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Police probe leaked video of Downing Street staff joking about lockdown Christmas party

“The Metropolitan Police is reviewing footage in which senior Downing Street officials joked about holding a Christmas party during lockdown, four days after the alleged event took place. Downing Street has repeatedly insisted there was no party on Friday, December 18 last year, amid a row over whether lockdown rules were breached. It has been reported that the alleged event involved party games, as well as food and drinks being served until past midnight, at a time when Tier 3 rules explicitly banned work Christmas lunches and parties where it was “a primarily social activity and is not otherwise permitted”. In the leaked footage which emerged on Tuesday night, Allegra Stratton, who at the time was the Prime Minister’s press secretary, fields questions about reports of a Downing Street Christmas party. The footage was reportedly filmed as part of preparations for televised briefings by Ms Stratton, although the briefings did not go ahead.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Williamson had ‘two dozen people over for drinks and canapes when London was in Tier 2’  – Daily Mail

Coronavirus 1) Cabinet rift over plan for vaccine passports

“Officials are drawing up plans for the introduction of vaccine passports to slow the spread of Omicron after Boris Johnson told the cabinet that evidence suggested the new variant was “more transmissible” than Delta. Ministers were split on the potential use of compulsory vaccine certification during yesterday’s cabinet meeting, at which they were forced to confront the potential need to move to the government’s plan B. During a downbeat presentation at which he was joined by Professor Chris Whitty and Sir Patrick Vallance, the prime minister made clear the potential threat from Omicron. The new variant is able to evade immunity significantly better than any other seen so far, according to the first laboratory experiments released last night from South Africa. There were signs, though, that those who were boosted could still have reasonable protection.” – The Times

  • Compulsory vaccines must only be last resort, WHO warns – The Times

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Coronavirus 2) Christmas work from home order being drawn up by Government

“New work from home plans are being drawn up by the Government as Boris Johnson considers tougher measures to slow the spread of the omicron variant. Officials working on Covid policy have carried out modelling on the economic impact of urging people to work from home over the Christmas and New Year period, The Telegraph understands. Vaccine passports could also be introduced, prompting a Cabinet split on Tuesday over whether to adopt them. The restrictions are being considered after Mr Johnson told ministers there were “early indications” that omicron was spreading quicker than delta, the variant currently dominant in the UK. Amid the growing concerns, booster jab bookings will today open for seven million people aged 40 and over, with the wait after second doses cut from six months to three. Britain has the highest number of confirmed omicron infections in Europe at 440, and experts warned that its true number of cases could be as high as 2,500.” – Daily Telegraph

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Coronavirus 3) Omicron significantly reduces Covid antibodies generated by Pfizer vaccine, study finds

“People who have previously had Covid or been vaccinated have far less protection against omicron than they do for other variants, according to the first data of its kind. Scientists from South Africa grew live samples of the omicron variant and performed lab experiments to see if, and how, omicron was affected by antibodies in blood samples from 12 people who had been vaccinated. Six of the people also had previously had Covid. The world has been waiting for these neutralising studies to gauge how pre-existing immunity from both vaccination and prior infection will hold up against omicron. The study shows how many antibodies are needed in order to stop the virus from replicating and is an early indicator of how effective the worrying new variant is at avoiding our immune system.” – Daily Telegraph

  • New Covid drug can work against all mutations of Omicron variant, latest data suggests – Daily Mail
  • Welby criticises travel red list as confusion over Omicron rules catches out passengers – The Times
  • Online booking for Covid boosters expands to millions of over-40s – The Times
  • New Covid variant ‘much better at evading the body’s defence system’ – The Times

Comment:

  • The human cost of Covid curbs is now too great for us to accept… If Omicron, with its apparently mild symptoms, becomes the dominant strain, life can return to normal, Sarah Vine – Daily Mail
  • Don’t listen to the drumbeat of doom – Daily Mail
  • Germany’s risk obsession empowers antivaxers, Oliver Moody – The Times

Afghanistan 1) Foreign Office chief spent 11 days holiday during the fall of Kabul

“The top civil servant in the Foreign Office was under pressure to resign on Tuesday night after he admitted he spent 11 days on holiday during the Afghan crisis. Officials and Dominic Raab, the former foreign secretary, denied claims by a whistleblower that a “work-life balance” culture and a working from home policy had hampered the Government in its scramble to evacuate civilians from Kabul in late August. However, Sir Philip Barton, the Head of the Diplomatic Service, admitted to MPs that he returned from holiday only on August 26, 11 days after the Taliban took control and just two days before British troops withdrew from the country. The official said he had “reflected a lot” on his decision to remain away from Whitehall while Britons and refugees were evacuated, and now believes he was wrong to do so.” – Daily Telegraph

Comment:

  • This courageous 25-year-old who blew the whistle on Kabul airlifts shambles has delivered the most devastating indictment of our entitled civil service in history, Ross Clark – Daily Mail
  • The Times view on the Foreign Office’s handling of the Afghanistan evacuation: Diplomatic Debacle – The Times

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Afghanistan 2) Johnson’s aide promised rescue for Pen Farthing and Nowzad animals

“Boris Johnson’s parliamentary aide assured the charity worker Pen Farthing that he and his animals would be evacuated from Afghanistan, it emerged, hours after the prime minister denied intervening to get them out of the country. Johnson said that neither he nor his wife Carrie, an animal rights activist, had told officials to evacuate Farthing, his staff or his animals. He was responding to a whistleblower in the Foreign Office, who claimed there had been a “direct trade-off” between the evacuation of Farthing, his team and his animals, and the evacuation of Afghans who were at risk. Dominic Dyer, a volunteer at Farthing’s charity Nowzad, told LBC that “the prime minister intervened with the home secretary to put those people on the rescue list”, adding: “We lobbied all the ministers and obviously I knew Carrie Johnson. I made it very clear, my concerns to her. No doubt she spoke to him.” Asked afterwards about whether he intervened to get Farthing out, the prime minister replied: “No, that’s complete nonsense.” His official spokesman said that “neither the prime minister nor Mrs Johnson were involved”.” – The Times

Iain Duncan Smith: This Government is failing the victims of modern slavery

“There can be no doubt that reforms to the asylum system are desperately needed. The tragic events in the Channel over recent weeks have made that clear. The Government’s Nationality and Borders Bill, which is being debated in the House of Commons this week, has a chance to be tough on people smugglers and those exploiting the system while at the same time giving support and stability to vulnerable people who are confirmed victims of modern-day slavery. To that end, it should be supported.  Yet what is little known is that one third of all possible modern slavery victims identified are British nationals and are being exploited and enslaved right under our noses. That’s why immigration control alone won’t be enough. Unlike smuggling, modern slavery is not primarily about moving people from one place to another. It is a serious and organised crime based on making a profit from the exploitation of human beings for criminal, sexual or forced labour purposes.” – Daily Telegraph

Global affairs 1) Truss says woke attacks on Britain are a gift to our enemies

“Culture wars and woke attacks on Britain are a gift to our enemies, Liz Truss will declare. Endless bickering over how bad the UK is makes us a laughing stock to adversaries and gives hostile states like China and Russia an advantage, the Foreign Secretary will add. She will tell the most senior diplomats that the UK has been too naval gazing since the Berlin Wall fell and it is time to “step forward, be proud of who we are and what we stand for, ready to shape the world anew”. It comes as tensions with Russia mount over Ukraine. Ms Truss will tell the Chatham House think tank today: “In recent years the free world took its eyes off the ball. “After the collapse of communism, many were convinced it was the end of history, confident that freedom and democracy would go global. “People turned inwards. It’s time to wake up. The age of introspection must end now. “We need to believe in Britain and project the best of Britain to the world.” – The Sun

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Global affairs 2) Macron slams the EU’s woke ‘nonsense’ after Eurocrats tried to ban the word ‘Christmas’ and gendered terms such as actor and actress

“The French president has slammed ‘woke nonsense’ and said the European Commission needs to focus its efforts on ‘recovery, power and belonging’. Emmanuel Macron said he does not ‘totally adhere’ to Eurocrats explaining the words ‘people can and can’t use’ just a week after Brussels withdrew its controversial guidelines for inclusive communication. The document details were leaked last week and led to a furious backlash with many accusing the EU of trying to ‘cancel Christmas’ after telling staff to avoid the word in favour of ‘holiday period’ because it could be offensive to non-Christians. Politicians from Italy – where the story first emerged – accused the EU of waging a war on ‘common sense’ while the Vatican accused Brussels of trying to ‘cancel’ Europe’s Christian roots.” – Daily Mail

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Global affairs 3) Australia will join a boycott of the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing over human rights abuses – as PM warns China not to retaliate

“Australia will join the US’s diplomatic boycott of the winter Olympics in Beijing, Scott Morrison has announced. The United States on Monday said its government officials will boycott the Games in February because of China’s human rights ‘atrocities’. China said the US will ‘pay the price’ for its decision and warned of ‘resolute countermeasures’ in response. On Wednesday Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed Australia will also boycott the games, meaning officials will not turn up but Aussie athletes will still compete. Up to one million Uighurs and other Muslim minorities are believed to be held in camps in China’s far-west region of Xinjiang, according to the United Nations. China says they are legitimate prisoners but the West fears they are being unfairly detained because they are Muslim.” – Daily Mail

Global affairs 4) Biden threatens Vladimir Putin with gas embargo over Ukraine

“President Biden has warned President Putin that the West will target Russian gas exports and deploy more troops to eastern Europe if he orders an invasion of Ukraine. Senior US government officials said Biden had told Putin that there would be “clear and decisive” consequences to Russian aggression. Jake Sullivan, the US national security adviser, said that this was likely to include stopping Russian gas exports through the Nord Stream 2 pipeline, which he described as “leverage” for the West. Germany has resisted cancelling the project but is understood to have agreed to the American plan to keep it closed in the event of an attack, after a call with Biden and other western leaders on Monday. Although Nord Stream 2 is not yet operational any conflict is likely to have an impact on wholesale gas prices in Europe, which are already at record highs this winter.” – The Times

Grenfell families reject ministers’ ‘offensive’ apology

“Grenfell families called a government apology over the disaster “deeply offensive” yesterday after ministers stopped short of accepting that rules were flawed. The housing department was “deeply sorry for its past failures” in overseeing the building control system for tall blocks, it told the inquiry into the disaster yesterday. Its trust in the construction industry had been “misplaced and abused”, said Jason Beer, QC, in an opening statement for the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities. He said that if government regulations and guidance had been followed, “a large-scale cladding fire could not have happened”. From this week, the inquiry into the fire in west London in June 2017 that killed 72 people will focus on why materials that spread the flames came to be in the tower. It is expected to shed light on how three million people across the country became trapped in unsafe or unsellable flats.” – The Times

Parents’ backlash is set to put brakes on new gender law amid fears that families could be prosecuted for discussing own child’s sex change

“Ministers are poised to order a climbdown on a controversial gender conversion law over fears it could inadvertently criminalise parents and teachers. Following an outcry, they could announce as soon as today that the Government will extend the consultation period on its plans to ban conversion therapy. The law is designed to outlaw the practice of attempting to ‘convert’ gay children. But under pressure from the transgender rights campaigners, this has been extended to stop therapists trying to help children with gender dysphoria – a mismatch between biological sex and gender identity – to decide whether they really wish to transition. Campaigners warn that the legislation is so badly drafted that teachers could end up in court if they do not allow children to use opposite sex toilets or let boys play in girls’ sports teams.” – Daily Mail

  • Critics of trans reforms ‘need greater protection’ – The Times
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Durham University students ask for content warnings after row over Rod Liddle speech

“Students at Durham University have called for content warnings for speakers after a row over an address by Rod Liddle to a formal dinner. Professor Tim Luckhurst, the principal of the college who invited the Sunday Times and Spectator columnist, has apologised for calling students pathetic for walking out during the speech. A video was posted on Twitter of Luckhurst’s wife Dorothy in a confrontation with a student after the event. She can be heard calling someone silly and an arse and asking what they were frightened of, thought to be in reference to them taking offence at the speech. As her husband appeals to students to calm down, Mrs Luckhurst sings the word “arse” a dozen times before saying to someone off camera: “You’re not allowed to say arse, apparently.”” – The Times

Admiral Sir Tony Radakin: Improve diversity or we’ll look ridiculous, urges new defence chief

“The military is at “risk of looking ridiculous” unless it becomes more diverse and demonstrates better leadership, the new head of the armed forces has said. In his first speech as chief of the defence staff, Admiral Sir Tony Radakin suggested the armed forces had a “woefully” low number of women and had suffered from a lack of integrity. Radakin, from Oldham, who was state-educated, said: “We are striving to do better in every aspect of our leadership. That includes reflecting the diverse nation we serve. Because if we don’t, then quite simply, we risk looking ridiculous.” He told the Royal United Services Institute that it was not about “wokefulness” but “woefulness”. “The woefulness of too few women. And the woefulness of not following our own values, whether respect for each other or the simple integrity of claiming expenses,” he said.” – The Times

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