Sturgeon demands urgent explanation from UK government for reasons for test result delays
Nicola Sturgeon has said the Scottish government has raised urgent concerns with the UK government about significant delays getting Covid test results from the UK’s rapid testing centre.
The first minister said there were only 70 positive tests produced in Scotland overnight, compared to 221 on Saturday and 244 reported yesterday, because of significant delays getting results back. She said those 70 cases were likely to be a significant underestimate, because positive findings were being delayed.
“We now have very serious concerns that the backlog with test results affecting the UK lab network is starting to impact on the timeous reporting of those results,” she said, during her regular coronavirus briefing.
She said Jeane Freeman, the Scottish health secretary, had resisted requests from the UK government to cut back on its testing by the Lighthouse laboratory in Scotland, and was seeking urgent talks today to press for quicker test results. Sturgeon went on:
We need the UK government to share the full scale and nature of the issues that they’re facing so we can collectively and very quickly find solutions.
Even though the number of cases was much lower, the positive cases still represented 2.7% of the results available in the last 24 hours. That was still close to the 3% positive rate being seen in recent days, which was triple the proportion of positive cases three weeks ago. Yesterday, the positive rate was 3.7%.
“It’s another reminder that we’re in a more precarious position as we go into winter,” she said.
Nicola Sturgeon and John Swinney, Scotland’s deputy first minister, in the Scottish parliament last week. Photograph: Jeff J Mitchell/.
Government tells committee EU ‘working in good faith’ on Brexit implementation, undermining claim made by PM
The government claims it needs to legislate to give it the power to overrule the Brexit withdrawal agreement because the EU has been threatening a move that could prevent Britain supplying food to Northern Ireland. In his Telegraph article on Saturday Boris Johnson said that “in the last few weeks” he had become aware of a problem with the way the EU was interpreting the withdrawal agreement and he explained:
We are now hearing that unless we agree to the EU’s terms, the EU will use an extreme interpretation of the Northern Ireland protocol to impose a full-scale trade border down the Irish sea. We are being told that the EU will not only impose tariffs on goods moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, but that they might actually stop the transport of food products from GB to NI.
I have to say that we never seriously believed that the EU would be willing to use a Treaty, negotiated in good faith, to blockade one part of the UK, to cut it off; or that they would actually threaten to destroy the economic and territorial integrity of the UK.
But this morning the Commons Northern Ireland affairs committee has published the government’s response to a report it published on customs arrangements in Northern Ireland after Brexit. And that document says the government believes that the EU working with the UK on how to implement the withdrawal agreement “in good faith”. It says:
The government is extremely confident that the EU is working in good faith and shares our desire to avoid these serious consequences. However as a responsible government we must ensure there is no risk of these damaging consequences coming into force. It is therefore important for the government to be able to act as necessary if a negotiated outcome in the joint committee should not be possible. This is not an outcome that we expect, or hope for, but one that any responsible government must be prepared for.
This latest statement, in a document sent to the select committee by Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary, undermines the claim being made by Johnson on Saturday.
Northern Ireland Affairs Committee
🆕We have published the Government’s response to our report on Unfettered Access: Customs Arrangements in Northern Ireland after Brexit.
📄Read the response: https://t.co/87JsPyqZsQ#UnfetteredAccess | #Brexit | #NorthernIreland pic.twitter.com/ZREaTKIuBy
September 14, 2020
‘If we give our word, then we must honour it’ – Tory MPs quits role as PM’s envoy over internal market bill
The Conservative MP Rehman Chishti has resigned as the prime minister’s special envoy for freedom of religion or belief because he says he cannot support the internal market bill in its current form. In his letter Chishti says:
During my 10 years in parliament and before that as a barrister, I have always acted in a manner which respects the rule of law. I feel strongly about keeping the commitments we make; if we give our word, then we must honour it.
I’ve written to the PM resigning as PM’s Special Envoy on FoRB. I can’t support Internal Market Bill in its current form, which unilaterally break UK’s legal commitments. As an MP for 10yrs & former Barrister, values of respecting rule of law & honouring one’s word are dear to me pic.twitter.com/dZq2TzX3kG
September 14, 2020
at 12.26pm BST
Starmer self-isolating after family member develops possible Covid symptoms, says Labour
Sir Keir Starmer’s spokesman has just issued this statement.
This morning Keir Starmer was advised to self isolate after a member of his household showed possible symptoms of the coronavirus. The member of his household has now had a test. In line with NHS guidelines, Keir will self-isolate while awaiting the results of the test and further advice from medical professionals.
Starmer himself does not have any symptoms, we’re told. He will be working from home and will not be speaking in the Commons this afternoon. He was only told about the family member developing symptoms after his LBC phone-in this morning. Labour has alerted LBC. Starmer was in the studio with Nick Ferrari, the presenter, although from the video footage they did seem to be trying to socially distance.
Nick Ferrari and Keir Starmer (right) on LBC this morning. Photograph: LBC
Readers to continue to get in touch to say that they cannot book a coronavirus test. Here is just one comment from below the line today.
ITV’s political editor Robert Peston has been hearing the same stories. In a series of tweets, he says NHS Test and Trace is being overwhelmed by demand.
I am being inundated with messages from people with what they fear may be #Covid_19 symptoms who cannot work because they can’t get a test. So what is going on? It is not all about the growing incidence of the virus. Though that is part of it. Here is what a source from…
September 14, 2020
NHS Test and Trace tells me: “demand for testing has gone through the roof. It’s almost like the loo roll phenomenon early on the year. We are doing more testing per head of population than other European countries but at current demand…
September 14, 2020
“even once we have doubled that testing capacity (which we will do by end Oct) we will still have the problem you describe. HMG has made a fundamental choice to test all care home staff once a week which uses a huge amount of our testing capacity…
September 14, 2020
“but I think that’s right as that’s where the biggest risk is. We see a lot of people coming forward for testing who don’t have symptoms and just like every other bit of the NHS if we don’t manage that demand there is a problem”. Or to put it another way, if you want a test…
September 14, 2020
you will have to be patient. But as I said last week, this shortage of tests may lead schools and other institutions to shut temporarily if too many teachers and other staff are off work not really knowing if they are properly ill or not. This testing shortage is a big problem.
September 14, 2020
PS I understand that 100,000 tests are being delivered to social care settings every day. So that is two-fifths of all testing capacity being absorbed to protect the elderly and vulnerable. Which most people would say makes sense. But it means that with infections…
September 14, 2020
rising, there may well be inadequate capacity for the rest of the population for weeks and months, unless @BorisJohnson’s derided “moonshot” of exponential expansion based on new technologies actually works.
September 14, 2020
On the new rule of six, the barrister Adam Wagner has a very good thread on Twitter on the detail of the regulations enforcing this new rule, which he says were published just 15 minutes before they were due to come into force. (See 9.55am.) It starts here.
🚨They are here. 15 minuets before they come into force. A new record – and not a good one.
The Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (No. 2) (England) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2020https://t.co/qTNAgoT0BN pic.twitter.com/Ddr2bfbCUK
September 13, 2020
On the Today programme this morning Kit Malthouse, the policing minister, said (after a bit of prompting) that people should report neighbours to the police if they were breaking the new “rule of six”. (See 8.46am.) But when Martin Hewitt, chairman of the National Police Chiefs’ Council (NPCC), was asked on the same programme a bit later if he too would encourage people to report their neighbours in that way, he gave a more nuanced answer. He replied:
Well, in the first instance I guess someone could speak to that person ….
But I think the real point here is about individuals taking responsibility. As an individual, as a family member, as a person in whatever business, we all have to take responsibility.
It is really important to say that, over the last six months, our experience is that the vast majority of people have adhered to the regulations, have followed the guidance, to try and keep the virus at bay.
In a statement on the NPCC’s website Hewitt said that, when enforcing the new rule, police would continue to follow the “engage, explain and encourage” approach, only fining people when they refused to comply.
Welsh health minister warns that national lockdown could be just weeks away
The Welsh health minister has warned that a national lockdown could be a few weeks away unless people follow the new Covid-19 regulations.
On the day most people in Wales are obliged to wear masks when they go into shops and other public places, Vaughan Gething said the country was in a “parallel position to early February”, adding: “We were in national lockdown in the third week of March.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Wales, Gething said:
We have a number of weeks to be able to get to a position where we can recover some of the ground with a return to effective social distancing, with a return to respecting the rules we have in place to save people’s lives or we will be forced into greater local lockdowns and the potential for another national lockdown.
He said that if a widespread lockdown was necessary he hoped all four governments would work together, but said he would also take Wales-only action if needed.
Gething called for Cobra meetings involving the four UK governments to take place. He was also critical of a “unilateral decision” taken to cap the number of tests from Wales being processed by the UK’s Lighthouse labs.
In Caerphilly, south Wales, where a local lockdown was put in place last week, the minister said Covid was being detected not just in young people but in over-40s and 50s. He said that this would result in more people being hospitalised in the next three weeks.
at 11.53am BST
In an interview with Times Radio this morning Geoffrey Cox, the Conservative Brexiter and former attorney general, said that he had spoken to Boris Johnson before announcing his opposition to the internal market bill in an article in the Times (paywall) this morning. Cox told the station:
I have spoken to the prime minister. We’ve had long discussions and I know the prime minister is giving very careful thought to these things.
In his Times article Cox says that it would be “unconscionable” for the UK to abandon treaty obligations that it accepted less than 12 months ago. He says:
When the Queen’s minister gives his word, on her behalf, it should be axiomatic that he will keep it, even if the consequences are unpalatable. By doing so he pledges the faith, honour and credit of this nation and it diminishes the standing and reputation of Britain in the world if it should be seen to be otherwise …
He says that when it signed the withdrawal agreement treaty, the UK accepted “the inevitable application of EU tariffs and customs procedures to certain goods entering Northern Ireland from Great Britain and of the EU’s state aid regime to the province”. He goes on:
If the powers that the House of Commons is asked today to confer on the government by assenting to the UK internal market bill are to be used to nullify those perfectly plain and foreseeable consequences, they would amount to nothing more or less than the unilateral abrogation of the treaty obligations to which we pledged our word less than 12 months ago, and which this parliament ratified in February.
It is unconscionable that this country, justly famous for its regard for the rule of law around the world, should act in such a way.
As David Frost, the UK’s Brexit negotiator, explained in a Twitter thread yesterday, the government is arguing that it needs to take powers to suspend parts of the withdrawal agreement because the EU is refusing to commit to listing the UK as a third country for food imports, which means there is a risk of it being unable to send food from Britain to Northern Ireland if this matter remains unresolved by 1 January 2021.
But, in his article, Cox argues that if the EU is using this as a threat, the UK has other remedies available. He explains:
These include triggering the agreed independent arbitration procedure set out in the withdrawal agreement and, in extremis, these might legitimately extend to taking temporary and proportionate measures, where they are urgently necessary to protect the fundamental interests of the UK (in my view if, and only if, specifically approved at the time by the House of Commons,) for the period until that arbitration has concluded.
What ministers should not do, however provoked or frustrated they may feel, is to take or use powers permanently and unilaterally to rewrite portions of an agreement into which this country freely entered just a few months ago.
Simon Hoare, the Conservative MP who chairs the Northern Ireland affairs committee, has welcomed Cox’s intervention.
Simon Hoare MP
Geoffrey is a man for whom respect for the Rule of Law (and it’s defence) is paramount. His intervention cannot be overlooked, ignored or swatted away https://t.co/xegfmeBcVE
September 14, 2020
Simon Hoare MP
I remember hearing lots of colleagues saying at the time: ‘if Geoffrey says it’s no dice; I’m not playing’. Lots saying ‘if Cox unhappy I’m not going for it’. As a committed Brexiter he should remain an important lightening rod https://t.co/dzzGC9RYQr
September 14, 2020
Geoffrey Cox, the former attorney general. Photograph: Danny Lawson/PA
On the Today programme this morning Ed Miliband, the former Labour leader who is now shadow business secretary, described the government’s plan to overrule parts of the Brexit withdrawal agreement as “legislative hooliganism”. He said:
I’ve come on your programme many times to discuss many issues – I have never been on your programme discussing a British government coming along and seeking to break international law, an agreement it signed.
It is honestly a sad day and that’s why I think you hear people across the political spectrum condemning the government …
Of the most sensitive issues around Northern Ireland, at the most sensitive stage of the Brexit negotiations – I mean it’s sort of legislative hooliganism that the government is engaged in and it will be self-defeating, I fear.
at 10.50am BST
Here’s a good question from BTL.
The legislation was published very late last night. It’s here (pdf). Like much of the legislation implementing lockdown, it takes the form of regulations passed under the Public Health Act 1984. Regulations like this effectively become law when signed by a minister.
The final question was about Scottish independence. Ferrari played a clip of the Welsh first minister saying that no UK prime minister should stand in the way of an independence referendum in Scotland or Wales if that is what people wanted.
Starmer said Labour would go into next year’s Scottish parliament elections supporting the union and opposing a second independence referendum. But he did not say whether he would continue to oppose one if the SNP won a majority (which would give them a mandate for one).
The next caller asks why the Labour Hammersmith and Fulham council and the Labour mayor of London have not been able to do anything to open Hammersmith bridge. It was closed to everyone recently, after being closed for cars for months.
Starmer says he does not know the full reasons for this, but he says he is the sort of leader who likes to sort out problems. He will makes some calls on this, he says.
Hammersmith bridge in west London. Photograph: Yui Mok/PA
Q: Why were you so angry when Johnson accused you of supporting Jeremy Corbyn despite his failure to condemn the IRA?
Starmer says he spent years working with the police prosecuting terrorist cases. And he has never failed to condemn the IRA.
Q: You told Corbyn this?
Starmer says Corbyn knows his view. He says he has family members affected by terrorism.
Q: When Corbyn was leader, did you publicly speak out about his views on the IRA?
Starmer says he has often spoken out on these issues. He says Johnson also accused him of saying nothing about Salisbury – even though Starmer had.
at 9.52am BST
Starmer says Labour is not calling for tax increases, particularly at the moment, when the economy needs to recover.
But he says Labour will produce tax plans before the next election to address how to manage the rising level of debt.
Q: What would you do about furlough?
Starmer says Labour wants to extend the furlough scheme for certain sectors. It is clear which ones need help, he says: retail, theatre/arts/culture, aviation and travel.
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