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Newslinks for Tuesday 2nd February 2021


Johnson ‘pushes to reopen schools as Covid cases fall’

“Boris Johnson has ordered ministers to ramp up preparations for reopening schools after being told the UK is now past the peak of the current wave of coronavirus. The Prime Minister has made it clear that the Government’s immediate focus must be on education and is expected to announce further measures to help children catch up after almost a year of disruption. Mr Johnson’s optimism on school reopening is built on the success of the vaccination programme. The Telegraph has learned that from next week, over-65s will be invited to book appointments for vaccinations, in the clearest sign to date that the Government expects to beat its target of offering jabs to all over-70s by February 15. Mr Johnson also gave fresh hope that people will be able to enjoy a summer holiday this year if the vaccination programme stays on track.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Prime Minister ‘optimistic’ nation can go on summer holidays – The Sun
  • Door-to-door tests after South African Covid strain spreads – The Times
  • Lockdown may be lifted in all of England at same time – The Sun
  • Community leaders battle vaccine scepticism among ethnic minorities – FT

Sage:

  • Sage warned Number 10 over South African Covid variant weeks ago… – The Times
  • …but deemed closing borders completely ‘probably ineffective’, claims minister – Daily Telegraph
  • All foreign arrivals to UK should be quarantined in hotels, says Labour MP – Daily Mail

>Yesterday:

Covid vaccines may be sent abroad ‘before full rollout in UK’

“Britain could start sending vaccine stockpiles to other countries before all adults have been offered a jab, it emerged yesterday. Matt Hancock, the health secretary, acknowledged yesterday that the 400 million doses ordered were “more than the UK population needs”. He said that the government would be generous “at the same time” as it completed its domestic vaccination programme. Downing Street insists that it is premature to discuss surplus vaccines and officials said yesterday that no decisions would be taken before the completion of the first phase of the programme in the spring. That leaves open the possibility that UK-ordered jabs could be sent abroad before all adults — including teachers and police — have received them. France intensified its criticism of Britain’s vaccination campaign yesterday by accusing the government of taking “many risks”.” – The Times

  • DHL boss lambasts lack of ‘foresight’ in vaccines rollout – FT
  • Half of over-70s have had Covid vaccine but care home staff trail behind – The Times
  • UK refuses to reduce 12-week gap between care homes jabs – FT
  • Sturgeon blasted as Scotland records lowest daily coronavirus vaccine figures – Daily Express

EU:

  • Von der Leyen attempts to pin blame on deputy for embarrassing U-turn – Daily Telegraph
  • Brussels hit by fresh vaccine backlash after boasting they have jabbed more people than Africa – The Sun
  • French minister criticises UK’s ‘risky’ Covid vaccine strategy – The Guardian

>Today: Jethro Elden in Comment: By how much will we gain by choosing our own vaccination programme, not the EU’s? Let’s start at £100 billion.

>Yesterday:

William Hague: With Cummings gone, the Government has rediscovered how to succeed

“After the many tragedies of the last year, and mindful of the dreadful death toll the pandemic is bringing, it has been heartening to witness the Government getting something very obviously right: the procurement of vaccines and their distribution to millions of people. Just as encouraging for the future was the measured reaction of ministers to the indefensible behaviour of the European Commission last Friday. Rather than anything threatening or jingoistic, Boris Johnson and his cabinet colleagues employed quiet reason and diplomacy to resolve the situation. They judged correctly that it was a moment for soothing reassurance rather than angry rhetoric. Such sure-footed reaction to a crisis involving the EU is the latest example of a distinct improvement over recent weeks in the tone of the Government’s conduct. Amid the drama of current events, and the huge decisions being made about lockdowns and vaccine rollouts, it would be easy not to notice that something quite significant has changed.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Vaccine rows are just the first of many spats between the EU and the UK – Anand Menon, The Guardian
  • We can gain from Brussels’ borderline madness – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • Covid gives UK a chance to repair relations with the Irish Republic – Sam Bowman, FT

Sunak agrees to tie own hands and stick with Tory ‘triple tax lock’

“Chancellor Rishi Sunak has agreed to tie his own hands at next month’s Budget by sticking with the Conservatives’ “triple tax lock”, which stops him raising the rates of income tax, national insurance or value added tax. Treasury officials had hoped Mr Sunak would ditch the Tories’ 2019 election manifesto commitment, which stops him using the three biggest tax levers to start curbing a deficit that is expected to top £400bn in 2020-21 because of the coronavirus crisis. Instead, Mr Sunak has agreed with Boris Johnson that the triple tax lock must be maintained, according to government insiders — a move that could force him to seek increases in other taxes, including corporation tax and possibly capital gains tax. “To go back on the manifesto pledge would be a betrayal of trust — pandemic or no pandemic,” said one aide to the chancellor. “It was a very significant pledge at the last election.”” – FT

  • Quarter of Brits worried ban on BOGOF offers will mean they can’t afford weekly shop – The Sun
  • Osborne to become full-time banker – The Guardian

Comment:

  • With a double-dip recession looming, a tax raid is the last thing we need – Ross Clark, Daily Mail
  • Chancellor’s stalling leaves Scotland facing financial uncertainty – Kate Forbes MSP, The Times

Ministers draw up legislation to create new science agency

“UK ministers are drawing up legislation within weeks to set up a new “blue-skies” scientific research agency that will invest taxpayers’ money in cutting-edge technologies. Business groups had questioned whether the government would go ahead with the agency after Dominic Cummings, UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser and the main architect of the project, quit the government last year after a power struggle in Downing Street. But Kwasi Kwarteng, the new business secretary, is pushing forward with the agency, which will answer to his department, according to government insiders. The agency requires legislation because it will be a standalone agency, separate from UK Research and Innovation, which is responsible for research and development funding. The Treasury has authorised £800m of spending on the agency, which will fund research in areas such as artificial intelligence and data.” – FT

  • Downing Street defends minister who criticised HuffPost journalist on Twitter – The Guardian

Tory MPs accuse ministers of incompetence over cladding crisis

“Conservative MPs have accused the government of incompetence in its handling of the cladding crisis that has left millions of leaseholders trapped in unsafe homes. Ministers promised yesterday to bring forward a solution “very shortly” but warned that there would be “no quick fix” after Labour forced a debate on the issue. In total 35 Conservative backbenchers have backed an amendment tabled by Royston Smith, the Tory MP for Southampton Itchen, and Stephen McPartland, the Tory MP for Stevenage, that would exempt leaseholders from the costs of removing unsafe cladding from blocks of flats. They need 44 signatures to overturn the government’s working majority. Christopher Pincher, a housing minister, represented the government in yesterday’s debate after Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, was criticised for refusing to appear in the Commons.” – The Times

  • Labour calls on ministers to act – FT

Comment:

  • Tory MPs are getting a taste for mutiny – Rachel Sylvester, The Times

Cherry sacked from SNP frontbench at Westminster

“Joanna Cherry, one of Nicola Sturgeon’s fiercest internal critics, has been sacked from the Scottish National party’s frontbench at Westminster after a public feud with its former deputy leader last week. Cherry, an advocate and queen’s counsel, announced on Twitter that she had been sacked as the party’s spokesperson for home affairs in a reshuffle of the SNP’s Commons frontbench, and immediately hit out at her Westminster colleagues and party leadership over its strategy on independence. After implying that she would continue criticising party leaders from her new position on the party’s ruling national executive, Cherry tweeted: “Westminster is increasingly irrelevant to Scotland’s constitutional future and the SNP would do well to radically rethink our strategy.” She was elected to the national executive late last year as one of the most senior figures in a slate of SNP activists involved in the Common Weal group, many of them angry at Sturgeon’s cautious approach to staging a second referendum and critical of the first minister’s stance on transgender rights.” – The Guardian

  • Firing is Sturgeon’s ‘dead cat strategy’ to distract from vaccine failures – Daily Express

>Today: ToryDiary: Our survey. Conservative activists back the Labour Party…

Northern Ireland border staff withdrawn from duty over safety fears

“All regulatory animal-based food checks have been suspended at Belfast and Larne ports, Northern Ireland’s Department of Agriculture, Environment and Rural Affairs (Daera) has said. It comes after council staff at Larne Port were withdrawn from inspection duties amid concerns for their safety and welfare. A Daera spokesman said: “On the basis of information received today and pending further discussions with the PSNI (Police Service of Northern Ireland), Daera has decided in the interests of the wellbeing of staff to temporarily suspend physical inspections of products of animal origin at Larne and Belfast. “The situation will be kept under review and in the meantime full documentary checks will continue to be carried out as usual.” Twelve Mid and East Antrim Borough Council staff assisting officials from Daera and UK Border Force with checks at the port were withdrawn from their duties with immediate effect on Monday.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Portsmouth port bosses accuse government of withholding cash – The Guardian

More:

  • Post-Brexit ban on British shellfish could be permanent, EU warns fishermen – The Times
  • Boutique London fund managers hit early Brexit turbulence – FT
  • May confused ‘stubbornness with heroism’ during Brexit process, says Hammond – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • There are two major risks to the UK’s vaccine programme – Jonathan Kitson, CapX
  • Why the EU lost the vaccine war – Bruno Maçães, UnHerd
  • The technocrats are failing the vaccine test – Dalibor Roháč, The Critic
  • Why is Westminster unable to solve the cladding crisis? – Isabel Hardman, The Spectator

Newslinks February 2021





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