Here’s a roundup of the key developments from the last few hours:
- Covid restrictions in England “must come to an end” on 19 July, the new health secretary, Sajid Javid, has announced, saying the public and ministers will have to “learn to live” with the virus.
- The new health secretary said he hoped to say more on the potential to use testing in schools to prevent whole class bubbles from being told to isolate, with the health secretary confirming he had asked for “fresh advice” on the policy.
- An individual who allegedly lost top secret defence documents found in a bus stop in Kent has had their access to sensitive material suspended while an investigation is undertaken, a minister has said.
- Labour has demanded that Boris Johnson comes clean and tells the truth about the use of private emails by government ministers after a cabinet office minister contradicted statements made by the prime minister’s official spokesperson and the department of health and social care.
- Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has hinted that Matt Hancock’s conduct with his adviser does raise legitimate questions about ministerial conduct, while refusing to offer any opinions on his colleague’s ethics.
- Scotland has recorded its highest number of coronavirus cases over 24 hours since the start of the pandemic.
- The UK has recorded 22,868 new coronavirus cases, according to the latest update on the government’s dashboard.
- Schools, colleges and universities in Wales are to be given more local control over what Covid restrictions are put in place, the Welsh education minister, Jeremy Miles, has said.
We’ll be closing this liveblog shortly. Thanks so much for joining us today and for all the comments.
Labour has demanded that Boris Johnson comes clean and tells the truth about the use of private emails by government ministers after a cabinet office minister contradicted statements made by the prime minister’s official spokesperson and the department of health and social care.
Responding to questions from Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner, cabinet office minister Julia Lopez said a “huge volume of correspondence was coming to ministers via their personal email addresses…” regarding PPE contracts.
However, two hours previously, the prime minister’s spokesperson had told reporters: “Both the former health secretary and Lord Bethell understand the rules around personal email usage and only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses”.
On Sunday, the department of health and social care said: “All DHSC ministers understand the rules around personal email usage and only conduct government business through their departmental email addresses.”
Speaking in the commons, Rayner produced minutes from a departmental meeting in which senior civil servants report government contracts being approved from health minister Lord Bethell’s private email address.
Who is telling the truth, the cabinet office minister and the department of health and social sare civil servants, or the prime minister’s Official Spokesperson?
The prime minister needs to come clean and tell us the truth and we need a fully independent public inquiry to get to the bottom of ministers using their private email accounts to discuss and agree government contracts, which have resulted in taxpayers’ money being handed out to Tory donors and their friends.
Sajid Javid said he hoped to say more on the potential to use testing in schools to prevent whole class bubbles from being told to isolate, with the health secretary confirming he had asked for “fresh advice” on the policy.
Former health minister Steve Brine told the new secretary of state he hoped to see a change of policy on the use of testing in schools, saying:
Estimates suggest that a quarter of a million children are missing school today due to precautionary isolations, the vast majority sequential due to the bubbles they are caught in.
Ten days of isolation are then unavoidable under the current rules, even with a negative PRC test.
Haven’t our young people suffered enough? Are we really going to continue to do this to ourselves? Is this not an area, given the availability and reliability of testing now, where we might find that change of policy I’m looking for?
This is a very important issue and it is something I’ve focused on, on day one of the job.
That is why I’ve asked for fresh advice on this. As he knows, the decision was made with the data that was available at the time.
Clearly data is changing all the time and we must make sure that we keep that under review for exactly the right reasons that he has set out and, as I say, I have asked for advice on this and I will hopefully be able to say more on this as soon as possible.
Here’s more on what Richard Burgon, Labour MP for Leeds East said to Sajid Javid during his Commons address.
He said the new health secretary had “lined his own pockets” during his time away from the government front bench and argued it would be hypocritical of him not to approve a pay rise for NHS staff.
The new health secretary hasn’t been on the front bench for a year but in that time he has been very busy - very busy indeed lining his own pockets getting 1,500 per hour for his second job, 1,500 for his third job as well.
All while NHS staff, at Seacroft Hospital and St James’s Hospital in my constituency, have been working harder than ever getting our communities through this Covid crisis.
Given that the secretary of state has done very well out of the last year, bagging hundreds of thousands of pounds during a national crisis, wouldn’t it be the height of hypocrisy if the new health secretary refused our NHS staff the pay rise they so clearly deserve?
Sajid Javid said during his Commons statement he is “very confident” about easing restrictions in England on July 19.
The health secretary stressed the importance of the vaccination programme, telling MPs:
The more people that are getting vaccinated, we’re seeing clear evidence that we’re breaking the link - and this is absolutely crucial - between people getting infected by Covid-19, so the number of cases, versus those that are ending up, sadly, in hospital or even in some cases losing their lives.
The more evidence we see of that, the more confident that can make us that we’ll put this pandemic behind us.
That’s what gives me confidence about July 19 and all the data that I’ve seen - yesterday I sat down and discussed it with the experts, some of my colleagues - it’s very clear that we’re heading in the right direction and I am very confident about that date, July 19.
Javid said: “It is absolutely our intention to have Step 4 commence on 19 July and remove restrictions and start returning to normal.”
His comments came as Conservative Lucy Allan, MP for Telford asked:
Can (he) confirm that 19 July will mark the end of the road map out of lockdown and that terminus means the end of the line, not an interchange, and that it is his intention that all restrictions will be lifted on that date?
It is absolutely our intention to have Step 4 commence on 19 July and remove restrictions and start returning to normal. She’s asked me specifically about all restrictions, or which restrictions.
That is certainly our intention to remove restrictions, but as we follow the data in the coming days, we will set out more in due course.
Steve Brine (Con) asks again for a new approach to school pupils having to self-isolate.
Javid says he hopes to be able to say more on this as soon as possible. He has asked for new advice, he says.
And that’s it. Javid’s statement is over.
That’s all from me. But my colleague Nicola Slawson is taking over the blog now.
Mark Harper, chair of the Conservative Covid Recovery Group, which represents anti-lockdown MPs, says he has seen government documents suggesting ministers are preparing to bring back lockdowns and restrictions in the winter. Will Javid rule this out?
Javid says he is happy to meet with Harper to discuss this. He says it is the government’s intention to remove all restrictions as soon as possible.
Clive Efford (Lab) asks what has happened to the plan for social care reform that Boris Johnson said he had.
Javid says the government has a plan. It is just working on the detail, he says.
Javid says he has asked for review of what can be done to reduce need for pupils to spend time isolating
In response to a question from Peter Kyle (Lab), who says he is worried about the impact that having to isolate is having on school pupils, Javid says he has asked for fresh advice on this. He says he knows a pilot is looking at how regular testing could be used as an alternative to isolation. But he says he wants to see if they can go further.
Greg Clark (Con), chair of the science committee, asks what Javid will do to ensure the public start to focus more on hospitalisation figures, not case figures.
Javid agrees. He says case numbers are “not unimportant”. But the vaccines are starting to break the link between case and hospitalisations, he says.
Ashworth suggests Javid should be more cautious about easing Covid restrictions
This is what Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said in his response to Javid about how the government should be more cautious about lockdown easing. Ashworth said:
Today, Javid let it be known that the July 19 reopening will go ahead. He told the news this morning that ‘there is no going back’; that lifting restrictions will be ‘irreversible”.
A word to the wise: I’ve responded to a lot these statements now. I remember being told ‘there was nothing in the data’ to suggest June 21 would not go ahead. I remember children returning to school for one day before the January lockdown was imposed.
We saw 84,000 Covid cases in the last week, a 61% increase. Today, we see the highest case rate since January.
If the trends continue we could hit 35,000 to 45,000 cases a day by July 19. That means more long covid. More disruption to schooling. And for some, hospitalisation.
We know even after two doses you can still catch and transmit. So what is he going to do push infections down? Vaccination will do it eventually, but not in the next four weeks.
I want to see an end to restrictions end. Our constituents want it. But I hope his confidence about July 19 does not prove somewhat premature? Or even dare I say it hubristic.
Richard Burgon (Lab) says, since he has been out of government, Javid has been earning £1,500 an hour with a second job. Wouldn’t it be the height of hypocrisy if he denied NHS workers the pay rise they deserve.
Javid says Burgon is going to have to try a lot harder than that.
Matt Western (Lab) asks what Javid will do about the decline in the number of tests being carried out in school. And will he encourage mask wearing?
Javid says he has asked for fresh advice already on this. He wants to discuss it with the education secrtary.
Theresa Villiers (Con) asks if it is time for congregations in church to be allowed to sing hymns.
Javid says he wants to allow that as soon as possible.
Jim Shannon (DUP) asks when worshippers will be able to sit in church without having to wear a mask.
Javid says he wants to take account of those attending church very seriously.
Javid says intention is for all remaining restrictions to go - but details to be confirmed later
Lucy Allan (Con) asks if all remaining restrictions in England will go on 19 July.
Javid says that is the government’s intention.
But he says the government will follow the data in the coming days, and set out more details in due course.
What Javid said about lifting of remaining restrictions in England on 19 July
This is what Sajid Javid told MPs about going ahead with the lifting of remaining lockdown restrictions for England on 19 July. He said:
I spent my first day as health secretary just yesterday looking at the data and testing it to the limit.
While we decided not to bring forward step 4, we see no reason to go beyond July 19, because, in truth, no date we choose comes with zero risk for Covid.
We know we cannot simply eliminate it, we have to learn to live with it.
We also know that people and businesses need certainty, so we want every step to be irreversible.
And make no mistake, the restrictions on our freedom, they must come to an end.
We owe it to the British people, who have sacrificed so much, to restore their freedoms as quickly as we possibly can and not to wait a moment longer than we need to.
With the numbers heading in the right direction, all while we protect more and more people each day, July 19 remains our target date.
The prime minister has called it out ‘terminus date’. For me, July 19 is not only the end of the line, but the start of an exciting new journey for our country.
Javid says NHS staff will get 'fair pay settlement'
Javid says health staff will get “a fair pay settlement”.
This is from the BBC’s Iain Watson.
He says the vaccination programme is at the heart of the plan to lift restrictions. He says there is clear evidence the link between infections and hospital cases is being broken.
He says it is clear they are heading in the right direction.
On the NHS backlog, he says £92bn of extra funding has already been put into the health system. Much of this will be spent addressing the backlog.
He says, on his visit to St Thomas’ today, he heard new ideas for tackling this.
On social care, he says Ashworth should not believe everything he reads in the press.
- Javid denies favouring delaying reform of social care.
And he says he is committed to the health bill.
And he says the ministerial team at health is one of the best he’s had. (Ashworth suggested he should get rid of Lord Bethell.)
Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, starts with a tribute to Matt Hancock. He says his dealing with Hancock were always courteous, respectful and professional.
He suggests the government should be more cautious about lockdown easing, and asks if this move will be irreversible.
He asks if it is true, as reported, that Javid thinks this is the wrong time in a parliament for major social care reform.
And he asks if Javid intends to go ahead with Hancock’s health bill reform plans.
Javid says ‘no reason to go beyond 19 July’ for lifting England lockdown measures
Javid says he spent his first day in office “looking at the data and testing it to the limit”.
He says the government will not bring forward step 4 to 5 July.
It remains the target date, he says.
He says the PM sees it as the “terminus date”. For Javid, it is not just the end of the line, but the start of a new journey.
Javid says the big task ahead is to “restore our freedom”, freedoms that no government would wish to curtail.
The Delta variant has made this task harder, he says.
He says vaccines are being brought forward so the government can meet its 19 July target.
Vaccines have saved over 27,000 lives, he says.
A single dose of vaccine reduces the chances of symptomatic disease from the Delta variant by 33%. But two doses are as effective against the Delta variant as against the Alpha variant, he says.
He says new data just today shows that mixing jabs, such as having the AstraZeneca one first and then the Pfizer one, could give the vaccine booster programme more flexibility, and produce better results.
Javid says he will do everything he can to deliver for health and social care staff.
The vaccination programme is making “phenomenal progress”, he says.
He says 84% of adults have had one dose of vaccine, and 62% have had two.
He pays tribute to Matt Hancock, and says he has more to offer public life.
Sajid Javid starts by saying he is honoured to be health secretary. He says this past year has been difficult for the country, and he has been frustrated to have been out of government.
He says nothing embodies the spirit of public service more than people who work in health and social care.
Sajid Javid's Commons statement on Covid
Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, is about to make his Commons statement on Covid.
Minister says camera that recorded Matt Hancock not thought to have been planted secretly
In her opening response to the urgent question about the filming of Matt Hancock in his office, tabled by the Tory MP Peter Bone, Julia Lopez, the Cabinet Office minister, said that she did not think that the camera was planted there secretly. She said:
I agree that is is unacceptable should there be any secret recordings within government offices. My understanding in this case is that it was a CCTV camera operated by the Department of Health, which is why it is being investigated by the Department of Health. We do not believe there are covert concerns at this moment, but there is an ongoing investigation into this.
Labour’s Chris Byrant said he found the idea that Hancock knew the camera was there implausible. If he did, “he must be the stupidest man on earth”, Bryant said.
And Steve Brine (Con) said that he had been a minister in that department, and had attended meetings in that office. He said he was never told about a camera.
In the Commons Labour’s Angela Eagle told Julia Lopez that, when she was a minister, they were told very clearly they could not use personal email addresses for government business.
In response Lopez repeated the point she made earlier about what the guidelines say. (See 4.38pm.)
Ministers can use personal email accounts for government business, MPs told
In the Commons, in response to a question from Labour’s deputy leader, Angela Rayner, about Matt Hancock’s use of his personal email account for government business (see 3.02pm), Julia Lopez, the Cabinet Office minister, said ministers could use personal email accounts for government business - provided they were not transmitting classified information. She told Rayner:
It’s important to understand government guidance is that official devices, email accounts and communications applications should be used for communicating classified information.
Other forms of electronic communication may be used in the course of conducting government business.
Each minister is responsible for ensuring that government information is handled in a secure way, but how that is done will depend on the type of information, and on the specific circumstances.
Lopez said she was happy to look into claims that communications relating to Covid contracts were handled through a private email address. But she said a “huge volume” of correspondence was coming to ministers about PPE, through personal, parliamentary and ministerial email addresses. There were 15,000 offers of help, she said. She claimed all offers were assessed through the same process.
In the Commons Julia Lopez, a Cabinet Office minister, is responding to an urgent question about how Matt Hancock came to be filmed in his private office.
In her opening statement she said that the government was taking this “very seriously” and that the Department for Health and Social Care was carrying out an investigation, supported by government security group in Cabinet Office.
This is from the GB News presenter Andrew Neil on Boris Johnson’s latest comment about Matt Hancock’s resignation. (See 1.01pm.)
UK records 22,868 new coronavirus cases - highest daily total since end of January
The UK has recorded 22,868 new coronavirus cases, according to the latest update on the government’s dashboard.
That is 12,235 more than the total for last Monday, and the highest daily figure for this measure since the end of January (23,275 on 30 January).
The total number of new cases over the past week is now 69.9% up on the total for the previous week.
The dashboard also shows that three further deaths have been recorded. Week on week, deaths are up 64.9% - albeit from a very low base.
An individual who allegedly lost top secret defence documents found in a bus stop in Kent has had their access to sensitive material suspended while an investigation is undertaken, a minister has said.
Defence minister Jeremy Quin said a number of documents were lost by a senior official last week, noting this person “self-reported” on 22 June.
A member of the public, who wanted to remain anonymous, contacted the BBC when they found the cache of classified information in a soggy heap behind a bus stop in Kent.
The papers, which were found on Tuesday last week, included one set of documents which discussed the potential Russian reaction to HMS Defender travelling through Ukrainian waters off the Crimea coast the following day, while another laid out plans for a possible UK military presence in Afghanistan.
Quin told the Commons that the Ministry of Defence (MoD) police are involved in the investigation and allies, including the US, had been informed about the breach. He said:
The documents lost included a paper that was secret – UK eyes only. The documents were found by a member of the public at a bus stop in Kent, the member of the public then handed the papers to the BBC.
The Ministry of Defence has launched a full investigation. The papers have now been recovered from the BBC and are being assessed as I speak to check that all documents missing have been recovered and what mitigation actions might be necessary.
The investigation will look at the actions of individuals, including the printing of the papers through to the management of the reported incident and at the underlying processes for printing and carriage of papers in defence.
While the investigation is being conducted, the individual’s access to sensitive material has been suspended.
In response to a complaint about Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, not being in the chamber himself to respond to the UQ, Quin said Wallace could not be there because he had been in contact with someone testing positive for Covid.
Labour’s Fleur Anderson, a shadow Cabinet Office minister, has said the government should publish all documents relating to the appointment of Gina Coladangelo, Matt Hancock’s girlfriend, as a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care. (See 3.02pm.) Anderson said:
The role of a non-executive director is to challenge and scrutinise the minister.
We need to know if the nature of their relationship was declared and whether the recruitment process was carried out in a fair and transparent way.
These are from my colleague Heather Stewart.
PA Media has now put out a transcript of Boris Johnson’s interview earlier. It is useful because it includes the questions, which means Johnson’s comments about Matt Hancock’s resignation (see 1.01pm) can be read in their proper context. Here are the key excerpts.
Q: Obviously, it’s been an interesting weekend of developments. And the first question I have to ask you is ... Do you think he [Matt Hancock] made the wrong decision by resigning?
Johnson: I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday, and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic, and actually I had a good conversation yesterday, a long meeting, with Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, and we went over the data in great detail ...
Q: Matt Hancock, obviously the man who put a lot of these restrictions and these social distancing rules into place, and has guided us through this pandemic ... What does a minister have to do to get sacked? And what does it say about the moral compass of this government when you’ve been telling people week in week out that we’re all in this together? Are some people in it more than others?
Johnson: That’s right. And that’s why when I saw the story on Friday, we had a new secretary of state for health in on Saturday, and you’ll be hearing a statement from Sajid Javid in the house later on this afternoon ...
Scotland's daily total for new coronavirus cases reaches record high of 3,285
Scotland has recorded its highest number of coronavirus cases over 24 hours since the start of the pandemic, PA Media reports. PA says:
Today it was revealed 3,285 people had reported positive tests overnight for Covid-19. This beats the previous record of 2,999 new cases on Thursday, which topped the largest number of 2,969 recorded on the previous day and the high of 2,649 on 7 January.
No new deaths have been recorded, meaning the toll under this daily measure - of people who first tested positive for the virus within the previous 28 days - remains at 7,712.
However, the daily test positivity rate is 12.6%, up from 8.9% the previous day, and is the highest figure since 14.8% was recorded on January 8.
A total of 202 people were in hospital on Sunday with recently confirmed Covid-19 with 20 patients in intensive care.
So far, 3,765,379 people have received the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccination and 2,691,775 have received their second dose.
The Scottish government said Public Health Scotland is aware of an “ongoing delay” in results from the Glasgow Lighthouse laboratory.
The cause of the delay is being investigated but the facility is continuing to issue results as tests are processed.
Here are some more lines from the Downing Street lobby briefing.
- The prime minister’s spokesman insisted that Matt Hancock, the former health secretary, and Lord Bethell, the health minister, had not used personal email addresses for government business. In response to a Sunday Times report (paywall) saying both ministers had used personal email accounts, the spokesman said:
Both the former health secretary and Lord Bethell understand the rules around personal email usage and only ever conducted government business through their departmental email addresses.
The spokesman also said that his understanding was that Hancock had used his personal email account for matters like diary acceptances.
- The spokesman said that he thought Gina Coladangelo’s appointment as a non-executive director at the Department of Health and Social Care was personally approved by Hancock.
- The spokesman rejected Dominic Cummings’s claim that Boris Johnson’s latest comments about Hancock’s resignation confirmed that he was as erratic as a shopping trolley. (See 1.38pm.) Asked about Cummings’ latest tweet, the spokesman said:
Obviously, as you would expect, I completely refute that.
You can see the actions the prime minister has taken and I’ve talked you through the discussions he had with the former health secretary after receiving his resignation. [See 1.59pm.]
Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, has accused Boris Johnson of trying to rewrite history over Matt Hancock’s resignation. Responding to the interview today in which Johnson implied he played a role in Hancock quitting (see 1.01pm), Rayner said:
Boris Johnson is trying to rewrite history because he didn’t have the guts to sack Matt Hancock.
A fish rots from the head down, and by failing to sack the former health secretary, Johnson proved he doesn’t have the leadership qualities or judgment required to be prime minister.
Welsh schools, colleges and universities to get more flexibility about Covid rules
Schools, colleges and universities in Wales are to be given more local control over what Covid restrictions are put in place, the Welsh education minister, Jeremy Miles, has said.
Speaking at a press conference in Cardiff, Miles said:
While we will not simply be back to normal by September, we will look to gradually ease the extraordinary measures we’ve had to put in place. Our guiding principle has to be a move towards education being enabled to operate as normally as possible in the autumn.
Currently, all education settings follow national guidance. However, as we move through the pandemic there will be a need to move to a more localised approach, rather than a blanket approach.
Miles said the government would speak to its partners about how it can make sure that a there is not a “disproportionate number of learners self-isolating”. He said the government wanted to discuss how settings can return to their usual session times, as opposed to having staggered start and finish times that are currently in place.
These changes do not mean a wholesale removal of mitigating measures, but are about our schools, colleges and universities being able to make decisions based on the balance of harms and minimising disruption to learning - all within the wider context of our successful vaccine programme and relatively low case numbers.
We will continue to engage with staff and our other partners on any proposed changes, as we have done throughout the pandemic.
Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has hinted that Matt Hancock’s conduct with his adviser does raise legitimate questions about ministerial conduct, while refusing to offer any opinions on his colleague’s ethics.
Asked by political reporters in Scotland about Hancock’s behaviour and the prime minister’s refusal to sack him, Gove said gnomically:
I think Matt made the right decision and I think in all of these questions, all of us have an opportunity to reflect on different aspects of the matter. But now that Matt has made his decision we should respect that and for me the focus now is on supporting the prime minister and Sajid [Javid, the new health secretary] and others in the fight against the pandemic.
Commentators will have their views and I completely understand that but I’m not a commentator. It’s my job to work with others in government to do what we can to recover from the pandemic.
Gove was pressed several times on Hancock and Johnson’s actions, and repeatedly side-stepped those questions. He said:
Matt was to my mind a dedicated public servant. He made a mistake. But we should remember that he was one of the central to the successful vaccination programme and he worked incredibly hard for the NHS, and he has now resigned and I think we should respect his privacy now.
There was a standing ovation for Dame Sarah Gilbert, the Oxford scientist who led the work on the AstraZeneca vaccine, at Wimbledon today, Sky’s Joe Pike reports.
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman rejected claims that what Boris Johnson said in his TV interview this morning implied that he played a role in Matt Hancock’s decision to resign as health secretary. (See 1.01pm.) When it was put to him that the PM’s words implied Johnson exerted influence over what happened, the spokesman said:
I’m not sure I would agree with that. The health secretary offered his resignation. He discussed it with the prime minister, and [the PM] agreed it was the right decision.
Asked to explain why this was the right decision, when No 10 said on Friday that Johnson had accepted Hancock’s apology and considered the matter closed, the spokesman said that on Saturday the two men discussed the matter further and the PM accepted Hancock’s decision.
EU signals it will let UK extend grace period for chilled meats under Northern Ireland protocol
The EU is to retreat from the threat of a post-Brexit trade war with the UK over the sale of British sausages in Northern Ireland, Maroš Šefčovič the European commission vice-president confirmed today.
It will accede to the UK’s formal request for an extra three months to resolve the dispute over Brexit checks on chilled meat crossing the Irish Sea from Great Britain to Northern Ireland.
“I remain confident that we can find a solution within the next 48 hours that will address both sides’ needs and concerns,” Šefčovič told Stormont’s executive committee, adding he had spent the past few days consulting with EU member states and the European parliament.
The EU originally threatened to retaliate “swiftly” if the UK unilaterally decided to extend the grace period for the ban of chilled meats from Great Britain in Northern Ireland beyond 30 June.
But in a sign of peace breaking out, Lord Frost, the Brexit minister, last week said the UK wanted to end the “bickering” and reset relations with the EU.
Referring to the campaigns to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol, Šefčovič added he was “gravely concerned about the negative rhetoric about the protocol which is after all an instrument to protect peace and stability”, adding the EU was “so aware of the sensitive and delicate” politics in Northern Ireland.
Dominic Cummings, who was Boris Johnson’s chief adviser in No 10 until he left last November, has said that Johnson’s latest comments about Matt Hancock’s resignation (see 1.01pm) confirm what he said about the PM in evidence to MPs last month. Cummings said that Johnson was so prone to changing his mind he was “like a shopping trolley smashing from one side of the aisle to the other”.
Hong Kong to ban UK arrivals from Thursday because of Delta variant risk
Hong Kong will ban all passenger flights from the UK from Thursday, as the Chinese city puts Britain on its “extremely high risk” Covid-19 list amid the continuing surge in cases in the country.
In a statement today, the Hong Kong authorities said this decision was being taken because of “the recent rebound of the epidemic situation in the UK and the widespread Delta variant virus strain there, coupled with a number of cases with L452R mutant virus strains detected by tests from people arriving from the UK”.
The new rules will also mean that travellers who have stayed in the UK for more than two hours will be prevented from boarding passenger flights to Hong Kong from Thursday.
It is the second time Hong Kong has barred arrivals from Britain after a ban that was in force from December 2020 until May.
Hong Kong is on England’s amber list, which means that arrivals from the Chinese city will have to quarantine at home or in the place they are staying for 10 days.
Labour accuses Javid of 'complacency' over Covid risk
Labour has accused Sajid Javid, the health secretary, of “complacency” following his declaration that he wants to lift Covid restrictions “as quickly as possible”. (See 11.31am.) In a statement following Javid’s interview this morning Justin Madders, a shadow health minister, said:
These kind of comments smack of complacency from the new health secretary. Last week we saw the highest number of new cases since February because the government failed to secure the borders.
People have heard this before. First we were told we’d beat this virus in 12 weeks, then that we’d be back to normal by Christmas, then we were told it was data, not dates.
We don’t need boastful claims, we need the government to be taking it seriously and coming up with a proper plan to lift these restrictions and get back to normal.
And here are some more lines from Boris Johnson’s interview in Batley. I have taken the quotes from PA Media.
- Johnson said the government was sticking to its plan for easing Covid restrictions in England. He said:
I had a good conversation yesterday, a long meeting with Sajid Javid the new health secretary.
Although there are some encouraging signs and the number of deaths remains low and the number of hospitalisations remains low, though both are going up a bit, we are seeing an increase in cases.
So we think it’s sensible to stick to our plan to have a cautious but irreversible approach, use the next three weeks or so really to complete as much as we can of that vaccine rollout - another five million jabs we can get into people’s arms by July 19.
And then with every day that goes by it’s clearer to me and all our scientific advisers that we’re very likely to be in a position on July 19 to say that really is the terminus and we can go back to life as it was before Covid as far as possible.
- He refused to say whether he had ever used a personal email account for government business. Asked if he had, he said:
I don’t comment on how I conduct government business. But I can tell you that we in this government are getting on with focusing on the people’s priorities.
Johnson implies he played role in Hancock's decision to quit – contradicting what No 10 said on Friday
In an interview in Batley Boris Johnson has implied that he played a role in Matt Hancock’s resignation as health secretary.
This contradicts the briefing that has been given to reporters by government insiders (see 11.09am) and it is hard to square with the statement issued on Friday, when the PM’s spokesperson said: “The prime minister has accepted the health secretary’s apology and considers the matter closed.”
PA Media has filed these two snaps about Johnson’s interview this morning. Here is the first.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson faced questions about his government’s “moral compass” following the Matt Hancock row.
On a campaign visit to Batley he was asked what a minister has to do to get sacked - Hancock quit on Saturday after being backed by Downing Street on Friday.
Asked whether it undermined the message about being “all in it together”, Johnson said: “That’s right, and that’s why when I saw the story on Friday we had a new secretary of state for health in on Saturday.”
And here is the second.
Boris Johnson has defended the delay to Matt Hancock’s resignation as health secretary as being “about the right pace” during a pandemic.
During a campaign visit to Johnstone’s Paints Limited in Batley, the prime minister told broadcasters: “I read the story on Friday and we’ve got a new health secretary in post on Saturday and I think that’s about the right pace to proceed in a pandemic.”
Once we have head the full interview, we may get a clearer idea of how the exchanges went. But on the basis of these quotes, Johnson seems to be trying to rewrite events. The PM has form for this sort of thing, but rarely does he change his story quite so quickly and quite so brazenly.
UPDATE: See 3.28pm for an excerpt from the transcript.
Johnson says England is 'set fair' for remaining Covid restrictions to be lifted on 19 July
Boris Johnson has all but confirmed that, when Sajid Javid makes his statement to MPs this afternoon, he will say the government will go ahead with step 4 of lockdown easing for England on 19 July. At that point the government hopes to lift all remaining restrictions.
In an interview this morning Johnson said:
You will be hearing a statement from Sajid Javid in the House later on this afternoon about where we are in the pandemic, the steps that we are going to be taking. I think we are looking set fair for 19 July.
Johnson was speaking in Batley, where he was campaigning ahead of Thursday’s byelection.
Health workers will soon find out how serious Sajid Javid is about his determination to get them “everything that they need”. (See 11.31am.) Pat Cullen, acting chief executive and general secretary of the Royal College of Nursing, told BBC Breakfast this morning that Javid could find the recommendation from the NHS pay review body on his desk today. In its submission to the body, the government recommended a pay rise of just 1%.
We understand that the pay review body - the body that recommends the pay award for health care staff including nurses - may very well be in [Javid’s] in-tray this morning.
And what we’re saying to him, please don’t insult nurses by awarding them a 1% pay award.
That just will do nothing to try and hold on to those fantastic nurses that we’ve got in our system, not one of them can we afford to lose.
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Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, is widely expected to announce this afternoon that England will go ahead with step 4 of lockdown easing, when the remaining legal restrictions are due to be lifted, on 19 July.
But in an interview with Sky News this morning Prof Peter Openshaw, a member of the New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats Advisory Group (Nervtag), a government advisory body, said that ministers should be willing to postpone step 4 if necessary. He said:
I think it’s a possibility [that this date could be put back]. This Delta agent is ferociously infectious and we can see the impact it has on relatively unvaccinated populations - Australia for example.
It’s so important that we get the vaccination rates as high as we can before there’s any consideration of easing the current restrictions which are not really holding the outbreak. You can see the numbers increasing, despite the measures that we have in place at the moment.
At the moment I’m hopeful that we can get the vaccination rates very high and the 19th is a reasonable date, but I think we just need to bear in mind that what we’re fighting here is a virus; it’s not a political polarised debate, it’s a battle against the virus.
Boris Johnson has made it clear that there is almost no chance of step 4 being postponed again. When he announced 19 July as the new date for it, he repeatedly called it a “terminus date”, not a “not before” date, which is how dates for lockdown easing in the roadmap had previously been described.
On the Today programme this morning Prof Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said the government should be in a “very good position” to lift the remaining restrictions in England soon. He said:
We’re looking at the data that’s coming from Public Health England about the effectiveness of the vaccines and we’re seeing more than 90% protection. If that persists as more and more data emerge, and we will get much greater certainty of those figures in the weeks ahead, then we reach a point where, with most people vaccinated with at least one dose and those at highest risk having two doses, it does put us in a very good position.
But in the end it’s going to be a political decision about the timing of when those should end.
Javid says he will do 'whatever it takes' to make sure NHS staff get 'everything they need'
Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, has been visiting St Thomas’ hospital, which is directly opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, and he recorded a very brief pooled interview for broadcasters. Here are the key points.
- Javid promised his “full support” for NHS and social care staff, saying he would try to get them whatever they needed. He said he was visiting the hospital because he wanted to hear from staff about the pressures they faced, and because he wanted to thank them - and all NHS and social care staff in the country - for their “incredible work”. He went on:
I want them to know that they’re going to have my full support, and I’ll do whatever it takes to make sure they get everything that they need during this time, especially as we look forward to deal with the backlog [for NHS operations] as well.
Asked if this meant he would argue for a pay rise for NHS staff, Javid said the independent pay review body was looking at this. He said he had not seen its report yet. The government would be providing “all the support that we can to NHS staff, to doctors, to nurses”, he said.
- He urged people to get vaccinated if they had not done so already. He said he expected all adults to have been offered a jab by 19 July - two weeks ahead of the original timetable.
- He said he wanted to see “the restrictions lifted and life going back to normal as quickly as possible”. That was his absolute priority, he said. But he would not give details of the latest plans for the roadmap out of lockdown, saying he would make an announcement in parliament this afternoon.
- But he did say changes to the roadmap would be irreversible. “It’s going to be irreversible, there is no going back,” he said. He said that is why the government is being careful.
- He said the camera in the health secretary’s office that filmed Matt Hancock kissing his aide Gina Coladangelo had been disabled. He said he did not know why a camera was there in the first place.
According to a report (paywall) by Christopher Hope in the Daily Telegraph, 80 Conservative MPs complained to the whips’ office after Matt Hancock refused to resign on Friday. Hope says that Mark Spencer, the chief whip, told Hancock at midday on Saturday what his colleagues felt about his position and that by 2pm Hancock had decided to resign.
Hope also reports that Hancock is unlikely to take the severance payment that can be claimed by ministers who resign, worth about £16,000.
In a write-through on the saga in the Times (paywall), Steven Swinford and Matt Dathan report that Boris Johnson did not put pressure on Hancock to resign. They write:
“The prime minister stands by his people,” one government source said. “He stood by Priti [Patel], he stood by [Robert] Jenrick, it’s what he does. He doesn’t like giving in to pressure.” While Hancock was grateful for the prime minister’s backing on Friday, friends said he was unconvinced he could stay in post ...
The prime minister’s allies are adamant that Hancock was not pushed to leave. “Boris stood by Matt,” they said. “He was quite happy for him to continue as his health secretary. This was Matt’s decision.”
Robert Peston, ITV’s political editor, thinks that, on the basis of what Robert Buckland and other ministers are saying, Matt Hancock should worry that he is being set up as the government’s fall guy in the Covid inquiry.
In fact, in his reply (pdf) to Hancock’s resignation letter, Boris Johnson did say that Hancock should be “very proud” of what he achieved as health secretary. “Above all, it has been your task to deal with a challenge greater than that faced by any of your predecessors, and in fighting Covid you have risen to that challenge - with the abundant energy, intelligence and determination that are your hallmark,” Johnson wrote.
Michael Ellis, the attorney general, is launching an information campaign to remind people of the dangers of posting material prejudicial to court cases on social media. He said:
It is not only journalists or lawyers who can be found in contempt of court, ordinary members of the public can also do so and find themselves facing their own legal consequences.
There will be two urgent questions in the Commons this afternoon.
That means the Sajid Javid statement on Covid will not start until after 5pm.
Five Westminster ethics watchdogs sidelined under Johnson
In his interview with Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, the Today programme’s Nick Robinson raised the suggestion that Boris Johnson does not care about standards in government. Regular readers probably don’t need reminding of the evidence to support this but, just in case they do, here is a summary of how, since he has been prime minister, Johnson has systematically ignored five of the watchdog institutions in place to ensure government is conducted ethically.
Independent adviser on minister’s interests
Sir Alex Allan resigned from this post when Johnson ignored his conclusion that Priti Patel, the home secretary, had broken the ministerial code by bullying staff.
Lords appointments commission
Johnson gave a peerage to the former Conservative party co-treasurer, Peter Cruddas, even though the commission, which is tasked with vetting people for the Lords, said it was opposed to putting him in the Lords.
Parliamentary commissioner for standards
Before he became PM Johnson was twice rebuked by the commissioner for being late declaring items in the register of members’ interests. In a report the Commons standards committee said Johnson displayed “an over-casual attitude towards obeying the rules of the house”. As PM, Johnson is now reportedly refusing the accept a finding by the commissioner critical of what he disclosed about his holiday in Mustique at the end of 2019.
The Commons Speaker
The Speaker has only limited powers to enforce standards in the Commons, but Sir Lindsay Hoyle has hinted at his concern about Johnson’s failure to correct false statements he has made from the dispatch box. Johnson has frequently been accused of saying this that are untrue, but he almost never corrects them.
The Electoral Commission
The Electoral Commission is currently investigating the funding of the refurbishment of Johnson’s Downing Street flat. Critics suspect this is related to the government’s recent decision to stop it having the power to initiate criminal prosecutions.
Here is some reaction to Robert Buckland’s Today interview (see 9.25am) from journalists and commentators on Twitter.
From the Daily Mirror’s Kevin Maguire
From Tim Montgomerie, the founder of ConservativeHome and a former Tory No 10 aide
From HuffPost’s Paul Waugh
From the Times’ David Aaronavitch
In the Today interview, when asked why Matt Hancock was allowed to appoint his “lover” to the board in charge of overseeing the performance of the Department of Health, Buckland said this was a matter for the Cabinet Office because it supervised public appointments like this.
From Lionel Barber, the former FT editor
From the Mirror’s Dan Bloom
From Michael White, the Guardian’s former political editor
From the historian Robert Saunders
From Paul Johnson, the Guardian’s former deputy editor
From Alastair Campbell, Tony Blair’s former communications chief
Minister brushes aside claims PM does not care about standards by stressing he’s popular
Good morning. If Boris Johnson was hoping that Matt Hancock’s Saturday night resignation as health secretary was going to draw the line under the many questions about this matter - not least why Johnson did not sack Hancock as soon as it became clear he was ignoring his own lockdown rules - then this morning there will be a need for an urgent rethink. This became obvious about 30 seconds into Nick Robinson’s superb interview with Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, on the Today programme. Robinson started by asking why Hancock was not sacked on Friday. Buckland responded by claiming to be “amazed” that Robinson was asking about this, and not probation service reform, given that Hancock has now gone, but Robinson just laughed this objection.
From there, for Buckland, it just got even worse.
The most telling moment probably came near the end. Buckland refused to accept the claim that Johnson does not care about ethical standards in government. But then, in what sounded a more candid defence, he suggested it was only Johnson’s critics who were raising these points, and that it did not matter much because Johnson was popular. Inadvertently, he seemed to be confirming Robinson’s point.
Here is the exchange.
NR: There is a sense that this government, in particular this prime minister, believes that the rules are for little people, standards are to be sneered at and ignored, provided the prime minister is ahead in the opinion polls. Is that the view of this government?
RB: I think it’s entirely the opposite of the truth. This government is all of the people’s priorities.
NR: I’m asking you about standards, not the people’s priorities, Mr Buckland, you well know. You see, there is an argument, and many people would have is, it doesn’t matter if the public don’t care about standards. Standards are standards. You’re a lawyer, you’re a justice secretary, I suspect you believe, to the very core of your being, that you should uphold the law and uphold the rules. I’m putting to you that that is not the spirit in Boris Johnson governs this country.
RB: I entirely disagree, I wouldn’t be in government, if I felt that the prime minister didn’t agree with me on those fundamental principles. He does.
And I think that, frankly, all the rest is just talk, and usually talk by people who have an agenda that clearly is against that of the prime minister.
I think the truth is a lot of people just don’t like the PM, and they veil their dislike in this sort of language. I think they can’t get over the fact that he is popular in the country and liked in the country, and has won a resounding election victory.
This is from the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar on this exchange.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11am: Kate Green, the shadow education secretary, gives a speech to the Festival of Education.
12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.
12.30pm: Maroš Šefčovič, the European commission vice-president in charge of Brexit matters, gives evidence to a Stormont committee in Belfast.
1.30pm: Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, gives a briefing to the media in Scotland on a visit to Aberdeen.
After 3.30pm: Sajid Javid, the new health secretary, makes a statement to MPs about Covid regulations.
Politics Live has been a mix of Covid and non-Covid news recently and that is likely to be the case today. For more coronavirus developments, do follow our global Covid live blog.
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