Afternoon summary

  • Homeless people in England are going to be prioritised for the vaccine, the government has announced. (See 4.36pm and 5.14pm.)
Sir Keir Starmer delivering his speech at the Labour campaign launch for the May elections.
Sir Keir Starmer delivering his speech at the Labour campaign launch for the May elections. Photograph: Leon Neal/PA
  • Dead women is something society has “just accepted as part of our daily lives”, MPs heard, as almost 120 victims were remembered in the House of Commons. As PA Media reports, MPs listened in silence as Labour’s Jess Phillips read out the names of women killed in the UK where a man has been convicted or charged as the primary perpetrator. Phillips spent more than four minutes listing the names of the victims from the last 12 months. After finishing the list, Phillips added people had “prayed that the name of Sarah Everard would never be on any list” and urged everyone to work to ensure “nobody’s name ends up on this list again”.
  • The UK’s economic recovery will be investment-led and will not need more consumer incentives like the Eat Out to Help Scheme to recover, Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, has said. Giving evidence to the Commons Treasury committee he said he expected the levels of pent-up demand built up during the pandemic to be enough to trigger a recovery in consumer spending. As PA Media reports, experts predict middle and high income households have saved a combined £180bn since the pandemic and expect to spend at least 5%, or £9bn, when restrictions ease. Sunak told the committee:

I think we probably now have higher confidence that there will be consumption-led recovery even without intervention... Consumer confidence is at different levels and there’s actually a lot of pent-up desire.

Investment is different and has really suffered. It’s down 20% year on year and unlocking that is probably something where policy can make a real difference.

  • The Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency has issued a statement saying people should continue to take the AstraZeneca vaccine - even though the Danish, Norwegian and and Icelandic authorities have temporarily suspended its use because of concerns about blood clots. The MHRA says it has not been confirmed the blood clot in Denmark was caused by the vaccine.

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


The UK has recorded 6,753 new coronavirus cases, according to today’s government dashboard update. That is the highest daily figure for almost two weeks, and as a result new cases are now down 13.8% week on week, whereas yesterday they were down 20.1% week on week. But the amount of testing being carried out week by week is up by almost 70%, which would help to explain a rise in positive cases being uncovered.

And the UK has recorded 181 further deaths. Over the last week the total number of deaths is down 35.9% on the total for the previous seven days.

Dashboard. Photograph: Gov.UK


In its letter to Matt Hancock (pdf), the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation pointed out that some councils (such as Oldham) have already been giving the homeless priority for vaccination. It said:

Almost half of this population are, in practice, unable to access primary care, through a combination of either being unregistered or no longer based near where they are registered. These risks are compounded by challenges in adhering to recommended physical distancing and infection prevention control measures, along with often poor symptom recognition or disclosure and barriers in engaging with contact-tracing activities.

Due to current restrictions, many thousands of people who experience rough sleeping have been accommodated in emergency accommodation. This provides a unique opportunity to in-reach vaccination to a population that is otherwise often unable to access basic healthcare. JCVI is aware that some areas have taken local decisions to prioritise this highly vulnerable group alongside group 6, and this approach is considered to fall within the operational flexibility advised by the committee.

The JCVI also said homeless people should get a first dose of vaccine even if they do not have an NHS number. It said:

It is recognised that an NHS number is an important element of the vaccination programme to ensure quality care and appropriate monitoring and surveillance. However, this requirement systematically excludes a vulnerable group of the population. The committee understands that the first dose of vaccine may be offered without the need for an NHS number or registration with general practice, but timely provision of the second dose is challenging without registration and the ability to call back individuals.


Homeless people in England to be prioritised for vaccine, government says

Homeless people in England are going to be prioritised for the vaccine, the government has announced.

They will be included in priority group six, meaning they will be treated the same as people with underlying health conditions that put them at higher risk of serious disease or death. Group six adults are being vaccinated after the over-65s, but before over-60s.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said he was taking the decision on the basis of advice from the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation. Yesterday the Welsh government announced the same move for Wales.

In a statement today Hancock said:

Our vaccination rollout is moving at an incredible speed with two in every five adults now having received at least one vaccine. It’s so important that nobody gets left behind in this national effort.

We know there are heightened risks for those who sleep rough and today I have accepted the advice of the independent experts at the JCVI to prioritise those experiencing rough sleeping or homelessness for vaccination alongside priority group 6. This will mean we will save more lives, among those most at risk in society.

In its letter to Hancock (pdf), dated 1 March but only published today, the JCVI said:

Having noted that many homeless individuals are likely to have underlying health conditions which would place them in group 6 of the first phase of the programme and that these conditions are likely to be under-diagnosed or incompletely recorded in primary care records, JCVI advises that local teams exercise operational judgment and consider a universal offer to people experiencing homelessness and rough sleeping, alongside delivery of the programme to priority group 6, where appropriate.


Sunak says the decision to cut the aid budget was not taken lightly. But it was a matter of priorities, he says. He says “at this difficult time” the government decided to focus on domestic priorities.

Ali says in the Commons Jess Phillips, her Labour colleague, has been reading out in the Commons the names of women killed by a man in the last 12 months. She says funding for women’s refuges should be increased.

Sunak says the budget contained an extra £125m for tackling domestic violence.

In the Treasury committee Rushanara Ali (Lab) is asking the question now.

Q: The NHS says it needs another £8bn to avoid cuts in the next financial year. Will they get it?

Sunak says he will not conduct that negotiation in public, but he says the Treasury is providing the NHS with “an enormous amount of extra resources”.

This is what Rishi Sunak said earlier in the hearing when he was asked by Anthony Browne (Conservative) if a larger state and higher taxation were here to stay. (See 3.04pm.) Sunak implied the answer was yes. He said:

Obviously, the government has to raise the money to fund the public services it is committed to delivering, so those two things always have to be in sync. And if there are demands on the spending side that are larger, it is reasonable to expect that those have to be paid for. Most people will understand that.

And that’s what the forecasts reflect; they reflect a large amount of public spending, financed - as governments do finance it - largely by taxation, and then borrowing getting to sustainable levels.

Four new cases of P1 Brazilian variant found in England

Four more people have been found to be carrying the P1 variant of the coronavirus, which emerged in Brazil, bringing the total number so far to ten.

The arrival of the P1 variant in the UK sparked a manhunt in early March, when six cases were picked up but only five could be identified. The other person had not left their contact details after taking a test. The search narrowed to a few hundred households in south-east England before the missing person came forward in Croydon.

Most of the newly identified P1 cases are contacts of two of the originals in South Gloucestershire. The two had flown back from Sao Paulo in Brazil to London, via Zurich. Unsurprisingly, the three new ones in the same locality are either family members or close contacts.

The other new case lives in Bradford and tested positive for Covid after returning from Brazil via Paris on February 14, said PHE. Genomic testing confirmed the variant. People who have been in close contact with the individual have been advised to self-isolate and get a test.

P1 is classified by Public Health England (PHE) as a “variant of concern”. It carries a mutation called E484K, as well as other changes, which is believed to reduce the efficacy of vaccines.

PHE says it has now identified another new variant in the UK, in two people who came back from Antigua. This one, which has been named B13241, is a “variant under investigation” rather than of concern. Although it contains E484K and N501Y, which is another problematic change in the virus spike protein, it does not have other changes needed to make it either more easily spread or cause more severe disease.

The arrival of another new variant from abroad while the UK is still in lockdown does pose the question, however, of how easily they can be kept out once foreign travel is resumed.

Fewer students dropped out of their university courses in the current academic year, despite the chaotic start endured by many students last autumn, according to new data published today.

The Student Loans Company said it received 14,421 notifications of withdrawal by UK and EU students from undergraduates courses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by mid-February, which was 2,000 fewer than the previous year and the 15,800 recorded in 2018-19.

In a statement it said:

Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland.

But the SLC said some of the difference “may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year,” with delayed course start dates and some universities extending their withdrawal deadlines as a result of the lockdowns and coronavirus outbreaks on many campuses in September and October.

Fewer students dropped out of their university courses in the current academic year, despite the chaotic start endured by many students last autumn, according to new data published today.

The Student Loans Company said it received 14,421 notifications of withdrawal by UK and EU students from undergraduates courses in England, Wales and Northern Ireland by mid-February, which was 2,000 fewer than the previous year and the 15,800 recorded in 2018-19.

In a statement it said:

Based on this data, SLC has not seen any increase in student withdrawal notifications for the purpose of student finance in this academic year, compared to the previous two years. In this respect, withdrawal notifications are currently slightly lower than the previous two years for UK & EU students funded by Student Finance England, Student Finance Wales and Student Finance Northern Ireland.

But the SLC said some of the difference “may be explained by the irregular start to the current academic year”, with delayed course start dates and some universities extending their withdrawal deadlines as a result of the lockdowns and coronavirus outbreaks on many campuses in September and October.


In the light of today’s No 10 lobby briefing (see 1.36pm), Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, has written an open letter to Boris Johnson asking him to correct what he told MPs yesterday. Here’s an extract.

As you know, the ministerial code states: “It is of paramount importance that ministers give accurate and truthful information to parliament, correcting any inadvertent errors.”

I note you have so far made no attempt to clarify your remarks personally, and in failing to do so may have inadvertently broken the ministerial code.

I further note that your press secretary, Allegra Stratton, has attempted to clarify your remarks further today by stating they referenced a different vote. If this is the case I believe it is in the public interest that you clarify the situation yourself through a statement to parliament to abide by the code.


The SNP’s Alison Thewliss goes next.

Q: When you published the winter economic plan, you said it was wrong to keep people furloughed in jobs that no longer existed. Do you still think that?

Sunak says that if a job is not going to survive, he wants to ensure people can find work, and do not suffer the scarring effect of unemployment.

Q: Have you benefited from the huge increase in the Moderna share price as a potential investor?

Sunak says all his disclosures have been published in the usual way.

Q: Are you worried about the large number of PPE contracts that have gone to Tory donors?

Sunak says the Treasury is not the awarding department for those contracts. The health department is. All contracts go through eight tests, he says.

Now most PPE is manufactured domestically, he says.

Q: Yesterday there was an excoriating report on test and trace. Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary at the Treasury, said this the most wasteful public spending programme of all time. Yet no one was shocked. Were you shocked?

The wins the prize for the most wasteful and inept public spending programme of all time. The extraordinary thing is that nobody in the government seems surprised or shocked. No matter: the BoE will just print more money. #soundmoney

— Nick Macpherson (@nickmacpherson2) March 10, 2021

Sunak says an enormous effort was put in to increase testing. That has been a fantastic achievement.

Q: Why are nurses just worth a 1% increase, which is a real-terms cut?

Sunak says that was not part of the budget process. He ways the pay review body is looking at it. That process will conclude towards the summer.

Angela Eagle (Lab) goes next.

Q: Why are you planning to spend less on public services than you originally planned?

Sunak says what looks like a cut is just an adjustment based on the inflation forecasts.

Q: Why have you not told the NHS what extra money it will get for Covid costs next year?

Sunak says there is always an ongoing conversation with departments about that money. He says he thinks £55bn was set aside for extra funding next year. Not all of it has been allocated already, he says.

Q: Will there be scope for “fiscal relaxation” (ie, tax cuts) in later budgets?

Sunak says it is too early to speculate.

Delaying EU import checks reduces risks of 'empty shelves' in shops, say retailers

Turning away from the committee for a moment, here is the government news release about the decision to delay the full imposition of post-Brexit border checks on imports from the EU. The move is intended to “enable UK businesses to focus on their recovery”, the government says.

Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, said he welcomed the delay but said it could “only be a temporary solution”. He said:

What businesses want to see is an end to the damaging political rhetoric from both sides, and a focus on improving border flow for the long term.

The UK and the EU must get back around the table and thrash out the remaining structural problems in the trade and co-operation agreement.

For some UK firms, the continued problems with EU trade are threatening their very existence.

It should not be the case that companies simply have to give up on importing from, or exporting to, the market next door.

And Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability at the British Retail Consortium, said he was pleased by the move. He said:

With many of the key border control posts currently little more than a hole in the ground, the six month easement comes in the nick of time.

Until the infrastructure is in place, with IT systems ready and established processes for checks and paperwork, it would be foolhardy to introduce full requirements for EHC documentation, pre-notification of imports, physical checks and more.

We welcome the government’s decision, which will ultimately reduce the impact on consumers from April 1, who might otherwise have seen empty shelves for some products.

Government must not rest on its laurels, and the next six months must be used to establish and communicate the new systems with UK retailers and EU suppliers.

Anthony Browne, a Conservative, goes next.

Q: Your plans take the tax burden to the highest level since Roy Jenkins. Is that permanent?

Sunak says the government must honour the spending plans it set out in the manifesto. The budget reflects that, he says.

UPDATE: From my colleague Richard Partington

Interesting from Sunak sticking to higher taxes? Asked if highest tax burden since 1960s is here to stay, he says: "If there are demands on the spending side that are larger, it’s reasonable to expect those have to be paid for. I think most people understand that."

— Richard Partington (@RJPartington) March 11, 2021

FURTHER UPDATE: See 3.45pm for the full quote.


Q: What can you do to incentivise people to spend the money they saved during the pandemic?

Sunak says he did not look at this specifically in the budget. When things reopen, we will find out if people are going to spend. Last year confident was not high, he says.

Dan York-Smith, Treasury director for strategy, planning and budget, who is giving evidence alongside Sunak, says the OBR has described increased spending of money saved as an “upside risk” (ie, a welcome surprise).

Q: What is an acceptable level of debt to GDP?

Sunak says, given the level of uncertainty, he did not think it was right to set a target.

But the steps he is taking do put the public finances “on a much more sustainable footing”, he says.

He says 90% used to be a figure, based on the Reinhart and Rogoff principles. But that was revised, and it was based on interest rates being higher.

Q: Are you concerned about the impact on the economy of EU workers having left the UK?

Sunak says he has read reports on this. He says he does not have data on the impact this might have, but the Treasury is looking at it.


Stride says he is willing to bet that Sunak’s spending plans will come under “inordinate pressure” (meaning he believes Sunak will have to spend more, not less).

Sunak rejects claims his spending plans 'unrealistic' as MPs grill him over budget

Stride says he would have said his biggest worry about the budget was the spending figures, the cost of further Covid measures for the NHS, the cost of the NHS operations backlog, the cost of the education catch-up, the pressure to increase universal credit - and that’s before you mention social care. He suggests the numbers in the budget on public spending are “unrealistic”.

Is it just not the case that the current numbers you have got in there on spending are unrealistic and are just going to come under unbearable pressure over the coming spending round and the years ahead?

Sunak says there is a “significant uplift” on public spending in the plans. So the starting point is higher than it was, he says.

He says the current plans envisage government spending increasing by about 3.5% more in real terms over the course of this parliament.

But how that is allocated is a matter for spending reviews.

Rishi Sunak (right) and Dan York-Smith, Treasury director for strategy, planning and budget, giving evidence to the Treasury committee
Rishi Sunak (right) and Dan York-Smith, Treasury director for strategy, planning and budget, giving evidence to the Treasury committee. Photograph: Parliament TV


Stride says we know the government is now sensitive to an increase in interest rates.

Sunak says interest rates are exceptionally low. Although there are arguments for rates staying low, if inflation expectations change, interest rate expectations will change too.

He says previous changes have extended the maturity of UK debt. It extends 12, 13, 14 years. Most other G7 debt is about half that, he says.

Mel Stride (Con), the committee chair, starts.

Q: Apart from Covid, what are the key risks to the forecasts in the budget?

Rishi Sunak says the budget forecasts are based on the roadmap.

But the impact of Covid will last longer. The forecasts assume a 3% hit to the economy in the medium term from the pandemic. The biggest factor will be if that is greater or less.

Rishi Sunak questioned by Commons Treasury committee about budget

Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, is about to give evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the budget.

There is a live feed here.

Covid-19 case rates are continuing to fall in all regions of England, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England. PA Media says:

In Yorkshire and Humber the rate of new cases stood at 97.6 per 100,000 people in the seven days to 7 March - the highest rate of any region, but down from 115.6 in the previous week.

The east Midlands recorded the second highest rate: 84.0, down from 122.9.

South-west England recorded the lowest rate: 32.3, down from 43.9.

We've just published our weekly #COVID19 surveillance report.

Read it here:

— Public Health England (@PHE_uk) March 11, 2021


The 6 May elections across England, Scotland and Wales are going to be unusual in several ways, and the Electoral Commission has just published new guidance about some of the many things parties and candidates will have to consider with coronavirus.

Late last month the Cabinet Office set out some basic campaigning rules on areas such as leafleting, and knocking on doors – both are allowed, but canvassers must give their party’s pitch from 2 metres away, and not go inside.

The Electoral Commission document gets into more technical areas, such as whether parties can offer masks and hand sanitiser to people as a way to encourage them to turn out to vote. The short answer is yes, but only if this is “to assist voters generally”, and not to encourage them to vote a certain way, an offence known as “treating”.

If masks or bottles of sanitiser carry a party logo or slogan, they must then also then have the small print you see on election leaflets, stating who has paid for it.

Also, someone wearing a party-logo mask might be asked to change it if they wear it to a polling station, as campaign items are not allowed there.

Finally, if parties do decide they want to hand out masks or sanitiser, this counts as election spending, and must be included on their spending return.


Government delays introduction of full border checks for EU firms exporting to UK

Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, has announced that the government is delaying the introduction of many of the checks that will be required for goods coming into the UK from the EU until January next year. In a Commons written statement, he says that phasing in the new rules will take longer than originally planned because of “the scale and significance of the challenges businesses have been facing in adjusting to the new requirements, at the same time as dealing with the impacts of Covid”.

This is a temporary extension of frictionless trade - but one that will benefit EU exports, not UK exports.

As the Financial Times’ Peter Foster argues, this will be welcome by firms importing goods from the EU - but not by companies trying to compete against those imports.

As anticipated, the UK govt is pushing back by six months the dates at which EU exporters will face full UK border controls. tl;dr relief for supermarkets, less so if you've spent money preparing or are competing against EU exports (like pig farmers).

— Peter Foster (@pmdfoster) March 11, 2021

And, as the BBC’s Faisal Islam points out, the move will help EU traders - without ensuring that the EU offers any reciprocal concessions that might benefit UK firms exporting into Europe.

This will come as a huge relief to importing businesses... however some exporting businesses and hauliers were under the impression the threat of reciprocal checks would be used as leverage to get the EU to ease its checks. Won’t happen now until next year.

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) March 11, 2021

Government revealing a significant preference to continue to wave through imports that keep supermarket shelves stocked... exporters facing problems with post Brexit non tariff barriers, wont however have relief that their competitors from the EU face the same importing into UK.

— Faisal Islam (@faisalislam) March 11, 2021


At today’s lobby briefing Downing Street also refused to back Shaun Bailey, the Conservative candidate for London mayor, over a post he put on Twitter yesterday that was widely condemned as being an attempt to make political capital over the suspected murder of Sarah Everard.

As a father and husband it breaks me to think that my wife and daughter have to live in fear in their own city.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

As Mayor, I‘ll ensure that we are working to deliver for the safety of women and girls in London.

— Shaun Bailey (@ShaunBaileyUK) March 10, 2021

As the Evening Standard’s Sophia Sleigh reports, No 10 repeatedly refused to defend Bailey’s tweet.

This was another moment where the briefing turned rather surreal.

🚨Downing Street distancing itself from Shaun Bailey's comments today.

Asked if the stood by Mr Bailey, the spokesman said: “That’s not a question for me. You’re asking me abut a tweet from a mayoral candidate those questions are best directed towards him and his team.”

— Sophia Sleigh (@SophiaSleigh) March 11, 2021

Pressed on how Mr Bailey was expected to know what the Prime Minister thought, Boris Johnson’s Press Secretary Allegra Stratton intervened saying: “You’ve got to go Shaun Bailey’s team.”

— Sophia Sleigh (@SophiaSleigh) March 11, 2021

No 10 claims PM does not need to apologise for misleading MPs - because his words did not mean what people thought

Today’s Downing Street lobby briefing was another classic for those interested in the extent to which Boris Johnson, and his aides, will do almost anything rather than admit that he has made a mistake.

At PMQs yesterday, after Sir Keir Starmer waved a copy of the NHS funding bill that envisaged a 2.1% pay rise of staff this year, Boris Johnson said that Labour had voted against it. This was untrue, as Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, told MPs later, but at the subsequent lobby briefing No 10 refused to directly admit that the PM had made a mistake.

This morning Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, said it would be “dishonourable” for Johnson not to correct the record. (See 1.09am.)

But now No 10 is saying there is no need to the PM to correct the record - because in fact he was referring to Labour voting against the Queen’s speech, and so he was right all along. Allegra Stratton, the PM’s press secretary, said:

The prime minister was referring to Labour voting against the Queen’s speech in January of last year.

When it was pointed out that in the Commons yesterday Johnson said that Labour had voted against the “document” that Starmer was holding in his hand, Stratton said Labour’s vote against the Queen’s speech was “the basis” for the point Johnson made.

Asked why she had not said this yesterday, she said she had not had time to speak to Johnson between PMQs and the start of yesterday’s lobby briefing. She did not explain why, if Johnson’s account is accurate, there was no attempt to explain that to journalists later in the day.

This new line means Johnson won’t be apologising for misleading MPs, or correcting the record, because he has decided he was right all along.

It is fair to say not every journalist listening to the call found today’s explanation 100% convincing. Here is some of the reaction.

From the Daily Mirror’s Mikey Smith

No10 claiming the PM’s false statement about Labour’s voting record yesterday was, in fact, correct, bizarrely claiming he had been “referring to the Queen’s Speech.”

The question was about the NHS Long-term plan. Nobody in the entire of PMQs mentioned the Queen’s Speech.

— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) March 11, 2021

I mean, you don’t want to throw around words like ‘gaslighting’, but Number 10 apparently inventing justifications for a patently false statement from the PM is pretty worrying.

— Mikey Smith (@mikeysmith) March 11, 2021

From my colleague Peter Walker

I hope it's not slipping too much into commentary to say that Stratton's explanation today seems fairly unexpected, somewhat baffling, and extremely unlikely.

— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) March 11, 2021

From the Independent’s Tom Peck

The untelevised lobby briefing is another classic today. Can only imagine some of the £2.6m that’s been spent getting the TV room ready has gone on special paint that will allow them to argue that black is in fact white.

— Tom Peck (@tompeck) March 11, 2021


Speaker says it will be 'dishonourable' if PM keeps refusing to admit he misled MPs

Sir Lindsay Hoyle, the Commons Speaker, has piled pressure on Boris Johnson to correct an untruthful claim made yesterday at PMQs.

Johnson left the chamber immediately after his weekly grilling by MPs, so escaped having to hear a complaint made about him for saying Labour voted against the NHS funding bill.

At the time shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Johnson should be made to “return to the house to correct the record” - but Hoyle said by making his intervention, Ashworth had achieved his aim of clarification.

Today, no doubt after quite a lot of anger from opposition MPs, Hoyle issued a new statement - saying that the onus is on MPs to “correct the record if they make an inaccurate statement to the House”.

He cited the ministerial code, which says MPs should “correct any inadvertent error at the earliest opportunity”.

And he said ministers “must take responsibility for correcting the record if a mistake has been made”. In a hint that a tougher rebuke might follow if the PM did not admit his mistake, Hoyle added:

It is not dishonourable to make a mistake, but to seek to avoid admitting one is a different matter.

No 10 has so far avoided saying why Johnson made the untruthful remark during a lengthy exchange on NHS workers’ pay with Sir Keir Starmer. It has also refused to apologise, or even directly admit that what Johnson said was wrong.

Johnson’s press secretary, Allegra Stratton, claimed yesterday that given Hoyle’s response to the complaint made yesterday, the Speaker “regarded it as having been dealt with”. But this morning’s intervention from Hoyle shows that he doesn’t.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle.
Sir Lindsay Hoyle. Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

Starmer says UK has to 'change to survive'

The full text of Sir Keir Starmer’s speech at the Labour campaign launch this morning is here. Afterwards he took a lot of questions from the media – but managed to sidestep all the tricky ones with such skill that he could qualify to replace Alok Sharma at the Downing Street Covid briefings.

(This was frustrating for journalists, but probably not for his press team; party strategists hate it when the headline message from a campaign event gets lost because of a newsy remark in the Q&A.)

In so far as what we did learn, here is a summary.

  • Starmer put a demand for a “proper pay rise” for NHS staff at the centre of Labour’s campaign for the May elections. (See 9.16am.)
  • But he declined to back the RCN’s call for nurses to get 12.5% increases. Asked what pay rise NHS staff should be getting, he said:

The rise for the NHS front line should be above inflation, a real rise. I think the starting point should be the 2.1% that was promised and was of course budgeted for.

  • He stressed that Labour was now “different” from the party it was before he became leader. (See 9.43am.)

I believe in the United Kingdom and what Mark Drakeford was saying was that he believes in the United Kingdom, but he recognises it’s got to change to survive. And he’s right about that.

If the debate anywhere, particularly Scotland, is simply between the status quo and independence, then it’s the wrong debate.

I absolutely want to make a passionate case for the United Kingdom, and a socially just Scotland in a modern United Kingdom. And that’s the message we’ll be carrying to the voters in Scotland this May.

  • Starmer said violence against women was “far too common” and that this was a particularly important issue for men. At the start of his speech he expressed his sympathy to Sarah Everard’s family and friends and said:

This awful news has shaken us all. I’d like to say these incidents are rare, but the truth is that violence against women and girls is far too common.

No woman should walk home with fear or threat.

And we have to be clear: it’s only by recognising the scale of violence, intimidation and misogyny that women and girls suffer on a daily basis that we can ever start to confront this.

Asked what practical measures could be taken to address the problem, Starmer said there was a need for more police officers, and a criminal justice system that worked effectively. But he said a change of thinking was needed too. He said:

I’m not sure everyone appreciates how prevalent and pervasive that is ... I think this is particularly an issue for men. It’s very important for men to speak out on this issue.

The government has clearly got a blindspot here. It’s got a problem and the prime minister needs to address it, not least because it’s a pattern of behaviour.


A total of 45,229 people tested positive for Covid-19 in England at least once in the week to March 3, according to the latest test and trace figures (pdf). As PA Media reports, this is down 34% on the previous week and is the lowest number since the week to September 23.

Boris Johnson posted a message on Twitter this morning about the Sarah Everard case.

I am shocked and deeply saddened by the developments in the Sarah Everard investigation. Like the whole country my thoughts are with her family and friends. We must work fast to find all the answers to this horrifying crime.

— Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson) March 11, 2021

EU ambassador says UK and Brussels should 'change the mindset' and give up post-Brexit point-scoring

The European Union’s ambassador to the UK has called on London and Brussels to “give up on trying to score points” and ensure there is trust between both sides. At a briefing for Westminster journalists, Joao Vale de Almeida said he wanted there to be the “best possible relationship” between Britain and the EU post-Brexit amid disputes over trade arrangements. He said:

I think we need to make an effort to change the mindset and give up on trying to score points ... and focus ourselves on what we can do for making the most out of the agreements that we made - the withdrawal agreement on one side and the trade and cooperation agreement on the other.

With coherence, with consistency and with common willingness to move together ...

For all that we need to have high levels of trust - mutual trust.

Trust is maybe the most important commodity in international agreements.

When there is no trust, when levels of trust go down, you are less capable of finding solutions.


Q: Do you agree with Mark Drakeford that the UK union as it is is finished?

Starmer says he and Drakeford both believe in the United Kingdom, but they both believe it should change. He says the SNP think the choice is just between the status quo and independence. But that’s the wrong debate, he says.

And that’s it. The Q&A, and the whole event, is over.

It was not exactly a news-rich zone - what was most telling about the Q&A, perhaps, was Starmer’s mastery of the art of dodging the question - but, as always, there were threads of interest. I’ll post a summary soon.

Q: In north Wales a health board has gone into special measures. Doesn’t that show Labour can’t deliver on the NHS?

Starmer says the Welsh government has shown better leadership duirng the pandemic than Boris Johnson.

Q: The Palace issued a statement saying it would take the bullying allegations against Meghan seriously. Shouldn’t they have said the same about the racism allegations?

Starmer says he has already addressed this.

Q: Should the Palace publish the findings of its inquiry into the Duchess of Sussex’s allegations?

Starmer says the royal family has responded. It is a matter for them. But we need to take issues of race and mental health seriously.

Q: Would you back nurses going on strike?

Starmer says nurses do not want to have a strike. It is the prime minister who is causing the problem?

Q: Should the PM apologise for wrongly saying Labour voted against an NHS pay rise yesterday.

Starmer says Boris Johnson should apologise and correct the record. But he never takes responsibility for what he does.

Q: Do you agree with the government LGBT advisers who resigned partly over gay conversion therapy?

Starmer says gay conversion theraphy is abhorrent. Labour would ban it. He says he thinks the government has a blind spot on this issue.

Q: What can be done to make women safer?

Starmer says, first, we need to recognise the scale of the problem. Then we need to tackle it. We need to challenge unacceptable behaviours. And we need more police officers, he says.

Q: What would success for Labour look like?

Starmer says the party will campaign hard. But it is tough. We are in a pandemic, he says, and the party is constrained by what it can do in terms of campaigning.

Q: Do you expect to see gains in England, Scotland and Wales?

Starmer says the party will fight hard in England, Scotland and Wales.

Starmer's Q&A

Starmer is now taking questions.

Q: What practical difference would it make having a Labour councillor?

Starmer says people should look at the record of Labour councils. He cites Andy Burnham as an example of a leader standing up for his communities.

Q: Don’t you need to be making real progress in these elections?

Starmer says it will be tough. He says, as Labour leader, he has still not had the chance to give a speech to a live audience.

Starmer turns to Scotland.

In Scotland, the SNP are fighting among themselves rather than fighting for the Scottish people.

Their 13 years in power has seen child poverty rise and educational standards fall.

Scotland now has the lowest life expectancy in Western Europe and the highest number of drug deaths.

That’s a record of shame.

And what’s the SNP’s priority? Another divisive referendum.

Under our brilliant new leader – Anas Sarwar - Labour will focus on what unites Scotland, not what divides us.

And, on Wales, he praises Mark Drakeford, the first minister, for the showing the “leadership that’s been sorely lacking from Boris Johnson”.

There are elections for police and crime commissioners in May, and Starmer reminds the audience he was director of public prosecutions for five years.

That meant working with the police across the country day in, day out.

So I know first-hand that it’s only by tackling the causes of crime that we can have safer neighbourhoods and fewer victims.

Labour’s police and crime commissioners will have one central focus: the safety of all our local communities.

Starmer is now repeating the line he used at PMQs yesterday about how his mother and sister worked as nurses, and how his wife works for the NHS. “When I clapped for our carers, I meant it,” he says.

He says these elections are a chance for people to show they care for the NHS.

He goes on:

This election is also a chance to vote against the Conservatives’ tax rises on families – which will take money out of people’s pockets at the worst possible time.

The Conservatives fought the last election with a tax guarantee: the only guarantee now is that families will pay more tax.

Starmer says the country faces a choice - change, or go back to more of the same.

And he says the Tories must be judged by what they do.

There’s one thing we know about the Conservatives: Don’t listen to what they say, watch what they do.

A pay cut for nurses - and tax rises for families.

Nothing for social care.

No plan to cut NHS waiting lists.

And no idea how to tackle the single biggest threat Britain faces: the climate emergency.

Starmer says the extraordinary achievements of the NHS in rolling out the vaccine should not blind us to the mistakes made earlier.

The Conservatives were too slow to lockdown.

Too slow to protect care homes.

Too slow to get protective equipment to the frontline.

And too stubborn to sack Dominic Cummings when he broke the rules.

A decade of Conservative government left Britain unprepared going into the pandemic.

And they’ve now they’ve left us with the highest death toll in Europe - and the worst economic crisis of any major economy.

After everything we’ve been through, we can’t go back to business as usual.

Starmer says he is glad to be out campaigning.

He praises Labour figures who have stood up for their communities.

And Labour councils across the country stepped up when the Conservative government refused to provide free school meals, he says.

Keir Starmer's speech at Labour launch

Sir Keir Starmer is starting his speech, and he begins by expressing his sympathy to the family and friends of Sarah Everard. He would like to say events like this are rare, he says. But he says violence against women is still all too common.

44% of NHS staff in England felt unwell from work-related stress in 2020, survey shows

More than four-in-10 NHS staff in England said they felt unwell as a result of work-related stress in 2020, PA Media reports. PA says:

The NHS Staff Survey 2020 (pdf), published on this morning, found that 44% of staff had reported feeling unwell as a result of work-related stress in the previous 12 months, up from 40% the previous year.

The survey found that the increases were steepest in acute and community trusts and acute specialist trusts.

Some 595,270 NHS employees in England responded to the survey, which was carried out between September and December last year.

It also found that 46% of staff said they have gone to work in the last three months, despite not feeling well enough to perform their duties, a drop from 57% in 2019.

Almost a fifth of staff are considering leaving the NHS - although this has fallen slightly since 2019, from 19.6% to 18.2%, according to the survey.

It includes people considering retiring or taking a career break and those considering moving to a job outside healthcare or in healthcare but outside the NHS.

Extract from staff survey summary
Extract from staff survey summary Photograph: NHS Staff Survey

The online Labour campaign launch is now showing a video message about postal voting. Sir Keir Starmer is speaking at 11.05am. After his speech he will be doing a Q&A.

Polls suggest support for SNP in Scotland has slipped back

Two new opinion polls show that Scotland’s opposition parties are gaining ground against Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party, eight weeks before the Holyrood election, with SNP support slipping again.

The YouGov poll for the Times and SavantaComres for the Scotsman raise questions whether Sturgeon will win an outright Holyrood majority on May 6, dampening her claims to have a mandate to hold a second independence referendum.

After months of dominance in the polls for Sturgeon and the SNP, alongside a record 58% high in support for independence, the polls also confirmed a downward slide in backing for independence.

YouGov put the yes vote at 49% and no at 51%, excluding don’t knows, reversing its finding in November 2020. SavantaComres had the same result. YouGov also found fewer voters believed a referendum should be held this year if the SNP won a majority; 50% of voters now oppose that idea, compared to 44% in November.

The polls were published as Keir Starmer launches Labour’s local elections campaign with a pan-GB approach on Thursday morning. It features Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader, and Welsh Labour first minister Mark Drakeford - the first time Labour’s three party leaders have jointly staged a local elections launch.

SavanaComres found the SNP constituency vote down 6 points to 48 since February - making a majority unlikely, with the Tories still at 23%, and Labour up 4 points to 20%. YouGov found SNP down 4 points since November to 52%, with the Tories up 3 to 22%, and Labour up 2 to 15%. Polling on both stradled last weekend, when Sarwar was elected the new Scottish Labour leader.

The SNP’s slump is put down to the bitter public feud between Alex Salmond and his successor Nicola Sturgeon over the sexual assault allegations (of which he has been cleared), which has erupted into life with both giving evidence to a Holyrood inquiry.

Opposition parties also believe the success of the UK-wide vaccinations programme has increased support for the union, and to a lesser degree, the Tories.

It’s far from clear those factors will continue to influence voters once election campaigns begin in earnest in early April, when the SNP’s formidable campaigning machine gets into gear and it starts reminding voters of the heavy impacts of Brexit.

Sadiq Khan, the Labour mayor of London, is speaking now at the Labour launch. He says he has achieved a lot as mayor, including reducing toxic air pollution by more than a third, investing £70m in youth projects, and starting to build more council homes than in any year since 1983. But he can do more to make London greener and better, he says.


The Labour election launch has started. There is a live feed here.

It is a GB-wide event, with contributions from Scotland and Wales.

The first speech was from Anas Sarwar, the new Scottish Labour leader. He said he wanted people to know that the party was on their side.

Mark Drakeford, the Welsh first minister, is speaking now.

He says Wales has extraordinary capacities, “not just to match other countries but to show them the way”.

Momentum criticises Labour for refusing to back call for 12% pay rise for nurses

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, was giving interviews this morning and, when asked what pay rise NHS staff should be getting this year, she said it should be the 2.1% originally budgeted for by the government “at the very least”.

She would not endorse the proposal from the Royal College of Nursig for nurses to get a 12% pay rise. And she would not repeat the call in Labour’s 2019 manifesto for nurses to get 5%. Asked about that pledge, she said:

We’ve got to remind ourselves, that manifesto in 2019, the general public completely rejected it. It was one of our worst election defeats.

Momentum, the Labour group set up to champion Jeremy Corbyn’s politics when he was leader, accused the party of failing to stand up for working people. A Momentum spokesperson said:

In the context of a 10% real terms pay cut since 2010, this refusal to back our nurses unions and their reasonable demand for a 12% rise is embarrassing.

‘This leadership is developing a reputation. First they sold out the teachers, now they sell out the nurses - who’s next? It’s time for the Labour party to pick a side, and stand up for working people.

“The government should give the 2.1% rise that they promised”

Deputy Leader of the Labour Party Angela Rayner speaks to #BBCBreakfast about the government’s proposed 1% pay rise for NHS staff in England ⤵️

— BBC Breakfast (@BBCBreakfast) March 11, 2021

4.59m people in England waiting for hospital treatment in January, NHS figures show

The number of people in England waiting to start hospital treatment has risen to a new record high, PA Media reports. PA says:

A total of 4.59 million people were waiting to start treatment at the end of January 2021, according to figures from NHS England.

This is the highest number since records began in August 2007.

The number of people having to wait more than 52 weeks to start hospital treatment stood at 304,044 in January 2021 - the highest number for any calendar month since January 2008.

One year earlier, in January 2020, the number having to wait more than 52 weeks to start treatment stood at just 1,643.

The Office for National Statistics has published new data this morning on the impact of the pandemic on disabled people. In a previous report it has shown that the risk of death from Covid is higher for disabled people than for non-disabled people. Today’s figures focus on wider impacts of the crisis. They show:

  • 81% of disabled people said they were worried about the impact the pandemic was having on their life, compared to 72% of non-disabled people.
  • Two thirds (67%) of disabled people said the pandemic was affecting their well-being, compared to 53% of non-disabled people.
  • Nearly a third (32%) of disabled people said the pandemic was affecting their health, compared to 12% of non-disabled people.

Cancer patients not properly protected after single dose of Pfizer vaccine, researchers claim

Delaying the second dose of the Pfizer vaccine must be urgently reviewed for cancer patients after a single shot was found to offer inadequate protection, researchers have said. In its report PA Media says:

A study from King’s College London and the Francis Crick Institute - which has not yet been peer-reviewed - found that three weeks after the first jab, antibody responses were found in 39% of people with solid cancers and 13% of people with blood cancer.

This compared with 97% of people with no cancer, according to the research on 205 people, who comprised 151 with cancer and 54 healthy controls.

Cancer patients given a second dose of the vaccine three weeks after the first - as recommended by Pfizer - had a much better immune response, with 95% of those with solid tumours showing detectable antibodies.

The team said leaving up to a 12-week gap between doses - as is currently happening in the UK - is leaving cancer patients vulnerable to serious Covid-19.

However, Cancer Research UK said the study was relatively small and people should continue to follow the advice of their doctors.

Dr Sheeba Irshad, senior clinical lecturer from King’s College London, said:

Our data provides the first real-world evidence of immune efficacy following one dose of the Pfizer vaccine in immunocompromised patient populations.

We show that following first dose, most solid and haematological [blood] cancer patients remained immunologically unprotected up until at least five weeks following primary injection; but this poor one-dose efficacy can be rescued with an early booster (second dose) at day 21.

Based on our findings, we would recommend an urgent review of the vaccine strategy for clinically extremely vulnerable groups.

Until then, it is important that cancer patients continue to observe all public health measures in place such as social distancing and shielding when attending hospitals, even after vaccination.

And this is what the Conservative party said in its response to the comments from Sir Keir Starmer released ahead of the Labour campaign launch. (See 9.16am and 9.43am.) Amanda Milling, the Conservative co-chairman, said:

Up and down the country Labour are failing to deliver locally.

Labour politicians are distracted from delivering on your priorities and more interested in playing political games than delivering good services.

Only the Conservatives can be trusted to focus on your priorities with a proven record of keeping bills down and providing better local services.

In a briefing note the Conservatives said that in 2020-21 the average band D council tax under a Conservative council in England was £83 a year lower than under a Labour council, and £130 a year lower than under a Lib Dem council. They also claimed Labour councils “spend longer on scoring political points and deciding which statutes they want to tear down than how to make sure people’s bins are emptied and their potholes are filled”.

Starmer says he's leading 'different Labour party'

In his speech at the Labour campaign launch Sir Keir Starmer will also stress that Labour has changed under his leadership. According to the extracts released overnight, he will say:

Since Angela [Rayner, the deputy leader] and I were elected eleven months ago, Labour’s changed. We’re reconnecting with the British people – in every region and nation of the United Kingdom and we’re working hard to rebuild trust.

There’s a long way to go but I’m incredibly proud of what we’ve achieved. Whether that’s rooting out the antisemitism that had poisoned this party or rebuilding our relationship with British business.

This is a different Labour party, under new leadership and we’re making a different offer to the British people.

Starmer demands 'proper pay rise' for NHS as he launches Labour's campaign for May elections

Good morning. What one might call “normal politics” has been relatively marginalised in the last year because of the pandemic. (That may in part help to explain why last week marked the moment when 582 days had passed since the last Westminster byelection, a post-war record, although, as PA’s Ian Jones explains here, other factors are much more relevant.) But today we’re going to nudge a bit closer to business as usual when Labour launches its campaign for the May elections.

According to extracts from his speech released overnight, Sir Keir Starmer is going to going to put a call for nurses to get more than the 1% pay rise proposed by the government at the heart of his party’s campaign. He will say:

Under my leadership, and with our great local candidates across the country, Labour offers a very different route to recovery. Labour’s changing. Our priorities are your priorities: securing the economy, protecting the NHS, rebuilding Britain.

So, if you want to support our nurses. To rebuild social care. And to reward our key workers, then vote Labour. My mum was a nurse, my sister was a nurse, my wife works for the NHS.

I know how tough this year has been for our NHS and I know that now, more than ever, is the time to give our key workers a proper pay rise.

Every vote in this election is a chance to show the Conservatives that the British people value our NHS and our key workers so much more than this government does.

There is one obvious problem with this approach. The elections in England, for councillors, city and metro mayors, police commissioners and members of the London assembly, will have no direct bearing whatsoever on nurses’ pay. Labour could win every contest and still not be confident of reversing the proposed pay rise. (There are also elections in May to the Scottish and Welsh parliaments.)

But, in practice, many voters tend not to be over-focused on the accountability boundaries relating to public sector pay, but they do respond to a message with obvious emotional appeal. And the strength of Labour’s case was highlighted last night when Caroline Nokes, a Conservative former minister and chair of the Commons women and equalities committee, told ITV’s Peston that 1% was stunningly low. She said:

It’s a very bad look for the government, and as I say I was stunned that it was as low as one percent.

(This highlights a second problem with Labour’s decision to choose nurses’ pay as a campaign theme. By election day on 6 May, Boris Johnson may well have increased NHS pay anyway. Nokes told Peston: “I think we will see it go upwards, it’s just a question of how much.”)

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The ONS publishes reports on the impact of Covid on the economy, and its impact on disabled people.

9.30am: NHS England publishes its annual staff survey, as well as monthly waiting time figures.

10.30am: Sir Keir Starmer launches Labour’s campaign for the local elections.

11am: NHS test and trace publishes its weekly performance figures.

12pm: Downing Street is expected to hold its daily lobby briefing.

12.30pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, takes questions in the Scottish parliament.

2pm: Public Health England publishes its weekly Covid surveillance report.

2.30pm: Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, gives evidence to the Commons Treasury committee about the budget.

Politics Live is now doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog but we are covering non-Covid political stories too, like Labour’s local election launch, and when they seem more important or more interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus 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.



Andrew Sparrow

The GuardianTramp

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