Coronavirus 1) “Very open questions” about whether the lockdown should have started earlier

“Boris Johnson has admitted the government did not understand coronavirus during the “first few weeks and months” of the UK outbreak. The PM told BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg there were “very open questions” about whether the lockdown had started too late. Mr Johnson also spoke of “lessons to be learned” and said ministers could have done some things “differently”…Previously, the prime minister has said he took the “right decisions at the right time”, based on the advice of scientists. But, in an interview with Laura Kuenssberg to mark the first anniversary of his entering Downing Street, he said: “We didn’t understand [the virus] in the way that we would have liked in the first few weeks and months. And I think, probably, the single thing that we didn’t see at the beginning was the extent to which it was being transmitted asymptomatically from person to person.” – BBC

>Yesterday: Amanda Milling on Comment: A year ago, Johnson became Prime Minister – and we have since laid strong foundations for our levelling-up agenda

Coronavirus 2) Sharma: Please volunteer for a vaccine trial

“The best way to defeat this virus once and for all is finding a safe and effective vaccine, and, while scientists are leading the charge, the public can help by volunteering for trials. We are asking people to register to participate in important clinical studies, helping to speed up the search for a vaccine and to end the pandemic sooner. I am incredibly proud that, here in the UK, remarkable vaccine research is taking place right this second at the University of Oxford and Imperial College London…As a Government, we are backing every horse in the race to ensure the British public can be vaccinated against this disease as soon as possible.” – Alok Sharma, Daily Mail

  • Hopes for ‘game-changer’ coronavirus antibody test sinking fast – The Times

ConHome follow up 1) Daily Telegraph confirms our report that the Conservatives are scrapping their proposal for a Democracy Commission…

“Boris Johnson has speeded up plans to curb the judiciary after axing a manifesto pledge to hold a commission on changing the way the courts operate. The Prime Minister is expected to announce next week that he has set up a panel to examine the issue of judicial reviews, which were successfully used to overturn his decision to prorogue Parliament last year. Mr Johnson believes the courts have become increasingly politicised and are being used to “conduct politics by another means” and wants to define in law what they can and cannot be used to challenge. The Conservative Party’s last manifesto promised to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission by December to examine “in depth” issues ranging from judicial reviews to the Human Rights Act. But instead, Mr Johnson has decided to speed up the process on priority issues by setting up small, highly expert panels to deal with each element individually.” – Daily Telegraph

>Thursday: ToryDiary: The Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission pledged in the Conservative Manifesto is being quietly shelved

…as Moore welcomes the decision

“This week, it has emerged that the Government is dropping its manifesto pledge to set up a Constitution, Democracy and Human Rights Commission. This should be seen not as a jettisoning of these subjects, but the opposite. Commissions on great themes tend to spread themselves too widely, take up too much time, and produce no result. Instead, the Government seems set to pursue the issues by other means. Soon there will be a reappraisal of Judicial Review (JR). JR used to be the legitimate practice of ensuring that governments only acted within the scope of the powers conferred on them. It has increasingly become a means to question the merits of the decisions governments have made. It must rein back. The long-touted repeal of the Human Rights Act is now being actively pursued.” – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

ConHome follow up 2) The Times has our story about plans for a Prime Minister’s Department

“On Thursday morning Dominic Cummings began measuring up the curtains in the Cabinet Office for a Downing Street takeover. The prime minister’s chief adviser made the short walk from No 10 to 70 Whitehall in an orange T-shirt and khaki slacks, while wielding a map of the building. He was there to carry out a “scoping mission” for an expanded prime ministerial office outside the rabbit warren of No 10. In his sights was space occupied by the economic and domestic affairs secretariat (EDS), whose job it is to co-ordinate domestic policy across Whitehall departments. Regarded jokingly by allies of Mr Cummings as “bandit country” without effective political oversight, EDS has been targeted for a while.” – The Times

>Sunday: ToryDiary:Johnson prepares for his new Prime Minister’s department

Patel to restrict hostile Chinese commercial activity

“Priti Patel is to bring in sweeping powers to protect British companies from being ripped off by hostile Chinese rivals. Tough laws will stop Beijing-backed firms taking over UK businesses and stealing their ideas.Home Secretary Ms Patel said Britain is “completely geared up” to better protect itself against such “pernicious behaviour”. Under the shake-up, sanctions will be imposed on spies and their governments to curb hostile activities in the UK. Ms Patel said: “You’ve got to have effective sanctions and tools that are deployed. We’ve seen China responsible for all sorts of actions even through Covid.” The Bill will also include greater screening of overseas investment to protect critical industries.” – The Sun

Restaurants “to be forced to publish calories for each meal”

“Restaurant and takeaway chains will be forced to publish the calories in every meal they serve. Similar labels will also have to be placed on bottles and cans of beer, wine and spirits sold in shops. The move is part of an anti-obesity strategy ordered by Boris Johnson following his near-fatal brush with coronavirus in April. Obesity is one of the key risk factors for coronavirus. The Government is also expected to consult on plans to outlaw online advertising of junk food and restrict it on TV until after 9pm. A ban on buy-one-get-one-free supermarket deals is part of the strategy although ministers are wrangling over exactly which items to include.” – Daily Mail

  • Johnson’s obesity strategy embraces his inner nanny – Leader, Financial Times
  • Public Health England calls for action – The Guardian
  • We’re on a runaway train to a total ban on all ‘junk food’ advertising, and it will achieve nothing – Christopher Snowdon, Daily Telegraph
  • Government isn’t the only means to fix the obesity problem – Leader, Daily Telegraph

Conservatives “considering reinstating Party Conference”

“The Conservatives are considering reinstating a scaled-back party conference weeks after cancelling the annual event on safety grounds as they seek to boost confidence in the flagging UK economy. The governing party moved this year’s gathering in Birmingham from October 4-7 entirely online because of the lockdown. At the time it said it “hoped to” run some small scale meetings but is now advancing plans to lead by example in demonstrating Britain is open for business. Events venues can reopen on October 1 in England and the owner of Birmingham’s International Convention Centre said it was talking to Conservative high command about a “hybrid event”, with some delegates present and the rest participating online. Paul Thandi, chief executive of NEC Group, told a media briefing on Friday that the event was cancelled on July 7 when the government did not know when venues would reopen.” – Financial Times

Brexit 1) Merkel “will help secure UK/EU trade deal”

“British negotiators believe Angela Merkel is set to switch her attention to Brexit and can help broker a deal in September. The German chancellor and other EU leaders will have more time to focus on the talks now they’ve ended their internal budget bunfight.No10 hopes capitals will provide Michel Barnier with some meaningful guidance on a way forward to smash the deadlock. EU chiefs have been distracted by a long scrap over how to bankroll the continent’s coronavirus recovery which was finally resolved this week.” – The Sun

Brexit 2) Parris: The EU is slowly herding Britain to satellite status

“We may manage a few deals that don’t undermine the European standards we’ll undertake to stick to but the last thing we’ll want is big new rows that threaten the trade deal with Brussels. Thus, slowly but with a horrible inevitability, and after four years of bleating and barking and running hither and thither, are the Brexit sheep herded through the only gate left: economic satellite status to the EU. It won’t be a disaster and we’ll remain free (as Mr Johnson will trumpet) to depart the playing field whenever we choose. And we won’t.” – Matthew Parris, The Times

Labour was warned antisemitism report was deliberately misleading

“Labour’s most senior lawyer under Jeremy Corbyn formally warned the party that an internal report on antisemitism was deliberately misleading and relied upon improperly obtained private correspondence, leaked documents show. Thomas Gardiner, Labour’s director of governance and legal until last month, wrote that the report should not be circulated because party employees’ emails and WhatsApp messages had been “presented selectively and without their true context in order to give a misleading picture”. The report, which was leaked to the media, was compiled to be submitted to an inquiry by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission (EHRC) into Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints.” – The Guardian

  • Corbyn supporters raise £190,000 for legal fight – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: LeftWatch: Starmer’s desire to “draw a line” under anti-Semitism in Labour will be harder than he thinks

Lib Dems hold online hustings for leadership election

“The Liberal Democrats will hold a virtual meeting with its members in Wales on Saturday to help decide the next leader of the party. MPs Sir Ed Davey and Layla Moran are the two candidates, with results to be announced on 27 August. The Liberal Democrats lost their only Welsh MP at the last General Election and the party only has one Senedd seat. That is held by Member of the Senedd (MS) for Brecon and Radnorshire Kirsty Williams, the education minister. The hustings will be held online and available for all to watch, although only Welsh Liberal Democrat members will be allowed to submit questions to the candidates.” – BBC

>Today: ToryDiary: The Tories’ hard pivot against the Cardiff Bay establishment reveals the power of Welsh devoscepticism

Peers went to Russia despite warning

“Peers travelled to Moscow to launch talks on the “restoration of inter-parliamentary relations” with Russia in defiance of warnings from the Foreign Office last year, The Times can reveal. Viscount Waverley, a hereditary peer who sits as a crossbencher, joined Tory Lord Balfe and Labour parliamentarian Lord Browne of Ladyton on the visit to the Duma, Russia’s parliament, last December. They had talks with Vyacheslav Volodin, the speaker of the state assembly, and other Russian representatives. Viscount Waverley and Lord Balfe are vice-chairmen of the all-party parliamentary group on Russia, which had been warned by the British government to avoid travelling to Moscow.” – The Times

Murray: Trump has a path to victory

“One giant opportunity has been handed to Trump. And, being a man of shark-like senses, he will not let it go to waste. That is the opportunity that the Left has handed him through its response to the shocking killing of George Floyd two months ago now. The legitimate expression of outrage that followed the killing in Minnesota did not last long before its crazier elements began to take hold. Within days, the narrative had slipped from “These were outrageous actions by specific policemen” to “The American police have a problem in their entirety”. From there it was the work of a moment to fall into the current slogans of the radical Left: “All cops are b—–s” and “Defund the police”. It is easy enough for campaigning radicals to think that the public is on their side in such a moment. The vast majority of Americans were appalled by what happened in Minnesota as much as were publics worldwide. But in that moment of opportunity the Left significantly overplayed their hand.” – Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph

News in brief

  • Has a spending splurge staved off a slump? – Ross Clark, The Spectator
  • Power up the powerhouse – Alistair Burt, The Article
  • Managing the overseas aid budget – John Redwood
  • Johnson faces an almighty battle against the SNP – here’s how he can win it – Henry Hill, CapX
  • A ban on junk food ads is gesture politics – John Rentoul, Independent