Published:

Coronavirus 1) No more restrictions in England before New Year’s Eve…

“Boris Johnson has decided not to impose new coronavirus restrictions in England before the end of the year, giving the green light to New Year’s Eve parties. The prime minister concluded that curbs were not required on indoor gatherings after a meeting with senior officials in which he was presented with the latest data on the spread of the Omicron variant. He urged the public to “continue to act cautiously”, however, and Sajid Javid, the health secretary, held open the possibility of further restrictions in the new year. Although figures showed that a record 112,628 coronavirus cases were confirmed on Christmas Day in England, there is optimism in government that hospitals will not be overwhelmed by Omicron.” – The Times

  • Return to ‘rule of six’ for England among options being considered by Government for January – Daily Telegraph
  • France makes WFH mandatory three days a week, limits attendances at indoor events and bans food on long-distance trains as it sees record Coronavirus cases – but there’s no New Year curfew – Daily Mail
  • Pro-lockdown experts criticised for trying to rebrand Covid restrictions as ‘protections’ – Daily Telegraph

Coronavirus 2)…as Omicron infections begin to slow despite record on Christmas Day

“There is growing confidence that Omicron infections are no longer doubling every two days, despite record coronavirus cases being found on Christmas Day. Data showed 112,628 positive cases on December 25 in England. A further 103,558 were recorded on Boxing Day and 98,515 in the past 24-hour period. Wales recorded 5,335 on December 26. In total, 763,298 people tested positive for the virus in the past seven days, up by 30 per cent in a week. There is likely to be a lag in positive tests and experts said the record Christmas Day numbers would largely relate to tests done before family gatherings. Figures for the Christmas holiday as a whole will be published this week.” – The Times

  • Far fewer people in hospital with Covid this Christmas despite cases being three times higher – Daily Telegraph
  • Staff shortages will hit mock exams, as a result of Omicron, warn head teachers – The Times
  • Down’s syndrome teenager offered do not resuscitate order – The Times

Coronavirus 3) Fraser Nelson – Johnson’s rejection of lockdown could pay big dividends in 2022

“When Professor Chris Whitty first presented his case for lockdown to the Cabinet, none of them could be expected to know what the effects would be. Now they do. Many have their day jobs dominated by the wreckage of previous lockdowns: the mayhem of school exams, the surging drugs and alcohol deaths, the sheer cost to the economy and livelihoods. In recent weeks they’ve been asked to let the wrecking ball swing again, in hope that it knocks out a chunk of the omicron variant. But what else would be hit? “Presumably, others are modelling the harms caused by restrictions, including economic harms,” Graham Medley, chairman of the Sage forecasters, said recently. But this is precisely the problem: even now, no one is. Not properly. There is no economic or social equivalent of Sage offering parallel advice. The public health officials are still making their case in the same way, and just last week were pushing for more restrictions – and the sooner the better, they said.” – Daily Telegraph

Truss becomes favourite to succeed Johnson among Tory members; ConHome’s survey makes the headlines

“Liz Truss has overtaken Rishi Sunak as the favourite to succeed Boris Johnson among Tory members, a new poll has found.  According to Conservative Home, just over 23 per cent of Tory party members would prefer to see the Foreign Secretary become the next leader, compared to 20 per cent who backed Mr Sunak. When the same questions was asked of Conservative members in August, Ms Truss was second with just 12 per cent, compared to Mr Sunak on 31 per cent. The poll, which surveyed 786 Britons, found Penny Mordaunt was the third favourite to take over from Mr Johnson, with eight per cent of the votes.” – Daily Telegraph

  • ‘Truss may have benefited from her public commitment to low taxes, in contrast to Sunak’s recent tax-raising measures’ – The Times

>Today:

>Yesterday:

Civil service cull puts 25,000 jobs at risk under Sunak’s budget reduction plans

“Tens of thousands of civil service jobs face being cut by 2025 under plans for budget reductions drawn up by Rishi Sunak. The chancellor and the Cabinet Office want Whitehall departments to achieve savings worth 5 per cent of their day-to-day spending by the 2024-25 financial year, with the civil service set to return to its pre-pandemic levels by that point. There were 505,000 civil servants across the country in September, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. Before the pandemic there were 456,000, meaning that the government would have to cut 49,000 positions over the next three years to meet its target. About half of civil servants are protected from the cuts because they work in “frontline” roles such as administering benefits, issuing driving licences and managing prisons. Sunak will nevertheless need to cut about 25,000 jobs, the Financial Times said.” – The Times

Household energy bills ‘set to double’

“Ministers are under growing pressure to protect households from soaring energy costs as they face the threat of their bills doubling in a year. Estimates sent by Ofgem, the energy regulator, to ministers this month said that the price cap was set to rise by 40 per cent in April unless action was taken, with average bills reaching more than £1,800, The Times understands. Analysts now predict that the rise, which is set by Ofgem according to a formula that takes into account soaring wholesale gas prices, could be more than 50 per cent. As a result households could face bills of above £2,000, close to double the amount from 12 months ago based on average use. Energy bills for 11 million households on standard tariffs and four million households with prepayment meters are limited by the price cap.” – The Times

  • Business Secretary will meet energy bosses today as families face paying £2,000-a-year bills in 2022 while Labour call for end to VAT charges on gas and electricity – Daily Mail

Thousand migrants claim they are children to secure asylum

“More than 1,100 asylum seekers have falsely claimed to be children over the past year, according to official figures. Two out of three cases where age was disputed and resolved were found to be 18 years or older in the 12 months to September. It is the highest proportion since the Home Office began recording the figures in 2006. The average for the past five years was 55 per cent. Migration Watch UK, a think tank that campaigns for lower immigration, said the figures exposed the need for tougher age assessment checks. In one case a balding man in his forties was placed in a school. Priti Patel, the home secretary, has announced a crackdown on adult asylum seekers who pose as children in order to be treated more favourably.” – The Times

Cuts to electric vehicle grants could dent choice in the UK

“Electric car manufacturers will end up concentrating on mainland Europe because of a lack of grants for buyers in the UK, experts say. Analysis has shown that electric car grants offered to drivers on the Continent are up to five times bigger than those available in Britain. Germans are being offered more than £6,000 in cash grants, leading to fears that manufacturers will choose to focus on these markets. The government in France is giving grants of up to £5,950 for people buying electric. Ministers in the UK are cutting grants for electric vehicles, which experts say could suppress demand and making green vehicles the preserve of the wealthy.” – The Times

Comment:

Never say Brexit or able-bodied, Welsh government tells staff

“The Welsh government has banned its civil servants from using words such as Brexit, telling them they should use “transition period to refer to the time between February 1 and December 31, 2020”. Staff must also say “non-disabled” rather than “able-bodied”. The devolved government’s website updates a style guide first published in 2019 and revised on December 20 to lay down rules about which words and phrases officials should use. Civil servants are told not to refer to Her Majesty’s government. The guide reads: “UK government. Never HM government.” One civil servant said: “Some of these rules are ridiculous. They are just words and phrases used every day by ordinary people. It is a massive A-Z but the only one missing is W for woke. It is just getting so nit-picking — well, if I was allowed to say that.”” – The Times

MoD spends £13 million on hire cars and taxis while making cuts to army budget

“The Ministry of Defence has been criticised over its “grandiose spending” of millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money on hire cars and taxis for staff this year. A Freedom of Information (FoI) response showed the department spent almost £13 million while ministers announced that the size of the army would fall and equipment would be cut to save money. The Department for Transport (DfT) spent more than £1.1 million in the year to October, while other departments spent tens of thousands of pounds. The total figure from responses to the FoI request was more than £14.2 million. John Healey, the shadow defence secretary, said: “There’s so much waste in MoD budgets and ministers have got no grip on the problems.”” – The Times

Fishing boats must carry higher quota of UK crew

“Fishing boats must have crews that are at least 70 per cent British under new post-Brexit rules. Regulations which will come into force from April will also raise the percentage of fish that English-registered vessels must land at UK ports from 50 per cent to 70 per cent. The government said that the decision to increase the percentage of British crew members from 50 per cent to 70 per cent would “create more job opportunities for UK residents” and “contribute to the financial boost to the local economies in fishing communities”. The changes to the “economic link”, which requires foreign-owned boats registering in Britain to prove that they are benefiting the UK economy, apply to those more than 32ft long.” – The Times

Crossbow laws could be tightened in wake of Windsor Castle incident

“Crossbow laws may be tightened by Priti Patel after an armed intruder who had allegedly threatened to assassinate the Queen broke into the grounds of Windsor Castle. The Home Secretary has ordered a review of rules that currently allow anyone over 18 to buy a “lethal” crossbow without needing a licence or any checks, The Telegraph has learned. Police arrested a 19-year-old man carrying a crossbow early on Christmas Day after he scaled a fence at Windsor, where the Queen was due to celebrate with her family. Minutes earlier, the teenage suspect, named as Jaswant Singh Chail from Southampton, had posted a video threatening  to “assassinate the Queen” in revenge for the 1919 Amritsar massacre. The suspect’s father said on Monday “something has gone horribly wrong” with his son, who has been sectioned under the Mental Health Act.” – Daily Telegraph

News in brief: