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Coronavirus 1) Brussels “backs down” on blockades in vaccine war with Britain

“EU leaders have stepped back from threatening to ban vaccine shipments to Britain. Ursula von der Leyen, the European Commission president, had urged leaders to support regulations to hit Britain with blockades in any future supply crisis, because vaccination rates in the UK are higher than in the EU. She was backed by President Macron…However wording inserted by the Netherlands and Belgium, with German support, emphasised “the importance of global value chains” and urged companies such as AstraZeneca to “ensure predictability of their vaccine production and respect contractual delivery deadlines”. Mark Rutte, the Dutch prime minister, noted that Pfizer’s vaccine production in Belgium was dependent on British factories and that an export ban could lead to retaliation.” – The Times

  • EU leaders clash as Austria demands extra doses – Financial Times
  • Macron is overruled – Daily Telegraph
  • Von Der Leyen maintains threat despite snub from EU leaders – The Sun
  • Tussles over supplies could last months despite commitment in public to work together – The Guardian
  • EU chief makes Jean-Claude Juncker look like a statesman – Leader, The Sun

>Today: David Davis on Comment: The Covid public inquiry should open in October, be held in two stages – and prepare for the unexpected

Coronavirus 2) MPs vote to extend emergency powers for another six months

“MPs have voted to extend emergency coronavirus powers for another six months. They backed the health secretary’s call to renew “essential” emergency rules to deal with the pandemic as England moves out of lockdown. But some Conservatives voted against the measures saying they were “out of step” with the roadmap for lifting restrictions. Ministers say the powers will stay in place “only as long as necessary”…The law gave the government wide-ranging powers unlike others seen before – from shutting down pubs, through to detaining individuals deemed at risk as part of efforts to contain the spread of the virus. MPs voted by 484 to 76 to extend it – 36 Conservative MPs rebelled, by opposing the legislation. Twenty-one Labour MPs also voted against it.” – BBC

  • Lord Sumption claims face mask rules could last 10 years – Daily Express
  • Sunak: ‘Workers could quit if forced to stay at home’ – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday:

Coronavirus 3) Survivors could be allowed to show proof of immunity to claim ‘freedom pass’

“Brits could have three ways of getting a Covid “freedom pass” to get into venues such as pubs and sports stadiums. Past infection, proof of a jab or a recent negative test recorded on a smartphone app would give the green light. Those who have had Covid will be able to show proof of their immunity from the bug on the NHS app to claim their pass even if they have not been jabbed. PM Boris Johnson revealed yesterday that evidence of antibodies in the blood could be enough to qualify for the certificates for pubs, restaurants, cinemas, stadiums and theatres. It follows Wednesday’s bombshell admission that pubs will be able to use vaccine passports to block un-jabbed drinkers… A paper version will be handed out to those without smartphones. Individual businesses will be able to ignore the scheme — but those that take it up look set to be allowed to relax social distancing in their premises and pack in more punters.” – The Sun

  • Government supporters argue it would allow for social distancing rules to be relaxed sooner than planned, possibly some by May 17th – Daily Telegraph
  • Publicans say it’s “bonkers” and “unBritish” – Daily Mail
  • Checks at pubs ‘could nudge young people to get vaccine’ – The Guardian

Coronavirus 4) Network of drive-through vaccination centres planned

“A network of drive-through vaccination centres is being prepared for the next phase of the Covid-19 jabs roll-out as the UK insists diplomatic rows with the EU and India will not stop people getting their second dose of the vaccine. The NHS is also planning to begin a further round of vaccinations in the autumn, alongside flu jabs, to deal with the potential for dangerous new strains of coronavirus, according to papers from a health service board meeting seen by i.” – The i

  • 40,600 people likely caught Covid while hospital inpatients in England – The Guardian

Coronavirus 5)  Nelson: Voters want illiberal measures

“Lockdown remains very popular, to the Prime Minister’s initial amazement. But he talks now as if he has been given a new mandate from the electorate… The creation of a “Health Security Agency” was announced this week. An unusual name: British “security” services have not, so far, tended to involve public health officials. But perhaps the language is simply catching up with reality: that the fundamentals of a biosecurity state are now under construction. This is what ministers think the public now want: a big shift in the dial away from liberty so the state can better provide security. It’s happening incrementally, with no real debate.” – Fraser Nelson, Daily Telegraph

China imposes sanctions on British politicians

“China has slapped sanctions on nine British politicians, lawyers and an academic for “maliciously spreading lies and disinformation” about Xinjiang, days after Britain sanctioned China officials for human rights abuses in the region. Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative party leader, is among nine British citizens sanctioned days after Britain joined the United States, Canada and the European Union in coordinated sanctions on Chinese Communist Party officials involved in a campaign of persecution against the Uighurs. China’s Foreign Ministry said the named individuals and their family members were banned from entering China, Hong Kong or Macau and that Chinese citizens and institutions will be prohibited from doing business with them. Those targeted include Tom Tugendhat, the chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee…and the Conservative MPs Neil O’Brien and Nusrat Ghani.” – The Times

  • Relations will deteriorate further – James Landale, BBC
  • I’ll save world from an over-mighty China, vows Biden – The Times

Williamson condemns “unacceptable” threats to teacher who showed a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad

“Gavin Williamson has condemned parents’ protests against children being shown a cartoon of the Prophet Muhammad in class as “completely unacceptable”. Crowds gathered yesterday at Batley Grammar School to complain about the image, which parents said was from the French satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo. The non-selective school in West Yorkshire has apologised over the “inappropriate” image, shown during a religious studies lesson this week, and suspended a teacher. Video film shows people gathered around the school gates amid shouts of “get the head teacher”, although police confirmed that there had been no arrests or fines issued for breaches of the coronavirus restrictions. The education secretary intervened last night. A spokesman for the Department for Education (DfE) said: “It is never acceptable to threaten or intimidate teachers. We encourage dialogue between parents and schools when issues emerge. However, the nature of protest we have seen, including issuing threats and in violation of coronavirus restrictions, is completely unacceptable and must be brought to an end.” – The Times

>Today: ToryDiary: What has really changed in West Yorkshire – or elsewhere in Britain – since copies of The Satanic Verses were burned?

Brexit 1) UK and EU begin diverging on financial regulation

“The UK and EU have already begun to diverge in the way they oversee financial markets as hopes the two will reach a broad agreement on supervisory “equivalence” in the wake of Brexit fades. Britain has outlined tweaks to areas including the rules surrounding equity, fixed income and commodities trading just months after the end of the Brexit transition period on December 31. The subtle rule changes strike at the contrasting philosophies between the EU and UK on how markets should be regulated…The EU’s priority is to develop a more harmonised internal capital market. By contrast UK politicians view Brexit as the chance to return to restore powers and discretion to regulators and exchanges, lost by layers of detailed and prescriptive EU rulemaking.” – Financial Times

  • EU “ignoring pleas from its own member states” to intervene and fix fishing trading frictions – Daily Express

Brexit 2) Lords committee claims Britain has lost “significant” access to EU policing data

“Britain has lost “significant” access to EU policing data under the Brexit deal negotiated at the end of last year, a House of Lords report has said. It also concluded that post-Brexit law enforcement arrangements are “complex” and “untested”. And peers warned it would take much longer for vital data to be passed to frontline police officers. A government spokesman said the UK “continues to be one of the safest countries in the world”. When the UK left the EU it lost automatic access to EU databases with information on criminal records, fingerprints and wanted persons. Under a deal struck between the two sides at the end of last year, the UK secured access to certain sets of information, for example air passenger data.” – BBC

Lewis and Foster clash over access to abortion in Northern Ireland

“First Minister Arlene Foster has told the NI secretary to “back off” over the issue of providing abortion services in Northern Ireland. The government has published regulations allowing Brandon Lewis to direct commissioning of the services. Mrs Foster said it was a complex, controversial and legally challenging issue. “But let us be clear, it is for the executive. It is not for Brandon Lewis,” she said. “The reason why he brought it to the House [of Commons] was that there was no devolution at the time. There is devolution now, and he should back off.” Earlier in the Commons, Mr Lewis said it was unacceptable that women and girls in NI could not access abortion services even though the law changed more than a year ago.” – BBC

Council Tax bills to average over £2,000 in more than 100 local authorities

“Householders in more than 100 districts will receive average bills of more than £2,000 next week as town halls put up council tax by 11 times the rate of inflation. Across England the average bill for a typical Band D home will be £1,898 – up £80 on last year, according to figures released yesterday. A total of 104 districts will charge families more than £2,000, compared to only 36 last year. For the most expensive Band H homes in these areas, it will be more than £4,000. The most expensive council tax bills will be in Nottingham, where Band D bills will go up £107 to £2,226. That works out as £42.81 every week.” – Daily Mail

>Today: Local government: The key contests that will show if the Red Wall has been truly demolished

Sturgeon offers nurses a four per cent pay rise

“Nicola Sturgeon today attacked Boris Johnson over his ‘miserly’ one per cent pay rise offer to NHS staff in England as she promised a four per cent hike…Her pay promise prompted a furious backlash from Tory MPs over UK funding arrangements as they claimed she could never afford such a move if Scotland became independent.” – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Columnist Henry Hill: Ross’s blitzkrieg didn’t bring down Sturgeon, but Fabius Johnson can yet deny her the prize

Hartlepool “on a knife-edge”

“Focaldata has surveyed vast numbers of voters, and then used machine learning to get a more accurate picture of voters in Hartlepool in the run-up to the by-election. Hartlepool is on a knife-edge. While Labour are marginally ahead of the Conservatives (by 3 per cent), the contest looks to be far closer than many predicted. Although Labour vote share is projected to be fairly stable compared with the 2019 general election, the Tories are predicted to increase their 2019 vote share by 7 per cent. The main reason? Former Brexit Party voters are moving. Nearly four times as many migrated towards the Conservatives (40 per cent) than Labour (12 per cent).” – The Times

Forsyth: Political class have abandoned risk

“The most lasting change from Covid will be in our political class’s attitude to risk. We’ve had a generation of politicians and officials who had grown used to the worst case scenario not happening, be it the millennium bug or bird flu. This bred a certain insouciance. Tony Blair confessed in his memoirs that he did the ‘minimum’ to prepare for bird flu. ‘There is a whole PhD thesis to be written about the ‘pandemics’ that never arise,’ he said. It’s fair to say there was quite a bit of this attitude in Downing Street and Whitehall in January last year. Covid has changed all that, though. We now have a situation in which the ‘reasonable worst case scenario’, to use the government jargon, has happened. This will lead ministers and civil servants err on the side of caution for the rest of their careers.” – James Forsyth, The Times

News in brief

  • How to fix Brexit’s Northern Ireland protocol problem – Raoul Ruparel, Politico
  • Can Priti Patel’s asylum shake-up help Britain take back control? – Dean Godson, The Spectator
  • Should pubs be allowed to ask drinkers for proof of vaccination? – Annabel Denham and Emma Webb, 1828
  • Restore our freedoms – John Redwood
  • The EU’s threats to seize vaccines are on shaky legal ground – Lee Rotherham, CapX