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Hancock’s ‘NHS power grab’

“Boris Johnson’s plan to take back overall control of health policy was triggered by frustration over the initial NHS response to Covid-19, it emerged last night. When the first wave struck Britain last spring, Johnson and his ministers would issue orders to the health quangos but be left waiting for results. They blamed the reforms introduced by David Cameron in 2012, which in effect handed independence to NHS England. The changes, according to a leaked white paper, would allow the health secretary to overrule NHS executives. Last year the health secretary, Matt Hancock, revealed plans to scrap Public Health England after it failed to get to grips with Covid testing. A Whitehall source said: “The pandemic showed that when we pull the levers, nothing happened. That can never happen again.” Sources have suggested that Dominic Cummings, the prime minister’s former chief aide, had backed the plans before leaving government last year.” – Sunday Times

  • Plans would put end to Cameron policies seen as step towards privatisation – The Observer
  • Health Service accused of using Armed Forces in publicity stunt – Sunday Telegraph

Analysis:

  • Shake-up will put politicians back in control – Andrew Gregory, Sunday Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Shifting health policy leftwards?

Vaccines 1) Ministers consider ‘targeted vaccine passport scheme’ to help return the UK to normal

“Ministers are working on a “targeted” vaccine passport scheme to allow Britons who have been vaccinated to return to more of a normal day to day life. The new passports could be similar to the yellow fever certificates which travellers must show at the border where the disease is rife. Similarly in the UK, a targeted scheme could see people applying for proof that they have been vaccinated to carry out daily tasks, in the same way that motorists need a driving licence to get behind the wheel. The Government has made clear that it is against a universal vaccine passport scheme on civil liberties and cost grounds. However, some Cabinet ministers are understood to favour this targeted vaccine passport scheme.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Dozens of countries with South African and Brazilian Covid variants left off quarantine ‘red list’ – The Times

More:

  • Relaxing Covid rules too soon risks new wave, Johnson warned – Sunday Times
  • Covid infections must fall by another 95 per cent to 1,000 a day before lockdown is lifted, says the NHS – Mail on Sunday
  • Hated 10pm curfew will be scrapped when pubs finally reopen in May – Sun on Sunday

Comment:

  • Zero Covid is a mirage – Lord Sumption, Mail on Sunday
  • A nation’s wellbeing in the hands of one minister: is this healthy? – Andrew Gregory, Sunday Times

Vaccines 2) Delaying second dose of Covid jab ‘saves lives’…

“The first real-world data from the vaccine rollout shows “promising evidence” that justifies the delayed second dose approach, a senior government vaccine adviser revealed last night. Professor Anthony Harnden, deputy chairman of the joint committee on vaccination and immunisation, said people who have been vaccinated are enjoying “high levels of protection from the first dose” which was reducing infections and saving lives. Public Health England is expected to publish the data within days. It will guide Boris Johnson and his advisers as they finalise plans to ease the national lockdown. By yesterday the number of people vaccinated exceeded 11 million. The data shows infection rates in the over-eighties have fallen dramatically in the past month.” – Sunday Times

  • Vaccines backlog could put over-50s target at risk – Sunday Telegraph
  • Oxford jab less effective against South African variant, study finds – The Observer
  • How did Britain end up with the worst Covid-19 death rate in the world? – Mail on Sunday
  • Black people half as likely to have had jab but four times as likely to die with Covid – Sunday Times
  • Von der Leyen compares vaccine to ‘Cold War’… as EU reaches out to Russia – Mail on Sunday

Vaccines 3) Millions of people under 50 to get Covid vaccine at work from spring

“Millions of people under 50 years old will be vaccinated at work under proposals being considered by ministers to accelerate the national rollout from the spring, The Telegraph can disclose. Ministers are discussing a “jabs at work” plan to help vaccinate nearly 30 million younger adults once vaccinations have been offered to the vulnerable and elderly, Cabinet sources said. The Government announced this week that it is expecting to have vaccinated the nine priority groups which account for 99 per cent of all coronavirus deaths, including the over-50s, by early May. However, Whitehall sources said on Saturday night that the pace of vaccinations meant the target could be achieved by April.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Britain is on course to hit 15 million first vaccine dose target by Valentine’s Day – Mail on Sunday

Schools:

  • Teachers jumping queue for vaccines after Portsmouth orders jabs for every school in the city – Sunday Telegraph
  • Hundreds of school staff get the Covid jab by mistake – Mail on Sunday

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Gimson, Gimson, Gimson…and Gimson. My Coronavirus experience, fifty calls from test and trace. And what I learnt.

Williamson ‘plans phased return to English universities in March’

“Gavin Williamson is drawing up plans for students to make a phased return to universities in England from 8 March, although vice-chancellors warned that many were unlikely to be back on campus before summer. The education secretary is expected to announce on 22 February that final-year students in practical subjects will be able to return to face-to-face teaching, with students taking other subjects to follow soon afterwards. But unions said as much tuition as possible should remain online for the rest of the academic year to put the safety of staff and students first. It comes amid fierce debate over the timetable for lifting the national lockdown, and as universities and the government fear the financial fallout of extended closures while students continue to pay tuition fees and rent.” – The Observer

  • Eighteen Tory MPs back call to open schools in England by Feb 22 – Sunday Telegraph
  • Union rejects plans to extend school day to make up for Covid closures – The Observer

Treasury 1) Amazon and online giants face tax raid on booming sales

“Amazon and other companies who have cashed in on the coronavirus crisis are facing a double tax raid under plans being drawn up by the government to plug the black hole in Britain’s finances. Treasury officials have summoned tech firms and retailers to a meeting this month ahead of the budget to discuss how an online sales tax would work, according to leaked emails. The Downing Street policy unit is also working up proposals for an “excessive profits tax” on companies that have seen profits surge as a result of the crisis. Amazon’s sales in Britain leapt by 51% last year to £19.5bn as those in lockdown became more reliant on home deliveries. But the company pays little corporation tax – just £14.5m in 2019.” – Sunday Times

  • Chancellor teaching school maths classes online – Sunday Times

Welfare:

  • Benefit claimants face mounting debt burden, says thinktank – The Observer
  • Ministers are under pressure to keep a £20-a-week Universal Credit uplift – Sun on Sunday

Comment:

  • Sunak wants to take away the punchbowl but Covid means he must keep pouring the drinks – Robert Colvile, Sunday Times

Treasury 2) Backbenchers shoot down plan to fix cladding crisis with loans

“Rebel Conservative MPs have dismissed as “dead on arrival” a plan to solve the cladding scandal by introducing loans to repair dangerous and poorly constructed homes. Last night a Treasury source insisted that Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, was “working around the clock” to assist 700,000 people trapped in homes at risk of fire and up to three million who cannot sell flats because of construction faults exposed by the 2017 Grenfell fire. But a proposal to offer government loans to freeholders and make them responsible for repairs has met resistance. Sunak has been in talks with Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, to help those who face huge bills to repair their properties.”- Sunday Times

Ministers urge rethink of Kwarteng’s reforms for company directors

“Senior Conservatives have called for the Government to rethink plans for far-reaching reforms making company directors personally liable for business failures. Critics say the plans will saddle directors with a heavy burden of new responsibilities, inhibiting them from taking the risks needed to start vital new businesses. As part of the package being proposed by Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) will be replaced by the Audit, Reporting and Governance Authority, with new powers to clamp down on auditors and directors. Directors will be held personally responsible for the accuracy of their company’s financial statements – with fines and bans if they are found to have breached their duties to uphold corporate reporting and audit standards.” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Treating directors like potential criminals is the last thing our economy needs – Matthew Lesh, Sunday Telegraph

Johnson faces Commons defeat as rebels stand against China’s ‘genocide’

“The prime minister is on course for a damaging defeat this week over the government’s approach to China’s human rights record. An amendment to the Trade Bill, which would give the High Court the right to rule on whether a country is committing genocide, “has the numbers to pass”, according to rebel Tories. The plan is designed to ensure the government has to rethink trade agreements with China, because of its systematic abuses against Uighur Muslims in Xinjiang. The plan could also end business relationships with other oppressive regimes. MPs cut Boris Johnson’s majority from 80 to 11 last month but claim to have more support after the government lost heavily in the Lords on Tuesday.” – Sunday Times

  • Tory MPs want courts to block trade with countries guilty of genocide – Sunday Telegraph
  • MI6 fears over UK universities’ links to Beijing – Mail on Sunday
  • Johnson’s aide Edward Lister linked to both sides in Chinese embassy deal – Sunday Times

Tom Tugendhat: Our academics are prostrating themselves to a Chinese  regime guilty of genocide

“Why have Britain’s universities been prostrating themselves so enthusiastically to the Chinese state that denies freedom of thought? The ugly truth is that some of our universities, a fundamental part of the UK’s innovation-based economy, have been motivated by a mixture of naivety and greed. Among the most prestigious institutions in the UK are some which have been topping up their income with sponsorship from Chinese military and tech firms which, it should not need saying, have aims that run fully counter to our own. And these universities have been doing this while in receipt of billions in British taxpayer cash… Has UK-based research been used in the repression of minorities and democracy activists in China?” – Mail on Sunday

>Today: David Davis MP and Neil Parish MP in Comment: From trade with China to food standards, MPs must be given a guaranteed say on new trade deals

Fury at Gove as exports to EU ‘slashed by 68 per cent’ since Brexit

“The volume of exports going through British ports to the EU fell by a staggering 68% last month compared with January last year, mostly as a result of problems caused by Brexit, the Observer can reveal. The dramatic drop in the volume of traffic carried on ferries and through the Channel tunnel has been reported to Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove by the Road Haulage Association after a survey of its international members. In a letter to Gove dated 1 February, the RHA’s chief executive, Richard Burnett, also told the minister he and his officials had repeatedly warned over several months of problems and called for measures to lessen difficulties – but had been largely ignored. In particular he had made clear throughout last year there was an urgent need to increase the number of customs agents to help firms with mountains of extra paperwork.” – The Observer

  • Eurostar ‘just weeks from disaster’ as UK ignores French plea for help – Sunday Express

Johnson will not let the EU ‘push us around’ over Northern Ireland, says Braverman

“Boris Johnson is not going to let the European Union “push us around” and is right to threaten to override parts of the Brexit deal, the Government’s chief law officer has said. Suella Braverman, the Attorney General, backed the Prime Minister to get changes to the deal, which means the UK-EU border is in the Irish Sea, which will be good for Northern Ireland and Great Britain. Speaking to the Telegraph on Sunday, Mrs Braverman said: “Boris stood up to the EU last year and we got a good deal. I am really confident we are not going to let the EU push Northern Ireland around. “We will do whatever it takes to ensure that we get a good settlement for Northern Ireland, and a good settlement for the Union.”” – Sunday Telegraph

  • Dark warning signs reveal ‘anger and frustration’ of loyalists – Sunday Times
  • UK urged to tear up EU rules as Brexiteer petition hits 100,000 – Sunday Express
  • Biden administration doesn’t want to get ‘mixed up’ in row – Sunday Telegraph

Comment:

  • Why the EU is playing a foolishly dangerous game with Northern Ireland – Dan Hodges, Mail on Sunday

>Yesterday: Book Reviews: Oborne condemns Johnson as a liar – and cannot understand why many voters believe the Prime Minister is telling the truth

Rattled Starmer urged to be more ‘pro-business’…

“Sir Keir Starmer will seek to reset his faltering leadership with a pledge to make the Labour Party “unashamedly pro-business”. In a strategy that will do little to endear him to the left of the party, the Labour leader is preparing to park his tanks on the Tories’ lawn by unveiling a bold pro-business policy agenda before next month’s budget. It is understood that this will include tax cuts for firms and a pledge to extend the business rates holiday to help companies struggling amid the coronavirus pandemic… Labour is hoping to use the run-up to the budget on March 3 to reboot Starmer’s leadership after a bruising week when even his closest allies appeared to turn on him. ” – Sunday Times

  • Labour shadow attorney general is caught on tape saying pandemic is good for rich City lawyers – Mail on Sunday
  • Don’t increase taxes in next month’s Budget, Labour’s Dodds tells Sunak – Sunday Telegraph
  • Labour Left-wingers call for McDonnell to lead the party – Mail on Sunday

Comment:

  • Starmer must use May election battles to prove Labour’s progress – Andrew Rawnsley, The Observer

…as constitutional reform report floats scrapping honours

“Britain’s historic honours system would be abolished under shock plans drawn up by the Labour party. Knighthoods and all other royal gongs will be scrapped and replaced with a “civic award”. Medals awarded to the Armed Forces for heroism will also be axed – and MPs would no longer have to swear an oath of allegiance to the Queen. The “shocking” proposals are contained in a lengthy report on constitutional reform written by a current Labour staffer. Its publication will be a huge embarrassment to leader Sir Keir Starmer who is trying to give the party a patriotic makeover to win back voters… The mountainous task he faces within his own ranks is laid bare in a 234-page report called Remaking Of The British State.” – Sun on Sunday

  • The problem is not the flag but the left’s needless anxiety over patriotism – Sunder Katwala, The Observer

Scotland: Crunch time for SNP as Sturgeon and Salmond’s rift comes under scrutiny…

“The next two weeks will see the principal actors give their evidence under oath as the committee hurries on to complete its report before the election recess begins on 25 March. Hamilton is also expected to publish his findings by then. But in the latest twist, Salmond has signalled he may not attend his long-awaited appearance this Tuesday, following a row over the committee’s refusal to publish his key submission, in which he claims Sturgeon lied to parliament and broke the ministerial code, because of legal constraints. Salmond branded the decision “farcical” and is reportedly considering holding a press conference instead. Salmond has claimed that officials close to Sturgeon and her husband, Peter Murrell, chief executive of the SNP, were involved in a conspiracy to bolster the government and police investigation, and had pushed complainants into giving evidence.” – The Observer

  • Explosive claim that led to a toxic fallout could derail bid for Scottish independence – Mail on Sunday

More:

  • Judge dismisses bid for vote without Westminster approval – Sunday Express