Coronavirus 1) “Battle plan” to include emergency powers to ban public gatherings

“Boris Johnson is to give himself sweeping powers to ban public gatherings and create no-go zones in areas affected by coronavirus when he publishes the government’s “battle plan” today. The Treasury is also preparing to step in to bolster markets and offer relief to businesses hit by economic turmoil after warnings that the virus is the biggest threat to the global economy since the financial crisis of 2008. Ministers believe that they have 30 days to prepare for a serious outbreak in the spring, which Mr Johnson warned was now “highly likely”. He will set out a “menu of options” today that will range from encouraging hand-washing to draconian restrictions on sporting events and schools.” – The Times

  • Focus on maintaining supplies of staple products to avoid food shortages – The Guardian
  • No 10 and Department of Health “clash over access to EU pandemic warning system” – Daily Telegraph
  • Fears panic-buying could prompt food riots – Daily Mail
  • A proportionate response – Leader, The Times
  • More global cooperation is needed – Leader, Financial Times
  • Latest advice – H.M.Government

> Today: Audio: The Moggcast Returns. “Wash your hands for one verse of the National Anthem” – “we can all play our part” against Coronavirus.

Coronavirus 2) The NHS will call for volunteers if there is a major outbreak

“A campaign calling for volunteers to help the NHS in the event of a major coronavirus outbreak will be launched as part of a “battle plan” against the virus led by Boris Johnson. On Tuesday, the Prime Minister will set out the steps that could be taken if the virus continues to spread after warning on Monday that a “significant” rise in cases in Britain was “clearly on the cards”…The plan will say that efforts to support the NHS could see retired doctors and nurses being called back into service, along with an expansion in the use of volunteers, enabling doctors to focus on clinical care. The Red Cross said it had been in discussions with the Government and the NHS since the outbreak began about the help its volunteers might be able to offer. Health officials stressed that there was no need to take such steps now but urged the public to be prepared to respond quickly if the measures become necessary.” – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 3) Sunak to announce emergency funding in the Budget – but tax cuts “will still go ahead”

“Rishi Sunak is drawing up a major cash package to help fight the coronavirus crisis in next week’s Budget, it emerged last night. Forecasters have warned the virus’s spiralling outbreak is now likely to wreak havoc on the economy. Treasury insiders revealed last night that the crisis has forced the new Chancellor to make changes to his first blueprint for the nation’s finances, due in just eight days time. The package – which could run into the hundreds of millions – will provide emergency support for individuals and businesses hit by the chaos. It will include money to keep struggling firms afloat, and allowances for the self-employed if their income totally dries up. ..But Downing Street sources also last night insisted a major tax cut for Britain’s 31million workers will still go ahead. PM Boris Johnson is said to be still determined Mr Sunak delivers on the Tories’ key election promise to raise the National Insurance contributions tax free threshold to £9,500 per year, giving a £100 tax cut.” – The Sun

>Today: Tim Pitt on Comment: Sunak should walk in Howe’s footsteps and make the Conservative case for tax rises

Coronavirus 4) Hague: A world recession will show the danger of corporate debt

“Britain and other developed nations have steadily become more fragile when faced with an unexpected global downturn, particularly one in which millions of people might suddenly stop work, factories cease production and entire towns and cities be isolated. Within days, an interruption of the production of parts in a factory in China can lead to the lay-off of workers here…Even more striking, if the world sinks into recession in the coming weeks, will be the consequences of the remorseless build-up of debt by many companies. Central banks have done much since the crash of 2008 to remove weaknesses in the financial system, insisting that banks carry far more capital and that risks are better monitored. But at the same time they have presided over ultra-low interest rates for far too long, balking at opportunities to raise them for fear of jeopardising growth and the buoyancy of stock markets. As a result, much of the corporate world is now awash with debt.  American companies owe around $10 trillion – at around 50 per cent of US GDP, an all-time record.” – William Hague, Daily Telegraph

  • G7 draft statement on coronavirus response “does not detail fiscal, monetary steps” – Reuters
  • The health-scare barricades have gone up in Paris – and I fear that others will follow suit – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • What’s the wisest strategy as virus numbers mount? – Stephen Pollard, Daily Express

NHS “off the table” in US trade talks…

“The NHS will be “off the table” in any US-UK trade negotiations, the government said on Monday as it set itself limited ambitions for a future trade deal with Washington. Publishing its mandate for negotiations, the government appeared to bow to public pressure not to accept US farming methods, although trade experts said the British position left a small amount of “wriggle room” on shifting agricultural standards. “The NHS will not be on the table. The price the NHS pays for drugs will not be on the table. The services the NHS provides will not be on the table,” the 184-page mandate says, allaying fears that a US trade deal would push up UK drug prices.” – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Columnist Howard Flight: Outside the EU, our small business sector can really take off

…but GM food is “on the table”

“Boris Johnson left the door open to genetically modified food from the US as he launched formal trade talks with Washington. The British government spelt out its objectives for the negotiation in a 184-page document including specific guarantees on the NHS and drug prices. “The NHS is not, and never will be, for sale to the private sector, whether overseas or domestic,” it stated. The document promises to “ensure high standards” while “not compromising” on environmental, animal welfare and food standards in an attempt to address concerns about chlorine-washed chicken and hormone-fed beef. However, senior officials refused to rule out whether genetically modified foodstuffs, widely used in the US but heavily restricted in the EU, would be on the table in any talks.” – The Times

Former aide to Patel “paid £25,000 over bullying claims”

“A former aide to Priti Patel received a £25,000 payout from the government after claiming she was bullied by the then employment minister. Legal correspondence seen by the BBC alleges the woman took an overdose of prescription medicine following the alleged incident in 2015. The DWP did not admit liability and the case did not come before a tribunal. Ms Patel is facing allegations – which she denies – that she mistreated staff in her new role as home secretary. Sir Philip Rutnam, the Home Office’s most senior official, resigned on Saturday alleging Ms Patel’s conduct towards staff included “swearing, belittling people, making unreasonable and repeated demands”…Legal correspondence seen by the BBC show a junior employee at the DWP brought a formal complaint of bullying and harassment against the department, including Ms Patel, after being dismissed from her role in October 2015.” – BBC


Sharma to boost subsidies for wind farms

“Dozens of onshore wind and solar farms could be built around Britain after ministers backed their construction to help to tackle climate change. Boris Johnson’s government said it would offer financial support to new projects from next year, ending a block on subsidies imposed by David Cameron from 2016. The move follows sharp reductions in the cost of wind and solar power that experts say mean the projects should not add to energy bills. The government legislated last year for Britain to cut its carbon emissions to “net zero” by 2050. Its climate advisers said this would need a quadrupling of low-carbon electricity sources such as wind and solar to power green energy, heating and transport systems. Alok Sharma, the business and energy secretary, said: “Ending our contribution to climate change means making the UK a world leader in renewable energy. We are determined to do that in a way that works for everyone.” – The Times

  • The Government should have been more open about carbon neutral consequences – Leader, Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Our survey. Almost half of Party members believe that human activity is driving global warming. Almost a third don’t.

Buckland considers using AI to secure more rape prosecutions

“Artificial intelligence (AI) could be used to reverse the slump in rape prosecutions under plans being considered by the Justice Secretary, Robert Buckland. He believes the use of AI could protect victims from overly “intrusive” investigations into their personal sexual history by screening out irrelevant data on their mobile phones and identifying only the most pertinent. Up to half of rape victims withdraw their allegations before their cases come to trial partly because of “digital intrusion” and delays due to the length of time investigators have to spend trawling through messages and social media. Rape offences have risen by about 65 per cent in the past five years to 55,195 but the number of prosecutions has fallen to fewer than one in 50 (1.7 per cent).” – Daily Telegraph

Wallace: 75th anniversary of VE Day will remind us of the debt we owe

“The 75th anniversary of Victory in Europe this May is an opportunity to remember the great sacrifices made in securing peace on the continent. The Government is proud to be working closely with veterans’ organisations to hold a series of major events to mark this historic milestone, in which veterans of the Second World War – many of whom I was privileged to meet when I served as a young officer in the Scots Guards – will be the VIPs. As the community of surviving veterans gets tragically smaller each year, it is ever more important to recognise and remember their service.” – Ban Wallace, Daily Telegraph

Conservative Party members suspended over Islamophobia claims

“The Conservative Party has suspended a number of its members following allegations of Islamophobia. A dossier compiled by the campaign group Hope Not Hate appears to show anti-Muslim online comments made by Tory members, including six councillors. It lists more than 20 names, but it is understood not all belong to the party. The Tories say they have suspended all of those who were party members, pending investigation. But the Conservatives have not confirmed how many members have been suspended.” – BBC

Khan demands power to impose rent controls

“The Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, is launching his re-election campaign with a challenge to Boris Johnson to allow rent controls to be introduced if Khan wins another term in office. Khan said victory on 7 May would mean Johnson could no longer ignore demands for the policy as he would be “ignoring the democratic will of millions of Londoners”. Kickstarting his campaign at a housing estate in Hackney on Tuesday, the mayor was due to say: “The case for rent controls is now absolutely undeniable. But Tory ministers have blocked us from introducing our plans for rent controls in London and have simply said no.”…Khan said his rent control plan would establish a new London private rent commission, with renters on its board, to implement and enforce measures to control rents.” – The Guardian

Labour “braced for local election losses”

“The challenge facing Labour’s next leader has been laid bare by internal research suggesting the party is facing “one of its worst” results in recent history in May’s local elections. An internal party document, passed to the BBC, says it should brace itself for the loss of councils including Plymouth, Amber Valley and Harlow. In a worst-case scenario, Labour risks losing 315 seats and control of historic strongholds such as Sheffield. Voters go to the polls on 7 May. Seats in about 118 councils in England will be up for grabs. Mr Corbyn’s successor as Labour leader will be announced on 4 April, leaving them with barely a month to lead the party into its most significant electoral test since December’s general election defeat. The challenge facing whichever of Sir Keir Starmer, Rebecca Long-Bailey or Lisa Nandy wins the contest is laid bare in an internal party document based on research from Labour’s Targeting and Analysis team.” – BBC

SNP proposes Scotland retaining free movement with the EU

“Immigration experts at the Fragomen legal firm said it would be “be entirely possible to maintain the free movement rights of European citizens in Scotland”. It also said “emergency visa measures” could be introduced north of the border to deal with “immediate economic threat associated with Brexit”. The report claimed the Scottish Government could negotiate a time-limited regional visa arrangement with the Home Office as short-term measure.” – The Scotsman

Endorsements give Biden a Super Tuesday boost

“Joe Biden, whose White House ambitions were on life support after poor early showings, has consolidated the moderate wing of his party following his emphatic victory in South Carolina as his former rivals lined up to endorse him for the Democratic nomination on the eve of Super Tuesday.  Shortly before holding a rally in Texas, one of the most important states on Tuesday, Mr Biden received endorsements from Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar, two former opponents who dropped out of the race after dismal performances in South Carolina.  “The only way we beat Trump is through a politics that reflects the decency of the American people. It’s what we sought to practice in my campaign and it’s what @JoeBiden has practiced his whole life,” Mr Buttigieg tweeted.” – Financial Times

Netanyahu claims victory in Israeli elections

“Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has claimed victory in Israel’s general election, with early results putting him ahead of main rival Benny Gantz. Exit polls suggest his right-wing bloc is on course to win 59 seats to become the biggest group but still short of a majority by two seats. Nevertheless, Mr Netanyahu declared the outcome “the biggest win of my life”. Monday’s election was Israel’s third in less than a year, after neither leader was able to form a government.” – BBC

News in brief

  • Back of the queue? A US trade agreement is within sight – Julian Jessop, CapX
  • Patel under investigation – as Tory MPs rally to her defence – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • The Government must not give in to civil servants like Sir Philip Rutnam – Tom Harwood, Free Market Conservatives
  • In a democracy, there can be no independent branch of government – John Redwood
  • Hypocrisy at Westminster over bullying claims – Paul Waugh, Huffington Post