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Coronavirus 1) £500 payments proposed for those who self-isolate

“Everyone in England who tests positive for coronavirus could be given £500 to ensure they self-isolate under plans to stop hardship spreading the virus. Ministers are trying to solve a problem that scientific advisers have long said is an obstacle to controlling the virus. Paying all those with a positive test could cost £2 billion a month. However, the payment could be limited to those who cannot work from home. Ministers are due to discuss the issue next week but an overhaul of financial support seems imminent. The present payments system has been blamed for prolonging the pandemic by forcing infectious people to go to work.” – The Times

  • Biden warns Covid deaths will top 500,000 next month – Financial Times
  • Best areas push ahead as two million given vaccines in a week – The Times
  • Fixating on the R number isn’t real science – Ed Conway, The Times

Coronavirus 2) “Too early” to say restrictions will be lifted in the spring, PM cautions

“It is “too early” to say whether England’s Covid restrictions will be able to end in the spring, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has said. Once the four priority groups have been vaccinated, by mid-February, “we’ll look then at how we’re doing,” he said. Nearly two million people in the UK have had their first dose of vaccine in the past week, government figures show. Scientist Marc Baguelin, who advises the government, has said restaurants and bars should not reopen before May.” – BBC

  • Schools could be shut until after Easter holidays – Daily Mail
  • Delaying the second dose a terrible mistake – Professor Herb Sewell, Daily Mail

Coronavirus 3) Patel announces £800 fines for partygoers

“People attending illegal house parties will face £800 fines from next week as police tighten their clampdown on coronavirus rule-breaking. Home Secretary Priti Patel announced the hefty penalty for anyone attending gatherings of 15 or more people as she lashed out at revellers for spreading Covid. The fines will double for each repeat offence, up to a maximum of £6,400, she announced as she fronted a Downing Street press conference. Hosts of illegal parties are already eligible for a £10,000 fine.” – Daily Mail

  • In our dark times, an illicit rave in Leighton Buzzard is music to the ears – Madeline Grant, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Columnist Iain Dale: 400,000 police records have gone. In the Blair years, home secretaries were forced to resign over less

Coronavirus 4) Nelson: Vaccines may bring freedom at home but usher in Fortress Britain

“We could well end up with a situation where Britain wins the fight against Covid, with the vulnerable vaccinated and the economy reopening, but with Australian-style barriers at the borders and the country harder to get into than ever. Even the most hardline advocates of the policy accept that trade must keep moving, so hauliers would stay on the roads (after regular tests). It’s also argued that this is temporary. The Aussie Rules may only be needed until other countries vaccinate enough. But still, it would be more Fortress Britain than the global Britain that we had been told to expect after Brexit.” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

  • PM faces pressure to shut borders – Daily Telegraph
  • Cabinet doves and Treasury hawks in battle over borders – Daily Telegraph
  • Closing the borders might work for Australia, but it won’t work for us – Matthew Lynn, Daily Telegraph
  • Beware knee-jerk border closures. Measures, once imposed, are hard to reverse – Leader, Daily Telegraph

Dowden shelves plans to decriminalise non-payment of the licence fee

“Plans to decriminalise non-payment of the TV licence fee will not go ahead, but the issue remains under “active consideration”, the Government has said. Culture Secretary Oliver Dowden said switching to a civil enforcement may be seen as an “invitation” to avoid paying the fee. But he said the Government is concerned that a criminal sanction could be “disproportionate and unfair”. This week has seen renewed calls for the licence fee to be scrapped altogether, with John O’Connell, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance, saying there is “no wonder millions of us have turned off the BBC” in recent years. Mr O’Connell referred to the BBC as Auntie- a phrase oft-used in the 1950s to contrast the organisation’s prudish image with that of the brash ITV.” – Daily Express

  • BBC spends £1m in legal battles fighting discrimination and equal pay cases – Daily Mail
  • The BBC needs to raise its game and reform its funding structure – Leader, Daily Telegraph

Sunak: “There is no magic money tree”

“Chancellor Rishi Sunak has told Conservative MPs he wants to use his March Budget to start restoring order to the public finances, as he attempts to put “clear blue water” between the Tories and Labour. Mr Sunak has warned Tory MPs in private meetings that their demands for extra public spending could force cuts elsewhere, or tax rises. “He wants to wean us off the magic money tree,” said one senior Tory MP. Although the chancellor’s main focus in his March 3 Budget will be to support the economy through what he hopes will be the final phase of the coronavirus pandemic — requiring billions of pounds of extra support — he wants to take the first steps to tackle the virus-induced deficit.” – Financial Times

  • UK retail sales stage tentative recovery over Christmas – City AM
  • Covid has made the rich richer and the poor poorer. Sunak must do nothing to worsen that divide – Leader, The Sun
  • No 10 piles pressure on Chancellor over universal credit extension – The Times
  • France demands Britain help bail out Eurostar – Daily Telegraph
  • Bailing out Eurostar would be an insult to the north – Tony Lodge, The Times

>Yesterday: Jo Gideon on Comment: Civic pride can help level up post-Covid Britain, but it needs Government support

Raab refuses diplomatic credentials to EU ambassador

“Brexit Britain is refusing to grant hordes of Eurocrats in London diplomatic immunity — to the fury of Brussels. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab has turned down elite credentials to the EU’s new ambassador to the capital — because he does not represent a country.Livid Brussels bosses want him to be able to roam the UK above the law. But Joao Vale de Almeida, the EU’s first ambassador in London after Brexit, has not been given the same favoured status as other diplomats.” – The Sun

Nissan welcomes “competitive edge” from Brexit

“Nissan has said Brexit has given the company an edge, as the Japanese carmaker said it will buy more batteries from within the UK to avoid tariffs. The owner of the UK’s largest car factory, in Sunderland, also said it would push ahead with the production of a new version of its Qashqai SUV this year, after it delayed the new model as the coronavirus pandemic wrought havoc on car sales and production. Ashwani Gupta, Nissan’s chief operating officer, said: “Brexit gives us the competitive advantage not only within the United Kingdom but outside the United Kingdom also.” Speaking from Nissan’s Yokohama headquarters, Gupta said the Brexit deal had turned out to be positive for the carmaker. The advantage comes because it is not reliant on batteries imported from east Asia, unlike many of its rivals.” – The Guardian

  • Retailers could burn goods stuck in the EU – BBC
  • Shoppers pay a third extra to get hold of EU goods – The Times
  • Annual £7.5bn cost of EU trade as bad for business as no-deal Brexit – The Times
  • Making Brexit work – Leader, The Times

Average cost of MP rises to £240,000 a year

“Taxpayers are forking out nearly £240,000 on average to fund their MP, figures show. Members of Parliament claimed expenses and allowances of £157,747 on average last year – up an inflation-busting 6.5 per cent on the year before. This is on top of the basic MP’s salary of £81,932 – adding up to £239,679. The total claimed in expenses and allowances in 2020/21 was £127.6million, Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority figures analysed by the TaxPayers’ Alliance show.” – Daily Mail

Republicans seek delay in Trump’s impeachment trial

“Republicans in the US Senate are asking Democrats to delay the start of former President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial until February. They argue this will give Mr Trump time to prepare a defence. He is accused of inciting insurrection after supporters of his stormed the Capitol this month. House of Representatives’ Democrats are ready to hand the charge to the Senate. Mr Trump flew to Florida as his term ended on Wednesday, skipping his successor Joe Biden’s inauguration.” – BBC

  • Biden risks squandering the chance to heal – Gerard Baker, The Times

Forsyth: A flat ‘no’ to Sturgeon won’t save the Union

“One idea gaining traction in Whitehall is taking the Tories’ manifesto commitment to a “Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission” and turning it into a broader look at where powers should rest after Brexit and after Covid. In a conversation last month, Johnson sought the view of one senior Tory on the merits of a royal commission to look at the constitution. I’m told that Johnson himself seemed sympathetic to the idea. One of the attractions of this proposal is that it would extend the debate beyond Scotland. It would examine how power in England should be distributed, how the new mayoralties are performing and whether counties should have more responsibilities.” – James Forsyth, The Times

  • It is toxic nonsense to say Scotland would have weathered Covid better as an independent country – Tom Harris, Daily Telegraph
  • ‘Hugely disappointing’ as £36m SNP digital fund pays out just £6m – The Scotsman

>Today: ToryDiary: The amazing story of Mohammad Sarwar shows how Sturgeon can be defeated

>Yesterday: Columnist Henry Hill: Welsh Conservative leader under pressure to quit over Senedd drinking session

News in brief

  • Decline and fall of the dollar and America itself  George Paterson, Conservative Woman
  • The basic flaw in British Government – Peter Franklin, Unherd
  •  The urgent case for new nuclear investment – Eamonn Ives, CapX
  • What the West can do about China’s Uyghur labour camps – Harald Maass, The Spectator
  • The return of Alexei Navalny – James Snell – The Critic