EU officials have urged scepticism about British “spin” over the rising chances of a Brexit trade deal, claiming Boris Johnson’s government was “pushing a sense of positivism and momentum – but we just don’t see it”.
Charles Michel, the European Council president, with whom the PM spoke yesterday, warned that the UK needed to take “significant steps” to secure a deal, adding: “The coming days are crucial, this is the moment of truth."
Meanwhile, trade secretary Liz Truss rebuffed fresh calls to guarantee food standards in law after Brexit and avoid chlorinated chicken from the US.
It was another difficult day for the government regarding Covid-19 as northern leaders raged at Boris Johnson’s failure to keep them in the loop about impending lockdown restrictions.
Finally, Thursday saw the appointment of Allegra Stratton as Downing Street’s White House-style spokesperson. The former ITV journalist, who had been working as Rishi Sunak’s communications chief, will front televised briefings for the government.
Trump thanks Johnson for support getting over ‘China virus’
Donald Trump has taken to Twitter to express his gratitude for Boris Johnson’s “friendship and support”, after the pair spoke on the phone on Wednesday.
After talking about his recovery from coronavirus - which he described using the term “China Virus” - the president went on to say confidently that he would work with the British prime minister “for many years to come”.
This, of course, depends on what happens in the US election on 3 November.
Brexit bill has UK on course to ‘dictatorship’, says ex-Supreme Court chief
A ex-president of the Supreme Court has warned that the government’s Brexit legislation risks taking the UK down a “very slippery slope” towards “dictatorship”.
Lord Neuberger, who presided over the UK’s highest court for five years until 2017, described the Internal Markets Bill as “quite extraordinary and worrying”, saying that some of its clauses "freely breach its obligations under international treaties" and also "make regulations which it would appear the courts are not entitled to review".
The judge made the comments in a virtual meeting with lawyers on Wednesday evening. Here’s more on the story from my colleague Jon Stone:
Boris Johnson’s new laws put Britain on ‘very slippery slope' towards dictatorship, former Supreme Court president says
Lord Neuberger is second former supreme court judge to speak out this week
Starmer tells PM to back farmers with food standard laws
Labour leader Keir Starmer has urged Boris Johnson to address growing concerns that post-Brexit trade deals could undercut British farmers, and allow lower quality food into the country.
This comes amid worries around a potential trade deal with the US, which critics say could lead to products such as chlorinated chicken appearing on British supermarket shelves. A million people have now signed a petition calling on the government to protect high food standards.
"No one wants lower quality food on our plates, but unless the prime minister shows some leadership and backs British farmers there is a real risk this could happen,” Starmer said.
Johnson ‘set to close pubs in north of England’
It looks like Boris Johnson will follow the path laid out by Nicola Sturgeon. No 10 has decided to shut pubs and restaurants across large parts of the north of England on Monday, according to The Times.
The PM is said to have signed off on the big “circuit breaker” move last night alongside financial support for affected businesses (the newspaper says chancellor Rishi Sunak has “won the right” to be consulted whenever pubs are shut down).
The government is also expected to introduce its simplified, three-tier system of restrictions – with Merseyside and other parts of the north placed in the highest tier. What does it mean for the Tory rebels, who don’t like existing restrictions? What does it mean for Labour?
Keir Starmer suggested his party would vote against the 10pm curfew next week – demanding the government publishes the scientific advice behind the early closing. Will he remain so adamant if Johnson brings in “emergency” measures on Monday?
Three-tier system could be introduced next week to simplify lockdowns
Confidence slumps in Boris Johnson’s government
Confidence in the handling of the coronavirus pandemic by Boris Johnson’s government has slumped since the beginning of lockdown, according to researchers at UCL.
Some 56 per cent recently reported having no confidence, on balance, in No 10’s response to the crisis – up from 25 per cent at the start of lockdown.
Only 6 per cent of people reported having “no confidence at all” in the government’s handling in March – but this has increased to 27 per cent.
Minister refuses to confirm pub closures for north
Robert Jenrick has declined to confirm whether pubs and restaurants in parts of northern England will be forced to close again next week.
Speaking to the BBC’s Breakfast, the communities secretary said it “was not sensible” for him to speculate about the possible measures, despite being repeatedly asked.
Although he did tell the programme: “It is correct to say the number of cases in the north west and the north east and a number of cities, particularly in the Midlands like Nottingham, are rising fast and that is a serious situation.
“We are currently considering what steps we should take, obviously taking the advice of our scientific and medical advisers, and a decision will be made shortly.”
Tory committee chiefs launch inquiry into government’s handling of pandemic
A big move this morning from two former Tory cabinet ministers, who have launched a joint parliamentary inquiry into the government’s handling of the Covid pandemic. They saying No 10’s own probe will come “too late”.
Greg Clark, chair of the Commons science and technology committee and Jeremy Hunt, chair of the health committee, said “important lessons need to be learned” to help inform decisions through the next phase of the crisis.
Their two committees – alongside MPs who sit on them – will aim to produce a joint report in the Spring of 2021, but insisted there will be “staging posts” along the way.
In their sessions the chairs are expected to call on ministers and on professor Chris Whitty, the chief medical officer, and Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific, who have often appeared alongside Boris Johnson at No 10, to give evidence to MPs.
Coronavirus: Two former Tory cabinet ministers launch parliamentary inquiry into government’s handling of pandemic
Chairs of Commons science and health committees warn PM’s promised independent inquiry will come ‘too late’ for the months ahead
European Council chief meets Irish premier
The president of the European Council Charles Michel is visiting Dublin today to discuss Brexit negotiations with Ireland’s premier Micheal Martin.
Michel shared his frustration with Downing Street after Wednesday’s phone call with Boris Johnson – saying it was time for the UK to “put its cards on the table”.
Yet No 10’s chief negotiator David Frost and Cabinet Office minister Michael Gove sounded upbeat when speaking to MPs on Wednesday. Frost suggested he was in favour of a “dispute settlement mechanism” for any state aid row – one of the big sticking points in talks.
Intriguingly, No 10’s latest press release said “significant areas of difference remain, particularly on fisheries” – but did not mention state aid as a key point if difference as it usually does.
Asked by MPs whether it was fair to say there’s a “66 per cent chance” of a trade deal, Gove said that was “about right”.
Hunt calls for ‘more transparency’ as he launches Covid inquiry
Tory MP Jeremy Hunt – the head of the Commons’ select committee – has been explaining why he and his colleague Greg Clarke have taken the bold step of launching an inquiry in the government’s coronavirus response.
“More transparency would be beneficial,” Boris Johnson’s former leadership rival told Sky News. “It is clear that we got some things wrong at the start of the pandemic, and I think that’s to be expected – we have to be prepared change tact as the data changes.”
He also told Sky News he hoped most of us could get a vaccine by spring 2021. “If I was a betting man, I would say I think we probably will find a vaccine before Christmas – and I’m hopeful we can get it to the bulk of the population by Easter.”
Who is Allegra Stratton, Boris Johnson's new spokesperson?
Former journalist Allegra Stratton is to be the face of the government's new daily press conferences. If Boris Johnson's new regime goes to plan, she'll become face familiar across the nation. But just who is she?
Stratton made her name in Westminster as a political correspondent at the Guardian, before moving to become political editor of BBC Newsnight, with a further stint at ITV News, writes Jon Stone.
Experienced broadcaster who also has impeccable Tory connections
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