DRD Snapshot - 18 December 2020
18 Dec 2020
Snapshot wishes all of its readers a very Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year! christmas brexit covid
Lord Lebedev wasn’t sold on his Father Christmas outfit…
Baron Lebedev of Hampton in the London Borough of Richmond on Thames and of Siberia in the Russian Federation – the first Russian peer to enter the House of Lords.
THE WEEK THAT WAS
Driving home for Christmas? Despite increasing Covid rates across many parts of the UK and growing pressure on the Government to rethink its 5-day Christmas ‘relax’, the four nations agreed not to cancel their decision to un-cancel Christmas. But change is already afoot! The messaging has been hastily tightened up, with people urged to keep their festivities local and short. We’re being asked to avoid travelling from a high prevalence to a low prevalence area and not to stay overnight, if possible. And elderly relatives are being encouraged not to spend Christmas with family…
… In Wales, only two households, plus an additional single person who lives alone, will be able to meet over Christmas under new laws. Although the Welsh Government had previously joined with the three other UK nations in agreeing that three households could meet between 23 and 27 December, as a result of rising Covid cases First Minister Mark Drakeford changed plans. England, Scotland and Northern Ireland are sticking to the three household rule…
… though last night, it was confirmed that Northern Ireland will enter a six-week lockdown on 26 December with non-essential shops closing after Christmas Eve. Almost as soon as the Turkey is carved, it’ll be back to lockdown with even tighter restrictions in place for a week from Boxing Day, with no gatherings permitted between 8pm and 6am. Unsurprisingly, fears of a third national lockdown in England come January are growing. The Times reported this morning that ‘Tier 4’ for Covid hotspots is being seriously considered.
A cause for tiers. On Monday, two days earlier than the scheduled tier review, London, along with large parts of Essex and Hertfordshire moved into the highest tier. The Telegraph’s Rob Mendick quoted a health source who described the latest data in London as “terrifying”. According to MPs in those areas, the tiers would be reviewed on a weekly basis going forward, starting on 23December. Yesterday, more areas in the East and Southeast were moved into tier 3. From Saturday, there will be 38 million people living under the toughest restrictions – that’s 68% of England’s population…
… Naturally, there has been disappointment and outrage (in equal measure) from the hospitality sector in particular, which feels unfairly targeted, having spent thousands to prepare to re-open after the latest lockdown, to be told at short notice that, just two weeks later, they’d have to close their doors again. It’s led to calls for a Hospitality Minister to be appointed. Unsurprising then that, also yesterday, the Chancellor confirmed that the furlough scheme has been extended until the end of April 2021. The Government-guaranteed Covid-19 business loan schemes will also continue until the end of March.
It’s all in the stats. Newly appointed Vaccine Minister, Nadhim Zahawi MP, finally released the vaccine figures on Wednesday. Sort of. Apparently 137,000 people received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine in Britain in the first week of its rollout, though these figures are “provisional and subject to change.” Hmm. Although it’s undoubtedly a welcome start, the Times’ Chris Smyth was quick to tweet: “there are 30 million people in the priority groups. At this rate, vaccination of those at highest risk would take four years.” No pressure on the Oxford vaccine then.
Return of the Dom. The PM’s former aide was back in the papers this week after it was revealed he had received a £40,000 pay rise following last years General Election victory. After his infamous trip to Barnard Castle, which resulted in public trust in the Government plummeting, he’s managed to ruffle feathers again. Current SpAds are pretty furious, especially because, according to one, “Dom lectured us pretty much weekly that in ‘the people’s government’ pay was not the object.” You know, you think you know a guy…
out not out. Earlier this week, Greenwich Council wrote to head teachers asking for classes to move online from Tuesday amid rising Covid-19 cases. However, Education Secretary Gavin Williamson ordered the council to keep all schools open until the end of term, threatening legal action. The Leader of Greenwich Council, Danny Thorpe said he could not justify using public funds to fight the decision in the courts and accepted that schools had to remain open. However, it emerged yesterday that the Christmas holiday will be extended by a week for some secondary school children to enable the rollout of mass Covid testing for pupils at the start of the new term.
No more leaks. Downing Street last night sacked Conservative MP Andrew Lewer from his role as a Home Office PPS after whips accused him of leaking a letter that warned MPs not to leak. The note from Chief Whip Mark Spencer went out to all PPSs and found its way into the hands of Guido Fawkes on Wednesday. Each letter contained slightly different wording so it was clear to see who was behind the ‘leaking’. Lewer is blaming his staff…
THE WEEK(S) TO COME
Christmas recess. MPs broke up for Christmas recess last night and while they’re not expecting to return until 5January, Leader of the House, Jacob Rees-Mogg MP, warned that, if the UK secures a deal with the EU, MPs and peers would be recalled… as early as next week. According to the Sun, the PM cancelled a “top secret” foreign visit pencilled in for Friday, which “some ministers read as a sign a Brexit trade deal breakthrough could be imminent in coming days.” After last night’s call between the PM and European Commission President, the pressure is well and truly on.
Brexit looms. Again. The European parliament set a Sunday deadline for an agreement on a post-Brexit trade and security deal to allow time to scrutinise it ahead of a scheduled vote on 28 December. It’s raised hopes of a deal over the weekend, even if Cabinet Minister, Michael Gove told the Brexit Select Committee on Thursday that chances of securing a deal were less than 50%. Despite the many deadlines that have come before, the end, it seems, is finally in sight.
Four nations divided. At the moment, England and Scotland are sticking to the regional tiered approach. However, the Scottish Cabinet is due to meet next Tuesday to decide whether to tweak the tiers further or follow their Welsh and Northern Irish counterparts.
Date for the diary. Yesterday, HM Treasury confirmed the date for the next Budget as the 3rd March. The Budget will “set out the next phase of the plan to tackle the virus and protect jobs and will be published alongside the latest forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR)”.
WHAT YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED
The Government was forced into yet another U-turn yesterday, this time on a controversial planning algorithm that would have massively increased housebuilding in Conservative seats. The Prime Minister faced a large-scale revolt from his backbenchers in leafy suburbia who had faced twice as many new homes being built in their seats. Instead, cities will now take a larger share of the new builds. The volte-face is being framed by government as “new measures to level up England’s cities, recover from the pandemic and help provide much-needed new homes.”
IN DEPTH – ONE TO WATCH
Stewart Malcolm McDonald MP
Stewart has been the SNP MP for Glasgow South since 2015. He’s a member of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee and SNP spokesperson for Defence. You may recognise McDonald (and his beard) after he came second in the Beard Liberation Front’s Parliamentary Beard of the Year Award back in 2015. Apparently, he was on course to win but was narrowly defeated by former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn after Diane Abbott urged people on Twitter to vote for him.
McDonald didn’t have the smoothest of starts in Westminster – the confusion of having two MPs, both SNP and both new, called Stewart and Stuart McDonald, caused a few issues early on. The House of Commons mixed up their middle names during the swearing in. Then Stuart McDonald was unable to board his flight back to Scotland in the first week as Stewart had accidently taken his ticket and seat. Perhaps that explains his feelings toward the inefficiency of the place – “if the Commons was a quango, it would have been shut down years ago. If it was a business, it would have gone bust in a fortnight.”
Although things soon settled in that regard, McDonald’s made the headlines a couple of times, often as a result of breaking rank with his SNP colleagues. He’s had a few disagreements with colleagues over Israel Palestine, and in October this year, he came to blows with his former boss, James Dornan MSP, challenging Dornan’s decision to appear on Russia Today.
But McDonald was back in the papers this week for doing something rather uncharacteristic for an SNP MP – he lay the blame for Scotland’s dreadful drug death rates firmly at Holyrood’s door. 1,264 people died as a result of drugs misuse in 2019 in Scotland, an increase of 6% on 2018 and more than double what it was in 2014. McDonald, who lost his brother Malcolm to drugs at the start of this year, said he was “deeply ashamed” by the latest statistics. He said the responsibility was on all politicians, himself included. “It’s time for all of Scotland’s politicians, of all parties and parliaments, to give this the attention it deserves.”
While drugs policy is reserved to Westminster, health is devolved to Scotland and McDonald’s intervention resulted in Scotland’s First Minister, Nicola Sturgeon apologising for her government’s “indefensible” record. Sturgeon was criticised for public health cuts from all sides during First Ministers Questions and admitted many of the criticisms were “legitimate and it is for me to take that squarely on the chin.” A reshuffle for Scotland’s Public Health Minister could be on the cards.
McDonald is certainly one to keep an eye on – he’s already proven that he’s not afraid to speak out and challenge not just the Government but colleagues (and the leadership) of his own party too.
WORTH A READ
The Spectator – ‘It’s not morally right to keep borrowing at these levels’: Rishi Sunak’s plan to fix the UK economy (Katy Balls and Fraser Nelson)
The Times – Have yourselves a merry little Christmas, says Boris Johnson (Patrick Maguire)
The Guardian – European parliament sets Sunday deadline for post-Brexit trade deal (Daniel Boffey)
The Telegraph – The ‘mutant algorithm’ was right. We need more houses in the Tory shires, not more trendy urban flats (Matthew Lynn)
New Statesman – Exclusive: Government threatened with legal action over “inadequate” food boxes (Anoosh Chakelian)
STAT OF THE WEEK
Ye of little faith!
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