Early evening summary

  • Boris Johnson has come under fresh pressure from metro mayors to change tack and keep mask wearing compulsory on public transport in England from Monday. At a news conference this afternoon six Labour metro mayors said they would all be doing everything they could to require passengers to keep wearing masks from Monday. But metro mayors have different powers in different places, and mostly their powers over transport are very limited. Andy Burnham said he would mandate the wearing of masks on trams in Greater Manchester, using conditions of carriage (see 10.25am), and Jamie Driscoll said he would be doing the same on the Tyne and Wear metro. Tracy Brabin and Dan Jarvis said they would require the wearing of masks in bus stations in West Yorkshire and South Yorkshire respectively. Otherwise all six mayors just stressed that they would encourage people to keep wearing masks, in order to protect others. Sadiq Khan, who has more extensive control over transport in London, will use conditions of carriage to mandate masks on buses, tube trains and other Transport for London services. Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of West Midlands, also said today he would encourage mask wearing. (See 3.30pm.) But he admitted he did not have the power to enforce this, and his statement does not go much beyond the official government advice (pdf), which says the government “expects and recommends that people wear face coverings in crowded areas such as public transport”.
  • Shapps has announced that the Balearic islands are moving from the green list to the amber list. He gave details of the latest changes to the green/amber/red lists on Twitter.

From 4.00am Monday 19th July Bulgaria & Hong Kong will be added to the green list 🟢 and Croatia & Taiwan the green watchlist of destinations. Please check latest travel advice before you travel as countries and territories may have extra requirements before you get there.

— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 14, 2021

We’re also moving the Balearic Islands & British Virgin Islands to the amber list 🟠- previously on the green watchlist. Also, from 19/07 if you’re fully #Vaccinated in the UK you can return to England from amber countries and territories without needing to quarantine.

— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 14, 2021

Four countries and territories will join the red list 🔴to safeguard our domestic vaccine rollout 💉 We’ll keep these measures under review and be guided by the latest data - we won’t hesitate to take action if needed to protect public health.

— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) July 14, 2021

That’s all from me for today. But our coronavirus coverage continues on our global live blog. It’s here.


At his press conference Burnham stresses that he and his fellow mayors are not asking people to do anything that they are not doing already.

He acknowledges this could lead to difficulties if staff trying to enforce the rule get challenged by passengers who think they should not have to wear a mask.

But he suggests that these concerns were outweighed by the concerns of people wanting to travel on public transport safely.

Asked if he liaised with Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, over this, Burnham says his team spoke to Khan’s team last week and realised that their thinking was similar.

The latest edition of the Guardian’s Politics Weekly podcast is out. Jessica Elgot and Martin Kettle discuss the government’s narrow win to slash foreign aid spending. Plus, Sienna Rodgers, Will Tanner and Sunder Katwala reflect on how politicians are waking up to a progressive patriotism.

Rotheram says people in the Liverpool city region have a camaraderie and common spirit. He suggests he will be appealing to that, asking people to wear masks to help others out.

Burnham defends changing his mind on keeping masks compulsory, saying he has listened to people's concerns

Q: Last week you said that mandating mask wearing in Greater Manchester might lead to confusion if it were not compulsory elsewhere. What changed your mind?

Burnham says last week, when he looked at this, he thought it would be difficult to go against the UK government policy.

But he says as a mayor you have to listen to people. And he has been listening to people worried about going on public transport next week.

The advice for the extremely clinically vulnerable says they should avoid people who have not been vaccinated. But how are they supposed to know who has been vaccinated.

There are 200,000 people in Greater Manchester who are clinically extremely vulnerable. He says he expected the government to do a U-turn on Monday. It didn’t. But by making this statement with other mayors, Burnham says he hopes he is giving some kind of clarity.

He says wearing a mask is a “minor inconvenience” for most people. But it will allow Greater Manchester to open up with a bit more reassurance, he says.

Dan Jarvis, the mayor of Sheffield city region, says he will mandate mask wearing at bus stations in South Yorkshire, the one bit of the transport network he controls.

And Dan Norris, the West of England mayor, says he has no power to mandate mask wearing on public transport, but he would if he could.

Jamie Driscoll, the North of Tyne mayor, says he will mandate mask wearing on the Tyne and Wear metro from next Monday. But he says he has no powers over bus or rail services.


Steve Rotheram, the mayor of Liverpool city region, says there are six metro mayors here, all with different power over transport. He says policy is fragmented.

He says he would advise people to wear masks, but he says he has hit a “brick wall” trying to get bus and train operators to agree.


Tracy Brabin, the mayor of West Yorkshire, goes next. She says she will require the use of face coverings inside bus stations in West Yorkshire from next Monday.

She also says she will be encouraging people to wear them on other public transport networks, although she says she cannot mandate them.

Burnham says face coverings will remain compulsory on trams in Greater Manchester from Monday

Andy Burnham says he is joined at the press conference by some other Labour mayors from the north of England.

They all have concerns about the government’s policy on masks.

Masks protect others, he says. And he says one person’s decision not to wear them could affect the mental and physical health of others.

He says he is particularly concerned about the worries of vulnerable people.

He says in Greater Manchester he will continue to require face coverings to be worn on trams, using conditions of carriage.

He says, unlike the mayor of London, he does not have the power to require this for buses and trains.

Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, is about to hold a press conference about face coverings on public transport.

There will be a live feed here.

New Covid cases in UK reach highest total for almost six months, at 42,302

The UK has recorded 42,302 new coronavirus cases, the government has said. That is the highest daily total on this measure for almost six months (since 15 January, when 55,761 cases were recorded).

There have also been 49 more deaths.

The dashboard has not updated yet because there has been a holdup, but Public Health England has tweeted the figures.

Drakeford warns UK 'sleepwalking, if not careful, into end of the union'

In evidence to the Lords constitution committee this morning Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, said that the United Kingdom was “sleepwalking, if we are not careful, into the end of the union as we know it”. He said that part of the problem was that Boris Johnson was leading a government more hostile to devolution than any of its predecessors since the Scottish parliament and Welsh assembly (now the Senedd, or parliament) were set up. He said:

We’ve had differences of view with different governments of more than one persuasion, but we’ve never worked with a government where our experience is that they are instinctively hostile to the notions of devolution and the way devolved governments go about our responsibilities.

Ruth Mosalski from Wales Online has a full report here.

Mark Drakeford.
Mark Drakeford. Photograph: Matthew Horwood/Getty Images

We are expecting a formal announcement about changes to the green/amber/red lists for overseas travel later, but my colleague Aubrey Allegretti has had a steer on what to expect.


Sinn Féin describes Troubles amnesty plan as 'insult to grieving families'

Sinn Féin has issued a statement strongly opposing the government’s plans for a Troubles amnesty. Michelle O’Neill, the Sinn Féin deputy first minister, said:

Once again the British government has shown its complete disregard for the people of the north, for victims of the conflict, for our peace process and for its agreements.

Families who have campaigned with dignity and determination have been left angered and hurt by this further attempt by the British government to cover up the truth and put its forces beyond the law ...

It’s clear that the British government’s objective is to end independent investigations, inquests, judicial reviews, civil cases and also prosecutions involving British soldiers already before the courts.

Such unilateral proposals are a clear breach of the British government’s Stormont House Agreement and their New Decade New Approach commitments. This unilateral approach is opposed by all five main political parties in the north and the Irish government.

These proposals are about putting British state forces who killed Irish citizens beyond the law. It is further insult to grieving families.

Here is the command paper (pdf) published by the Northern Ireland Office giving details of the government’s plans for a Troubles amnesty,

And this is what it says about the proposal for a statute of limitations. (The government is not using the term amnesty, although that term is a more straightforward explanation of what is proposed.) The document says:

The UK government’s view is that a bold, but difficult, step is required in order to provide information, certainty, acknowledgement, and reconciliation, for all those directly affected by the Troubles and wider NI society ...

That is why the UK government is considering a proposed way forward that would remove criminal prosecutions through the application of a statute of limitations to Troubles-related offences. Under such a proposal, the PSNI and Police Ombudsman Northern Ireland would be statutorily barred from investigating Troubles-related incidents. This would bring an immediate end to criminal investigations into Troubles-related offences and remove the prospect of prosecutions.


Tory West Midlands mayor Andy Street says he wants people to carry on wearing masks on public transport from Monday

Andy Street, the Conservative mayor of the West Midlands, has urged people to continue wearing face coverings on public transport from Monday in spite of the relaxed government guidance.

In a divergence from No 10, Street said the region’s transport body did not have the powers to make face coverings mandatory on buses and trains but that it did “have a clear expectation of all passengers to continue to wear their face coverings across all modes of public transport”.

He becomes the latest English regional mayor to urge their millions of residents to continue wearing face coverings on public transport from Monday even though it will no longer be punishable by fines. The mayors of Greater Manchester, Liverpool City Region, West Yorkshire and North of Tyne have all called for a more cautious approach than that of Downing Street.

Street said:

We will have staff out and about at stations and on services relaying this message and handing out masks where needed.

Myself and Transport for the West Midlands believe that wearing face coverings on public transport – particularly busy services – has an important role to play in protecting staff and vulnerable passengers. We would ask all passengers to join in this collective effort.


Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has said that Malta has changed its travel guidance so that anyone from the UK fully vaccinated with the AstraZeneca vaccine will be admitted, regardless of where that vaccine was made. This is in response to this morning’s Telegraph story about a couple being turned away from a flight to Malta on the grounds that their batch of AstraZeneca vaccine was manufactured in India. (See 10am.)

Two-thirds of UK adults have now had both doses of Covid vaccine, Javid says

Sajid Javid has said that two-thirds of adults in the UK have now had both doses of Covid vaccine.


Amnesty International says says Troubles plan for Northern Ireland shows 'appalling disregard for victims'

Amnesty International has said the government’s proposals for dealing with the past in Northern Ireland show “offensive disregard for victims”. Grainne Teggart, the human rights group’s Northern Ireland campaign manager, said:

The UK government is showing an appalling and offensive disregard for victims; grossly dismissing their suffering and rights to truth, justice and accountability.

In pursuing a statute of limitations to put state forces and other perpetrators above the law and beyond accountability, government debases natural justice.

People in Northern Ireland have been clear in their rejection of a de facto amnesty.

Many victims are having their worst fears realised in these proposals – the government are closing down paths to justice.

The Irish government, Northern Ireland political parties and members of the UK parliament must unequivocally reject these proposals and stand with victims.


Mark Francois (Con) says the legislation proposed by Lewis is unlikely to become law until next summer. That means veterans facing prosecution will face another year under the “sword of Damocles”.

Lewis says he would like to have had the second reading of a bill before the summer recess, but it has taken more time because of talks with the Irish government.

Summary of Brandon Lewis's statement to MPs about Troubles amnesty

And here are the key extracts from Brandon Lewis’s opening statement to MPs.

  • Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, said the current approach to legacy issues (unsolved murders from the Troubles) was not working. He said:

It is clear that the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working. It is now a difficult painful truth that the focus on criminal investigations is increasingly unlikely to deliver successful criminal justice outcomes … but all the while it continues to divide communities and fails to obtain answers for a majority of victims and families.

This is borne out in the figures. The Police Service of Northern Ireland are currently considering almost 1,200 cases - which represents a fraction of the 3,500 deaths. These would take over 20 years to investigate using current resources. More than two-thirds of Troubles-related deaths occurred over 40 years ago, and it is increasingly difficult for the courts to provide families with the answers they are seeking.

  • He said the government was proposing three main measures. He said they were:

A new independent body that would focus on the recovery and provision of information about Troubles-related deaths and most serious injuries. This body would be focused on helping families to find out the truth of what happened to their loved ones. Where families do not want the past raked over again, they would be able to make this clear. But for those families that want to get answers, the body would have full powers to seek access to information and find out what happened.

A package of measures also includes a major oral history initiative, consistent with what was included in the Stormont House Agreement. This initiative would create opportunities for people from all backgrounds to share their experiences and perspectives related to the Troubles - and crucially, to learn about those of others. Balance and sensitivity would be of central importance, and a concerted effort would be made to engage with those whose voices may not have been heard previously.

A statute of limitations, to apply equally to all Troubles-related incidents. We know that the prospect of the end of criminal prosecutions will be difficult for some to accept, and this is not a position that we take lightly. But we have come to the view that this would be the best way to facilitate an effective information retrieval and provision process, and the best way to help Northern Ireland move further along the road to reconciliation. It is a painful recognition of the reality of where we are.

  • He accepted that the statute of limitations plan would be difficult for relatives of victims to accept. He said:

We acknowledge that any proposal that moves away from criminal justice outcomes would be a very significant step that will be extremely difficult for some families to accept.

The Belfast/Good Friday agreement was a bold step to address the past. There have been other such bold steps such as the decommissioning of weapons and the limiting of sentences to two years.

  • But he said that this plan offered the “best chance of giving more families some sense of justice through acknowledgment, accountability and restorative means”. He said:

We are also unequivocal in our commitment to delivering for victims and survivors. Time is crucial, and as it moves on we risk the very real possibility that we will lose any chance to get the vital information that families want and need. They have waited long enough, and a focus on information would offer the best chance of giving more families some sense of justice through acknowledgement, accountability and restorative means.

  • He said this plan would offer “certainty for former members of the security forces, many of whom remain fearful of the prospect of being the subject of investigations that will hang over them for years to come”.
  • He said the government would introduce legislation for this by the end of the autumn.


Sir Iain Duncan Smith, the former Tory leader, says he served in Northern Ireland as a soldier. He says he would like to know what happened to his friend Robert Nairac, who was killed by the IRA, but he says he has accepted he will probably never find the truth. He says, if we are to move forward, everyone will have to make “some kind of sacrifice”. He says his priority is to ensure the vexatious pursuit of former soldiers ends.

That sounded like a roundabout way of saying he would reluctantly back the plan.


DUP opposed to 'any form of amnesty', says Jeffrey Donaldson

In the Commons Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP leader, is just reminding Lewis and other MPs of killings of politicians, where no one was brought to justice. He says the concerns of victims must not be ignored.

His Commons question is not as critical as this statement, which he released issued to journalists a few minutes ago. Donaldson said:

The past is complex and we have always believed that any process to deal with the legacy of our troubled past should be victim centred. Victims will see these proposals as perpetrator focused rather than victim focused and an insult to both the memory of those innocent victims who lost their lives during our “Troubles” and their families.

Justice was corrupted in 1998 with the release of prisoners and then by Tony Blair’s on-the-run letters. Understandably many victims will feel that these proposals represent a further denial of the opportunity to secure justice for their loved ones.

There can be no equivalence between the soldier and police officer who served their country and those cowardly terrorists who hid behind masks and terrorised under the cover of darkness. We find any such attempted equivalence as offensive.

The Democratic Unionist Party, both publicly and privately, has, and continues to oppose any form of amnesty. Everyone must be equal under the law and equally subject to the law. We will oppose any plans that give an effective amnesty to those who murdered and maimed over many decades.

Whilst we understand that with the passage of time the prospect of justice is diminishing for many but these proposals, if passed, will extinguish that flickering flame of justice completely and is a moral overreach that cannot be accepted.

Here is the full text of Brandon Lewis’s statement.

Theresa May, the Conservative former PM, seemed to back the government’s proposal. She says, for people in Northern Ireland to be able to have a brighter future, Northern Ireland has to “move on from the legacy of the past”.

Responding for Labour, Louise Haigh, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said this was “an amnesty in all but name”.

She said this was a “seismic departure” from what the government promised when it said it would implement the Stormont House agreement.

And she suggested this approach would offer neither truth nor reconciliation.

UPDATE: Haigh said:

Ministers today appear to have concluded that the rule of law no longer applies. An amnesty for the republican and loyalist terrorists who tortured, maimed, disappeared and murdered men, women, and children.

Addressing the toxic legacy of the past in this way, through unilateral imposition from Westminster, without the support of any political party in Northern Ireland, is foolish and unsustainable.


Lewis says Troubles amnesty plan offers 'best chance of giving more families some sense of justice'

Lewis says there are three main elements to the plan.

First, there will be an independent body set up to investigate what happened, in cases where relatives of victims want that.

Second, there will be a history initiative set up to allow people to share their experiences of what happened in the Troubles.

And, third, there will be a statue of limitation, covering all Troubles-related incidents.

He acknowledges that this involves a big step. But the government has decided that this is the best way to uncover information about what happened.

There have been other bold steps in Northern Ireland in the past, he says, like the decommissioning of weapons.

He says if the government does not do this, there is a real chance that information about what happened will be lost.

And he claims that this move offers relatives their “best chance of giving more families some sense of justice through acknowledgment, accountability and restorative means”.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says the process for considering historic deaths in Northern Ireland is not working.

The police are investigating 1,200 cases, he says. He says it would take them 20 years to finish this work.

He says relatives will not get answers that way.

Today he is publishing plans for an alternative approach, he says.

It is a hugely difficult issue, he says. But is of utmost importance.

He says the government will conduct intensive engagement on this, and legislate by the autumn.

Brandon Lewis's statement to MPs on proposed Troubles amnesty

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Speaker, says during the statement he will allow only limited reference to legal proceedings.

Referring to the SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who yesterday used parliamentary privilege to name a retired soldier subject to an anonymity order who is facing murder charges over Bloody Sunday, he says Eastwood did not break the rules because he was protected by parliamentary privilege. But he says it will be up to others to judge if what he did was appropriate.


Wales to go ahead with further unlocking on Saturday, with most remaining restrictions due to go on 7 August

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, has said that on Saturday Wales is planning to lift further Covid restrictions, with the government set to lift most remaining restrictions on 7 August, PA Media reports. PA says:

Wales will move fully into alert level 1 from 17 July, which had been paused four weeks ago due to the emergence of the Delta variant and to allow more people to be vaccinated.

Drakeford said there were plans to move to alert level 0 - meaning nearly all restrictions are lifted - on 7 August.

Alert level 0 is set out in an updated coronavirus control plan, published today, meaning should the public health situation allows, Wales will move to this level on 7 August.

From 17 July up to six people can meet indoors in private homes and holiday accommodation, organised indoor events can take place for up to 1,000 people seated and up to 200 standing and ice rinks can reopen.

Drakeford has posted more details of changes to the rules in a Twitter thread starting here. The full details are also set out in this Welsh government news release.


Aaron Bell (Con) says there is far less racism in Britain today, but people experience it far more because of social media. He credits this paradox to Sunder Katwala, head of the British Future thinktank.

Atkins acknowledges the point. She says young people should be told abusive comments are not representative.

And that’s it. The UQ is over.

Atkins says the Home Office is looking into the Football Association analysis suggesting most of the online abuse came from overseas.

Back in the Commons Damian Hinds (Con) says, while there might be good reasons for some people to remain anonymous online, people should have the right to say they only want to hear from people who disclose their name.

Victoria Atkins, the Home Office minister, says that is an extremely interesting proposal.

Siân Berry to stand down as Green party co-leader following dispute over trans rights

Siân Berry, one of the Green party’s co-leaders, has said she will not stand in the forthcoming leadership election. The contest has been triggered by the announcement last week from her fellow co-leader, Jonathan Bartley, that he is standing down.

In a statement (pdf) Berry says she does not want to stand for re-election because of disagreements with others in the party over trans issues. She says:

Green leaders rightly do not exert control over all our party’s actions, and our principles of internal democracy are very important to me. These mean accepting that decisions can sometimes be made by our governing bodies that leaders do not agree with, but which we are bound to represent. However, I must also stand by our policies and my pledges made to Londoners in the recent election, and there is now an inconsistency between the sincere promise to fight for trans rights and inclusion in my work and the message sent by the party’s choice of front bench representatives.

This inconsistency has left me in a very difficult position. I can no longer make the claim that the party speaks unequivocally, with one voice, on this issue. And my conscience simply cannot agree with the argument that there is anything positive in sending these mixed messages, especially when the inclusive attitudes of our membership and wider society are clear. Failing to win the confidence of a majority of my colleagues to reflect these is also a failure of leadership. Green leaders do not hold power but we do have a duty to influence, so I must apologise to you all for this failure and hold myself to account.

In her campaign for London mayor earlier this year Berry said she wanted to make the capital “the most trans inclusive city in the world”. As Pink News reports, the Greens have a policing spokesperson who has been criticised for embracing “definitions of women that exclude trans and intersex women from womanhood”.


Atkins says the tech companies employ some of the brightest people in the world. If they wanted to develop ways of screening out these posts, they could, she suggests.

Dame Margaret Hodge says the tech companies do not lack the power or capability to deal with this problem. It is the will they are lacking, she says. She says they should have anticipated problems following the Euro 2020 final and made preparations to deal with it.

And she says the legislation should ensure that tech company executives are held personally responsible.

Atkins says she agrees that the companies could deal with this problem if they chose to. She says that suggests they do not want to address the problem.

Jeremy Corbyn, the former Labour leader, quotes the Amnesty International report on Toxic Twitter. Black women suffer most, it says. Corbyn asks what the government will do to stop anyone posting any racist abuse online at all.

Atkins says she is surprised that Corbyn raised that point, given what the Equality and Human Rights Commission said about Labour under his leadership.

Atkins says, in 10 or 15 years’ time, internet regulation will be much better. She suggests we will look back and be glad this hateful period is over.

Zarah Sultana (Lab) asks what Atkins thinks about comments that Boris Johnson has made himself in the past. She suggests he and Priti Patel are guilty of hypocrisy.

Atkins says she does not think Sultana is accusing Johnson of being racist. That would be an “extraordinary allegation” to make, she says.

Felicity Buchan (Con) asks if the online harms bill will stop people posting anonymously.

Atkins says she understands the point. But in some circumstances people, like whistleblowers, have good reasons for staying anonymous. She says the house will have to think very carefully about this when it passes the bill.

Back in the Commons Yvette Cooper (Lab), chair of the home affairs committee, says Instagram has still not taken down racist posts about England footballers. What will the online safety bill do to ensure that social media companies take this material down more quickly. Speed matters, she says.

Atkins says she agrees. She says she thinks the tech companies do not understand how angry people feel about this. The bill will be a real opportunity for the government to lay the law down, and for MPs to make their views known too.

Covid deaths in Scotland have continued to rise for the fourth week running, with a further increase in deaths of those under the age of 65.

The weekly figure for deaths where Covid is mentioned on the death certificate rose from 22 to 30 for the week 5-11 July, according to the latest figures released by the National Records of Scotland.

Five of the Covid-related deaths last week were aged under 65, four were aged 65-74 and there were 21 deaths among people aged 75 or over. Nine were female and 21 were male.

The figures come after Scotland’s minister for Covid recovery, John Swinney, confirmed that face masks could remain mandatory until Christmas. Yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon said that the restrictions would ease further next Monday, with the country coming down to level 0 of the Scottish government’s five-tier system, but with social distancing still in place for outdoor gatherings, a midnight curfew for hospitality and the return to the office delayed as the Delta wave levels off.


Stuart C McDonald, the SNP’s home affairs spokesman, says no one would accuse Theresa May of not taking racism seriously. But people would struggle to say that about Boris Johnson. McDonald says Johnson seems more interested in playing down racism and ridiculing anti-racist campaigners.

Atkins tells Thomas-Symonds that Patel is not here because she is attending a meeting relating to violence against women.

She says Patel does not need to apologise because of her record on racism.

She says the online harms bill is an ambitious piece of legislation. That is why the government has opened it up for pre-legislative scrutiny. She says she hopes that will start soon.

She says the football antisocial behaviour measures should be applied to what is said online. She says what is illegal offline should be illegal online.


Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, says the government is being too slow.

He says Priti Patel, the home secretary, should be answering this herself.

He says the online harms bill would not have tackled what happened at the weekend.

He asks if football antisocial behaviour sanctions will be applied for behaviour online.

And when will Patel apologise for not condemning those who booed the England team for taking the knee?

Home Office minister responds to urgent question on racism on social media

Victoria Atkins, the Home Office’s safeguarding minister, is responding to the UQ.

She says the England teams played their hearts out for the country.

The government is leading the world in tackling online harms, she says.

People who post racist abuse should face the full force of the law, she says.

But she says there is no reason for social media companies to wait until the legislation is passed before implementing this approach.

She also says the government is conducting a review of hate crime.

PMQs - Snap verdict

For most of his leadership Sir Keir Starmer’s approach to “culture war” issues has been to sidestep them, rather than engage with conflict Tories over them. This approach was informed by a suspicion that much of this stuff was being hyped up as a trap for the opposition. But, over taking the knee, the government - or at least its anti-woke division (led from No 10) has found itself stranded on the wrong side of this argument, and Starmer established that very effectively today in a performance that made Johnson squirm.

Here’s an extract from one of Starmer’s questions.

We could all see what’s happened here - the government has been trying to stoke a culture war and they’ve realised they’re on the wrong side, and now they’re hoping nobody has noticed.

Why else would a Conservative MP boast that he’s not watching his own team? Why else would another Conservative MP say that Marcus Rashford spends too much time playing politics when he’s actually trying to feed children that the Government won’t? And why will the prime minister refuse time and time again - even now - to condemn those who boo our players for standing up against racism?

What is it that this England team symbolises that this Conservative party is so afraid of?

Normally I would write more, but with the UQ on racial abuse and social media coming up, there isn’t time.

Nickie Aiken (Con) asks if the PM would back her call for all children to take part in the summer reading challenge.

Johnson says there could not be a better campaign for the summer. There is no better way to spend time on holiday than reading a good book, he says.

Clive Efford (Lab) asks if the PM will rethink his decision to relax most restrictions in England on Monday.

Johnson says Labour needs to make its position on lifting restrictions clear. At the moment it “does not have a clue”, he says.

Fay Jones (Con) asks if the government will give its full backing to the Green Man festival.

Johnson says the festival sounds great. He will do what he can on this.

John Nicolson (SNP) says 333 Tory MPs, including some of the wealthiest, voted to cut aid spending. Most people go into politics to make the world a better place. But the PM seems to be different. Does he feel a hint of shame?

Johnson says Britain should be proud of its record on international aid. It spends £10bn a year on this, he says.


Hywel Williams (Plaid Cymru) says Wales is taking a cautious approach to opening up, unlike England. Will the PM make it clear that people going to Wales should follow Welsh rules?

Yes, says Johnson. He says he approves of a cautious approach.

Angela Richardson (Con) says the A3 should be tunnelled under Guildford. Does the PM support this?

Johnson says he knows this stretch of road well. He says he cannot promise that this will happen, but he will look at the idea. The government is spending record sums on infrastructure, he says.

Peter Grant (SNP) asks about post office closures, and asks the PM to accept that its current funding model does not work.

Johnson says the government will do all it can to protect rural post offices.

Peter Kyle (Lab) says the autumn term will be severely affected in schools. If the JCVI approves vaccinating teenagers, will the PM ensure all teenagers can get vaccinated over the summer?

Johnson says Kyle seems to be urging the government to go against the JCVI. He says this is a decision for them.


Liz Saville Roberts, the Plaid Cymru leader at Westminster, says Wales has to contribute to the cost of HS2 even though none of it goes through Wales. The Welsh affairs committee has criticised this. Will the PM ensure Wales gets its fair share?

Johnson says the government is doing a lot on union connectivity. The Welsh Labour government spent £144m on a study for an M4 extension, but did not build it.


Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, congratulates England on their achievement.

But it was tainted by the racism of some fans, he says. He says it is shameful that the PM only called this out at the weekend.

What sanction is appropriate for someone using racist comments? And what should happen to someone writing about “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles” (a quote from an old Johnson column).

Johnson says he has commented on those words many times. He claims his words were taken out of context.

Blackford asks if the PM still thinks racism is not a systemic problem in the UK.

Johnson says racism is still a problem. But Blackford is wrong to attack the Tories over this, he says. He leads the most diverse cabinet in history, he says. He says the Tories represent opportunity.


Starmer accuses Johnson of 'giving racism the green light'

Starmer quotes what Johnson said about not wanting a culture war, adding: “Give me a break.” He also accuses Johnson of “giving racism the green light”.

Turning to Northern Ireland, he says a blanket amnesty is not appropriate.

He quotes Julie Hambleton. (See 10.58am.) He reads out this extract from Hambleton’s letter.

Tell me prime minister, if one of your loved ones was blown up beyond recognition, where you were only able to identify your son or daughter by their fingernails because their face had been burned so severely from the blast and little of their remains were left intact, would you be so quick to agree to such obscene legislation being implemented?

Johnson says nothing he can say can mitigate Hambleton’s loss.

But he suggests former Labour leaders, of more distinction than Starmer, have backed this approach.

(This seems to be a reference to the effective amnesty offered to “on-the-run” IRA members when Tony Blair was PM.)

He says if Starmer was a greater statesman, he would back the government’s approach.


Starmer quotes Johnny Mercer’s comments on this.

And he says it is obvious what has happened; the Tories have tried to stoke a culture war, but found they are on the wrong side.

What is it about this England team the Conservatives are so afraid of?

Johnson says the whole house is united in its admiration for the England team. The government is taking practical steps to address racism.

He ends with his usual “we will vaccinate, they will vacillate” spiel.

And he says he does not want to engage in a culture war of any kind.


Starmer says we have been waiting for the online harms bill for three years. He says he is not sure a 15-minute chat will make much difference.

He quotes a report saying Johnson refused to condemn the booing. Who was he defending?

Johnson says nobody defends the booing. But Patel has taken practical steps to defend the rights of black and minority people, particularly in the police.

He asks Starmer to defend a Labour election leaflet described as dogwhistle racism.

Starmer says he condemns all racism, including that against Patel. But he says Patel has got this wrong. Does the PM now regret failing to support England players who stood up to racism?

Johnson said he made it clear no one should boo the England team.

And the government is taking action. Last night he met social media companies, and said the government would legislate to deal with this. If they don’t remove this abuse, they will face fines of up to 10% of global revenue.


Starmer says No 10 described taking the knee as gesture. And Priti Patel condemned it as gesture politics. He quotes Tyrone Mings’ tweet.

Does the PM agree Mings is right?

Johnson says he supports the England team. Priti Patel has faces racism and prejudice in all her career, of a kind that Starmer could not imagine.

Sir Keir Starmer also congratulates the England team, saying they represent the best of Britain. Was it wrong to condemn their taking the knee protest as gesture politics?

Johnson ignores the question, but says people who post racist abuse on social media should not be allowed to go to matches.


Sir Peter Bottomley (Con), the father of the house, asks if the PM agrees a vote in this house should not override an act of parliament. (See 11.41am.)

Johnson says the government will continue to follow the law. It wants to return to 0.7% for aid spending as quickly as possible.

Andy Slaughter (Lab) asks about the Delta, or “Johnson variant”. Will the PM keep regulations on mask wearing.

Johnson says Slaughter wanted to stay in the EU. If the government had done that, the UK would not have had the fastest vaccine rollout.

Boris Johnson starts by talking about the England team. He congratulates them on their fantastic achievement, even though the result on Sunday was not what people wanted, he says.


PMQs is about to start.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.

Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street this morning on his way to the Commons for PMQs.
Boris Johnson leaving Downing Street this morning on his way to the Commons for PMQs. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Polling has found that almost three-quarters of Britons are likely to continue wearing face coverings in shops and while using public transport even when they are no longer compulsory, PA Media reports. PA says:

According to a survey by Ipsos Mori, a majority are also likely to wear them on planes (64%), in theatres and cinemas (60%), in their place of work (59%) and in pubs and restaurants (55%).

Nearly three in four people - 73% - think wearing masks in places such as shops and public transport is very important for stopping the spread of coronavirus.

Out of those polled, 43% regarded the wearing of face coverings to be essential - up from 37% this time last year.

Older Britons are most likely to view face masks as essential in preventing the spread of the virus, with more than half (54%) of 55-75s, while 42% of 35-54s and only a third of 18-34s said the same.

Victoria Atkins, the safeguarding minister at the Home Office, will respond to the UQ on racist abuse on social media, not Priti Patel, (see 11.28am), we’ve been told.

The vote on cutting the aid budget took place yesterday. But, in an overnight Twitter thread, Lord Falconer, a former lord chancellor and now shadow attorney general, says the government’s decision to use a vote on a written ministerial statement to effectively overrule statute law is “unprecedented” and constitutionally alarming. His thread starts here.

And here is his conclusion.

After PMQs there will be a Commons urgent question on racist abuse on social media. Nick Thomas-Symonds, the shadow home secretary, has tabled the UQ to Priti Patel, but it is not clear yet whether she will respond herself, or whether she will leave it to a junior minister.

Thirty MPs have been selected to speak, according to the call list. But, as Labour’s Marsha de Cordova says, none of them are black. She says black MPs should be included.

Richard Dannatt, the former head of the army, told the Today programme this morning that the government’s plans for an effective amnesty, that could end all prosecutions relating to the Northern Ireland Troubles before 1998, was “the least worst solution”. Lord Dannatt said:

This isn’t the solution to everyone’s problems; I call it the least worst solution, but it does provide a mechanism whereby investigations can continue, questioning can continue so that families who lost loved ones during the Troubles get to know what happened but without the fear of prosecution being held above the heads of military veterans.

Dannatt also said he expected the government’s command paper being published later today would set out what proportion of deaths in the Troubles were caused by terrorists and by the military.


Johnson accused of losing 'moral backbone' as plan for Troubles amnesty faces wall of opposition

Labour has said that plans to introduce a statute of limitations to end all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998 – in effect an amnesty, covering terrorists as well as members of the armed forced – are “staggeringly insensitive”.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, is set to announce the plans in parliament this afternoon. As our preview story reports, a government source said:

We want to give Northern Ireland society the best chance of moving forward as one – to do that we must confront the difficult and painful reality that the realistic prospect of prosecutions is vanishingly small and while that prospect remains Northern Ireland will continue to be hamstrung by its past.

Our legacy package will support Northern Ireland to move beyond an adversarial cycle that doesn’t deliver information or reconciliation for victims and survivors nor end the cycle of investigations against our veterans.

The plans are likely to encounter a wall of opposition. All Northern Ireland’s five main political parties are opposed to amnesty, with unions primarily opposed to the principle of terrorists being exempt from prosecution and nationalists and republicans primarily opposed to investigations into killings by soldiers being dropped.

Simon Coveney, the Irish foreign minister, also said this morning that his government was opposed. He posted this on Twitter.

Louise Haigh, the shadow Northern Ireland secretary, said the government was going back on a promise made to victims that crimes would be properly investigated. She said:

This government gave victims their word – they would deliver the proper investigations denied to victims and their families for so long.

To tear up that pledge would be insulting, and to do so without the faintest hint of consultation with those who lost loved ones would be staggeringly insensitive.

The prime minister should look victims’ families in the eye, and explain why he wants to close the book on their cases, and why they have been the last to be told about these proposals?

To back her case, Haigh released to the media a copy of a letter sent to the PM by Julie Hambleton, the head of the Birmingham 21, to seek justice for relatives of those killed in the Birmingham pub bombings of 1974. In it Hambleton said:

At what point did your government lose all sight of its moral, ethical and judicial backbone?

According to media reports, the government are preparing legislation to address crimes committed during the Troubles, which would: “Allow people who were involved in the conflict to testify about what happened without fear of prosecution, giving closure to families of those who were killed.”

Tell me prime minister, if one of your loved ones was blown up beyond recognition, where you were only able to identify your son or daughter by their fingernails because their face had been burned so severely from the blast and little of their remains were left intact, would you be so quick to agree to such obscene legislation being implemented?

Hambleton, whose sister Maxine was killed in the Birmingham bombings, also criticised the government for not having the “basic common decency” to discuss these plans with victims’ families first.


In interviews this morning Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, sought to explain how Transport for London will get passengers to carry on wearing masks next week when it is not longer a legal requirement in England. Masks would be a “condition of carriage”, he said, and special staff would enforce the rule. He said:

We employ a number of enforcement officers, over 400. They will be making sure if anyone’s not wearing a face mask, they will be reminded of the importance of doing so.

But Khan conceded that not having full legal backing for the rule made the situation “not perfect”.

TfL said enforcement officers would run targeted operations, refusing entry to people who are not wearing masks and who are not exempt. It said that if passengers were abusive, they would face prosecution.

Khan also said that he was looking at passing a bylaw to make mask wearing compulsory. A bylaw is a rule set by a local authority. In London, passengers on TfL services are not allowed to drink alcohol under a condition of carriage, backed up by a bylaw, and there is wide compliance with this rule.


Staff 'at risk of abuse and assault' because of conflicting rules on masks, union claims

The RMT rail union has claimed that staff are at risk of abuse and assault from members of the public angry about Transport for London keeping mask wearing compulsory from next week while the government has stopped it being a legal requirement for England. Commenting on the TfL announcement (see 9.34am), Mick Lynch, the RMT general secretary, said:

Whilst we welcome the approach from the London mayor this morning, which is consistent with the policies currently adopted in Scotland, Wales and on Eurostar, we now have the ludicrous position where a passenger travelling through London will have different rules on the tube and the mainline services.

There will also be a change of policy on trains at the Welsh and Scottish borders, which is a total nonsense and will leave staff right at the sharp end and dangerously exposed when it comes to enforcement.

As a result of this chaotic approach we now have a situation where the London measures are not enforceable by law, which means RMT members will be thrown into a hostile and confrontational situation from next Monday at heightened risk of abuse and assault.

That is wholly down to the confused, inconsistent and botched messaging from the government.

The train operators, bus companies and, most importantly, the government should be following the best practice on face coverings in the name of consistency, common sense and public safety and that should be backed by law. They cannot step back from this critical issue and leave our members set up as punchbags.

UK inflation jumps to 2.5% as lockdown easing prompts rising demand

Britain’s inflation rate has risen to 2.5% – its highest level in almost three years – after the easing of coronavirus lockdown restrictions prompted rising demand, my colleague Larry Elliott reports.

Government wanted some train operators to keep masks compulsory, Shapps admits

Here are some more lines from the interviews that Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has been giving this morning.

Whilst we are going from this being a legal requirement to guidelines, we do expect individual carriers to make sure they are putting in place whatever is appropriate for their network.

The airlines have already said that you will need to carry on wearing masks on those. It is very much in line with what we expected - indeed wanted - to happen.

We review these every three weeks. I hope we have made very clear to everybody when booking trips at the moment there is always the chance that countries will move around. Some countries may go to the red list, some countries may go to the green, but some may move the other way to the amber list. It is a fact of life that they will continue to move around as the virus continues to develop and change globally.

  • He said Britons jabbed with doses of the AstraZeneca manufactured in India should be able to travel abroad as easily as other fully-vaccinated people. Today the Daily Telegraph has splashed on a story (paywall) about a couple who were not allowed to board a flight to Malta because their AZ vaccine was from a batch manufactured in India not approved by some EU countries. Asked about the story, Shapps said:

It is not right and it shouldn’t be happening.

The medicines agency, the MHRA, have been very clear that it doesn’t matter whether the AstraZeneca you have is made here or the Serum Institute in India, it is absolutely the same product, it provides exactly the same levels of protection from the virus.

So we will certainly speak to our Maltese colleagues to point all this out. Obviously it is up to them what they do. But we will be making the scientific point in the strongest possible terms there is no difference, we don’t recognise any difference.


Shapps says decision to keep masks compulsory on London transport ‘makes sense’

Good morning. On Monday the government is lifting the legal requirement for people in England to wear masks on public transport. Domestic train operators and bus companies have also said that they will not enforce mask-wearing from next week. But Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has broken ranks with his fellow transport chiefs (he runs Transport for London) and said that in the capital face coverings will remain compulsory on buses, the tube and other TfL services. His press release about the announcement is here and here is my colleague Gwyn Topham’s story.

Khan’s approach is in obvious contrast to the policy of the UK government (although it is in line with the approach of the Scottish and Welsh governments, and the Northern Ireland assembly). And so perhaps you might expect Westminister ministers to be critical? But, no, this morning, Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said that Khan’s policy “makes sense”. He told Times Radio.

We expect carriers to provide rules or what we call conditions of carriage appropriate to their own circumstances. And obviously, London Underground is a particularly crowded network. And, of course, we said people should wear masks in crowded areas. So just in the same way as the airlines have made it a stipulation – an ongoing stipulation – we expected – indeed invited TfL – to do the same thing. So no surprises there. And if you think about it, it makes sense.

We’ve moved from the point in the crisis where everything is set in law to a point where we put in place a degree of a personal responsibility and also ask the carriers in this case – the transport carriers – to make clear the conditions of travel on their particular network.

This does rather beg the question, if mandating mask wearing on public transport is such a good idea, why did the government refuse to carry on legislating for this? On the Today programme Khan was asked by Nick Robinson if he thought that Boris Johnson always knew that TfL would keep masks compulsory but “wants the credit with his own supporters for crying freedom, while relying on [Khan] and some others to enforce mask wearing”. Khan responded diplomatically:

I wish anybody luck who can read Boris Johnson’s mind. I certainly can’t.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, gives evidence to the Lords constitution committee on the future of the UK.

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

12.30pm: A Home Office minister responds to a Labour urgent question about racist abuse on social media.

Around 1.30pm: Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, makes a statement to MPs about plans to introduce a statute of limitations to end all prosecutions related to the Troubles before 1998.

Around 2.30pm: Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, makes a statement to MPs about plans to decarbonise transport.

3.15pm: Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leader of the Commons, gives evidence to the Commons women and equalities committee about having a gender-sensitive parliament.

4pm: Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, gives evidence to a Lords sub-committee about the Northern Ireland protocol.

5.15pm: Drakeford holds a press conference on changes to Covid rules in Wales.

Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that will probably be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.

I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.

If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.

Alternatively, you can email me at andrew.sparrow@theguardian.com



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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