Newspaper headlines: 'Stricter' tiers loom, and PM faces legal action

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Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock are accused of acting "unlawfully" when awarding senior roles to three people in the UK's fight against coronavirus, the Observer reports, citing documents submitted by campaigners to the High Court. The case has been lodged by the Good Law Project and the Runnymede Trust. It concerns the appointment of Dido Harding as head of NHS Test and Trace, Mike Coupe to the role of director of testing at NHS Test and Trace and Kate Bingham to the post of head of the UK's vaccine task force. The claimants argue the appointments were made without advertising the positions.

The Sunday Telegraph joins several of Sunday's papers to lead on the news that the PM will announce on Monday that England's national lockdown will be replaced by a stricter three-tier system. The national lockdown is due to end on 2 December. The paper adds that mass testing will be carried out in areas where cases start to rise.

But the prospect of restrictions continuing after 2 December in England could cause the PM difficulty with his own backbench MPs, the Sunday Express reports, as they threaten to rebel. "Lockdown ultimatum" is the headline on the front of the paper. Some 70 Tory MPs have written to Mr Johnson ahead of a vote expected on Thursday, the paper adds. The rebels will reportedly refuse to support the new tier system unless evidence can be presented to show it can "save more lives than it costs".

The Mail on Sunday says the PM intends to extend pub opening hours until 11pm when England's national lockdown ends. Last orders will be called at 10pm, but people will get an extra hour to finish drinks and meals. There are hopes the plan will help prevent crowds congregating on the streets when pubs close.

"The fright before Xmas" is the headline on the front of the Sunday Mirror, which carries a warning from the PM that the festive season as we know it is off. Pubs and shops are expected to stay closed in areas hardest-hit by the virus, the paper adds, as scientists warn celebrations must be scaled back.

Meanwhile, Chancellor Rishi Sunak has signalled that taxes will have to start rising next year, the Sunday Times reports. He said that Britain is experiencing "economic shock" and cannot continue to borrow money "indefinitely" at such high levels. Mr Sunak said that, by the spring, he must start "returning to sustainable public finances", the paper adds. His comments come ahead of next week's Spending Review, during which, the Times says, an extra £3bn will be earmarked for the NHS.

Elsewhere, the Daily Star Sunday leads with a report that the BBC spent £350,000 on transport and hotel bookings that were never used, branding it "rank hypocrisy". It comes after the corporation scrapped the free licence fee for over-75s.

And the Sunday People carries a report from the brother of I'm A Celebrity contestant Giovanna Fletcher, Mario, who says that his sister came to his rescue after a "suicide bid".

Many front pages focus on the prime minister's plans for which Covid restrictions will come next in England.

"Tiers on Steroids" is the Sun on Sunday's verdict on plans to end the lockdown but introduce stricter regional levels of controls - though as a silver lining it notes that the 10pm pub curfew will be lifted.

The Sunday Express makes the angry reaction of some Tory MPs its lead under the headline: "Lockdown Ultimatum."

Both papers report that Boris Johnson faces a backbench rebellion with 70 Tory MPs and a number of peers signing a letter warning that the lockdown cure "runs the very real risk of being worse than the disease".

"The fright before Christmas" is the Sunday Mirror's take.

The paper says bleakly that "the PM will formally declare on Monday that Christmas, as we know it, is off".

The Observer leads on a claim that the PM acted illegally over the appointment of key figures in the fight against Covid.

It reports that campaigners concerned about an apparent "chumocracy" at the heart of government have lodged a case in the High Court seeking judicial review of how Dido Harding was awarded the role of head of NHS Test and Trace, along with two other senior appointments in the government's anti-Covid task force.

The paper says the Good Law Project and the Runnymede Trust believe the roles were not advertised or subject to normal open competition.

Under the headline "Patel shakes up antiquated work practices at Home Office", the Sunday Telegraph front page suggests that new rules have been agreed between the home secretary and the head civil servant at the Home Office in a bid to draw a line under the recent damaging bullying scandal.

"Let Priti Patel get on with her job of fixing the Home Office" is the paper's view, suggesting that anyone who knows the culture of Whitehall will know she has been up against "a sector that goes out of its way to stonewall change and a department that has a history of undermining ministers".

But according to the Sunday Times, the home secretary may not have much time to fix or get on with things.

It says that, though she was supported by Mr Johnson last week, several sources now indicate she is likely to be axed in a New Year cabinet reshuffle over her competence.

The paper's cartoon suggests the bullying debacle has left Father Christmas in a quandary.

He is pictured tugging his beard and wondering aloud to Rudolph whether he should be adding sub-categories to his traditional lists. "I don't know if Ms Patel's been 'naughty' or 'unintentionally naughty'", he complains.

The Sunday Telegraph reports that the British Library is to add the poet Ted Hughes to a dossier on links to slavery and colonialism as part of its efforts to become actively anti-racist.

The paper says that curators have identified an ancestor born in 1592 whose family were "deeply involved" in establishing colonies in North America.

The poet's biographer Sir Jonathan Bate tells the paper it is "ridiculous" to tar Mr Hughes with a slave trade connection on the basis of such a distant relative.

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