Boris Johnson says he intends to scrap Covid isolation rules as new ‘party’ photo emerges – live

 

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article titled “Boris Johnson says he intends to scrap Covid isolation rules as new ‘party’ photo emerges – live” was written by Andrew Sparrow, for theguardian.com on Wednesday 9th February 2022 16.09 UTC

Ministers have published an “integration white paper” intended to improve the way the health and social care systems work together in England. Unveiling the document in a statement to MPs, Edward Argar, the health minister, said:

People too often find that they are having to force services to work together rather than experiencing a seamless, joined up health and care journey.

If we’re to succeed in our goals of levelling up our nation, then we must keep working to make integrated health and care a reality across England.

This white paper has been shaped by the real-world experience of people, as well as nurses, care workers and doctors on the front line, drawing on some of the great examples of collaborative work we have seen, particularly during the pandemic.

It will help make health and care systems fit for the future, boost the health of local communities and make it easier to access health and care services. It is a plan with people and outcomes at its heart.

No more endless form filling, no impenetrable processes and no more bureaucracy which sees too many people getting lost in the system, not receiving the care they need.

Edward Argar.
Edward Argar.
Photograph: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/PA

The terrorism threat level has been reduced from severe to substantial, Priti Patel, the home secretary, has announced. In a statement to MPs she said:

The Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre (JTAC) has reduced the UK national terrorism threat level from severe to substantial. This means that a terrorist attack in the UK is likely.

JTAC previously raised the UK national threat level from substantial to severe following two terrorist attacks in the UK in quick succession, in October and November 2021.

When the threat level is at severe it means an attack is highly likely.

JTAC judges that, despite these two attacks, the current nature and scale of the UK terrorist threat is consistent with the level of threat seen prior to the attacks.

In England, around one in nine children (11.5%) from age two to school year 6 are likely to have had coronavirus last week, the highest level for any age group, the ONS figures (see 3.37pm) show. As PA media reports, this is down from one in eight, or 13.1%, the previous week.

For children in school years 7 to 11 the estimate was around one in 11 (8.7%), up week-on-week from one in 13 (7.6%).

Boris Johnson at PMQs
Boris Johnson at PMQs
Photograph: Jessica Parker/Parliament

One person in 19 in England had coronavirus last week, ONS figures suggest

While Boris Johnson has announced the end of domestic Covid regulations in England by the end of this month, the latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show cases have still been rising over the last fortnight.

The ONS now publishes headline results from its Covid infection survey on Wednesday, ahead of the publication of the full results on Friday. Here are the latest figures.

England

  • Around one person in 19 infected in the week ending 5 February, equivalent to 2,824,700 people. The previous week it was one person in 20.
  • The ONS says the Covid rate has “increased” in the the last fortnight, but that the trend is “uncertain” in the last week.

Wales

  • Around one person in 25 infected in the week ending 5 February, equivalent to 121,200 people. The previous week it was one person in 20.
  • The ONS says the Covid rate has “decreased”.

Northern Ireland

  • Around one person in 13 infected in the week ending 5 February, equivalent to 145,600 people. The previous week it was one person in 15.
  • The ONS says the Covid rate has “continued to increase”.

Scotland

  • Around one person in 25 infected in the week ending 5 February, equivalent to 211,300 people. The previous week it was one person in 30.
  • The ONS says the Covid rate has “increased”.

No 10 defends decision to make Mark Spencer Commons leader while ‘Muslimness’ investigation ongoing

And here are two more lines from the post-PMQs No 10 briefing.

  • Downing Street defended the decision to appoint Mark Spencer as Commons leader while he is still being investigated over the “Muslimness” claims. (See 10.47am.) The PM’s press secretary said:

The prime minister has been very clear that there is no place within our society for anti-Muslim hatred, racism or discrimination of any kind. He asked for an investigation to establish the facts of what happened in this particular case.

A Whitehall source said the prime minister had read the riot act to Mr Harri, and ordered him not to conduct further interviews. ‘This is not bloody rocket science,’ the source said. ‘What he did yesterday was not helpful in the slightest.

‘The PM gave it to him with both barrels on Monday afternoon, and Guto has now said he will not be talking on the record again. It’s fair to say the PM was not the only person he got it in the neck from.’

Updated

This is from my colleague Jessica Elgot, naming the tinsel-wearing official at the centre of the new partygate picture.

Updated

Downing Street unable to say whether new Christmas quiz photo seen by Sue Gray inquiry

At the post-PMQs briefing Boris Johnson’s press secretary confirmed that Christmas quiz featured in the new picture published by the Daily Mirror today was one of the events considered by the Sue Gray investigation. But the press secretary was unable to say whether this was a picture seen by Gray in the course of her inquiry.

Gray shared her evidence with the police and she said that, on the basis of what they had seen, the police had decided this event, and three others, were “not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation”.

The press secretary said that the event was a “virtual quiz” and she confirmed that No 10 would “publish in full” whatever report was provided by Sue Gray at the conclusion of the Met police investigation.

Updated

Covid isolation rules for England to be replaced by guidance, No 10 says

At the post-PMQs briefing No 10 gave a few more details of Boris Johnson’s plan to end Covid restrictions in England from the end of the month. Boris Johnson is due to publish a living with Covid strategy on Monday week. Here are the key points from the briefing.

  • Current isolation rules for people in England will be replace by guidance, the PM’s spokesperson said.
  • People will continue to be advised to stay away from work if they have Covid, the spokesperson said. He said:

What we would simply be doing is removing the domestic regulations which relate to isolation. But obviously in the same way that someone with flu, we wouldn’t recommend they go to work, we would never recommend anyone goes to work when they have an infectious disease.

  • The spokesperson said this would be an “important step for this country” on the route towards learning to live with Covid. He said:

We’ve talked about how we will need to manage living with coronavirus as we emerge from this pandemic. We are entering into that phase of endemicity as I’ve talked about, and it’s only right that we adjust according.

  • The spokesperson said the strategy would cover the future of the Coronavirus Act 2020, which is due for review by 25 March 2022.
  • The spokesperson said travel rules would be included in the review, but he would not say whether or not existing rules would stay in place. “We will obviously make a decision when we get to that stage,” he said.

And here is our story about the announcement.

Updated

Starmer accuses PM and chancellor of ‘big scam’ over energy bill support package

Here is the PA Media story about the Johnson/Starmer exchanges.

Boris Johnson and “loan shark” Rishi Sunak have been accused by Labour of operating a “big scam” via their energy bill support package.

Labour leader Keir Starmer used PMQs to raise concerns over the government’s policy to give all 28 million households in Britain a £200 up-front rebate on their energy bills from October.

This will be recouped by hiking bills by £40 per year over five years from 2023.

Chancellor Sunak has also promised a £150 council tax rebate for homes in bands A to D.

Starmer told Johnson to “stand up to this chancellor” by telling him to support families “rather than loading them with debt” and take a look at the “bumper profits” of oil and gas giants.

But Johnson said the Labour plan, which includes a windfall tax on North Sea oil and gas producers, would “clobber” supplies but joked it was an “improvement” on nationalising the companies.

The prime minister added: “What he would be doing is hitting the energy companies at precisely the time when we need to encourage them go for more gas because we need to transition now to cleaner fuels. What this government is providing is £9.1bn worth of support, it’s more generous than anything Labour is offering.”

But Starmer accused Johnson of “bluff and bluster”, adding in the Commons: “The reality is this – on top of the Tory tax rises, on top of the soaring prices, the loan shark chancellor and his unwitting sidekick have now kicked up a buy-now, pay-later scheme. It leaves taxpayers in debt while oil and gas companies say they’ve got more money than they know what to do with.

“It’s the same old story with this government: get in a mess, protect their mates and ask working people to pick up the bill.

“But isn’t he worried that everyone can now see that with this prime minister and this chancellor it’s all one big scam and people across the country are paying the price?”

Johnson replied: “What they can see is a Government that is absolutely committed to doing the right thing for the people of this country and taking the tough decisions when Labour is calling for us to take the easy way out and spend more taxpayers’ money.”

PMQs – snap verdict

This was a PMQs where most of the real news happened outside the Johnson/Starmer exchanges. Given how poisonous it got when those two clashed on Monday last week, and Johnson unleashed a false and malicous smear, a slightly calmer PMQs at a lower temperature was probably something of a blessing.

Boris Johnson was home and dry from the moment he announced that the last Covid restrictions, including isolation rules, would end in England a month early. This is by far the biggest takeaway from PMQs, and Johnson must be hoping that the return to pre-Covid normality may herald a revival in the polls. That may be naive, given the perhaps permanent damage done to his reputation, and the cost-of-living crisis juggernaut heading for No 10, but it may dial down the risk of more letters going in to the chair of the 1922 Committee by a notch or two.

And the latest Daily Mirror photo revelation certainly livened up proceedings. But given that the Met, who have had access to 300 photographs, told Sue Gray that this was not an event they wanted to investigate with a view to issuing fines, it may be a scoop that does not cause lasting damage.

Keir Starmer asked two questions about Kwasi Kwarteng’s fraud gaffe, and then he focused the rest of his time on what the Treasury calls its energy bills rebate package. He was effective on both topics – funnier on fraud, but more damaging to the government on energy bills.

On fraud, Starmer’s best line included a joke about partygate.

The prime minister’s answer has got a big hole in it. We’ve had lockdown for the last two years. Two crimes that people could commit were online fraud and throwing parties. As far as I can see, the numbers for both of those have gone through the roof.

Johnson resorted to insisting that his government did take fraud carefully. He has been under pressure to clarify his previous, misleading statements to MPs about crime falling, and he will be able to argue that he just about did so today, by providing a more nuanced answer. “We also attach huge importance to tackling neighbourhood crime and crimes of violence, and I am very pleased those crimes are down 17%,” he said. It wasn’t an impresive answer, although the claim that ‘Labour voted against tougher sentences’ must land well with focus groups.

On energy, Starmer focused on the fact that the energy bill part of the Treasury’s “rebate” package is not a rebate at all, but just a loan. He managed to make this point while simultaneously targeting the chancellor (who in the longterm probably poses a bigger threat to Labour than Johnson), while depicting Johnson as an “unwitting sidekick” of his No 11 neighbour. Starmer said:

The prime minister clearly hasn’t got the first clue what the chancellor’s signed him up to. His plan is to hand billions of pounds of taxpayers’ cash to energy companies and then force families to pay it off in instalments for years to come. If it sounds like he’s forcing people to take out a loan, and it looks like he’s forcing people to take out a loan, isn’t it just forcing people to take out a loan?

Johnson sounded very bullish, and gave the appearance of being someone who feels his survival prospects have improved considerably in recent days. But his boasting about the strength of the economy will sound hollow as people notice their bills going up, and attacking the Labour plan for a windfall tax on the energy companies on the grounds that it will clobber investment did not sound like much of an argument-clincher (even thought it might be partly true).

Dominic Cummings, Boris Johnson’s former chief adviser and the person behind at least one of the most damaging of all the partygate revelations, says there are far more incriminating pictures available than the one published by the Daily Mirror today.

Updated

Labour’s Louise Haigh suggests Boris Johnson muddled up Bradford with Leeds in his answer to Naz Shah earlier. (See 12.30pm.)

Johnson suggests No 10 already been cleared over event featured in new photo

Gerald Jones (Lab) asks again about the Daily Mirror photo (see 12.26pm).

Johnson says this is an event that has already been “submitted for investigation”.

He is implying that Sue Gray was aware of it, but that it is not being investigated by the police because it does not meet the threshold for an investigation.

The Gray report (pdf) covered a gathering in No 10 on 15 December 2020 for a Christmas quiz. But Gray said this was one of the four events she looked at that were not now investigated by the police because they were “not considered to have reached the threshold for criminal investigation”.

Updated

Natalie Elphicke (Con) says the roads in Dover are clogged up. But it is not because of Brexit; it is because of EU red tape, she says.

(This suggests a poor understanding of what Brexit involves.)

Johnson says the government is trying to clear bottlenecks.

Updated

Johnson commits to publish Sue Gray report in full once police inquiry is over

Mark Harper (Con) asks the PM to promise that, when the police inquiry into partygate is over, he will publish the full Sue Gray report in full.

Johnson says that once that inquiry is over he will immediately publish whatever Sue Gray gives him.

No 10 has made this pledge already, but this is the first time Johnson has made this promise from the dispatch box.

Updated

Matthew Pennycook (Lab) says Guto Harri, the PM’s new communications chief, used to lobby on behalf of Huawei. Has he had enhanced vetting? In his new job he has access to many secrets.

Johnson says this is an odd question from Labour, given one of its MPs took £500,000 from a Chinese agent.

Stuart Anderson (Con) asks if veterans will always be honoured by the government.

Yes, says Johnson. He says the government encourages firms to take on veterans.

Updated

Naz Shah (Lab) asks when Bradford will get the proper rail investment it deserves.

Johnson says the government is investing massively in Yorkshire. And, on rail, the government is considering how it can connect Bradford to HS2. The eastern leg has not been ruled out, he says.

Robert Halfon (Con) asks if the government will impose a 2% levy on social media companies to raise £100m to fund mental health support for children.

Johnson says the government will see what it can do to address these issues in the online harms bill.

Ruth Jones (Lab) says Keir Starmer was hounded by thugs because of the words of the PM. Will the PM reconsider his words, repent and resign?

Johnson says Jones should not let the thugs off the hook, because they are culpable.

Johnson says, if necessary, the government is willing to trigger article 16 to suspend parts of the Northern Ireland protocol.

Johnson denies claim new photo is evidence of another lockdown-busting No 10 party

Fabian Hamilton (Lab) says in the last few minutes a party has emerged of the PM in Downing Street on 15 December “surrounded by alcohol, food and people wearing tinsel”. It looks like a party. Will the PM refer this to the police, because it is not one of the ones they are already investigating.

Johnson says Hamilton is “completely in error”.

Hamilton is referring to this story.

Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, asks the PM to correct the record on crime figures. Does he understand the pain victims of fraud feel when the government does not include them in crime figures.

Johnson refers to what he has said already on this. He says the government hates fraud.

This is what Boris Johnson said in his opening statement about the end of Covid restrictions.

It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.

Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.

Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says it is amazing how much energy Johnson can sum up when is saving his skin. He says the national insurance hike will lead to a £275 pay cut for nurses. And costs are rising too. Will Blackford scrap the regressive hike in national insurance?

(In fact, economists says the hike is not regressive. The rich will pay most.)

Johnson says his side loves the NHS, and they are raising money for it.

Blackford says No 10 held 16 parties while nurses were going into work. People know what the government was up to. Is the government telling nurses their reward for work in the pandemic is a pay cut?

Johnson says the government backs them all the way. He says the SNP approach to healthcare is to cut off the bottom of doors in schools to improve ventilation.

Updated

Starmer refers to “the loan shark chancellor and his unwitting sidekick”. Yet the energy companies have more money than they know what to do with. It is all “one big scam”, he says, and people will pay the price.

Johnson says Labour would take the easy way out, and spend more taxpayers’ money. He says Labour would have kept the country in lockdown. And the government used Brexit freedoms to deliver the vaccine rollout, he claims.

(The latter claim is wholly untrue, and the Labour lockdown one is misleading too.)

Updated

Starmer say he always thought the PM was someone who did not read terms and conditions. The PM should stand up to the chancellor, he says. He says energy companies are making big profits. Why is the government forcing loans on families instead of backing a windfall tax?

Johnson says the Labour plan is an improvement on nationalising energy companies. But it would hit energy companies when we need more gas. He says the government can only do this because it kept the economy moving.

Updated

Starmer says Johnson does not understand the plan. If it looks like a loan and sounds like a loan, it is a loan.

Johnson says the government is giving most people a council tax rebate worth £150. Labour’s plan would be worth £89, he says. And Labour could clobber energy companies, when we need more investment in gap.

Starmer says Lord Agnew, the anti-fraud minister, said he had to smash crockery to get anyone to take an interest in fraud. It is almost as if the PM were distracted. He says consumers are having to pay an extra £19bn in energy bills. They are getting a loan, but the government calls it a discount.

Johnson says the government plan is more generous and more effective than Labour’s energy plan. The government one is worth £9bn. The government can afford it because it has the strongest growing economy in the G7.

Updated

Starmer says we have had a pandemic. The crimes that went up were online fraud and holding parties. Both went up. He says the government has turned a blind eye to fraud. No wonder the minister in charge of countering fraud resigned.

Johnson says the government is tackling neighbourhood crime. Labour voted against tougher sentences, he says.

Updated

Keir Starmer asks if the business secretary was right to say fraud does not affect people in their ordinary lives.

Johnson says neighbourhood crimes are down.

Johnson says government wants to end isolation rules a month early, at end of February

Boris Johnson starts by saying on the Monday after the half term recess he will announce a strategy for living with Covid.

He says the government intends to end the last restrictions, including isolating requirements, a full month early.

The isolation rules were due to end on 24 March.

UPDATE: Johnson said:

It is my intention to return on the first day after the half-term recess to present our strategy for living with Covid.

Provided the current encouraging trends in the data continue, it is my expectation that we will be able to end the last domestic restrictions – including the legal requirement to self-isolate if you test positive – a full month early.

 

Updated

From the i’s Paul Waugh

From Sky’s Joe Pike

PMQs

PMQs will be starting shortly.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.

PMQs
PMQs
Photograph: HoC

At the work and pensions committee Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, also denied claims that she has been considering resigning from government in protest at the PM’s response to partygate. When Labour’s Neil Coyle asked if these reports were true, Coffey replied:

No, don’t be ridiculous Neil. If you want to bring up gossip, I could bring up other stuff that happened downstairs. I don’t think that’s appropriate for this select committee, thank-you.

The leader of Newcastle City Council has failed to be selected to stand again for Labour in the local elections in May, PA Media reports. PA says:

Nick Forbes is a member of the party’s national executive committee and a senior figure in the Local Government Association.

Seen as a moderate or centrist, the 48-year-old has led the Labour-run local authority since 2011 and been a controversial figure during austerity, making cuts which he said were forced on him by central government.

On Tuesday night he lost a vote to be selected as Labour candidate for the Arthur’s Hill ward in Newcastle in the May elections, after more than 20 years as a councillor.

He will lose his place on the council unless he is parachuted in as a candidate in another ward.

According to the Newcastle-based Chronicle, Forbes lost 13-4 to local activist Abdul Samad.

In 2019 Mr Forbes failed in a bid to be the Labour candidate for North of Tyne mayor, losing to eventual winner Jamie Driscoll, who was seen as more left-wing.

Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has signalled he is prepared to try to oust the Metropolitan police commissioner in days or weeks over a series of scandals, my colleague Vikram Dodd reports.

Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions secretary, has defended the government’s decision to uprate benefits in line with the inflation rate in September when now it is climbing much higher.

Because the September inflation rate is the benchmark, benefits are set to go up by 3.1% in April. But the Bank of England now expects inflation to rise to more than 7% by the spring.

When it was put to Coffey that this would leave claimants in an “impossible position”, she replied:

We have this consistent approach using the same index year on year… inflation moves around and I think it was a reasonable approach to continue with that consistency.

Thérèse Coffey at the work and pensions committee
Thérèse Coffey at the work and pensions committee
Photograph: Parliament TV

Boris Johnson will travel to Poland tomorrow and Liz Truss will visit Moscow as part of a concerted effort to address the Ukraine crisis, PA Media reports. PA says Johnson is expected to meet prime minister Mateusz Morawiecki and president Andrzej Duda. And the Foreign Secretary will hold talks with counterpart Sergei Lavrov during a two-day trip.

Truss said:

The UK is determined to stand up for freedom and democracy in Ukraine.

I’m visiting Moscow to urge Russia to pursue a diplomatic solution and make clear that another Russian invasion of a sovereign state would bring massive consequences for all involved.

Russia should be in no doubt about the strength of our response. We have said many times that any further invasion would incur severe costs, including through a coordinated package of sanctions.

Russia has a choice here. We strongly encourage them to engage, de-escalate and choose the path of diplomacy.

Health minister Gillian Keegan apologises for continuing meeting after positive Covid test

Gillian Keegan, a health minister, has apologised for continuing with a meeting despite being aware she had tested positive for Covid, my colleague Jamie Grierson reports.

Commons leader Mark Spencer say it’s ‘bit rough’ waiting for ‘Muslimness’ inquiry to conclude

Mark Spencer, the new leader of the Commons, has given an interview to BBC Radio Nottingham saying that Lord Geidt, the independent adviser on ministerial standards, is carrying out the investigation into the allegation that, when he was chief whip, told Nusrat Ghani that her “Muslimness” was one factor behind her losing her ministerial job in 2020.

Spencer told the station that it was a “bit rough” not being able to defend himself in public while the inquiry is being carried out. He said:

That investigation is ongoing … we wait for the results of that.

If I’m honest with you … that is a bit rough, when you’re accused of something of that nature. It’s a bit rough not being able to defend yourself until the results of that investigation come forward.

I’ve just got to keep my mouth shut, present the facts to Lord Geidt who’s doing the investigation, and then once that’s concluded, I think we’ll be able to have a fairly open conversation about that.

Mark Spencer.
Mark Spencer.
Photograph: Tayfun Salcı/ZUMA Press Wire/REX/Shutterstock

Updated

Boris Johnson faces last PMQs before mini recess as Tory donor hits out at his ‘lack of honour’

Good morning. And I’m sorry for the late start. Boris Johnson faces his final PMQs today before the mini, half-term recess, which will mark a useful survival moment for him. It is widely assumed that if a vote of no confidence has not been called by the time the house rises tomorrow, there won’t be one until MPs return on Monday week. It is still possible for Tories to submit letters to the chair of the 1922 Committee during recess calling for a ballot, but if MPs aren’t at Westminster in person, where plotting is much easier, that is seen as less likely.

Johnson will face the Commons with a moderately revamped ministerial team. Chris Heaton-Harris, the new chief whip, told Newsnight last night:

I would like to think we have a very strong prime minister who is going to continue and get stronger and stronger and lead us into the next election, which we will win comfortably.

But, as my colleague Jamie Grierson reports, Johnson will also go into PMQs with a billionaire Tory donor, John Armitage saying he should quit.

In an interview with the BBC, Armitage suggested that Johnson’s “lack of honour” was deeply concerning. He said:

Politicians should go into politics to do good for their country and that is the overwhelming reason to be in politics. I don’t think it’s about your own personal sense of getting to the top of a snakes-and-ladders game.

And I feel that if you lose moral authority, and if you do things which the average person – your mother, someone who you admire – if you do something or say something which on the front page of the Sunday Times looks terrible, and you do that consistently, and you betray a sense of not really caring, I think you should leave. And I find the lack of honour inherent in modern politics incredibly distressing.

As the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, who broke the story, reports, No 10 is saying Armitage is “behind the times”.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10.15am: Thérèse Coffey, the work and pensions committee, gives evidence to the Commons work and pensions committee on the cost of living crisis.

10.30am: Kwasi Kwarteng, the business secretary, gives evidence to the Commons science committee on the government’s space strategy.

12pm: Boris Johnson faces Keir Starmer at PMQs.

2pm: The ONS publishes the headline results from its latest Covid infection survey

2.30pm: Sir Jonathan Jones, the former head of the government’s legal department, gives evidence to the Commons European scrutiny committee on retained EU law.

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Updated

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