UK coronavirus: nearly 3,000 new cases for second day; seven Greek islands to join England quarantine list - as it happe

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The UK has seen almost 3,000 recorded cases of Covid-19 for a sec.....e Twitter.

Afternoon summary

According to a YouGov poll, only a quarter of voters agree with Boris Johnson’s claim that leaving the transition period without an EU trade deal would be good for the UK. Twice as many - half the population - think it would be a bad outcome, the poll suggests.

Two men have been arrested and charged in connection with a house party that attracted more than 300 people in Midlothian nine days ago.

Police Scotland did not disclose what the two men, aged 20 and 29, had been charged with but said they would appear in court at a later date.

Officers launched a criminal investigation into the event at a mansion near Gorebridge, Midlothian, and warned that its organisers could face charges of reckless and culpable conduct.

The police raided Mansion House, a former family home, early on the morning of Sunday 30 August after neighbours complained there was a huge rave taking place at the property. It was broken up by police, who issued a fixed penalty notice to an organiser, aged 29.

Despite repeated warnings from Police Scotland and Nicola Sturgeon, the first minister, for people to avoid house parties, the force said it had attended 391 house gatherings last weekend, a 23% increase over the last weekend of August. Officers issued 18 fixed penalty notices.

Gastrointestinal symptoms are common in children infected with coronavirus and should trigger tests for the virus, research published in the British Medical Journal argues.

After the coronavirus new case numbers were published yesterday, showing a huge increase, Ewan Birney, deputy director general at the European Bioinformatics Institute, published a useful Twitter thread putting the figures in context. It is just a relevant today as it was yesterday. It starts here.

This is probably the key point - making the point that the April official figures vastly unrepresented the real number of coronavirus infections in the community, while the current ones, while still an understatement, are much closer to reality.

In an article for the Guardian Mujtaba Rahman, the Brexit expert at the Eurasia Group consultancy, says that for all the bluster, Boris Johnson needs a Brexit deal. Here’s an extract.

Business leaders are also lobbying MPs, warning that a double “Covid-19 and no deal” blow would be disastrous for jobs. This plays into the politics. Tory MPs representing the former Labour heartland seats in the North and Midlands are unnerved by surveys suggesting they would be among areas hit hardest by no deal. As one of them put it: “The message has been relayed to No 10. It needs to get it.”

These factors will push Johnson towards compromise by the real deadline, which is mid-November. This is because in order to implement the deal by 1 January, six to eight weeks will be needed to convert the political agreement into legal text. This text will then have to be “scrubbed” – reviewed by lawyers on both sides for accuracy, consistency and meaning – translated into the union’s 24 official languages and signed off by the European parliament.

But even mid-November does not leave the two sides much time. Unfortunately, until then Europe will remain trapped in a guessing game. Because, as one senior EU official tells me: “Not one political figure or official in Brussels or any EU capital can vouch for the real intentions of the government.”

And here is the full article.

A further 2,948 people have tested positive for coronavirus. (See 4.34pm.) The figure falls only slightly short of the 2,988 cases reported on Sunday - itself the highest daily total since May.

The increase has occurred even though cases reported on Sundays and Mondays are generally lower than the rest of the week due to lower levels of testing over the weekend and reporting delays.

While the number of tests carried out has risen over time since Covid-19 first reached the UK, experts have previously said the increase in testing does not fully explain the recent rise in cases.

The uptick comes as reports grow of people being advised to take long journeys to get a coronavirus test.

On Sunday Prof Gabriel Scally, a former NHS regional director of public health for the south-west said the government had “lost control of the virus”. He said:

It’s no longer small outbreaks they can stamp on. It’s become endemic in our poorest communities and this is the result. It’s extraordinarily worrying when schools are opening and universities are going to be going back.

Coronavirus cases close to 3,000 for second day in row as huge rise sustained

The government has just updated its daily coronavirus dashboard.

  • The UK has recorded 2,948 new cases of coronavirus. This is a marginal decline on yesterday’s figure (2,988), but the Sunday/Monday figures still represent a huge jump, of around 50%, of what the figures were at the end of last week.
Coronavirus cases
Coronavirus cases. Photograph: Gov.UK
  • But the UK has recorded just three more deaths, taking the daily headline total to 41,554. This figure only records people who have died within 28 days of a coronavirus tests, and so it significantly understates the true number of coronavirus deaths in the UK. Taking into account all deaths where coronavirus was mentioned on the death certificate, there have been more than 57,300 deaths in the UK.

Updated

In the comments RewildScotland questions whether it is really the case that young people are now driving the rise in infections, as Matt Hancock, the health secretary, said on LBC this morning. (See 10.49am.) S/he points out that young people weren’t being tested much earlier on, so perhaps we weren’t aware how many of them were infected then?

Hi Andrew.

Regarding the virus and young people:

"This is not “extraordinary”: in March/April tests were only available to hospital patients (who were sickest & elderly). Antibody studies by @profhelenward & colleagues show young were affected in Mar/Apr. The young may have been “silent spreaders” then."

https://twitter.com/DrRobDickinson/status/1302181319376592897?s=19

Put simply we weren't testing young people back in March so we don't really know if the demographics of positive tests at the moment are different to those back in March.

Perhaps we are seeing the whole ice berg now, when in March we were just focused on the bit we could see above the waterline.

This chart, from the Public Health England weekly surveillance report (pdf) published at the end of last week, sheds light on what is actually happening. The chart on the left, illustrating cumulative infection rates, by age, since the pandemic started, shows that, broadly, infections have hit young adults just as much as older adults. But the chart on the right, showing infection rates in the second half of August (weeks 34 and 35 - the fortnight ending 30 August), proves that the age group with the highest rate of infections at the moment are 20 to 29-year-olds.

Covid infections by age
Covid infections by age Photograph: PHE

The Department for Transport press release about Grant Shapps’ announcement has now arrived. This is what it says about the inclusion of the seven Greek islands on the quarantine list for England.

The first changes under the new process were also made today, with seven Greek islands to be removed from exemption list – Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos. People arriving in England from those islands from Wednesday 9 September 04.00am will need to self-isolate for two weeks. Data from the Joint Biosecurity Centre and Public Health England has indicated a significant risk to UK public health from those islands, leading to Ministers removing them from the current list of travel corridors.

At the same time, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office (FCDO) has updated its travel advice for Greece to advise against all but essential travel to Lesvos, Tinos, Serifos, Mykonos, Crete, Santorini and Zakynthos. The rest of Greece remains exempt from the FCDO’s advice against all non-essential international travel.

Updated

Seven Greek islands to be added to quarantine list of England

Shapps says he is not lifting quarantine for Spain’s Canary or Balearic islands.

He says there might have been a case for this when quarantine was imposed on Spain. But the number of cases in country has risen sharply, he says, and now it has 127 cases per 100,000. He say it is not safe to reduce quarantine for those islands.

But the new policy means the government can impose quarantine on certain Greek islands, while exempting mainland Greece. He says on Wednesday quarantine will be imposed on arrivals from seven Greek islands.

Shapps does not name the seven islands, but the Sun’s Harry Cole has a list.

Shapps says separate quarantine rules may now apply to islands within countries

Shapps says in July and August the government could not assess the risk within particular regions in countries.

But, as the JCB has strengthened, it has obtained better data. It can take a more granular approach, he says.

He says this means he has been able to consider the case for regional rules, not country-wide rules.

But people can move around, he says.

He says that means he cannot introduce regional travel corridors from within countries.

But the situation is different for islands. He says from today the government has the capacity to vary quarantine rules for islands.

He says four principles will apply.

First, the exemptions must apply to an island.

Second, data must be robust.

Third, the islands must have direct flights - or secure transport.

Fourth, it must be possible to apply the policy.

Shapps is, of course, only referring to policy for England.

Updated

Grant Shapps' Commons statement about travel corridors

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, says quarantine was introduced in June. It has helped keep the infection rate down, he says.

He say in July the Joint Biosecurity Centre’s analysis allowed the government to introduce exemptions.

He says the government can still be taken aback by the speed with which circumstances change. He himself went to Spain, only to join a ministerial call imposing quarantine on Spain, he says.

Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, is due to make a statement to MPs in the next few minutes.

According to Sky News, he will announce that the government will abandon its whole-country approach to quarantine for England. This means, for example, that it could maintain quarantine for mainland Spain, but exempt it for islands like the Canaries and the Balearics.

The reopening of a south-east London school has been delayed for 10 days after a member of staff was found to be infected with coronavirus.

Trinity Church of England school in Lewisham, which takes pupils from reception to GCSE, had been due to reopen on Monday morning. It will now not reopen to pupils until 17 September at the earliest.

A letter to parents published on the school’s website suggests that a number of staff have been advised to self-isolate after coming into contact with a colleague who later came down with Covid-19.

Dozens of other schools across England and Wales have reported coronavirus outbreaks, prompting some to close. My colleagues Sarah Marsh and Amy Walker have a roundup here.

Updated

NHS England has recorded a further four coronavirus hospital deaths. They were all in the north-west and the people who died, who were between aged 76 and 95, all had known underlying health conditions. The full details are here.

But there have been no further deaths recorded in Scotland, Wales or Northern Ireland.

Updated

Concern continues to grow that a local lockdown might have to be imposed in Caerphilly, south Wales, following a “significant rise” in Covid-19 infections. Visits to care homes have been prohibited and a class of 21 pupils from a primary school, St Gwladys, have been told to isolate for 14 days.

Dr Giri Shankar, of Public Health Wales, said:

We are concerned about the significant rise in positive coronavirus cases in the Caerphilly area in recent days.

It is absolutely vital that everyone in the community abides by social distancing measures – that is, by self-isolating when asked to do so, keeping 2 metres away from others outside your household, and washing hands regularly.

Shankar appealed to everyone in the Caerphilly area to use the local testing unit at the leisure centre in the town if they had “even the mildest” of Covid-19 symptoms or were feeling unwell “with no explanation”.

Meanwhile, the Welsh government has committed more than £2.3m to provide free face coverings for all learners in secondary school and further education colleges.

The education minister, Kirsty Williams, said: “It is vital children and young people, parents and the education workforce feel confident that all measures are being taken to protect them as they return to schools and colleges.”

Updated

Johnson accused by senior MEP of breaking agreement and turning trade talks 'into farce'

Bernd Lange, the German SPD MEP (a social democrat) and chair of the trade committee in the European parliament, has said that he is “shocked” by the UK government’s approach to the withdrawal agreement and that he has “never seen anything like it in decades”. In a lengthy statement he said:

There were signs that the joint political declaration for Boris Johnson was not worth the paper it was on. Now he’s said it. Boris Johnson is thus turning the negotiations up to now and the serious efforts of the European Union into a farce.

We will not allow ourselves to be divided by these tactical games, but will stick to our previous constructive but determined approach - in the spirit of the joint political declaration of eight months ago, which both sides had signed. We stick to agreements. The European parliament reaffirmed its negotiating position in a resolution in July. There cannot and will not be an agreement at any price.

What madness to believe today that one can achieve actual sovereignty in complete independence. In today’s sea of globalisation with powerful global players, sovereignty can only be developed together. This shows the success story of the EU and many countries that have concluded treaties and keep them. The British illusion of sovereignty will lead to the greatest loss of sovereignty in British history.

This is from Iratxe Garcia Perez, the Spanish MEP who is president of the Socialist and Democrats group in the European parliament.

No 10 cites PM's 'throw form in bin' joke as evidence EU should have realised how he interpreted NI protocol

At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman said that Boris Johnson had always made it clear that he did not want Northern Ireland exporter to have to fill in exit summary declarations, or tariffs to apply to goods moving from Britain to Northern Ireland, and that therefore the EU could not object to London interpreting the withdrawal agreement in this way. The spokesman said:

The PM has always been publicly clear about what our interpretation of both the withdrawal agreement and the Northern Ireland protocol was. For example, he publicly set out that there would be no export summary declarations on goods moving from Northern Ireland to Great Britain, and he also ruled out tariffs on goods moving from GB to NI on several occasions. He set out those positions in advance of the EU signing the withdrawal agreement. They did so with full knowledge of the prime minister’s position.

Johnson made comments along these lines on various occasions, most famously when he spoke at a Northern Ireland drinks reception during the 2019 general election campaign. In this clip he said there would be no tariffs on goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland - although here he clarified that there would be an exemption for goods subsequently going to Ireland. On other occasions he implied there would be no tariffs period on any goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland.

Boris Johnson speaking in Northern Ireland during the 2019 general election campaign.

At this Northern Ireland drinks reception Johnson also said that, if any exporter was told by an official to fill in an exit summary declaration for goods being sent to GB, they should tell that official to ring him up as prime minister and he would “direct them to throw that form in the bin”. (Here is the only clip of this moment I can find.)

But the point about these claims made by the PM before the withdrawal agreement was signed is that, when Johnson did say these things, it was widely reported that what he was saying was wrong because he was ignoring what the text of the agreement actually said. See, for example, this Belfast Telegraph story about his tariffs claim, or this Guardian story about his exit summary declarations claims.

No 10 now seems to be using comments that at the time were dismissed as gaffes as evidence of consistency in its policy making. This is unusual, to say the least. Normally, if the PM makes an error, you correct the error. Here it is more a case of No 10 correcting the policy.

Updated

The European commission has said that implementing the Northern Ireland protocol is a “precondition” for a UK-EU trade deal. A commission spokesperson said:

The full implementation of the withdrawal agreement and in particular the protocol on Ireland, and Northern Ireland, are essential. These are legal obligations under international law. This is a matter of trust. This is a prerequisite, a precondition for the negotiations on the future partnership, I think that’s clear.

There are two statements in the Commons this afternoon.

Sturgeon warns 'as we have released ourselves from lockdown, we have released virus from lockdown'

Nicola Sturgeon has warned the Scottish government could “put the brakes” on further relaxation of the lockdown, or even reimpose some restrictions later this week, after a continuing spike in Covid 19 cases.

The first minister said during her regular coronavirus briefing that the surge in cases made it quite unlikely Scotland would move from phase 3 to phase 4 of its lockdown route map when she gives the next three-weekly review statement on Thursday.

She was speaking after 146 new positive Covid-19 cases were reported overnight in Scotland, with 78 of those in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board area, after 225 cases were reported on Sunday. There were 12 further hospital admissions, taking the total to 246, with five in intensive care

Sturgeon confirmed the daily case numbers were similar to those last seen in early May, but said there was far more testing now, capturing many more cases than in May. Even so, it was clear there was a fresh surge in cases. She said:

As we have released ourselves from lockdown, we have also released the virus from lockdown.

She said the partial lockdown in Glasgow and surrounding councils and in Aberdeen were a warning of what might be needed elsewhere.

Updated

The three areas where UK government wants to override - or 'clarify', as it puts it - withdrawal agreement

Journalists this morning learnt more about how the government plans to “clarify” the withdrawal agreement signed by Boris Johnson in January. The government claims this would not amount to overriding the agreement, but the new proposals would go beyond what was set out in the Northern Ireland protocol part of the withdrawal agreement, in a manner clearly advantageous to the UK.

The government wants to make changes in three areas. As is sometimes the way in Westminster journalism, reporters learnt about these plans through a mysterious process that did not involve anyone using attributable quotes. But here is what we found out.

The UK and the EU have been discussing how to implement the Northern Ireland protocol through the joint council set up by the withdrawal agreement. It is jointly headed by Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, and Maroš Šefčovič, a European commission vice president. The UK government says it is pleased at the progress that has been made, that it is taking extensive steps to implement the protocol, but that there is a risk that some issues might not be resolved by the end of the year, particularly if there is no UK-EU trade deal, and that therefore ministers need to take powers to tidy up aspects that might otherwise be left in legal limbo.

It is pointed out that this was made clear in a government paper (pdf) published in May on the UK’s approach to implementing the protocol. For example, that document said that the government was committed to “legislating by 1 January 2021 to guarantee unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the UK internal market”.

The government wants to clarify the law in three areas.

Exit summary declarations: The withdrawal agreement says traders exporting from Northern Ireland to Great Britain will have to fill these in, but the UK government says the protocol also says there should be “unfettered access” for Northern Ireland traders to the UK market and it want to resolve this contradiction by getting rid of exit summary declarations for NI/GB trade. This would retrospectively justify Johnson’s claim in November 2019 that any demand for such forms could be thrown in the bin. (See 10.05am.)

Tariffs: Under the protocol EU tariffs could apply to goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland if they are “at risk” of entering the EU market (by crossing the border into Ireland). But the protocol does not define what “at risk” goods are. The government wants to give UK ministers the power to decide this unilaterally.

State aid: The protocol says EU state aid law will apply in Northern Ireland. The UK government accepts this in so far as it refers to subsidies going to firms in Northern Ireland. But it is concerned that the protocol, as it stands, could also apply to firms in Britain if they have ancillary relations with firms in Northern Ireland. It wants to eliminate this risk by allowing the UK government to decide in what circumstances EU state aid rules apply.

The government’s view is that these changes would not undermine the protocol.

It is going to give itself powers to make these changes through the internal markets bill and the finance bill because these are the legislative vehicles available that will be on the statute book by the end of the year.

Updated

No 10 claims it only wants to 'clarify' withdrawal agreement to protect Northern Ireland peace process

The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. No 10 is rejected claims that it plans to ignore aspects of the Northern Ireland protocol in the withdrawal agreement that Boris Johnson signed in January. Instead the prime minister’s spokesman said the government just wanted to “clarify” the agreement to protect the Northern Ireland peace process. He said:

We will continue to work with the EU in the joint committee to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland protocol.

However, as a responsible government, we cannot allow the peace process or the UK’s internal market to inadvertently be compromised by unintended consequences of the protocol.

The Northern Ireland protocol was designed as a way of implementing the needs of our exit from the EU in a way that worked for Northern Ireland and in particular for maintaining the Belfast (Good Friday) agreement, the gains of the peace process, and the delicate balance between both communities’ interests. It explicitly depends on the consent of the people of Northern Ireland for its continued existence. As we implement the Northern Ireland protocol this overriding need must be kept in mind.

So we are taking limited and reasonable steps to clarify specific elements of the Northern Ireland protocol in domestic law to remove any ambiguity and to ensure the government is always able to deliver on its commitments to the people of Northern Ireland.

These limited clarifications deliver on the commitments the government made in the general election manifesto, which said: ‘We will ensure that Northern Ireland’s businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK and that in the implementation of our Brexit deal, we maintain and strengthen the integrity and smooth operation of our internal market.’ This was reiterated in the command paper (pdf) published in May.

Amplifying what the spokesman said, a UK official told journalists:

The government is completely committed, as it always has been, to implementing the Northern Ireland protocol in good faith.

If we don’t take these steps we face the prospect of legal confusion at the end of the year and potentially extremely damaging defaults, including tariffs on goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland.

We are making minor clarifications in extremely specific areas to ensure that, as we implement the protocol, we are doing so in a way that allows ministers to always uphold and protect the Good Friday peace agreement.

Updated

Plaid Cymru’s leader at Westminster, Liz Saville Roberts, has accused the government of “rogue state behaviour”. She issued this statement in response to the news that the government apparently wants to override the withdrawal agreement. In a statement she said:

Breaking international law is never a good idea, to do it in the middle of a pandemic is as stupid as it is dangerous. At a time when the world needs to work together the UK government is actively doing the opposite.

The internal market bill was already set to undo the work of multiple devolution referendums, but now it looks set to put the UK on the path to becoming a pariah on the world stage.

This is rogue state behaviour undermining not only EU negotiations but trust in the UK in all future international negotiations.

Westminster’s shambolic handling of the pandemic has already shown how in Wales we can do better for ourselves. This latest scandal only makes it clearer that Westminster does not, and never will, work for Wales.

Here is Katya Adler, the BBC’s Europe editor, on the UK government’s apparent plan to give itself the power to override the withdrawal agreement in relation to Northern Ireland.

Scotland’s SNP government has said that Boris Johnson is leading the UK towards a “disastrous Brexit outcome” and that the internal market bill due to be published this week will be “the biggest assault on devolution since the Scottish parliament was established”. It has just put out this statement from its constitution secretary, Michael Russell.

The UK government is now hurtling towards a disastrous Brexit outcome in the midst of a deep recession and global pandemic. With talks with the EU due to resume tomorrow the UK has put itself in the position of being able to leave the transition period with one of two terrible outcomes - either a low deal or no deal. Either will, without a shadow of a doubt, hit Scottish jobs and the Scottish economy very hard.

With the likely publication of the internal market bill this week, designed to allow bad trade deals to be imposed no matter the view of the Scottish people, we will see confirmed the biggest assault on devolution since the Scottish parliament was established. We will, as we have made clear, oppose it at every turn. In addition, reports that the UK government is now also planning to use this legislation to renege on parts of the withdrawal agreement which they willingly entered into just nine months ago, are extraordinary and will not only consolidate opposition across these islands but will also alienate the European Union, further increasing the likelihood of the current talks collapsing.

Scotland’s interests are being damaged as the whole of UK governance is mired in chaos and confusion and as we have seen in the Tony Abbot debacle, is the laughing stock of the world. Fortunately Scotland has a better option. The Scottish government remains of the firm belief that the people of Scotland have the right to choose their own future and is determined to make that happen. That is why, before the end of this parliament, we will set out the terms of a future independence referendum clearly and unambiguously to the people of Scotland, in a draft referendum bill.

Updated

Are we heading for a no-deal Brexit? On Wednesday 9 September at 7pm the Guardian is holding a live streamed event on come January 2021 we will crash out of the EU with no deal? With Guardian journalists Sonia Sodha, Lisa O’Carroll, Jennifer Rankin and Anand Menon. Book tickets here.

From Nick Gutteridge, the Sun’s correspondent in Brussels

Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the European commission, has said she expects the UK to abide by its obligations under the withdrawal agreement.

These are from my colleague Jennifer Rankin in Brussels.

'Most likely' scenario is for Covid vaccine to be available early next year, says Hancock

In his LBC phone-in Matt Hancock, the health secretary, also said that he thought the “most likely” scenario was that a coronavirus vaccine would become available early next year.

Speaking about the AstraZeneca collaboration with Oxford University, Hancock said:

We have got 30m doses already contracted with AstraZeneca, in fact they are starting to manufacture those doses already, ahead of approval, so that should approval come through - and it’s still not certain but it is looking up - should that approval come through then we are ready to roll out.

The best-case scenario is that happens this year. I think more likely is the early part of next year - in the first few months of next year is the most likely.

But we’ve also bought vaccine ahead of it getting approved from a whole different series of international vaccines as well.

He also claimed that mass testing might provide an alternative means of allowing normal life to resume. Asked about the prospect of people returning to theatres in time for the pantomime season at Christmas, he said:

That is the hope that we hold out for the nation, that we can get things going even if there isn’t a vaccine, that we can use mass testing so people can check whether they have the virus today, if they don’t then [they can] go and do things, even if it means being in close confinement.

We need to use the next design of tests which don’t require you to send the swab off to the lab and get the result back.

There’s a new technology that we’re backing to get a test where you can have the turnaround essentially on the spot and so you can imagine being able to go to something like the theatre, or a sports event, or to work, and you have the test, you get the result back and then they can go into the theatre.

That is what we’re working on, that is the hope, and I also hope that will allow us to have a merry Christmas.

Matt Hancock, the health secretary
Matt Hancock, the health secretary Photograph: Tolga Akmen/AFP/Getty Images

Updated

Rise in UK Covid cases 'largely among younger people', says Hancock

Matt Hancock, the health secretary, has used a radio phone-in to urge young Britons properly socially distance, saying that otherwise the UK could follow countries like France and Spain towards a significant new upsurge in coronavirus cases.

After almost 3,000 people tested positive for Covid-19 on Sunday, Hancock told LBC radio that much of the rise was among younger people. He said:

It’s concerning because we’ve seen a rise in cases in France, in Spain, in some other countries across Europe, and nobody wants to see a second wave here.

The rise in the number of cases we’ve seen over the last few days is largely among younger people – under 25s, especially between 17 and 21. The message to all your younger listeners is that even though you’re at lower risk of dying from Covid if you’re under 25, you can still have really serious symptoms and consequences.

Hancock was the first guest on a new LBC slot called ‘Call the Cabinet’, which saw him answer questions from listeners. One man wanted to know whether the UK leaving the Brexit transition period at the end of the year with no long-term trade deal could affect medical supplies.

The health secretary said he was confident, but gave something less than a full guarantee saying only: “I’m comfortable that we’ve done the work that is needed.”

Another caller, from Nottingham, said he had been offered a Covid test in Dundee, nearly 350 miles away.

This had happened ten days ago, the man said, with Hancock saying the system had since been improved: “We’ve changed that now so that people get offered tests within 75 miles, which is still quite a hike if you need to.”

Michel Barnier 'worried' by No 10 plans to renege on Brexit deal

Michel Barnier has said he is “worried” by the latest twists in the Brexit negotiations and will seek answers from the UK’s chief negotiator, David Frost, over claims that Downing Street is planning to negate parts of the withdrawal agreement, my colleagues Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin report.

Here are some tweets from Brexit commentators on the UK government’s apparent threat to override parts of the withdrawal agreement.

This is from Alexander Stubb, a former prime minister of Finland who now runs the School of Transnational Governance at the European University Institute in Italy.

Here is the start of a Twitter thread from Dmitry Grozoubinski, a former Australian trade negotiator who runs the ExplainTrade consultancy.

This is from George Peretz QC, a barrister specialising in EU and public law.

These are from Anton Spisak, a former UK civil servant working on Brexit who is now based at the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change

And here is the start of a Twitter thread from Simon Usherwood, a British academic specialising in Brexit.

In the statement he issued overnight, in which he set 15 October as an absolute deadline for a UK-EU trade deal (see 9.13am), Boris Johnson said the UK could not accept the EU’s current demands because “we cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get [a deal]”. This has left Andreas Michaelis, the German ambassador to the UK, perplexed.

George Eustice's morning interviews - Summary

George Eustice, the environment secretary and (like most ministers at the top of the government) a prominent Brexit campaigner in 2016, has done a series of interviews this morning. Here is a summary of the main points he was making.

  • Eustice claimed that the apparent threat by the UK government to pass a law allowing it to override parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to Northern Ireland was just an exercise in tidying up “loose ends”. (See 9.13am.)
  • He cited exit summary declarations as an example of one of these “loose ends”. This is from Tom Newton Dunn from Times Radio.

The withdrawal agreement includes the Northern Ireland protocol that sets out customs rules that will allow Northern Ireland to stay in single market after Brexit, effectively putting a customs border down the Irish Sea. The agreement applies legally whether or not the UK and the EU agree a subsequent trade deal. It sets out checks that will need to apply on some goods going from Britain to Northern Ireland (because they could then cross the Irish border into the EU). Goods going from Northern Ireland to Britain are supposed to have “unfettered access”, but the agreement says exit summary declarations should apply. The UK is now trying to get the EU to drop this requirement. This is important to Boris Johnson because in November 2019, during the general election campaign, he told businesses in Northern Ireland that, if they were asked to fill in a form when exporting to mainland Britain, they should “throw that form in the bin” - even though at the time the agreement he had reached with the EU did require exit summary declarations, as his own Northern Ireland secretary at the time, Julian Smith, had admitted.

  • Eustice said that Johnson’s threat to opt for no deal if a trade deal with the EU cannot be secured by 15 October was not posturing. He said:

We said that we would work night and day to try to get that Canada-style trade deal that we seek but if the European Union wouldn’t offer that, that we would still leave on time and we would do that under the terms of the existing Withdrawal Agreement that we’ve got.

It’s not posturing or a threat, this has been the reality of our position right from the beginning.

  • Eustice would not comment on claims that Downing Street now puts the chances of getting a trade deal with the EU at just 30 to 40%. (This claim was made in a column in the Times by James Forsyth last week. Yesterday’s Sunday Times went even further, claiming senior figures in government now think the chances of a deal are “less than 20%”.)
  • Eustice said that although there would be no customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, there may be some administrative processes for goods transiting through.
  • He claimed that not having a trade deal with the EU would be a “good outcome” for the UK because it would have regained its independence.
George Eustice.
George Eustice. Photograph: Andy Rain/EPA

Dublin tells Johnson undermining withdrawal agreement would be 'very unwise'

And this is from Simon Coveney, Ireland’s foreign minister, on the latest Brexit initiative from No 10.

This is from Louise Haigh, Labour’s Northern Ireland spokeswoman, on the government’s apparent threat to override the withdrawal agreement. She said:

It beggars belief that the government is - yet again - playing a dangerous game in Northern Ireland and sacrificing our international standing at the altar of the prime minister’s incompetence.

Undermining withdrawal agreement and opting for no deal would boost case for Scottish independence, says SNP

As my colleague Peter Walker reports, the SNP is saying that “by threatening to undermine the UK’s international treaty obligations and impose a catastrophic no-deal Brexit on Scotland against our will, [Boris Johnson] is proving he cannot be trusted and is underlining the need for Scotland to become an independent country.” Peter’s full story is here.

Eustice defends threat to override EU withdrawal agreement as just tidying up 'loose ends'

Good morning. Earlier in the year you would often hear commentators speculating about the prospects of the UK facing an autumn/winter nightmare scenario, where all the upheaval of a no-deal Brexit was combined with a second wave of coronavirus. We’re not there yet, but this morning the two main stories on the agenda do look like signposts towards that future.

On the Covid front, the government is responding to the news that yesterday almost 3,000 people in the UK tested positive for Covid-19, a 50% increase in a single day and the highest daily total since May.

And, on the Brexit front, Boris Johnson has made two moves which, together, amount to a significant hardening of his stance in the UK-EU trade talks. Perhaps it’s just tough posturing that will encourage the EU to compromise, paving the way for a deal, but if so that’s a high-risk strategy, and it’s just as probable that this will accelerate the slide to a no deal.

First, Johnson has set 15 October as an absolute deadline for the end of the trade talks. In a statement last night he said:

The EU have been very clear about the timetable. I am too. There needs to be an agreement with our European friends by the time of the European council on 15 October if it’s going to be in force by the end of the year. So there is no sense in thinking about timelines that go beyond that point. If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on.

Second - and this is much, much more provocative and unexpected - the government has confirmed that it is preparing legislation that would apparently allow it to override parts of the withdrawal agreement, the legally-binding treaty signed with the EU in January. Here is our story on the news, which was originally a Financial Times scoop.

We have not seen the new legislation, the UK internal market bill, yet, but those briefing the FT were clear that it would override parts of the withdrawal agreement relating to the Northern Ireland protocol (the rules keeping Northern Ireland in the single market, effectively putting a customs border down the Irish Sea). The FT says:

It is a very blunt instrument,” said one of those familiar with the matter. “The bill will explicitly say the government reserves the right to set its own regime, directly setting up UK law in opposition with obligations under the withdrawal agreement, and in full cognisance that this will breach international law.”

But this morning George Eustice, the environment secretary, claimed that the UK was not ignoring the agreement and that the new law would just tidy up “loose ends” where the agreement was ambiguous. When it was put to him the he government was abandoning a treaty it signed in January, he replied:

No. We are not saying that at all. We have a withdrawal agreement, and that includes Northern Ireland protocol. And we are committed to implementing that.

And there is negotiations ongoing through something called the joint committee process ... a separate process to the main negotiation on a future trade agreement.

But, it has always been recognised that that joint committee process was needed to iron out a few remaining technical details as to how the Northern Ireland protocol would work.

And it may well be the case that once that joint committee process itself has concluded there remain one, or two, loose ends where there is a requirement for legal certainty. And where the government may need to legislate to provide that legal clarity and certainty.

Here is the agenda for the day.

9am: Matt Hancock takes part in an LBC phone-in.

12pm: Downing Street lobby briefing.

12.15pm: Nicola Sturgeon gives a Scottish government coronavirus briefing.

2.30pm: Gavin Williamson, the education secretary, takes questions in the Commons.

3.30pm: Urgent questions and statements in the Commons. Priti Patel, the home secretary, is expected to make a Commons statement on the Extinction Rebellion newspaper print press blockades, but we may also get statements or UQs on Brexit and coronavirus.

Politics Live has been doubling up as the UK coronavirus live blog for some time and, given the way the Covid crisis eclipses everything, for the foreseeable future it will still mostly focus on coronavirus. But we will be covering non-Covid 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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