First coronavirus antibody test given approval by Public Health England

“A coronavirus antibody test kit has been approved by Public Health England (PHE), The Telegraph has learned, in a breakthrough that could be key to easing the UK’s lockdown restrictions. The Telegraph understands that the Department of Health is in negotiations with the Swiss healthcare company Roche to buy millions of the kits. The accuracy of the test was given approval by experts at PHE’s Porton Down facility last week. On Wednesday night, Roche said it stood ready to provide hundreds of thousands of laboratory-based tests to the NHS each week. A Government source said: “We want to get our hands on as many of these as possible.” The development of an accurate antibody test has long been seen as key to helping Britain get back to work, with Boris Johnson having previously described such tests as “game-changing”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • It’s given go-ahead for widespread use – The Times
  • Britain’s testing fiasco deepens – Daily Mail


  • UK contact-tracing app risks excluding millions, warn advisers – FT
  • Dozens of NHS staff allowed to keep working after testing positive in trial – Daily Telegraph
  • UK task force studies reuse of medical respirator masks – FT

>Yesterday: Sir Bernard Jenkin MP in Comment: For their strategy to work, Ministers will need more than double the number of tracers that they plan to recruit

‘Don’t meet Brady alone’, Johnson told in memo…

“Boris Johnson has been warned by an aide not to meet one of his senior backbenchers alone and not to agree to any further meetings. The prime minister was photographed holding the uncovered document as he walked back into Downing Street following prime minister’s questions in the Commons yesterday. The memo was entitled “Meeting with Sir Graham Brady – Wednesday 13th May 2020”. It was signed off “Enjoy, BG”, the initials of the prime minister’s political secretary Ben Gascoigne, and dated Tuesday. Sir Graham Brady is the chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs. In the memo, the prime minister is urged to avoid meeting Sir Graham alone… The memo goes on to document Sir Graham’s recent comments in the Commons about the government’s efforts to tackle the pandemic and warns Mr Johnson “he will also say that colleagues support him on this”.” – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: An undertow of doubt about the Government’s competence is washing through the Conservative Parliamentary Party

…as he denies misleading MPs after clash with Starmer over care homes crisis

“Boris Johnson has rejected claims that he misled MPs over the coronavirus crisis in care homes after he clashed with Sir Keir Starmer over Government guidance on the risks posed to residents. The Labour leader on Wednesday wrote to the Prime Minister to accuse him of wrongly denying that official advice, in place between February 25 and March 12, had stated that the chances of infection in care homes were “very unlikely”. The guidance, read out during Prime Minister’s Questions by Sir Keir, prompted a firm denial from Mr Johnson, who told MPs that it was “not true that the advice said that”… Responding, Mr Johnson said he stood by his comments and accused Sir Keir in turn of “selectively and misleadingly” quoting from the advice.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Real care home death toll in England and Wales could be as high as 22,000 – Daily Mail


  • Prime Minister accused of coronavirus cover-up by dropping Europe death comparisons – The Sun


Hoyle and Rees-Mogg clash over Commons’ return

“The Speaker of the House of Commons has warned that he will suspend sittings if MPs get too close to each other in the chamber. It follows calls from Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg on Tuesday night for all 650 MPs to return to Westminster to “set an example” to the rest of the country as the coronavirus lockdown is eased in England. The news came as Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, prepares to address a mass meeting of the party’s 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs by video conferencing on Friday. The two metre social distancing rules means that only 50 MPs can attend the chamber in person, while up to 120 can join proceedings remotely via Zoom video conferencing.” – Daily Telegraph

Ministers 1) UK facing significant recession, says Sunak

“Britain is facing a “mega recession” after official figures showed that the economy contracted by the fastest rate on record in March. The figures, which include just the first week of the lockdown, showed that Britain’s economy shrank by 5.8 per cent in March, the largest month-on-month fall since records began. Over the first quarter, the economy shrank by 2 per cent, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS). This was the sharpest fall since the final quarter of 2008, when Britain was in the depths of the financial crisis. The National Institute for Economic and Social Research (NIESR) forecast that over the second quarter, from April to June, national income could fall by 30 per cent…. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, said Britain is facing a “significant recession”.” – The Times

  • The big restart: how businesses are coming out of lockdown – FT
  • Task forces urgently trying to find a way to reopen pubs and restaurants – The Sun


  • Johnson told: Don’t raise taxes to pay for coronavirus… – The Times
  • …but Sunak doesn’t rule them out – The Sun
  • Invidious choices await Sunak in tackling cost of virus crisis – FT
  • Spend and tax: how to pay Chancellor’s blank cheque – The Times


  • UK self-employed grant scheme attracts 110,000 claims in first hours – The Guardian
  • £340m claims within hours – FT


  • We cannot let the Left use Covid as an excuse for radical tax hikes – Allister Heath, Daily Telegraph
  • Poverty is no cure, we must get back to work – Sir Rocco Forte, Daily Mail


  • Now is not the time to worry about the UK debt burden – FT


Ministers 2) Denmark shows schools can reopen safely, Williamson tells unions

“The education secretary has told teaching unions opposed to schools reopening next month that Denmark’s experience shows that coronavirus infection rates can fall after children return to the classroom. Gavin Williamson criticised “scaremongering” and told MPs that all teachers, children and their families would have access to testing if they felt unwell. Denmark’s infection rate has fallen since the reopening of kindergartens and primary schools a month ago, the first major easing of lockdown restrictions in Europe. Its R rate has fallen from 0.9 to 0.7. An R rate, or reproduction rate, of 1.0 means that someone with the virus infects on average just one other person. Mr Williamson said that schools in England were reopening in phases and taking “small steps forward” to minimise the risk.” – The Times

  • He blasts unions for ‘scaremongering’ about dangers of reopening schools – The Sun
  • Advisor admits there is ‘low confidence’ pupils can’t spread Covid-19 – Daily Mail
  • Teachers ‘at more risk of catching coronavirus from other teachers than from pupils’ – Daily Telegraph

Ministers 3) UK plan to cut US farming tariffs sparks ministerial spat

“The UK government is drawing up plans to slash tariffs on US agricultural imports to advance progress on a trade deal despite concerns from some ministers and Conservative MPs about the damage they could cause to British farming. Government officials told the Financial Times that the Department for International Trade was preparing to offer a “big concession package” to US negotiators in the coming months that would reduce the cost of some agricultural imports to unlock a trade deal with Washington. The package to liberalise tariffs has been led by Liz Truss, international trade secretary, who is overseeing the UK-US negotiations. But she has faced internal opposition from environment secretary George Eustice, who is concerned that cheaper US goods may undercut UK farmers. Cabinet office minister Michael Gove also shares Mr Eustice’s concerns.” – FT

  • Sunak accidentally votes against Government on Agriculture Bill – Daily Telegraph

More trade:

  • Trade talks with Japan to begin within days – The Sun
  • UK-EU trade deal with tariffs impossible in six months, say diplomats – The Guardian

Ministers 4) Shapps says he would not get on crowded bus or tube

“Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, has suggested he would not personally get on a crowded bus or tube, following busy scenes this week after Boris Johnson encouraged people to get back to work. The cabinet minister urged people not to “flood back” on to public transport, saying walking, cycling or cars should be considered instead. However, he said there would be no policing of physical distancing on tubes, trains or buses, with the government instead relying on “gentle advice or exhortation” that people should avoid the busiest times and places. “We are asking people to be very sensible and not flood back to public transport. Even with all the trains and buses back to running when they are, there will not be enough space. One in 10 people will be able to travel without overcrowding,” he told Sky News.” – The Guardian

  • Police ‘won’t enforce’ quarantine travel restrictions – The Times
  • Tube workers tell commuters to ‘go home’ – Daily Mail
  • Workers stoical as easing spurs fears of overcrowding – FT


  • While unions disrupt vital services, private firms have adapted – Matthew Lynn, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Katy Bourne in Local Government: We may be at a turning point for policing by consent

Jenni Russell: Lockdown is turning us into a nation of spies

“Clearly some of what’s happening is simply malicious. The police say some of the calls they’ve had are from neighbours with old grudges. Many technical violations, like country dog walks twice a day, do no conceivable harm. Rules conceived to minimise the viral danger in busy cities are irrelevant in open spaces. And yet there are powerful arguments for a degree of community surveillance. Those who are uneasy about any degree of snitching implicitly believe that it’s unnecessary because pretty much everyone can be trusted to do the right thing in a crisis, and if they don’t, it doesn’t really matter to the rest of us. Neither of those things are true at this moment. We’ve never lived through a time in which everyone else’s choices so directly, dramatically impinged on us.” – The Times

>Yesterday: Guy Mansfield in Comment: Overt digital surveillance can be justified in a crisis. But it must be time-limited.

Government admits it will put checks in the Irish Sea

“The Government admitted to there will be checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea after Brexit, despite Prime Minister Boris Johnson claiming last year that this would not be the case. The revelation came in a letter by the government to Stormont – the Northern Irish parliament – that said there would be border control points in three NI ports, according to the Guardian. These ports are said to be at Belfast, Warrenpoint, and Larne. A Cabinet Office spokesman told this morning: “We have always been clear that there will be requirements for live animals and agri-food, building on what already happens at ports like Larne and Belfast.” … In November 2019, Boris Johnson was filmed talking to exporters in Northern Ireland. One of the exporters asked Johnson whether or not his firm would need to complete extra forms in order to send goods across the Irish Sea after Brexit. The Guardian reports that Johnson told the exporter: “You will absolutely not.”” – Daily Express

  • EU warns Britain of legal challenge if France’s quarantine exemption is not granted to all members – Daily Telegraph


  • Foster is distancing herself from Boris Johnson: here’s why that matters – Susan McKay, The Guardian

>Today: Stephen Booth’s column: On the Northern Ireland Protocol, the UK’s negotiating hand is stronger than people think

SNP scent opportunity for Scottish independence

“Leading SNP politicians are drawing up a renewed case for Scottish independence while Britain is in lockdown. They are formulating policies with a view to unveiling a prospectus once the coronavirus outbreak has abated. A Holyrood election is due next May and if the SNP were to win an outright majority it would raise the chance of a second referendum being held. There have been calls for the SNP to become a party of “radical change” from Joanna Cherry, QC, an MP and the party’s justice spokeswoman at Westminster, pushing for an overhaul of the case for independence… Alyn Smith, an MP and the SNP’s policy development convener, has made contact with about 30 local party branches to discuss plans including how a universal basic income would work in an independent Scotland.” – The Times


  • Johnson looks increasingly like the prime minister of England alone – Martin Kettle, The Guardian


  • Sturgeon should resist playing independence politics – The Times

News in Brief:

  • Hard borders all round, but will unionists finally wake up? – Henry Hill, The Critic
  • O’Brien, the MP demanding a new approach to China – Katy Balls & James Forsyth, The Spectator
  • Johnson was the wrong choice to lead Britain at a time of crisis – Walter Ellis, Reaction
  • It’s wrong to blame ‘Anglo-American capitalism’ for the Covid-19 crisis – Tim Worstall, CapX
  • Top-flight football is in league with the Devil – Philippe Auclair, UnHerd