be “logistical support” from the armed services. He said:
The mass testing programme will see the use of lateral flow devices for the first time at this scale in Wales.
Everyone who attends any of the sites in Merthyr will be given a test using the devices, which can turnaround results within around 20-30 minutes. If an individual tests positive via a LFD test, they will then have a traditional swab test and will be asked to return home so they can self-isolate immediately.
Building on the learning from the first mass testing pilot in Liverpool, Merthyr will provide further vital information to help inform future rollout of mass testing in Wales.
At one point the Merthyr area had the highest Covid rate in the UK, though earlier this week the rate had halved to around 330 cases per 100,000 people following local lockdown restrictions and the Welsh firebreak.
This is from Jon Lansman, the founder of Momentum, on Sir Keir Starmer’s decision not to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the PLP.
From my colleague Heather Stewart
Starmer's statement on why Corbyn not being readmitted to PLP
Here is the full version of the statement from Sir Keir Starmer on the decision not to readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the PLP.
(He tweeted it out earlier, but it is easier to read in this format.)
Since I was elected Labour leader, I have made it my mission to root out antisemitism from the Labour party.
I know that I will judged on my actions, not my words.
The disciplinary process does not have the confidence of the Jewish community. That became clear once again yesterday.
It is the task of my leadership to fix what I have inherited. That is what I am resolute in doing and I have asked for an independent process to be established as soon as possible.
I’m the leader of the Labour party, but I’m also the leader of the parliamentary Labour party.
Jeremy Corbyn’s actions in response to the EHRC report undermined and set back our work in restoring trust and confidence in the Labour party’s ability to tackle antisemitism.
In those circumstances, I have taken the decision not to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn. I will keep this situation under review.
Here are two experienced political journalists with quite different interpretations of the Sir Keir Starmer statement. (See 11.10am.)
From Toby Helm, the Observer political editor
From Beth Rigby, Sky News’ political editor
Starmer says Corbyn won't be having Labour whip restored because he 'undermined trust' in party's ability to tackle antisemitism
Sir Keir Starmer has announced that he will not readmit Jeremy Corbyn to the PLP. He explains why here.
No 10 coronavirus data briefing
Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director of Public Health England and medical adviser to NHS test and trace, is opening the No 10 coronavirus data briefing.
She starts by presenting a slide showing compliance with the Covid safety rules.
In a useful analysis of the government’s 10-point plan for a “green industrial revolution”, Simon Jack, the BBC’s business editor, says it marks a change of thinking in the Conservative party. He says:
In the past, and in the parsimonious eyes of Treasury officials, green stuff = cost. There is now a new orthodoxy that green stuff = jobs.
Boris Johnson has written about the plan for the Financial Times, and he makes a similar point. He writes:
British towns and regions — Teesside, Port Talbot, Merseyside and Mansfield — are now synonymous with green technology and jobs. This is where Britain’s ability to make hydrogen and capture carbon pioneered the decarbonisation of transport, industry and power.
The government news release about the plan is here. And here is our news story.
Here is video of Sir Keir Starmer being doorstepped and asked about Jeremy Corbyn this morning. (See 9.51pm.)
Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, says Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, is due to brief the EU27 on the trade talks with the UK on Friday morning. She has a Twitter thread on this starting here.
From the Times’ Steven Swinford
Yesterday’s UK daily coronavirus figures were published on the government’s dashboard very late. But the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group has had a close look at the data for England and found some encouraging signs.
The 7DMA is the seven-day moving average.
The end of the Brexit transition period may aggravate political tension and paramilitary activity in Northern Ireland, according to the region’s Independent Reporting Commission (IRC) watchdog.
Republican and loyalist paramilitary groups continue to recruit and present a “clear and present danger” 22 years after the Good Friday agreement, the IRC said in its annual report. It said:
As the end of the Brexit transition period approaches, the possibility of a heightening of tensions reinforces the urgency of dealing with the ending of paramilitarism.
Against this backdrop and the loss of EU law enforcement tools as a result of Brexit, it is also essential that comprehensive arrangements are in place to enable the continuation of cross-border police and judicial co-operation.
The report recommended a mix of responses in policing, criminal justice and socio-economic development to curb the threat.
The British and Irish governments set up the IRC in 2017. Its four commissioners have a mandate to report on progress towards ending paramilitary activity. They do not make detailed security or threat assessments.
In a New Statesman article about Jeremy Corbyn’s readmission to the Labour party yesterday, Stephen Bush argues this has been “an unmitigated disaster” for Sir Keir Starmer. Bush writes:
The offence of ‘bringing the party into disrepute’ is designed to be so broad that almost any behaviour can be said to fall into it, giving a party leadership with a reliable majority on the NEC and its subcommittees a blank cheque for expulsions. But while Keir Starmer does have such a majority on the NEC as a whole, he does not in its various subcommittees, and the panel deciding this matter was ‘hung’, featuring two impeccable Corbynites and two Starmer loyalists in addition to Alice Perry, who is regarded as a swing voter on the NEC. As a result, Corbyn has been issued with a warning – a sanction that looks like a let-off because it coincides with his suspension as a party member being lifted.
The full article, which is worth reading, is here.
The BBC doorstepped Sir Keir Starmer outside his home this morning and asked him if Jeremy Corbyn would have the whip restored (ie, be readmitted to the PLP) following his readmission to the party last night. Starmer refused to answer, and just said he put out a statement last night.
This is what Starmer said last night.
Sharma refuses to apologise for government's PPE procurement failings
Alok Sharma, the business secretary, has refused to apologise for the way PPE suppliers with political connections were given special treatment when the government was sourcing equipment worth £18bn earlier this year.
Asked about the NAO report out today which is critical of the way the process was handled, Sharma said that he would not apologise and that the government was under “huge pressure” at the time to obtain PPE. He said:
We had to do an enormous amount of work very fast to secure PPE and that’s what we did, and I’m not going to apologise for the fact that quite rightly we made that effort.
Asked about a specific case, which involved a Spanish businessman being paid £21m to act as an intermediary for one of these contracts, he insisted that “checks were done” in this instance.
Here is our main story about the NAO report.
Here is the NAO’s news release, here is the NAO’s summary (pdf) of the report, and here is the full 48-page report (pdf).
The Conservative MP John Penrose, who is married to Dido Harding (see 9.18am), has also been self-isolating. On Monday he posted this on Twitter.
In a HuffPost feature on the Starmer/Corbyn suspension story, Graeme Demianyk says there are two theories as to how Jeremy Corbyn came to be readmitted to the party yesterday.
There are two theories ... floating around as to how Corbyn ended up getting away with effectively a minor sanction. One is that the NEC panel didn’t vote the way Starmer’s team expected it to, and it is all a shock to them. The other is that the panel did indeed vote precisely the way they were expected to, as part of a grand compromise to readmit the former leader and avoid more civil war, while getting him to make amends.
The first theory could explain why Starmer tweeted what appeared to be irritation and embarrassment at the outcome. “I know that this has been another painful day for the Jewish community and those Labour members who have fought so hard to tackle antisemitism,” he said.
Sienna Rodgers from LabourList has a useful explanation as to why Jeremy Corbyn’s supporters and the party leadership can reach different conclusions when studying the same rules to to whether Corbyn’s readmission to the the party automatically leads to his return to the PLP. (See 8.58am.)
Test and trace boss Dido Harding says she's been told to self-isolate
Dido Harding, head of NHS test and trace, has disclosed this morning that she has been “pinged” (to use Boris Johnson’s phrase) and that she is having to self-isolate.
Starmer urged not to let Corbyn back into Labour parliamentary party
Good morning. Yesterday Jeremy Corbyn released a statement effectively retracting a claim he made about the extent of antisemitism in the Labour party being “overstated”, and this led to his suspension from the party being lifted. Perhaps some people in Labour HQ or in the leadership thought this would heal the rift caused when Corbyn’s initial “overstated” comment led to his suspension on the day the Equality and Human Rights Commission published its report last month.
But it hasn’t worked out like that. As Lisa O’Carroll reports, the decision has provoked a backlash from Jewish groups and Labour MPs opposed to Corbyn. Figures such as Margaret Hodge say Corbyn should not be a Labour MP. And Sir Keir Starmer now faces another decision which, depending on what he does, will infuriate either one faction in the party or another.
On the Today programme this morning James Schneider, director of strategic communications for Corbyn when Corbyn was leader, claimed that having his suspension lifted meant Corbyn was automatically restored as a member of the parliamentary Labour party. Schneider said:
It’s automatic. Jeremy Corbyn is a Labour MP with the whip restored. It would be a decision for the leadership to now withdraw the whip if that’s what they want to do ...
[Corbyn] had the whip withdrawn automatically because he was suspended from party membership. It is now reinstated automatically because the party membership is back. This process has been completed. The membership is reinstated. He is a Labour member and he is a Labour MP.
But Labour officials say this morning that Schneider was wrong, and that readmission to the party does not automatically mean readmission to the PLP. It is expected that Starmer will want to decide this within the next three hours, before PMQs.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11am: Dr Susan Hopkins, a deputy director of Public Health England and medical adviser to NHS test and trace, holds a coronavirus data briefing at No 10.
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Sir Keir Starmer at PMQs - with Johnson becoming the first PM to take part in this exchange virtually, because he is still self-isolating.
12.15pm: Dr Andrew Goodall, the chief executive of NHS Wales, holds a Welsh government coronavirus briefing.
12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon is holding a coronavirus briefing.
3pm: Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, gives evidence on human rights to the joint committee on human rights.
Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, like the Starmer/Corbyn story, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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