Whitehall sources predict all over-50s will get Covid vaccine by end of March

“All over-50s could be vaccinated by the end of March under plans to increase the provision of coronavirus jabs. The government is preparing to more than double the pace of the programme next week with vaccines for as many as half a million people a day. Ministers believe that they will have enough doses to hit Boris Johnson’s target of inoculating the 15 million most vulnerable people by February 15. A senior Whitehall source told The Times they were increasingly confident that all 32 million over-50s could receive their first vaccine dose by mid to late March. Confidential figures published by the Scottish government suggest that 3.8 million vaccinations will be carried out next week alone, eclipsing the 3 million carried out so far. At present, the daily vaccination rate is 248,000.” – The Times

  • UK set to step up coronavirus vaccinations – FT
  • Thousands of Britons will be offered vaccine passes in trial starting this month – Daily Mail
  • Minister steps up pressure on firms over home working – The Guardian


  • ‘Shocking’ care home Covid outbreaks at levels not seen since first peak – Daily Telegraph
  • Lockdown ‘starts to work and R rate falls to 0.6 in parts of UK’ – The Sun
  • Interactive tool reveals trust-by-trust breakdown of Covid patients and ICU occupancy – Daily Mail


  • Sturgeon accused of putting programme in jeopardy amid transparency row over deliveries… – Daily Telegraph
  • …as she’s criticised over the slow start of Scotland’s rollout – Daily Express

Patel sparks confusion claiming Brits should be exercising alone

“Priti Patel has caused further confusion on the lockdown exercise rules after she appeared to say Brits should be exercising alone. The Home Secretary stressed when people are cycling or running they should be on their own – despite the rules saying people can do so with one other person. Speaking with Holly and Phil on This Morning today, she went on to say there would be no new Covid rules today or tomorrow, that people would see more cops out on the streets instead, and slapped down a Covid marshal who tried to stop a runner in the street… But Downing Street later slapped her down, with a No10 spokesperson saying: “We’ve been clear that if people exercise they can do so with one other person from another household but we’re asking them to socially distance while they’re doing that.”” – The Sun

  • Police dish out 66 times more fines to Covid-19 rule flouters than in first lockdown – Daily Mail


  • Home Secretary under fire as 150,000 police records accidentally lost – The Guardian

Baker warns (briefly) that Johnson’s leadership could be on the line

“Boris Johnson has been warned by a senior Conservative MP that his leadership will be “on the table” if the Government fails to set out an exit strategy from the coronavirus restrictions. Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group of Tories, on Thursday urged colleagues to step up their campaign over coronavirus rules. Mr Baker, a past leader of the hardline Brexiters known as the Spartans, was seen as a key architect of Theresa May’s downfall… His message addressed the prospect of new restrictions being levied in coming days if the data shows the current lockdown is not reducing the rate of Covid-19 cases sufficiently quickly to protect the NHS from collapsing.” – Daily Telegraph

  • He later confirmed his support for the PM in a tweet – The Sun


  • Vaccine success is on the brink of transforming the lockdown debate – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • For true herd immunity, we must vaccinate immigrants as a priority – Laura Spinney, The Guardian

>Yesterday: MPs Etc.: Discuss

Government pressed to extend free school meals scheme…

“Local authorities have called on ministers to extend free school meal vouchers to include the February half term, as pressure grew on the government over its handling of the issue during the latest coronavirus lockdown. The Local Government Association, which represents councils, on Thursday urged a rethink after government guidance said schools should not distribute vouchers during the upcoming holiday. It also called on ministers to work toward a “sustainable, long-term solution” for families facing hardship. Food poverty campaigner and footballer Marcus Rashford joined the call for the government to “future-proof” its policy on free school meals. In a letter to prime minister Boris Johnson, signed by 40 celebrities, heads of charities, health specialists and education leaders, he called for an “urgent” review.” – FT

  • Schools told not to provide free school meals vouchers during February half term – The Sun
  • Boss of scandal-hit caterer set rules for food parcels scheme – The Times


  • Schools unlikely to reopen after half term, warns education committee chairman – Daily Telegraph
  • Regulator refuses to approve mass daily Covid testing at English schools – The Guardian

>Today: ToryDiary: Responding to Rashford

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Disraeli’s Two Nations at a time of Covid – and, no, they’re not “the rich and the poor”

…as red wall MPs push Rishi Sunak for more Covid support

““Red wall” Conservative MPs last night called on Rishi Sunak to extend the government’s Covid-19 support programmes as they warned that a series of “cliff edges” could do long-term damage to the north. In a direct challenge to the chancellor before the budget, 50 Tory MPs representing seats in the north and Midlands called on him to extend the universal credit increase and business rate rebates for as long as lockdown restrictions remain in place. They also called on Mr Sunak to reduce VAT to 5 per cent for businesses in the leisure and tourism sector and abolish stamp duty for properties under £500,000. On top of extending existing support schemes the MPs called on Mr Sunak to push ahead with an “infrastructure revolution” in the north and Midlands financed by increased borrowing.” – The Times

  • Self-isolating support grant given to only one in three – FT
  • Chancellor ‘refuses to extend stamp duty holiday beyond end of March’ – The Sun
  • GDP tumbled by 2.6 per cent in November – Daily Mail


  • Sunak must resist tax rises or we risk embedding economic damage for years – The Sun

>Today: Nick King in Comment: London is unlikely to have another “Big Bang” moment – but here’s how we can boost its potential post-Brexit

>Yesterday: Sir Hugh Sykes in Comment: How spatial planning can make levelling up a reality

Local elections could be postponed until June

“Plans to postpone the local elections until June because of the coronavirus crisis are under discussion by ministers, The Telegraph understands. The Government is ramping up contingencies to delay the “Super Thursday” polls to elect English councillors, mayors, police and crime commissioners and London Assembly members. The elections are currently scheduled for May 6, a date laid down in law that would have to be altered to formally change the plan. There are concerns that the prevalence of Covid cases and the restrictions needed to reduce the spread of the virus could curb candidates’ ability to campaign in the run-up. A source familiar with the Government’s planning told The Telegraph that this problem, rather than the viability of creating a Covid-secure environment on polling day, is behind the proposals to delay.” – Daily Telegraph

  • New advertising blitz to warn Brits ‘having a coffee could cost a life’ – The Sun

UK bans flights from Portugal in face of Brazilian Covid variant

“All travel from Portugal will be banned under new government measures designed to prevent a Brazilian coronavirus variant being imported into the UK. Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said that direct flights from the country would be blocked from 4am today to limit the UK’s exposure to the highly contagious new strain. The move comes on top of a ban on travel from 15 other countries covering the whole of South America plus Panama in Central America and the former Portuguese colony of Cape Verde. Mr Shapps said that Portugal was included in the restrictions because of its “strong travel links with Brazil”. It covers the popular Portuguese holiday islands of Madeira and the Azores. The decision followed comments from Sir Patrick Vallance, the government’s chief scientific adviser, that the Brazil variant could be resistant to vaccines.” – The Times

  • Coronavirus sparks exodus of foreign-born people from Britain – FT
  • “Unprecedented exodus” of workers not reflected in official figures, economists warn – Daily Telegraph

Brexit 1) Workers’ rights ‘at risk’ in plans to rip up EU labour market rules

“Worker protections enshrined in EU law — including the 48-hour week — would be ripped up under plans being drawn up by the government as part of a post-Brexit overhaul of UK labour markets.  The package of deregulatory measures is being put together by the UK’s business department with the approval of Downing Street, according to people familiar with the matter. It has not yet been agreed by ministers — or put to the cabinet — but select business leaders have been sounded out on the plan. The proposed shake-up of regulations from the “working time directive” will delight many Tory MPs but is likely to spark outrage among Britain’s trade union leaders. The move would potentially mark a clear divergence from EU labour market standards but the UK would only face retaliation from Brussels under the terms of its new post-Brexit trade treaty if the EU could demonstrate the changes had a material impact on competition.” – FT

  • Prime Minister ‘set to tear up European laws to free up an estimated £1 billion’ – Daily Express
  • Government rejects report it will lower workers’ rights post-Brexit – The Guardian


Brexit 2) Fishermen accuse Johnson of ‘misleading’ them

“British fishermen have accused Boris Johnson of dishonesty and betrayal over his Brexit fishing deal. An angry letter from the National Federation of Fishermen’s Organisations accuses him of submitting to a “neo-colonial relationship with the EU on fish for long into the future”. In the letter, seen by The Times, the prime minister is accused of sacrificing the industry to get a deal and then trying to mislead both the public and fishermen over what he had negotiated…Anger is growing in the industry, not only over the deal but also over problems with new customs paperwork that is hitting Scottish fishermen particularly hard. Many have kept their boats in port as distribution problems have stopped their consignments from reaching customers on the Continent.” – The Times

  • Wrath of Scottish fishermen hit by Brexit delays at ports – The Sun
  • Tory MPs from fishing areas criticise Government over Brexit red tape – The Guardian
  • Fish in UK waters ‘better and happier’ since Brexit happened, claims Rees-Mogg – Daily Mail
  • Dover chaos feared as France demands 72-hour Covid tests – The Times


  • The fault lies squarely with the Government and poor planning – Jonathan Saxty, Daily Telegraph

Brexit 3) Foster faces wrath of unionists over Brexit shortages

“Empty supermarket shelves and the prospect of prolonged shortages thanks to Brexit red tape have left Arlene Foster, Northern Ireland’s first minister, under attack from fellow unionists and facing uncomfortable political choices. The shortages have come little more than a week after the introduction of contentious new checks on the region’s trade with Britain — part of the Brexit protocol that maintains open borders with the Irish Republic by keeping Northern Ireland in the EU’s trade and customs regime — in defiance of Mrs Foster’s “blood red lines”. A scarcity of food supplies is not good for any political leader, not least for Mrs Foster, head of the pro-British Democratic Unionists, who campaigned for Brexit when a 56 per cent majority in Northern Ireland voted to remain in the EU.” – FT

  • Ulster loses new Stena ferry as Brexit deal disrupts trade – FT

Parliament’s multi-billion pound refurbishment slashed by at least £500million

“The cost of Parliament’s multi-billion pound revamp has been slashed by at least half a billion pounds under fresh plans to scale-back the project. Bosses in charge of the major refurbishment have drawn up a new “do minimum” approach to cut costs and disruption in the wake of the Covid crisis. And one source involved in the major refurb, said Parliament could return to virtual sittings during periods of the maintenance work. That would enable Parliamentary authorities to scrap plans to house MPs in a temporary venue for up to six years, which would save taxpayers billions more. But in a letter to MPs the body in charge of the refurb project said there was still an urgent need to fix the crumbling Palace of Westminster… Original plans had proposed MPs, peers and their staff be removed for up to six years – starting in the late 2020s – while the crumbling Palace of Westminster is refurbished.” – The Sun

New BBC chairman Richard Sharp ‘criticises drama showing Tories as slimy’

“Downing Street’s choice to be the next BBC chairman has criticised its anti-Conservative political dramas and unbalanced Question Time panels, but defended its overall record. Richard Sharp said that impartiality was the biggest issue facing the broadcaster and that its culture needed to be “rebuilt” after scandals such as that over its gender pay gap. The former Goldman Sachs banker, who has donated money to the Tory party, said he did not believe that the BBC’s Brexit coverage had been systematically biased, but accused specific shows of giving Remainers more airtime than Leavers. Mr Sharp, 64, whose personal fortune has been estimated at £150 million and who will donate his £160,000 salary to charity, highlighted Roadkill, by the left-wing playwright Sir David Hare, as an example of “partial” output.” – The Times

  • The BBC has nothing to fear from its naive, Andy Pandy-loving prospective new Chairman – Robin Aitken, Daily Telegraph
  • Johnson will drag the Corporation into 21st century – James Forsyth, The Times

Scottish Labour leader steps down four months before Holyrood elections

“Richard Leonard, the Scottish Labour leader, has resigned just four months before elections for the parliament in Edinburgh, in which polls suggest his party is set for another heavy defeat by the Scottish Nationalists. Mr Leonard, who has struggled to make much impact on Scottish voters and had fought off an attempted ousting by Scottish Labour colleagues in September, said in a surprise statement on Thursday afternoon that he was stepping down as leader with immediate effect. As the only major leftwing party in Scotland that opposes independence, Labour’s fortunes have potentially far-reaching implications for the UK’s constitutional future. The SNP is seeking a renewed mandate for a second independence referendum at Scottish parliamentary elections scheduled for May, making Labour an important bulwark of continued UK union.” – FT


News in Brief:

  • Eight reasons the UK leads Europe’s coronavirus vaccination race – Christina Gallardo, Politico
  • What Cummings got right – Aris Roussinos, UnHerd
  • London has work to do to protect Northern Ireland’s place in the Union – Henry Hill, CapX
  • How should Britain respond to the takeover of Hong Kong? – Chris Patten, The Spectator
  • Should MPs read? – David Scullion, The Critic