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Coronavirus 1) Sunak could accept four-week delay to ending restrictions in England

“Rishi Sunak is willing to accept a delay of up to four weeks to the final stage of England’s reopening roadmap, the Guardian understands, as the government considers extending restrictions beyond 21 June. Ministers will continue to scrutinise data on cases and hospitalisations over the coming days, with a final decision set to be announced by the prime minister on Monday. From 21 June nightclubs are due to reopen, with the cap on wedding numbers, large-scale events and indoor mixing lifted and guidance on working from home and mask-wearing dropped. A delay in all these changes would infuriate many Conservative backbenchers. On Tuesday the former Tory minister Steve Baker pressed for the date dubbed “freedom day” to go ahead, calling it the “last chance” to save industries such as hospitality, which is calling for the 2-metre distancing rule to be scrapped.” – The Guardian

  • I would put money on Covid lockdown ending on June 21, says Gove  – The Times
  • Ministers under fire for summer holiday ‘green list’ muddle – The Times
  • Honour for Oxford vaccine scientist Professor Sarah Gilbert – The Times
  • Fears of unlocking in name only, with Covid laws to be replaced by ‘stringent guidance’ – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 2) Stay close to home, millions in areas hit by Indian variant told

“Millions of people in Greater Manchester and Lancashire have been urged not to travel far and testing has increased to control the spread of the Indian variant. The military will carry out door-to-door testing for councils that want it, an extension of a method that brought cases under control in Bolton. Andy Burnham, the mayor of Greater Manchester, has backed the plan but demanded that ministers send more vaccines to the region. Officials said that the measures were not a local lockdown and that people in the region were free to get on with their lives, but the government was advising them to be more cautious about social contact, given the high infection rate in the area. The region’s 5.7 million people are being asked to meet others outside if possible, to keep two metres apart from people with whom they do not live and to minimise travel out of their area.” – The Times

  • Andrew Lloyd Webber: ‘If you want to stop theatre, you’ll have to arrest us’ – Daily Telegraph
  • Covid rife among Channel migrants, say border staff – The Times
  • Sturgeon’s rules ban hundreds of passengers on UK cruise from disembarking in Scotland – including the Scots on board – because they set sail from an English port – Daily Mail

>Today:

Coronavirus 3) Face masks should be reintroduced in classrooms, teaching unions demand as infections rise

“Face masks should be reintroduced in classrooms, teaching unions have demanded as infections rise. A joint statement, from the National Education Union (NEU), Unison, GMB and Unite, has warned more pupils are “likely to be off self-isolating and missing out on face-to-face education” in the weeks to come. Outdoors lessons should also be encouraged to minimise any further disruption to education, the unions have urged. The plea came after Government figures showed that the proportion of pupils attending state schools in England dropped in the week before half-term as more children were forced to self-isolate. The statement read: “Education unions are deeply concerned that secondary school age students now have the highest rates of Covid-19 infection of all age groups, according to Public Health England (PHE) and the Office for National Statistics (ONS) data, and those rates are rising.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Doctors urged to see children in person over viruses fears – The Times

Coronavirus 4) Madeline Grant: Lockdown Britain has surrendered its ancient freedoms far too cheaply

“I feel a familiar sense of frustration whenever I read the latest suggestions that June 21 may not bring the final end to lockdown we were promised. Everything about this is predictable. There’s the comms style – leaking and counter-leaking, apparently designed to focus minds or “nudge” behaviour, rather than add clarity. There’s the typically patronising assumption that the public is too dim-witted to comprehend any nuance within the message. And of course the extreme risk-aversion and likelihood that the goalposts will move yet again. Well-oiled before the pandemic, lockdown has lubricated the slippery slope as never before; even our tremendous vaccine success seems to have made little difference. We’ve pivoted from expecting the country to reopen once the elderly and vulnerable were protected, to waiting for all the over-50s to be double-jabbed – and one suspects children and household pets cannot be far behind. The Clever People often deride slippery slope arguments as unsophisticated and basic, but as it happens, they are very often true.” – Daily Telegraph

  • June 21 must remain ‘Freedom Day’ — the alternative is potential economic meltdown, Jane Moore – The Sun

More comment:

Abandon threat of tariffs against UK, Brexit minister Lord Frost tells Brussels

“Brussels must drop threats of legal action and trade tariffs against Britain, the Brexit minister Lord Frost said last night as he prepared for a meeting to discuss the impasse over Northern Ireland. He is due to meet his EU counterpart, Maros Sefcovic, today as acrimony grows over the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol. Brussels says Frost has refused to engage with proposals to ease restrictions on food and medicine crossing the Irish Sea. The UK government says it has sent more than ten papers to the European Commission but not received a substantive response. Frost called on the EU to propose “practical solutions” to make the protocol work. “Further threats of legal action and trade retaliation from the EU won’t make life any easier,” he said. “What is needed is pragmatism and common sense. And it is ever more urgent.”” – The Times

  • Sausage trade war: We need to end this beef, Lord Frost tells Brussels – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

Changes to constituency boundaries predicted to give Tories majority of 100

“The Conservative majority would rise to 100 under proposed changes to constituency boundaries, according to the pollster managing the party’s response. MPs were said yesterday to be “neurotic” about planned changes that are more wide-ranging than expected, affecting at least 90 per cent of seats in England. Ben Wallace, the defence secretary, is the highest-profile MP whose seat could vanish, though allies insist that he would win a rejigged seat in Lancashire. The Boundary Commission for England published detailed proposals yesterday for the first reform of Westminster constituencies in a decade. The northeast, the northwest and the Black Country lose two seats each as London gains two, the southeast gains seven and the southwest three. Overall England gains ten seats, taking its total to 543; Wales loses eight, taking it to 32; and Scotland drops two to 57.” – The Times

  • Raab could be second high-profile casualty in boundary shake-up – Daily Telegraph

>Yesterday:

Tax rise of 1p would be needed to cover cost of reversing planned cuts to foreign aid, Treasury says

“The equivalent of an extra penny on income tax would be needed to cover the cost of reversing the foreign aid cuts, the Treasury claimed last night. Ministers defended the decision to slash more than £4billion from the overseas development budget as Boris Johnson rejected the Commons Speaker’s demand for a vote on the change. In an emergency Commons debate, Theresa May warned that Britain will find it harder to secure international agreement on action to tackle climate change because its reputation has been damaged by the cut. The former prime minister said it would have a ‘devastating impact’ on the poorest in the world. But Chief Secretary to the Treasury Steve Barclay questioned how MPs proposed raising the £4.3billion required to reverse the decrease. ‘Decisions such as this are not easy,’ he said. ‘The situation in short is this: a hugely difficult economic and fiscal situation, which requires in turn difficult actions.’” – Daily Mail

Comment and political sketch:

Tax on carmakers could ensure net-zero emissions target is hit

“Carmakers that fail to produce enough electric vehicles should face carbon taxes to ensure Britain reaches its net-zero emissions target, two former cabinet ministers have said. In a joint article for The Times Red Box Andrea Leadsom, business secretary from 2019 to 2020, and Amber Rudd, a former home secretary and energy secretary in 2015-16, call on the government to force manufacturers to meet binding targets for the production of electric cars. Those that fail to do so should be forced to buy carbon credits from other manufacturers in a scheme modelled on a “zero-emission mandate” in California. The two former ministers are making the appeal before the G7 summit in Cornwall, where climate change will be one of the central issues discussed. The government has committed to banning the sale of petrol and diesel cars from 2030 but Leadsom and Rudd are concerned that manufacturers are not making enough electric vehicles. The proposal has been endorsed by Policy Exchange, a think tank.” – The Times

  • Cornwall to become first ‘net zero’ area of Britain – The Times
  • Halogen light bulbs to be banned in UK homes as Britain follows EU’s example – Daily Telegraph

Cabinet Office loses battle to sit on details of ‘secret unit’

“A tribunal has criticised the Cabinet Office for a “profound lack of transparency” as it overturned the department’s attempt to withhold information about a secretive unit that centrally screens freedom of information (FoI) requests. The “clearing house”, a unit within the Cabinet Office that advises other government departments on how to respond to requests, has attracted widespread criticism after it was revealed that departments had been sending it details of journalists with FoI requests. Under FoI law almost all requests should be “applicant-blind” — that is, handled without knowledge of who sent them — raising concerns that requests from different journalists may have been treated differently. In February, 12 former and serving Fleet Street editors, including the editor of The Times, signed an open letter calling for an inquiry into its operation.” – The Times

Lord Maude of Horsham ‘can’t remember’ Lex Greensill appointment

“Sir Jeremy Heywood introduced the controversial financier Lex Greensill to ministers as “a very clever guy who is going to help you save a lot of money”, MPs were told yesterday. Lord Maude of Horsham, a former Cabinet Office minister, said that Greensill was temporarily made a government adviser at the behest of the former cabinet secretary. Maude approved Greensill’s temporary appointment to the Cabinet Office in 2012 but said yesterday: “I have been told that I authorised it, but I have absolutely no recollection of it.” He said he had not thought Greensill’s ideas “stacked up” or understood how they might help his team. “No one can provide finance more cheaply than a triple-A-rated government,” he told the Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee.” – The Times

Political sketch:

Minister backs noisy Ajax tank that can’t fire on the move

“A defence minister has admitted that there are “serious issues” with noise and vibration inside the army’s new light tank but insisted that the “game- changing” vehicle would not be axed. Jeremy Quin, minister for defence procurement, said that “a lot can go wrong” in a £5.5 billion contract as he avoided committing to a date for the “first-class” vehicles to enter service. The Ajax was chosen by the army in 2010. A contract with General Dynamics signed four years later required the first vehicles to be delivered in 2017 but the project has been beset by delays. The vehicles have cost £3.2 billion so far despite only 14 of them — all with no turret and of odd sizes — being delivered. A leaked government report circulated last week said that the crew carrying out trials could spend only 90 minutes in the tank because of the loud noise and could not go faster than 20mph.” – The Times

Oxford and Cambridge overtake US universities to rank among top three

“Oxford and Cambridge have secured the second and third spots in a global ranking table for the first time in a decade, after years of domination by American universities. Massachusetts Institute of Technology remained in first place in the annual QS World University Rankings for the tenth year, but Harvard fell from third to fifth, Stanford from second to joint third and California Institute of Technology from fourth to sixth. There are two Chinese institutions in the top 20 for the first time. They sit alongside Edinburgh, up from 20th to 16th, UCL, up from tenth to eighth, and Imperial, up from eighth to seventh. Oxford climbed the table from fifth due to the quality of its research, and this was before developing a coronavirus vaccine with AstraZeneca. Both it and Cambridge, which was seventh last time, were praised for research, global collaboration and “near-unparalleled levels of teaching capacity”.” – The Times

  • Magdalen College Oxford to remove Queen’s portrait over colonial links – The Times
  • Leading UK universities accept more than £40m from state-owned Chinese companies – Daily Telegraph

News in brief: