Afternoon summary

  • Prof Chris Whitty, England’s chief medical officer, has justified the plan to vaccinate 12- to 15-year-olds, telling MPs it is almost inevitable that children will get infected, and that half of them have probably had coronavirus already. (See 2.18pm and 4.15pm.)
  • Johnson has jokingly dismissed French concern about the new Australia/UK/US defence partnership, Aukus, telling President Macron he should “prenez un grip about this and donnez moi un break”. (See 1.51pm.)

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


Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state, in a procession today as she received an honorary degree at Oxford University.
Hillary Clinton, the former US secretary of state, in a procession today as she received an honorary degree at Oxford University. Photograph: Steve Parsons/PA

These are from the BBC’s Iain Watson on Sir Keir Starmer’s stand-off with the unions over his party reform plans.

At @Keir_Starmer's crunch summit with the unions I am told there were 'no takers' for his plan to change @uklabour's leadership rules. Some opposed in principle but logistics mattered as much as politics for others

— iain watson (@iainjwatson) September 22, 2021

They hadnt seen the full proposals until today and they made it clear they needed to discuss them more widely so urged him to delay his proposals until after the @uklabour conference

— iain watson (@iainjwatson) September 22, 2021

The meeting i am told was 'cordial'and @Keir_Starmer seemed to be in 'listening mode' but not clear yet if he will delay The GMB union wasn't present - and the Labour leadership were hoping for their support

— iain watson (@iainjwatson) September 22, 2021

Looks like no final decision has been taken by @Keir_Starmer to take his proposals to conference He is making it clear he will discuss changes and is open to suggestions ahead of a crucial @uklabour NEC meeting on Friday

— iain watson (@iainjwatson) September 22, 2021

The proposals in some form will go to @uklabour's NEC on Friday night Only then will a decision be taken on whether to risk a conference vote

— iain watson (@iainjwatson) September 22, 2021

Starmer says talks with unions will continue on his plans for Labour reform

Sir Keir Starmer has in effect confirmed that the trade unions that support Labour have not as yet backed his plans to change the party’s leadership election rules. Following a meeting with them earlier (see 4.50pm), he issued this statement.

Today’s TULO [trade union and Labour party liaison organisation] meeting was a welcome opportunity to set out some of the rule changes I believe will strengthen our party, our link with the unions and our ability to win the next election.

We had a positive conversation and I look forward to continuing those conversations through the coming days because the principles are important and we have to look at how we need to change to win again.

I said yesterday this was never a take it or leave it conversation. I am continuing to take suggestions and have discussions about how we do everything we need to in order to make the Labour party the party of working people again.

Keir Starmer.
Keir Starmer. Photograph: Peter Morrison/PA


Union opposition means Starmer may have to delay vote on Labour's leadership election rules

Keir Starmer could be forced to delay plans for Labour party reforms amid resistance from key trade unions, who have said they need more time to consult on plans to rewrite the leadership election rules.

The Guardian understands that Unite, one of the most powerful unions affiliated with Labour, told Starmer that he should delay any vote on a return to the electoral college system of voting, which is fiercely opposed by the party’s left.

“Everyone was agreed on that point,” another union source said. “Each union has a different approach to these ideas but in principle we do not want to be bounced into them. Keir was very much in listening mode.”

Starmer has argued that switching to an electoral college system to decide future party leaders will give greater sway to millions of trade union members, but some on the left of the party have said it would ignite a “civil war” and hand more power to MPs at the expense of ordinary members.

The move would be a return to Labour’s old system under which MPs, party members and trade unions each had a third of the votes for a new leader. It was abolished by Ed Miliband in 2014 in favour of giving each member of the party and its affiliates one vote on any candidate on the ballot paper. Candidates must acquire the support of 10% of MPs plus some support from constituency parties and trade unions to get on the ballot.

Starmer met union leaders to try to persuade them to back the proposals at lunchtime and the Guardian understands the Unite delegation argued that he should delay the changes even if it meant organising a special conference session to approve them later.

The Labour leader told the meeting he would need to time to consider whether a delay was acceptable, according to two sources.

During the discussions, key unions including Unite, Unison and Usdaw are said to have told Starmer they were open to discussion about rule changes for leadership elections but felt blindsided by the proposals.


The UK has updated its Covid dashboard. There have been 34,460 new cases, but the total number of cases over the past seven days is marginally down – by 0.4% – compared with the previous week.

Hospital admissions are down by 13.8% week on week, although these figures only go up to last Saturday, because UK hospital admission figures are always a few days late. There were 747 admissions on Saturday.

And today’s figures show there have been 166 more Covid deaths. Week on week, deaths are up by 0.1%.

Covid dashboard
Covid dashboard Photograph: Gov.UK/Covid dashboard


This is from Rym Momtaz, Politico’s France correspondent, on Boris Johnson’s “donnez-moi un break” comment about Emmanuel Macron earlier. (See 1.51pm.) Bloomberg has written it up under the headline “Boris Johnson mocks French outrage over loss of submarine deal”.


Is the Brexit domestic politics shtick worth it for Boris Johnson to irreparably blow up the relationship with France?

France remains the only EU member state with real military and diplomatic weight, and that the UK needs. #AUKUS

— Rym Momtaz ريم ممتاز (@RymMomtaz) September 22, 2021


Around half of children have already had coronavirus, MPs told

Here is the PA Media story from the opening of the education committee hearing with Prof Chris Whitty.

About half of children have already had Covid-19 and the rest are more likely to get it without a vaccine, England’s chief medical officer has suggested.

Prof Chris Whitty warned that “quite a lot of damage” could still occur over the winter months.

He told MPs: “Let’s make an assumption that the great majority of children who’ve not currently had Covid-19 are going to get it at some point over the next period.

“It won’t be necessarily in the next two or three months but they will get it sooner or later.”

But addressing the Commons education committee, Whitty added: “Vaccination will reduce that risk.”

England’s chief medical officer was facing questions from MPs about the inclusion of children in the government’s Covid-19 vaccination programme.

When asked what proportion of children had already had Covid-19, he replied: “It varies by age and it does also vary by setting, but I think if we go for roughly half I think that is a reasonable stab at this.

“That’s half over the period of the entire epidemic to date, and we’ve got quite a way to run.

“We’re running into winter so there’s still quite a lot of damage that could be done in terms of disruption.”

England’s deputy chief medical officer Prof Jonathan Van-Tam added that because the Delta variant is so infectious “we are not looking at a theoretical risk” of children aged 12 to 17 becoming infected.

He said: “I think it is really quite inevitable that they will be so at some point.”

Prof Van-Tam warned that these pupils could become infected during their GCSEs and A-levels when it is “extremely inconvenient to be laid low” with a cough, fever, and respiratory symptoms.

Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, with Boris Johnson on his visit to the US Capitol today
Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the US House of Representatives, with Boris Johnson on his visit to the US Capitol today. Photograph: Rex/Shutterstock
Johnson admiring the bust of Winston Churchill at the US Capitol
Johnson admiring the bust of Winston Churchill at the US Capitol. Photograph: Kevin Dietsch/Getty Images


Back in the education committee, Prof Chris Whitty explains how the “Gillick competence” test is applied when clinicians have to decide whether or not to offer treatment, like the Covid vaccine, to a child under the age of 16. He reads from Lord Scarman’s ruling in the original 1980s law lords case that decided this.

Scarman said:

As a matter of law the parental right to determine whether or not their minor child below the age of 16 will have medical treatment terminates if and when the child achieves a sufficient understanding and intelligence to enable him or her to understand fully what is proposed.

Whitty says above the age of 16 there is a general assumption that teenagers are competent to decide for themselves, and above the age of 18 there is an absolute assumption, he says.

And he says under the age of 12 there is an absolute assumption against the child being competent to decide.

Lord Scarman
Lord Scarman, architect of the Gillick competence test. Photograph: David Rose/The Independent/Rex/Shutterstock


Health service in Northern Ireland facing pressures 'like never before', minister warns

Robin Swan, health minister in the Northern Ireland executive, has issued a statement with the chair and deputy chair of the Northern Ireland assembly’s health committee saying the health service in the region faces “an extremely challenging winter”. They urge people to get vaccinated if they have not already, and suggest that former health workers might want to return to the NHS.

Here is an excerpt:

Our health and social care staff and services are currently facing pressures like never before.

The devastating impact of the past 20 months is compounded by the likelihood of an extremely challenging winter …

We also recognise the great potential of enabling those with relevant experience, skills and knowledge to rejoin the workforce through workforce appeals and by providing additional support to our HSC workforce at this difficult time.


Asked about anti-vax campaigners, Whitty says they represents a “tiny fraction” of the population. He says when people are seeking health advice, they should take advice from people who are “knowledgable, logical and kind”. He says from what he has seen of the anti-vaxxers’ material, they don’t have any of these three qualities.


Back in the education committee, Prof Chris Whitty says at this stage 12- to 15-year-olds are only getting one dose of vaccine. He says the scientists are looking at the data from other countries, where vaccinating children is ahead of the UK, before a decision is taken on whether they should have a second dose.


Boris Johnson meets members of the US Senate
Boris Johnson attending a meeting today in Washington with the Senate majority leader, Chuck Schumer (right), Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell (2nd right), and other members of the US Senate. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA


Two more energy supplies go out of business

Avro Energy and Green Supplier Limited have become the fourth and fifth energy suppliers to go out of business in September as a rise in gas prices puts pressure on the sector, PA Media reports. PA says:

Ofgem said that it would ensure that Avro’s 580,000 domestic gas and electricity customers, and Green’s 255,000 households would be protected.

The regulator will choose a new supplier for the households, and said customers should wait to be contacted by their new supplier.

“I want to reassure customers of Avro Energy and Green Supplier Limited that they do not need to worry. Under our safety net we’ll make sure your energy supplies continue,” Ofgem director of retail Neil Lawrence said.

“If you have credit on your Avro Energy or Green Supplier Limited account this is protected and you will not lose the money that is owed to you.”


Schools in England are bracing themselves for food shortages, with some already forced to adapt lunch menus because of problems in the supply chain.

The headteachers’ union, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), said schools had reported problems with the supply of some meat products, which had had to be replaced on lunch menus, and a number of school catering companies have confirmed that supply shortages are already affecting school canteen menus.

Hayley Dunn, ASCL’s business leadership specialist, said:

We have heard of schools having to make adaptations to their menus because of problems in the supply chain. This relates to certain meat products and has necessitated replacing options with other choices.

We have no indication of how widespread this is and we have not so far received reports of problems more serious than this, but we will monitor the situation and pick it up with the government if necessary. Any disruption to the food supply chain is obviously of concern.


Prof Jonathan Van-Tam tells the education committee that data from healthcare workers puts the chance of re-infection among people who have had Covid before at between 5% and 15%.


Back at the education committee, Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, says vaccination has a smaller benefit for children who have already had Covid than it does for children who haven’t. But he says it is not true to say it offers them no benefit.


Gordon Brown says universal credit cut ‘vindictive and indefensible’

Gordon Brown has called the government’s decision to cut £20 a week from universal credit the most “socially divisive and morally indefensible” policy he has witnessed in UK politics, saying it is being pursued with open disregard for its impact. He has set out his argument in an article for the Guardian available here:


The education committee has now suspended its proceedings for 15 minutes because there is a vote in the Commons.

Back in the education committee, Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s Covid committee, says adults are well protected for six to nine months by the vaccine. With children, the protection is likely to be as good or better.

Dr Camilla Kingdon, president of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, says children launch an “exceptionally good immune response”, and so their protection is likely to last nine months.


The industry body representing nightclubs is launching a legal challenge to the Scottish government’s plans for vaccine passports.

The requirement for people over the age of 18 to show proof they have been double vaccinated to gain entry to nightclubs and large-scale events comes into force in Scotland on 1 October.

But the Night Time Industries Association Scotland says the plans were made with no meaningful consultation, are “deeply flawed and incoherent”, and that the definition of “nightclub” set out by Nicola Sturgeon is likely to impact thousands of other bars and pubs.

The NTIA Scotland has now instructed lawyers to seek a judicial review of the proposals.

On Tuesday, Sturgeon said a “pragmatic approach” would be encouraged, “so that businesses can make sensible judgements.” But the Scottish Chambers of Commerce responded that “the practical application of what is being asked is not workable in the timelines being proposed”, raising concerns that the definition could also cover a range of other hospitality venues

Dr Caroline Johnson (Con) was your recommendation about vaccinating teenagers entirely a medical decision, or was it influenced by politics.

Whitty says it was entirely medical. He says there is no point giving professional advice if it is influenced by politics. He says it is for ministers to take account political considerations when taking final decisions.

Tom Hunt (Con) asks to what extend the recommendation of the chief medical officers was based just on health benefits to 12 to 15-year-olds.

Whitty says the chief medical officers were “really clear” that their recommendation would only be based on what was best for children in that age group.

Van-Tam says he can understand why people worry that pupils who do not get vaccinated might end up being discriminated against at school. But he says he has never heard of this happening in relation to children and the flu vaccine.

Robert Halfon (Con), the committee chair, says in its statement in early September the JCVI said a school vaccination programme would interfere with children’s schooling.

It said: “Delivery of a Covid-19 vaccine programme for children and young people is likely to be disruptive to education in the short term, particularly if school premises are used for vaccination.”

Q: What analysis has been done of how much disruption there might be?

Lim says the JCVI did not try to quantify this.

Whitty says the comparison was not between vaccination and nothing else happening; the comparison is between vaccination, and children getting infected.

He says if you look at it like this, a vaccination programme leads to fewer school days being missed.


Arrival of Delta variant meant it was 'inevitable' children would be infected, MPs told

Back at the education committee Van-Tam says the Delta variant is 60% more infectious or more than the Alpha variant circulating at the start of the year, or possibly more.

He says that means the risk of children being infected is not theoretical.

He says it is “really quite inevitable” that children will be infected. That means they could be infected at some point “not of their choosing”, he says, such as when they are taking exams.


Turing away from the education committee, my colleague Jessica Elgot says the unions want to delay a Labour decision on changing the leadership election rules.

New - I understand Unite has won some consensus from other unions that party reforms should NOT be voted on this weekend and that there should be more time to consider. Source tells me Starmer said he would need time think about this and come back to them.

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) September 22, 2021

MPs take evidence from Chris Whitty, Jonathan Van-Tam and JCVI chair on vaccinating children

The Commons education committee is now taking evidence on vaccinating children.

The witnesses are: Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England; Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, his deputy; Dr Camilla Kingdon, presiden of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH); Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair, of the Joint Commitee on Vaccination and Immunisation’s Covid committee; and Prof Keith Willett, head of Covid-19 and flu vaccine deployment at NHS England and NHS Improvement.

Whitty starts by explaining the decision to recommend vaccinating 12 to 15-year-old.

He says the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation gave advice on this.

It said the benefits of vaccination for 12 to 15-year-olds were marginally greater than the risks.

But they said it was not the JCVI’s job to take into account wider societal benefits. But it recommended that chief medical officers take a decision, taking into account a wider definition of health benefits.

He explains how the chief medical officers went about this, and he stresses that their recent recommendation represented the mid-point in medical opinion.

PM says he did not talk about Northern Ireland with Biden - after No 10 said he did

In his interview Boris Johnson claimed Northern Ireland did not come up in his talks with President Biden yesterday. (See 1.51pm.) But the Downing Street read-out from the talks issued last night said the topic was raised. It included this paragraph.

The prime minister updated President Biden on the developments with respect to the Northern Ireland protocol since they last met in June. The leaders agreed on the importance of protecting peace in Northern Ireland.

Johnson urges Macron to 'donnez moi un break' over Aukus row

Boris Johnson has been speaking to reports in Washington. Here are the main points.

  • Johnson dismissed George Eustice’s claim that Joe Biden does not fully understand the Northern Ireland protocol issue. (See 9.31am.) Asked if agreed with Eustice, Johnson replied:

No. The president actually in our meeting yesterday, I don’t think it came up at all. We had a meeting of over 90 minutes and it wasn’t raised.

  • He said Washington has agreed to lift a ban on British lamb. Asked about the trade relationship with the US, and the admission that there will be no UK-US free trade deal soon, he said:

I can tell you today that what we’re going to get from the United States now is a lifting of the decades old ban, totally unjustified, discriminating on British farmers and British lamb.

It’s about time too. And what we’re wanting to do is make solid incremental steps in trade.

The Biden administration is not doing free trade deals around the world right now but I’ve got absolutely every confidence that a great deal is there to be done.

And there are plenty of people in that building behind me [Capitol Hill] who certainly want a deal.

This is from the Critic’s Robert Hutton.

"Actually, she said it's not me, she just doesn't want a serious relationship with anyone at the moment."

— Robert Hutton (@RobDotHutton) September 22, 2021
  • He urged Emmanuel Macron to “donnez moi un break” over the Aukus row. Asked about ongoing French anger over the deal, he resorted to franglais, saying:

I just think it’s time for some of our dearest friends around the world to prenez un grip about this and donnez moi un break.

Because this is fundamentally a great step forward for global security. It’s three very like-minded allies standing shoulder to shoulder creating a new partnership for the sharing of technology.

It’s not exclusive. It’s not trying to shoulder anybody out. It’s not adversarial towards China, for instance.

  • He dismissed suggestions the gas price crisis could lead to panic buying. Asked if he thought this might happen, he said:

I don’t think that will happen. I think we’ve got very good supply chains, as I’ve been saying over the last few days, and what we’re seeing is the growing pains of a global economy recovering rapidly from Covid.

Yesterday the president came through with something that really exceeded our expectations. I said on the plane out that we had a six in 10 chance of success on that. Maybe I undercooked it. They really surprised us all on the upside.

Boris Johnson outside Capitol Hill today.
Boris Johnson outside Capitol Hill today. Photograph: Stefan Rousseau/PA

Near the start of his hearing with the Commons business committee, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, suggested the government was considering a Spanish-style windfall tax on gas traders. (See 12pm.) Later in the hearing Kwarteng clarified his position, saying he was “not a fan” of windfall taxes. He said:

I’m not a fan of windfall taxes, let me just get that straight.

But, of course, it’s an entire system and we have to think about how we can get the energy system as a whole to help itself.

As PA Media reports, Kwarteng also said the government would struggle to waive rules which ban one energy supplier from supplying more than a quarter of UK households. But he said that even in the worst-case predictions that only a handful of energy suppliers might be left by the end of the year, it is unlikely that the limit will be breached. He said:

In a scenario where you have ten companies, it’s difficult to see one having 25%, but I will definitely cross that bridge when I come to it.

My colleague Jessica Elgot says that, although Unite are opposed to Sir Keir Starmer’s plans to change the Labour leadership election rules, two of the other biggest unions that support the party are thought to be in favour.

NEW - I understand Unite are to propose a delay to the party reforms proposed by Keir Starmer and ask for a special conference later in the year to discuss them.

Whispers though that Unison and GMB are already onboard with the changes.

— Jessica Elgot (@jessicaelgot) September 22, 2021

Scotland’s health secretary, Humza Yousaf, has countered opposition suggestions that military support should be deployed in field hospitals. Yousaf told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme that “we don’t have the workforce” for field hospitals. “I definitely wouldn’t rule it out entirely but we have to look at whether or not we would end up pulling people out of acute sites at the moment to staff those beds,” he said.

On the same programme, Brigadier Ben Wrench, commander of Joint Military Command Scotland, confirmed the army will deploy 114 drivers and support staff to assist the ambulance service from this weekend, with a further 111 personnel to staff mobile testing units from next Wednesday.

He underlined that military staff would “not be undertaking any clinical duties”.

Rayner challenges Raab at PMQs over cost of living crisis

Here is the PA Media take on the Raab/Rayner exchanges at PMQs.

Dominic Raab has faced Labour calls to guarantee no-one will lose their energy supply or be pushed into fuel poverty this winter.

Amid the ongoing energy crisis, Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner repeatedly sought assurances over supplies while also pressing Raab to cancel the removal of the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit.

Rayner at one stage asked Raab if he would make the lives of working people easier or harder, with the deputy prime minister beginning his reply with a fact check on the Chevening grace-and-favour mansion.

Rayner had accused Raab of “complaining” about having to share the “115-room taxpayer-funded mansion” with foreign secretary Liz Truss. Raab noted Chevening is funded by a charity.

The duo traded barbs at PMQs as Boris Johnson is still in the United States following his visit to New York and Washington.

Speaking in the Commons, Rayner accused the Government of hitting the pockets of working families by “cutting the income of a worker on £18,000 a year by over £1,100” with tax rises.

Rayner said: “That is almost exactly the same as an average annual energy bill. Just as energy prices are ballooning they have chosen to take the money that could cover a year’s worth of bills out of the pockets of working people.

“The deputy prime minister has said the solution is for people to work harder. So, can he tell us how many days a worker on the minimum wage would have to work this year in order to afford a night at a luxury hotel, say in Crete?”

Raab criticised Labour’s economic record before adding: “Under this government we cut income tax, saving every worker £1,200 each year, we have introduced and extended the national living wage so full-time workers are 4,000 better-off each year, we have doubled the free childcare for working parents worth up to 5,000 for every child every year.”

Rayner countered: “He talks about the economy, he doesn’t even know how much his own holiday cost.

“So, let me tell him. A worker on the minimum wage would need to work an extra 50 days to pay for a single night at his favourite resort, probably even more if the sea was open.”

The Labour deputy leader added: “The prime minister has said it is just a short-term problem and we will leave it to the market to fix.

“So can the deputy prime minister guarantee that no-one will lose their gas or energy supply or be pushed into fuel poverty this winter?”

Rayner went on to joke there was a “shortage of hot air this week”, with Raab “doing his best” to shore up supplies in Johnson’s absence.

Raab replied: “There’s no shortage of hot air on that side of the benches.”

PMQs - snap verdict

That was a comfortable win for Angela Rayner - but in a PMQs that overall felt somewhat undercharged. Colleagues who were sitting in the chamber tell me it felt a bit subdued, and the exchanges did not get much beyond ritual knockabout.

But, in terms of knockabout, Rayner was good. She focused on cost of living issues but her questions were loaded with barbed asides and snarky jokes that landed well in chamber - although perhaps it was all just a bit too pantomime. (Those watching from the press gallery tell me Raab did not seem to mind the jokes and seemed to find them funny.) Like Sir Keir Starmer last week, Rayner asked about the real-terms impact of the universal credit cut on low-paid workers. But, unlike Starmer, she personalised it in class terms, mocking Raab over his expensive holiday in Crete, and also for squabbling over access to Chevening. Because of her working class credentials are clearly stronger than Starmer’s (her accent makes a difference), she can carry this off with conviction, and it worked well.

Should Starmer try this approach himself? Some in Labour would like him to inject a big of class politics into his attacks on Johnson, but what works for Rayner as a one-off probably wouldn’t for Starmer. He is less comfortable than his deputy with going personal in this way, and class warfare is obviously not his style. Also, the electoral gains may be limited; voters tend not to mind people going on nice holidays, because they like to do so themselves.

While Rayner rose to the occasion, it was surprising that Raab did not do so himself. He did not say anything daft, but his response to Rayner were formulaic and dull. He only seemed to light up right at the end, when asked about a topic in his new portfolio, justice. (See 12.38pm.) At the time of the reshuffle there was some comment about how he and Rayner were similar, in that they both emerged from frontbench reorganisations with impressive-sounding new job titles. But, in Rayner’s case, title inflation coincided with her position strengthening, or at least being consolidated. Raab was demoted. He knows it, and today it seemed to show.

Angela Rayner at PMQs
Angela Rayner at PMQs Photograph: Parliament/Jessica Taylor


Anna McMorrin (Lab) asks if Raab will finally deliver a victims’ bill in his new role as justice secretary. It was originally promised six years ago.

Raab says he will. He looked at plans for this on day one in his new post, he says.

But he says he is sorry Labour voted against the police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. You cannot stand up for victims unless you support tough sentencing, he says.

Derek Thomas (Con) says he and fellow Cornish MPs want the seasonal agricultural workers visa scheme renewed.

Raab says the home secretary is very mindful of these concerns.

Rachel Hopkins (Lab) asks what the government is doing to protect the automative sector.

Raab says Hopkins was wrong to suggest the government was not helping workers. It paid the wages of 12m workers during the pandemic.

Siobhan Baillie (Con) asks what the government is doing to make homes more energy efficient.

Raab says by 2025 all new homes will be required to have low-carbon heating.

Sir George Howarth (Lab) asks if Raab agrees that town halls know better than Whitehall when it comes to levelling up. Will the government hold a summit with town hall leaders on this.

Raab welcomes Howarth back to the Commons after his illness. He says he supports the spirit of what Howarth said.

Margaret Ferrier (Ind) asks what the government is doing to ensure toys are safe.

Raab says he has young children and understands the concerns. Product safety regulation is being reviewed to ensure it protects consumers.

Carla Lockhart (DUP) says, far from defending the Belfast agreement, the Northern Ireland protocol is the biggest threat to it. A solution must be found in weeks, not months?

Raab says a “smart, pragmatic” approach is the only way to resolve this.

He says, notwithstanding the reporting, he knows that President Biden understands the UK’s position, because he was there at the G7 summit in Carbis Bay when this was discussed.

That’s an implied rebuke to George Eustice. (See 9.31am.)

Dehenna Davison (Con) says the death of her father from a single-punch assault contributed to her becoming an MP. Will Raab support one-punch awareness week?

Raab says he will, and that he will attend a reception to promote this.

Barry Sheerman (Lab) asks if Raab still believes in redisribution and levelling up. And will he keep Channel 4 in Leeds.

Raab says the government put the infrastructure bank in Leeds because it loves Leeds.

Deidre Brock (SNP) asks what the government has against the Scottish government requiring net zero and real living wages in its green port.

Raab says net zero is at the heart of everything the UK government does, and that it has put up the national living wage.

Andy Carter (Con) asks Raab to back plans for a new hospital in Warrington.

Raab says applications have been received for the latest developments in the hospital programme. There will be a decision by spring 2022, he says.

Stephen Farry (Alliance) asks how the government has any credibility on climate change when the Cambo oil field development is going ahead.

Raab says the government has a landmark North Sea transition plan

Kirsten Oswald, the deputy SNP leader at Westminster, asks about energy bills and the cost of living. She says people will be hundreds of pounds worse off next year. This is a Tory cost of living crisis, she says. She says the universal credit cut should be abandoned.

Raab lists a string of measures that will help people on low incomes. The crucial thing is that we have rising employment and rising wages, he says.

Oswald says warm words will not heat homes. More families will be pushed into crisis, he says. She says Citizens Advice have warned about a tsunami hitting families. Will the government consider an emergency energy payment?

Raab says the energy price cap will help 15m families, to the tune of £100 each. And he says the SNP should recognise the help Scotland is getting from the British army.

Rob Butler (Con) asks Raab if he agrees that, far from being a fifth wheel, the UK is at the heart of global security.

Raab does agree, and he defends the Aukus deal.

Rayner jokes about how there was meant to be a shortage of hot air this week. She asks for an assurance that no workers employed by energy companies will end up unemployed.

Raab says there is no shortage of hot air on the Labour benches. He says the government has secured carbon dioxide supplies. If we had listened to Labour, the economy would not have opened up.

Rayner says Raab should go back to his sun lounger and let her take over. This is a Conservative party that does not care about working people. People are worried about having to heat their homes as Raab is complaining about having to share his taxpayer-funded mansion [Chevening, a grace-and-favour mansion] with the foreign secretary.

Raab says Chevening is funded by a charity, and the taxpayer does not contribute a penny. He says Labour’s plan to nationalise energy companies would put an extra £2,000 on bills, according to the CBI. He repeats the point about the UK still being in lockdown if Labour had been in power.

Rayner says someone on £18,000 will lose more than £1,000. She says that is almost exactly the same as an average energy bill. How many extra days would someone have to work to be able to afford a night in a luxury hotel (like Raab’s in the summer).

Raab says when Labour is in power, taxes go up and the economy gets worse.

Rayner says Raab does not even know the cost of his own holiday. She says a worker on the minimum wage would have to work an extra 50 days to afford one night at Raab’s hotel.

Raab quotes Rayner saying previously that working people want opportunities, not a hand-out. That is what they are getting from this government, she says.


Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, offers her commiserations to the PM after he flew to the US and “made zero progress on the trade deal he promised us”. Does Raab still believe British workers are among the worst idlers in the world?

That is a quote from Britannia Unchained, a book Raab co-wrote some years ago with fellow Tory MPs. They used the phrase to make a point about poor British productivity.

Raab defends the PM’s trip, and does not refer to the book.

Rayner asks how much the universal credit cut will cost workers?

Raab dodges the question, and says the government’s economic plan is working.


Dominic Raab, the deputy PM, is taking PMQs on behalf of Boris Johnson, who is still in the US.

Asked about face-to-face GP appointments, Raab thanks GPs for the work they have done during the pandemic. Appointment numbers are back at pre-pandemic levels, he says. He says patients should see doctors face to face when they need to.

Back at the business committee, Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, said the government was considering a windfall tax on traders who have made big profits from the rising gas price.

Asked about reports the government was considering this, he said the government was looking at “all options” and that in Spain a measure of this kind has been introduced. He said the Spain plan involved looking at the energy system as a whole.

We are looking at all options. What they are doing in Spain is recognising that it’s an entire system - the energy system is an entire system. I am in discussion with Ofgem and other officials, looking at all options.

UPDATE: Later Kwarteng said he was not a fan of windfall taxes. See 1.35pm.


George Eustice, the environment secretary, sounded more like a DUP politician than a Conservative party politician in what he said about Joe Biden’s understanding of Northern Ireland this morning (see 9.31am), and that was highlighted by what Edwin Poots, the Stormont agriculture minister who led the DUP for about a month in the summer, told Radio Ulster today. Poots made almost exactly the same point Eustice did. He said:

As far as we’re concerned, I think [the Biden administration] need to actually understand what the Belfast agreement actually does say and go and read it. If they do that, they will recognise that the Northern Ireland protocol is actually damaging to the Belfast agreement. It is creating a border where there shouldn’t be one and therefore the protocol has to go in order to meet the requirements of the Belfast agreement.

Turning away from the committee hearing, Labour has challenged the government to explain what will happen to carbon dioxide supplies if high gas prices are still a problem after three weeks, when the CF Industries bailout ends. Ed Miliband, the shadow business secretary, said:

We welcome that this short-term deal has been struck, but the government must urgently engage with unions and the wider manufacturing industry, and explain the contingency plans in place in case issues are not resolved in three weeks.

Crucially, the government cannot keep blaming surging gas prices and supply chain chaos on external forces. It is a decade of Conservative missteps that has left the UK so exposed and vulnerable, without the diverse, resilient energy system we need to protect us from global volatility. It is businesses, consumers and families that are now paying the price.

Kwarteng says competition is essential for the gas market. He does not want to return to a “cosy oligopoly”, where a small number of companies would be able to set the price.

He says he wants to kill the perception that small companies are necessarily bad and big companies good.

Q: What is going to happen to the warm homes discount?

Kwarteng says that is a matter for the budget.

Kwarteng says consumers should prepare for 'longer-term high prices'

Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, is now giving evidence to the business committee about gas supply.

Darren Jones, the Labour chair, asks what the PM meant yesterday when he said this would be temporary.

Kwarteng says that the gas prices has spiked, but that you would expect it to revert to the mean.

But he says customers should prepare for long-term high prices.

UPDATE: Kwarteng said:

I think ‘temporary’ means that it’s a position where the price has spiked considerably ... I think it has quadrupled in the last six months, seven months.

You would expect normally that the price would revert to the mean, it’s not something that we think is going to be sustainable.

But, of course, we have to prepare for longer-term high prices.


At the business committee Alan Brown (SNP) asked the Ofgem CEO, Jonathan Brearley, about claims that the crisis could see the number of energy companies in the UK reduced to about 10.

Brearley said that the situation was “highly changeable” and that, as a result, he did not think predictions like that were credible.

Emma Pinchbeck, chief executive of supplier trade body Energy UK, told the Commons business committee, that the Government and Ofgem were warned as early as two years ago that the energy sector was fragile. She explained:

I took this job a year ago. When I was hired, the chairman of Energy UK said that your biggest challenge is going to be the vulnerability of the retail market. I know that for a year or more before that my team have been making the case to the regulator and the government that the sector is fragile ...

A lot of that is about market design. No competitive market would be making an average return of minus 1%. There’s a short-term crisis here, which is in some ways out of our control, it’s to do with the gas prices, but it’s been exacerbated and arguably caused by our regulatory design. That is a resilience and security of supply risk in the future. It’s terrible news for customers in the long run.

When we get through this, whatever support we put in place in the short term to make sure that customers are looked after, we desperately need to stop dismissing retailers when they say the market design is not fit for purpose, the market design is harming customers, the market design means we’re not making any margin and the market design leaves us vulnerable and fragile.

Ofgem boss says global gas price hike 'far, far above' any forecasts

Brearley told MPs that Ofgem does try to forecast what will happen to price of gas, but that what was happening now was beyond what was expected. He said:

We do do forecasts of the overall gas price, and we do look at the market projections at the time, but this is a discontinuity. It is far, far above any of our even most conservative projections. Because it’s not just the issue of supply; it is supply plus the demand factors, plus some what sound like quite granular trade issues, around simply the number of ships that you can get on the water, all the issues around ports at the moment. So it is a continuation of events that have led to this, and it is beyond what any of us thought would happen at this time of year.

Ofgem boss implies millions of people could be affected by energy companies going bust

Brearley told MPs that “well above” hundreds of thousands of customers could see their energy supplier go bust. He said:

We do expect a large number of customers to be affected, we’ve already seen hundreds of thousands of customers affected, that may well go well above that. It’s very hard for me to put a figure on it.

UPDATE: This is from Paul Kelso, Sky’s business correspondent.

At @CommonsBEIS @ofgem CEO Jonathan Brearley declines to put a figure on how many people could be signed to failing energy providers, beyond "many more" than hundreds of thousands. Privately industry estimates it could be six million households

— Paul Kelso (@pkelso) September 22, 2021


Ofgem boss says latest price hike unprecedented

Jonathan Brearley, the Ofgem CEO, told the business committee that what was happening to gas prices was unlike previous price hikes. He said:

I do think this is a different kind of change. The sector has faced shocks, and in fact we’ve talked about how we managed through the Covid crisis, which had a big impact on the energy sector overall.

But when you see that change - I encouraging you just to have a look at the change in gas price - it really is something that we don’t think we’ve seen before at this pace.

Brearley said this would feed through to customers. And he said many suppliers were under “huge pressure” as a result.


Ofgem boss casts doubt on PM's claim gas price crisis only temporary

The Commons business committee is taking evidence now from Ofgem, the energy regulator, on the gas price crisis.

Darren Jones (Lab), the chair, started by asking why Boris Johnson felt confident saying yesterday that this crisis would just be temporary.

Jonathan Brearley, the Ofgem CEO, says gas prices are six times what they were last year. They rose 70% in August, he said.

He said many factors contributed to that, including increasing global demand and some restrictions with supply. “So it is very, very hard to predict how long that will last,” he said.

Jones asked again, if that was the case, why Johnson said yesterday the problem would only be temporary.

Brearley said that, in commodity markets, when you see a price spike, “history has suggested that those spikes do go away”.

Jonathan Brearley
Jonathan Brearley Photograph: Parliament TV

John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor when Jeremy Corbyn was Labour leader, told the Today programme this morning that he thought Sir Keir Starmer was making a “huge mistake” with his plans to change the leadership election rules. He said:

[Starmer] was elected on one member, one vote. He never mentioned any of these reforms in that election itself. He is opening himself up to challenges of dishonestly on this.

If it comes to the point where our members can’t trust him, you know what the Tories are going to say, if your members can’t trust you, how can the electorate.

Ned Simons from HuffPost has more from McDonnell’s interview here.

Priti Patel, the home secretary, has also welcomed the granting of the injunction against the motorway protesters.

I can confirm this Government and @NationalHways are taking action to bring the ongoing #M25 protests to end with an important injunction so people can get moving again.

We will not tolerate lives being put at risk.

Those who continue to do so risk imprisonment.

— Priti Patel (@pritipatel) September 22, 2021

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, told the transport committee this morning that the injunction granted against the M25 protesters (see 9.38am) should bring an end to the demonstrations. He said:

It barely goes without saying, it’s irresponsible, dangerous and completely counterproductive. It’s unacceptable and I hope the injunction will bring it to a close.

Earlier in the process there was a somewhat different approach being taken. Yesterday the police were on the scene much more quickly. The injunction will greatly strengthen their hand ...

We will review the powers because clearly it’s unacceptable for people to be able to walk on to not just a major highway but a motorway, stop traffic, be released the next day and do the same thing again. An injunction may just be an interim way of doing that.

New Unite general secretary Sharon Graham says she won't attend Labour conference - but it's 'not a snub'

Sharon Graham, the new Unite leader, has said she will not be attending this year’s Labour conference. Explaining her decision, she told the BBC:

We shouldn’t always do what we have always done just because we have always done it.

I am days into my leadership - we currently have 16 industrial disputes going on, from Tesco drivers to Weetabix to locksmiths in Scunthorpe and Wolverhampton.

What I need to do is be with those workers in dispute and personally take leadership.

Graham said this was “definitely not a snub” to Sir Keir Starmer, the Labour leader. She said she had had a meeting with him on Monday that she described as “cordial”. But that was before Starmer announced plans to change the Labour leadership elections rules - plans that Graham criticised yesterday.

Graham also told the BBC that, if there is a vote at conference on David Evans, the party’s general secretary, Unite would vote to remove him. That was because of the way he was implementing redundancies, she said.

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


Shapps says protesters could face jail for blocking roads after injunction granted

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has announced that National Highways have been granted a court injunction against environmental protesters. That means activists who block roads could face jail.

Invading a motorway is reckless & puts lives at risk. I asked National Highways to seek an injunction against M25 protestors which a judge granted last night. Effective later today, activists will face contempt of court with possible imprisonment if they flout.

— Rt Hon Grant Shapps MP (@grantshapps) September 22, 2021

George Eustice implies Joe Biden does not fully understand ‘complicated’ Northern Ireland issue

Good morning. Yesterday Joe Biden told Boris Johnson at the White House about his concerns that the UK’s stance on the Northern Ireland protocol could undermine the Good Friday agreement. It is a concern shared by Democrats and Republicans in Washington, and one that has been expressed many times. Johnson told Biden diplomatically that he too wanted to protect the Good Friday agreement. But in an interview this morning George Eustice, the environment secretary, said that Biden was “wrong” about this, and he implied the US president did not understand the issue.

Eustice told Sky News:

[Biden] is probably at the moment just reading the headlines, reading what the EU is saying, reading what Ireland might be saying, which is that they would like the Northern Ireland protocol to work in the way the EU envisage.

We think he is wrong because the truth is that unless we have a sustainable solution that enables trade to continue between GB and Northern Ireland then we are going to have issues, and that itself would become a challenge to the Belfast agreement.

We will obviously explain to the United States effectively it is tantamount to saying that potatoes grown in one part of the United States can’t be sold in another part of the United States.

When you explain some of those provisions in detail, it is understood by the US government that that clearly does not make any sense and therefore should be revisited.

Eustice also said it was “very complicated”, adding: “I’m not sure he does fully appreciate all of that”.

Eustice was just saying what cabinet ministers think. But it is unusual for any of them to be so blunt (and patronising) about the US president in public.

As my colleague Rowena Mason reports, in his interviews this morning Eustice also said the bailout of the private US firm that supplies carbon dioxide to the food industry will run into “many millions of pounds”.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9.30am: Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, gives evidence to the Commons transport committee.

9.30am: Matthew Roycroft, permanent secretary at the Home Office, gives evidence to the Commons home affairs committee.

10.30am: Ofgem, Energy UK and National Energy Action give evidence to the Commons business committee about the UK gas market. At 11.30am Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, gives evidence.

12pm: Dominic Raab, the deputy prime minister, faces Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, at PMQs.

Lunchtime (UK time): Boris Johnson is due to give media interviews in the US.

2pm: Prof Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, Prof Jonathan Van-Tam, his deputy, and Prof Wei Shen Lim, chair of the JCVI’s Covid sub-committee, give evidence to the Commons education committee about vaccinating children.

Later Johnson will be addressing the UN general assembly in New York, but his speech is not expected until about 9pm UK time.

For the latest Covid developments, 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

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