This article titled “Brexit: controversial internal market bill passes final Commons hurdle — as it happened” was written by Jessica Murray (now), Andrew Sparrow (earlier), for theguardian.com on Tuesday 29th September 2020 20.55 UTC
That’s it for tonight, after another tumultuous evening in the House of Commons.
To recap, MPs voted 340 to 256, majority 84, in favour of the United Kingdom Internal Market Bill at its third reading, despite warnings that the legislation threatens the Union and the country’s global reputation.
Ministers have defended powers contained in the bill, which gives them the opportunity to override the Brexit divorce deal. The Bill will undergo further scrutiny in the Lords at a later date.
The government was forced to compromise earlier in the bill’s passage in the face of a Tory backbench rebellion, which resulted in changes to give MPs a vote before ministers can use the powers which would breach the Withdrawal Agreement brokered with Brussels last year.
Tonight, however, no Conservative MPs rebelled to oppose the bill, according to the division list. Those who did not record a vote included former prime minister Theresa May who voiced concerns about the bill.
Read our full story here:
Theresa May did not vote in tonight’s House of Commons vote on the controversial Internal Markets Bill.
There was speculation she would vote against the bill, after she criticised the government for acting “recklessly and irresponsibly” with the legislation, which would allow ministers to override the Withdrawal Agreement signed with the EU.
However, records show that she did not cast a vote. No Conservative MPs rebelled to oppose the bill, according to the division list.
A total of 21 were listed as recording no vote but this does not necessarily indicate an abstention, and their absence can be for several reasons.
Along with May, those who did not record a vote included former attorneys general Geoffrey Cox and Jeremy Wright, who both voiced concerns about the bill.
The SNP has responded to the Internal Market Bill passing its final hurdle in the Commons, calling it a “power grab bill”
Ian Blackford MP, the SNP’s Westminster leader, said:
By undermining devolution and blatantly ignoring the wishes of the people of Scotland the Tories are burying the idea of the UK as a partnership of equal nations.
The Tories have launched the biggest power grab in the history of devolution … The Bill will not only rob the devolved governments of powers over devolved matters and hoard them in Westminster, it will also signal a race to the bottom in food and environmental standards.
Earlier, the Scottish government set out its opposition to the bill – stating that it undermines devolution and breaches international law. It will recommend that the Scottish parliament declines to grant consent to the bill.
One of the bill’s main aims is to empower ministers to pass regulations, specifically on trade and state aid, even if they are contrary to the withdrawal agreement previously reached with the EU under what is known as the Northern Ireland protocol.
The government declared the legislation will “enable the UK government to provide financial assistance to Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland with new powers to spend taxpayers’ money previously administered by the EU”.
Brexit Bill passes final House of Commons hurdle
The UK Internal Market Bill, which would give the government the power to override the Withdrawal Agreement with the EU, has passed its final hurdle in the House of Commons, with 340 ayes and 256 noes.
There has been significant Tory rebellion over the controversial bill that breaches international law, and there is much speculation over which way Theresa May voted this evening – she has previously condemned the bill as “reckless” and “irresponsible”.
The bill will now move to the Lords, where Johnson faces potentially stiffer opposition, not least from Michael Howard, the former Tory leader who has also condemned the law-breaking plan.
However, the timetable for the Lords has yet to be set out, prompting more speculation that the contentious elements might be aimed more as a negotiating stick for the EU rather than an urgent legal necessity.
Updated at 8.57pm BST
Speaking for Labour on Tuesday, the shadow business minister Lucy Powell said the government was being reckless with the Brexit bill and “using Northern Ireland as a pawn in a wider negotiating strategy”.
She added: “The government are playing a dangerous game, and it’s the people and businesses of Northern Ireland who risk paying the price.”
However, it is widely assumed the bill will progress easily, even with Labour and other opposition parties voting against it.
This is because almost all the Tory rebels are expected to back down, even if some told the Guardian they were only doing so with misgivings, and because the tight Brexit timetable meant the bulk of the bill needed to be in law.
Tobias Ellwood, the former defence minister who abstained in the last vote, said he and some colleague would support the bill out of necessity.
Many people will be far from content, but they recognise the politics of where we sit. We’re just running out of time. If a number of planets were to align we would find ourselves in a worse place where the absence of this legislation could cause more problems on top of no deal.
No deal would be damaging on so many fronts, but for us not to have the basis for an internal market in place, which 80% or 90% of this bill focuses on – you’ve got to have it in place by 1 January
MPs to vote on controversial Brexit bill
A controversial government Brexit bill that breaches international law is expected to pass its final reading in the House of Commons this evening, despite misgivings among Conservative MPs.
The internal market bill, which primarily sets out technical post-Brexit details involving the devolved nations, also gives ministers the power to unilaterally re-write elements of the withdrawal agreement with the EU.
The provisions in the bill have prompted significant disquiet, particularly after the Northern Ireland secretary, Brandon Lewis, told the Commons earlier this month that they did break international law “in a very specific and limited way”.
The subsequent furore saw two Conservative MPs vote against the bill at its initial Commons vote, with 30 more abstaining, although some of these did not vote because they were absent.
There had been speculation that Theresa May could vote against the third reading tonight, although her aides refused to say what her plans were.
Local lockdowns announced in North Wales
New coronavirus restrictions are being introduced in four local authority areas in north Wales.
The measures will come into force at 6pm on Thursday 1 October in Denbighshire, Flintshire, Conwy and Wrexham.
The latest announcement, which affects 504,956 people, means a total of 2.3 million people in Wales are now under tougher coronavirus restrictions.
Vaughan Gething, Wales’ health minister, said: “Large parts of Wales will now be subject to local restrictions but I want to be clear – this is not a national lockdown.
“These are a series of local restrictions to respond to rises in cases in individual areas.”
Early evening summary
- The UK has recorded 7,143 new coronavirus cases – the highest ever daily total. That is more than 3,000 more than the figure yesterday (when the number was depressed because of the weekend) and 269 more than the previous high (6,874 four days ago). And it is higher than anything recorded at the start of the pandemic. But that comparison is potentially misleading because testing is much more widespread now than it was in March and April, when the first wave of coronavirus was at its peak. (See 4.43pm and 4.50pm.)
- Boris Johnson has apologised and said he “misspoke” after wrongly suggesting the “rule of six” limiting public gatherings does not apply outdoors in north-east England, adding to confusion about the latest lockdown rules.
- Boris Johnson has promised to end the “pointless, nonsensical gulf” between university and vocational education, in what he called a “radical” shakeup of funding for post-18 education.
- Some students in England would need to self-isolate and their classes be shifted online in order to go home for Christmas, Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, has announced.
- A prolonged battle against Covid-19 would swallow up a large chunk of the government’s planned increase in public spending and force the chancellor into an unenviable choice between fresh austerity, higher taxes or more borrowing, the Institute for Fiscal Studies has warned.
- The bakery chain Greggs said on Tuesday that job cuts in its stores are inevitable, as a string of household names laid bare the damage done to their finances by coronavirus.
- Charles Moore’s suitability to be the next chair of the BBC has come in for further criticism after the Tory head of the parliamentary culture committee suggested it would be “beyond the pale” to appoint someone who has been convicted for not paying the licence fee.
That’s all from us for now.
A colleague may be picking up the blog later to report on votes on the internal market bill. There is a round of voting starting now, and then the third reading vote a bit later this evening. We’re not sure yet whether there will be much of a Tory revolt. Theresa May spoke very strongly against the bill last week. She said that she could not understand how ministers could support it, and that she would not support it herself. But we don’t know if she will vote against or abstain.
Our coronavirus coverage continues on our global coronavirus live blog.
This is from John Roberts, an actuary and contributor to the Covid-19 Actuaries Response Group.
Health officials have disclosed that 62 University of Aberdeen students have tested positive for Covid-19, many of whom visited a student bar close to campus called the Bobbin.
The cases had occurred in halls of residence, private flats and private-owned student halls across the city. “The cases are currently not being treated as a single cluster. Investigations are ongoing and efforts are being made to identify any linkages between them,” a spokesman for NHS Grampian said.
He added that test and trace officials had visited the Bobbin, on King Street next to a sports and swimming complex used by the university, and taken customers lists away to help contact-tracing.
“There is currently no evidence of spread to the wider community and, working with the university, various control measures have been implemented in an effort to curb the risk of any further transmission,” he said.
On Monday evening Aberdeen university said the behaviour of the vast majority of its students had been exemplary but it restated its threat to fine those who broke the rule of six regulations £250 or to consider suspension or expulsion of any who repeatedly flouted the rules.
Updated at 5.54pm BST
Reaction to Boris Johnson’s skills speech
Here is a summary of some of the reaction to Boris Johnson’s skills speech earlier. (See 2.58pm for a summary.)
Business groups liked it. This is from Joe Fitzsimons, head of education and skills policy at the Institute of Directors.
More action on skills will be absolutely essential to ensuring our economy is fit for the future, particularly as it recovers from coronavirus. More support for flexible learning is an important step in the right direction, while many employers will welcome the focus on upgrading our further education system.
And this is from Jane Gratton, head of people policy at the British Chambers of Commerce.
The government have listened to Chambers and taken an important step toward a more agile adult skills system in the wake of the pandemic.
But unions were sceptical. This is from Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union.
These steps to prevent loss of apprenticeships and support adults returning to study are welcome. But this is not ‘building back better’, it is simply building back from the cuts to the further education sector since 2010.
And this is from Jo Grady, general secretary of the University and College Union.
Further education is in dire need of funding, but that is because Conservative and coalition governments of the last 10 years have decimated it. It is remarkable that the prime minister has the audacity to lament a lack of funding for colleges and to criticise record student debt levels when they are the direct result of decisions taken by his party.
And here are comments from three education specialists.
This is from David Robinson, director of post-16 and skills at the Education Policy Institute.
While it is important to wait for the full details, these new measures are a positive step from the prime minister. Compared to other developed nations, there is a chronic lack of basic qualifications and skills among adults in England – our research shows that as many as 1 in 3 adults do not have a qualification equivalent to A-level or above.
“There is significant employer demand for these qualifications, and research shows that they lead to higher wages and productivity. It’s right that the government is working closely with employers to establish a list of technical courses that will be part of this scheme.
This is from Laura McInerney, head of Teacher Tapp, a teaching app, and a Guardian education commentator.
And these are from Phil Baty at Times Higher Education.
“Parity of esteem” was the phrase Theresa May used when she (like Johnson today) said she wanted more equality between academic and technical education.
Updated at 5.56pm BST
Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle city council, told the BBC this afternoon that Boris Johnson’s confusion over the north-east regulations (see 12.47pm) “sends out the message that they just don’t know what they’re doing”. He said:
They are making it up as they go along, and one of the reasons I have been so frustrated by the announcement they made yesterday, before we had chance to talk to them and get these kinds of details finalised, is that we have had 24 hours of chaos and confusion that was entirely avoidable.
Today’s figures on the coronavirus dashboard also show a small rise in the number of coronavirus patients in hospital in England on mechanical ventilation – 259, up from 245 yesterday. But the overall number of coronavirus patients in hospital in England is marginally down – 1,881, down from 1,883 yesterday.
Here are some tweets that help to place the latest Covid case numbers (see 4.43pm) in context. This is the start of a thread from Raghib Ali from the MRC epidemiology unit at Cambridge University. (He posted it a few days ago, but the argument still holds.)
And this is from the New Statesman’s Harry Lambert, highlighting a graphic in this week’s Economist.
UK gets 7,143 new coronavirus cases – highest ever recorded daily total
The UK government’s coronavirus dashboard has just been updated. Here are the key figures.
- The UK has recorded 7,143 new coronavirus cases – the highest ever daily total. That is more than 3,000 more than the figure yesterday (when the number was depressed because of the weekend) and 269 more than the previous high (6,874 four days ago). And it is higher than anything recorded at the start of the pandemic. But that comparison is potentially misleading because testing is much more widespread now than it was in March and April, when the first wave of coronavirus was at its peak. At that point, according to some estimates, new cases may have been running at well over 100,000 per day. According to the ONS survey (perhaps the most reliable guide), in mid-September new cases were running at around 9,600 per day in England. The graph makes it look as if the situation was worse than it was in the spring, but in reality it’s not.
- The UK has recorded 71 new deaths. That takes the official headline total to 42,072. But this figure is an underestimate because it only counts people who have died within 28 days of testing positive for coronavirus. Overall more than 57,600 people have died from confirmed or suspected coronavirus in the UK.
Updated at 5.15pm BST
At first minister’s questions in Cardiff Mark Drakeford, the first minister, was criticised for not attending this afternoon’s sitting of the Welsh parliament in person.
Drakeford answered questions virtually from the Welsh government offices rather than appearing in the Senedd building on Cardiff Bay.
The Tory leader in Wales, Paul Davies, who was in the chamber, said Drakeford was showing a “disregard” for Welsh democracy.
Under local lockdown restrictions in Cardiff people “must work from home wherever possible” and people are not allowed to travel in or out of the area without a “reasonable excuse”.
Drakeford said every member of the Welsh parliament was equally able to participate whether they attended the Senedd in person or remotely. He said being in the government offices meant he was close to officials. He said: “It is for individual members to make a judgement on how they stay within the law.”
There has been talk of postponing next year’s Welsh parliament elections because of the pandemic but Drakeford said he was keen for them to take place.
Updated at 5.06pm BST
Welsh first minister urges Johnson to impose travel restrictions on England’s high-Covid areas
The Welsh first minister, Mark Drakeford, has written to Boris Johnson to raise the issue of people who live in Covid hotspots in England being able to travel freely to Wales. He wrote:
I have significant concerns about the potential infection risks arising when people travel from areas of high infection to other parts of the UK.
We have taken a decision in Wales to place travel limits on people living in each of our areas under local restrictions, with the primary objective of limiting the spread of the virus.
These mean that people in these areas are not allowed to leave their local areas without a reasonable excuse. My concern … is that under the current model of local restrictions in England, people living in high-infection areas are still able to – and do – travel long distances from these areas into others, potentially spreading the virus well beyond their locality. This is clearly of particular concern in cross-border areas.
I ask that you give urgent consideration to the introduction of similar travel restrictions in the current high infection areas of England to those we have here in Wales.
Updated at 5.07pm BST
An independent councillor in a Covid-19 hotspot in south Wales has been strongly criticised for promoting conspiracy theories linking the virus with 5G masts.
Mark Holland, a councillor in Blaenau Gwent, wrote on his personal Facebook page: “Disgraceful, this is not a joke. People are suffering, businesses are going bust, people are losing their livelihoods. All for the sake of a so-called virus that is being used to disguise radiation from 5G masts. Coincidentally, Brynmawr now has a spike, ironic that it also has a mast??”
The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said: “All of our elected representatives should be very clear that these are conspiracy theories.”
Steve Thomas, leader of the council’s Labour group, said the posts sent a “dangerous” message.
Former Sainsbury’s chief executive replaces NHS boss as testing director at test and trace
An NHS boss has been replaced as the testing director of the government’s beleaguered NHS test-and-trace programme by a former chief executive of Sainsbury’s.
Mike Coupe is succeeding Sarah-Jane Marsh, who is returning to her usual role, as chief executive of Birmingham Women’s and Children’s NHS trust.
The switch increases the number of senior figures in test and trace with a commercial background and reduces those whose background is in the NHS, public health or local government.
In an email to test-and-trace staff today announcing the change Dido Harding, its interim executive chair, said that Coupe “will bring a wealth of experience in large scale supply chains, logistics and digital transformation”. He will carry out the role until Christmas, according to the Health Service Journal, which first reported the move.
Marsh joined test and trace at its inception in May. She has helped drive a major expansion in the number of tests it undertakes, which Boris Johnson has pledged will hit 500,000 a day by the end of October. She was due to leave in early August but agree to stay on, the HSJ said.
She attracted publicity on 8 September when she tweeted her “heartfelt apologies” to people who could not get a test.
She blamed delays on an inability by laboratories to analyse swab results quickly enough.
Updated at 4.40pm BST
In Northern Ireland there have been 320 further coronavirus cases, but no further deaths, according to the latest update from the Department of Health in Northern Ireland.
Commons liaison committee joins calls for MPs to get prior votes on new lockdown rules
Sir Bernard Jenkin, the Brexiter Tory, was chosen by No 10 earlier this year to chair the Commons liaison committee, the body that gets to question the prime minister around three times a year. Normally the committee chooses its own chair and Downing Street’s involvement led to suspicions that Jenkin was being offered the job because he was seen as a compliant stooge. If that was the theory, it hasn’t worked out quite as planned because today Jenkin has thrown the weight of the committee behind the campaign for MPs to be given more say on emergency legislation.
Jenkin made the move in an open letter to the PM (pdf) following up on various issues raised when he gave evidence to it two weeks ago. Tomorrow MPs are due to debate a motion to extend powers in the Coronavirus Act. Dozens of Tories have backed a call for the government to agree that in future they will get to vote on emergency lockdown provisions before they come into force – currently MPs only get a vote, if at all, after the regulations have become law – and Jenkin says most members of the liaison committee want to see this happen. He says:
Various proposals are being made that would require the approval by a vote of the House of Commons before or immediately after new restrictions come into force. The majority of us support this principle and expect that the government will also wish to accept it. The idea that such restrictions can be applied without express parliamentary approval, except in dire emergency, is not widely acceptable and indeed may be challenged in law. We trust the government will accept a suitable amendment or agree a motion to that effect, at the earliest possible opportunity at or before the debate on Wednesday.
Amongst other points in his letter, Jenkin suggests that council public health officials should be given more responsibility for contact tracing (an argument that has also been made forcefully by Labour council leaders, like Gateshead’s Martin Gannon – see 10.41am).
And Jenkin also asks Johnson to justify his claim in the Commons last week that test and trace has “very little or nothing” to do with the spread of coronavirus. Jenkin suggests it is hard to square this with what other ministers have said about the importance of contact tracing.
The UK has imposed sanctions including an asset freeze and travel ban on the Belarus’ president, Alexander Lukashenko, in response to human rights abuses following his disputed re-election. As PA Media reports, the measures also apply to seven other leading figures in his regime, including the president’s son and national security adviser, Viktor Lukashenko. The full details are here.
Updated at 3.42pm BST
There have been three further coronavirus deaths in Wales, and 366 new cases, Public Health Wales has said in its latest update.
More than 110 people are in Lancashire’s hospitals with coronavirus, and 20 of those are in intensive care, public health officials have said. As PA Media reports, restrictions limiting household mixing have been in place throughout the county since last week.
Dr Sakthi Karunanithi, director of public health for Lancashire county council, said:
There are rumours that people aren’t getting ill, that hospital admissions are low. From someone who has been working on this from the beginning and speaks to frontline workers in our NHS every day, this is far from the truth. We are starting to see hospitalisations rise and unfortunately, with this, excess deaths will be inevitable, especially as we enter the difficult winter period.
We’ve done one lockdown and I’m sure we took many positive experiences from that – spending more time outdoors appreciating nature, quality time with our loved ones and taking the time to slow down. But if we’re being honest, none of us want to go through that again, but what we are facing is a very real prospect of this.
The restrictions in place now may seem draconian but they are far from a true lockdown scenario. We’re simply asking people to avoid mixing beyond their own households and be responsible. If we all take small steps to achieve that, we will get the numbers down in time.
No further deaths have been reported in Scotland but, as Nicola Sturgeon said at her briefing, 806 new cases of coronavirus had been recorded, and 11.5% of all tests carried out were positive. Yesterday the figures were 222 and 6.9% respectively (although Sturgeon said at the time that those figures should be treated with caution, because they came after a weekend).
Updated at 3.43pm BST
PM: ‘huge number’ of people will need to find new jobs over next decade as Covid accelerates change
The full text of Boris Johnson’s skills speech is now on the No 10 website here. The policy announcements in it were extensively trailed in advance (see here) but the speech itself was still quite interesting, partly because of what it said about jobs, and partly because it marked the moment when Johnson joined the very, very long list of British ministers over the years calling for vocational education to be taken more seriously. (I first covered one in Cardiff as a trainee reporter 30 years ago, but the tradition goes back 100 years or so, as Johnson himself admitted.) Whether Johnson has any more success at this than his predecessors, of course, remains to be seen.
Here are the main points.
- Johnson said that he wanted to end the “pointless, nonsensical gulf” between academic and vocational education for over-18s. He said:
We’ve got to end the pointless, nonsensical gulf that has been fixed for generations – more than 100 years – between the so-called academic and the so-called practical varieties of education.
It’s absurd to talk about skills in this limited way. Everything is ultimately a skill – a way of doing something faster, better, more efficiently, more accurately, more confidently, whether it is carving, or painting, or brick laying, or writing, or drawing, or mathematics, Greek philosophy; every single study can be improved not just by practice but by teaching.
So now is the time to end this bogus distinction between FE and HE.
- He said that he wanted to achieve this by giving FE colleges access to the main student finance system. And he said the government would “move to a system where every student will have a flexible lifelong loan entitlement to four years of post-18 education”. He went on:
Suddenly, with that four-year entitlement, and with the same funding mechanism, you bring universities and FE closer together; you level up between them, and a new vista of choice opens up.
- He said a “huge number” of people were going to have to change jobs over the next decade. He said:
Of the workforce in 2030, 10 years from now, the vast majority are already in jobs right now. But a huge number of them are going to have to change jobs – to change skills – and at the moment, if you’re over 23, the state provides virtually no free training to help you …
So suppose you work in retail or hospitality, and you think you are going to need to find a new job. And before Covid people were already shopping more online, and already sending out for food. But the crisis has compressed that revolution.
So let’s imagine that you are 30 years old, and you left school without A-levels, and you are thinking you could find a job – you were in retail or hospitality –you could find a job in the wind farm sector in the north-east, or in space technology in Newquay, or in construction here in Exeter, or retrofitting homes so as to reduce carbon …
You have a huge range of options – in theory – but you need that technical knowhow, you need that A-level equivalent qualification; and we will fund it. We will give you the skills you need.
Updated at 3.20pm BST
Blaenau Gwent has the highest and fastest rising case rate for Covid-19 infection in the UK, according to analysis from the BBC.
A case rate of 304.9 positive results per 100,000 in the week to 25 September was reported by Public Health Wales. The rate is higher than areas in the north-west and north-east of England.
Blaenau Gwent is one of 12 areas across south Wales that are under local lockdown restrictions.
NHS England has recorded 44 new coronavirus hospital deaths. It says the people who died were aged between 47 and 99 years old and all had known underlying health conditions. The details are here.
EU officials have poured cold water over suggestions that Brexit talks on the brink of a breakthrough that could lead to intensified “tunnel” negotiations in the coming weeks.
As British and EU negotiators met today to resume discussions on a trade and security deal, Brussels sources cautioned against the idea the two sides were about to enter the so-called tunnel – a period of intensified talks when negotiators meet round the clock under a media blackout.
EU chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, thinks it is too soon to judge if the UK and EU are going to reach an agreement that would merit intensified tunnel talks, also known as the “submarine” in Brussels argot. “We only go into the tunnel if there is going to be light at the end of it,” said an EU official.
“People are getting carried away with the positive mood music before we even sit down to negotiate,” the person added.
This week is the last scheduled round of Brexit talks, which are due to conclude on Friday with a meeting between Barnier and his British opposite number, David Frost. Most time will be dedicated to three big stumbling blocks: fair competition rules for the UK to have zero-tariff access to the EU market, fishing rights and the dispute settlement system that underpins the entire agreement.
An EU diplomat said Barnier was ready to start working on a legal text, but only if he was convinced that Boris Johnson was willing to move on these points. “Everything depends on the UK approach and their willingness to signal an opening,” the person said.
Updated at 2.50pm BST
In his Commons statement Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, also announced that he will be seeking to dock vice chancellors of their bonuses as a result of what he described as the “crisis”.
Laura Trott, the Conservative MP for Sevenoaks, asked Williamson to consider stopping university leaders receiving bonuses this year unless students having to take online courses had their fees lowered.
Calling the question “incredibly important”, Williamson said “excessive vice chancellor pay” remained a problem and revealed that he will ask the higher education regulator for England, the Office for Students, to intervene. He said:
I’ll be asking for the Office for Students to look at this and give very strong and clear steers on this matter, to ensure that there aren’t bonuses going out as a result of this crisis.
Updated at 2.48pm BST
Gavin Williamson has now finished his Commons statement on students returning to university. Many MPs spoke out strongly in favour of student life being allowed to continue normally as far as possible. Here are some examples.
Sir Edward Leigh (Con) said:
We cannot destroy the life chances of the young. If you’re doing history, you cannot be condemned to permanent online teaching, you might as well sit at home. Why have you paid all this money?
Sammy Wilson (DUP) said:
The climate of fear deliberately created by ministers and their advisers has done untold damage to individuals and the economy as a whole. It’s now hit students and universities with lock-ups of students, students being denied face-to-face education and unable to engage in the activities we’d normally associate with student life – and yet they’re expected to pay the full price for this sub-standard opportunity in higher education.
Jerome Mayhew (Con) said:
Surely the right approach is despite the virus we all have to get on with our lives as best we can, and that includes students.
And Huw Merriman (Con) urged Williamson to “inject some positivity” into the debate. He said:
Going to university is the most amazing opportunity. Yes, it will be different this year. But our young people are durable, they are flexible, and they will take this opportunity that is afforded to them in the way that generations before them have.
Updated at 2.46pm BST
More than 1,000 state schools in England not fully open, latest figures show
The number of schools in England affected by coronavirus outbreaks has continued to rise, with secondary schools hardest hit, according to official figures published by the Department for Education in England.
The proportion of schools reporting that they were not “fully open” because of Covid-19 cases has risen by 50%, while the number of schools closed completely appears to have doubled in the space of a week.
While 93% of schools said they were fully open, the proportion who reported they were not fully open due to suspected or confirmed cases of Covid-19 jumped to 6% last week, compared with 4% the week before.
Across England that would equate to more than 1,000 state schools classed as not fully open. The DfE defines schools as “fully open” if they are able to provide face-to-face teaching for all pupils on roll for the whole school day and they have not asked a group of pupils to self-isolate.
The number of secondary schools unable to fully open increased dramatically in the space of a week. On 17 September 92% were fully open, but by last Thursday the proportion fell to 84%. That would suggest that more than 500 secondary schools have been affected, which would be one in six. The DfE said that the closures were “mostly due to Covid-19 related reasons”.
Pupil absences remained unchanged at 88% across all schools, but in secondary schools the absence rate dipped further to 84% from 86% the previous week.
There was also a small increase in the number of schools closed completely last week. The DfE said that 99.8% of state schools and settings were open in some form, compared with 99.9% the week before.
That would suggest around 40 schools in England were completely closed at the end of last week.
Johnson apologises for not giving proper answer to north-east lockdown question
Boris Johnson has apologised for not giving a proper answer earlier to the question about the new restrictions for the north east of England. (See 12.47pm.)
One reason for the confusion is that the government has been trying to stop some types of social mixing by law (ie, by making them illegal) and others by guidance (ie, just by asking people to refrain). Johnson’s first tweet implicitly acknowledges this. In the north-east people are being asked not to meet their friends in a pub garden, but the law covering inter-household mixing (as the government puts it) only covers indoor meetings.
Updated at 3.41pm BST
Scottish ministers have released another £1.1bn for health boards and social care partnerships to spend on tackling the coronavirus, including extra staffing and infection prevention.
Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, said the funding would also go on buying protective equipment, adding to the record £15bn in health and social care funding allocated in this year’s budget. She said:
The health and social care sector has a critical frontline role in responding to the single greatest public health crisis of our lifetimes.
The announcement, which follows sharply increased funding from the Treasury for the UK’s devolved governments, came as Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, said testing had detected 806 new cases – although many of those were delayed by a lag in results coming through.
She said a “significant majority” of those cases were amongst under 40s, and the bulk of those were under 25s, following a surge of infections at university halls of residence around the country. They included 302 new cases in Greater Glasgow and Clyde, 180 in Lothian and 91 in Lanarkshire.
Western Isles NHS confirmed the outbreak in South Uist and Eriskay had grown to 19 confirmed cases, with one person airlifted on Monday to the Queen Elizabeth University hospital in Glasgow. Access to the local hospital has been restricted to essential visits only, the health board said.
The outbreak marks the first significant Covid-related event in the Western Isles, which had had the UK’s lowest infection rate: before the outbreak emerged last week, it had reported only seven cases and no deaths since the start of the pandemic.
Updated at 1.58pm BST
Angela Rayner, Labour’s deputy leader, has said that Boris Johnson’s inability to give a clear explanation of the new coronavirus restriction in the north east of England (see 12.47pm) was “absolutely dire”.
Williamson says all students can go home for Christmas – but might have to self-isolate first
In the Commons Gavin Williamson, the education secretary for England, has just delivered a statement on students and coronavirus.
He said the government would work to ensure that all students can return home for Christmas if they want to. But that could involve students having to self-isolate towards the end of term, and give up in-person teaching, he said.
He told MPs:
I know there has been some anxiety about the impact safety measures will have on the Christmas holidays.
Students are important members of the communities that they choose to study in. We expect them to follow the same guidance as those same local communities.
We are going to work with universities to make sure that all students are supported to return home safely and spend Christmas with their loved ones if they choose to do so.
In this context, it is essential we put in place measures to ensure this can happen while minimising the risk of transmission.
Where there are specific circumstances that warrant it, there may be a requirement for some students to self-isolate at the end of term and we will be working with the sector to ensure this will be possible, including ending in-person learning early if that is deemed to be necessary.
Williamson said the DfE would publish guidance covering this shortly “so that every student will be able to spend Christmas with their family”.
Updated at 2.36pm BST
Johnson’s Q&A – Summary
Here are the main points from Boris Johnson’s Q&A. (I will post more on the speech later.)
- Johnson was unable to give a clear explanation of how the new restrictions coming into force in the north east will work. He was asked by Andy Bell from 5 News whether people from different households would be able to meet in a pub garden. This morning Gillian Keegan, the education minister, was unable to say. (See 9.39am.) Johnson replied:
On the rule of six, outside the areas such as the north east where extra measures have been brought in, it’s six inside, six outside. And in the north east and other areas where extra tight measures have been brought in, you should follow the guidance of local authorities. But it’s six in a home, six in hospitality, but, as I understand it, not six outside. That’s the situation there.
But, clearly for everybody watching this, and I appreciate that this is one of those things that people will feel is confusing, just bear in mind that we are fighting a pandemic with the tools that we have, which is the great common sense of this country. It was very, very effective in March and April, it worked in driving the virus down. We need it to work again. Follow the guidance, wash your hands, cover your face in the settings, in enclosed spaces where you should, keep your distance, get a test if you have symptoms – that’s the most effective thing we can do.
But in the areas where particular measures have been brought in by local councils or the government, then look at the guidance for what exactly you should do in those cases.
This morning the Department of Health has said that under the new restrictions in the north east inter-household mixing outside (such as in a pub garden) won’t be illegal. But the England-wide “rule of six” will still apply. In his answer Johnson came close to getting this right: “not … outside”. But he actually said “not six outside”, which implied the rule of six does not apply to outside gatherings, even though it does. By adding “as I understand it” Johnson signalled that he was not entirely sure and, returning to the question at the end of his answer, he just advised people to check the guidance, again implying uncertainty.
This answer will reinforce claims that the rules – and, in particular, the interaction of national and local ones – are becoming increasingly confusing.
- Johnson defended the decision to force pubs to close at 10pm. Yesterday Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, said this was probably doing more harm than good. But Johnson said:
What I would say about hospitality – no one wants to impose a curfew or a limit of any kind but you’ve got to look at the spread of this disease and that it is spread by human contact.
I’m afraid the hospitality sector is an obvious place of transmission of coronavirus.
We have to get it down and that’s what we’re doing, that’s what the country is again doing together.
- He denied suffering from long Covid. Asked if he was experience long-term health effects, after being hospitalised at Easter, he replied:
I can certainly tell you I’m fitter than I was before, it may irritate you to know. I’m as fit as a butcher’s dog. Thanks basically to losing weight. I hesitate to give anybody any advice but losing weight is a very good thing when you reach 17 stone 6 as I did at a height of about 5 foot 10, it’s probably a good idea to lose weight and that’s what I’ve done.
- He refused to say whether students should receive a discount from universities. That was a matter for universities and students to address, he said.
- He hinted that MPs would get new opportunities to debate lockdown measures. Asked about the Tory revolt on this issue, he said MPs would get “an opportunity to talk about these issues, to debate them properly, and discuss them as parliamentarians should”.
Updated at 2.05pm BST
Boris Johnson is due to hold a press conference tomorrow with Prof Chris Whitty, the government’s chief medical adviser, and Sir Patrick Vallance, its chief scientific adviser, No 10 has just announced.
Asked if he was suffering from long Covid, Johnson said that he was fitter than he was before and as “fit as a butcher’s dog”. He said what had made the difference was losing weight.
His Q&A is over. I will post a summary shortly.
Here is some comment from journalists on Boris Johnson’s failure to give a clear answer to the question about what the new restrictions in the north east mean. (See 11.57am.)
No one seems entirely clear yet as to whether what he did say about the rules was right or wrong – but that’s partly because it was not very clear what he was saying.
From the Telegraph’s Gordon Rayner
From Sky’s Kate McCann
From the Mirror’s Dan Bloom
From the FT’s Jim Pickard
From the Mirror’s Pippa Crerar
Updated at 12.36pm BST
Q: Are you comfortable introducing rules banning singing and dancing in pubs?
Johnson says no one in their right mind would want to introduce rules like this.
But he says we need to combat the virus.
Johnson unable to clarify details of how new lockdown rules work in north east England
Q: In the north east can people meet people from outside their household in a pub garden? People find these rules confusing.
Johnson says the rule of six means you can only meet six people, inside or outside.
In the north east, he says, people must follow the rules.
As he understands it, he says, “it is not six outside”.
He repeats the point about how people need to look at the guidance in areas where local lockdown rules apply.
- Johnson unable to clarify details of how new lockdown rules work in north east.
Updated at 12.00pm BST
Q: The migration advisory committee says we need more care workers, and more workers in other sectors. (See 11.31am.) Do we need more foreign workers?
Johnson says over many years we have been able to attract lots of talented people from around the world.
He says he remains open to the UK being a beacon for “scientific geniuses” and other talented people who want to work here.
He says he supports a points-based migration system.
Q: Should students get a discount on their tuition fees?
Johnson says that is a matter for students and universities. He hopes students will continue to get value from their education.
Johnson is now taking questions.
Q: Unemployment is going up. People need help now. Why are you saying people have to wait until next April? And you say not all jobs are viable. Does that mean you think the retail sector won’t recover?
Johnson says the government is investing a huge amount in job support.
Today he is talking about life-long learning, he says.
On retail, he says he won’t say that any particular sector faces mortal change.
But there will be change. “Not every job will be the same,” he says.
Updated at 12.34pm BST
Johnson says he wants to close the gap with other countries that “thought they had the edge on us” in skills and vocation training.
He says he wants to end the “snooty” and “vacuous” distinction between vocational and non-vocational training.
And that’s it. The speech is over.
Johnson says that from next April adults without an A-level will be able to get a free college course.
And this is what No 10 says about this in its news release.
Adults without an A-Level or equivalent qualification will be offered a free, fully-funded college course – providing them with skills valued by employers, and the opportunity to study at a time and location that suits them.
This offer will be available from April in England, and will be paid for through the National Skills Fund. A full list of available courses will be set out shortly.
Higher-education loans will also be made more flexible, allowing adults and young people to space out their study across their lifetimes, take more high quality vocational courses in further education colleges and universities, and to support people to retrain for jobs of the future.
These reforms will be backed by continued investment in college buildings and facilities – including over £1.5bn in capital funding. More details will be set out in a further education white paper later this year.
Updated at 12.33pm BST
Johnson says a huge number of people are going to have to change jobs, and change skills, over the next decade.
But, if you are over 23, the state provides very little help, he says.
He says training boot camps are being rolled out.
Here is the explanation from the No 10 news release.
Boot camps are employer-led, short, flexible training courses for adults, linked to guaranteed interviews and tailored to meet business and economic demand across the country. The first phase of boot camps will start over the next few weeks in the West Midlands, Greater Manchester, Lancashire and Liverpool with digital courses such as cloud services, full stack, digital for advanced manufacturing and cybersecurity. Some of these courses will be aimed at specific groups such as a Women in Tech course.
The second phase of boot camps will be trialled in West Yorkshire, the South West and Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire.
Updated at 12.32pm BST
Johnson says at the moment people feel they have only one chance for post-18 education. So they opt for a degree.
In future, he says, he would like people to think they can do a one-year course – because the option of doing a degree will be available later.
Updated at 12.30pm BST
Johnson says we have to end the “pointless, non-sensical gulf” between vocational and non-vocational education.
He says, ultimately, all study involves learning to do something better.
He says he wants to “end this bogus distinction between FE [further education] and HE [higher education].
- Johnson says he wants to end “bogus distinction” between FE and HE.
He says FE colleges will get access to the higher-education funding system for some courses.
And he says eventually wants to ensure every students gets access to four years of post-18 education.
Updated at 12.29pm BST
Johnson says not every college is an excellent as the one he is speaking at, Exeter College.
He says apprenticeships will be expanded.
And he wants more of them to be portable, he says.
- Johnson says he wants to make apprenticeships more portable.
Updated at 12.28pm BST
Johnson says the economy has been shaken by Covid.
He says he has been touring laboratories where people have been working flat out.
He says the post-18 education system is not endowing young people with the right skills.
He says he is not criticising universities. He loves universities. But many students are leaving university and going into non-graduate jobs, he says.
Were they given the chance to train for other jobs?
He says we have too many graduates with skills that won’t get them a job, and too few people with the skills for the jobs available.
Boris Johnson’s speech
Boris Johnson has just started his speech on adult learning now. He is in Exeter.
Here is our preview.
Care sector faces ‘stark’ challenge after Brexit unless workers paid more, migration advisers warn
Priti Patel, the home secretary, has been warned that the threat to the social care sector is “stark” unless care workers get paid more. The warning has come in a letter from the migration advisory committee, which was set up to advise the government on immigration issues. It says the problem will become particularly acute when free movement ends in 2021, after the Brexit transition.
In a letter to Patel, the MAC chair Brian Bell said:
The MAC has argued for some years now that funding social care to a level that enables higher wages to be paid, and consequently makes jobs more attractive to the domestic workforce, is the right way to address the workforce issues in the sector, rather than relying on 15 migrant workers to fill the gaps. The risks of this funding increase not happening in a timely manner are stark. If that does not occur, or occurs with substantial delay, we would expect the end of freedom of movement to increase the pressure on the social care sector, something that would be particularly difficult to understand at a time when so many care occupations are central to the Covid-19 pandemic frontline response.
Bell wrote to Patel summarising the findings of MAC’s review of the shortage occupation list published today. The report (pdf), which runs to more than 600 pages, recommends that senior care workers and nursing assistants, as well as some other occupations, should be added to the shortage occupation list. People doing jobs on the list are subject to lower minimum salary requirements than other migrant workers.
Pubs in Northern Ireland to be forced to close at 11pm, Arlene Foster announces
Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland will have to shut from 11pm, Arlene Foster, the first minister, has announced. The rule will come into force tomorrow at midnight, and it will cover wedding receptions too. These are from the BBC’s Jayne McCormack.
A restaurant employee in Northern Ireland caused the business to briefly close and triggered a Covid-19 alert after falsely claiming to have the virus so he could get off work.
Moira Pizzeria in County Down apologised to customers and said it had been misled. In a Facebook post it said:
It turns out that the staff member claimed to have had a positive test as he had other plans for the weekend. This is deeply embarrassing and has caused a great detail of distress for our staff and customers.
As a business we tried to act responsibly, we closed and went public straight away for the protection of our staff and customers. It is only right that we share this new information for the same reason regardless of the cost to ourselves or our reputation.
The employee no longer works at the restaurant and none of his colleagues have tested positive or displayed symptoms, said the post. Customers posted mostly supportive messages. The Guardian has contacted Moira Pizzeria for additional details.
Gateshead leader says he’s ‘absolutely furious’ about how councils sidelined in test and trace process
In an interview with BBC News Martin Gannon, the leader of Gateshead council, went beyond what he told the Today programme about the government’s handling of the latest restrictions being “a bit chaotic”. (See 9.15am.) He said they should not have been necessary. The national lockdown earlier this year got the virus under control. But the government then refused to give councils what they needed to do contact tracing locally, he said.
We could have controlled [the virus]. We have the expertise here. We have the pathology labs and the technology. We have the resources, we have the people there able to do the work. All we needed was the reagents and the kits supplied to us, rather than being sent away to national contractors. God only knows what they are doing with them.
So it’s been the government’s failure, in terms of test, trace and trace, which is getting us to this place, which means we’re now back in a situation where the virus is out of control. And, frankly, that makes me absolutely furious.
Gannon said he and other council leaders in the north east of England had repeatedly been asking central government for the ability to carry out contact tracing locally. The private contractors running NHS Test and Trace for the government “haven’t go the foggiest idea what they’re doing”, he said.
As an example, he said that recently a mobile testing centre was sent to Gateshead that in theory could carry out 400 tests per day. But it was only doing 60 tests per day, because the national laboratories could not handle any more. He said there was a regional pathology centre only a mile away which would have been able to handle the tests if the local authorities had been in charge instead.
Deaths involving Covid-19 increase in six of nine English regions, ONS weekly figures show
The Office for National Statistics has published its weekly death figures for England and Wales. Here are the key points.
- Coronavirus deaths only accounted for 1.5% of deaths in England in the week ending 18 September. That amounted to 139 deaths. But that was 40 more Covid deaths than the previous week.
- The number of deaths involving coronavirus increased in six of the nine English regions.
- In Wales there were five deaths involving coronavirus in the week ending 18 September, up from one death the previous week.
- The overall number of deaths in England and Wales in the week ending 18 September was 2.8% above the five-year average.
Updated at 10.25am BST
In an interview with the BBC this morning Nick Forbes, the leader of Newcastle city council, expanded on the criticisms of the government’s handling of the lockdown announcement that he made last night. (See 9.15am.)
The problem that we’ve got is not just that the secretary of state has made an announcement without any kind of understanding about the impact on affected businesses, and the potential for job losses. But also, by doing it in a very knee-jerk way, it means that we haven’t got the right communication messages in place locally, and as a result confusion and chaos spreads which actually undermines the very messages that we are trying to get across to the public.
David Nabarro, a World Health Organisation special envoy on coronavirus, told the Today programme this morning that governments would not defeat coronavirus just by imposing every stricter rules. What mattered was getting people to comply with social distancing voluntarily, he said.
This war, and I think it’s reasonable to call it a war, against this virus, which is going to go on for the foreseeable future, is not going to be won by creating tougher and tougher rules that attempt to control people’s behaviour.
The only way that we will come out ahead of this virus is if we’re all able to do the right thing in the right place at the right time because we choose to do it.
I think we will get the point, I just hope that it doesn’t require a lot more people to end up in hospital and dying for us all to get the point, that all of us, all of us, have to be rigorous about physical distance, wearing masks, hygiene, isolating when we’re sick and protecting those who are most vulnerable.
Labour condemns government ‘incompetence’ after minister doesn’t know detail of latest local lockdown
Gillian Keegan, an education minister, was doing the morning broadcast round for the government this morning, talking about the skills announcement, but she came a cropper on the Today programme when the presenter, Mishal Husein, asked if people in the areas of the north east affected by the new restrictions would be able to meet people from another household in a pub garden. Keegan replied:
I’m sorry I can’t clarify that. I don’t know the answer to that question but I’m sure they can find out the answer to that question.
Pressed on how people are meant to keep up to date with the latest restrictions when ministers cannot, she said:
I’m sorry I can’t answer that question. I’m sure there are many people who could. I don’t represent the north east.
Commenting on her interview for Labour, the shadow health minister Alex Norris said:
It speaks volumes that even the government’s own ministers don’t know what’s going on. This will do little to inspire public confidence in the north east and across the country.
The Conservatives’ incompetence is hampering our response to this pandemic.
The government press release issued last night implies that the ban on “inter-household mixing” (as they call it) only applies to indoor settings (which would mean meeting in a pub garden would be okay), but I will seek some clarification.
Updated at 9.42am BST
Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has also been speaking out about the way the government is imposing local coronavirus restrictions. In a tweet, he says it is unfair that Bolton’s pubs are closed, while pubs are open in areas with higher Covid rates.
Johnson faces backlash over ‘chaotic’ announcement of latest local lockdown
Good morning. Boris Johnson is giving a major speech this morning and it’s a rare example of prime ministerial intervention not mainly focused on coronavirus. He is speaking about post-18 education, and he will say he’s “transforming the foundations of the skills system so that everyone has the chance to train and retrain”. It is the part of the “levelling up” agenda he wanted to be focusing on if it had not been for coronavirus.
But he will be taking questions, and it won’t be long before he gets dragged back to Covid. This morning he is facing a strong backlash from council leaders in the north east over the way the new restrictions there were announced yesterday.
Last night Nick Forbes, the Labour leader of Newcastle city council, posted this on Twitter.
And this is what Martin Gannon, the Labour leader of Gateshead council, told the Today programme this morning.
It was announced in the House of Commons and we were not told beforehand that announcement was going to be made. However, we had had discussions last week that led us to believe that this was going to happen. We just weren’t pre-warned that it was actually going to happen. It didn’t help.
I got inundated with telephone calls and emails last night from people asking, ‘Can we do this, can we do that?’ and actually I didn’t have the precise wording of the regulations in front of us.
So it is a bit chaotic the way these things happen, Nick [Forbes] was quite right to be annoyed about that.
Here is the agenda for the day.
9.30am: The ONS publishes its weekly death figures for England and Wales.
9.30am: The Commons health committee takes evidence from Prof Jacqueline Dunkley-Bent, the chief midwifery officer for NHS England, and others on the safety of maternity services in England.
11am: The former MI6 chief Sir John Scarlett speaks at a RUSI event on EU-UK security and intelligence co-operation after Brexit.
Morning: Boris Johnson gives a speech on adult skills. As my colleague Simon Murphy reports, he will announce that adults without A-levels are to be offered a free college course.
12.15pm: The Scottish government is expected to hold its daily coronavirus briefing.
After 12.30pm: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, gives a statement to MPs on the return of students to university.
After 1.30pm: MPs start the final day of debate on the internal market bill.
3pm: Lord Heseltine, the former Conservative deputy PM, gives evidence to a Lords committee on employment and the coronavirus crisis.
Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, like the PM’s speech, and where they seem more important and interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Updated at 9.55am BST
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