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Downing Street scrambles to stop Covid outbreak derailing Brexit talks

Michel Barnier tweeted that a member of his team had tested positive, suspending talks – AFP

Downing Street is scrambling to prevent an unforeseen pause in Brexit talks from derailing hopes of a last-minute trade deal. 

Michel Barnier revealed that the negotiations had been halted after a member of his team tested positive for coronavirus.  It is not clear how long talks will be derailed or how many people will now have to self-isolate as a result. 

But any pause risks derailing an already tight deadline for a successful outcome from the talks which have already fallen behind, after both Mr Barnier and Lord Frost contracted the virus in March. Subsequent virtual negotiations have also slowed the pace.  

The two sides had been aiming to strike a barebones deal by next week – possibly as early as Monday – to allow time for the European Parliament to ratify any potential deal before the year-end deadline. 

This afternoon a Number 10 spokesman said: “The Commission has informed us that an official in their delegation has tested positive for Covid-19. 

“We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare of our teams.”

Follow the latest updates below.

03:56 PM

Ursula von der Leyen to speak to EU27 this afternoon after Brexit talks are halted

Ursula von der Leyen is to update leaders of the EU27 on what the halt in Brexit talks will mean, after the unexpected announcement by Michel Barnier earlier today.

The European Commission chief is planning to host a video call later today, which she will also used to discuss Covid-19 and the bloc’s next budget and economic recovery plan.

Several EU leaders are expected to stress the need to prepare for no deal, which would affect about a trillion dollars worth of annual bilateral trade.

Mr Barnier had been expected to update member states’ envoys on latest developments tomorrow.

03:36 PM

Chopper’s Politics: The government should enable local communities to ‘take back control’

The MP behind a report into sustaining the recent surge in community spirit, says the same feeling that saw the public vote for Brexit is what could bring in a new era of local and community run volunteering initiatives.

Danny Kruger told the Chopper Politics podcast , which you can listen to on the audio player above: “The idea of trust in society… in real human beings, not bureaucrats in Whitehall, is the right one.”

“My view is that this was what was behind Brexit. People want control and agency and belonging, and a sense of connection to the place they live in. And the rejection of the EU was a sort of emanation of this distrust of remote power.”

03:29 PM

Government must create ‘regulator with teeth’ to stop harmful online content

The Government must bring in a regulator “with teeth” to moderate harmful content online, a former culture secretary has said. 

Jeremy Wright, who also served as attorney general, told the Commons: “When a search engine asked about suicide shows you a how-to guide on taking your own life long before it shows you the number for the Samaritans, that is a design choice.

“A duty of care needs to require a different design choice to be made… a duty of care should expect the prioritisation of authoritative sources over scurrilous ones.”

He said it was “reasonable to expect” that online platforms do “what is reasonable to keep us safe”, but we should not rely on platforms’ terms and conditions, he said. 

“We should legislate to say so and we should legislate to make sure it happens,” he added. 

“If the regulator we create is to be taken seriously by these huge, multi-national companies, it must have the power to enforce our expectations – that means it must have teeth and a range of sanctions, in my view, including individual director liability and site blocking in extreme cases.”

03:23 PM

Former culture secretary warns of surge in harmful online content

A former minister has said the issue of harmful content online has “grown even faster in recent months” with more people spending time on the internet during the pandemic.

Opening the debate on regulation of online harms, Jeremy Wright told MPs: “Between January and April this year, as we were all starting to learn about the Covid-19 virus, there were around 80 million interactions on Facebook with websites known to promulgate disinformation on this subject. By contrast, the websites of the World Health Organisation and the US Centres for Disease Control each had around six million interactions.

“Secondly, during roughly the same period, online sex crimes recorded against children were running at more than 100 a day,” the former culture secretary said. “The online platforms have taken some action to combat the harms I have mentioned, and I welcome that, but it is not enough, as the platforms themselves mostly recognise.”

Mr Wright added: “So how can it be right that actions and behaviours which cause real harm and which would be controlled and restricted in every other environment – whether broadcast media, print media or out on the street – are not restricted at all online?”

03:14 PM

This rushed electric car revolution will backfire disastrously on Boris

To some, driving an electric car is akin to riding an over-priced go-kart; to others, it is like sitting on a giant iPhone. They are fun, with great acceleration and astonishing technology, but lack the romance of an old-fashioned combustion engine. They are the vegan option: increasingly delicious, like the best falafel with hummus in pitta, but still a shawarma short of the full meal.

Yet Allister Heath is a convert, for one simple reason: electric cars and similar innovations are our best hope of saving the consumer society, one of civilisation’s greatest achievements, from the clutches of the hard-Left environmentalists. In the end, when their limitations are resolved, they will become motorists’ best friends.

Why? The green agenda has triumphed, in the sense that cultural, political, educational and corporate elites, in the US, UK and every European country, are all in favour of decarbonisation. Opponents have been routed, with almost no chance of a way back.

02:54 PM

Ursula von der Leyen: Brexit work will continue

European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen wished the member of the negotiating team a “speedy recovery”.

She said work would continue “in full respect of” Covid-19 rules.

02:52 PM

Downing Street scrambles to understand implications of Brexit talks being halted

Downing Street is in discussions with their EU counterparts over the implications of Brexit talks being halted this afternoon. 

Michel Barnier revealed that the trade negotiations had been halted after a member of his team tested positive for coronavirus. 

It is not clear how long talks will be derailed or how many people will now have to self-isolate as a result. 

A Government spokesman said: “The Commission has informed us that an official in their delegation has tested positive for Covid-19. 

“We are discussing with them the implications for the negotiations. We have been, and will continue to, act in line with public health guidelines and to ensure the health and welfare of our teams.”

02:31 PM

Boris Johnson says ‘it is time to end the era of defeat’ as he sets out £16.5bn military boost

Boris Johnson has said the £16.5 billion boost to the country’s defence budget signals the “end of the era of defeat” as he promises to restore Britain’s naval prowess. 

The Prime Minister said his military spending spree will “restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe”. 

There will be be a range of new ships built as a result of the splurge, which will “spur a renaissance of British shipbuilding across the UK… guaranteeing jobs and illuminating the benefits of the union in the welder’s torch.”

“The defence of the realm is above party politics,” he added noting that in the past “Britain tipped the scales of history and did immense good for the world.” 

Mr Johnson said: “Now we have a chance to follow in this great tradition, to end the era of defeat… protect our people and defend the free societies in which we fervently believe.”

02:29 PM

Breaking: Covid cancels Brexit talks

The last-ditch Brexit trade talks have been called off after a member of Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for coronavirus. 

The EU’s chief negotiator tweeted: “One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19.

“With [Lord Frost] we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines.”

02:22 PM

Tory MP who forced PM into self-isolation appears during debate on football support

The Conservative MP who is Westminster’s ‘patient zero’ – testing positive for coronavirus shortly after a breakfast meeting with the Prime Minister and numerous other colleagues – has appeared virtually as part of a debate on support for football clubs. 

Lee Anderson, the MP for Ashfield, wore his Mansfield Town scarf as he warned allowing 1,000 fans inside football grounds would “not be enough to cover the costs” of clubs, adding: “We need our clubs to survive.”

He asked sports minister Nigel Huddleston to “look at having a sliding scale attendance figure for each Football League club based on their current capacity, which will allow fans to support their team safely and give clubs a financial boost they need to survive?”

Speaking from the Commons, Mr Huddleston replied: “(Mr Anderson) raises some valid points about… what’s the criteria, what’s the process, all of these are live issues and I’d be happy to talk to him further about his proposals.”

02:14 PM

Further 346 people die with coronavirus in English hospitals

A further 346 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 37,470.

Patients were aged between 35 and 102 years old. All except nine people, aged 54 to 99 years old, had known underlying health conditions. The date of death ranges from 19 October to 18 November 2020 with the majority being on or after 16 November. 

The worst-affected region was the Midlands, with 96 deaths, followed by the North West, with 89, and the North East and Yorkshire with 71. 

They were followed by London (29 deaths), South East (22), East of England (20) and the South West (19).

02:06 PM

Matt Hancock hails UK therapeutic breakthrough

Matt Hancock has welcomed the findings of a trial suggesting that critically ill Covid-19 patients treated with an arthritis drug were “significantly” more likely to have improved outcomes.

The Health Secretary said: “This is fantastic news and I’m proud that our NHS was able to play such a significant role in this trial, with so many UK patients in intensive care units benefitting from this remarkable medicine.

“Tocilizumab is an important addition to the armoury of proven therapeutics for Covid-19, which have been discovered thanks to brilliant scientists working with the NHS, supported by the UK Government.”

Deputy chief medical officer professor Jonathan Van-Tam added:“These are very promising results,but it’s vital we see the full results once all monitoring of patients is completed. Then we can fully understand the impact this will have for patients in intensive care units around the world.

“It’s evidence of the UK’s excellent life sciences industry advancing global understanding of this disease, both through our own programme of clinical research and through participation in international studies.”

01:47 PM

Not opening sports stadiums has had ‘major consequences’, minister concedes

The decision not to reopen sports stadiums to spectators in October has had “major consequences” on the sector, a digital, culture, media and sport minister has said. 

Nigel Huddlestone told the Commons. “We know that the decision taken in late September not to reopen stadia on October 1 has had major consequences for sports clubs large and small.

“It was the right decision given the rate at which coronavirus was spreading across the country but clearly for many organisations not being able to generate gate receipts deprived them of a major source of income.”

01:43 PM

‘Concrete’ Christmas plan to be unveiled next week, says Nicola Sturgeon

A “concrete” plan for gatherings to take place at Christmas could be revealed as early as next week, Scotland’s First Minister has said.

Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs that the chief medical officers of all four UK nations have been asked to compile a proposal for how the easing of some restrictions would work, following discussions between Cabinet Office Minister Michael Gove and the devolved administrations on Wednesday,

Speaking at First Minister’s Questions, she said the proposal could be made public “in the coming days”.

She said: “We discussed the Christmas period and how we could come to a sensible – and I stress sensible – and safe plan that would allow people, not 100% normality, but a greater degree of normality – in particular the ability to spend some time with loved ones.

“From that meeting yesterday, we charged our officials – advised by our respective chief medical officers – to put together a concrete proposal that we will then consider and hopefully announce the detail of in the coming days.

“I would hope … we could share that with the public over the course of next week.”

Nicola Sturgeon said we must "strike the right balance" over any easing of restrictions at Christmas. - Getty
Nicola Sturgeon said we must “strike the right balance” over any easing of restrictions at Christmas. – Getty

01:26 PM

Have your say on: The Christmas conundrum

Yesterday our hopes of a Christmas reprieve from lockdown were given an all-too-brief boost when Dr Susan Hopkins said that for every one day of relaxation from rules, we would need two days of tighter restrictions. 

A few hours later, PHE clarified it was in fact five days, suggesting the window that is being mulled could result in almost an entire month of lockdown measures. 

This morning Sage scientists have suggested there is “too much emphasis” on having as near to normal Christmas as possible, warning of the “tragic” risks it poses to the most vulnerable. Indeed, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace wouldn’t even confirm whether he would risk seeing his elderly parents if it were allowed. 

But after a year of restrictions, people are yearning for contact with their nearest and dearest. So what are you planning to do? Have your say in the poll below. 

01:24 PM

Jeremy Hunt urges Boris Johnson ‘not to listen to voices in his ear’ over aid cuts

Jeremy Hunt has said it is “a fantastic announcement”, saying during the leadership campaign they fought against each other he had called for defence spending to be increased to three per cent of GDP. 

But he asks Boris Johnson “not to listen to any voices in his ear” about funding it through a temporary cut to the overseas aid commitment. 

“We spent a decade winning the argument for that and even a temporary cut will create an enormous clamour of people who say we should not go into it.”

Boris Johnson says they “think alike on so many issues, and on this too”. He praises the former foreign secretary, pointing to the global vaccines summit (Gavi), saying the UK “leads the world in investment in so many ways”. 

“I remember his campaign… for increasing funding on defence and I listened to it very carefully, I thought he was right at the time and I am glad I was able to fulfill his expectations now,” he adds. 

The leadership campaign: back when human contact, even between rivals, seemed normal - Getty
The leadership campaign: back when human contact, even between rivals, seemed normal – Getty

01:15 PM

David Davis hails ‘best and most intelligent defence statement’ in 25 years

David Davis, Conservative MP for Halteprice and Howden, says it is the “best and most intelligence defence statement I have heard in a quarter of a century”. 

But he has two concerns – the size of the army which he says is still “on a downwards trend”; and how the MoD will manage “big, expensive projects”, noting historically the department has not been very good.

Boris Johnson says there are “no redundancies in this package”, but you have to “fight the wars of the future”. 

He notes that he will follow this “with a very beady eye”, noting there has been “historic overspend”. 

A unit will be set up to ensure we get value out of this massive package, he adds. 

David Davis: Best defence statement in 25 years - Paul Grover
David Davis: Best defence statement in 25 years – Paul Grover

01:10 PM

Boris Johnson: Defence budget boost allows UK to do more on peace-keeping

Lloyd Russell-Moyle, Labour’s MP for Brighton Kemptown, asks if this boost to the defence budget will see a return to our “proud tradition of peace-keeping troops”, as well as asking for another commitment on overseas aid. 

Boris Johnson says the boost to the budget “will allow us to do more on peace-keeping”. 

Marco Longhi, the Conservative MP for Dudlye North, asks about the impact on local businesses, which Mr Johnson says will “drive jobs across the West Midlands and the whole of the UK”. 

01:06 PM

Tom Tugendhat: We can’t outspend the communists – we must out-think them

Tom Tugendhat is emphatic in his welcome of the boost to defence spending, saying it is “a fantastic statement of resolve for the UK at home and abroad”. 

He says it will invest in businesses around the country “but it also raises questions”. 

He asks if Boris Johnson can bring forward the Integrated Review so that “we have a strategic approach to that spending.

“This time we can’t outspend the communists – we have got to out-think them”. 

Mr Johnson says the package will show “the tools we will be using” ahead of the Integrated Review. “We will be shortly completing the Integrated Review… this is about having smarter forces in order to outwit our foes.”

Tom Tugendhat welcomed the defence budget boost - PA
Tom Tugendhat welcomed the defence budget boost – PA

01:03 PM

Julian Lewis and Boris Johnson signal end to hostile relations

Julian Lewis, the chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee, asks Boris Johnson if he believes the committee is now “properly constituted” to scrutinise the new cyber operation run as a joint venture with the MoD and GCHQ. 

Dr Lewis caused a stir earlier this year when he gazumped Chris Grayling to become the chair of the ISC, promptly having the Conservative whip removed. 

However with a smile on his lips, Boris Johnson says yes. “I believe the ISC is well equipped to provide exactly that further layer of scrutiny of our cyber operations,” he adds. 

Perhaps a detente between the two men is coming in the wake of Dominic Cummings’ departure. 

Julian Lewis: Could he and Boris Johnson be friends after all? - AFP
Julian Lewis: Could he and Boris Johnson be friends after all? – AFP

12:58 PM

Boris Johnson: We will work with Biden to protect troubled countries

Dan Jarvis, Labour’s MP for Barnsley Central and a former officer, said he welcomed the boost to defence spending but says “we shouldn’t forget that British boots are on the ground Afghanistan today”. 

If US troops are pulled out, as Donald Trump has threatened, the UK will have to play a greater role, he notes, asking if the UK is ready for this challenge. 

Boris Johnson thanks Mr Jarvis for his service, and says he is “completely right” to draw attention to this, and he will be working with the new administration “to do whatever we can to protect the stability and security of those troubled countries”. 

Dan Jarvis: Boris Johnson thanked the Labour MP for his service - Getty
Dan Jarvis: Boris Johnson thanked the Labour MP for his service – Getty

12:55 PM

Boris Johnson asked to ‘quash rumours’ on overseas aid cut

Sarah Champion, the chair of the DFID Committee, calls on Boris Johnson to explain how development will remain “front and centre” after the Integrated Review. 

She also asks him to “quash rumours and confirm his manifesto commitment” to overseas aid. 

The Prime Minister says the UK “can be proud of our record on overseas aid, and that will continue”. 

But he notes that the military can provide support and help as well. 

Sarah Champion - Andrew Crowley
Sarah Champion – Andrew Crowley

12:52 PM

Labour MP hails defence budget boost as ‘first fruits of the departure of Dominic Cummings’

John Spellar, Labour’s MP for Warley, says if the defence spending boost is “the first fruits of the departure of Dominic Cummings it is most welcomed”. 

He says with the “welcome arrival of President Biden” it is well timed. 

But he asks Boris Johnson to ensure that spending is directed to UK-based firms and that orders are pulled forward to get businesses going. 

“It would be a very welcome Christmas present and New Year message, not only for our ship yards but also for our engineering and steel industries, and their communities as well.”

The Prime Minister says he “speaks for many, he certainly speaks for me”. 

12:48 PM

Boris Johnson: ‘No read across’ to overseas aid budget as a result of defence boost

Andrew Mitchell praises Boris Johnson for having boosted the defence budget, but notes General Mattis’s comments to President Trump “the more you cut aid, the more I have to spend on ammunition”. 

He reminds him of the manifesto commitment to 0.7 per cent of spending being earmarked for overseas aid, noting it would help “promote the important values of Global Britain”. 

Boris Johnson says the UK can be “very proud of our record in overseas aid – we lead the world and we will continue to lead the world”. 

He adds there is “no read across to any other issue” in terms of budgets. 

12:45 PM

Ian Blackford clashes with Ben Wallace over ‘shameful’ behaviour

Ian Blackford has accused the Defence Secretary of “shameful” behaviour after the pair clashed in the Commons. 

The SNP’s Westminster leader was using his response to the Prime Minister’s boost to the defence budget to press the case for what Scotland would “play a full role” if it was independent. 

But as Ben Wallace and others muttered, he broke off his speech to blast the “absolute disgrace in the face of threats we get the contempt we see yet again this afternoon from the Defence Secretary and his colleagues on the Tory benches”. 

It was “shameful and he really ought to grow up and show some respect to the regiments of Scotland,” Mr Blackford added. 

But Boris Johnson attacked the SNP MP’s “veritable geyser of confected indignation”, saying it was “preposterous” to listen to him talking about his desire to support defence spending, which was only possible through the union.

Under his plan there would be “no nuclear deterrent, no shipbuilding, and no Black Watch in the land of the SNP”.

12:39 PM

Tobias Ellwood welcomes boost to defence spending amid rise in ‘hostile competitors’

Tobias Ellwood has welcomed the £16.5bn boost to military spending, and called on Boris Johnson stand firm against “hostile competitors”, particularly China. 

The Defence Select Committee chairman told the Commons it was something he had been “calling for for some time”. He also praised the Prime Minister’s “honesty in recognising the UK and indeed the west have become too risk averse in standing up to some of the threats we face.”

He said Britain should “play a more assertive position” – including hard power, soft power and thought leadership. 

He called for the Government to “work closely with the US administration in boosting western resolve to confront a growing number of hostile competitors including China who have for too long been able to persuade their destabilising and competing agendas.”

12:35 PM

Boris Johnson attacks Keir Starmer over past support for Jeremy Corbyn

Boris Johnson has attacked Sir Keir Starmer for his former support for Jeremy Corbyn, despite the Labour leader saying he backed the £16.5billion boost to the UK’s defence budget. 

The Prime Minister said: “This was a guy who campaigned actively to install somebody who wanted to break up our armed forces and pull out of Nato.

“I don’t know what he was thinking then, he never mentioned his support for the armed forces then and I don’t frankly attach much credence to it now.”

12:32 PM

Boris Johnson lacks ‘clear strategy or coherent vision’, says Sir Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer has asked Boris Johnson why he still hasn’t acted on the report by senior MPs warning that “Russia posed an immediate and urgent threat to our national security”. 

The Intelligence and Security Committee published its findings four months ago, he notes, asking when the Prime Minister will act.  

He notes the UK is also not sufficiently responding to the demands of climate change, slamming the “press release without a strategy” issued yesterday. 

“This is a time of huge global uncertainty, it is time for Britain to emerge from a decade of decline. I know the PM is always keen to talk about the bits of government he enjoys… but this statement shows the government still lacks a clear strategy or a coherent vision for Britain in the world,” he adds. 

Mr Johnson rubbishes his response as “humbug” in light of Sir Keir Starmer’s past support for Jeremy Corbyn.

12:23 PM

Sir Keir Starmer: Cutting overseas aid will ‘hugely weaken us on the global stage’

Sir Keir Starmer says he welcomes this additional funding and that Labour agrees that it is right to end the “era of defeat”, although suggests Boris Johnson has “a complete lack of self-awareness” about this remark. 

The Labour leader suggests the phrase is interesting, given that defence spending has fallen over the last 10 years of Tory government. 

But he gets to the details quickly, asking when the Integrated Review will be published and how this will be paid for – will it require borrowing, tax rises or will it be taken from other budgets. 

He points out that there was a”very clear manifesto commitment” to keep overseas aid at 0.7 per cent, saying if he breaks this promise it would undermine public trust and “hugely weaken us on the global stage”. 

12:20 PM

Boris Johnson: It is time to end the era of defeat

The investment will create a new centre dedicated to artificial intelligence, Boris Johnson has said. 

A new RAF space command will also see the deployment of British satellites and our first rocket from Scotland in 2022, he added. 

“The defence of the realm is above party politics,” he adds noting that in the past “Britain tipped the scales of history and did immense good for the world. 

“Now we have a chance to follow in this great tradition, to end the era of defeat… protect our people and defend the free societies in which we fervently believe.”

12:16 PM

Defence spending boost will ‘restore Britain’s naval position’, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said the boost to military spending will “restore Britain’s position as the foremost naval power in Europe”. 

The Prime Minister said there would be a range of new ships built as a result of the £16.5 billion splurge, which will “spur a renaissance of British shipbuilding across the UK… guaranteeing jobs and illuminating the benefits of the union in the welder’s torch.”

The UK’s nuclear deterrent will be renewed, he added. 

He said there would be  “a vast array of civilian applications”, including autonomous vehicles and space, as well as creating 10, 000 jobs every year – 40,000 in total.  

12:11 PM

Boris Johnson: British armed forces require once in a generation modernisation

Boris Johnson says that either choosing to “ignore the threat of terrorism and hope for the best”  or simply reinforcing our own country  and “curl up in our own island” are not options he would “be an abdication of the first duty of the Government to defend its people”. 

 The UK must share the burden with our allies and upgrade our military capabilities, he says.

The Prime Minister notes that next year the UK will host the Cop26 conference – “leading the world towards net zero” – as well as other values of our society. 

But extending the influence of British values “requires a once in a generation modernisation of British armed forces, and now is the right time to press ahead”. 

Emerging technologies will make the returns from investment “infinitely greater”, he adds. 

12:07 PM

Boris Johnson: The era of defence budget cuts ends now

Boris Johnson is updating the Commons on the Intergrated Review, which will conclude early next year, via videolink. 

He says its first outcome is that “the era of cutting our defence budget must end, and it ends now”. 

He confirms that boost to the military budget – £16.5bn more than the manifesto commitment – which will raise spend to 2.2 per cent of GDP, more than any Nato ally except the US. 

He explains that the MoD has a multi-year settlement because “we risk waking up to find our armed forces have fallen below the threshold of viability”, which would be a “dereliction of duty for any Prime Minister”. 

The Prime Minister says: “Reviving our armed forces is one pillar of the Government’s ambition to safeguard Britain’s interest and values by strengthening our global influence” and help “defend free and open societies”.

12:03 PM

Government procurement costs because pandemic is like ‘having a leak at 2am’

Jacob Rees-Mogg has defended the Government’s spend on contracts with private companies during the pandemic, comparing the situation to “having a leak at 2am”. 

The Commons leader told the House: “Everyone knows that if you have a leak at 2am and call a plumber out, it costs more than if you book him to come in three months’ time. 

“We were in the situation of having a leak at 2am.”

Mr Rees-Mogg said 32 billion pieces of PPE have been provided since the beginning of the pandemic, adding: “It’s important to recognise that the normal time for a tender is three months and often it runs to six months. Had these normal procedures been followed we wouldn’t have been getting any additional equipment until October.”

Mr Rees-Mogg went on: “Speed was of the essence and speed was what was provided.”

He said the “vast majority of contracts” valued at more than £120,000 have been published, adding: “This is important because it is transparency that will ensure, and will show, that things were handled properly.”

Jacob Rees-Mogg - Bloomberg
Jacob Rees-Mogg – Bloomberg

11:57 AM

Lobby latest: Trade talks with Canada at ‘advanced stage’, says Downing Street

Talks with Canada on securing a trade deal are at an “advanced stage” and “progressing well”.

The UK currently trades with Canada under the EU-Canada economic and trade deal signed in 2016, which removes tariffs. Without a deal, the two countries would face tariffs from 1 January once the Brexit transition period ends. 

The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We are committed to securing a continuity trade deal with Canada before the end of the transition period.

“Talks are at an advanced stage and are progressing well.”

Justin Trudeau - Reuters
Justin Trudeau – Reuters

11:54 AM

Lobby latest: Post-lockdown tiers will be published next week, says Downing Street

Plans for the replacement for England’s lockdown measures and proposals to ease restrictions over Christmas will be set out next week, Downing Street has said.

This morning Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, suggested that the country might have to wait until December to find out. 

A No 10 spokesman suggested the details would be set later, but the framework would be revealed sooner.

“We obviously keep the case numbers under review and we will continue to do so going into next week when we will set out more details of the next phase, post-December 2,” he said.

The recommendation for five days of tougher measures for every one day they are unlocked is understood to be preliminary findings from unpublished modelling for the Sage scientific advisory panel.

The No 10 spokesman pointed to Boris Johnson’s view that “whilst Christmas will be a little bit different from normal this year, we continue to hope to ensure that families can spend Christmas together”.

“We will set out our plans next week.”

11:51 AM

‘Game-changing’: MPs back Boris Johnson’s defence spending spree

Senior Conservatives are backing Boris Johnson’s move to boost the UK’s defence spending, despite it coming at a time when public money is tight. 

Tom Tugendhat, chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted: “This is a game changing by Boris Johnson. 

“Investing seriously in our ability to shape events and develop defence tech is vital for our future and alliances. It changes how we’re seen and how we can act.”

Fellow Tory and former minister Simon Clarke stressed the need to strengthen the UK’s capabilities, pointing to the multiple threats from around the world. 

11:31 AM

No more lockdowns after Christmas, Sage scientist suggests

There will be no more full-blown lockdowns after Christmas, paving the return of the tiered system instead, a Sage scientist has said.

Professor John Edmunds suggested that “exactly what is in tier two and above” would be sufficient to keep on top of the virus, despite fears that loosening restrictions for the festive period might result in a long period of tighter measures.

Yesterday PHE said modelling showed that for every one day of lockdown being lifted, five days of restrictions would be required.

But while Prof Edmunds said some measures would need to be in place, the most draconian measures such as closing non-essential retail could be rolled back.

“I still think we will have to have restrictions in place,” he told ITV’s Peston. “I think we will be asked to work from home wherever we can, with restrictions in meeting families – exactly what is in Tier 2 and above

“With a little window over Christmas where I am sure things will relax to some extent.”

He also suggested self-isolation could be cut to seven days, test them “and if they are clear allow them to go about their normal business”. 

11:28 AM

Scottish independence poses greater threat to business than Brexit, minister claims

Scottish independence poses a greater threat to businesses in Scotland than “any friction” caused by Brexit, a trade minister has said.

Conservative frontbencher Graham Stuart  claimed that Scottish companies complain to him about the “relentless pursuit of Scottish independence”.

Martyn Day, the SNP’s MP for Linlithgow and East Falkirk, raised concerns raised by lorry drivers over a no-deal Brexit, and asked for assurances that there will be minimal disruption.

But Mr Stuart said the Government has been working “flat out” to “minimise the challenges” when the transition period ends on December 31.

He added: “What Scottish businesses raise with me is the biggest threat to their trade isn’t any friction as we move to the new settlement on the EU border.

“It’s the fact that 60 per cent of all Scottish exports go to England, Wales and Northern Ireland – more than the rest of the world combined, and it’s that and the threat (Mr Day) poses to Scottish business in that way that really worries them for the long term.”

11:14 AM

No improvement to number of contacts reached through Test and Trace

Some 60.5 per cent of close contacts of people who tested positive for Covid-19 in England were reached through the Test and Trace system in the week ending November 11, according to the latest figures.

This is unchanged on the previous week, and is also just above the all-time low of 60.1 per cent for the week to October 14.

For cases managed by local health protection teams, 98.9 per cent of contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate in the week to November 11.

For cases managed either online or by call centres, 58.9 per cent of close contacts were reached and asked to self-isolate.

11:12 AM

Planet Normal: MP rebellion over lockdown could be ‘enormous’, says Steve Baker

A MPs rebellion could be “enormous” if lockdown doesn’t end in December, Steve Baker has said. 

Mr Baker said that members of Government have made it clear to the whips that they would vote against a third lockdown. 

It comes after Richard Drax, the Tory MP for South Dorset, said as many as 100 Conservative MPs are willing to rebel against extending the national lockdown after December 2. 

Both Mr Drax and Mr Baker joined 53 Tories in defying the Prime Minister by failing to vote for the second nationwide Covid lockdown.

10:53 AM

Liz Truss dismisses calls to end arms sales to Saudi Arabia

Liz Truss has dismissed calls to follow US president-elect Joe Biden’s lead and shift Britain’s policy on arms sales to Saudi Arabia.

The International Trade Secretary told MPs the Government makes decisions on the basis of “our values in this country” when pressed by Labour to revisit its position.

Speaking in the Commons, shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said: “President-elect Biden has spoken powerfully about the need to end support for the war in Yemen and stop selling arms that Saudi uses, in his words, ‘for murdering children’.

“Can I ask the Secretary of State simply whether she will revisit her policy on arms sales in the light of the new president’s statement, or will she choose to remain in lockstep with the blood prince, bin Salman, instead?”

Ms Thornberry was referring to Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

Ms Truss replied: “I’m proud that we have one of the most rigorous defence export regimes in the world and those are decisions we make on the basis of our values in this country.”

Thousands of people have been killed in Yemen’s civil war, which pitches Iran-backed Houthi rebels against a coalition led by Saudi Arabia in support of the internationally recognised government.

During a Commons debate earlier this year, MPs claimed Saudi Arabia had committed war crimes and that British companies were being allowed to profit from the suffering of the people of Yemen.

10:49 AM

The Jeremy Corbyn fiasco has shown that Keir Starmer is not in control of the Labour Party

It is rare that a show of strength achieves the exact opposite of the intended effect. Alas, Sir Keir Starmer has managed to do just that.

The Labour leader has made stamping out anti-Semitism one of his top priorities since he took over from Jeremy Corbyn and last month brought the first real test of that commitment. The Equalities and Human Rights Commission found that the party had broken discrimination law by allowing Jewish members to be harassed and then systematically ignoring their complaints.

Sir Keir made it clear that anyone downplaying Labour’s anti-Semitism problem should be “nowhere near the Labour Party”. Mr Corbyn immediately broke this rule and, to the startled relief of the Jewish community, was promptly suspended. It all looked so clear. Sir Keir’s authority was absolute and the party he ran was attempting to make a genuinely fresh start.

Well, that didn’t last long.

10:41 AM

Health minister apologises over drop in response rate to parliamentary questions

A health minister has apologised for his department over its response to MPs’ written questions during the pandemic. 

Edward Argar told the Commons that prior to coronavirus, the Department of Health and Social Care had the best response rate of any department in Whitehall. 

However because of the “workload” prompted by the outbreak, that rate has slipped “for which I rightly apologise”, he said. 

But it is “explicable” because of the number of questions sent in – more than 8,000 between March and October, double the number last year. He said the rapidly changing situation means the answers are often out of date, which means they have to be redrafted “with attendant delays”> 

He added that the department is reliant on the “same policy officials” to respond. 

10:20 AM

GCHQ more concerned with image than cost of office for new cyber security centre, report finds

GCHQ’s procurement process for office accommodation for the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) was “unacceptable” and had “an emphasis on image rather than cost”, an influential parliamentary committee has found.

A report by the Intelligence and Security Committee (ISC) said a better decision-making process  in acquiring the central London property would have benefited the public purse.

ISC members Kevan Jones and Stewart Hosie said: “The role of ministers in the process as a whole was highly unsatisfactory, culminating in the then-chancellor overruling the then-national security adviser’s very strong advice to reject Nova South, in order to confirm what GCHQ had made clear was the only option that they would accept. In this regard we note that the then-national security adviser failed to seek a ministerial direction.

“While the procurement process was unacceptable – with an emphasis on image rather than cost – the scope of the committee’s report is solely about that process, which was run by GCHQ. NCSC was at that point still not in existence, and our findings do not reflect in any way on the quality of the NCSC’s work or its overall success as a new institution.” 

10:11 AM

What’s on the agenda today?

Now: Liz Truss and colleagues are answering questions in the Commons

10:30am: Chris Chope has an urgent question on DoHSC responding to written questions about the pandemic, which MPs are increasingly annoyed about. 

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

11:50am: Boris Johnson makes a virtual statement to MPs announcing a four-year £16.5bn boost to defence spending.

12.20pm: Nicola Sturgeon takes First Minister’s Questions in the Scottish parliament.

1pm: Nigel Huddleston, the sports minister, makes a statement to MPs about financial help for sports.

1:40pm Karen Bradley leads a debate on MPs’ virtual participation in Parliament.

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

5pm: Downing Street is expected to hold a press conference.

10:03 AM

Defence budget boost has got Rishi Sunak’s name all over it

Ben Wallace toured the virtual broadcast studios this morning, trumpeting the MoD’s newly bolstered budget for the next four years. 

The £16.5 billion increase – the UK’s largest military investment since the end of the Cold War – is a big internal victory for Mr Wallace, who was rumoured to be facing the heave-ho if and when a Cabinet reshuffle comes. 

But while he can claim credit for being exempt from the one-year spending review that other departments will have to submit to, Rishi Sunak’s team has been quick to ensure the Chancellor’s personal branding is firmly stamped on the social media promos. 

09:52 AM

Camilla Tominey: Boris Johnson doesn’t need to promise people a green future – just a better one

When YouGov last asked voters which were the most important issues facing the country, the environment came pretty low down the pecking order.

Naturally, health topped the latest survey, published on Sunday, with 60 per cent regarding it as a top priority in the face of the coronavirus pandemic. This was followed by the economy, on 57 per cent, and Britain’s departure from the EU, on 50 per cent.

In comparison, the so-called “climate emergency” was prioritised by just 23 per cent of people – only two per cent ahead of asylum and immigration. When you look at the data for the Midlands, that falls to just 19 per cent. In the North it is even lower, at 18 per cent. Of course people care about the planet, but their priority remains doing a day’s work and putting food on the table. 

All of which begs the question – if Boris Johnson is trying to appeal to voters in “Red Wall” seats, why on Earth is he attempting to do it with policies on an issue that is not just a secondary but actually a quaternary concern for his new-found supporters?

09:41 AM

Boris Johnson: Defence of the realm is the first duty of government

Ahead of his (virtual) appearance in the Commons today, Boris Johnson has posted a video setting out what the £16.5 billion uplift to the defence budget will do. 

“The defence of the realm is the first duty of government,” the Prime Minister tweeted. 

Watch the video below. 

09:38 AM

Dutch Brexit Muppet makes a return as negotiations reach ‘final push’

Brexit negotiating teams are in the “final push” for a trade agreement with Britain, Michel Barnier told a meeting of EU Commissioners in Brussels on Wednesday. 

Senior diplomats warned that EU governments would demand the European Commission launch emergency no deal plans if a trade accord was not struck by Friday. 

There was a risk that could poison the ongoing negotiations in Brussels, one senior diplomat said, but, with six weeks to go before the end of the year  the EU had no choice but to start work on its no deal safety net.  

Read more here.

Meanwhile, over in the Netherlands, the Brexit Muppet stars in a new video having a shower blowdrying his fur after a shower and having what appears to be a traditional English fry-up (complete with a very milky tea).

09:29 AM

Have your say on: The Christmas conundrum

Yesterday our hopes of a Christmas reprieve from lockdown were given an all-too-brief boost when Dr Susan Hopkins said that for every one day of relaxation from rules, we would need two days of tighter restrictions. 

A few hours later, PHE clarified it was in fact five days, suggesting the window that is being mulled could result in almost an entire month of lockdown measures. 

This morning Sage scientists have suggested there is “too much emphasis” on having as near to normal Christmas as possible, warning of the “tragic” risks it poses to the most vulnerable. Indeed, Defence Secretary Ben Wallace wouldn’t even confirm whether he would risk seeing his elderly parents if it were allowed. 

But after a year of restrictions, people are yearning for contact with their nearest and dearest. So what are you planning to do? Have your say in the poll below. 

09:16 AM

Diana Abbott attacks Keir Starmer over ‘wrong’ decision on Jeremy Corbyn

Labour MP Diane Abbott has attacked the party’s leader for refusing to restore the whip to Jeremy Corbyn, saying it is “wrong” to exclude him. 

The former shadow home secretary suggested Sir Keir Starmer would never have been elected if members had thought “within months he would do this”. 

She tweeted it was “no way to unite the party”, followed by the hashtag #IStandWithJeremyCorbyn. 

09:10 AM

Ben Wallace dodges question about visiting his elderly parents over Christmas

The Defence Secretary has dodged a question about whether he would visit his elderly parents over Christmas, if he thought it might put them at risk. 

Ben Wallace told Radio 4’s Today programme “I would love to get back to normal, I would love us all to have a proper Christmas and a new year”, but stressed a decision would not be taken until closer to the point lockdown is lifted on December 2. 

Noting that he had elderly parents who were in the “cohort” of people most at risk, he was asked if he would visit them during the festive period. 

Instead of answering the question directly, he stressed that the Government would take a “scientific view” of what would be allowed.

“That balance is best defined towards the end of this lockdown” he added.  

Ben Wallace said his parents were in the at-risk cohort - Getty
Ben Wallace said his parents were in the at-risk cohort – Getty

09:07 AM

Ben Wallace: ‘I don’t want to be the Grinch who stole Christmas’

The Defence Secretary has said he does not want to be “the Grinch that stole Christmas” but he wanted to “protect lives”.

He told ITV’s Good Morning Britain: “Come December 2 the decisions will be made that we will try and get that balance right, but ultimately we will try and make sure we protect our NHS and safeguard lives.

“I don’t want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas – I’m not campaigning for that. I would love all of us to be able to have a Christmas, but more than anything I want us to get through this Covid and try and get this country back to normal and I want to protect lives.”

Is the Government going to steal Christmas?
Is the Government going to steal Christmas?

09:06 AM

Government won’t reveal restrictions plan until December, Defence Secretary suggests

The country might not find out what restrictions will be in place after lockdown lifts until December, the Defence Secretary has said. 

Ben Wallace told BBC Breakfast: “The best time to make those decisions about how we can get together for Christmas, how we can get through this festive period, is when we have seen the impact of this lockdown on the figures.

“The best time for me to give you better advice, for the Government to make that decision, is as close to the 2nd of December as possible.

“I know some people would wish to know earlier, but if we were to do it now, and the facts were changing on the ground, we’ll end up having to change it again.”

Ben Wallace: Decision will be taken as close to Dec 2 as possible - Getty
Ben Wallace: Decision will be taken as close to Dec 2 as possible – Getty

08:30 AM

Oxford vaccine head ‘absolutely delighted’ with results

Professor Andrew Pollard, the head of Oxford’s vaccine trial team, said he is “absolutely delighted” with the latest trial results which suggest it produces a strong immune response in older adults, adding it is also “really well tolerated”.

Speaking on the BBC Radio 4 Today programme, he said: “The other thing that we found which I think is really important is the vaccine is really well tolerated in those who are over 55.

“We do know with these vaccines that adults tend to feel a bit ropey the day after they have been vaccinated… but that was very, very much less, particularly in those who are over 70.

“And that’s absolutely great news because if it’s well tolerated that’s going to really help with rollout should we be able to show that the vaccine actually works.

Matt Hancock has also welcomed the news:

08:28 AM

Attempting a near-normal Christmas will ‘throw fuel on the fire’, says Sage scientist

It would be “tragic” to waste the gains made against coronavirus during the second lockdown for a few days over Christmas, a Sage scientist has said. 

Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London (UCL) said mixing at Christmas posed “substantial risks”.

“My personal view is we’re putting far too much emphasis on having a near-normal Christmas,” he added. “We know respiratory infections peak in January so throwing fuel on the fire over Christmas can only contribute to this.”

“We’re on the cusp of being able to protect those elderly people who we love through vaccination and it would be tragic to throw that opportunity away and waste the gains we’ve made during lockdown by trying to return to normality over the holidays.”

He claimed that policies were “undulating” between orders to “stay at home to save lives” and “eat out to help out”, saying it was “a highly inconsistent message.” 

08:25 AM

Jeremy Corbyn ‘constantly makes himself the centre of the argument’ about anti-Semitism, says Margaret Hodge

Jeremy Corbyn’s refusal to accept the extent of anti-Semitism in the Labour party is “really the problem” preventing change, Dame Margaret Hodge has said. 

The veteran Jewish MP told the BBC Today programme that in recent years the party had seen “a culture which sadly has become embedded, which was allowed to drift from the fringes of the Labour Party into the heart of the party, which enables people to express anti-Semitism.”

“Probably my talking to you this morning will fill my Twitter with abusive tweets which are basically anti-Semitic.”

She added: “The terrible truth is that he (Corbyn) constantly makes himself the centre of the argument.

“What we need to root out is anti-Semitism, and for as long as he is one of the individuals who refuses to accept the extent of anti-Semitism in the party, who constantly says that people like me have been politically motivated and are attacking him personally instead of attacking the anti-Semitism that he expressly tolerates, and has allowed to spread right through the party – that’s really the problem.”

Jeremy Corbyn "constantly makes himself the centre of the argument", says Margaret Hodge - Getty
Jeremy Corbyn “constantly makes himself the centre of the argument”, says Margaret Hodge – Getty

08:19 AM

Public ‘reluctant’ to have fast-tracked Covid vaccine, Sage scientist warns

There has been some “reluctance” in the general public towards a new vaccine, which could undermine the “herd immunity” goal, a Government scientific adviser has warned. 

Dr Michael Tildesley, who sits on a Sage sub-group, told BBC Breakfast: “We do need to make sure that when vaccines are available they are available for everybody.

“We do know that among some people there has been a bit of reluctance to have a vaccine, given the speed of development.

“I would say that it is really important that we get a large, high level of uptake when it is available so we can reach herd immunity, that’s really crucial at this point.”

Dr Tildsley added that both long and short-term costs needed to be considered when deciding on an “optimal” vaccine strategy.

08:15 AM

Boris Johnson’s £16.5bn boost to military will give ‘headspace’ to modernise, says Defence Secretary

The Defence Secretary has said the four-year financial deal with an additional £16.5 billion will allow “headspace” to think about how best to modernise the country’s armed forces. 

Ben Wallace said: “It is enough, depending on how your ambition is tailored.

“I’ve been very clear as Defence Secretary that one of the failures of the past reviews was our funding never matched our ambition – that goes for most of the reviews in the last 40 years.

“This means that we can have a proper discussion about what are our global ambitions and how are we going to fund it.

“This very large settlement for defence will allow us to fix the problems that we’ve inherited – the black hole that the NAO obviously identified – and allow headspace to modernise our forces.”

Ben Wallace said the boost to funding meant he could have a "proper discussion about what are our global ambitions and how are we going to fund it" - PA
Ben Wallace said the boost to funding meant he could have a “proper discussion about what are our global ambitions and how are we going to fund it” – PA

08:11 AM

Ben Wallace insists overseas aid will not be ‘abandoned’ despite boost to military budget

Ben Wallace has hinted that overseas aid budget was being cut as a result of a boost to military spending, but insisted it would not be “abandoned”.

The Defence Secretary refused to comment on where the cash would come from, but said: “It is not as simple as just raiding one budget to fund another. A lot of my budget is a capital budget, there are certain rules around where that comes from. So it is not just as straightforward as saying ‘just pinch a bit of this and pinch a bit of that’.”

He insisted the Government was not “abandoning the battlefield of international aid”, but said the “decisions on the numbers” will be revealed by the Chancellor next week.

Mr Wallace added: “Do I support more money for defence? Yes I do, that’s why I put in for a bid. Did I get it? Where it comes from is a matter for the Chancellor.”

08:10 AM

Number of UK troops in Afghanistan ‘will come down’ if US cuts back, says Defence Secretary

The number of British troops in Afghanistan could be reduced if the US goes ahead with their own reductions in the country, the Defence Secretary has said.

Ben Wallace told Sky News: “We’ll see the details. The United States have only just announced the exact number that they are going to reduce to but I suspect if they are reducing, at some stage, we will come down.

“We don’t have a massive force compared to them but we will do what we need to do to keep people safe and ensure that we do our best to ensure that Afghans are kept protected as well.”

08:09 AM

Margaret Hodge suggests she would have quit Labour if Jeremy Corbyn had been reinstated

Dame Margaret Hodge has suggested she would have left the party if Jeremy Corbyn had been reinstated as a Labour MP.

The veteran MP  said: “It was completely wrong for the party to let Corbyn back in under a process that was shown, again, to be broken and politically corrupted, and I think it was completely right of Keir Starmer to deny Jeremy Corbyn the whip.

“Jeremy Corbyn is not a Labour member of Parliament, and that was what made it possible for me to take the decision really that I wouldn’t have to leave the party.

She told the Today programme: “To be honest, on Monday night I just can’t describe the feeling of rejection that I experienced and I know that other Jewish members have experienced.

“I’m sick and tired of talking about Jeremy Corbyn, this isn’t really about him. It’s about Jews, it’s what happening to Jews within the Labour Party – he’s not the victim, we have been the victim of the anti-Semitism.”

Margaret Hodge said "it was completely right of Keir Starmer to deny Jeremy Corbyn the whip" - Getty
Margaret Hodge said “it was completely right of Keir Starmer to deny Jeremy Corbyn the whip” – Getty

07:44 AM

Boris Johnson makes £24bn Armed Forces spending pledge

Boris Johnson has promised “an end to the era of retreat” for Britain’s Armed Forces with a £24 billion spending increase that marks the biggest financial boost since the Cold War.

The Prime Minister pledged to restore the Royal Navy to its position as Europe’s most powerful maritime force and will invest heavily in drones, cyber warfare and space programmes.

Mr Johnson said he had made the decision “in the teeth of the pandemic because the defence of the realm must come first”.

Downing Street said 40,000 jobs would be created over the course of the four-year settlement, which gives the Armed Forces an extra £16.5 billion. That is on top of the 2019 manifesto pledge to increase spending by 0.5 per cent above inflation every year.

It means the Prime Minister and Ben Wallace, the Defence Secretary, have won a lengthy battle with the Treasury to release the funds despite hundreds of billions being spent on the coronavirus response.


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