Coronavirus 1) Mass Covid testing of lorry drivers could reopen ports

“Boris Johnson is drawing up contingency plans to test all lorry drivers taking goods across the Channel in order to bring an end to the disruption at Britain’s ports. Ministers are understood to be preparing “infrastructure” to allow thousands of truckers to be tested for Covid-19 after France insisted hauliers should be cleared as negative before entering the country. On Monday night, Mr Johnson made a personal appeal to Emmanuel Macron, the French president, to reopen the French border after ports were closed in response to the news that a newly-discovered mutant coronavirus strain was “out of control” in London and the South-East. The Prime Minister told a Downing Street press conference he believed the risk of freight drivers passing on the new and highly infectious strain of Covid was very low.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Johnson appeals to French president but freight ban remains – The Guardian
  • Chaos at ports could last until Christmas Eve – The Times

Coronavirus 2) PM under pressure to impose new national lockdown

“Boris Johnson is facing intense pressure to impose another national lockdown within days, as more than 40 countries banned arrivals from the UK in an effort to keep out a new fast-spreading variant of coronavirus. Government scientific advisers warned that inaction could cost tens of thousands of lives and risk an “economic, human and social disaster”, with the new strain spreading across the UK and overseas. Ministers urged people to avoid panic-buying food as France failed to lift its ban on freight and passengers from the UK on Monday despite a personal appeal from the prime minister, who asked Emmanuel Macron to put aside his “anxiety” over the new strain of Covid-19.” – The Guardian

  • Mutant virus strain ‘is everywhere’, says adviser – The Times
  • Tier 4 restrictions set to spread across country, Vallance warns – Daily Telegraph
  • More areas of England set to enter tier 4 in race to curb new strain – FT
  • Whitty says hospital cases could match April peak by New Year – Daily Mail
  • Foreign experts scoff at British response to mutant virus – The Times
Regional response
  • All arrivals to Greater Manchester and West Midlands from Tier 4 and Wales asked to self-isolate – Sky News
  • New Covid variant in UK: spreading Christmas fear? – The Guardian
  • ‘Captain of a rudderless ship’: Tory media turn on Johnson – The Guardian
  • Inside story of how PM forced into action – The Times

Coronavirus 3) William Hague: Ministers cannot afford to mess up vaccination plan now

“It is understandable that Boris Johnson’s decision to ask much of the country to abandon their plans for Christmas with almost no notice has been subject to intense criticism. Some people think it should have happened earlier, others that it is not necessary at all, still others that some kind of conspiracy to achieve a tighter lockdown without parliamentary approval is afoot. The Government may have made many mistakes in the handling of the pandemic, but most people who read the minutes of the expert committee NERVTAG that met on Friday would agree with this latest decision of an obviously reluctant Prime Minister.” – Daily Telegraph


Coronavirus 4) Government ‘operated illegal buy British policy’ for test kits

“The government was operating an illegal “buy British” policy when it signed contracts with a small UK firm to supply Covid antibody tests, claim lawyers who have filed a case against the health secretary. The Good Law Project said there were a number of other companies in a better position to supply antibody tests in June and August, when the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC) agreed deals worth up to £80m with Abingdon Health without going out to tender. The government had also agreed a deal to share in the profits the company made, the lawyers say. The government was determined to get a British test, following the fiasco of the purchase by the health secretary, Matt Hancock, of 3.5m Chinese antibody tests in March with orders for a further 17.5m.” – The Guardian

Coronavirus 5) Biden given vaccine on live TV

“President-elect Joe Biden received the first dose of his COVID-19 vaccine in Delaware on Monday, posing for the cameras as a local nurse administrated the shot. ‘There is nothing to worry about,’ he said as he reassured the public the vaccine was safe. Biden also gave credit to President Donald Trump’s administration for its roll out of the cure. About 24 million people are expected to be given the first round of shots. The president-elect thanked the medical staff and urged Americans to follow coronavirus restrictions during the upcoming holiday period, including wearing face masks and practicing social distancing.” – Daily Mail

Hopes of Brexit breakthrough after UK fishing offer

“Downing Street has made a major counter-offer on fishing access for EU fleets in British waters to break the Brexit trade talks deadlock, raising hopes of a deal before Christmas. After a difficult period of negotiations, with both sides seemingly entrenched, the UK’s chief Brexit negotiator, David Frost, is understood to have tabled a proposal that could unlock the troubled talks. According to EU sources, the British demand for a 60% reduction in the catch by value in British waters had been reduced to 35%, far closer to the 25% reduction that Frost’s EU counterpart, Michel Barnier, had said he would be prepared to accept. Boris Johnson has also accepted a five-year phase-in period for the new arrangements, with a compromise also likely on the application of tariffs or export bans on goods where fishing access changes after the phase-in period, it is understood.” – The Guardian

  • Britain offers ‘cash-for-quotas’ fishing deal – The Times
  • EU and UK edge towards Brexit compromise on fisheries – FT
  • MPs told to be ready to vote on possible Brexit deal next week – Daily Telegraph
  • PM dismisses sell-out claims – Daily Express

Ministers fear £6bn cost of Rashford hat-trick

“On the day of the government spending review last month, Marcus Rashford tweeted: “@RishiSunak is the Universal Credit uplift going to be taken away in April?” The England and Manchester United footballer made clear what he thought of the chancellor’s plan to remove £20 a week from up to six million of the country’s poorest households. “I’m really concerned that families are constantly counting down the days until help is taken away from them,” he told his four million followers. “Children cannot be living to deadlines. We have to stabilise these households. 2.5 million will be unemployed in spring.” – The Times

Plans to decriminalise non-payment of TV licence ‘shelved by Government’

“Ministers had proposed viewers who refuse to cough up £157.50 should no longer face a criminal record. But such a move is not expected to be included in the Government’s response next month to its consultation on future funding of the BBC. The news will upset Tory MPs who have campaigned for years for this to happen. But it will be a relief to the Beeb, who warned taking away the penalty of a criminal offence would trigger a major rise in people not paying, and blow a £1billion hole in the corporation’s finances over five years. And it warned “significant cuts” would have to be made. Currently, people who refuse to pay the fee face £1,000 fines, criminal convictions and even imprisonment, though only five people were jailed in 2018.” – The Sun

News in Brief