UK coronavirus live: PM admits there is not enough testing capacity but warns second lockdown would be 'disastrous&

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Johnson says he does not think the EU is negotiating in good fait.....ewSparrow.

Johnson says he does not think the EU is negotiating in good faith.

Johnson confirms advocate general may be resigning from government

Hilary Benn, the Labour chair of the Brexit committee, goes next.

Q: Is Lord Keen of Elie still in post?

Johnson says negotiations are still continuing, so he cannot give a clear answer.

Johnson says UK will impose reciprocal tariffs on EU goods in event of no deal

Neil Parish (Con), chair of the environment committee, goes next.

Q: Are you confident that goods will be able to flow easily over the border from January?

Johnson says a huge amount of work on this is going on.

He says the internal market bill will help in this regard.

Q: If they play hardball, shouldn’t we threaten to put tariffs on all EU goods if there is no deal?

Johnson says the UK’s tariff regime would be “quite formidable” for some EU goods if there were no tariffs.

Q: So will you commit to reciprocal tariffs?

Of course, says Johnson. There will be tariffs. The schedule has been published.

Q: Reciprocal tariffs?

Yes, says Johnson.

  • Johnson says the UK will impose reciprocal tariffs on EU goods in the event of there being no trade deal. At one point the UK said it would not impose tariffs, regardless of what the EU did.

Labour’s Meg Hillier, the chair of the public accounts committee, goes next.

Q: Some 11% of pupils are missing school. What will you do to support them?

Johnson say there is a £1bn catch-up fund.

Q: School funding has gone down.

Johnson says he is surprised by Hillier’s hostile tone.

He says he does not accept her claim that test and trace has failed. It has done a “quite remarkable job” in expanding from a standing start.

He would not want people working in the system to think that MPs think they are failure.

Q: Who will lead the charge to get the moonshot working, with up to 10m tests per day?

Johnson says he does not recognise the figure.

(In fact, it comes from an official document.)

Julian Knight, the Conservative chair of the culture committee, goes next.

Q: Is it right that people in the arts and theatre community will lose help once the furlough scheme runs out?

Johnson says he wants them to be able to get back to normal.

Q: Can we have a specific date for theatre opening?

Johnson says he would like to be able to do that. But he says for people to go back to theatres with no physical distancing, you will need instant, mass testing. We are not there yet, he says.

Q: These sectors will need a long-term recovery plan. Are you aware of that, and what are you going to do about it?

Johnson says, from his time as London mayor, he knows how important this sector is.

Q: So will you commit to a long-term recovery plan for this sector?

Johnson says there is one already.

Q: Can we afford another national lockdown?

Johnson says he does not want on. It would be “disastrous”. But we must beat this disease by the plan set out.


Johnson says he has “real, real sympathy” for the self-employed who do not qualify for the Treasury support schemes available.

In response to another question from Stride, Johnson says he is right to say the threat of interest rates rising in the future is a real one.

Mel Stride, the Tory chair of the Treasury committee, goes next.

Q: Will the Treasury consider what it can to do support businesses that will be viable when this is over?

Johnson says the government will be intensely creative to help. People would not have expected it to produce something as imaginative as the furlough scheme. It will continue like that, he says.

Q: If you land at an Italian airport, you can be tested and get a result in 30 minutes. But our constituents cannot get tested. What are you going to do about it?

Johnson says he knows people have had infuriating experiences. He sympathises with them. But 89% of people get a result within 24 hours.

As for airport tests, they can produce false results giving people a false sense of security.

Q: Your ‘it all seems to be going well’ response is not appropriate.

Johnson says that is not what he said.

Q: If the government can break the law in a limited and specific way, why shouldn’t people do the same with the rule of six?

Johnson says he is urging people to obey this rule.

Catherine McKinnell (Lab) goes next.

Q: Why did you reject the recommendations from a committee proposing measures to support pregnant women during the crisis?

Johnson says he does not think that is the case. He supports partners being allowed to be present when women are giving birth. He said so in the Commons at PMQs, he says.

Q: But the petitions committee made a series of recommendations on this. Currently it is easier for a male partner to go to the pub than to be present at the birth. The government rejected almost all of them.

Johnson says he is not aware of this, but will look into it.

Q: Why do you think the civil service needs reform?

Johnson says he thinks the civil service is fantastic. But he thinks it could do some things faster.

He says he wants to stress that any reform will not be motivated by disapproval.

He is still committed to the Northcote-Trevelyan principles.

Q: So when will ministers take responsibility for things going wrong, not officials?

Johnson says as PM he takes responsibility for what the government does.

William Wragg (Con) goes next.

Q: When will you hold the inquiry you have promised?

Johnson says he does not think it would be sensible to start working on it now.

Q: You must have done some work already on lessons learnt. Can you give examples?

Johnson says they have learnt much more about asymptomatic transmission.

Jenkin says if schools can’t stay open, there will be huge problems. He says at a school in his constituency 97% of pupils went back. Now only 88% of them are in school.

Johnson says the government is trying to speed up the testing process.

Q: Why are so many people demanding tests now?

Johnson says people want tests so they can go about their normal lives.

But the guidance is that people should only seek tests when they have symptoms.

He says the government will shortly set out the criteria that will decide who gets priority for testing.

Johnson admits UK does not have enough testing capacity

Greg Clark, the Tory chair of the science committee, goes first.

Q: Do we have enough testing capacity?

Johnson says the short answer is no.

But he says by the end of October capacity will be up to 500,000 tests per day.

Sir Bernard Jenkin, the committee chair, starts by asking Boris Johnson to commit to appearing three times before the committee in 2020 - which would mean one more appearance before Christmas.

Johnson says he will “look carefully at his diary” and do his utmost to comply.

Jenkin says he will take that as a yes.

(Based on previous experience, that may not be wise.)


Boris Johnson's evidence to Commons liaison committee

Boris Johnson will start giving evidence to the Commons liaison committee in the next few minutes. It’s a committee made up of the chairs of Commons select committees, and it normally questions the PM about three times a year.

Manchester to launch its own contact-tracing unit to supplement national version

Greater Manchester will start using hundreds of police community support officers and fire safety staff to plug the holes of the struggling NHS Test and Trace system.

Andy Burnham, the Greater Manchester mayor, said the new locally-run contact-tracing unit would aim to quickly reach the 3,600 people falling through the gaps of the national system each week.

The new unit will be staffed by more than 100 police and community support officers and 100 fire safety officers and aim to be established “in days rather than weeks”, Burnham said.

Figures released by Burnham’s office today showed the government’s flagship NHS Test and Trace programme was still failing to reach 46% of the close contacts of people who had tested positive for coronavirus in Greater Manchester, equating to 519 people a day and 3,633 people a week.

Burnham said instead of waiting for improvements to the privatised arm of Test and Trace, which is run by Serco and Sitel and is where most of the contacts are missed, Greater Manchester was taking matters into its own hands.

“We are absolutely working flat-out to get this up and running as quickly as possible,” he said.

The new command unit will mean staff are taken away from the already stretched Greater Manchester police and the region’s fire and rescue service. Burnham said the move “isn’t necessarily sustainable over the long term” but that it was being done in collaboration with the emergency services.

The contact-tracing unit will also link into a new support service being launched to help people in Greater Manchester who will struggle to self-isolate for financial reasons.


Scotland has recorded 267 new coronavirus cases, amounting to 3.6% of people testing positive. And it has recorded one new death.

There have been no further deaths in Wales, but Public Health Wales has recorded 199 new cases.

And in Northern Ireland 129 new cases have been recorded, and two new deaths.


A new UK body to advocate for freedom of religion and belief has been launched with the backing of more than 50 organisations.

The first action of the UK Freedom of Religion or Belief Forum was to urge the prime minister to act swiftly in appointing a new special envoy on religious freedom following the resignation on Monday of Rehman Chishti in protest at the government’s moves towards breaking international law through the internal market bill.

The forum is chaired by Philip Mounstephen, the bishop of Truro, who last year led an independent review commissioned by the Foreign Office on how the government should respond to Christian persecution around the world.


MPs were told that it was a “national priority” for GCSE and A-level exams to be held in England next year, with the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, assuring parliament’s education committee that back-up plans would be in place, including the use of public buildings as emergency exam sites.

Susan Acland-Hood, the new permanent secretary of the Department for Education, told the committee:

One thing we’ve put as a very firm stake in the ground is that, just as we have said we’ll make it a national priority to keep our schools, colleges and other places of learning open as far as we possibly can through this pandemic, we will do our absolute utmost to make sure that exams take place effectively next summer.

Williamson told the MPs that pushing back next summer’s exam dates – likely to be by two or three weeks – was still being considered, and that an extra “reserve set” of exam papers might be created for pupils unable to sit a scheduled exam if they were unwell or self-isolating, or in areas under local lockdowns. He said:

We are also planning for the fact that there may need to be a different approach in terms of creating extra capacity within schools and a wider use of public buildings for exams centres, if that is required and that is needed in local communities, as a result of further social distancing.

Williamson was questioned by MPs about this year’s exams fiasco, but he rebuffed most questions by highlighting the role of the independent exam regulator Ofqual, and contradicting some of the answers that Ofqual staff gave to the same committee earlier this month.

Noting that Sally Collier, Ofqual’s chief regulator, made it clear to the DfE on 18 March that running an exam series was not something the watchdog “thought would be viable” during a national lockdown, Williamson said that Ofqual’s model used to award grades left “too many youngsters with a grade that didn’t reflect their effort, and that was why Ofqual ended up in the position that they were”.

Williamson also carefully dodged a series of questions, including why Acland-Hood’s predecessor Jonathan Slater resigned as a result of the exams fiasco.

Asked if Ofqual’s reputation had been “damaged beyond repair” by the summer chaos, Williamson said:

What we both failed to recognise was the fact that we weren’t in peacetime. But we were in a very different situation in terms of the global pandemic and we needed to have systems and operations that needed to reflect the fact that we were in a very different situation.

Some of the systems and structures that were historically in place were probably not always best designed for when you are in that global pandemic.

Gavin Williamson giving evidence to the Commons education committee by video link this morning.
Gavin Williamson giving evidence to the Commons education committee by video link this morning. Photograph: Parliament TV/PA


NHS England has recorded a further 11 coronavirus hospital deaths. The people who died were aged between 69 and 98 and NHS England says they all had underlying health conditions. The full details are here.


Cars entering a drive-in coronavirus testing centre in Twickenham, London, today.
Cars entering a drive-in coronavirus testing centre in Twickenham, London, today. Photograph: Toby Melville/Reuters

Every household in Middlesbrough will be given free masks with information leaflets as the elected mayor steps up the fight against coronavirus, PA Media reports. The town is on the government register as an area of concern and the independent mayor, Andy Preston, is in the process of updating residents with 65,000 leaflets. Reusable face coverings will be handed out alongside the leaflets to help people follow the latest guidance.


Robert Halfon, the Conservative MP who chairs the Commons education committee, told Radio 4’s World at One that his understanding was that schools would get priority for testing under the new plans due to be announced shortly. “As I understand it, schools will be on the priority list,” he told the programme.


In an interview with the Evening Standard Prof Kevin Fenton, London director of Public Health England, has suggested that pubs could be forces to close early in the capital to help combat coronavirus. A policy like this is already in force in Bolton, where pubs, restaurants and takeaways have to close between 10pm and 5am.

Some media organisations have described restrictions like this as amounting to a curfew but that’s misleading. A curfew does not just stop you going to the pub after a certain time at night; it means you cannot even leave your home.

A hospital boss in Bolton has urged people to stay away from its accident and emergency unit unless strictly necessary after nearly 100 turned up to request Covid-19 tests. As PA Media reports, the plea came as admissions of patients with coronavirus increased over the weekend and the infection rate across the borough - the highest by far in England - continued to rise sharply. Bolton NHS foundation trust, which is based at the Royal Bolton hospital in Farnworth, said this morning there were three coronavirus patients in critical care and a total of 20 on wards. It added an increased number of patients under 65 are being admitted, with some in their 40s and 50s.

The trust’s medical director, Dr Francis Andrews, said:

We are seeing more people being admitted with confirmed or suspected Covid-19 as a result of the very high rate of infections in Bolton. This is not a shift we want to see.

The situation at the hospital is under control and we were well prepared for this.

However, the rate continuing to rise is of concern and we continue to urge the people of Bolton to consider others when making decisions that could jeopardise their safety.

Bolton. Photograph: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images


Here is the Guardian story by my colleagues Heather Stewart and Severin Carrell about Lord Keen of Elie being on the brink of leaving the government.

New Rhondda Valley restrictions linked to Doncaster races trip

A trip to Doncaster races has been blamed for a cluster of coronavirus cases in the Rhondda Valley, south Wales, as restrictions were tightened severely.

The Welsh government said one of the clusters in the area was associated “with a club outing to the Doncaster races, which stopped off at a series of pubs on the way”.

More than 2,500 spectators were allowed into the first day of the meeting last week.

Other clusters are associated with a rugby club and pub in the lower Rhondda.

A range of new measures will come into force from 6pm tomorrow.

  • People will not be allowed to enter or leave the Rhondda Cynon Taf council area without a reasonable excuse.
  • People will only be able to meet outdoors for the time being. People will not be able to meet members of their extended household indoors or form an extended household.
  • All licensed premises will have to close at 11pm.

The Welsh health minister, Vaughan Gething, said:

We have seen a rapid rise in cases in Rhondda Cynon Taf in a very short space of time, linked to people socialising indoors and not following social distancing guidelines.

We now have evidence of wider community transmission in the borough, which means we need to take urgent action to control and, ultimately, reduce the spread of the virus and protect people’s health.

The latest figures show the rolling seven-day new case rate is 82.1 per 100,000 people in Rhondda Cynon Taf. Yesterday, the testing positivity rate was 4.3% – this is the highest positivity rate in Wales.

Contact-tracing teams have been able to trace about half of the cases back to a series of clusters in the borough. The rest are linked to community transmission.

Treorchy in Rhondda Cynon Taff, south Wales.
Treorchy in Rhondda Cynon Taff, south Wales. Photograph: Chris Fairweather/Huw Evans/REX/Shutterstock


From Joanna Cherry, the SNP’s justice and home affairs spokesperson in the Commons:


Advocate general offering to resign from government over internal market bill, BBC reports

This is from the BBC’s Glenn Campbell.

If Lord Keen of Elie is resigning as advocate general for Scotland, and a Ministry of Justice spokesperson in the House of Lords, it may have something to do with Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, telling a committee this morning that something Keen said yesterday was just plain wrong. (See 10.07am.)


PMQs - Snap verdict

Angela Rayner went into PMQs with much expected of her, at least from her own side. Although Sir Keir Starmer has mostly dominated in his exchanges with Boris Johnson, he has been judicious in what he has said, leading to mutterings that Labour needs to be more aggressive and hard-hitting, a tone Rayner was always likely to be more comfortable adopting. Johnson cannot patronise her as a north London lawyer. And many observers think he has difficulty facing women at the dispatch box (an assessment accepted so widely that Emily Thornberry made it central to her leadership campaign).

In the event Rayner was refreshingly different, and perfectly creditable, but she did not deliver the drubbing many had been hoping for and Johnson ended the session effectively unscathed. It was not a heroic performance by the PM, and the encounter was more or less a draw, but given how things have been going for him recently at the dispatch box, that counts as a good result.

Like most events on TV that attract strong feelings among viewers, PMQs is harder than it looks, and experience matters, and that probably explains why Rayner did not deliver a knock-out. Her opening line about someone called Keir who could not go go work was lovely but it was a lead-in to a gotcha question (how much do care workers earn?), and to be effective those have to be relatively quick; her spiel went on for too long, allowing Johnson to use up most of his reply engaging with her other points before you noticed that he had not answered the question.

She caught him out with the Care England chief executive’s quote, but at that point you wanted to hear Johnson pressed on why his understanding of what was happening did not square with reality. She later accused Johnson of saying the testing crisis was all the public’s fault when any fair-minded observer would have concluded that that was not he was saying. (There’s a difference between attributing cause and attributing blame.) And although it was interesting to hear the rule of six grouse shooting exemption raised, Rayner’s question should have been reframed. She asked why it was the government’s top priority, but most people will realise it wasn’t. The question is why shooting should have qualified for any exemption at all.

There possibly is some mileage in a class attack on Johnson and his cabinet, but the Red Wall voters did not seem too bothered about his Eton pedigree at the last election and Rayner did not really pull it off this afternoon. But what was striking, though, was having someone who has worked a care worker at the dispatch box up against the PM. There is potential in that, worth exploiting more next time she’s here.

Johnson was better than he has been in recent weeks partly because he dropped his ludicrous attempt to brand Labour as a party of IRA-loving remainers and towards the end he actually seemed relieved by how it had gone. He concluded with his familiar tribute to the common sense of the British people, and how that was how coronavirus was going to be defeated. It was half-persuasive the first time he tried it but less so now because last week Johnson explicitly said at his press conference last week that government could not just trust people to “take responsibility for their own health” because they did not understand the risks. He is still struggling to reconcile his innate libertarianism with sensible public health policy.


Nicola Sturgeon has warned that it is “highly likely that cases of serious illness and death will rise in the weeks to come” if community transmission of coronavirus continues, emphasising how important it is for people to limit their interactions “as much as possible to stem that spread”.

At her media briefing, Scotland’s first minister said that there were 267 positive tests yesterday, along with one death, adding that “cases are rising and we absolutely can’t afford to be complacent about that”.

National Records of Scotland published its weekly report today, confirming five deaths mentioning Covid-19 on the death certificate between 7 and 13 September, two of which occurred in a care home and three in a hospital.

As at 13 September, a total of 4,236 deaths by this measure have been registered in Scotland.

The NRS also published analysis which found that, after adjusting for age, people in the most deprived areas were over twice as likely to die with Covid-19 than those living in the least deprived areas. People living in larger urban areas were over four times more likely to die with Covid-19 than those in remote rural locations.

At the briefing, Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish government’s economy secretary, said that she was writing again to the UK chancellor, Rishi Sunak, asking him to extend the furlough scheme beyond next month.


The SNP’s Martyn Day asks what Johnson will do to honour the promise he made last year to take a fresh look at the plight of the Waspi women.

Johnson says he will look at this.

And that’s it. PMQs is over.

Dehenna Davison (Con) asks if the government will take all steps necessary to cut crime.

Johnson says it will. It is recruiting more police officers and toughening sentences for serious offenders.

Stephen Doughty (Lab) says problems with testing in Wales originate in England. The government is incompetent. When will the PM get a grip?

Johnson says the opposition is being too negative. The system is continuing to improve. The average distance people have to travel is coming down. More people are being tested than in the rest of Europe. Labour just wants to score political points, he says.

Johnson says the government will work as hard as possible to remove the current restrictions. But to do that, people have to continue to follow the rules.

Rachael Maskell (Lab) asks if the government will extend the furlough scheme.

Johnson says he hopes she is not saying the existing scheme should just be extended. (She signals she isn’t - Labour says it wants to extended only for certain sectors.) He says the government will continue to look at creative ways of keeping people in work.

Steve Double (Con) asks about regional airports, which he says have been hit by the closure of Flybe.

Johnson says the government will continue to consider applications for public service requirements. And it will continue to consider the case for cutting air passenger duty, although he can’t make a commitment now, he says.

Joy Morrissey (Con) asks if the PM agrees the internal market bill will protect the UK.

Johnson says he could not have put it better himself.

(He probably did. It sounded like a question drafted in No 10.)

Ian Byrne (Lab) asks about food poverty, and if the government will write a right to food into law.

Johnson quotes the help being given to councils, and says a £9bn programme of welfare support has been introduced.

Selaine Saxby (Con) asks about the roll-out of full-fibre broadband in Devon.

Johnson says it is being rolled out for 70,000 households in Saxby’s constituency.


Alistair Carmichael (Lib Dem) says Brandon Lewis said last week the internal market bill would break international law. Yesterday the advocate general for Scotland said Lewis was wrong. Today Lewis said the advocate general was wrong. Will the government publish its legal advice so we can know who’s right?

Johnson say the government does not publish its legal advice.

Sir Ed Davey, the Lib Dem leader, says three-quarters of families with disabled children had their care support cut during lockdown. As the father of a disabled child, he has seen legal advice saying the government broke international law in the way the Coronavirus Act dealt with the rights of disabled people.

Johnson says he is not aware of these claims, but he will write to Davey about them.


Ian Blackford, the SNP leader at Westminster, says as a Telegraph columnist Johnson said devolution would allow the Scots to make their own laws while “freeloading” on British taxpayers. It was unjust, Johnson said. Does he still think that? And were should powers be held?

Johnson says there has been a massive devolution of powers. But the Scots voted to reject independence. Now they have the opportunity to vote for more devolution in the internal market bill, he says.

Blackford says the PM does not remember what he has written. And he does not know what is in the bill. Clause 46 allows Westminster to bypass the Scottish parliament. He claims Tory MPs know Johnson is incompetent and want him away by the time of the next election.

Johnson says he cannot tell from Blackford’s question whether he supports the union or not. He says the internal market bill will give the Scottish parliament a “surge” of powers in 70 areas.

Johnson says the government is allocating “considerable sums” for schools in the south-west of England.


Rayner says we have the highest death toll in Europe. We are “staring down the barrel of a second wave”. And what was the top priority of the Covid war cabinet? Restoring grouse shooting. That probably suits the PM’s friend who paid for his holiday and owns two grouse estates. Is that really his top priority?

Johnson says Labour is raising issues that are “tangential” and scare stories. He says Rayner has not disputed the statistics he mentioned. He says the government is getting on with delivering its agenda, and defending the union. He says no one is in any doubt that this government is facing some of the most difficult dilemmas any government has had to face. But it is solving them thanks to the common sense of the British people. It is with their common sense that the government will succeed.

Rayner says the PM is saying it is the public’s fault. The next time someone drives from London to Durham it will be for a Covid test.

She turns to the issue of mothers having to give birth without their partners. Even worse, some have had to endure miscarriages. Will the PM meet to discuss this issue?

Johnson says Rayner is right to raise this. He understands the point, and agrees. He says health ministers will meet Rayner to discuss this.


Rayner says just yesterday the chief executive of Care England said weekly tests for care home staff were not being delivered. Matt Hancock said it would take weeks to sort this out. But we don’t have weeks, she says.

Johnson says the government has delivered on the most through-going system in Europe. The number of tests has gone up to 240,000 per day. He quotes figures showing testing numbers are higher than Germany, France and Spain.

What has happened is that there has been “a huge, huge surge in demand”, he says.

People should follow the guidance.

Rayner says she welcomes what the PM says, but “get some skates on it”. The PM has put his faith on the moonshot. But on planet earth tests are not available. Do all care homes get weekly tests?

Yes, says Johnson, to the best of his knowledge. They should get weekly tests for staff, and tests every 28 days for residents.

There has been a colossal spike in the number of people trying to get a test, he says. Capacity has been increased. Four new labs are being built. He says he wants to get up to 500,000 tests per day by the end of October. He says the UK is testing more than any other European country.

Rayner says people will see that Johnson did not know how much care workers are paid. It is just over £8 an hour. Will the PM commit to giving care homes the funds they need?

Johnson says a winter care home action plan will be announced tomorrow. The government wants to protect care homes. They will get the PPE they need, the guidance they need and the cash they need.

Angela Rayner says she has a message from someone called Keir. He cannot go to work today because his family needed a test. She says people who can’t get tests can’t go to work. Johnson once earned £2,300 an hour. How much does an average care worker get?

Johnson says the Starmer test came out negative. He says he does not know why Starmer is not here today. He says 89% of people get a test result the next day. He says the government has increased the national living wage.

James Daly (Con) asks for a progress report on the catch-up tuition programme for pupils.

Johnson says the first tutors will start in November.

Boris Johnson says today marks the 400th anniversary of the sailing of the Mayflower to America. Around 35 million Americans trace their ancestry to someone from the Mayflower.


This is my colleague Peter Walker’s take on what to expect from PMQs.


PMQs is about to start.

Here is the list of MPs down to ask a question.

Williamson says schools in England have testing kits they can use

The education secretary, Gavin Williamson, said schools should rely on their “unique” supply of testing kits to avoid situations where staff and students were unable to access tests. Speaking to the Commons education committee, he said:

We’ve always been conscious that with children coming back into schools there is going to be a situation where people would need to have more access to testing, that is why we ensured deliveries of tests to every single school in England.

Asked to guarantee that staff and pupils could access tests locally within 48 hours, Williamson said:

Schools are, I think, the only organisation that actually has a set of testing kits that’s been sent to them directly, in order to be able to ensure that if they’re in a situation where someone isn’t in a position to be able to get a test, that they actually have testing kits on site in order for them to be able to enable access.

And that’s something that is quite unique and very important.

Williamson’s comments referred to the 10 testing kits that were sent to all schools in England at the start of term, with the Department for Education announcing yesterday that they could reorder a further 10 within 21 days. The set of 10 has been given to schools regardless of size, and heads with 1,000 or more pupils on their rolls have called the number inadequate.

Earlier this week a number of headteachers complained they had exhausted their supply of kits.

The DfE’s own guidance states that individuals should first try to be tested through other routes, and that school testing kits “should only be offered in the exceptional circumstance an individual becomes symptomatic and you believe they may have barriers to accessing testing elsewhere”.

Williamson said that “there is a recognition that [testing capacity] needs to continue to grow”, and added:

This week I met with Baroness Harding from test and trace and the NHS, and she highlighted concerns schools have had in terms of turnaround, and to ensure that teachers are able to get tested as swiftly as possible, and they’re able to be in a position to be back teaching at the earliest possible stage.

Robert Halfon, the education committee’s chair, asked Williamson: “You’ll obviously be aware that schools are expressing that they can’t get hold of tests for their staff, or they are being told to travel long distances, and that’s one of the reasons why they’re saying some schools are closing?”

Williamson replied:

This is why we’re always working very much with test and trace, and working with them in terms of making sure that they have the capacity that’s available for both teachers and pupils, but also this is why we ensure that all schools have a set of tests that if they were needed.


Starmer out of self-isolation after child's test comes back negative

Sir Keir Starmer is out of self-isolation. He has just posted these on Twitter.

But he won’t be rushing to the Commons in a bid to make it in for PMQs, which starts in 25 minutes. Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, will still deputise for him, as arranged last night.

Back in the Northern Ireland affairs committee, in response to a question about whether the EU would be able to trigger the dispute resolution mechanism under the withdrawal agreement in response to the UK’s decision to introduce the internal market bill, Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he has not had that conversation with the attorney general.

Lewis says he does not see why the issue is relevant, because the UK is still trying to implement the agreement.

The Commons foreign affairs committee is launching an inquiry into camps in which at least a million Uighurs have been incarcerated by the Chinese authorities.

Among the issues it will look at is ways the government can prevent UK companies from benefiting from the forced labour of members the Chinese Muslim minority detained in Xinjiang.

Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the committee, said:

The mass detention of Uighurs in Xinjiang has horrifying echoes of the 1930s. There have been similar atrocities since, and each time the world has promised to never allow such violations to happen again. And yet, we now have clear, undeniable evidence of the persecution of more than one million people in these so-called re-education camps.

This inquiry will focus on key questions about what the UK can do to exert its influence and the steps the new FCDO will take to fulfil its goal of making our country an ‘active, internationalist, problem-solving and burden-sharing nation’.

People queuing at a test centre this morning following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Southend-on-sea.
People queuing at a test centre this morning following an outbreak of the coronavirus disease in Southend-on-sea. Photograph: Hannah McKay/Reuters

The NASUWT teaching union has urged the government to prioritise the education sector for the allocation of coronavirus tests. In a letter to the Department for Education for England, Dr Patrick Roach, general secretary of the NASUWT, said the union had heard of approximately 600 pupils being told to self-isolate in one local authority area and he said the “number is growing”. Roach said:

In particular, areas where additional local restrictions have been introduced due to the increase in the R-number are now unable to cope with demand for tests.

Teachers, support staff and children and young people are unable to access tests where they have Covid-19 symptoms.

Employers are struggling to deal with the implications and consequences ...

Schools appear to be seeking to do their utmost to carry on.

However, we have reports that schools are unable to cope with a situation that is becoming increasingly out of control.

Schoolchildren and their parents should be next in line for Covid-19 tests after NHS and social care, Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, has suggested. Buckland told Sky News this morning:

I think the announcement by Matt Hancock yesterday to create a prioritisation system is the right thing to do. He’s going to develop that very quickly over the next few days, to explain to us what that looks like but I think … it has to be the NHS first and then social care.

“And then I think what we need to do is have a cascading system where we know where our priority should be and, for me, priority should be for children in school and their parents in order to make sure that their lives are safe and also, importantly, they are not disrupted in the way we are seeing.

My colleague Simon Murphy has the full story here.


Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, tells the Northern Ireland affairs committee that he is “very optimistic” about the prospects of the UK and the EU being able to negotiate a trade deal.

Labour says it's urgent for ministers to fix testing system

Labour has renewed its call for the government to fix the coronavirus testing system. In a statement referring to the government’s plans to prioritise access to testing, Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, said:

They promised us a world beating system but because of ministerial incompetence they are now forced to restrict testing. When testing breaks down we lose our ability to control the virus. It’s now urgent ministers fix testing.

In Northern Ireland committee Simon Hoare, the chair, asks Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, if it is still his view that the EU is acting “in good faith” in terms of implementing the withdrawal agreement, as he said in a statement to the committee published on Monday. Lewis says that is still his view.

This undermines the claim by Boris Johnson that the EU is trying to implement the withdrawal agreement in an extreme and unreasonable way.

This is from Neale Richmond, a Fine Gael member of the Irish parliament, on Brandon Lewis’s comment to the select committee a few minutes ago in which he would not commit to the UK abiding by the outcome of any withdrawal agreement arbitration process. (See 10.48am.)

Peter Foster, the Financial Times’ public policy editor and Brexit specialist, is even more critical.

EU commission president quotes Thatcher as she says UK must honour treaty it signed

The European commission president Ursula von der Leyen has warned the British government against reneging on the Brexit deal Boris Johnson signed last year.

In a speech to the European parliament, Von der Leyen said the Brexit withdrawal agreement had been ratified by MEPs and MPs and could not be “unilaterally changed, disregarded, disapplied”. She added: “This is a matter of law and trust and good faith.”

The government announced last week that it planned to break international law in “a very specific and limited” way, through its internal market bill that would give UK ministers the power to override some parts of the Brexit deal related to Northern Ireland.

The commission president invoked Margaret Thatcher to make plain her criticism. She quoted the former Conservative prime minister as saying: “Britain does not break treaties. It would be bad for Britain, bad for relations with the rest of the world and bad for any future treaty on trade.”

Von der Leyen said: “This was true then, and it is true today. Trust is the foundation of any strong partnership.”

She also dismissed the British government’s argument that the treaty had been agreed in a rush:

That agreement took three years to negotiate and we worked relentlessly on it. Line by line, word by word.

Her remarks were part of Von der Leyen’s first “state of the union” address, an annual speech on the commission’s legislative priorities, consciously modelled on the US equivalent. It was the first such speech without heckling by Nigel Farage and his MEPs, who often jeered (the commission president) or cheered (Brexit) on previous occasions. The last British MEPs quit the European parliament when the UK left the EU on 31 January.

Ursula von der Leyen gives her first State of the Union speech to the European parliament.
Ursula von der Leyen gives her first state of the union speech to the European parliament. Photograph: Reuters


Lewis refuses to commit UK to accepting outcome of any dispute resolution process with EU under NI protocol

Back in the Northern Ireland committee Simon Hoare, the chair, asks if the government will abide by the outcome of the arbitration process set out in the Northern Ireland protocol for the resolution of disputes between the UK and the EU.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he does not want to answer that because it is a hypothetical question.

Hoare says it is an important question. He says other countries that sign agreements with the UK will want to know that it sticks to agreements.

Lewis says the UK is a country that acts in good faith.

Hoare says that is not the way the UK is being seen at the moment.

Lewis says the UK’s history shows that it is a country that keeps its words.

Hoare says people are concerned about the present and the future. Countries will be judged by their deeds, he says.

He says he has no doubt about Lewis’ personal commitment to the rule of law. But it is “the wider group” that counts, he says.

  • Lewis refuses to commit the government to accepting the outcome of any dispute resolution process launched under the withdrawal agreement’s Northern Ireland protocol.

Tui UK has committed to paying any outstanding refunds for package holidays cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic by 30 September after the regulator received a deluge of complaints that the travel company was breaching consumer law, my colleague Jasper Jolly reports.

Back in the Northern Ireland affairs committee, Simon Hoare, the chairman, asks who drafted the passage that Brandon Lewis read out in the Commons last week saying the internal market bill would break international law.

Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says what he said was in line with the legal advice from the attorney general.

Staffing schools could become 'unsustainable' if testing crisis not resolved, Johnson warned

Boris Johnson must “take charge” of delays in obtaining Covid-19 tests to ensure schools remain open, organisations representing headteachers and governors have said. As PA Media reports, the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), school leaders’ union NAHT and the National Governance Association have written to the prime minister to express concern about difficulties with the testing system.

The letter warns of a “deep sense of foreboding about the potential for the system to become ever-more riddled with delays as more cases emerge”. It says that if pupils and staff cannot get test results quickly, the consequences could be “increasingly disruptive to children’s education and make staffing unsustainable”.

ASCL said it has received 264 emails on the test and trace system from schools and colleges which said they had symptomatic staff and/or pupils who were struggling to access tests. The letter says:

Schools are left in a position of either leaving close contacts of the infected person in school while they wait for guidance, or making a public health call themselves and deciding on who to send home.

Our purpose in writing is to implore you to personally take charge of this situation in the interests of keeping our schools and colleges open, and protecting pupils and staff.

At the Northern Ireland committee Ian Paisley, the DUP MP, asks about claims that what is happening in parliament with the internal market bill could trigger a revival of terrorism in Northern Ireland. Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says he cannot comment on security matters.

Back in the Northern Ireland committee, Simon Hoare, the chairman, asks if the PM was wrong to say last October that the Northern Ireland protocol was “in perfect conformity” with the Good Friday agreement.

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, says the PM was right. But the protocol needed to be ironed out as it was implemented.

Q: But clause 42 of the internal market bill implies the PM was wrong? He should have said the protocol “has the potential” to be in conformity with the Good Friday agreement.

Lewis does not accept this. He says the bill is essential to ensure Northern Ireland gets “unfettered access” to trade in Britain.

Q: Why did the government sign up to this protocol if it could pose a threat to the Good Friday agreement?

Lewis just repeats the point about why the bill is needed.

Hoare says he followed this matter closely. But last year, as the withdrawal agreement was agreed, he does not remember any minister saying it might be a threat to the Good Friday agreement. Has he forgotten?

Lewis avoids the question, and says the bill provides a safety net. He says businesses in Northern Ireland need to have confidence that they will be able to trade easily after Brexit.

Hoare says it would have been much better if the legislation had explicitly said the new powers proposed would only apply if other arbitration processes had failed.

Brandon Lewis (left) and Colin Perry, economy director at the NIO, giving evidence to the committee
Brandon Lewis (left) and Colin Perry, economy director at the NIO, giving evidence to the committee. Photograph: Parliament TV


Families of care home residents are lobbying MSPs as they go into Holyrood this morning, calling for a relaxation in “draconian” visiting guidelines.

The group, Care Home Relatives Scotland, says the current rules – which only allow outdoor visiting for a limited time period - are damaging the mental health of residents.

Cathie Russell, who founded the group and whose own mother is in a care home where she is currently allowed to see her for 30 minutes once a week, told BBC Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme:

People need their families. My mother never speaks to anyone with shared memories, and I can see a huge decline in her cognitively.

A lot of our members have relatives with hearing or sight problems, they’re completely bewildered because they haven’t seen them for six months and now are having to sit miles away from each other.

Russell said that Scottish government guidelines didn’t take into account the needs of people in care and their families. “We need to start from the position that visiting is good for people,” she said.


Hoare says Lewis gave evidence to the committee in the summer. Why did he not tell the committee then that the Northern Ireland protocol was flawed, in the way the government now claims it is?

Lewis says the internal market bill is a safety net, in case the joint committee (the UK/EU body set up to implement the protocol) cannot reach an agreement.

Q: Wouldn’t it have been better if the bill had said that its provisions (to override the withdrawal agreement) would only come into force once the dispute resolution procedures in protocol had run their course?

Lewis says the PM made that clear when he spoke in the debate on Monday, and he says he himself said that in his statement to MPs last week.

Hoare says Lewis is assuming that people will trust what ministers say at the dispatch box. But, for certainty, they want this set out in law.

Lewis says he is straight. And there is a long tradition of the intent of government being taken into account when legislation is considered.

Asked about the Bob Neill amendment, he says he hopes the Commons will find a solution to this.


Brandon Lewis questioned by MPs about internal market bill

Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, has just started giving evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee.

Simon Hoare (Con), the chair of the committee, starts by asking why the advocate general for Scotland, Lord Keen of Elie, said yesterday that Lewis was answering the wrong question when he told MPs last week that the internal market bill broke international law.

Lewis says he has spoken to Keen, and what Keen said was wrong.

Buckland claims government will 'find a way' to make internal market bill acceptable to Tory critics

Robert Buckland, the justice secretary, was doing the morning broadcast round today on behalf of the government. He was put up to talk about the sentencing white paper, but obviously was asked about coronavirus and the internal market bill too. Here are the main points.

  • Buckland confirmed that the government is working on changes to the internal market bill that may satisfy some of the Conservatives opposed to it in its current form. He said that the PM had already indicated that he wanted MPs to be able to have a say on any government decision to use powers in the bill that would overrule the withdrawal agreement. The issue was just about how this mechanism might work, he suggested.

The issue is this - we want to make sure that if we hit a situation where we have this kind of dislocation, this kind of crisis if you like, then we can act swiftly to bring into power the necessary regulations.

And I think while, absolutely we have got parliamentary procedures to allow secondary legislation to come into force with debate and scrutiny, we have to get the balance right.

I want to make sure we are fleet of foot when it comes to the crunch but that at the same time to make sure MPs have their say.

That’s what the prime minister wants, that’s what he said in parliament and I’m sure we’ll find a way to do that in a manner that is acceptable to all Conservative colleagues.

This suggests that the argument is now revolving around whether MP would vote on approving the use of those powers retrospectively (which is normal for secondary legislation) or whether MPs would have to vote first.

  • He implied that, if the government did use powers to override the withdrawal agreement, it would only do so because the EU had broken that agreement first. He said:

If we reach that stage [where the government needs to use the powers in bill], the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us.

  • He rejected claims that he had been “wobbly” on this issue (ie, considered resigning). Asked about this, he replied:

I’m not really a wobbler. I’m someone who knows my own mind and the prime minister knows he will get very clear views from me.

  • Buckland said that although the testing system was facing “real challenges”, for many people it was working well. He said:

There are of course huge positives in the in-person tests, 90%of those have been returned in a day, that’s great, but clearly when it comes to the tests we have to post out and the delayed response, there is much more work to do.

Robert Buckland, the justice secretary.
Robert Buckland, the justice secretary. Photograph: Peter Nicholls/Reuters

Prof Andrew Hayward, director of University College London’s Institute of Epidemiology & Health and a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies, told the Today programme this morning that the government would need to “dramatically” increase Covid-19 testing to half a million people per day if testing was to cope with demand during winter. He explained:

The background to this of course is that we would expect the demand and the capacity to need to rise quite rapidly over the autumn and winter as the number of people who develop symptoms that could be Covid increase.

Some of our research has shown that at least in the winter, you would expect about half a million people a day to develop symptoms that are typical of Covid - and that would be in a winter when there was no Covid - so you can see that the capacity requirements will have to increase dramatically if we are going to keep up.

Asked whether capacity could serve such a demand, he replied:

I think it is possible from a laboratory perspective, I think perhaps one of the more challenging bits is making sure people can be tested close to home because that is one of the key delays at the moment in the system. It is those delays that effect the effectiveness of the system.

Good morning. Boris Johnson has got PMQs later and it will be surprising if he does not get asked about his promise to set up a “world-beating” test and trace system given the fact that the testing crisis seems to be escalating, at least according to the newspaper front pages. Just take a look ...

It is often assumed that Johnson promised a “world-beating” system in an off-the-cuff response at PMQs, but in fact he first used the phrase in his Sunday night TV address to the nation on 10 May. He said:

If we are to control this virus, then we must have a world-beating system for testing potential victims, and for tracing their contacts. So that – all told - we are testing literally hundreds of thousands of people every day.

Ten days later at PMQs, when Sir Keir Starmer said he would settle for one that was just “effective”, Johnson repeated the promised with an added timescale, telling MPs: “We will have a test, track and trace operation that will be world-beating, and yes, it will be in place by 1 June.”

That hasn’t quite materialised, and this morning the consequence were vividly highlighted when a teaching union said the unavailability of tests could lead to a “lockdown by default”. Geoff Barton, general secretary of the Association of School and College Leaders (ASCL), told the Today programme that headteachers were being forced to decide that the “bubble has to stay at home” if a pupil or teacher in a year group had shown Covid-19 symptoms and could not get a test to prove they were negative. He went on:

This will feel I think like lockdown by default - it will be more frustrating for parents because you can’t predict whether it is going to happen. And similarly from the headteacher’s point of view, if my year 4 teacher today shows symptoms, will he or she be in school tomorrow, will they be here for the next 14 days? As soon as you start to get that with six, seven, eight teachers, it becomes unsustainable to be able to run things.

Barton also quoted from a head teacher who had emailed him overnight to say they felt “hoodwinked” by the government. Barton summarised the message from the head in the email as this:

I feel that everything we put in place - the one-way systems, the bubbles and all of that, we have done - but now we are being tripped up by the fact that, whether it’s a child or a member of staff, they simply can’t get a test and it’s leaving us in a position of me not know whether I can staff some of those lessons tomorrow, or indeed for the next two weeks. It’s infuriating.

Here is the agenda for the day.

10am: Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, gives evidence to the Commons Northern Ireland committee about the Northern Ireland protocol, and the internal market bill that would empower ministers to override it.

10am: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, gives evidence to the Commons education committee.

12pm: Boris Johnson faces Angela Rayner, the deputy Labour leader, at PMQs. Sir Keir Starmer is at home self-isolating.

12.15pm: The Scottish government is expected to hold its daily coronavirus briefing.

1.30pm: Downing Street holds its lobby briefing.

3.30pm: Johnson gives evidence to the Commons liaison committee.

And at some point today the government is publishing its sentencing white paper. Jamie Grierson and Owen Bowcott have previewed what will be in it here.

Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, this will continue for the foreseeable future. But we will be covering non-Covid political stories too, like Brexit, and where they seem more important and interesting, they will take precedence.

Here is our global coronavirus live blog.

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