Johnson ‘boosts hopes of February freedoms’…

“Britain could begin to see coronavirus restrictions eased by late next month, Boris Johnson suggested yesterday as he called for a “debate” on how far and fast to end the lockdown. In his most optimistic assessment in recent weeks the prime minister said there were tentative signs the current national lockdown was having an effect in bringing rates of new infection down. He said this combined with the vaccine roll-out, which is due to protect the most vulnerable groups by the end of next month, could allow for a gradual easing of restrictions. Latest figures released by the government reveal that more than 3.2 million people have now been vaccinated. This represents almost 45 per cent of over-80s and nearly 40 per cent of care home residents.” – The Times

  • Over-70s to get Covid vaccine invitations as jabs rollout ramped up – Daily Telegraph
  • More than 300,000 jabs are delivered in one day – Daily Mail
  • Johnson knows his legacy is in the hands of ‘political’ NHS chief – The Times
  • London’s black cabs join forces to offer help in Covid jab rollout – FT


  • Mass compliance with third lockdown ‘has brought Covid outbreak under control’ – Daily Mail
  • Deaths will continue to rise, Whitty warns – The Sun
  • Covid infection trends in England put scientists at odds – FT

>Today: ToryDiary: Lockdown is popular, and sceptics’ parliamentary tactics must account for it

…as he strengthens borders to shut out new Covid strains

“Britain’s borders will effectively be closed from Monday amid growing fears over new variants of coronavirus, Boris Johnson has announced. The Prime Minister has pulled the plug on all travel corridors, meaning everyone arriving in Britain from next week will need a negative Covid test and will then have to quarantine for 10 days. The restrictions will last until at least February 15 – but, with other countries well behind Britain in vaccinating their populations, there are signs that travel will not return to normal until well beyond then. On Friday, scientific advisers also played down expectations of a return to normality in the UK by Easter. Mr Johnson warned that there was a danger of Covid “running riot” among young people if restrictions were lifted before they had been vaccinated.” – Daily Telegraph

  • All UK travel corridors to close on Monday – The Times
  • ‘Don’t take travel advice from me’, says Transport Secretary – The Sun


  • Coronavirus is mutating faster than we can ban flights – John Naish, Daily Mail
  • Political correctness is hurting the fight against anti-vaxxers – Pravina Rudra, Daily Telegraph


  • Johnson has finally decided to control our borders months too late – The Sun

>Today: David Gauke’s column: The Covid paradox for Johnson: the nearer to normality we get, the more difficulties he’ll have

SNP Health Secretary apologises to Hancock for publishing sensitive vaccine supply figures

“The SNP’s Health Secretary has apologised to Matt Hancock for publishing confidential vaccine supply figures amid intense Government fury the disclosure risked doses being diverted from the UK to other countries. Jeane Freeman said she regretted the Scottish Government publishing the detailed figures for weekly supplies, broken down by manufacturer, in its latest vaccine deployment blueprint. The Prime Minister and Mr Hancock are concerned that the disclosure will lead to vaccine manufacturers coming under pressure to give doses destined for the UK to other countries who have not secured such a good deal. Ms Freeman said she had apologised directly to Mr Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, and her counterparts in Wales and Northern Ireland for the “mistake” and noted the sensitive figures had been removed from the plan. However, they remained widely available on the internet.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Doctors ‘told to throw away leftover  vaccines’ rather than giving second doses… – Daily Telegraph
  • …and want new legal protections if they have to choose between patients – The Times
  • GPs warn of chaos as healthy patients urged to get flu jabs during Covid crisis – Daily Telegraph

Pupils could take GCSE and A-level exams at home and get grades early

“Pupils could sit mini-exams at home and receive their final results in July, under proposals for this summer’s GCSEs and A-levels. The qualifications regulator Ofqual proposed yesterday that teachers should again assess student grades. Last year, teachers were asked to predict what grade a student would have received should they have taken their exams. This year, teachers will make their decisions based on overall “evidence of the standard at which their students are performing”. This will include any coursework or material produced specifically in line with the syllabus for a course, and could also include externally set papers taken by students in school or at home. The government has not yet made a decision on whether such examinations would be mandatory. That, and other aspects of the final design, are open for consultation from students, parents, teachers and education leaders.” – The Times

  • Calls to protect teachers awarding grades from a backlash from disappointed parents – Daily Telegraph
  • Schools demand Downing Street explain unauthorised use of rapid Covid tests – The Guardian

UK plans early G7 virtual meeting and presses ahead with switch to D10

“Boris Johnson is planning to host a virtual G7 summit of world leaders within weeks of Joe Biden becoming US president in an attempt to set an ambitious agenda covering climate change, a worldwide vaccination programme, future pandemic preparedness and relations with China. He is also pressing ahead with plans to convert the face-to-face annual summit of the G7 in June into a D10 of leading democracies. It is due to be the first in-person meeting of world leaders for nearly two years, after the US-hosted G7 was cancelled and the Saudi-hosted G20 meeting moved online last year. The proposal to expand the G7 into a wider group has met resistance from some European states concerned it will be perceived as an anti-China alliance and a means of diluting the power of EU countries. Concern has been expressed within French and Italian diplomatic circles. An early virtual meeting of the G7 would provide Biden with a platform to show renewed US commitment to multilateralism.” – The Guardian

New ‘Right to Regenerate’ plans to let people ‘buy council buildings and turn them into new homes or businesses’

“The public will soon get the right to buy up crumbling old council buildings and turn them into new homes or booming businesses under fresh plans. In the spirit of Margaret Thatcher’s ‘Right to Buy’, a new ‘right to regenerate’ scheme will force local authorities and public bodies to sell unused land and derelict buildings if it’s requested by members of the local community. The plan will rip up red tape to help try to solve Britain’s housing crisis, rather than destroying valuable greenbelt land. The land could be ex-council housing, garages, or overgrown plots – to be sold to individuals or communities to do what they want with it. And those who put the requests in will be first in line to buy it themselves… Under the proposals, the owner of the land would need to have clear plans for land in the near future – meaning they can’t hold on to it forever without using it.” – The Sun

Universal Credit uplift ‘could be extended’ under plans favoured by DWP

“The £20 weekly uplift in Universal Credit could still be extended beyond March under plans favoured by work and pensions ministers, The Daily Telegraph understands. With Sir Keir Starmer due to force a Parliamentary vote on the issue on Monday, Boris Johnson on Friday held talks with the Chancellor Rishi Sunak and Therese Coffey, the Work and Pensions Secretary. Discussions over an extension are understood to have taken place, although insiders insisted that the talks remained “active” and that no timeline for a final decision had emerged from the meeting. Ministers are also coming under mounting pressure to provide free school meals again over the February half-term, with the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisting that support was already being provided to families through the Covid winter grant scheme.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Sunak plans £500 gift for benefit claimants to avoid Tory uprising – The Times
  • Chancellor tailors Budget to avoid job cuts… – FT
  • …and rejects a wealth tax – Daily Mail
  • Stamp duty: Sunak ‘refuses to continue nine-month tax break beyond end of March 2021’ – The Sun
  • UK edges towards double-dip recession – The Guardian


Hackers breach Foreign Office computers ‘sparking fears of hostile state attack’

“A Foreign Office outpost has been breached by hackers sparking fears of a hostile state attack, The Sun can reveal. The Government’s Wilton Park agency based in Sussex was hit by a sophisticated cyber attack last month. The facility was set up by Winston Churchill in 1944 to bring together diplomats, business and world leaders, and was struck by an attack shortly before Christmas. Following an investigation by the National Cyber Security Centre, it is understood a significant number of individuals whose data was stored on Wilton Park’s computers servers have been warned their details may have been compromised in the attack. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office confirmed the digital assault had taken place but declined to comment on suspects. But sources said they were confident the incident is not connected to the Solar Winds Orion hack that has blighted the US government in recent weeks and was blamed on Russia.” – The Sun

  • Controversy over role for British judges in Hong Kong – The Times


  • A freedom-weary West must not end up seeing China’s tyranny as a safe haven – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Alec Cadzow in Comment: Global Britain must be prepared to intervene in the Middle East

Food shortages as Northern Ireland nears new Brexit deadline

“It started when Sainsbury’s replaced its Taste the Difference range in Northern Ireland with Spar products more usually found at petrol station forecourts. Then came the empty shelves at Tesco and Marks & Spencer branches. Parcels were also delayed, with one Belfast man discovering that the computer parts he received by “international mail” had in fact been sent from Bolton. Two weeks in, it is fair to say that not everyone in the province is convinced that they are experiencing the “best of both worlds” under Boris Johnson’s Brexit deal, as promised by ministers. Ministers insist that the issues are no more than “teething problems”. But that has not stopped a ferocious political blame game, with nationalists attacking Unionists, Unionists blaming nationalists and everyone calling on the British government for clarity.” – The Times

  • Irish freight industry warns of Brexit threat to supply chains – FT
  • Shapps indicates lorry drivers can enter France with rapid Covid test – The Guardian


  • Government must ‘get a grip’ of what is now a full-blown crisis, say fishermen – Daily Telegraph
  • Scottish fishing lobby derides ‘desperately poor’ EU trade deal – FT


Salmond demands inquiry gives him immunity against prosecution so he can tell ‘whole truth’

“Alex Salmond’s appearance in front of an inquiry during which he was expected to level serious allegations against Nicola Sturgeon has been thrown into doubt after he demanded a guarantee he would not be prosecuted. Levy & McRae, the former First Minister’s solicitors, wrote to the Holyrood committee conducting the inquiry warning that their client could leave himself open to prosecution if he mentioned evidence disclosed to him as part of his defence in his criminal trial. They said this meant he could not tell the committee the “whole truth”, leaving himself open to a perjury charge as witnesses to the inquiry give evidence under oath. In their letter, they said that Mr Salmond is “currently unable to discharge in full” his responsibility to offer evidence under oath “without fear of prosecution”. The former First Minister had requested “binding assurances” from Lord Advocate James Wolffe QC, Scotland’s most senior law official, that he would not be prosecuted if he gave evidence.” – Daily Telegraph

  • SNP divided over path to independence – FT

>Yesterday: Left Watch: Why Conservatives should cautiously welcome fresh leadership for Scottish Labour

Lib Dem MP accused of election fraud over spending reported to police

“A Liberal Democrat MP who unseated a Tory minister at the last election has been reported to police over allegations of electoral fraud, The Daily Telegraph can disclose. Sarah Olney, MP for Richmond Park, beat Lord Goldsmith in the December 2019 election after appealing to the overwhelmingly Remain constituency. LibDemWatch, which tracks alleged “election cheating” by the party, claims Ms Olney failed to properly account for over £2,000 worth of Facebook adverts, and 65,000 envelopes supplied to her campaign by her local party, which were invoiced without VAT and at prices lower than those from an external supplier. Electoral Commission guidance states that supplies must be valued at market rates. Munira Wilson, the Lib Dem MP for the neighbouring Twickenham constituency, has also been accused of omitting Facebook advertising and campaign office costs in her election spending return.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Police look for 400,000 records wiped out in IT blunder – The Times

Unite has links to companies investigated for bribery

“Britain’s most powerful trade union gave multimillion-pound contracts to a company whose owner is under criminal investigation for alleged bribery, it is revealed today. Construction projects across Britain were awarded by Unite to the Flanagan Group, a Liverpool company run by an associate of Len McCluskey, the union’s general secretary. The union’s property manager handed another contract on a £50 million Unite project to a company owned by the son of Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s mayor. The Flanagan Group is under investigation by Merseyside police in connection with Operation Aloft, a long-running inquiry into the sale of council-owned land in Liverpool to developers. Paul Flanagan, head of the group, was arrested in September on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery. He was released under investigation pending further inquiries.” – The Times

>Yesterday: Laura Evans in Local Government: Burnham’s Mayoralty in Greater Manchester has meant four wasted years