Junior health minister Edward Argar and Tory backbencher Sir Charles Walker are among several MPs self-isolating over concerns about contact with Nadine Dorries, who tested positive for the coronavirus this week.
It comes as Boris Johnson is set to move the UK into the “delay” phase. Criticising the government’s staggered response, former regional director of Public Health England John Ashton accused the “superficial” prime minister of having “no grasp of public health”.
Rishi Sunak has defended his Budget amid warnings of a recession, and questioned the usefulness Donald Trump’s move to shut down travel from Europe. The chancellor said the UK would not impose a similar ban, saying there was “no evidence” such measures work.
UK expected to enter ‘delay’ phase to stem Covid-19
Good morning and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of events at Westminster.
Boris Johnson holds another Cobra emergency committee meeting in Whitehall on the coronavirus crisis today, and is expected to approve plans to move the country from the “containment” phase to “delay” – which could see measures to encourage “social distancing”.
But it won’t yet signal an end to all public events, with health secretary Matt Hancock telling MPs “there are some things that feel right and don’t have an impact at all”.
In parliament MPs will continue to debate the Budget. And over in the Commons Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Committee, where the BBC’s director-general Lord Hall is giving evidence.
Raab tests negative for virus – as more Tory MPs self-isolate
The impact of Nadine Dorries’ coronavirus diagnosis is beginning to make itself felt in Westminster.
Foreign secretary Dominic Raab was reportedly tested for the virus after concerns were raised about his repeated coughing during the Budget – but his result is thought to have come back negative last night.
Junior health minister Edward Argar and Tory MP Sir Charles Walker and have all gone into self-isolation – as has Labour MP Rachael Maskell – after holding meetings with Dorries last week.
According to The Telegraph, a total of six MPs are now in self-isolation. Walker told the newspaper he was “really fine” but after an “engaged discussion” with Dorries he decided to stay at home.
The Treasury was reportedly “deep-cleaned” overnight after the partner of an official tested positive. And Dorries told a WhatsApp group one of her staffers has also “come down” with the virus.
Households will lose almost £600 a year, says think tank
Every household will suffer a £575 annual blow due to the slump in the economic growth forecast, even before the impact of the coronavirus is factored in, a respected think-tank has warned.
The Resolution Foundation said the GDP markdown from the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) financial watchdog was both “incredibly grim and yet still unbelievably optimistic”.
The OBR warned that a “recession this year is quite possible” if the virus causes “widespread economic disruption”, and predicted falling growth even before the coronavirus impact is reflected.
In its overnight assessment, the Resolution Foundation living standards think-tank delivered a stark warning over the OBR assessment, warning of “more difficult budgets ahead” for the Chancellor.
Chief executive Torsten Bell said: “The OBR managed to deliver an incredibly grim, and yet still unbelievably optimistic, pre-pandemic markdown to the UK’s economic outlook - dealing a £600 a year hit to every household in Britain.
“In reality, once we take the economic impact of coronavirus into account, this is the weakest official growth outlook on record.”
Chancellor rejects Trump’s coronavirus travel ban
Rishi Sunak has questioned the usefulness of a travel ban imposed by Donald Trump after the US shut down all travel from Europe – with the exception of the UK.
The chancellor told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Here in this country we are determined to take the right steps at the right time. We haven’t believe that’s the right thing to do. The evidence here doesn’t support that.”
He added: “The advice we’re getting is that there isn’t evidence that interventions like closing the borders or travel bans are going to have a material effect on the spread of the infection.”
Sunak also said he was taking a “prudent” approach to the public finances despite a Budget that amounted to the biggest giveaway since 1992.
He said: “I make absolutely no apology for responding in the short term in scale to the immediate threat that we face from coronavirus.”
Sunak admitted growth forecasts even before the impact of coronavirus is taken into consideration are weak, but he insisted sustained investment can fix this.
He told Today: “I want to see higher growth in this country, and that’s why we set out an economic plan yesterday which involves a significant step change in the amount of money we invest in capital and infrastructure in this country.”
Chancellor defends lack of sick pay cover for gig economy workers
Rishi Sunak has defended not extending statutory sick pay (SSP) to those who are ineligible as part of efforts to tackle coronavirus.
He insisted some in the so-called gig economy will have access while others can claim welfare payments.
“For those that don’t (have access to SSP), we’ve strengthened the working of our welfare system so that it works quicker, more responsibly and more generously for those people,” he told Today.
Sunak also denied Labour’s allegation that he only needed to boost NHS spending to tackle coronavirus because of the damage caused by successive Conservative leaders to the health service.
He said there are 7,700 more nurses on wards than last year, telling the Today programme: “So that’s just not right.
“And more generally, it’s because of the way we’ve managed the economy over the past several years that I’m in a strong position today to be able to sit here and say to you I will do what it takes to help get us through this.”
‘Why not just have a test?’
Rishi Sunak has been challenged by Kay Burley why he hasn’t been tested for the coronavirus yet, as he continues his round of interviews with an appearance on Sky News.
The chancellor said he following the advice of health experts that because he hadn’t been in close contact with stricken minister Nadine Dorries for more than 15 minutes, he didn’t need to test.
Burley said: “We needs you, as a nation, to a well. Surely the responsible thing to do is to have a test. It takes seconds.”
After saying he had followed the advice, the Sky News host said she was “sure” he had spent more than 15 minutes with people who have potentially got Covid-19 – and asked the chancellor again: “Why not just have a test?”
Sunak replied: “With the greatest respect I'll take my advice from the Chief Medical Officer and not you.”
PM set to reveal Irish Sea bridge-tunnel plan
Boris Johnson is poised to announce a feasibility study into a new road crossing between Scotland and Northern Ireland, according to his Scottish secretary.
Alister Jack said the UK should be “ambitious in its approach to new infrastructure – claiming the country is “lagging behind” other nations.
Asked why there had been no money for the project in Rishi Sunak’s Budget, Jack said: “Watch this space.”
Speaking on BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland programme, he said: “The prime minister I expect will announce a feasibility study into the link to Northern Ireland, I hope the Scottish government will back it.”
Johnson has repeatedly spoken about the prospect of a bridge linking the south of Scotland with Northern Ireland - although Jack suggested it could instead be a tunnel, or a combination of the two.
He said: “I think we should be ambitious … We are lagging behind in this country and we believe we should look at all options.”
Experts have warned the depth of the Irish Sea and the presence of dumped munitions would cause problems for any crossing. The project could cost a reported £20bn, although Johnson has previously said it would “only cost about £15bn”.
Meanwhile sarcastic economic experts at the Fraser of Allander Institute said a new crossing would neither boost the economy nor improve connectivity.
In a damning assessment of the proposal, it stated: “In short, it won’t deliver the economic boost some claim, it isn’t a priority, it would go to the wrong location, it wouldn’t be consistent with climate change objectives and the money could be better spent on other things. Apart from that, it’s a cracking idea.”
MPs launch inquiry into police and border force readiness for Covid-19
The Commons Home Affairs Committee has launched an inquiry into whether police, the Border Force and other agencies are prepared for the impact of coronavirus.
MPs will look at how Home Office agencies were responding to the outbreak, and dealing with the impact on their own staff.
Committee chair Yvette Cooper said: “It’s very important that all of our public services are prepared for coronavirus.
The Labour MP added: “We need to know what preparations the Home Office is and should be making and what practical consequence there will be for police and border force as coronavirus continues to spread.”
Will the coronavirus crisis derail Brexit talks?
Cabinet minister Michael Gove suggested on Wednesday that the second round of trade negotiations with the EU – due to take place in London next week – might be postponed because of the virus.
He told the Commons Brexit select committee: “It is a live question ... We have had indications from Belgium that there may be specific public health concerns.”
Our commentator Andrew Grice has taken a closer look at the possible impact on the post-Brexit talks, and what it might mean for that self-imposed deadline of December 2020 for an ambition free trade deal.
Health minister seen coughing in the Commons
The junior health minister Edward Argar – a colleague of Nadine Dorries currently in the spotlight after he went into self-isolation – was seen coughing in the Commons on Tuesday.
A clip shared by Business Insider’s Adam Bienkov shows Argar spluttering slightly at the dispatch box and taking a glass of water.
Dorries tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday. According to The Telegraph the pair dined together last week.
Join our new commenting forum
Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies