Breaking news: Conservative MP arrested – accused of rape, sexual assault and coercive control

1 Aug

The Sunday Times reports that a former minister has been arrested “after a woman in her twenties accused him of rape, sexual assault and coercive control.”

The MP was taken into custody earlier today, and was still in a police station by late afternoon. He has been accused of abuse during a relationship with the complainant, a former parliamentary employee.

“She alleges that the MP assaulted her, forced her to have sex and left her so traumatised that she had to go to hospital”, writes The Times. The Metropolitan Police has since launched an investigation. Of the incident, they said:

“On Friday, 31 July, the Metropolitan police service received allegations relating to four separate incidents involving allegations of sexual offences and assault.

“These offences are alleged to have occurred at addresses in Westminster, Lambeth and Hackney between July 2019 and January 2020.

“The Met has launched an investigation into the allegations. A man was arrested on suspicion of rape and is currently in custody in an east London police station.”

Chris Newton: In imposing new Coronavirus restrictions, the Government isn’t doing anything it said it wouldn’t do

1 Aug

Dr Chris Newton is a historian and a former defence policy adviser in the Conservative Research Department.

Boris Johnson announced on Thursday evening that the Government will impose new Coronavirus restrictions in parts of Greater Manchester, East Lancashire, and West Yorkshire a few hours before it was enforced at midnight.

In addition, on Friday, the Prime Minister announced that he is postponing the reopening of “high-risk settings” (including casinos, skating rinks, and bowling alleys) in England, originally planned for August 1, for a fortnight.

Keir Starmer and Labour, while agreeing with the restrictions in the north, criticised how the announcement was made, which they claimed was on Twitter and at short notice, and called on the Government for “urgent clarity and explanation”.

The criticisms about the short notice the Government gave for the North of England have some merit, although the Government has published clarifications and answers on its website.

Moreover, Labour’s condemnation should be tempered by the fact that swift action in response to spikes was what it had been demanding.

Another criticism, especially on social media and one raised during the Prime Minister’s press conference on Friday, is that these announcements represent the failure of Johnson’s plan for easing lockdown. They show that the Prime Minister has been too optimistic, that easing lockdown has been premature, and that he should not have announced his timetable so far in advance.

This argument is, however, less convincing. The recent measures should not surprise anyone who follows the Government’s statements, for local lockdowns and timetable postponements were built into its strategy.

On July 17, Johnson set out his plan for further relaxations, including the re-openings on July 25 and those originally set for August 1. During this statement, he warned:

“Now I must stress, the timetable I am about to set out is conditional. It is contingent on every one of us staying alert and acting responsibly. It relies on our continued success in controlling the virus. And we will not proceed if doing so risks a second peak that would overwhelm the NHS”.

Johnson also acknowledged that: “I know some will say this plan is too optimistic, that the risks are too great”. Nonetheless, he accepted that his plans would have to change if there was a significant rise in the infection rate:

“And of course, if they are right in saying that, and we cannot exclude that they are, let me reassure them, and reassure you: that we will not hesitate at any stage to put on the brakes”.

He reiterated that “from May 11 onwards, this plan has been conditional, and it remains conditional”. Johnson also set out the Government’s guidance for containing future outbreaks. These included giving new powers to local authorities, as well as establishing powers for central government intervention.

Therefore, at no point did the Prime Minister say the timetable was guaranteed, and the Government has not announced anything it said it wouldn’t do.

Johnson has “put on the brakes” as he indicated.

As Chris Whitty, the Chief Medical Officer, stated on Friday: “we all know that what we have to try and do is to get to the absolute edge of what we can do in terms of opening up society and the economy without getting to the point where the virus starts to take off again”.

No-one knows where that “absolute edge” is until it has been reached. Faced with a dramatically shrinking economy and rising unemployment, the Government tested what was possible until it reached that edge. In order to balance opening up the economy as well as keeping infections as low possible, its approach has been incremental, flexible, and fluid.

Its strategy was always going to be modified by unexpected developments, what military theorists call “friction”.

This is a crisis that no post-war government has faced. Coming out of lockdown puts us into unknown territory, and no doubt the Government has made mistakes purely because it is dealing with a new, uncertain situation.

It is right that it is held to account over its decisions and communications during this crisis in time.

However, analysis and criticism should not only take the enormous challenge into account, but also be based on what the Government has actually stated.

Those expecting that the easing of lockdown would follow a simple, linear path are being unrealistic and are not portraying the Government’s plan accurately.

Newslinks for Saturday 1st August 2020

1 Aug

Prime Minister ‘slams brakes on easing of lockdown’

“Boris Johnson has postponed easing the coronavirus lockdown and readied the country for an autumn without seeing friends or family. The prime minister warned of “trade-offs” ahead yesterday and delayed the lifting of restrictions in England for at least two weeks after a surge in the number of Covid-19 cases. At a Downing Street press conference after households were banned from meeting each other at home in parts of the northwest, Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer for England, bluntly warned that the country had “reached the limits” of reopening… Mr Johnson said the return of pupils was a national priority but that in other areas freedoms were “conditional”. Privately, government sources say that No 10’s strategy is to keep schools open, even if that means reducing the freedom of households to socialise, to allow workers to keep the economy moving.” – The Times

  • 36 hours that ‘forced Johnson to put the brakes on’ – Daily Telegraph
  • ‘Handbrake’ turn on restrictions evaporates Downing Street ebullience – FT
  • Follow rules to avoid second national lockdown, Government warns – The Guardian
  • Businesses ‘warn they face ruin’ – Daily Mail

>Today: ToryDiary: Local lockdowns are dispiriting – but there are reasons to be hopeful about the battle against Coronavirus

Whitty’s ‘trade-offs’ warning could mean pubs closing so schools can open

“Britain has “probably reached the limit of opening up society” and will only be able to open schools in September by trading some existing freedoms, the chief medical officer has warned. On Friday, Professor Chris Whitty said Britain had gone as far as it safely can to restore normality and may now have to sacrifice existing freedoms, such as the reopening of pubs, to stem the spread of coronavirus. “We have probably reached near the limits, or the limits, of what we can do in terms of opening up society,” he told a hastily-convened Downing Street press conference… Opening up schools is “an absolute priority”, Prof Whitty stressed, echoing the words of Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister.” – Daily Telegraph

  • Britain records highest daily spike for a month – Daily Mail
  • Furlough scheme wind down sparks UK job fears – FT
  • Hancock is confused by ‘crystal clear’ new local lockdown rules – The Sun

Home Nations:

  • Sturgeon urges Scots not to travel to Covid-hit parts of northern England – Daily Telegraph
  • Wales to ease Covid-19 lockdown restrictions despite England ‘pause’ – The Guardian

Comment:

  • If you think this is bad, just wait for winter – James Forsyth, The Times
  • The northern lockdown represents government failure – Devi Sridhar, The Guardian

>Yesterday: MPs Etc: “We must be focused and we cannot be complacent.” The Prime Minister’s statement – full text

Britain could face ‘London-style riots within days’

“Britain could be rocked by riots within days amid growing tensions over local lockdowns, Government advisers have warned. Inequalities fuelled by the virus have left the UK “precariously balanced” and at risk of disorder that threatens to overwhelm police. The violence may be worse than that seen during clashes in 2011 and “catastrophically undermine” the country’s recovery plans. It would require military intervention, send Covid infections spiralling out of control and hinder the revival of the economy, it is claimed. The fears are detailed in documents published today by the Government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage). The papers, considered at a meeting on July 7, say local restrictions, racial inequalities, protests and street parties have sent tensions soaring.” – The Sun

  • Police condemn Johnson’s order to enforce mask and social distancing rules – Daily Mail
  • Coronavirus raves and protests may need army, advisers warn – The Times
  • Officer injured in mass street brawl – Daily Mail

More:

  • ‘Heartless and reckless’ to force shielding people back to work, says TUC – The Guardian
  • Tory MP sparks racism row after claiming the ‘vast majority’ of rule-breakers are BAME – Daily Mail

>Yesterday: Dr Chandra Kanneganti: The Coronavirus challenges I’ve seen as a doctor and a councillor

Johnson loyalists ‘rewarded with peerages’

“Boris Johnson has appointed 36 new peers to the House of Lords, including several notable Brexit campaigners, two former Tory chancellors, supportive allies from his time in London City Hall, and his former editor. The list of peerages, granted by the Queen on Friday, also included Evgeny Lebedev, Russian proprietor of the London Evening Standard newspaper and son of a former KGB agent, former cricketer Ian Botham and Ruth Davidson, former head of the Scottish Tory party. Ken Clarke and Philip Hammond, who were both thrown out of the Conservative party in September for voting against Mr Johnson on Brexit, were readmitted to the party and given peerages that are typically given to former chancellors. Former ministers Patrick McLoughlin, Nick Herbert and Ed Vaizey will also be given positions in the Lords.” – FT

  • New peers include brother, a former Tory treasurer, and a union firebrand – Daily Telegraph
  • Son of KGB agent handed a seat in the Lords – The Times
  • May’s husband Philip and Brexit backers are handed honours – The Sun
  • How much will 36 new peers cost the UK? – Daily Express

>Today: MPs Etc.: Hammond, Stuart, Davidson, Hoey. Johnson, Fox… but no Bercow. The new peerages for the House of Lords.

Andy Beckett: Why are the Tories so tight with veterans of the Revolutionary Communist Party?

“This similarity is less surprising once you know that a former RCP member, Munira Mirza, is head of the Downing Street policy unit, and probably Johnson’s most important adviser after Cummings. In an article for Grazia magazine this year, Johnson called her “extraordinary”, “ruthless”, and one of “the five women who have shaped my life”. On Friday another RCP veteran, Claire Fox, was nominated for a peerage by the government… Journalists have periodically probed the methods and motives of the ex-RCP network. Much less attention has been paid to why the Tory party and press have become so keen on them. What does the ascent of Mirza and her comrades tell us about modern Conservatism?” – The Guardian

Ross ‘poised to become leader’ of Scottish Conservatives

“Douglas Ross, the MP for Moray, is expected to be appointed as leader of the Scottish Conservatives as the party scrambles to reverse a steep fall in popularity before the Scottish election in May. The party plans the quickest possible coronation for Ross, who confirmed on Friday he would stand after Jackson Carlaw’s shock resignation on Thursday night. Party officials are trying to dissuade other people from standing to avoid a delay in Ross’s appointment as leader, after a series of opinion polls showed a majority of voters are backing Nicola Sturgeon’s Scottish National party. Ross confirmed the previous Scottish leader, Ruth Davidson, had agreed to take first minister’s questions for the Conservatives until the next Holyrood elections, but will not assume the role of interim leader or act as Ross’s deputy.” – The Guardian

  • Tories ‘admit independence the majority view’ – Daily Express

Comment:

  • Why are liberals so happy to be associated with Sturgeon’s brand of nationalism? – Douglas Murray, Daily Telegraph
  • If London does care at all about Northern Ireland, it needs to act to help unionism – Ben Lowry, News Letter

>Yesterday: ToryDiary: Carlaw resigns. Counter-intuitively, the Scottish Tories may need a proper leadership contest.

Conservatives’ grip on ‘red wall’ holding firm

“Eight months ago, this traditional Labour seat returned its first ever Conservative MP — one of the bricks in the “red wall” of heartland constituencies that crumbled overnight to hand Boris Johnson’s party its first parliamentary majority in 30 years. Since then, Covid-19 has suspended normal politics. Mr Johnson and his chancellor, Rishi Sunak, have doled out billions to prop up livelihoods while fending off accusations they have mismanaged the crisis. Meanwhile Labour has elected Keir Starmer as its new leader who is erasing all traces of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn. Against this shifting backdrop, has Mr Johnson still captured the hearts and minds of Labour’s lost England? Kelly Moses, the landlady of The Old Priory pub, is “not massive” on politics but voted Tory for the first time in December purely because of Mr Corbyn’s leadership.” – FT

Don’t blame us, says BBC as over-75s pay up again

“The chairman of the BBC hits back at the government today as millions of older people are forced to start paying for their TV licences for the first time in more than 20 years. Sir David Clementi points the finger of blame at ministers for the decision to charge over-75s £157.50 a year. Writing for The Times, he says: “It’s important to recognise that this change has come about because the government made a decision, in 2015, to stop funding free TV licences for over-75s.” In what appears to be a coded attack on Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, he adds that “much of what has been said [about the change] has been misleading at best”. Last month Mr Dowden said the BBC had been given a “generous” settlement and he regretted that the corporation “couldn’t find the efficiency savings” to avoid imposing the charge on older viewers.” – The Times

  • The Corporation has made a fair decision – David Clementi, The Times

Local lockdowns are dispiriting – but there are reasons to be hopeful about the battle against Coronavirus

1 Aug

On Thursday evening, Matt Hancock posted a series of Tweets that sent the UK into disarray. He wrote that the Government had “seen an increasing rate of transmission in parts of Northern England” and would subsequently not allow people from different households to meet indoors in Greater Manchester, Blackburn with Darwen, Burnley, Hyndburn, Pendle and Rossendale, starting from midnight.

Events moved quickly the next day, in which Boris Johnson elaborated on the decision that had been made. At a 10 Downing Street press briefing, he announced that lockdown easing would be postponed in England and that the country would have to “squeeze the brake pedal”, as “the prevalence of the virus in the community, in England, is likely to be rising for the first time since May”.

Even more depressingly, Chris Whitty, England’s Chief Medical Officer, said that “we have probably reached or neared the limits of what we can do in terms of opening up society”.

Alongside the news that England has the highest excess mortality rate in Europe, the spikes being seen across Europe, and the repeated warnings of a second wave, no doubt this has been one of the most disheartening weeks in the Covid-19 crisis so far for many Brits – particularly those living in the affected areas.

Indeed, in these times, it can be hard to feel optimistic about the battle against Coronavirus. But there is a strange paradox to the detection of cases in the North – abrupt though Hancock’s announcement was – and the Government’s swift action.

Far from being a sign of decline, it emphasises the enormous improvements that have been made in the UK’s testing regime. Hence why it is now easy to spot cases.

At the beginning of the crisis, many will remember that the Government was routinely attacked for lack of tests. When the Health Secretary promised to accelerate the testing regime by tens – and then hundreds of thousands – the target seemed preposterous. But big strides were made; 11,722,733 tests have been processed so far, with 206,656 processed today, and testing capacity at 338,585. 

To put this in context, by way of new tests per thousand people, the UK rate is 2.27 (as of July 30. Source: Our World in Data), Belgium is 1.30 (as of July 29), Denmark is 0.79 (July 30), France is 1.38 (July 28), New Zealand is 0.51 (July 30) and Norway is 0.89 (July 27). 

Now that our testing regime is better, there’s no doubt that the UK will have more localised lockdowns. But as the testing, and data, becomes more sophisticated, so will the way that the Government is able to apply its intelligence.

Another reason to feel hopeful is the progress made in developing a Covid-19 vaccine. Last month, a team of scientists at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute and Oxford Vaccine Group trialled one that induced a strong immune response in patients. They have since worked with the UK-based global biopharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, with the help of a £84 million Government funding scheme, to accelerate its development. The organisation has reported “good data so far” in its large-scale clinical studies.

And that’s not all: the Government has signed up for 60 million doses of a potential Coronavirus vaccine, which is being developed by Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline.

Of course, no one can argue that the Government has been perfect in this crisis – clearly the decision to discharge hospital patients into care homes was wrong, and people will be troubled by the excess mortality rate (although there is some debate as to whether this accurately gives a snapshot of countries’ performances). 

But it can be easy to forget that hospital cases continue to decline (even if cases are going up, it doesn’t mean hospitalisation), as have the number of deaths involving Coronavirus across all English regions. At the same time, treatments and understanding of the virus continues to rise.

And let’s not forget the significant achievements throughout this crisis; the speedy roll out of the Nightingale Hospital; the shielding scheme to protect two million people; the Government’s ability to increase the number of mechanical ventilators in the NHS from 9,000 before the pandemic to 30,000; the emergency arts package, and of course Rish Sunak’s multiple schemes to keep the economy moving.

They were phenomenal logistical achievements that should give us faith about Britain’s ability to deal with what’s next.

The speed at which the nation has improved on testing is only going to bolster its decision-making further – and, indeed, these developments will be seen worldwide as all countries improve in this regard.

In short, it may not feel like it this week, but there are reasons to be hopeful about the future.

The Prime Minister being ‘frustrated, angry and upset’ is no basis for Lords reform

1 Aug

Although eclipsed by the decision to delay the latest round of lockdown easing, last Friday’s Daily Telegraph carried a troubling story about the Prime Minister and the House of Lords.

No, not his proposals to move them to York – although these remain the height of folly – but the claim that he is considering an overhaul of how new peers are appointed after getting several of his nominations knocked back at the last minute.

From the start, this Government has expressed a keen interest in constitutional issues, although following the shelving of their mooted Constitution, Democracy and Rights Commission it isn’t clear what shape that interest will take. But this story highlights the dangers of an uncoordinated, unsystematic approach. This is how the Telegraph describes it:

“Boris Johnson is understood to be furious after he was blocked from giving peerages to some of the Conservative Party’s financial backers, and is threatening to reform the House of Lords in retaliation.

“The Prime Minister is said to be “very frustrated, angry and upset” after a Lords watchdog refused to sign off peerages for some of his business supporters this summer.”

Surely Downing Street can see the danger here. There may well be grounds for reforming the way we appoint peers, or other aspects of the Upper House. There may also be a case for bolstering the ranks of the Conservative benches, although this is less pressing with a large Commons majority and in any event only hastens the day when someone will have to confront the unsustainable pattern of parties having to bid up the number of peers after every change of government.

But such changes will never attain widespread legitimacy if it looks as if they have been imposed purely to aid Boris Johnson in appointing Tory donors to the red benches (although these are still better than some of his successful choices).

If the Government really is going to mount a serious push on the constitutional front – and it is past time that it did – then ministers must take pains to ensure that their proposals cannot be fairly painted as straightforward partisan game-playing. When listing the reasons for altering the arrangements in Parliament, the courts, or elsewhere, ‘the Prime Minister is upset’ should not even feature.

Lords 2) Hammond, Stuart, Davidson, Hoey. Johnson, Fox… but no Bercow. The new peerages.

1 Aug

Dissolution Peerages

Conservative:

  • Sir Henry Bellingham
  • Kenneth Clarke
  • Ruth Davidson
  • Philip Hammond
  • Nick Herbert
  • Jo Johnson
  • Mark Lancaster
  • Sir Patrick McLoughlin
  • Aamer Sarfraz
  • Ed Vaizey

Labour:

  • Kathryn Clark
  • Brinley Davies

Democratic Unionist:

  • Nigel Dodds

Non-affiliated:

  • Frank Field
  • Kate Hoey
  • Ian Austen
  • Gisela Stuart
  • John Woodcock

Political Peerages

Conservative:

  • Lorraine Fullbrook
  • Ed Udny-Lister
  • Daniel Moylan
  • Andrew Sharpe
  • Michael Spencer
  • Veronica Wadley
  • James Wharton
  • Dame Helena Morrissey
  • Neil Mendoza

Labour:

  • Susan Hayman
  • Prem Sikka
  • Anthony Woodley

Non-affiliated:

  • Claire Fox
  • Charles Moore

David Gauke: Without a proper state aid regime, the UK is unlikely to make a deal with Brussels

1 Aug

David Gauke is a former Justice Secretary, and was an independent candidate in South-West Hertfordshire at the recent general election.

Within the next three months, Boris Johnson is going to have to make the decision that will define his premiership and determine the future of British politics – especially the Conservative Party – for a generation. And the subject matter of this momentous decision? The previously obscure issue of the regulatory regime constraining the ability of the Government to provide taxpayer support for private sector companies. In other words, state aid.

Before turning to the issue in hand, let me set out a little context. My last two columns (here and here) have made the case that there is an electoral logic that points towards the Conservative Party moving in a leftwards direction economically but in a rightwards direction when it comes to social issues or, to put it more precisely, issues of national identity. Politics appears to be realigning as the biggest dividing line ceases to be about economic class or ideology but in relation to cultural issues.

The consequences of such a dividing line – and the Conservative Party unambiguously placing itself on one side or the other – is an uncomfortable one for those Conservatives with a desire for intellectual consistency.

At least since Margaret Thatcher’s premiership, the Conservative orthodoxy has been in favour of sound money and free trade. That is not to say that the State had been banished from making any kind of intervention in the economy – no recent government could accurately be described as laissez faire – but that any such intervention would be made carefully, recognising that the market was, by and large, a rather good way of allocating resources.

As for cultural issues, the Conservative Party has been a broad church consisting of social conservatives and social liberals, tub-thumping patriots and committed internationalists. Generally, we rubbed along alright.

These Conservative traditions were abandoned in 2019, resulting in the Prime Minister’s electoral triumph in December when he won previously safe Labour seats. He did so by promising an economic policy that involved more spending and greater government intervention. He also promised to deliver Brexit at whatever cost. It was an uncompromisingly Leave prospectus that appealed to patriotic/English nationalist working class voters.

This brings us to the UK/EU negotiations over a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement. Contrary to promises of an oven-ready deal, discussions have not yet made a lot of progress. There are two sticking points. The first is fish. This is a matter of economic irrelevance (our fishing industry contributes less to GDP than Harrods) but of disproportionate political importance. As one can make a similar point about the EU, it would be an extraordinary failure for this matter to prevent a wider deal being reached.

The more substantive issue relates to the level playing field provisions. These are the EU’s requirements that the UK will not engage in “unfair competition” by undercutting the EU’s social and environmental legislation, nor provide anti-competitive subsidies.

The UK Government’s response to these demands has been to argue that this is an outrageous attempt to fetter the actions of a newly-independent nation. Given that (1) free trade agreements inevitably involve accepting some restrictions on a country’s ability to determine its own rules and (2) the UK accepted the principle of level playing field provisions in October’s Political Declaration, the EU is less than impressed by the argument.

The particular focus of the dispute has been state aid. At one level, this is surprising. The UK has traditionally eschewed state aid spending, seeing it as market-distorting and a wasteful use of taxpayers’ money. We spend less of it than the French and Germans and, as EU members, consistently argued against its use.

Nor has it traditionally been a touchstone issue for Eurosceptics. From my days in the ERG, I recall plenty of conversations about how the EU imposed regulatory burdens on businesses, prevented trade deals with rising economies like China and resulted in too much power in the hands of the unelected (oh, happy innocent days). Restrictions on bailing out private sector companies were not so much of problem for us Thatcherites.

This issue could have easily been de-escalated if we had put in place our own, independent and robust state aid regime, perhaps enforced by the Competition and Markets Authority. Such a regime is probably necessary (albeit not sufficient) in order to reach a compromise with the EU on this topic.

Instead, we have refused to set out our own domestic regime and there is much talk of how we can use our new freedoms as ex-members of the EU to support our own companies, like the rather odd acquisition earlier this month of a £400 million shareholding in a failed satellite company.

According to the Financial Times, Dominic Cummings is digging in against anything other than a “minimal, light-touch” state aid regime, believing that once you have left the EU “you should just do whatever you want”.

This brings me back to the nature of the Conservative victory last year and, in particular, the new supporters. If the Government’s focus is appealing to nationalists who favour an interventionist state, it would want the ability to back national champions or other businesses in favoured locations.

And if you are temperamentally inclined to think that any constraint on your ability to “do whatever you want” (whether by the EU, Parliament or the legal system) is an affront to democracy, then you will be all the more the likely to resist a robust and independent regime.

There are, however, consequences. First, it is very hard to see how the EU will agree to a deal if the UK does not have a proper state aid regime. I wrote in February how there may be a political case for not getting a deal (any deal will be very thin in any event, some parts of the economy will suffer as a consequence of leaving the Single Market, better to collapse the talks and blame the EU for the consequences) and that argument still applies.

But, as a consequence of the handling of Covid-19, the Government is more vulnerable to the charge of incompetence. In addition, a no deal Brexit would be a gift to the SNP, thus weakening the Union yet further.

Second, even putting aside the EU dimension, there are very good arguments for having in place a robust state aid regime. The Treasury will be arguing the case. Both as a finance ministry (ensuring that taxpayers’ money is spent wisely) and as an economics ministry (wanting resources to be allocated productively in order to maximise economic growth), it institutionally hates state aid. Presumably, the Chancellor of the Exchequer, well-regarded by his officials, will have similar views and will be making the case forcefully. At least, he should be.

It will be for the Prime Minister to decide. Go for the purist view of Brexit (“you do whatever you want”), embrace the new political alignment and splash the cash in order to play to the Red Wall voters. Or keep open the possibility of a deal, look after the interests of taxpayers and maintain some kind of consistency with economic orthodoxy. Whichever way he goes, it will be a hugely consequential and revealing decision.

“We must be focused and we cannot be complacent.” The Prime Minister’s statement – full text

31 Jul

“Good afternoon,

Two weeks ago, I updated you from this podium on the progress we had made as a country against coronavirus.
And in many ways that progress continues.

The number of patients admitted to hospitals is still falling, and now stands at just over 100 each day.

In April there were more than 3,000 coronavirus patients in mechanical ventilation beds, but now the latest figure is 87.
The number of deaths continues to fall. That is obviously encouraging.

But I have also consistently warned that this virus could come back and that we would not hesitate to take swift and decisive action as required.

I am afraid that in parts of Asia and Latin America the virus is now gathering pace. And our European friends are also struggling to keep the virus under control.

As we see these rises around the world, we cannot fool ourselves that we are exempt. We must be willing to react to the first signs of trouble.

Today, the weekly survey by the Office for National Statistics reports that the prevalence of the virus in the community in England is likely to be rising for the first time since May.

Around 1 in 1,500 now have the virus, compared to 1 in 1,800 on 15 July and 1 in 2,000 on 2 July. The ONS also estimate there are now 4,900 new infections every day, up from around 3,000 per day on 14 July and 2,000 per day at the end of June.

We can’t afford to ignore this evidence.

It’s vital to stress that we are in a far better position to keep the virus under control now than we were at the start of the pandemic – because we know so much more about the virus and have so many more tools at our disposal to deal with it.

Our testing capacity has increased 100-fold.

We have a contact tracing system up and running which has led to over 184,000 people isolating who may otherwise have spread the virus and is capable of tracing thousands of contacts every day.

We have secured supplies of billions of items of PPE to withstand new demands on hospitals and care homes.

And of course we have new treatments, like dexamethasone and remdesivir, to shorten recovery times and reduce mortality rates.

But as I say, we cannot be complacent. I cannot – I won’t stand by and allow the virus to cause more pain and heartache in this country.

Last night the Health Secretary announced new restrictions on household contact in the North West – specifically Greater Manchester, and parts of East Lancashire and West Yorkshire.

These are targeted measures on social contact between households, which the data tells us is driving the current increase in cases. Businesses and workplaces should continue as before in those areas.

I know how it is hard to have restrictions like this imposed on seeing your family and your friends. But we have to act rapidly in order to protect those we love.

And we know this sort of intervention works – measures taken in Leicester and Luton have suppressed the virus, allowing us to relax measures.

Even as we act locally, it is also my responsibility to look again at the measures we have in place nationally in light of the data we are seeing about incidence.

At every point I have said our plan to reopen society and the economy is conditional – that it relies on continued progress against the virus, and that we would not hesitate to put on the brakes if required.

With those numbers creeping up, our assessment is that we should now squeeze that brake pedal in order to keep the virus under control.

On Saturday 1 August, you’ll remember, we had hoped to reopen in England a number of higher risk settings that had remained closed. Today, I am afraid we are postponing these changes for at least a fortnight.

That means that, until 15 August at the earliest: 

  • Casinos, bowling alleys, skating rinks and remaining close contact services must remain closed.
  • Indoor performances will not resume.
  • Pilots of larger crowds in sports venues and conference centres will not take place.
  • Wedding receptions of up to 30 people will not be permitted, but ceremonies can continue to take place, in line with COVID-Secure guidelines.

I know that the steps we are taking will be a heavy blow to many people – to everyone whose wedding plans have been disrupted, or who now cannot celebrate Eid in the way they would wish, I am really, really sorry about that. But we simply cannot take the risk.

We will of course study the data carefully and move forward with our intention to open up as soon as we possibly can.

Two weeks ago, I also said that from tomorrow the government would give employers more discretion over how employees can work safely – whether by continuing to work from home or attending a Covid Secure workplace. We know that employers have gone to huge lengths to make workplaces safe, so that guidance remains unchanged.

We also said we would pause shielding nationally from 1 August – based on clinical advice, that national pause will proceed as planned, and our medical experts will be explaining more about that decision later and about shielding later today.

Most people in this country are following the rules and doing their bit to control the virus. But we must keep our discipline, we must be focused and we cannot be complacent.

I have asked the Home Secretary to work with the police and others to ensure the rules which are already in place are properly enforced.

That means local authorities acting to close down premises and cancel events which are not following Covid Secure guidance.
And it means a greater police presence to ensure face coverings are being worn where this is required by law.

We will also extend the requirement to wear a face covering to other indoor settings where you are likely to come into contact with people you do not normally meet, such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship.

We now recommend face coverings are worn in these settings, and this will become enforceable in law from 8 August. 

At this stage, we are not changing the rules on social contact nationally. I don’t want to tell people to spend less time with their friends. But unless people follow the rules and behave safely, we may need to go further.

Two weeks ago, I said we would hope for the best but plan for the worst.

And of course we continue to hope for the best. The way to get there and to achieve that optimum outcome is if we all follow the rules, wash our hands, cover our faces, keep our distance – and get a test if we have symptoms, so that NHS Test and Trace can keep the virus under control.

This is how we will avoid a return to full national lockdown.

We’ve made huge progress together.

I know we are going succeed and I know we are going to beat this – if each and every one of us plays our part.”