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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Boris Johnson must ignore ‘coordinated and deliberate’ push to delay June 21 roadmap, says Iain Duncan Smith

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Boris Johnson has been urged to ignore those engaged in a “an organised push by a group of scientists to stop June 21”, by former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith.

The Prime Minister is under growing pressure to stick to the final stage in the roadmap, despite a rise in cases linked to the Indian variant. An announcement is expected on June 14.

Mr Duncan Smith told TalkRadio: “It really looks to me very coordinated and quite deliberate…. These figures are calculated on the back on an envelope. There is no actual fact that says we shouldn’t unlock on June 21.

“We were always told that the most important feature of all of this is to protect the most vulnerable,” he added. “We have now double-dosed pretty near 50 per cent of the population and that encompasses all the most vulnerable.”

His words were echoed by Sir John Redwood, who said: “Just get on with relaxing the lockdown. Vaccines have brought the serious cases and deaths right down which is what matters.”

​​Follow the latest updates below.

11:34 AM

Sherelle Jacobs: Free speech crisis has wrecked any chance of sensible Covid debate

Former Brexit secretary David Davis has highlighted a Telegraph column about the impact conformity has on our scientific community, saying it is “incredibly important”.

“The tendency to suppress alternative opinions has got worse during the Covid crisis,” Mr Davis said. “If we are really to be a science superpower we have to find a way of allowing much greater freedom of opinion in science, which in turn will drive much more innovation.”

You can read Sherelle Jacob’s article in full here.

11:25 AM

Disgraced Tory MP Rob Roberts must resign or face fresh investigation, says second accuser

Disgraced MP Rob Roberts must resign his seat in the Commons or face a fresh parliamentary investigation, a second accuser has said.

Mr Roberts faces calls from several Cabinet ministers and Tory MPs to leave the Commons permanently after he was given a six-week suspension on Thursday for harassing a former employee and making unwanted advances to him.

Another accuser, who took her complaint about Mr Roberts asking her for “fun times” and “no strings” sex to the Conservative Party last year, has told The Telegraph that she will re-report his conduct to Parliament and trigger a second investigation if he does not resign.

“Ultimately, I just want him recalled, so if I have to go through the process of filing a report again I will,” she said.

My colleague Tony Diver has the full story here.

11:19 AM

June 21 unlocking will go ahead as planned, Britons believe

Nearly six in 10 Britons believe the June 21 reopening will go ahead as planned, despite the rise in cases linked to the Indian variant, a new poll has found.

Some 58 per cent think the Government will press ahead with the final stage of the roadmap, while a third (33 per cent) say it is unlikely, according to Ipsos Mori.

However, there has been a significant drop since the start of the May, when 73 per cent believed it would go ahead. This latest fieldwork was carried out May 21-23.

Overall, a third of Britons (34 per cent) believe the Government is lifting lockdown restrictions too quickly while half say the easing of rules is coming at the right time, and only 1 in 10 (nine per cent) believe it is happening too slowly.

11:02 AM

Exclusive: More than 270 charities are paying bosses more than the Prime Minister

More than 270 charities are paying their bosses more than the Prime Minister, with the highest earner on £4.7m a year, an investigation by The Telegraph has found.

In the most comprehensive analysis ever made public, this newspaper has discovered that between them the organisations employ more than 2,500 staff members on salaries in excess of £100,000 a year.

They range from organisations with income of a few hundred thousand pounds a year to huge international groups where the chief executive is managing a budget of more than a billion pounds.

Read the full story here.

10:48 AM

Covid rates in Bolton fall – but other parts of Lancashire are on the rise

Covid-19 case rates are starting to rise steeply in more areas of north-west England, though rates in Bolton are continuing to fall, new analysis shows.

In Rossendale the rate currently stands at 316.2 cases per 100,000 people, up week-on-week from 76.9; in Hyndburn it has risen from 66.6 to 162.9; and in Ribble Valley it is up from 24.6 to 129.7.

These areas – all parts of Lancashire – are now recording some of the highest rates in the UK.

Blackburn with Darwen, also in Lancashire, remains the area with the highest rate in the country: 416.2, up from 281.2.

But while rates in Bolton have fallen week-on-week from 452.1 to 386.0, other areas of Greater Manchester, such as Bury (up from 61.3 to 96.9), Manchester (59.7 to 100.4) and Salford (32.1 to 98.1) are now recording a sharp rise.

The latest case rates are for the seven days to May 27, and have been calculated by the PA news agency using Public Health England data.

10:47 AM

Vietnam’s new Covid-19 hybrid variant is replicating itself ‘very quickly’

Vietnam has suspended international flights into its capital, Hanoi, and commercial hub, Ho Chi Minh City, as it tries to control a suspected new hybrid coronavirus variant that it fears is fanning the Southeast Asian nation’s worst outbreak of the pandemic.

On Saturday, the Vietnamese authorities revealed they had discovered a “very dangerous” new coronavirus variant that combined mutations first found in India and the UK, and which spreads quickly by air.

Health Minister Nguyen Thanh Long said Vietnam would soon publish genome data of the newly identified variant, which he said was more transmissible than the previously known types, Reuters reported.

Vietnam has so far seen just over 7,100 Covid-19 cases and 47 deaths, but more than 4,000 of these cases have emerged in an outbreak that first came to light on April 27, and which has been detected in 34 cities and provinces.

10:34 AM

Vaccination rollout ‘only way’ we can get past Covid, says minister

The UK’s vaccination programme is “the only way” to break away from Covid and the lockdown, a minister has said this morning, a cases of the Indian variant continue to climb.

Paul Scully stressed no decision had yet been taken about whether the June 21 reopening would go ahead as planned, but suggested vaccines would keep us on the roadmap out of lockdown,

“By accelerating the vaccination programme, making sure people get their second jabs… those vaccinations are going to help up break the cycle” of hospitalisations “and keep us on the roadmap”, he told Sky News.

The vaccination programme “is the only way we can get past this”, he added.

Thousands of people descended on Twickenham yesterday, as part of efforts to boost the numbers of young people getting the jab, in a race against the surge in cases.

10:21 AM

Let’s ensure stable Stormont in weeks ahead, says Northern Ireland Secretary

Brandon Lewis has said he wants to see a stable Stormont emerge in the weeks ahead, as Northern Ireland marks its centenary.

Speaking in Hillsborough, Co Down, the Northern Ireland Secretary said: “I know that all the party leaders want to see a stable Stormont and Executive as that is how we deliver for the people of Northern Ireland…

“People across the community want to see the Executive working together, delivering on the New Decade, New Approach commitments that everybody made and delivering for the people of Northern Ireland.

“I would be very keen for all party leaders to want to see that going forward,” he added. “I am very hopeful we will see that in the weeks ahead.”

10:14 AM

Have your say: Would you accept any delay to the final stage of the roadmap?

Boris Johnson is coming under pressure to stick to the final stage of his roadmap out of lockdown, as the Indian variant (or Delta, according to its new name) continues to surge.

Scientists are split on what to do, with the emphasis being placed on the need for greater data compiled over the next few weeks.

Crucially, authorities will be assessing whether cases translate to hospitalisations and deaths – although some have warned this risks exposes young, unvaccinated people to long Covid.

Of course it’s not binary: the final stage could be delayed by a couple of weeks – but the hospitality sector is warning that further uncertainty could kill off further businesses.

So would you accept any delay? Have your say in the poll below.

10:00 AM

Pandemic pushes up healthcare spending to ‘rate not seen in modern times’

The pandemic has forced healthcare expenditure to levels “not seen in modern times”, according to the latest data from the Office for National Statistics.

Current healthcare expenditure in 2020 is estimated at £269 billion, a cash increase of 20 per cent on 2019 – the largest increase on record back to 1997.

The share of GDP attributed to healthcare rose to about 12.8 per cent in 2020, up from 10.2 per cent in 2019, the ONS said.

Jonathan Athow, deputy national statistician for economic statistics for the ONS, said: “The unprecedented effects of the pandemic have seen spending on health rise at a rate not seen in modern times.”

09:52 AM

Alex Salmond: Prince William should stay out of independence debate

Alex Salmond has accused the Duke of Cambridge of displaying “poor judgment” by meeting Gordon Brown in Scotland last week and urged the Royal Family to stay out of the independence debate.

The former First Minister said it would be “extraordinarily foolish” for the monarchy to get dragged into the row over Scottish separation and questioned “what on earth Prince William thought he was doing” by meeting Mr Brown.

He said royals should beware “unscrupulous Unionist desperation” to use them for political ends and urged them to follow the Queen’s “very wise” example to “keep the monarchy over and above politics”.

09:45 AM

Scotland deserves £100m because of TfL deal, claims SNP

Labour and Sadiq Khan are kicking off about the conditions attached to the £1.08bn bail-out agreed by the Government this morning.

So, too, are the SNP – who are demanding their share of the pie as a result.

09:41 AM

Government ‘playing politics with TfL, claims Labour

Labour has accused the Government of “punishing Londoners for trying to do the right thing”, and “playing politics with TfL”, following a new conditions-attached bail-out for the network (see 9:44am).

Sam Tarry, shadow minister for transport, said: “Sadiq Khan has done well to kill off the very worst of the punitive conditions the Government wanted to impose on Transport for London, but this funding package still falls well-short of what Londoners and our economy needs.

“It is adding insult on top of injury to expect TfL to stump up an extra £500m every year without unfairly punishing Londoners for doing the right thing by not using public transport during lockdown.”

“Once again, this Government has opted to play politics with TfL rather than giving it the backing it needs,” he added.

09:22 AM

Hillsborough to become first royal village in Northern Ireland

The village is the home of Hillsborough Castle - PA

The village is the home of Hillsborough Castle – PA

Hillsborough is to become the first town or village in Northern Ireland to be given a Royal prefix.

The Government said the Co Down village would become Royal Hillsborough later in 2021, to mark Northern Ireland’s centenary year. It is the home of Hillsborough Castle, the Queen’s official residence in Northern Ireland.

Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis said: “This is fantastic news for the village of Hillsborough, a truly wonderful place that deserves this special honour.”

09:19 AM

Sadiq Khan: TfL bail-out is ‘not the deal we wanted’

Sadiq Khan has hit out at the Government over its latest bail-out for Transport for London, saying “this is not the deal we wanted”.

The London Mayor said he had “tried to build bridges” and that the £1.08bn packaged (see 9:44am) was agreed “after some extremely tough negotiations”, which resulted in the team seeing off “the worst of the conditions” that would have included cuts equivalent to “cancelling one in five bus routes or closing a Tube line”.

However the agreement to look into driverless trains is something he was “forced” into, as part of the “sticking-plaster” deal, Mr Khan said.

“I’ve made it crystal clear to Ministers that we will object to any future requirement to force TfL to implement driverless trains on the London Underground,” he added. “It would cost billions of pounds and would be a gross misuse of taxpayers’ money at this critical time for our country.”

09:07 AM

‘Recovery hangs in the balance’, pubs association boss warns

The Government must press ahead with the June 21 reopening or risk further closures in the hospitality sector, a trade association boss has said.

Emma McClarkin, chief executive of the British Beer & Pub Association, told Sky News that “all” of her members were not turning a profit under current restrictions, despite the “great boost” from the hot bank holiday weekend.

She noted that around 2,000 pubs still cannot open because of restrictions, adding: “The recovery only starts when those restrictions are removed.

“Of course it’s worrying about the variant, but we now have the protections of the vaccine.. we are uncertain about our future. Recovery hangs in the balance.

“The Government hasn’t given clarity about what kind of compensation will be put in place, should restrictions linger longer,” she added.

09:01 AM

Delaying final roadmap stage could have ‘big impact’ on fight against Covid

It’s safe to say that government scientists are split on whether the June 21 reopening should go ahead as planned.

One has said it “may be a bad decision” (see 8:17am), while others have said there isn’t “any case for delay” (8:35am) and that hospitalisations are still coming down, suggesting the vaccines are working (8:14am).

However Nervtag scientist Professor Ravi Gupta is on the side of those taking a more cautious approach, saying a delay of a few weeks could help strengthen efforts against the pandemic.

“Even a month delay could have a big impact on the eventual outcome of this,” Prof Gupta told ITV’s Good Morning Britain.

“As long as it’s clear to people this is not an unlimited extension of the lockdown but actually just a reassessment, that would be realistic.”

08:49 AM

TfL’s financial model ‘not fit for purpose’, says transport commissioner

Transport for London’s financial model is “not fit for purpose”, City Hall’s transport commissioner has said.

Commenting after agreeing a £1.08bn package with the Government – to which conditions have been attached – Andy Byford said the deal would “enable us to continue to run near full levels of service to stimulate London’s recovery and deliver a host of improvements like the Elizabeth line, Northern line extension and expansion of London Overground”.

But he hinted that there could be long-term changes to the way TfL is funded, saying: “The pandemic – during which our staff have worked so magnificently to keep London moving – has shown our financial model, with such a disproportionate reliance on fare revenue, to be not fit for purpose.

“We are working hard to rebuild revenue through attracting people back to our services with nearly 60 per cent of pre-pandemic ridership already travelling again.”

08:44 AM

Government agrees ‘conditions-based’ package worth £11.08bn for TfL

The Government has agreed a third support package for Transport for London (TfL) worth around £1.08bn, to keep the network on track during the pandemic-induced slump in usage.

The ‘conditions-based’ settlement will provide financial support until 11 December 2021, and sets out further measures to be taken to ensure TfL is financially sustainable by April 2023.

As part of the deal Sadiq Khan, the Mayor of London, has agreed to “make progress towards the conversion of at least one London Underground line to full automation but with an on-board attendant”. Funding will also be agreed to carry out work on Hammersmith Bridge.

Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, said: “Throughout this process the Government has maintained that these support packages must be fair to taxpayers across the UK and on the condition that action is taken to put TfL on the path to long-term financial sustainability. As part of today’s settlement, the Mayor has agreed to further measures that will help ensure that.”

08:38 AM

Extending school day could ‘do more harm than good’, warns union

Plans to extend the school day to catch up on lost classroom time due to the pandemic could do “more harm than good”, the school leaders’ union has said.

Sir Kevan Collins, the government’s education recovery commissioner, proposes a minimum 35-hour week and add 100 hours of additional schooling compared with existing timetables in many state schools and colleges, The Times has reported.

But Paul Whiteman, general secretary of NAHT, said: “The marginal gains that might be possible through extending the school day must be weighed against the costs of such a strategy, including the impact on pupils’ mental health, reduced family time and less time for extra-curricular activities.

“The Government could end up doing more harm than good by adding more classroom hours to children’s school day,” he added. “The success of any big ideas about recovery, including additional school hours, relies on equally ambitious funding from the Treasury.”

08:25 AM

Matthew Lynn: ‘Wuhan lab leak’ may be the biggest economic shock for decades

Donald Trump was sympathetic to the theory. So was his former chief strategist Steve Bannon, and probably that weird guy you just blocked on Facebook as well, writes Matthew Lynn.

The “Wuhan lab leak” story started as just another of the mad theories circulating on the internet.

Over the last few weeks, however, it has started to pick up some credibility. Intelligence agencies in the US and elsewhere are now investigating the possibility that Covid-19 was created in a Chinese laboratory, and leaked out either by accident or design, and for now President Biden is keeping an open mind on the issue.

Here is the important question for the markets, however, and one no one is thinking about yet: what if it is true? It would be the biggest shock to the global economy in decades. Why? Because governments would surely have no choice but to retaliate with sanctions and demands for full-scale reparations.

Read the rest of Matthew’s column here.

08:14 AM

Heathrow begins separating red list arrivals in airport

Red list travellers have been queuing alongside arrivals from other countries, with reports that people have been held for up to six hours - Getty

Red list travellers have been queuing alongside arrivals from other countries, with reports that people have been held for up to six hours – Getty

Heathrow has begun processing arrivals from red list countries in a dedicated terminal following concerns about them mixing with other passengers.

Travellers arriving from red list nations on direct flights are being taken to Terminal 3 – the first time the terminal has been used since April 2020, when it was closed to save costs amid the collapse in travel.

Passengers travelling to the UK on connecting flights from red list locations continue to transit through the airport alongside those from green and amber countries. A new facility for processing red list arrivals to Terminal 4 will be opened “as soon as operationally possible”.

Heathrow insisted there were “several layers of protection to keep passengers and colleagues safe”, such as mandatory testing for all arrivals, segregation and ventilation.

08:06 AM

More countries to be added to red list amid concerns over Covid variant spread

More countries are set to be added to the red list amid concerns over high infection rates and the spread of Covid variants, an analysis shows.

Four countries have been identified as potential targets for when the Government this week publishes its updated list of countries rated green, amber and red, with the latter requiring returning Britons to quarantine in a government-approved hotel for 10 days at a cost of up to £1,750.

They are Bahrain, Costa Rica, Trinidad and Tobago and Kuwait, two of which are holiday destinations and two important Middle East economic connections, according to the analysis by Robert Boyle, a BA strategist who has previously correctly forecast destinations on the list.

My colleague Charles Hymas has more on that story here.

07:58 AM

Country at ‘perilous moment’, says former chief scientific adviser

A former chief scientific adviser to the Government Professor Sir Mark Walport has said the country is at “quite a perilous moment, but we have got to keep our fingers crossed” that measures such as the vaccine programme work.

Asked if the nation is “in the foothills of another wave”, he told BBC Breakfast: “I hope not, but it’s not impossible.

“That’s the reality of it – we have got a new variant and it is taking off, where the B.1.1.7 variant was disappearing.”

He added: “It’s clear that the [Indian] variant is taking over – it accounts for about 75 per cent of those cases which have been typed – the numbers of infections are getting up, but we would expect that.”

07:47 AM

Labour hammers Matt Hancock over ‘minor’ ministerial breach

Labour is still hammering Matt Hancock over Lord Geidt’s report, which found that the Health Secretary had committed a “minor” breach of the ministerial code.

Angela Rayner, the deputy leader, tweeted that he was “facing no sanctions because he had a ‘lack of knowledge’ about a company run by his sister – which he owns 20% of – getting NHS contracts.

“Who doesn’t know what their sister does for a living, or what a company you own 20 per cent of does?”

Colleague Yasmin Qureshi added: “If this was a country in the Middle East or Africa this UK Govt would be denouncing it as a ‘corrupt’ and ‘failed’ state

“In contrast, in today’s ‘Global Britain,’ you get away with barefaced corruption with the defence of ‘nothing to do with me guv’nor’.”

07:35 AM

Current surge ‘a preview of life with Covid as endemic infection’, says Sage scientist

A Sage scientist has said he doesn’t believe there is “any case for delay” in reopening the country from June 21.

Robert Dingwall, professor of sociology at Nottingham Trent University, told Times Radio: “It’s really important that we go ahead on June 21, and I’ve not really seen anything in the data that would lead me to doubt that as a proposition on the evidence to date.

He added: “What we see at the moment I think is really a preview of what it means to live with Covid as an endemic infection – these waves will come, they will pass through; there will be high levels of mild infections in the community for periods of time, a handful of people may be seriously ill, even fewer may die.

“But that’s what happens with respiratory viruses, and we’ve lived with 30-odd respiratory viruses for since forever.”

07:31 AM

Tory MP calls for reshuffle over ‘protectionist’ deals

A Tory MP has attacked the Government for pursuing “protectionism” in its post-Brexit trade deals.

Marcus Fysh, the MP for Yeovil, tweeted that it was “depressing” to hear proposals for “anti-competitive market distortions that would be in violation of WTO agreements”.

“Time to change up your team @BorisJohnson,” he added.

It’s not clear exactly who he is referring to, however his comments follow an attempt by George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, to impose carbon taxes on food imports.

07:26 AM

‘Just get on with relaxing lockdown’, says senior Tory

Boris Johnson will be under pressure from his backbenchers and ministers to stick to the June 21 reopening, despite a rise in cases, thanks to the huge numbers of adults vaccinated against Covid.

John Redwood is among those making his views clear already:

07:17 AM

Reopening on June 21 ‘may be a bad decision’, says JCVI member

Reopening fully on June 21 “may be a bad decision”, a member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said.

Professor Adam Finn told LBC radio that politicians “have to carry the can for whatever decisions are made”.

Asked about the businesses which may not survive further delay, he added: “I think they are more likely not to survive if we open up and then shut down again.

“I’m no business person, and shouldn’t really be commenting on business, but it seems to me that if we can progressively get back to a place where we’re living normally that would be the better thing.”

07:15 AM

EU ambassador: Holidays in Europe beckon this summer

The EU’s ambassador to the UK has raised hopes that those wanting to holiday in Europe later this summer will find the process easier.

Joao Vale de Almeida told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I hope many, many British citizens will come to our countries and I hope many EU citizens will visit the UK.”

He said that the bloc was hoping a digital Covid certificate would pave the way for greater ability to travel.

“We’re hopeful that some time later in the summer, around July, we could be in a situation where travel and tourism will be made a lot easier,” he added.

07:14 AM

‘Hospital admissions are coming down’, says former chief scientific adviser

A former chief scientific adviser has given hope that the June 21 reopening could still take place, despite several scientists calling for a delay amid surging cases.

Prof Sir Mark Walport told BBC Breakfast that “the situation is very delicately balanced”, noting that there were lots of unknowns, particularly to what extent higher cases are translating into hospitalisations and deaths.

Although there was “no doubt” that the Indian variant was more transmissible, and that current relaxations would allow for more potential mixing, the vaccines appeared to be having an effect, he added.

“Hospital admissions are not surging, if anything they are coming down,” he added. But when pressed on the likely outcome he insisted more data was required.

“The Prime Minister has to make a difficult decision,” he added. “Admissions to hospital are going to be critical.”

07:10 AM

‘No fudge’ minister insists, as he urges patience ahead of June 21 decision

A minister has insisted the Government is not “fudging” its decision over whether the June 21 reopening will go ahead as planned, but must wait for more data before they can be certain.

Small business minister Paul Scully told Sky News that authorities were “carefully working through” the latest information, adding: “We are looking at the data, making sure we can use the latest information rather than speculating now.

“This isn’t a fudge,” he added. “We will look at data, we know that case numbers are going up. We do want to make sure we open up based on data, not dates.”

07:07 AM

‘Brexit created Northern Ireland’s problems’, says EU ambassador

The EU’s ambassador to the UK has attacked new DUP leader Edwin Poots for lacking “adherence to reality” in his comments over the Northern Ireland protocol.

Mr Poots has said the agreement was “demonstrable harm to every individual in Northern Ireland”.

But Joao Vale de Almeida told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I don’t think those statements have adherence to reality.. The protocol is not the problem, Brexit created the problem in Northern Ireland.

“The protocol is a joint endeavour of the UK and the European Union, it is British law, European law, international law. There is no alternative to the protocol.

“Even those that criticise the protocol do not present an alternative which is compatible with the terms of Brexit so the protocol is the solution, we need to implement it and we want to implement it with pragmatism.”

06:52 AM

​Raab to criticise Russia’s ‘aggressive behaviour’

Dominic Raab will present a “rap sheet” of Russia’s bad behaviour to Nato allies today.

It comes after Moscow said it would increase its military presence in the west of the country.

The Foreign Secretary will list UK objections to Russia’s recent actions, including military build-up near Ukraine’s border, as Vladimir Putin’s top security officials announced 20 new “units and formations” would be deployed in western Russia and that the armoury of existing forces would be boosted.

Mr Raab will also draw attention to the forced landing of a Ryanair flight in Minsk by the Putin-backed Lukashenko regime in Belarus on May 23.

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