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Hancock ‘rebuked’ for suggesting coronavirus vaccine won’t combat new strain…

“The government’s chief scientific adviser criticised the health secretary yesterday for suggesting that vaccines would be 50 per cent less effective against the South African variant of coronavirus. Sir Patrick Vallance insisted that “you just can’t” take laboratory studies as a sign of what would happen in people, after Matt Hancock appeared to do so in a call with travel agents. Sir Patrick acknowledged that the studies did suggest that the immune system may find it harder to recognise the South African and Brazilian variants but urged people to wait for human data from those countries’ vaccination programmes. He also downplayed concerns raised in Israel that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine may not be as effective as thought.” – The Times

  • Health Secretary warns importation of new strain could ruin UK vaccination drive – Daily Telegraph
  • Covid variant may be more deadly than original – The Times
  • PHE chief admits it’s not ‘absolutely clear’ if Kent strain is deadlier – Daily Mail

Delay:

  • Israeli data does not undermine decision to delay second dose of vaccine, Vallance says – Daily Telegraph
  • Senior doctors call for gap between first and second doses of the Pfizer vaccine to be halved – Daily Mail

Lockdown:

  • March of mutant strain forced Johnson into war of attrition – The Times
  • Fears lockdown may go on for longer as Prime Minister warns that infections remain ‘forbiddingly high’ – Daily Telegraph
  • The best and worst case scenarios – The Times

Editorial:

  • It is becoming clear that we remain in for a long haul – The Times
  • Look on the bright side and focus on the NHS and vaccine progress – The Sun

…as half a million fewer vaccines being supplied to NHS next week…

“Up to half a million fewer doses of Covid vaccine will be supplied to the NHS next week as Whitehall sources admitted the target of vaccinating priority groups by mid-February was increasingly “tight”. Deliveries of the Pfizer vaccine will be cut by between 15 and 20 per cent next week after the US firm announced delays in shipments because of work to increase capacity at its Belgian processing plant, sources said. Boris Johnson announced on Friday that more than 400,000 people in the UK were vaccinated on Thursday in another record day for the national rollout… But Government sources admitted that scheduled deliveries of around 2.8 million doses of Covid vaccine to the NHS will be cut next week to just over 2.3 million doses, partly due to the Pfizer delays.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Britain hits 400,000 daily Covid jabs – Daily Mail
  • NHS staff band together to survive Covid ‘war zone’ – FT
  • Stratton to self-isolate due to Covid rules – The Guardian

Minorities:

  • Almost half of people in high ethnic minority areas snub coronavirus jab – The Times
  • Fake theories may leave half of British Indians reluctant to take it – The Sun

Europe:

  • AstraZeneca warns EU countries it will cut deliveries due to production problems – Daily Mail
  • Brussels ‘panic’ as bloc investigated over secretive Covid jab supply – Daily Express

…and Fire Brigades Union accused of bullying to stop volunteers

“The firefighters union has been accused of bullying its members and advising them to avoid volunteering for the coronavirus effort. A report by the fire services watchdog claimed yesterday that the Fire Brigades Union (FBU) had prevented members from taking part in efforts to tackle the virus. Its leadership held a Facebook event on Thursday as the report was due to be published in which they issued advice to members on how they could withdraw their services. A fire chief told The Times that the union had “bullies” who had intimidated firefighters, including himself. The FBU faces questions over its handling of firefighters’ response to the pandemic. Zoe Billingham, HM inspector of constabulary, the fire services’ watchdog, said its last instruction had been not to assist in efforts to tackle the virus, including volunteering in vaccination centres. It remains in place.” – The Times

  • Rollout is slowest in some of England’s most infected areas – Daily Telegraph

More unions:

  • Unite calls special meeting over alleged overspend on £50m building project – The Guardian

Paul Goodman: The summer will be Johnson’s danger time

“For between a spring of falling deaths, God willing, and an autumn of total vaccination (that’s to say: the point at which all adults have been protected) lies an ambiguous summer, during which deaths will fall faster than cases. Indeed, the latter are set to rise for months to come. Ministers will then face a trade-off between opening up the economy, so pushing the number of health-harming Covid cases back up, or else keeping it closed, and so increasing the economic damage. In the meantime, the government is still struggling to get enough people tested. Hence Matt Hancock’s push for a £500 payment per head for those who volunteer. Some senior ministers are bullish about that trade-off: “It’s a nice problem to have,” one told me. By which he meant that at least in such a scenario deaths will have fallen. One sees his point. But Tory MPs in the Covid Recovery Group may not.” – The Times

  • We must not allow takeovers by global firms to undermine British science – Charles Moore, Daily Telegraph
  • Please ignore conspiracy theories, take the vaccine and protect yourself and loved ones – Bishop Karowei, The Sun

>Yesterday: James Somerville-Meikle in Comment: The Conservative Party and the Catholic community can find much common ground

Sunak warns MPs that Covid handouts ‘can’t go on forever’

“Rishi Sunak has told Tory MPs that coronavirus handouts “can’t go on forever” as he considers a second budget in the autumn to raise taxes. The Chancellor has begun rolling the pitch for revenue-raising measures but is understood to want to wait until later in the year when the economic outlook is clearer and the recovery in train before making many key decisions about taxes. His March 3 budget is expected to focus on job creation and stimulating the economy, with a warning that the public finances must be put on a sustainable footing in the medium term. A Government source said Mr Sunak is “under constant pressure from Number 10 to be sympathetic on a case-by-case basis [to those financially affected by coronavirus], but the problem is those cases grow all the time”.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Chancellor’s plan to end UK stamp duty holiday boosted by housing boom data – FT
  • Borrowing hits highest December level on record – The Guardian
  • Allies of Sunak and Johnson slam ‘half baked idea’ to hand every Brit £500 for getting Covid… – The Sun
  • …as ministers look at increasing support for people forced to self-isolate – FT
  • Government urged to raise high income charge threshold for child benefit – The Guardian

Comment:

  • Chancellor has thrived in the pandemic, but his biggest challenges are yet to come – Katy Balls, The Guardian
  • ‘When Boris Johnson moves on, Rishi Sunak will become leader. The party will demand it’ – Nick Timothy, Daily Telegraph

>Today: Julian Brazier in Comment: A single allowance rate for Inheritance Tax – and five other proposals for making social care more resilient

Patel condemns Facebook encryption plans as ‘morally wrong and dangerous’

“Facebook’s encryption plans for messaging are “morally wrong and dangerous”, Priti Patel said after the tech giant admitted the moves would make it easier for paedophiles to share images of child sexual exploitation. The Home Secretary is demanding that Facebook abandons its plans for end-to-end encryption on all its platforms unless it can guarantee that children will continue to be protected by allowing police and other enforcement agencies “lawful access” to encrypted messages. Police, the Home Office and children’s charities believe encryption will make it impossible for even Facebook itself to detect the millions of messages or images shared by paedophiles that are currently passed to law enforcement agencies for investigation. Their fears were confirmed this week when Monika Bickert, the vice-president of global policy management at Facebook, told MPs there would be a reduction in the number of paedophiles reported to the police as a result of the change.” – Daily Telegraph

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

Trade 1) EU to seek more time to ratify trade deal with UK

“The EU is set to ask Britain for more time to ratify their new trade deal despite the UK urging Brussels to press ahead quickly, with the issue becoming a fresh point of tension between the two sides.  Diplomats said national ambassadors from EU countries at a meeting on Friday backed an extension to the current end of February ratification deadline, amid concerns that legally approved versions of the trade treaty in all of the bloc’s 24 official languages will not be ready by then. Ambassadors in Brussels were briefed at their meeting by the EU’s in-house lawyers that an end of April deadline would be more realistic to have “authentic” versions ready of the 1,246-page agreement in all 24 of the bloc’s languages. Both the European Parliament and the EU Council that represents member states need to ratify the agreement. The concern on the EU side is that it would be difficult in practice for EU institutions, including the European Parliament, to prepare ratification documents while relying on provisional translations of the deal that may not perfectly match.” – FT

  • Brexit red tape strangling small firms – The Times
  • Peers demand Gove offers them answers about impact on Northern Ireland – Daily Express
  • Fishermen feel waves of betrayal – FT
  • French customs officials’ post-Brexit dirty tricks are revealed – Daily Mail

More:

  • Bloc launches £5bn ‘off-budget’ defence fund to send ‘weapons’ globally – Daily Express
  • MEPs vote to add Channel and British Virgin Islands to tax haven blacklist – The Guardian

Trade 2) Britain’s hopes of a quick trade deal with US fade

“Boris Johnson’s hopes of striking an early trade deal with the US – seen as one of the biggest prizes of Brexit – have faded after new warnings that such pacts were not a priority for president Joe Biden’s new administration. Liz Truss, UK trade secretary, insists that much of the work needed to secure a trade deal has been done, but senior UK government officials have admitted that an agreement may not be possible in 2021. Janet Yellen, Mr Biden’s nominee for Treasury secretary, said the new president had made it clear that the US economy had to be upgraded before more trade barriers were taken down… White House press secretary Jen Psaki on Friday said there was no set timeline for completing the deal. The administration’s “primary priorities” were tackling coronavirus and providing economic relief to Americans, she added. Kim Darroch, Britain’s former ambassador to Washington, told the BBC it was “a stretch” to think a UK-US trade deal would happen during Mr Biden’s first term as president, saying Britain would not be a top priority.” – FT

  •  US Embassy attempts to play down fears that removal of Churchill bust signals a souring of ‘Special Relationship’ – Daily Mail

‘Varsity line’ will return after £800m pledge to reverse Beeching rail cuts

“Plans to link Oxford and Cambridge by train for the first time in more than 50 years were given a serious boost yesterday as part of a £794 million investment in Britain’s railway. The Department for Transport said it would commit to reopening 20 miles of the old Varsity line between the university cities. It represents a big step towards the full reopening of the 70-mile route which was shut in 1967 after more than 100 years of service because of a decline in passenger numbers. Additionally, the government will fund the reopening of the Northumberland line between Newcastle-upon-Tyne and Ashington, which was closed to passengers in 1964. It has been used for freight but will now be reopened to full passenger services with the addition of six new stations. The investment in both lines was announced as part of a wider policy designed to reinstate old rail services scrapped in the 1960s as part of the infamous Beeching cuts.” – The Times

  • Red Wall projects get just £34 million – The Sun

Holyrood inquiry in ‘unprecedented’ legal move to force release of ‘explosive’ Salmond documents

“Nicola Sturgeon and the SNP face potentially damaging revelations over the Alex Salmond affair after a Holyrood committee invoked legal powers never used before to force the release of “explosive” documents. The Holyrood inquiry investigating a botched civil service probe into allegations of sexual misconduct against the former First Minister said it needed to see information held by Scottish prosecutors to assess claims that a harassment procedure was used to “damage the reputation of Alex Salmond”. Its convenor, an SNP MSP, said the “unprecedented” move, designed to force the release of  documents obtained in the criminal investigation into Mr Salmond and passed to his defence, was needed to uncover the truth. The legal notice to the Crown Office requests internal communications between senior SNP and Scottish Government officials, over text message and WhatsApp, related to Mr Salmond.” – Daily Telegraph

>Today: ToryDiary: Johnson should be deeply wary of opening Pandora’s Box with a constitutional commission

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

London ‘goes to war’ with Sadiq’s ‘illegal’ road schemes

“Residents in five London boroughs have taken the fight against cycle-friendly ‘Low Traffic Neighbourhoods’ to the high court. Sadiq Khan’s controversial road scheme was this week ruled ‘illegal’ by a high court judge who said it was found to be ‘seriously flawed’. Dozens of roads were closed and others narrowed to create new cycle lanes in the height of lockdown last year in an effort to encourage walking and cycling. But residents in Hackney, Ealing, Hounslow, Lambeth and Croydon have now launched a legal challenge to stop the road closures. The hearing on February 12 could be decisive in the battle between councils and motorists across the capital. One of the challenges, by residents in Hackney, said the road changes were unlawful because of the lack of consultation, failure to consider the impact on traffic, air pollution, and the disproportionate effect on people from Black and ethnic minority groups.” – Daily Mail

News in Brief:

  • O’Brien: the Tory MP holding right-wing Covid conspiracy theories to account – Marie Le Conte, GQ
  • Sensationalist headlines spread Covid panic and lead to bad decisions – William Wellesly, CapX
  • Life after Cummings at No.10 – Katy Balls, The Spectator
  • There’s nothing so ex as an ex-Prime Minister – Nigel Jones, The Critic
  • It’s time to stop blaming boomers – Ben Sixsmith, UnHerd