Politics latest news: Pre-Christmas lifting of Covid regulations could be delayed, admits Sajid Javid - watch PMQs live




  • In World
  • 2021-12-01 03:11:21Z
  • By The Telegraph
Boris Johnson was grilled over the reports that Downing Street held two parties while Covid restrictions were in place - Reuters
Boris Johnson was grilled over the reports that Downing Street held two parties while Covid restrictions were in place - Reuters  
  • Donald Trump tells Boris Johnson he is making a 'big mistake' on wind power

  • New Covid restrictions to last until March next year

  • End Brexit 'sausage war' on British bangers, UK to tell EU

  • Allison Pearson: We are being led by experts who have no idea what normal life is

  • Covid latest news: Sage pushes to ramp up PCR testing for travellers

Boris Johnson failed to deny that a "boozy" Christmas party was held in Number 10 during last winter's lockdown, but insisted that no rules were broken.

Sir Keir Starmer claimed the Prime Minister was "taking the British public for fools" as he challenged him over reports that Downing Street held two crowded parties while the rest of the country was under restrictions.

During a rowdy PMQs, the Labour leader directly asked Mr Johnson: "As millions of people were locked down last year, was a Christmas party thrown in Downing Street for dozens of people on December 18?"

Mr Johnson told Sir Keir: "All guidance was followed completely."

Sir Keir, a former director of public prosecutions, then flourished a copy of the rules from that time, saying: "They are very clear: you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party.

"Does the Prime Minister really expect the country to believe that whilst people were banned from seeing their loved ones at Christmas this year it was fine for him and his friends to thrown a boozy party in Downing Street?"

The Prime Minister replied: "I have said what I said about Number 10 and the events of 12 months ago."

According to the Daily Mirror, Mr Johnson gave a speech at a packed leaving do for a senior aide last November, when the country was in the midst of the second lockdown. A second party took place days before Christmas, when London was under Tier 3 restrictions.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

12:51 PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg responds to Commissioner probe

Jacob Rees-Mogg has responded to the news that he is under investigation by the Standards Commissioner (see 11:54am).

The Commons Leader said in a statement:

12:40 PM

Pre-Christmas lifting of Covid regulations could be delayed, admits Sajid Javid

Sajid Javid has admitted that "it might take a bit longer than three weeks" to determine how bad the new omicron variant is, opening the door to Covid regulations being renewed ahead of Christmas.

MPs last night approved regulations to restore mandatory mask wearing, new self-isolation rules and tougher travel restrictions, all of which are due to be reviewed in three weeks. However several Tory MPs - including some former ministers - rebelled, amid fears that the isolation rule could cause another pingdemic.

The Health Secretary played that down, telling Sky News: "At this moment at time the case numbers are very low. They will certainly go up but the numbers are low. I am not worried about pingdemic-type situation."

Asked about the 'arbitrary' decision to review restrictions in three weeks, he replied: "I wouldn't call it an arbitrary figure. Where you might be a bit right is that it might take a bit longer than three weeks.

"We are confident that actually maybe within two weeks we will know a lot more about this. We may not even need to wait three weeks," Mr Javid added.

12:40 PM

PMQs: Hillsborough victims must never be forgotten, says Boris Johnson

The final question comes from Ian Byrne, the Labour MP for West Derby, who notes that next week the 97 victims of the Hillsborough tragedy will receive the freedom of Liverpool.

He asks Boris Johnson to meet him to discuss the rollout of a legacy project, "including the addition of the Hillsborough disaster to the curriculum" to ensure the "smears" of certain media do not endure.

The Prime Minister says he knows "the wounds remain very raw in Liverpool", and that the Government is "committed to engagement with the families of the bereaved and to making sure the lessons of that tragedy continue to be properly learned, and that the victims of Hillsborough are never forgotten".

He says the relevant minister will meet to discuss "an agenda I think is shared by people up and down this country".

12:36 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson demands Labour MP withdraw 'shameful' comment on Borders Bill

Imran Hussain, the Labour MP for Bradford East, says his grandfather came to the UK and worked "seven days a week" to help rebuild the country after the war.

But the Borders Bill means Priti Patel "can revoke our British citizenship and deport us for even the most minor wrongdoings".

He says the "burning question that is now on the lips of everyone from a Bame background - when is he coming for me".

To calls of "disgrace", Boris Johnson says the MP should "look at the Conservative frontbench today and withdraw what he has just said. What he has said is absolutely shameful. The Borders Bill does nothing of the kind."

12:32 PM

PMQs: Government has invested in breakthrough Covid treatment, Boris Johnson confirms

David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, asks about Pfizer's new trial of treatment for Covid, saying it will "allow governments around the world to avoid lockdowns".

He asks what the Government is doing to secure doses.

Boris Johnson says it will depend on regulatory approval by the MHRA "but the Government, as a precaution, has already invested in hundreds of thousands of courses of that drug".

12:30 PM

PMQs: Gibraltar will remain 'British, British, British', says Boris Johnson

David Jones, the Conservative MP for Clwyd West, says the chief minister of Gibraltar gave evidence to MPs last week in which he "made clear that his ambition was that Gibraltar's future should be 'British, British, British'."

He asks what the UK Government is doing to support that aim.

Boris Johnson says he "can't really improve" on that verdict, saying Gibraltar will "remain" British.

He adds: "I see no role for the ECJ."

12:28 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson challenged to help 'mesh-damaged' women

Emma Hardy, the Labour MP for Kingston upon Hull West, asks Boris Johnson about the suffering of "mesh-damaged" women.

Boris Johnson says this is a very important issue and "if there is anything more we can, I will certainly be willing to look at it".

12:26 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson ignores calls to rollover farming payments

Sir Ed Davey, the leader of the Liberal Democrats, asks the Prime Minister to "help our farmers before it is too late", by not cutting the essential payments of the pre-Brexit scheme until the new one is rolled out.

Boris Johnson praises the "outstanding job" of the sector, saying it will be supported by "the same level of payments", as well as "new opportunities" being opened up by trade deals.

But he doesn't respond to the nub of the question.

12:24 PM

PMQs: Tory MP calls for 'immediate review' into childcare costs

John Penrose, the Conservative MP for Weston-super-Mare, asks the Prime Minister to meet him to discuss an "immediate review" into the UK's high cost of childcare.

Boris Johnson says he is "completely right" about the importance of childcare and highlights investment that has gone into the sector, adding he is "always happy" to meet his colleague.

12:23 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson defends action on omicron

Ian Blackford then turns to the advice he received on dealing with omicron, asking the Prime Minister to "finally convene a four-nations Cobra meeting" on travel restrictions.

"Or will he continue to ignore the Scottish government, the Welsh government and his own Sage advisers and imperil the health of these islands."

Boris Johnson says there "will be opportunity in the days ahead to concert our efforts", but stresses he is "simply wrong" that the Government has not acted swiftly to the omicron variant.

Mr Blackford then attempts to shout over the Prime Minister's response.

12:20 PM

PMQs: Ian Blackford drowned out by laughter

MPs break into laughter as Ian Blackford is interrupted saying "it is regretful that we have to spend so much time in this House..." A backbencher calls out "listening to you".

The SNP Westminster leader ignores the catcalls, asking about reports of the lockdown-busting party.

Boris Johnson says he would have been better off "asking about Storm Arwen", and saying they should "work together to get those people's power back".

Mr Blackford says it is a "disgraceful answer".

12:18 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson urged to 'take back control' of migrant crisis

Andrew Rosindell, the Tory MP for Romford, asks about the "endless waves of illegal migrants", saying the UK must "break free from the constraints of the European Convention on Human Rights".

Backbenchers cheer him on as he calls on the Prime Minister to "take back control" and bring a "British bill of rights".

Boris Johnson says he will "certainly review the human rights system", adding that that Borders Bill is "coming back to this House" next week and urging MPs to back it.

12:15 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson hits out at Keir Starmer's 'drivel'

Sir Keir Starmer says it is "the same old story" of broken promises and "defending the indefensible".

The Labour leader lists various U-turns including the "working class dementia tax" for social care, the new hospitals and others, saying the manifesto pledges "aren't worth the paper they are written on".

Boris Johnson claims Sir Keir "drivels on irrelevantly" and claims that Angela Rayner not being invited to Labour's Christmas party is "factional infighting".

12:13 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson challenged over pledge to build 40 new hospitals

Sir Keir Starmer says he should "have the confidence" to publish the report, saying the manifesto pledge gets "murkier" the closer you look at.

He highlights a DoH "communications playbook", which offers advice to the NHS about how to speak about the new programme, which "instructs everybody to describe refurbishments... on old hospitals as new hospitals".

He asks how many of the 40 are "fix up jobs" and how many are new.

Boris Johnson says "obviously you don't always go around building on greenfield sites - you rebuild hospitals".

MPs can be heard shouting "exactly".

12:10 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson 'taking public for fools', claims Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer says the country is being asked to follow the rules and notes that he has "not denied" that a party was held last year.

"He says no rules were broken - both of those things can't be true. He is taking the British public for fools," the Labour leader adds. He says the PM should look behind him to see how few people are wearing masks.

Sir Keir then turns to the "red flag" that has been raised by the Treasury and the Cabinet Office about a lack of progress in building 40 new hospitals. He asks if it is true that it is now "unachievable".

Boris Johnson says "no", accusing his opponent of "playing politics".

Mr Johnson says the Government is "helping to build another 40 new hospitals".

But Sir Keir notes that the Prime Minister is denying an internal report, saying there is "some confusion" on the Government benches.

12:06 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson dodges questions about party '12 months ago'

Sir Keir Starmer asks if the Prime Minister expects "the country to believe that while people were banned from seeing their loved ones, it was fine for him to throw a boozy party in Downing Street".

Boris Johnson says he has "said what I have said", stressing it was "12 months ago".

This year is "frankly a more relevant consideration", he adds, urging people to follow the updated guidance and get their booster.

12:05 PM

PMQs: Keir Starmer challenges the PM over lockdown-busting 'boozy party'

Sir Keir Starmer opens by recognising the "extraordinary advances" of treatment for people living with Aids.

The Labour leader quickly pivots to asking a direct question - whether a Christmas party was held in Downing Street when the rest of the country was locked down.

Boris Johnson says "all guidance was followed completely" - and asks him to do so for his own Christmas party "to which he has unaccountably not invited his own deputy".

Sir Keir says: "Nice try but that won't work."

He flourishes the rules which say "you must not have a work Christmas lunch or party".

12:03 PM

PMQs: Boris Johnson marks 'International Day of People with Disabilities'

Boris Johnson says he is wearing a purple tie in recognition of this Friday's 'International Day of People with Disabilities'.

He is also wearing a red ribbon for World Aids Day.

The Prime Minister adds that there will be an opportunity for questions about the impact of Storm Arwen after PMQs.

12:00 PM

Coming up... PMQs

Boris Johnson is on his way - AP
Boris Johnson is on his way - AP  

11:54 AM

Jacob Rees-Mogg under investigation by Standards Commissioner

Jacob Rees-Mogg has previously defended the move - AFP
Jacob Rees-Mogg has previously defended the move - AFP  

Jacob Rees-Mogg is under investigation by the Standards Commissioner, Kathryn Stone, it has emerged.

According to the latest updates on the independent commissioner's website, the Commons Leader is being probed for a "registration of an interest under Category 1 of the Guide to the Rules (employment and earnings)" under paragraph 14 of the code of conduct.

Although the focus of the investigation is not yet clear, it comes after Labour had called for an investigation into claims Mr Rees-Mogg broke the financial rules for MPs by failing to declare that he got £6 million in loans from one of his companies.

Mr Rees-Mogg has been approached for a comment.

In a statement last month the minister, who led the Government's attempt to relax the rules around MPs standards, said: "The loans from 2018 were primarily taken out for the purchase and refurbishment of [my home] as temporary cash flow measures. All loans have either been repaid with interest in accordance with HMRC rules or paid as dividends and taxed accordingly."

11:46 AM

Don't repeat mistakes of the past on borders, says Yvette Cooper

The Government "must not repeat the mistakes it made" at the start of the pandemic by not sufficiently strengthening the UK's borders, Yvette Cooper has said.

The shadow home secretary said leaked Sage papers, revealing that experts had called for pre-departure Covid testing to be reintroduced, should be acted on.

"It is totally unacceptable that ministers are failing to take action at the border when even their own advisors are telling them to introduce pre-departure tests," Ms Cooper said.

"It cannot be right that people can travel to an airport, board a busy flight, queue at busy departure gates, and travel on trains and buses in the UK, all without having taken a test.

"The Government must not repeat the mistakes it made earlier in the pandemic by being too slow to take action to prevent further cases of the Omicron variant entering the UK."

11:32 AM

Ofcom steps in again as 25th energy firm fails in three months

Yet another energy supplier has been forced to turn the lights out, amid the ongoing price squeeze.

Energy regulator Ofgem has stepped in for the 25th time in just three months after Zog Energy collapsed this morning.

With just 11,700 customers on its books the business pales next to Bulb, whose 1.7 million households made it one of the top energy suppliers in the country, forcing the Government to use a special programme designed to prop it up.

Normally Ofgem would simply find a new supplier to take over a failed company's customers.

But today's news is likely to pile further pressure on Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, who is already under fire for his handling of the situation.

11:23 AM

Boris Johnson vows to go further to eradicate HIV/Aids

Boris Johnson has marked World Aids Day by saying "we must and are going further" to eradicate the disease, which was first identified 40 years ago.

Government plans, published today, are targeting "zero new HIV infections and deaths from HIV/Aids by 2030", backed with increased funding, greater testing, and increasing access to PrEP and other prevention programmes.

The Prime Minister also vowed to do "more to fight the stigma too", with the Armed Forces agreeing that being HIV+ "is no longer a barrier to entry for those wishing to serve in uniform".

He said:

11:10 AM

UK and Belgium agree migrant cooperation deal following French snub

The UK and Belgium have promised to cooperate more closely to tackle irregular migration, after 27 people died when their dinghy capsized as they tried to cross the Channel.

The pledge is part of a wider bilateral deal signed by Boris Johnson and Alexander De Croo after a virtual meeting on Tuesday. The two sides have promised improvements in detecting and stopping irregular migration at the Belgian port of Zeebrugge, and along the Belgian coast.

They also pledged to "improve joint working on illegal flows, including to disrupt human trafficking and human smuggling networks and prevent loss of life". They also plan to work with others to secure closer cooperation on "small boats in order to prevent illegal sea crossing towards the UK".

This included trying to stop "secondary movements" of migrants with the Schengen free-movement area of the European Union, they added.

Last weekend Emmanual Macron uninvited Priti Patel from a meeting to discuss the ongoing crisis. As a result, Priti Patel has embarked on her own plan to deal with the issue and is said to be planning a tour of European capitals.

11:02 AM

Angela Rayner received threats to 'hunt her down like Jo Cox'

Angela Rayner now has a permanent police escort and has had panic buttons fitted in her home.
Angela Rayner now has a permanent police escort and has had panic buttons fitted in her home.  

Labour's deputy leader has opened up about the abuse she has received since taking on the role, including threats to "hunt her down" like murdered MP Jo Cox.

Angela Rayner told the BBC that at first she was called "thick" and mocked for her northern accent by trolls, but since becoming more prominent the abuse took a more sinister turn.

"I have received emails saying 'do us all a favour so we do not have to hunt you down like Jo Cox'," she said.

"It worries my mum. She literally thinks that people are out to kill me and it is very difficult for her to see that. My eldest son has said to me that he does not want me to do this any more."

In October Benjamin Iliffe was sentenced to 15 weeks in prison for sending Ms Rayner a threatening email.

The Ashton-under-Lyne MP now has a permanent police escort and has had panic buttons fitted in her home.

10:52 AM

Allison Pearson: We're led by experts who have no idea what living a normal life is

How are we to interpret the impertinent statement by Dr Jenny Harries, that "not socialising when we don't particularly need to" is the way people can "do their bit" to reduce the spread of the new omicron variant, asks Allison Pearson.

It is a golden rule of mine that anyone who uses "behaviour" in the plural is a nerd with a very limited understanding of what makes humans happy. Unfortunately, the geeks have inherited the Earth.

In the past year and a half, narrow scientific minds have come to exercise undue influence on the Government and now they are upset that their control over the rest of us is, like Covid, waning fast. What do you suppose Harries has in mind when she says "not socialising when we don't particularly need to"?

Lockdown fanatics, I'm afraid to say, have learnt none of the bitter lessons about the awful cost of loneliness and isolation.

10:35 AM

(Westminster) is beginning to look a lot like Christmas...

Things are starting to look festive in Westminster - as pictured by Conservative MP Michael Fabricant.

10:34 AM

Donald Trump: Boris Johnson is making a 'big mistake' by backing wind power

Boris Johnson is "making a big mistake" by trying to turn the UK into the Saudi Arabia of wind, Donald Trump has said.

The former US president told GB News that wind farms were "horrible", "ridiculous", "kill all the birds" and "start to rust" after a couple of years. They were only backed by environmentalists "who hate the world", he said.

Mr Trump also took aim at a wind farm sited just off the coast of Aberdeen where he owns the Trump International Golf Links, describing it as a "shame" and the windmills as "monsters".

Read more here

10:12 AM

Minister says being 'shouted at and called a fascist' is regular occurrence

A minister and one of Boris Johnson's staunchest allies has said being "shouted at and called a fascist" has become a regular occurrence.

Conor Burns, a Northern Ireland minister, suggests he received the verbal abuse during the "brief walk" between his department office and parliament.

In recent months, politicians, scientific experts and high profile political journalists have been targets for abuse, often linked to the pandemic and Covid restrictions.

09:59 AM

End your Brexit 'sausage war' on British bangers, UK to tell EU

The EU's ban on British sausages must be overturned, UK officials will tell Brussels in talks over the Brexit trade deal.

The demand opens up a new front in the "sausage war" over supplies to Northern Ireland, which were under threat because of EU rules for chilled meat imports.

Brussels surrendered over sausages in Northern Ireland in October and proposed a "national identity" exemption for certain products, but it has so far stuck to its guns over the EU ban.

"What's the risk? That the UK is now producing substandard food?" a UK source said.

A fourth round of negotiations continues this week but there is growing pessimism in Brussels after previous rounds failed to bring an expected breakthrough on medicines supplies.

09:53 AM

Reintroduce pre-departure tests and brace for 'significant wave' of Covid, Sage warns

Sage scientists have recommended the reintroduction of pre-departure Covid tests for travellers returning to the UK, saying it would be "valuable" in light of the omicron variant.

Sage's advisory committee also says the government's policy of asking travellers to take a test two days after they arrive would "identify significantly fewer cases" than extra tests on days five or eight, according to minutes seen by the BBC.

The document, which has not yet been published, urges the Government to prepare for "a potentially very significant wave with associated hospitalisations" as a result of omicron, despite scientists not having established how serious the new variant is.

Yvette Cooper, Labour's new shadow home secretary, yesterday called for the reintroduction of pre-departure tests.

09:46 AM

England and Wales record first weekly fall in Covid deaths since early Oct

The number of Covid-related deaths has fallen week-on-week for the first time since early October.

A total of 952 deaths registered in England and Wales in the week ending November 19 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

This is down seven per cent on the previous week.

Around one in 13 (7.9 per cent) of all deaths registered in England and Wales in the week to November 19 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate.

09:38 AM

What's on the agenda today?

Boris Johnson talks to stall holders as he visits a UK Food and Drinks market set up in Downing Street last night - Reuters
Boris Johnson talks to stall holders as he visits a UK Food and Drinks market set up in Downing Street last night - Reuters  

Boris Johnson might be hoping for a slightly easier time of it at today's PMQs - but with the emerging omicron variant and a series of allegations about lockdown-busting parties in Downing Street last year, it might not be as straightforward as he thinks.

Here is what to expect today:

11:30am Cop26 questions with Alok Sharma

12pm: Prime Minister's Questions

12:40pm: Urgent questions/ministerial statements (details TBC)

After that: A 10-minute rule motion on Quarries (Planning)

Then: Finance (No. 2) Bill - committee stage

09:29 AM

House prices rise 15pc since start of pandemic

House prices have risen by almost 15 per cent since the start of the pandemic, after annual house price growth rose again in November.

Annual price growth across the UK rose 10 per cent, up from 9.9 per cent in October, Nationwide Building Society said. Prices rose by 0.9 per cent month on month, taking the average UK property value to £252,687.

Robert Gardner, Nationwide's chief economist, said: "House prices are now almost 15 per cent above the level prevailing in March last year when the pandemic struck the UK.

"There have been some signs of cooling in housing market activity in recent months; for example, the number of housing transactions were down almost 30 per cent year on year in October.

"But this was almost inevitable, given the expiry of the stamp duty holiday (in England and Northern Ireland) at the end of September, which gave buyers a strong incentive to bring forward their purchase to avoid additional tax."

The number of transactions is now "tracking close to the number seen at the same stage in 2007, before the global financial crisis struck", he added.

09:22 AM

Ambrose Evans-Pritchard: A benign omicron may be the answer to our economic prayers

It is almost too good to believe. The days go by and there is still little evidence that the omicron wave in South Africa is leading to a concomitant surge in severe illness, writes Ambrose Evans-Pritchard.

Professor Francois Balloux, director of the UCL Genetics Institute, says we cannot rule out the "highly optimistic scenario" of a late-epidemic mutation that is extremely contagious, displaces delta, but does less harm.

If we are "a bit lucky", he says, the replication rate of the virus in host cells proves slower than the delta variant, leading to less hospitalisation and death. If we are "really lucky", it also replicates preferentially in mucosa cells of the upper airways, rather than in organs such as the lungs and the kidneys where it does greatest damage. This would be the answer to our prayers.

Goldman Sachs has gamed four omicron outcomes: "severe downside", "downside", "false alarm", and a surprise "upside". These scenarios have starkly different implications for asset prices and macroeconomic policy over the next year. Get it wrong at your cost.

09:15 AM

Cancer diagnosis only caught because of kidney stones, shadow health secretary reveals

Labour's shadow health secretary has revealed details of his own brush with cancer, as he called on the Government to bring forward a plan to deal with the backlog of cases.

Wes Streeting told LBC Radio: "I had kidney cancer earlier this year and went through successful treatment for that. When it comes to cancer treatment and cancer outcomes, timing is everything...

"In my case, the only reason I knew I had kidney cancer, the only reason I'm talking to you this morning cancer free, is because I have kidney stones.

"So, in a scan for something entirely different, my cancer was detected.

"In that big NHS backlog, for all sorts of operations, there will undoubtedly be cancer cases that will go undetected.

"That's why we urgently need from the Government an elective care recovery plan to get those NHS waiting lists down, to shorten waiting times and speed up cancer treatment because when it comes to cancer, timing is everything."

09:00 AM

Christmas parties should be down to 'individual choice', says Sage scientist

People should be allowed to decide whether they attend Christmas parties based on their own "perceptions of risk and different levels of desire", a Sage scientist has said.

Asked if people should perhaps be avoiding Christmas parties, Professor Andrew Hayward told Times Radio: "I think it's worth thinking of the sort of Covid control and what you can do as an individual in different layers.

"Everything that you can do will make a difference - washing your hands, wearing masks when you're around other people, trying to keep a bit of a distance, minimising those big large indoor social events.

"I'm not saying don't go to them at all, but I think it's basically a cumulative thing, so the more exposures you're having, the more likely you are to get it and spread it to other people.

"I think there does need to be individual choice in this and people have different perceptions of risk and different levels of desire to go to these events, and I think we should respect that."

08:57 AM

Take a test before going to Christmas parties, says Sajid Javid

People should take a Covid test before going to a Christmas party, the Health Secretary has said.

Sajid Javid told BBC Radio 4's Today programme people should be "sensible", amid concerns about the emerging omicron variant.

"If you are invited to a Christmas party, there's quite a few people there, maybe you want to take an LFT (lateral flow test) test before you go. Go to the party, but just be cautious," he added.

Asked if he would wear a mask if he was at a party, Mr Javid said: "It depends if I am walking around or sitting down. It depends if I'm eating. People just need to make a decision based on the guidance."

08:55 AM

Use your common sense on Christmas plans, says Sajid Javid

People should have "a bit of common sense" as they make plans ahead of Christmas amid concerns about the omicron variant, Sajid Javid has said.

The Health Secretary told LBC radio: "There's no need to change our plans unless they've been affected by the new rules we've put in place.

"So, if you're asked to self-isolate for example, because you've come into contact with someone with a suspected case of this new variant, then of course your plans are going to be affected...

"In the winter, as each day gets darker and colder, the virus likes that, the flu virus likes that, so just have a bit of common sense and follow the current guidance.

"And the vast, vast majority of people do just that, they know about the risks and threats that are out there and they behave responsibly."

08:53 AM

NHS trusts are asking staff not to 'mix in big groups' ahead of Christmas

NHS trusts are asking staff "not to mix in big groups" in the run-up to Christmas., the deputy chief executive of NHS Providers has revealed.

Saffron Cordery told Sky News that unlike last year when "it was absolutely clear that nobody was going to a Christmas party last year" people were making "their own decisions".

But she added: "We know that many NHS trusts, for example, are asking their staff not to mix in big groups in the run-up to Christmas because of the potential threat to their health and what they will be available to do.

"So, they are they are setting one example there."

She added: "It's a really challenging and difficult one."

08:34 AM

Health Secretary rejects reports of lockdown-busting Christmas parties

Sajid Javid has said "all rules will have been followed at all times", following reports that the Prime Minister and Downing Street aides attended parties in Number 10 last Christmas, while imposing draconian restrictions.

According to the Daily Mirror, Boris Johnson gave a speech "at a packed leaving do"in the midst of the second lockdown. A second event - a Christmas party - was held while London was stuck in tier three restrictions.

The Health Secretary - who was a backbench MP at the time - told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Whatever happened in No 10 throughout the pandemic, I am certain the rules would have been followed.

"I can't tell you what is going on in a daily basis in any building... but I am certain all the rules will have been followed at all times."

Pressed, he added: "You're assuming that the news report you're referring to is accurate. I'm sure you would have come across inaccurate news reports in the past.

"All I can tell you is whatever happened in No 10, all rules would have been followed at all times."

08:29 AM

Sajid Javid defends face mask ruling

Sajid Javid has defended the Government's ruling on face coverings, which have become mandatory for places like public transport and shopping but not for plays and pantomimes.

The Health Secretary said there was a "whole spectrum of response", adding: "The job of Government is to listen to expert advice and make a balanced and proportionate judgment, that is what we have done - we have acted swiftly."

08:27 AM

Follow Government advice, not Jenny Harries, says Sajid Javid

Sajid Javid has said that people should follow Government advice rather than Dr Jenny Harries' warning not to socialise unnecessarily.

The Health Secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "People should continue to follow the guidance set out in the autumn and winter plan i presented a month or so ago. That guidance remains valid even in light of this new variant... I don't think people need to change those plans."

He added: "Dr Jenny Harries.... she is an absolutely amazing in the work she does [but] she will be the first person to agree that ministers get advice from different experts and then we make a decision taking into account all of the advice."

Challenged over what the right thing to do is, he added: "The right thing to do is follow the existing guidance, but taking into account the changes that have been announced in the last few days."

08:22 AM

Sajid Javid: GPs' workload will be lifted to focus on booster campaign

GPs' workload will be lifted in order to prioritise the booster programme, Sajid Javid has confirmed.

Asked if he would lighten the load for doctors who have complained about excess work, the Health Secretary told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "Yes - this is our new national mission in terms of the public health of this country there is nothing more important.

"We are working at pace with GP representatives in the last two days, in how we can free up some of their time. I won't set that out now myself, it will be set out by NHS directly."

Noting the target that everyone should have received an offer of a third Covid vaccine by the end of January, Mr Javid added: "This is a huge thing we are trying to achieve - it is essential that we do this."

08:17 AM

Wait to be called for Covid booster, says Sajid Javid

People "should wait to be called" for their Covid booster jabs, Sajid Javid has confirmed.

The Health Secretary, responding to reports of people struggling to get their third vaccine and run-ins with those giving the jab, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is a huge challenge.... we are asking a lot more of them now because of this new variant. We need to step up hugely our plans."

If people have a walk-in centre nearby, they should "take up that offer as well", he added.

"But for the vast majority of people, they will act when they are invited by the NHS by email, text message or otherwise," Mr Javid said.

The expansion of the booster programme means that all adults from 18 and above can get their jab, but the NHS will "obviously prioritise the most vulnerable - that is why we will approach this in age groups."

08:12 AM

Sajid Javid plans small family Christmas celebration

Sajid Javid speaking at the Covid press conference yesterday - AFP
Sajid Javid speaking at the Covid press conference yesterday - AFP  

Sajid Javid has revealed he will be having a small Christmas celebration in his constituency this year, as questions grow over the extent to which people will be free to mingle during the festive season.

The Health Secretary told Sky News he would be "spending it with family in Bromsgrove - just my family".

This morning a member of the JCVI said she was keeping her plans "open" (see 8:01am).

Last year, of course, the country was locked down just days before Christmas Day.

08:08 AM

We need more jabs army volunteers, admits Sajid Javid

The Government "absolutely" needs more volunteers to join the so-called jabs army to deliver one million more jabs a week to meet the Government's target for Covid boosters, Sajid Javid has said.

The Health Secretary said the programme was being expanded but he acknowledged more volunteers were needed.

"In the last week we had about 2.4 million jabs across the UK. We are going to need to do around a million more ... but I think it can be done," he told BBC Breakfast.

"Existing national vaccination centres and the hospital hubs, many of them will open for longer. Some of the people there are already committed to doing extra hours or they know where they can find the volunteers they want.

"We are also going to have more pharmacies than ever before - 1,500 pharmacies across the country - and more GPs will be involved as well. In terms of volunteers, we do absolutely need more volunteers."

08:07 AM

Tory MP: Vague wording on isolation rules could create pingdemic

Craig Mackinlay has said he is "relaxed" about new rules mandating mask-wearing, despite having voted against the regulations yesterday.

The Conservative MP for South Thanet told BBC Radio 4's Today programme he was concerned about "some of the nonsense... creeping in", highlighting discrepancies around where and when masks needed to be worn.

This suggested the legislation "hadn't been thought through very well", he added.

But the biggest concern was around enforced isolation for those who come into contact with a "suspected" case of omicron, suggesting it could lead "us down the road of a pingdemic".

He said: "We had no guidance from the minister or anything else that came out through the day as to what 'suspected to have' really means - will it be really confirmed, or will it be a bit of a blunt instrument?"

Asked if he thought Downing Street was overreacting, he said: "They are damned if they do and damned if they don't... the Government is in a difficult situation."

08:01 AM

JCVI member 'keeping Christmas plans open' amid omicron uncertainty

A member of the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation has said she is keeping her Christmas plans "open", amid concerns that the new omicron variant could derail the festive period.

Dr Maggie Wearmouth, a GP and member of the JCVI, said medics were "keeping our fingers crossed" that boosting people's immunity through more jabs would deal with the Omicron variant, adding that vaccines work against the dominant Delta strain.

She told LBC radio: "We don't have the answer for absolutely everything and we would be accused of complacency if we didn't warn people and we didn't do this while we were waiting the few weeks while we had the scientific data."

Asked about her own Christmas plans, she said: "I'm keeping them open, I have to say."

07:58 AM

Government 'falling well short' of booster target, says Labour MP

The Government is "falling well short" of the booster jab numbers needed to keep people safe and Christmas on track, Labour's new shadow health secretary has said.

Wes Streeting, who was promoted in this week's reshuffle, told LBC: "We said to the Government they need to get around half a million booster jobs delivered a day - they have been falling well short of that.

"In terms of this new push, we will get behind it, we will encourage people to volunteer, we will encourage people to take booster jabs."

Asked about whether people should change Christmas plans, Mr Streeting added: "I don't want people to change their plans. That's the brunt of it. I don't want to be the Grinch that stole Christmas.

"I don't want ministers turning up in the House of Commons in a couple of weeks time telling people to change their plans at the 11th hour because they didn't do everything that they possibly could, so that's got to be the focus now.

"I hope people have a very Merry Christmas and the Government's got to do everything it can to make sure that happens."

07:56 AM

Go to Christmas parties - but take a Covid test first, Health Secretary says

Sajid Javid has once again played down comments made by Dr Jenny Harries, who yesterday suggested that people should avoid unnecessary socialising in light of the omicron variant.

The Health Secretary told Times Radio people should continue with the plans they had prior to the emergence of the Covid strain, but urged people to get a booster jab.

He added that he would take a test if he was going to a party with "three or four hundred people".

07:54 AM

No need to change Christmas plans over omicron, says Sajid Javid

People do not need to change their plans for Christmas due to concerns about the omicron variant, Sajid Javid has said.

The Health Secretary told Sky News: "I think people should continue to behave in the way they were planning to behave over Christmas. I don't think there is any need to change those plans."

Asked if people should take a Covid test before attending Christmas parties, Mr Javid said: "I would."

07:39 AM

Good Morning

New Covid rules on self-isolation were last night enshrined in law until March, as Tory MPs warned Boris Johnson that restricting freedoms was a path "towards hell".

The regulations forcing people to isolate for 10 days if they come into contact with someone who has the omicron variant or risk a fine of up to £10,000 - even if they are fully vaccinated - will not expire until March 24.

The measure prompted a major revolt of 33 Tory MPs, including former Conservative cabinet ministers Greg Clark, Jeremy Wright and Esther McVey, as well as Mark Harper, the former chief whip.

Here is today's front page.

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