LIVE – Updated at 12:49
Latest updates: prime minister says there is ‘argument to be had’ about isolation with his spokesperson saying government would like cut to happen ‘soon’.
There are no urgent questions in the Commons today, and just one ministerial statement, the Michael Gove one on cladding, at 3.30pm, the parliamentary authorities have announced.
No 10 says it hopes evidence will ‘soon’ be available to justify cutting isolation period to five days
At the Downing Street lobby briefing the prime minister’s spokesman was also asked about the possibility of the minimum Covid isolation period being cut from seven days to five. Boris Johnson confirmed earlier that this is being kept under consideration. (See 11.18am.) The PM’s spokesman went a bit further, saying the government would like to happen “soon” – provided the scientific evidence justifies the change. He said the UK Health Security Agency was continuing to look the scientific evidence justified cutting the isolation period to five days (ie, whether that could be done without risk of still-infectious people being released into the community). He said:
If it is possible to go further, we would want to act quickly, but it needs to be based on the latest evidence. And that work is still ongoing. We certainly have not received any further updated advice.
Asked whether he expected the rules to be changed within days, or weeks, or months, the spokesman said he could not say. But he added:
It is something we want done soon. But what is important is that we don’t prejudge the conclusion, and that we allow those that are looking at this to consider the evidence base and provide thorough advice.
PM not facing probe from parliamentary commissioner for standards over flat refurbishment, says No 10
The Downing Street lobby briefing has just finished. As my colleague Heather Stewart reports, the PM’s spokesman said that Kathryn Stone, the parliamentary commissioner for standards, has told No 10 that she won’t launch an inquiry into allegations that Boris Johnson’s declarations about the refurbishment of Downing Street flat broke the MPs’ code of conduct because she considers it a matter for the ministerial register of interest.
I will post more from the briefing shortly.
The Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen has said the isolation period should be cut from seven days to five days.
Bridgen is one of the large number of Tory MPs anxious to ease the existing Covid restrictions quickly and his view is probably widely shared by colleagues. Earlier today John Redwood, the former Conservative cabinet minister, posted this, referring to today’s Telegraph story. (See 11.18am.)
Labour says Johnson and Gove have broken their Brexit promise to scrap VAT on fuel
Labour has again accused Boris Johnson and Michael Gove of breaking a promise they made when they were leading the Vote Leave campaign in 2016 to get rid of VAT on fuel if the UK voted for Brexit. In interviews this morning Gove (see 10.40am) signalled that getting rid of VAT now would be a mistake because it would be better to target help on those most in need (Johnson made the same argument last week), and in his own TV clip Johnson also said it was people on low incomes who needed help most. (See 11.37am.)
Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary, said:
Both Boris Johnson and Michael Gove promised to cut VAT on energy bills. But when push comes to shove, when families and pensioners really need support, they’ve broken that commitment.
While Michael Gove backpedals, Rishi Sunak is missing in action.
Labour would give families security by immediately cutting VAT on energy bills now – part of our plan to save households around £200 or more, with extra support for those feeling the squeeze the most, paid for by a windfall tax on oil and gas companies facing record profits.
Johnson and Gove made their VAT promise in 2016 in a joint article for the Sun. Here is an extract.
In 1993, VAT on household energy bills was imposed. This makes gas and electricity much more expensive. EU rules mean we cannot take VAT off those bills.
The least wealthy are hit particularly hard. The poorest households spend three times more of their income on household energy bills than the richest households spend. As long as we are in the EU, we are not allowed to cut this tax.
When we Vote Leave, we will be able to scrap this unfair and damaging tax. It isn’t right that unelected bureaucrats in Brussels impose taxes on the poorest and elected British politicians can do nothing.
Johnson confirms ministers looking at how to help people manage rising fuel costs
In his pooled interview Boris Johnson was also asked about the cost of living crisis. He made three general points.
- Johnson confirmed that the government was looking at what it could do to help people with their energy bills. He said that he understood how difficult it was for people and that he had discussed this with the chancellor, Rishi Sunak. He did not say what the government might do, but he hinted that help would be focused on people on low incomes. “We’re certainly looking at what we can do,” he said. He added:
We’ve got to help people, particularly people on low income. We’ve got to help people with the cost of their fuel. And that’s what we’re doing.
- He stressed that this was an international problem. He said:
This is the result of global price spikes as a result of the economy coming back from Covid …
There’s a general inflationary pressure caused by the world economy coming back from Covid. In the US, I think, inflation is likely to be the highest it’s been since the early 80s. The eurozone is experiencing exactly the same thing. Here in the UK we’re seeing the same problem.
- He said that the government was already spending £4.2bn on programmes that were helping people pay their fuel bills. He mentioned cold weather payments, warm homes discounts, winter fuel payments, as well as grants to councils to help them support people in need. And he said the government wanted people to be aware of the support already available.
Boris Johnson has posted a message on Twitter this morning welcoming the news that Virgin and O2 customers will not face roaming charges when they use their phones in the EU.
As Faisal Islam, the BBC’s economics editor points out, Johnson’s tweet does not mention the fact that other operators are reintroducing roaming charges, as they are allowed to now that the UK has left the EU.
Johnson says government considering case for cutting isolation period from seven days to five
Boris Johnson has recorded a pooled broadcast interview at a vaccination centre this morning. He used it to play down suggestions that free lateral flow tests might be abandoned any time soon, as a report claimed yesterday (it has always been the plan to give them up eventually), but he did suggest the government was open to the possibility of cutting the minimum isolation period from seven days to five days. Only six days ago Sajid Javid, the health secretary, ruled this out.
Here are the main points Johnson made on Covid.
- Johnson said the government could consider the case for cutting the minimum isolation time from seven days to five days. Last week Javid said the government was not looking to change this. But today Johnson said there was an “argument to be had” about this issue. “The thing to do is to look at the science,” he said. Asked if he was speaking to ministers like Nadhim Zahawi, the education secretary, who yesterday said cutting the isolation period to five days would be helpful, Johnson said that he was, and that ministers were looking at this. According to a report by Charles Hymas and Harry Yorke in the Telegraph today, and 60% of cabinet ministers, are also in favour of shortening the isolation period. They report:
Rishi Sunak and ministers from the main economic ministries believe cutting isolation from seven days could help reduce staffing shortages caused by the omicron variant, the Telegraph understands.
One government source suggested 60 per cent of the Cabinet were in favour of the move, although they stressed that such a move would have to be sanctioned as safe by scientists.
- Johnson suggested lateral flow tests would continue to be distributed for free “as long as they’re very important”. Asked if the current arrangements would stay in place for just weeks, or months, he replied: “I think we will use them as long as they’re very important.”
Gove claims ‘red wall’ and low tax Tories not in conflict, because higher spending will fund tax cuts later
Here are the key points from Michael Gove’s various broadcast interviews this morning.
- Gove said that he was wrong to think tighter Covid restrictions were needed when the cabinet debated the issue before Christmas, and that Boris Johnson was right to take the opposite view. (See 9.35am.)
- Gove said that Britain was moving towards a situation where restrictions would be unnecessary because people were used to living with Covid. But we weren’t there yet, he said. He told Sky News:
We are moving to a situation – we’re not there yet – but we are moving to a situation where it is possible to say that we can live with Covid and that the pressure on the NHS and on vital public services is abating.
But it’s absolutely vital to recognise that we are not there yet and as the health secretary has reminded us, there will be some difficult weeks ahead.
And later he told the Today programme:
And I think one of the things that we do need to think about is how we live with Covid, how we live with this particular type of coronavirus. There are other coronaviruses which are endemic and with which we live, viruses tend to develop in a way whereby they become less harmful but more widespread.
So, guided by the science, we can look to the progressive lifting of restrictions, and I think for all of us the sooner the better. But we’ve got to keep the NHS safe.
- He insisted the government was spending enough to deliver its levelling up agenda. “That budget is there to be used, deployed and allocated to support levelling up,” he said. He was responding to a question about a Times article (paywall) by Ben Houchen, the Tory mayor for Tees Valley, who suggests that voters have yet to see evidence that levelling up is happening. Houchen says:
Voters are also realists — they know that levelling up is not something that will be delivered in just a year or two, it will be a decades-long project. But they do need to see progress, and this means steel going up to deliver new factories, spades in the ground for new energy infrastructure, and cranes in action as new bridges are built out over waters. These are all the visible signs that people need to see to bring confidence that real, lasting, progress is being made.
- Gove dismissed claims that there was a tension between “red wall” Tories like Houchen, who want to see more government spending in their areas, and Conservatives like Lord Frost, who want lower taxes. Asked if Houchen and Frost would be able to agree on what the government should be doing, Gove replied:
I imagine they would be in full agreement, they would be a nest of singing birds …
There are choices that do need to be made. But, ultimately, we’ve made those choices. We’ve committed to the public spending required in order to generate economic growth, and as we will in due course get that economic growth, we will also in due course cut taxes.
One of the things I think everyone – certainly everyone from the Conservative party, but I think actually, most people in politics – would agree is if we can have every part of the United Kingdom operating as effectively economically as London and the south-east currently do, that provides not just opportunity for more individuals, it also provides more for the exchequer as well.
- He signalled that he was opposed to cutting VAT on energy bills – even thought the Vote Leave campaign he jointly led promised this as a Brexit dividend in 2016 – saying that government support for those needing help with energy bills should be focused “on those who need it most”. A VAT cut would help everybody, particularly those with larger houses and larger bills.
- Gove said that, if developers did not agree to pay for the removal of dangerous cladding, the government would if necessary raise the money from them via taxation. He told Sky News:
We want to say to developers and indeed all those who have a role to play in recognising their responsibility that we want to work with them.
But if it’s the case that it’s necessary to do so, then we will use legal means and ultimately, if necessary, the tax system in order to ensure that those who have deep pockets, those who are responsible for the upkeep of these buildings, pay rather than the leaseholders, the individuals, who in the past were being asked to pay with money they didn’t have for a problem that they did not cause.
- He said it was not right for builders to claim they were complying with government regulations when they installed the cladding responsible for the Grenfell Tower fire tragedy. He told LBC:
There were lots of steps that were taken which put people at risk, and without wanting to pre-empt what the independent inquiry into Grenfell will conclude, I think it is … you would be hard-pressed to say that putting, essentially, sheets of liquid petrol encased in metal on the side of a tower block was the right thing to do.
I think it’s fair to say that, actually, those who argue that they were compliant [with regulations] in doing that, I don’t think have a very strong case. I think you’d have to be a very, very, very selective reader of the evidence there in order to draw that conclusion.
Gove claims he was wrong about need for tougher Covid restrictions, and PM right to reject them
Good morning. Michael Gove, the levelling up secretary, was making a rare appearance on the morning interview round today. He was mostly talking about the announcement about the £4bn support package for leaseholders hit by excessive cladding-removal costs, which will be the subject of a Commons statement later. But he was also asked about Covid, and in an interview on the Today programme he effectively admitted that he was wrong, and Boris Johnson was right, when the cabinet considered the need for tougher restrictions for England in the week before Christmas. When it was put to him that he had favoured tighter restrictions, but that developments since then suggested they were not needed, he replied:
From some of the things that I’ve said and written people will know that, in the spectrum of opinion, I was at the more cautious end. Perfectly legit to draw that inference. But the prime minister, who’s had so many different things to balance, publicly that we would be able to get through this with the booster campaign. So if more were required, then we would be ready to put in additional measures. We always keep that under review. But his judgment has been vindicated.
The interview almost did not happen because Gove got stuck in a BBC lift on his way to the studio, prompting numerous jokes about his need personal need for a more efficient levelling up strategy. This is from the BBC’s Jack Lamport.
I will post more from Gove’s morning interviews shortly.
Here is the agenda for the day.
11.30am: Downing Street holds a lobby briefing.
Morning: Boris Johnson is doing a visit, where he is expected to record a pooled TV interview.
3.30pm: Alok Sharma, Cop26 president, gives evidence to the Lords environment committee about delivering the Cop26 agenda.
After 3.30pm: Michael Gove makes a statement to MPs about a £4bn package to help leaseholders facing crippling cladding-removal costs.
I will be covering UK Covid developments here today, but for wider coronavirus coverage, do read our global live blog.
I try to monitor the comments below the line (BTL) but it is impossible to read them all. If you have a direct question, do include “Andrew” in it somewhere and I’m more likely to find it. I do try to answer questions, and if they are of general interest, I will post the question and reply above the line (ATL), although I can’t promise to do this for everyone.
If you want to attract my attention quickly, it is probably better to use Twitter. I’m on @AndrewSparrow.
Alternatively, you can email me at [email protected]
Source: Thanks msn.com