Early evening summary

  • Jennifer Arcuri, the American tech entrepreneur, has told members of the London assembly that any trade help she received from the GLA was due to her being an effective “hustler”, not to her relationship with Boris Johnson. (See 5.45pm.)
  • Johnson has refused to accept that the energy crisis could lead to people struggling at Christmas. (See 2.43pm.)

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

Andrew Adonis, the peer who is probably Labour’s most Blairite parliamentarian, has also come out against the rule changes proposed by Starmer.

Changing electoral system to choose Labour leader won’t make a difference. Systems don’t produce good leaders & good leaders win anyway. Blair would have won in any system 1994; an electoral college like this elected Ed Miliband 2010; there was no good candidate against Corbyn

— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) September 21, 2021

Labour needs good leaders and good policies - not a load of inconsequential rule changes

— Andrew Adonis (@Andrew_Adonis) September 21, 2021

Here are some more Labour MPs who have spoken out against Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to change the leadership election rules.

From Zarah Sultana

Moving to an electoral college for Labour leadership elections – ending one member one vote and hoarding power in the hands of MPs in Westminster – would be a shameful attack on democracy. #PoliticsLive pic.twitter.com/m1em54wFK7

— Zarah Sultana MP (@zarahsultana) September 21, 2021

From Ian Lavery

Is there really any @UKLabour member that agrees that as an MP I should outweigh a members vote by 2000 to 1.

Explain to me why I’m superior and much more important!

— Ian Lavery MP (@IanLaveryMP) September 21, 2021

From Apsana Begum

Moving away from 1 Member 1 Vote for Labour leadership elections and handing huge amounts of power over to MPs, would be deeply undemocratic & problematic.

Members should have an equal say in the party's future.

That’s how we’d best produce the leadership to take on the Tories.

— Apsana Begum MP (@ApsanaBegumMP) September 21, 2021

From Rachael Maskell

As a Labour MP, I should have no greater say in leadership elections than other @UKLabour members. The members are ultimately the Party and they should equally elect their leader. OMOV is the most democratic system. Let's respect our members, let's respect Party democracy.

— 💙Rachael Maskell MP (@RachaelMaskell) September 21, 2021

From Nadia Whittome

As an MP, my vote should be worth the same as any other Labour member's.

We're only MPs because members selected us. We must represent the labour movement, not dictate it.

A return to the electoral college model for leadership elections would be completely undemocratic.

— Nadia Whittome MP (@NadiaWhittomeMP) September 21, 2021

From Beth Winter

There are reports that the Labour leadership wants to move away from One Member One Vote for leadership elections, handing huge amounts of power over to MPs.

Members are the heart and soul of our party & must all have an equal say in the party's future.

— Beth Winter MP (@BethWinterMP) September 21, 2021

Jennifer Arcuri says any trade help she got from GLA due to her being good 'hustler', not links with Johnson

The London assembly oversight committee’s hearing with Jennifer Arcuri did not produce anything that will cause difficulties for Boris Johnson. The hearing was not explicitly focused on allegations that Johnson improperly enabled her to attend London trade missions, and to access GLA funding, because they were in a secret relationship. (No 10 claims he has “no case to answer” in relation to these claims.) Instead the hearing was focused on how London trade missions operate generally, and so the references to Johnson were relatively limited.

Arcuri, who made a positive impression on some members of the committee, and who is certainly not lacking in self confidence, declared that it was no secret to some working in Johnson’s office when he was London mayor that he fancied her. But the main thrust of her argument was that this was not relevant to any benefits she may have received, because she was a pushy, high-profile entrepreneur who was good at getting what she wanted anyway.

Here are the main points.

  • Arcuri said that any business help she got from the Greater London Authority (GLA) was due to her being a good “hustler”, not to her relationship with Johnson. She said:

Whether or not they [people in Johson’ office] assumed whatever they wanted [that she and Johnson were having an affair], it didn’t change the fact that really Jennifer Arcuri was the most annoying, perseverant hustler. Even when they said no, I didn’t listen. I assumed yes. ‘Just find another way to say yes to me’, those are my words.

So my relationship with the mayor, or non relationship, had really no bearing in my complete pursuit of London ...

People knew that I was quite aggressive in my approach ... They would roll their eyes, ‘there’s Jennifer again. Good luck saying no to her.’

She also said she was not an official participant in some of the London trade missions mentioned in reports about her and Johnson; she sometimes attended unofficially, she said.

  • She said that at least three people in Johnson’s office knew that Johnson had a “crush” on her. She said;

People knew that there was an interest of the mayor in me and that he had somewhat of a crush on me. When we went to events, everyone could see the dramatic difference of this man when I entered the room.

Jennifer Arcuri giving evidence by video to the London assembly’s oversight committee.
Jennifer Arcuri giving evidence by video to the London assembly’s oversight committee. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Updated

The Home Office has been accused of avoiding parliamentary scrutiny over controversial borders legislation after three of the department’s most senior civil servants were withdrawn at short notice from giving evidence before MPs.

Labour and SNP MPs launched a formal complaint after top officials from Border Force and Immigration Enforcement did not appear before the nationality and borders bill committee today.

MPs expected to question Dan O’Mahoney, Border Force’s clandestine Channel threat commander, Tony Eastaugh, director general for immigration enforcement, and Emma Haddad, the director general for asylum and protection.

Their names were circulated among members of the bill committee and other witnesses in August. But on Monday an updated list had withdrawn their appearances.

The Labour MP Bambos Charalambous, a member of the scrutiny committee, raised a point of order about the officials’ withdrawal with the chair of the committee, Roger Gale. “This is highly unusual, particularly as they appeared on the original list which was distributed among members of the committee and witnesses,” he said.

Fellow committee member Stuart C Mcdonald, the SNP’s shadow home affairs spokesperson, backed the point of order. He said their withdrawal had been hugely frustrating.

“Home office officials are either not willing or have not been allowed to come before the committee to put forward their justifications for this anti-refugee bill and to have those arguments tested,” he said.

In a statement, the Home Office said the evidence sessions are primarily intended for external organisations, not officials.

The London assembly committee hearing with Jennifer Arcuri has now finished. Arcuri ended up with advice for entrepreneurs, saying that it was important to “never, ever give up”. As an example of the power of perseverance, she recalled organising an event at a hotel that landed her with a £25,000 bill. She did not know how it was going to be covered, but by the end of the day it was paid, she said.

But she did not actually say who paid it.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, made a statement to MPs earlier about the police decision to charge a third Russian national over the 2018 novichok poisoning of Sergei and Yulia Skripal in Salisbury. Sir Edward Leigh, a Conservative, used the session to suggest the government should consider withdrawing from the European convention on human rights. He explained:

The home secretary mentions the judgment of the European court of human rights. The parliamentary assembly of the Council of Europe, which I am a member, pathetically has allowed Russia back into the assembly for one reasons only: for money. Where these Putin’s thugs strut around and ignore any motion passed by that assembly.

Russia doesn’t care a dime about the court of human rights and will simply ignore it, but the same court is constantly invoked by human rights lawyers where we try and save lives at sea with dealing with migrants or how we run our prisons.

This is just a fig leaf for tyranny. Maybe the time has come to replace the Human Rights Act with our own British Rights Act and perhaps get out of this European court of human rights all together?

Updated

Arcuri says she would be happy to be seen as a “groupie” for London & Partners because she “just loved London” and was happy to promote it.

Soldiers and firefighters will be drafted in from this weekend to drive Scottish ambulances, with 2nd year paramedic students to help in ambulance control rooms and taxi companies used to transport non-acute patients, Humza Yousaf, the Scottish health secretary, has told MSPs.

The announcement came as new figures from Public Health Scotland revealed record A&E waiting times - Glasgow’s flagship Queen Elizabeth University Hospital saw only 44.8 per cent of patients within the four-hour target last week.

In a BBC Scotland interview, John Thomson, vice-president for the Royal College of Emergency Medicine in Scotland, said that Covid was only one part of the problem, with a thousand extra beds needed nationally to ease “unrelenting pressure on our emergency departments”.

Unite warned that using the army or firefighters as drivers ‘will not be enough’ due to the scale of the existing pressures and the seasonal pressures associated with the winter period, adding the union has “concerns” in relation to some of the additional drivers not being medically trained or emergency drivers.

Meanwhile, Nicola Sturgeon came under fire for her earlier statement on vaccine passports, which come into force from 1 October.

Industry chiefs have been asking for weeks to see a definition of “nightclub” for the purposes of the plans but, when Sturgeon finally set this out earlier today, the head of the Scottish Chambers of Commerce, Liz Cameron, responded that it would extend to many more hotels, pubs and other venues than expected, with “thousands” of businesses now caught up in the rules, “with little time left to understand, plan and implement them before the deadline”.

Back at the London assembly Jennifer Arcuri recalls talking twice to Boris Johnson about trade missions. Once, before he went to New York, she says she lectured him on how he could not “fake it” in the city. He had to know what fintech was, and blockchain.

She also says, before he want to Tel Aviv, she gave him “a mouthful” about not connecting to the public wifi.

Boris Johnson is travelling by train from New York to Washington for his meeting with Joe Biden in the White House later. Johnson claims that enthusiasm for trains is one of the things they have in common. “He’s a bit of a train nut, as am I,” Johnson said yesterday about the president.

Biden’s enthusiasm for trains is well known. He was known as “Amtrak Joe” because for years, when he was a senator, he commuted daily by train from Delaware to Washington (a 90-minute journey). Johnson is better known for his enthusiasm for buses and bicycles.

Boris Johnson, accompanied by aide David Blair (left), on a train from Penn Station in New York to Washington DC.
Boris Johnson, accompanied by aide David Blair (left), on a train from Penn Station in New York to Washington DC. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Arcuri also recalls doing an event with George Freeman, who was a science minister when Johnson was major of London (and who has just been made a science minister again). She says he spoke at one of her events in Parliament.

Arcuri says she did formally attend the Malaysia trade trip.

On other occasions she just turned up at events. She would not take no for an answer, she says.

Q: Should they have known about it to register an interest?

Arcuri says she is not sure it would have made any difference, because she was relentless, and her relationship had no bearing on that. The people in the office just knew her as “the most annoying” person. She was aggressive to promote her business.

She also implies that people in the mayor’s office would not have talked about her private life because they had their own issues.

Updated

Q: You have said in the past you had a close relationship with the mayor. Did people in his office know about that?

Arcuri says this hearing is not supposed to be about their relationship. But people in his office knew he had “somewhat of a crush” on her, she says. They could see the “dramatic difference of this man when I entered the room”.

Updated

Arcuri says she did not go on the London trade mission to Tel Aviv. But she was going anyway, and went two days before the trade mission. But she says someone involved with London & Partners helped with her travel.

She says she paid for her own hotel. And London & Partners did not book the room, she says.

Arcuri says London & Partners needed female venture capitalists. She was able to introduce some to London & Partners.

Defence secretary apologises over sharing of email addresses of 250 former Afghan interpreters

The defence secretary, Ben Wallace, earlier apologised to the Commons following the sharing of over 250 email addresses of former Afghan interpreters trapped in the country following the Taliban takeover last month following an urgent question at lunchtime.

The cabinet minister told MPs that one person had been suspended, an internal inquiry had been launched and “security advice” was being provided to Afghans fearful they may now have been identified.

Wallace told MPs that it was brought to his attention at 8pm on Monday night that there had been “a significant data breach”. He said: “To say I was angered by this, Mr Speaker, was an understatement.” And he added: “On behalf of the Ministry of Defence, I apologise.”

The minister said a routine weekly email sent to the remaining Afghan interpreters stuck in Afghanistan or neighbouring countries, had inadvertently contained every person’s email address because their details were copied in.

The shadow defence secretary, John Healey, asked what steps were being taken to protect Afghan interpreters now. “Why on earth is the Ministry of Defence mass-emailing people who face life-or-death situations?” he added.

Updated

Here is my colleague Peter Walker’s take on this hearing so far.

So far, the Greater London Assembly has been holding a hearing on the subject of, "Jennifer Arcuri: my fascinating life and brilliant tech career."

— Peter Walker (@peterwalker99) September 21, 2021

Q: Who did you deal with in the mayor’s office?

Arcuri takes her time. It depended on the events. She mentions two officials, and says Eddie Lister, the deputy mayor, was speaking to people behind the scenes.

Q: We have seen emails saying you were told by an official not to go through the mayor directly, because he did not have sight of his diary. A mayoral adviser said you could could attend the New York trade mission unofficially. Who was it?

Arcuri says no one. She was in New York anyway then. She was not part of the trade mission.

Q: But who said you could attend events unofficially as part of that mission?

Arcuri says she did not need permission, but the person she would have been in contact with would have been Will Walden, Johnson’s head of communications.

Arcuri says the Malaysia trip was the first time she applied for a trade mission. It was in the autumn of 2013, she says.

She says she was reluctant to go because she was so busy in London.

Q: So when you applied London & Partners knew about your work?

Arcuri says she did not mind doing the application, even though she was in the London & Partners office almost every other day. She stuck to the protocol, she says.

Arcuri accepts a suggestion from a committee member that, when she was involved with London & Partners, it was an exciting time.

She says when she got her flat in Shoreditch, she turned it into a tech hotel.

She says it was good to be able to show the world that London was good at tech.

She says the events she organised were good. They were not “creepy”, she says.

The Socialist Campaign Group, which represents the most leftwing Labour MPs, has said that it is opposed to Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to change the leadership election rules.

The Labour Leadership’s big idea to hand each Labour MP the equivalent of 2,000 members’ ballot papers to cast in elections for Labour Party Leader is elitist, anti-democratic and out of touch.

It must be opposed by all who value Labour members as our Party’s beating heart.

— Socialist Campaign Group (@socialistcam) September 21, 2021

Arcuri says she never asked Boris Johnson to come to the event where this £100m fund was due to be launched.

The event did well, she says. London & Partners got what they wanted out of it, she says.

Q: So London & Partners let you know when opportunities were coming up?

Of course, says Arcuri.

Updated

Q: London & Partners told us they were not really involved in trade missions until 2016. Is that right?

Arcuri says before that they were active in trying to get people to relocate to London. She mentions an event in New York. They were looking for tech companies that might move to London. She was allowed to go to that breakfast meeting, and helped bring in some tech people, she says.

Q: How did you find out about the opportunities to get sponsorship, and to participate in trade missions?

Arcuri says she had a solid relationship with London & Partners. They realised she had links with the west coast of America. She pitched a proposal for an event, and she recalls meeting someone connected to No 10 who had plans to launch a £100m fund. She set up a hangout with the World Islamic Forum, and it included £10,000 in funding from London & Partners.

Arucuri starts by talking about how her cyber-security firm got involved in London trade missions.

She talks about going to an event organised by London & Partners, a trade promotion agency. Boris Johnson spoke at the event, she says.

She says she did not get to know much about the Greater London Authority until a subsequent trip.

Jennifer Arcuri questioned by London assembly

Jennifer Arcuri is now giving evidence to the London assembly’s oversight committee about her attendance on London trade missions when Boris Johnson was mayor. She says they were having an affair at the time, but Johnson did not declare the relationship, and there have been claims that she was only included on the trips because of their relationship.

Earlier this afternoon the committee took evidence from three other business figures who had been involved in trade missions. They said that it was hard to get an invitation.

There is a live feed at the top of the blog.

Earlier this year Downing Street claimed Johnson had “no case to answer” in relation to the allegations about this links with Arcuri.

These are from my colleague Owen Jones, a prominent columnist and commentator on the Labour left, on Sir Keir Starmer’s plans.

Labour is about to have perhaps its last party conference before a general election, which will now entirely be about a bitter wrangle over internal rules, eclipsing any policies or vision it has to offer.

If it wasn’t so serious, it would be absolutely hilarious

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) September 21, 2021

This is obviously madness.

I am increasingly convinced that the people surrounding Keir Starmer are determined to destroy his leadership to replace him with someone else. pic.twitter.com/2cmcdCmhiJ

— Owen Jones 🌹 (@OwenJones84) September 21, 2021

Here is the clip of Boris Johnson telling ITV’s Romilly Weeks that he does not think the gas price crisis will lead to people struggling over the winter. (See 2.43pm.) He said there was no need for people to be worried.

Boris Johnson has told ITV News he does not believe rising bills will cause families to struggle this winter, despite Universal Credit being reduced, because problems facing the energy industry are 'short term' | @romillyweeks reports https://t.co/ORu9HIwl3v

— ITV News Politics (@ITVNewsPolitics) September 21, 2021

Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has not yet publicly endorsed Sir Keir Starmer’s proposed changes to the party’s leadership election rules, the Times’s Patrick Maguire reports.

Angela Rayner's spokesman declines to comment on whether she endorses Keir Starmer's proposed rule changes🧐

— Patrick Maguire (@patrickkmaguire) September 21, 2021

Johnson refuses to accept gas price crisis will lead to people struggling over winter, saying it's 'short-term problem'

Boris Johnson has given a series of TV interviews today, and PA Media has filed the highlights. Here are the main points, taken from interviews with the BBC, Sky News, ITV, Channel 5 and NBC.

  • Johnson refused to accept that the energy crisis would lead to people struggling at Christmas. Asked if he accepted people would struggle over the winter, he said:

No, because I think this is a short-term problem caused by the energy problems, the spikes in gas prices, and like many of the other supply issues we are seeing, including food, are caused by the world economy waking up after a long time in this suspended animation caused by Covid. We will do whatever we can to address the supply issues but this is a short-term problem.

He also insisted: “Christmas is on.”

  • He refused to commit to being able to get a trade deal with the US by 2024 (the last date for the next election). “The Americans do negotiate very hard,” he said. Asked if he may not get it done by the end of his premiership, he said: “We’re going to go as fast as we can.”
  • He said he told Jeff Bezos, the Amazon boss, that his company should be paying its fair share of tax in the UK. Asked about their meeting yesterday, Johnson said:

What I did say to him was that we in the UK feel very strongly that the internet giants need to be making their fair share of contribution in tax.

When you sell many many billions worth of goods in the UK, then you’ve got to expect to be taxed fairly in the UK.

We need a digital sales tax, a proper way of making sure that we’re fairly taxing these enormous global businesses just as we tax high street shops.

But Johnson also seemed to acknowledge that it was up to governments to get tech companies to pay more tax, and that they would not do this voluntarily. He said:

[Bezos] is a capitalist and he made the very important point that this is a job for governments. Tax isn’t something that he’s going to pay as an ex gratia act of kindness. It’s up to governments to come up with the right framework.

Asked if he thought Bezos accepted Amazon should be paying more tax in the UK, Johnson said:

This is a guy who’s making ... he has to operate within the commercial framework, within the laws as he finds, that’s what he does. We’re trying to make sure we change so as to be fair to the taxpayer, fair to other businesses in the high street and elsewhere.

  • He defended the universal credit cut, saying “the best thing we can do is help people into high-wage, high-skilled jobs”. He went on:

We believe the best way forward further for the people of our country is a high-wage, high-skill economy with controlled immigration, rather than relying on the old approach which was low wages, low skills, and uncontrolled immigration, that didn’t work, and people voted against that. I think our approach is the way forward.

  • He said that “maybe” the withdrawal of British and American troops from Afghanistan after the Taliban takeover could have been handled differently. Asked if Joe Biden had been “stubborn” over US withdrawal from Afghanistan, he said:

America has been there for 20 years and it’s a respectable argument to say that enough is enough. Look, I mean, could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could.

Boris Johnson (right) meeting with Jeff Bezos yesterday.
Boris Johnson (right) meeting with Jeff Bezos yesterday.

Photograph: Reuters

Updated

Carbon dioxide supplier to restart production in UK, in boost for food industry

The government has struck a deal with CF Industries that will lead to the resumption of carbon dioxide production at its two plants in the UK that have been closed, Sky News reports. That is vital for the food production industry because CO2 is used in packaging meat and dairy products to keep them fresh, as well as for for animal slaughter. (See 10.08am.)

Boost for shoppers as major carbon dioxide supplier restarts production after government talks https://t.co/COWcFTMecF

— Sky News (@SkyNews) September 21, 2021

Some journalists are seeing it as significant that in his Today interview (see 1.35pm) Boris Johnson confirmed he has six children. He never normally says how many children he has. But when asked if he has six children, he just said yes. He did not say he has only six children, which is what he would need to do to quash speculation that there may be more in addition to the six publicly acknowledged.

Updated

Momentum says Starmer faces Labour 'civil war' if he goes ahead with leadership election rule changes

Momentum, the Labour organisation set up to support Jeremy Corbyn and his agenda when Corbyn was leader, has said Sir Keir Starmer will trigger “civil war” if he takes his proposed rule changes to conference. In a statement Callum Bell, its vice-chair, said:

If Starmer genuinely intended to empower working people, he would be putting party resources behind the kind of community organising our activists do day in and day out on picket lines and at food banks. In reality, his only goal is to increase the power of 200 Westminster politicians at the expense of hundreds of thousands of working class members.

Any attempt to take these rule changes to conference would mark the start of a civil war in the party. Grassroots members will have no choice but to mobilise all our strength to fight back against this bureaucratic attack. Conference will get very messy, very fast – and there is no saying who will come out on top.

This marks a new low in Starmer’s leadership. Clearly, all his pledges of unity and left-wing policy made during the leadership campaign were barefaced lies. Starmer holds the membership in contempt. And still, we’re six points behind the Tories.

A Momentum supporter at the 2017 Labour conference.
A Momentum supporter at the 2017 Labour conference. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Updated

In his Today interview Boris Johnson also claimed that he changes a lot of nappies.

“I change a lot of nappies.” -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on fatherhood pic.twitter.com/amLxx3sm9B

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 21, 2021

In an interview with Today (the US version, not Radio 4’s) in America, Boris Johnson dismissed claims that he was snubbed by President Biden in the summer when the White House ordered the final withdrawal from Afghanistan. But he did not specifically deny a claim that Biden took 36 hours to respond to his request for a call.

“Could we have done it a bit differently? Maybe we could.” -British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on the United States’ decision to withdraw troops from Afghanistan pic.twitter.com/zGdGe8jEJJ

— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 21, 2021

According to Rachel Wearmouth in a report for the Mirror, as well as restoring the old electoral college, under which MPs, Labour party members, and Labour affiliates (union members, largely) each got a third of the votes in a leadership contest, Sir Keir Starmer also wants to make it harder for activists to deselect an MP.

Under the current rules, a third of members in a constituency, or a third of affiliates, can trigger a ballot that could lead to an MP being deselected. Wearmouth says Starmer wants to raise this threshold to half of both members and affiliates.

This would bring the rule back in line with where it was before it was changed in 2018 when Jeremy Corbyn was leader.

Updated

This is from Ronan Burtenshaw, editor of of the pro-Labour Tribune, with more details of one aspect of Sir Keir Starmer’s plan.

Here it is.

The Labour Party has begun circulating an official document which proposes the end of One Member, One Vote for the leadership elections. pic.twitter.com/Ju55Ia6Odf

— Ronan Burtenshaw (@ronanburtenshaw) September 21, 2021

Labour figures who worked for the party under Jeremy Corbyn have been among the most vocal in criticising Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to change the leadership election rules.

These are from Alex Nunns, who wrote speeches for Corbyn.

Remember the days...

A "more democratic culture" is what he promised us to get himself elected.

Were we meant to interpret that as ending one member one vote?

What a fraud. https://t.co/22dhgQ5MYz

— Alex Nunns (@alexnunns) September 21, 2021

Starmer's line about the unions is so transparently flattery to get them to vote for their own long-term diminishment. They should see through it.

The other line about focusing inwards is just too much! Maybe this whole thing is very elaborate situationist comedy. https://t.co/ldRp94VuSq

— Alex Nunns (@alexnunns) September 21, 2021

And this is from James Mills, press spokesman for John McDonnell when he was shadow chancellor.

Starmer obvs doesnt think he's going to win the next election... otherwise he wouldnt be doing this stuff now. https://t.co/06C4soQ6gz

— James Mills (@JamesMills1984) September 21, 2021

Updated

More than 100,000 pupils in England off school last week with Covid or suspected Covid, DfE says

The reopening of schools in England has sparked a huge surge in Covid cases among students and pupils in England, with official figures showing that more than 100,000 children were absent with confirmed or suspected coronavirus infections last week.

The figures from the Department for Education revealed that fewer than 92% of pupils were present in classrooms on 16 September, with 59,000 absent with confirmed cases of Covid-19 and a further 45,000 off with suspected cases.

Another 2,000 children missed school “due to attendance restrictions being in place to manage an outbreak”, according to the DfE.

The total of 103,000 with confirmed or suspected cases is higher than the number seen at the end of the last school year. In mid-July the DfE said just 82,000 children were absent with confirmed or suspected cases.

The statistics are the first official indications of the spread of the virus within schools and colleges since the start of the new school year at the start of September, when the use of preventive measures such as mask wearing, social distancing and the use of small group “bubbles” was abandoned by the DfE.

In July more than a million children were absent overall, but that included more than 930,000 children self-isolating because of classroom contacts. This year the DfE has said that children who are close contacts of confirmed or suspected cases do not need to self-isolate unless they display symptoms.

Updated

The Labour MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who is on the left of the party, has strongly criticised Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to change the leadership rules.

Feb 2020 in Brighton: "People were inspired in their thousands by Jeremy Corbyn to join Labour, and we must not lose that idealism and radicalism."

September 2021 in Brighton: Rolling back on democracy in leadership elections and trigger ballotshttps://t.co/CSxqUD2FyC

— Lloyd Russell-Moyle MP🌹🏳️‍🌈 (@lloyd_rm) September 21, 2021

Manuel Cortes, the TSSA general secretary, has written a letter to Sir Keir Starmer opposing his plans to change the party’s leadership election rules. (See 12.21pm and 12.29pm.) Here is the full text. Cortes says:

I’m writing to express my union’s concern and opposition to suggestions that party rules may be changed to instate an electoral college system which inflates the value of MPs’ votes over those of members and affiliates.

Planned changes to Labour party rules which give MPs a golden vote whilst reducing the value of the votes of ordinary Labour party and affiliated members, is the kind of policy associated with Victorian Tories. Such a policy has no place whatsoever in a democratic socialist party.

Our union will have no hesitation in voting against this gerrymandering if this proposal makes it anywhere near conference floor.

Manuel Cortes.
Manuel Cortes. Photograph: Rick Findler/PA Archive/PA Images

Unite says Starmer's proposed change to Labour leadership election rules 'unfair, undemocratic and backwards step'

Some union leaders have already expressed anger about Sir Keir Starmer’s plan to change the leadership election rules. (See 12.21pm.)

Unite’s new general secretary, Sharon Graham, said the move was “deeply disappointing” and urged MPs to oppose it. She said:

Unite believes in democracy and this move to reduce the entire membership to one third of the vote while inflating the votes of MPs to one third is unfair, undemocratic and a backwards step for our party.

And the TSSA’s general secretary, Manuel Cortes, called the move “gerrymandering” , saying it was “the sort of thing associated with Victorian Tories”. He said: “Our union will have no hesitation in voting against this gerrymandering if this proposal makes it anywhere near conference floor.”

A Labour source said Starmer would aim to convince the unions that they would have more power under a return to the old system – pointing to the election of Ed Miliband in 2010 when members and MPs had backed his brother David but the union vote had sealed the younger’s election.

Sharon Graham.
Sharon Graham. Photograph: Sharon Graham Campaign/PA

Starmer set for battle with Labour left as he unveils plan to change leadership election rules and role of conference

Labour has announced an important initiative by Sir Keir Starmer. It is one of the most significant moves he has made as party leader, and is likely to become one of the big stories of next week’s conference.

At shadow cabinet this morning, he told colleagues that he wanted to change the rules for electing the leader and deputy leader, and he wants to limit the role of party conference in deciding the detail of party conference.

Both moves are likely to anger the left. For leadership elections, Starmer wants a return to the use of the electoral college - a method that gave MPs a much greater say in elections than ordinary party members. It was Ed Miliband’s decision to get rid of this system that allowed Jeremy Corbyn to be elected.

Starmer will discuss the proposals tomorrow with trade union leaders. Because the trade unions have effectively half the votes at conference, Starmer would find it impossible to make these changes in the face of significant union opposition.

This is what Labour is saying about the plans.

The Labour leader will present specific proposals [to trade union leaders]:

  • A return to an electoral college.
  • A re-selection process that is fair and democratic.
  • And policy-making process that can bring our movement around a table to thrash out our positions on the challenges facing the country instead of an endless series of motions at party conference.

And the party has released this comment from Starmer. He said:

Our rules as they are right now, focus us inwards to spend too much time talking to and about ourselves and they weaken the link with our unions.

These are two things that have got to change if we are serious about winning the next election ...

These rules won’t be presented on a take-it-or-leave-it basis. I am prepared to take suggestions and ideas and have a conversation and to try and build consensus. But the principles are important to me.

I hope TULO [the Trade Union and Labour party liaison organisation] will support me, I believe these changes are good for their members and they strengthen our link. I know that this is difficult - change always is - but I think these changes are vital for our party’s future.

I have said I will make the Labour party the party of working people, I am determined that the Labour party I lead focuses on the country, on the concerns of voters, so we need party reforms that better connect us with working people re-orient us toward the voters who can take us to power.

Keir Starmer speaking to the TUC conference earlier this month.
Keir Starmer speaking to the TUC conference earlier this month. Photograph: Neil Hall/EPA

Updated

More than 160,000 people in the UK have had Covid-19 recorded on their death certificate, PA Media reports. The total was passed on 7 September, but has only now been confirmed due to the time it takes for deaths to be registered.

New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that 160,374 deaths involving coronavirus have occurred in the UK since the pandemic began. This includes all deaths where Covid-19 was mentioned on the death certificate, including suspected cases.

The Liberal Democrats claim that Boris Johnson’s admission that a UK-US trade deal won’t happen any time soon (see 9.31am) amounts to a broken promise. In a statement Sarah Olney, the Lib Dem trade spokesperson, said:

For years we were told one of the biggest prizes of Brexit would be a trade deal with the United States.

Yet Boris Johnson has effectively admitted the UK is at the back of the queue, despite claiming this would be his flagship trade deal. This has to be his most embarrassing failure yet.

It will be yet another broken Conservative manifesto promise unless the government can clinch a trade deal with the US by next year.

Making all GP appointments face to face 'undeliverable' at moment, MPs told

Prof Martin Marshall, chair of the Royal College of General Practitioners, has told MPs that making all GP appointments face to face is “undeliverable” at the moment.

Giving evidence to the Commons health and social care committee this morning, Marshall said some patients preferred appointments over the phone or via video, while others wanted to be seen face-to-face, but could not be due to Covid.

As PA Media reports, he said about 80% of GP appointments were conducted face-to-face prior to the pandemic, dropping to 10% in the first wave and now sitting at about 56%. He went on:

What we’ve learned from the pandemic is we can do more in general practice remotely than we thought we could, and that’s a positive bit of learning.

There’s a lot of stuff that can be done without having to examine someone or be in the same room.

Having said that, face-to face-contact is a really important part of dealing with, particularly, more complex problems.

Marshall said there were three categories of patients who needed to see GPs.

There’s people who like and get real benefit from remote care, there’s patients who absolutely need to have face-to-face contact in order to get the high quality care to pick up the right diagnosis - not just examining but for picking up soft signs - and then there’s a large group of people in the middle who would like to have face-to-face care, but general practice currently doesn’t have the capacity to deliver it. That’s the bit which is the real problem for patients and for general practice.

Asked if patients had a right to see a GP in person, Marshall replied:

People are saying that the patient should have a right.

There’s no point in having a right if it’s undeliverable and it is essentially undeliverable at the moment, because of the workload pressures.

He also stressed that the pandemic was not over.

We’d like to think it is - it isn’t over, it might be over for pubs and nightclubs, it’s not over for health services.

It’s really important that if you run a health service, whether it be in general practice or in hospitals, that you protect vulnerable patients.

The prevalence [is] around one in 70 and 80 patients in this country have got Covid, so the idea of having somebody who is fit and healthy but shedding the virus sitting next to someone who’s vulnerable in a waiting room is just not something that’s acceptable.

Prof Martin Marshall.
Prof Martin Marshall. Photograph: Alicia Canter/The Guardian

Boris Johnson looking up at a ceiling ornament in the UK diplomatic resident in New York yesterday when he was waiting to start his meeting with the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Boris Johnson looking up at a ceiling ornament in the UK diplomatic residence in New York yesterday when he was waiting to start his meeting with the Amazon founder Jeff Bezos. Photograph: Michael M Santiago/Getty Images

Updated

Covid-19 was the third leading cause of death in England in August, up from the ninth leading cause in July, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics this morning.

As PA Media reports, this is the highest ranking for Covid-19 since March, when it was also the third leading cause of death.

In Wales, Covid-19 was the seventh leading cause of death in August, up from 22nd place in July and the highest ranking since March.

Jennifer Arcuri, who says she had a relationship with Boris Johnson while he was London mayor, will speak to the London assembly’s oversight committee at 3pm this afternoon about claims that he included her on trade trips and supported her company as mayor without declaring their relationship. City AM has a preview here.

Johnson has not confirmed that the pair had a relationship, but earlier this year Downing Street claimed he had “no case to answer” in relation to the allegations.

Updated

Kwarteng says he would like to see 'more stable' energy market, implying fewer firms needed in future

Here are the main points from what Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said in his interviews this morning about the energy crisis.

  • He hinted that the government could offer people more help with their bills. On ITV’s Good Morning Britain, told that he needed to offer people hope, he replied:

You’re right, and that’s why I’m very keen to keep the warm home discount and also there are other winter fuel payments that we’re looking at.

Asked if he had spoken to the chancellor about increasing the warm home discount, he replied:

We have discussions about the budget, and you will see what happens in the budget. I can’t possibly pre-empt or anticipate what will be in that budget ahead of time, you’ll appreciate that.

'You need to be able to offer them hope.'@susannareid100 challenges @KwasiKwarteng about why the warm home discount hasn't increased when the price cap has risen.

She points out that the government is 'driving down' the living conditions of people in the UK. pic.twitter.com/9bEzKxMDDz

— Good Morning Britain (@GMB) September 21, 2021
  • He confirmed that the government was keeping the energy price cap, but would not rule out the level at which it is set rising next year.
  • He said that he hoped to arrange a solution to the carbon dioxide supply problem today. The problem has arisen because two UK fertiliser plants, owned by the American company CF Industries, have ceased production because the price of the gas that they need to function has risen too high. But those factories as a byproduct produce 60% of the food-grade CO2 used in packaging meat and dairy products to keep them fresh. The CO2 is also used for animal slaughter. Kwarteng said that he had spoken to the boss of CF Industries twice in the last two days and he told the Today programme he was “hopeful that we can get something sorted today” to get production running again in the next few days. He said this could involve some cost to the government. Any support offered would only be offered on a temporary basis, he said.
  • He said any support offered to gas companies would take the form of a loan. “It won’t be just a grant, it won’t be just a blank cheque,” he said.
  • He suggested that in the long run he would like to see fewer companies in the energy market. He told Today:

Going forward, we want to see perhaps a more stable market in terms of the energy suppliers. This is my third winter in post, either as energy minister or its business secretary, and each of those winters we’ve typically expected five to eight suppliers to exit the market. That’s quite a volatile market in terms of the supplies.

This sounded like an admission that energy market liberalisation had gone too far. Kwarteng would not say how many energy suppliers he would like to see in the market (there were around 70 at the start of the year, but five have gone bust recently, and more are expected to follow). But he did say he did not want to “go back to the old world where you had five or six companies essentially being able to charge what they wanted”.

Kwasi Kwarteng (right) giving an interview in London this morning.
Kwasi Kwarteng (right) giving an interview in London this morning. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

These are from Newsnight’s Lewis Goodall on what Boris Johnson said about the proposed UK/US trade deal. (See 9.31am.)

Revealing in a number of ways this

1) A deal (for all sorts of reasons) was always a remote possibility.
2) Rare admission (and contrary to most govt mood music) of limits of UK political sway.
3) But doesn't matter much because as we know, they don't add much to GDP anyway. https://t.co/1lYSv7NdCF

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) September 20, 2021

Many Brexiters and ministers emphasised repeatedly the benefits of a US deal (the biggest deal available from any single country, so the biggest single state post-Brexit trade prize). This is the firmest indication yet that it won't happen any time soon.

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) September 20, 2021

Indeed, you might argue that what PM is saying, in stating that Biden has other "fish to fry" isn't so far away from President Obama's 2016 "back of the queue". This is something then Mayor Johnson decried at the time. https://t.co/XDzAGfNHuL

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) September 20, 2021

Obama was talking about slightly different things- saying US would prefer to make a deal with big trade blocs. But both Obama then and Johnson curiously now, was/are making a similar point- that the UK could only expect so much attention on a Capitol Hill with a full agenda.

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) September 20, 2021

That is a shift in what we've heard from the PM and ministers before.

— Lewis Goodall (@lewis_goodall) September 20, 2021

Johnson accused of Brexit failure as he admits UK-US trade deal near back of queue in Biden’s priorities

Good morning. It turns out the UK has ended up near the “back of the queue” after all. For five years now, since the referendum, Brexiters have been talking up the prospects of a free trade deal with the US, which, according to the enthusiasts, was going to offer huge benefits to the UK and was just around the corner. Shortly after becoming prime minister in 2019, Boris Johnson even said he would like to see it concluded within a year.

But now Johnson has admitted, in terms, that Barack Obama was right, and that a trade deal with the UK is not a priority for Washington. Asked when it was happening, Johnson told reporters travelling with him to the US: “I wouldn’t hold your breath.” He went on:

The reality is that Joe [Biden] has a lot of fish to fry. He’s got a huge infrastructure package, he’s got a build back better package. We want to do it, but what we want is a good free trade agreement. And I would much rather get a deal that really works for the UK than get a quick deal.

My colleagues Heather Stewart and David Smith have the full story.

This morning, in an interview with the Today programme, Kwasi Kwarteng, claimed that this did not mean that the trade deal had been shelved. He said:

I don’t think it’s on the back burner, but I think what the prime minister said - in fact, I know that’s what he thinks and what’s what he said - is that it’s much better to take our time to get a really good deal with US than simply to rush the process and get a bad deal.

Asked how long a deal might take, he said:

I’m hopeful that we can we can we can get there, but I can’t give you a time as to how long it will take. Trade deals can can take very different amounts of time and I can’t possibly guess how long this one will particular one will take.

But Nigel Farage, the former Ukip and Brexit party leader who for many years was the leading champion for Brexit in UK politics, accused Johnson of failure. Last night he posted this on Twitter.

The government had many years to do a wide-reaching trade deal with America under the Trump administration.

It could have been done by now, but May and Johnson completely blew it. https://t.co/CN590oaR7K

— Nigel Farage (@Nigel_Farage) September 20, 2021

Kwarteng’s interviews this morning mostly focused on the energy crisis. My colleague Graeme Wearden has all the latest developments on that story on his business live blog.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: The Commons health and social care committee takes evidence from the Royal College of General Practitioners and other health experts on the treatment backlog created by the pandemic.

11.30am: Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

After 12.30pm: MPs begin a debate on a Labour motion on the cost of living.

Lunchtime (UK time): Boris Johnson is interviewed by American broadcasters for their morning shows. He is also due to record interviews with British TV journalists.

1pm: Sir David Lidington, Theresa May’s effective deputy when she was PM, speaks at the launch of a report from UK in a Changing Europe on global Britain.

Around 2.30pm: Nicola Sturgeon, Scotland’s first minister, gives a statement to the Scottish parliament on Covid.

3am: Jennifer Arcuri gives evidence to the London assembly’s oversight committee about her relationship with Boris Johnson when he was mayor.

Later Johnson will be meeting Joe Biden in the White House, but that is not due to happen until after 9pm UK time.

For more Covid coverage, do read our global live blog.

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

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

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

Updated

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