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UK coronavirus live: testing shortage could lead to 'lockdown by default', says teaching union head UK coronavirus live: testing shortage could lead to 'lockdown by default', says teaching union head
(32 minutes later)
News updates: government facing escalating pressure over testing crisis ahead of PMQS, as hospitals plug holes in systemNews updates: government facing escalating pressure over testing crisis ahead of PMQS, as hospitals plug holes in system
Sir Keir Starmer is out of self-isolation. He has just posted these on Twitter.
But he won’t be rushing to the Commons in a bid to make it in for PMQs, which starts in 25 minutes. Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, will still deputise for him, as arranged last night.
Back in the Northern Ireland affairs committee, in response to a question about whether the EU would be able to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism under the withdrawal agreement in response to the UK’s decision to introduce the internal market bill, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he has not had that conversation with the attorney general.
Lewis says he does not see why the issue is relevant, because the UK is still trying to implement the agreement.
The Commons foreign affairs committee is launching an inquiry into camps in which at least a million Uighurs have been incarcerated by the Chinese authorities.
Among the issues it will look at is ways the government can prevent UK companies from benefiting from the forced labour of members the Chinese Muslim minority detained in Xinjiang.
Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the committee, said:
The NASUWT teaching union has urged the government to prioritise the education sector for the allocation of coronavirus tests. In a letter to the Department for Education for England, Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the union had heard of approximately 600 pupils being told to self-isolate in one local authority area and he said the “number is growing”. Roach said:
Schoolchildren and their parents should be next in line for Covid-19 tests after NHS and social care, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, has suggested. Buckland told Sky News this morning:
My colleague Simon Murphy has the full story here.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, tells the Northern Ireland affairs committee that he is “very optimistic” about the prospects of the UK and the EU being able to negotiate a trade deal.
Labour has renewed its call for the government to fix the coronavirus testing system. In a statement referring to the government’s plans to prioritise access to testing, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said:Labour has renewed its call for the government to fix the coronavirus testing system. In a statement referring to the government’s plans to prioritise access to testing, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said:
In Northern Ireland committee Simon Hoare, the chair, asks Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, if it is still his view that the EU is acting “in good faith” in terms of implementing the withdrawal agreement, as he said in a statement to the committee published on Monday. Lewis says that is still his view.In Northern Ireland committee Simon Hoare, the chair, asks Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, if it is still his view that the EU is acting “in good faith” in terms of implementing the withdrawal agreement, as he said in a statement to the committee published on Monday. Lewis says that is still his view.
This undermines the claim by Boris Johnson that the EU is trying to implement the withdrawal agreement in an extreme and unreasonable way.This undermines the claim by Boris Johnson that the EU is trying to implement the withdrawal agreement in an extreme and unreasonable way.
This is from Neale Richmond, a Fine Gael member of the Irish parliament, on Brandon Lewis’s comment to the select committee a few minutes ago in which he would not commit to the UK abiding by the outcome of any withdrawal agreement arbitration process. (See 10.48am.)This is from Neale Richmond, a Fine Gael member of the Irish parliament, on Brandon Lewis’s comment to the select committee a few minutes ago in which he would not commit to the UK abiding by the outcome of any withdrawal agreement arbitration process. (See 10.48am.)
Peter Foster, the Financial Times’ public policy editor and Brexit specialist, is even more critical.Peter Foster, the Financial Times’ public policy editor and Brexit specialist, is even more critical.
The European commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned the British government against reneging on the Brexit deal Boris Johnson signed last year.The European commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned the British government against reneging on the Brexit deal Boris Johnson signed last year.
In a speech to the European parliament, von der Leyen said the Brexit withdrawal agreement had been ratified by MEPs and MPs and could not be “unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied”. She added: “This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.” In a speech to the European parliament, Von der Leyen said the Brexit withdrawal agreement had been ratified by MEPs and MPs and could not be “unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied”. She added: “This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”
The government announced last week that it planned to break international law in “a very specific and limited” way, through its internal market bill that would give UK ministers the power to override some parts of the Brexit deal related to Northern Ireland.The government announced last week that it planned to break international law in “a very specific and limited” way, through its internal market bill that would give UK ministers the power to override some parts of the Brexit deal related to Northern Ireland.
The commission president invoked Margaret Thatcher to make plain her criticism. She quoted the former Conservative prime minister as saying: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.”The commission president invoked Margaret Thatcher to make plain her criticism. She quoted the former Conservative prime minister as saying: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.”
Von der Leyen said: “This was true then, and it is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”Von der Leyen said: “This was true then, and it is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”
She also dismissed the British government’s argument that the treaty had been agreed in a rush:She also dismissed the British government’s argument that the treaty had been agreed in a rush:
Her remarks were part of von der Leyen’s first “state of the union” address, an annual speech on the commission’s legislative priorities, consciously modelled on the US equivalent. It was the first such speech without heckling by Nigel Farage and his MEPs, who often jeered (the commission president) or cheered (Brexit) on previous occasions. The last British MEPs quit the European parliament when the UK left the EU on 31 January. Her remarks were part of Von der Leyen’s first “state of the union” address, an annual speech on the commission’s legislative priorities, consciously modelled on the US equivalent. It was the first such speech without heckling by Nigel Farage and his MEPs, who often jeered (the commission president) or cheered (Brexit) on previous occasions. The last British MEPs quit the European parliament when the UK left the EU on 31 January.
Back in the Northern Ireland committee Simon Hoare, the chair, asks if the government will abide by the outcome of the arbitration process set out in the Northern Ireland protocol for the resolution of disputes between the UK and the EU.Back in the Northern Ireland committee Simon Hoare, the chair, asks if the government will abide by the outcome of the arbitration process set out in the Northern Ireland protocol for the resolution of disputes between the UK and the EU.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he does not want to answer that because it is a hypothetical question.Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he does not want to answer that because it is a hypothetical question.
Hoare says it is an important question. He says other countries that sign agreements with the UK will want to know that it sticks to agreements.Hoare says it is an important question. He says other countries that sign agreements with the UK will want to know that it sticks to agreements.
Lewis says the UK is a country that acts in good faith.Lewis says the UK is a country that acts in good faith.
Hoare says that is not the way the UK is being seen at the moment.Hoare says that is not the way the UK is being seen at the moment.
Lewis says the UK’s history shows that it is a country that keeps its words.Lewis says the UK’s history shows that it is a country that keeps its words.
Hoare says people are concerned about the present and the future. Countries will be judged by their deeds, he says.Hoare says people are concerned about the present and the future. Countries will be judged by their deeds, he says.
He says he has no doubt about Lewis’ personal commitment to the rule of law. But it is “the wider group” that counts, he says.He says he has no doubt about Lewis’ personal commitment to the rule of law. But it is “the wider group” that counts, he says.
Lewis refuses to commit the government to accepting the outcome of any dispute resolution process launched under the withdrawal agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol.Lewis refuses to commit the government to accepting the outcome of any dispute resolution process launched under the withdrawal agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol.
Tui UK has committed to paying any outstanding refunds for package holidays cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic by 30 September after the regulator received a deluge of complaints that the travel company was breaching consumer law, my colleague Jasper Jolly reports.Tui UK has committed to paying any outstanding refunds for package holidays cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic by 30 September after the regulator received a deluge of complaints that the travel company was breaching consumer law, my colleague Jasper Jolly reports.
Back in the Northern Ireland affairs committee, Simon Hoare, the chairman, asks who drafted the passage that Brandon Lewis read out in the Commons last week saying the internal market bill would break international law.
Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says what he said was in line with the legal advice from the attorney general.
Boris Johnson must “take charge” of delays in obtaining Covid-19 tests to ensure schools remain open, organisations representing headteachers and governors have said. As PA Media reports, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), school leaders’ union NAHT and the National Governance Association have written to the prime minister to express concern about difficulties with the testing system.
The letter warns of a “deep sense of foreboding about the potential for the system to become ever-more riddled with delays as more cases emerge”. It says that if pupils and staff cannot get test results quickly, the consequences could be “increasingly disruptive to children’s education and make staffing unsustainable”.
ASCL said it has received 264 emails on the test and trace system from schools and colleges which said they had symptomatic staff and/or pupils who were struggling to access tests. The letter says:
At the Northern Ireland committee Ian Paisley, the DUP MP, asks about claims that what is happening in parliament with the internal market bill could trigger a revival of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he cannot comment on security matters.
Back in the Northern Ireland committee, Simon Hoare, the chairman, asks if the PM was wrong to say last October that the Northern Ireland protocol was “in perfect conformity” with the Good Friday agreement.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says the PM was right. But the protocol needed to be ironed out as it was implemented.
Q: But clause 42 of the internal market bill implies the PM was wrong? He should have said the protocol “has the potential” to be in conformity with the Good Friday agreement.
Lewis does not accept this. He says the bill is essential to ensure Northern Ireland gets “unfettered access” to trade in Britain.
Q: Why did the government sign up to this protocol if it could pose a threat to the Good Friday agreement?
Lewis just repeats the point about why the bill is needed.
Hoare says he followed this matter closely. But last year, as the withdrawal agreement was agreed, he does not remember any minister saying it might be a threat to the Good Friday agreement. Has he forgotten?
Lewis avoids the question, and says the bill provides a safety net. He says businesses in Northern Ireland need to have confidence that they will be able to trade easily after Brexit.
Hoare says it would have been much better if the legislation had explicitly said the new powers proposed would only apply if other arbitration processes had failed.
Families of care home residents are lobbying MSPs as they go into Holyrood this morning, calling for a relaxation in “draconian” visiting guidelines.
The group, Care Home Relatives Scotland, says the current rules – which only allow outdoor visiting for a limited time period - are damaging the mental health of residents.
Cathie Russell, who founded the group and whose own mother is in a care home where she is currently allowed to see her for 30 minutes once a week, told BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme:
Russell said that Scottish government guidelines didn’t take into account the needs of people in care and their families. “We need to start from the position that visiting is good for people,” she said.
Hoare says Lewis gave evidence to the committee in the summer. Why did he not tell the committee then that the Northern Ireland protocol was flawed, in the way the government now claims it is?
Lewis says the internal market bill is a safety net, in case the joint committee (the UK/EU body set up to implement the protocol) cannot reach an agreement.
Lewis says the PM made that clear when he spoke in the debate on Monday, and he says he himself said that in his statement to MPs last week.
Hoare says Lewis is assuming that people will trust what ministers say at the dispatch box. But, for certainty, they want this set out in law.
Lewis says he is straight. And there is a long tradition of the intent of government being taken into account when legislation is considered.
Asked about the Bob Neill amendment, he says he hopes the Commons will find a solution to this.
Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, has just started giving evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee.
Simon Hoare (Con), the chair of the committee, starts by asking why the advocate general for Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie, said yesterday that Lewis was answering the wrong question when he told MPs last week that the internal market bill broke international law.
Lewis says he has spoken to Keen, and what Keen said was wrong.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, was doing the morning broadcast round today on behalf of the government. He was put up to talk about the sentencing white paper, but obviously was asked about coronavirus and the internal market bill too. Here are the main points.
Buckland confirmed that the government is working on changes to the internal market bill that may satisfy some of the Conservatives opposed to it in its current form. He said that the PM had already indicated that he wanted MPs to be able to have a say on any government decision to use powers in the bill that would overrule the withdrawal agreement. The issue was just about how this mechanism might work, he suggested.
This suggests that the argument is now revolving around whether MP would vote on approving the use of those powers retrospectively (which is normal for secondary legislation) or whether MPs would have to vote first.
He implied that, if the government did use powers to override the withdrawal agreement, it would only do so because the EU had broken that agreement first. He said:
He rejected claims that he had been “wobbly” on this issue (ie, considered resigning). Asked about this, he replied:
He said he expected Matt Hancock to make a decision “over the next few days” about how to prioritise access to coronavirus tests.
Buckland said that although the testing system was facing “real challenges”, for many people it was working well. He said:
Prof Andrew Hayward, director of University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the Today programme this morning that the government would need to “dramatically” increase Covid-19 testing to half a million people per day if testing was to cope with demand during winter. He explained:
Asked whether capacity could serve such a demand, he replied:
Good morning. Boris Johnson has got PMQs later and it will be surprising if he does not get asked about his promise to set up a “world-beating” test and trace system given the fact that the testing crisis seems to be escalating, at least according to the newspaper front pages. Just take a look ...
It is often assumed that Johnson promised a “world-beating” system in an off-the-cuff response at PMQs, but in fact he first used the phrase in his Sunday night TV address to the nation on 10 May. He said:
Ten days later at PMQs, when Sir Keir Starmer said he would settle for one that was just “effective”, Johnson repeated the promised with an added timescale, telling MPs: “We will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating, and yes, it will be in place by 1 June.”
That hasn’t quite materialised, and this morning the consequence were vividly highlighted when a teaching union said the unavailability of tests could lead to a “lockdown by default”. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told the Today programme that headteachers were being forced to decide that the “bubble has to stay at home” if a pupil or teacher in a year group had shown Covid-19 symptoms and could not get a test to prove they were negative. He went on:
Barton also quoted from a head teacher who had emailed him overnight to say they felt “hoodwinked” by the government. Barton summarised the message from the head in the email as this:
Here is the agenda for the day.
10am: Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland committee about the Northern Ireland protocol, and the internal market bill that would empower ministers to override it.
10am: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, gives evidence to the Commons education committee.
12pm: Boris Johnson faces Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, at PMQs. Sir Keir Starmer is at home self-isolating.
12.15pm: The Scottish government is expected to hold its daily coronavirus briefing.
1.30pm: Downing Street holds its lobby briefing.
3.30pm: Johnson gives evidence to the Commons liaison committee.
And at some point today the government is publishing its sentencing white paper. Jamie Grierson and Owen Bowcott have previewed what will be in it here.
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 Brexit, and where they seem more important and interesting, they will take precedence.
Here is our global coronavirus live blog.
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