Salmond will not address MSPs today after evidence redacted

“Alex Salmond has refused to appear before a Holyrood committee on Wednesday after a submission about “malicious” attempts to smear him was edited following legal warnings from the Crown Office. The former first minister of Scotland had been poised to give evidence to MSPs on Wednesday afternoon about an alleged conspiracy by his former colleagues, but pulled out after a document was heavily redacted at the Crown Office’s request. His lawyer, David McKie, has suggested Salmond could appear on Friday instead to give him time to consider how that affects his testimony. “They put a torpedo through part of his evidence,” said a source close to Salmond. Sources at the parliament said it is closed on Friday, presenting serious logistical challenges, but a Holyrood spokesperson said the committee was meeting in private session on Wednesday morning to discuss its response.” – The Guardian

Stamp duty holiday ‘will be extended to end of June’

“Rishi Sunak is preparing to extend the stamp duty holiday by three months until the end of June in an attempt to keep the property market firing as Britain emerges from lockdown. In July last year the government exempted most buyers from the levy if they completed their purchase before March 31, 2021. The holiday enables people to save up to £15,000 in tax. The chancellor has faced pressure to extend the deadline amid concerns that it would create a “cliff-edge”, jeopardising hundreds of thousands of sales. The Times has been told that Sunak will use his budget on March 3 to move it to the end of June, bringing it into line with the easing of lockdown restrictions. The extension to the policy, which covers sales of properties worth up to £500,000, could cost about £1 billion.” – The Times

  • I will save jobs, insists Sunak amid early signs worst is over – The Times
  • New wave of £7,500 grants for self-employed – but scheme may be scrapped as restrictions end – Daily Telegraph


Coronavirus 1) Johnson declares his optimism over June 21 freedom day

“Boris Johnson declared yesterday that he was “very optimistic” that he would be able to lift all of England’s coronavirus restrictions in time for June 21. In an upbeat assessment the prime minister said that if the public were “prudent” the vaccine programme should allow life in Britain to return to normal by the start of the summer. His comments were backed by the scientist whose modelling was instrumental in persuading ministers to impose the first lockdown. Neil Ferguson told Times Radio that if vaccine effectiveness was “even greater than current estimates suggest” there was the “potential of accelerating the rate of relaxation”.” – The Times

  • Britons willing to embrace risk could be hugging by May – The Times
  • Third Covid wave has arrived, Angela Merkel warns Germany – The Times
  • Distancing, masks and flexible work patterns – welcome to the ‘new normal’ – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 2) Ann Widdecombe – Covid death stats just do not add up

“In December, I related a story on this page about a care home worker who told me of a resident who had Covid put on her death certificate after she fell, suffered a bleed from the brain, was taken to hospital and died. All the care home’s efforts to get an explanation failed. In that piece I said that when the pandemic was over we needed a serious inquiry into the figures. Now Bel Mooney, the distinguished author and advice columnist, tells a similar story about her father. The legend below the graphs of government death statistics clearly states, “deaths for any reason within 28 days of testing positive” but the BBC always, always avoids reading out “for any reason”.” – Daily Express

Coronavirus 3) Covid testing rules mean schools will struggle to reopen in March, say heads

“Head teachers say that very few secondary schools in England will fully reopen classrooms on March 8 as they criticised the government for failing to introduce rotas or prioritise exam-year groups. Parents believe that all pupils are going back a week on Monday but hardly any secondary schools will start face-to-face lessons for every child on that date, school leaders have said. Boris Johnson should have been more explicit that many pupils would not start in-person lessons for up to two weeks after that date, they said.” – The Times

  • National tutoring scheme to help with lockdown lag only halfway to target – The Times
  • PM to unveil £700 million summer school programme to help secondary pupils catch up – The Sun


Coronavirus 4) NHS app to be converted for vaccine passports

“The NHS app will become a digital Covid certificate allowing people to use their phone to prove they have been vaccinated or have tested negative. Downing Street is considering allowing businesses to demand to see the app to ensure that staff or customers are at much lower risk of being infectious. Michael Gove will lead a review into issues relating to vaccine passports, which the government is reconsidering after previously branding them discriminatory. It is understood that the government wants people to have the option of showing either vaccination status or test results to ensure that the scheme not does penalise those who cannot be vaccinated for health reasons.” – The Times

  • Doctors could risk dismissal if they refuse Covid-19 vaccine – The Times
  • Greece considers opening borders to vaccinated British tourists as early as May – The Times
  • Channel migrants should face ‘red list’ quarantine, say Tory MPs – Daily Telegraph

Tough laws needed to end online hate, says watchdog

“Two former prime ministers and the anti-terrorism chief have called for laws to help the police to tackle a surge in online extremism. They have backed a study by the government’s extremism watchdog that warns that Britain’s failure to tackle online hate is creating an “ever-bigger pool” from which terrorist groups can recruit. The Commission for Countering Extremism said that the “gaping chasm” in existing legislation was allowing terrorists to “operate with impunity” online. The report, by Sara Khan, the commissioner to counter extremism, and Sir Mark Rowley, the former head of counter-terrorism policing, said that legislation covered only terrorism and hate crime.” – The Times


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Dozens of tanks to be scrapped in ‘redesign’ for army of the future

“Dozens of tanks will be scrapped and the remainder upgraded to make them “battle proof for future conflicts” under proposals put forward by the army, sources have told The Times. The army’s 758 Warrior infantry fighting vehicles could also be retired and replaced by 500 new armoured personnel carriers ahead of schedule. The “redesign” of the army was discussed during a meeting with ministers at the Ministry of Defence on Monday. Plans are expected to be signed off within days and will be outlined in a “defence command” white paper, due to be published after a wider “integrated” review is published next month.” – The Times

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