Published:

Johnson will not grant a second Scottish independence referendum

“Boris Johnson will make clear on Sunday that he will not grant a second Scottish independence referendum, even if the SNP wins a majority in May’s Holyrood elections. In a speech to the Scottish Conservative Party conference, the Prime Minister will argue holding a referendum during the Covid-19 pandemic would be reckless. The defiant message comes as Whitehall increasingly focuses on how to counter the prospect of ‘Scexit’ – Scottish exit from the Union – in the coming months and years. Ministers have agreed there should be no new version of Better Together, the pro-UK campaign in the 2014 referendum, instead relying on an existing web of Unionist bodies. A billion-pound spending drive is under way which will see the UK Government invest directly in Scottish transport and infrastructure, circumventing the SNP-run Scottish Government.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Westminster ‘poised to take over freeports in Scotland’ – Daily Express
  • BBC ‘stacks election in favour of SNP’ after deciding to continue to  screen Sturgeon TV briefings – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • We need a secretary of state for the Union – Alexander Walker, Times Red Box
  • Sturgeon’s independence drive can be thwarted – James Johnson, Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday: Henry Hill’s Red, White, and Blue column: Swinney is saved, but Sturgeon’s grip on the Scottish Government hangs by a Green thread

Nurses may be offered pay rise of more than two per cent to defuse row

“Nurses’ pay could increase by more than 2 per cent under plans being considered by ministers to try to defuse a mounting row, The Times has been told. A government source said it was a matter of “when, not if” the current 1 per cent offer is increased. The source said ministers were considering a rise of more than the 2.1 per cent proposed by the NHS, and suggested that a rise of between 2 and 3 per cent would be “realistic”. There have been suggestions of 5 per cent, although this is “very unlikely”. Rishi Sunak, the chancellor, yesterday said the proposed 1 per cent increase offered to NHS staff was “based on affordability”… Earlier this week Boris Johnson told MPs that “of course” the government would look at the review body’s suggestions about nurses’ pay.” – The Times

  • Sunak defends budget plans and insists one per cent rise for NHS staff is fair – The Guardian
  • Starmer refuses to rule out joining NHS staff on picket line – The Sun

>Today: Caroline Abrahams in Comment: Carers need a combination of support to fulfil their vital role – here’s how the Government can play its part

Johnson backs AstraZeneca vaccine after Italy, Norway and Denmark stop giving out the jabs

“Boris Johnson yesterday insisted the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab was safe after the EU launched a probe into reports of blood clots in vaccinated Europeans. The European Medicines Agency said it had received reports of 22 cases of blood clotting among the three million vaccinated with the jab on the Continent – including one person who died ten days later. A host of European countries including Denmark, Norway and Iceland have halted the use of AstraZeneca jabs amid fears they cause blood clots, while Italy has suspended a batch following the death of a naval officer and another man. But No 10 yesterday insisted the jab is safe and that Britons should continue to take it, pointing to the success the vaccination programme is having.” – Daily Mail

  • France opens borders to British tourists with negative Covid tests – The Times
  • Hancock hails Novavax vaccine’s effectiveness – Daily Mail

Comment:

  • After lockdown we can expect a third wave,  and No 10 needs to admit it – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph
  • Vaccinating the homeless means no vulnerable person is left behind – Matt Hancock MP and Robert Jenrick MP, The Times

Editorial:

  • Failures on track-and-trace show the limits of top-down planning – The Times

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Test and Trace has been messy and expensive. But let’s not write it off yet.

‘No plans for Eat Out to Help Out 2 after lockdown’

“Rishi Sunak has revealed there are no plans for an Eat Out to Help Out mark 2 because high streets will “spring back” after lockdown. The Chancellor said families are eager to spend a big chunk of the £180billion savings chest they have amassed during the pandemic. But he also admitted he has sleepless nights worrying about the number of Brits who will lose their job as the recession bites. And he hinted higher taxes and a bigger state could be here for years to come as the UK pays down its Covid debts. Mr Sunak told the Treasury select committee there is a huge amount of pent up consumer demand ready to be unleashed after lockdown… Asked if Treasury boffins are considering another scheme like Eat Out To Help Out to incentivise spending, he said no.” – The Sun

  • Taxes will remain high to fund larger levels of public spending, Sunak suggests – Daily Telegraph
  • Chancellor concerned higher borrowing costs could destabilise public finances – FT

Comment:

  • We’re all taking the big government gamble – James Forsyth, The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: Looking back at the Budget a week on, its plan for growth is not convincing

Ministers plan overhaul of capital market rules to boost City

“The Treasury is drawing up plans to overhaul rules that have tightly governed London’s capital markets, looking to counter fears that the City is losing its place as a global financial centre after Brexit. The proposals are expected to largely target Mifid II, the EU’s main financial services legislation, that set tough and often prescriptive rules to improve markets after the 2008 crisis, according to two people with knowledge of the plans. Introduced in 2018 to inject more transparency and competition, executives have complained that large sections of Mifid II have had only marginal benefit and created layers of red tape. Ministers are also planning a more wide-ranging review of UK financial markets rules to discard other EU standards and improve the City’s competitiveness against global rivals.” – FT

  • Sunak planning bonfire of EU rules for the City – Daily Express

>Yesterday: Greg Clark MP in Comment: Why we formed our industrial strategy. What it achieved. And how my successor can build on it.

Government blames Covid as it delays full UK customs checks on EU goods until 2022

“The UK’s new customs border with the EU will not be fully operational until 2022, the Government has announced, as ministers sought to blame the delays on the Covid-19 pandemic. Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove has confirmed that new checks on certain EU food imports will now not be required until October, six months later than planned, with a second round of controls pushed back until January next year. The final set of checks, including on live animals at border control posts, will only commence three months later, in March. EU diplomats and officials have taken aim at the move, questioning how postponing full customs checks until a year after the transition period ended represented taking back control of the UK’s borders.” – Daily Telegraph

  • UK pushes back full Brexit border checks by another six months – FT
  • Exports to EU plunge by £5.6bn in first month since Brexit – The Guardian

More:

  • Brussels could slap sanctions on UK in border row – Daily Express
  • EU capitals weigh tougher response to UK’s Brexit ‘provocations’ – FT

>Yesterday:

Ministers intervene in furious row over Cumbria coal mine

“Robert Jenrick has bowed to pressure in long-running row over a new coal mine in Cumbria tonight – ordering a fresh inquiry into whether it can go ahead. Cumbria County Council was due to review the decision to open the first new coal mine in Britain for decades, after approving it twice. After an outcry from green campaigners, ministers have u-turned and it will now be subject to a local public inquiry. But a furious row erupted in Westminster after Tory MPs complained they would miss out on massive investment in their local area. They pounded Downing Street with furious complaints about the u-turn. Workington MP Mark Jenkinson told the Tory MP’s Whatsapp group that Mr Jenrick has “bowed to climate terrorists” and said the decision was a “kick in the teeth”.” – The Sun

  • Government criticised over design of levelling up fund – FT

>Today: Barry Lewis in Local Government: In Derbyshire, we are releasing entrepreneurial spirit to provide green energy

Rees-Mogg says House of Commons refurb must not create a Disneyland

“Jacob Rees-Mogg has rejected the plans for the refurbishment of parliament as a “Disneyland” blueprint, raising further doubts over whether MPs will be asked to move out of the building. MPs backed a “full decant” proposal in 2018 at an estimated cost of £4 billion, which would entail them moving out of the Palace of Westminster and into Richmond House on Whitehall for about six years. A review of the plan was started last year to examine whether this was still the best option. Its final report, published yesterday, concluded that the full decant should go ahead and that any other option would result in “decades of large-scale disruption and the significant risks that would come with working on a large, noisy and complex construction site”.” – The Times

  • Moving MPs out during refurbishment is ‘for the birds’ – Daily Telegraph

Peers push for stalkers’ register and greater protections in new bill

“MPs will get their first chance to strengthen laws to protect women after Easter as pressure mounts on the government to do more following Sarah Everard’s suspected murder. Proposals including making it easier for women to break the law if they are under attack were backed by the House of Lords this week as part of the Domestic Abuse Bill, which is going through parliament. Another measure being pushed by peers would ensure information about all stalkers is shared by police forces. The amendment, which will be debated and voted on in the House of Lords next week, would add stalkers to the Violent Offender and Sex Offender Register. Campaigners have said that both proposals would immediately give women greater protection under the law as concerns grow about women’s safety after Everard’s disappearance.” – The Times

  • Johnson ‘shocked’ by Everard case – The Sun
  • Home Secretary has ‘sickened’ the police as she vows to publish national strategy – Daily Mail
  • Sexual harassment of women in street could become new offence – Daily Telegraph

Priti Patel: I’ll do all I can to protect women and girls

“I have heard first-hand from victims and survivors about the ­devastating effect gender-based violence has on them and their families. That is why last year I launched the UK’s first ever public survey on tackling violence against women and girls. We received more than 15,000 responses, including views and lived experiences of gender-based violence and the impact that these terrible crimes have had on victims and their families. These experiences will help me to develop a new national strategy on tackling violence against women and girls, which I will publish this year. This is just one part of the action that I am taking to better target perpetrators and support victims and survivors.” – The Sun

  • Street harassment is violence against women and must be stopped – Nimco Ali, Daily Telegraph

Starmer admits Labour faces ‘tough’ local elections

“Keir Starmer warned that Labour faces a “tough” set of local elections in May — his first test at the ballot box since he became party leader nearly a year ago. Britain’s main opposition party is trying to play down expectations of any major advances in the elections on May 6 as the Conservative government enjoys a poll bounce due to the success of its Covid-19 vaccination programme. While Labour could make gains in some English councils and see London Mayor Sadiq Khan returned to power comfortably, it is expected to perform badly in Scotland and fall short in its bid to take crucial English mayoralties such as the Tees Valley and the West Midlands. “Our expectations are that we’re going to really struggle,” said one member of the shadow cabinet.” – FT

SNP’s contentious hate crime laws pass despite free speech fears

“The SNP’s controversial hate crime laws were passed at Holyrood last night despite lingering concerns they will undermine freedom of expression. MSPs approved the Hate Crime and Public Order (Scotland) Bill following a lengthy debate, over two days, over dozens of amendments designed to prevent the criminalisation of free speech. The Bill consolidated a number of laws into one piece of legislation, but added the offence of stirring up hatred. However, Humza Yousaf, the Justice Secretary, was forced to radically water down the original version following a backlash from artists, the BBC, sheriffs, senior police officers, high court judges and celebrities including John Cleese. ” – Daily Telegraph

News in Brief:

  • What’s the EU really trying to do with the Protocol? – Theresa Villiers MP, The Critic
  • The tide is turning for the once-untouchable SNP – Henry Hill, UnHerd
  • Nationalists’ foray into high finance has come at a big price – John Ferry, The Spectator
  • Is test and trace a £37bn Serco failure? It’s a bit more complicated than that… – John Ashmore, CapX