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Boris Johnson news – live: Government 'far too slow' to roll out economic recovery plan, says Sadiq Khan, as Rishi Sunak unveils mini-budget

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Andy Gregory,Vincent Wood
Wednesday 08 July 2020 14:05
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Every diner to get £10 restaurant discount and VAT slashed for hospitality sector

Chancellor Rishi Sunak has scrapped stamp duty for homes under £500,000 and slashed VAT on the hospitality sector – with Britons to be given money-off restaurant vouchers throughout August - in his emergency “mini-budget”, as he announced the government’s coronavirus furlough scheme will end in October.

It came after Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer clashed in the Commons, with the Labour leader accusing the prime minister of “rubbing salt in the wounds” of care home workers with his comments that they had failed to follow procedures as Covid-19 deaths soared. Mr Johnson said the government took “full responsibility” but failed to directly apologise for his comments.

Meanwhile, the finance ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also written to the chancellor to demand Westminster hand over “crucial” but “relatively limited” fiscal powers in light of the coronavirus crisis, to allow capital spending to be moved over to day-to-day revenue and bring an end to “arbitrary” borrowing limits.

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Good morning, welcome to The Independent's live blog on today's happenings in Westminster, where the chancellor is set to unveil his emergency "mini-budget".

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:00
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Chancellor under pressure to extend furlough scheme as he unveils £2bn plan for youth jobs

The chancellor’s hotly anticipated Covid-19 recovery plan will feature a £2bn “kickstart” fund to subsidise hundreds of thousands of work placements for the 16-24 year-old age group whose job prospects have been hit hardest by the pandemic, in what the Treasury described as “the biggest package of support for youth employment in decades”, our political editor Andrew Woodcock reports.

But unions said it was no more than a “good first step” towards halting mass youth unemployment. And critics said it fell short of Boris Johnson’s promise of “the chance of an apprenticeship or in-work placement” for every young person, with participants potentially earning as little as £161 a week.

Shadow chancellor Anneliese Dodds said the government had failed to “rise to the scale of the unemployment crisis” and should stem unnecessary job losses by tailoring the withdrawal of support to the needs of sectors which face long delays before returning to pre-crisis activity.

“To the extent that the kickstart programme is based on [Labour’s] future jobs fund model, it should help many young people to access work,” said Ms Dodds.

“However, the government are yet to rise to the scale of the unemployment crisis. The urgent priority right now is to prevent additional unnecessary unemployment in the first place by abandoning the government’s one-size-fits-all approach to the removal of the job retention and self-employed schemes. In addition, older people who become unemployed, and those living in particularly hard-hit areas, will also need tailored support.”

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:05
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Stamp duty cut could come into effect immediately following emergency mini-budget, reports say

Rishi Sunak is reportedly set to announce a stamp duty holiday that is set to come into force straight away to stimulate the economy amid the coronavirus crisis, Zoe Tidman reports.

On Wednesday, the British chancellor is expected to temporarily raise the threshold for the payment for property sales, which will immediately apply, according to The Telegraph.

The newspaper reported it could increase to £500,000 from the current £125,000 in England and Wales – a six-month holiday that will potentially save homebuyers thousands of pounds.

Amid speculation the threshold for the tax could be raised, housing market experts argued homebuyers in southern England would stand to benefit the most from the move.

Mr Sunak has also been urged to consider an emergency VAT cut to stimulate consumer spending following the coronavirus outbreak.

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:08
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Devolved nations unite to demand more fiscal powers from Westminster

A joint message from the Scottish, Welsh and Northern Irish finance ministers to chancellor Rishi Sunak ahead of his summer statement requests "relatively limited powers" they believe will help to bolster the recovery of each country.

The three ministers are asking for the chancellor to allow capital spending to be moved over to day-to-day revenue as well as an end to "arbitrary" limits on borrowing.

Scotland's finance secretary Kate Forbes said any funding used to secure the recovery and pay for public services would need to be found from elsewhere in its budget.

"They are relatively limited powers but would ease some of the immense pressures on our budget and give us more tools to kick-start our recovery," she said. "At the moment, any extra money spent bolstering services and supporting the economic recovery must be taken from other areas.

"That creates risks for our essential public services, jobs and businesses. I am therefore calling on the chancellor to ease these rigid fiscal rules and give us the flexibility we need to properly address the monumental challenges our economy is facing."

Ms Forbes added she would like to see "greater ambition in the level of investment in our economy".

Rebecca Evans, who holds the finance portfolio in Wales, said the response from her government had been "hampered" by current fiscal rules, adding: "There is no clear rationale for these rules, which undermine good budget management in Wales.

"The crisis has made the issue urgent. It's time for the UK government to act and provide the flexibility we need to respond and invest in Wales' recovery."

Northern Ireland finance minister Conor Murphy said it is "crucial" for devolved administrations to be given the powers allowing them to "respond swiftly and effectively" to the challenges presented by Covid-19.

He added: "More financial flexibility can help us deal with these challenges and use our budgets to support public services, protect the vulnerable and deliver an economic recovery."

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:17
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Fairness of elections at risk as government refuses to find millions of missing voters, parliamentary report warns

The report found young people, those who move home frequently, and people from ethnic minority backgrounds are most likely to be disenfranchised because of huge gaps in electoral rolls, our deputy political editor Rob Merrick reports.

Ministers are urged to adopt automatic voter registration when someone reaches adulthood and to use data from other public services to issue reminders to people to sign up.

But, as The Independent revealed last month, the government has rejected an official recommendation to use other databases and services – claiming to do so “could lead to a less accurate electoral register”.

Now a House of Lords committee has demanded an urgent rethink, warning accurate voting rolls are “key to a robust and resilient democracy”. “Millions of voters may still be missing from electoral registers,” said chair Lord Shutt of Greetland, adding: “Incomplete registers can only be damaging to the integrity of elections.”

The Electoral Commission believes around 9 million voters are missing from the rolls and will now not be counted when new Westminster constituencies are drawn up.

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:24
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Ministers must have plan to avoid PPE shortage if coronavirus second wave hits, MPs warn

An influential House of Commons committee has said ministers must have a plan in place by the end of the summer to deliver sufficient supplies of personal protective equipment (PPE) for a potential second wave of coronavirus in the UK this winter, our political editor Andrew Woodcock reports.

The cross-party Public Accounts Committee said it was “extremely concerned” by shortages of PPE experienced by health and care workers during the first wave of Covid-19 and did not believe the government was treating the issue with sufficient urgency.

Warning in a report that ministers do not have a “clear understanding” either of the equipment needed or how to distribute it – particularly to the fragmented care sector - the committee set a 7 September deadline for the Department of Health and Social Care to outline how it will provide reliable and easily accessible supplies if coronavirus flares up again.

The report also warned that Health Secretary Matt Hancock’s decision at the start of the Covid crisis to write off £13.4bn of NHS trusts’ historic debts would not resolve the health service’s underlying financial problems.

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:31
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Government to scrap free parking for NHS staff once coronavirus crisis eases

Matt Hancock announced on 25 March that the government would cover the costs of car parking for NHS staff who he said were “going above and beyond every day” at hospitals in England.

But the Department of Health has said the free parking will continue only for “key patient groups and NHS staff in certain circumstances” as the pandemic eases, although no further timeline has been given.

Speaking to Sky News on Wednesday, Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham said: "Having done it in the first place, I think they should see it through through the course of the pandemic."

He added: "This is still an ongoing situation. Staff are still battling into work every day. It undermines the initiative in teh first place to withdraw it now, I would say."

He said the government "appear to have a bit of a downer on measures like this", citing Westminister's alleged refusal to support a similar scheme which saw NHS and social care staff given free trams access in Manchester.

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:48
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‘People will die’: Priti Patel warned immigration policy will force thousands back on the streets

Local councils have warned Priti Patel an immigration policy that blocks migrants from accessing public funds will force thousands of homeless people back onto the streets during the coronavirus pandemic, our social affairs correspondent May Bulman reports.

Dozens of local authorities and charities are calling on the Home Office to take “urgent action” to ensure restrictions on state support for migrants do not “undermine” the “collective effort to end rough sleeping in Britain” during the lockdown.

Almost 15,000 rough sleepers across the UK have been housed in hotels or emergency accommodation since March under the Everyone In scheme, under which local authorities were required to provide emergency accommodation to rough sleepers with a £3.2m pot of funding from central government.

Ministers told local authorities at the end of May they must put in place plans to ensure all rough sleepers currently accommodated in hotels and other forms of emergency accommodation were supported into stable housing.

However, councils in London warn that thousands of people will not be able to access this support because their immigration status stipulates that they have no legal right to local authority or central government support.

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 08:58
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Greenpeace activists point Westminster road signs towards 'Green Recovery' ahead of chancellor's emergency budget

The intervention by Greenpeace UK aims to send a message to the government that it only has one option with its economic recovery package, and that much greater investment is needed to green the transport, energy, housing and waste sectors, create new green jobs and tackle the climate emergency, the group said.

“Just in case the chancellor was worried about getting lost on his way to deliver his economic statement today, we’ve made it abundantly clear that there’s only one route he can take. All roads must now lead to a green recovery – there is no alternative option," said Greenpeace UK’s head of green recovery, Rosie Rogers.

“Rishi Sunak’s going to have to dig quite a bit deeper today if he genuinely plans to ‘build back greener’. An initial £15bn cash injection in green ‘shovel ready’ projects would create hundreds of thousands of new jobs, almost immediately, right across the country, while making transport greener, homes warmer, energy bills lower and restoring nature.

“But just as importantly, he needs to cough up much more if we have any chance of tackling the climate emergency, which will have far more disastrous outcomes, not just for our economy, but for the entire planet.”

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 09:10
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Outrage over Tory plans to resume Saudi arms sales despite 'possible' war crimes in Yemen

MPs have expressed their fury at the government's decision to resume arms sales to Saudi Arabia despite alleged war crimes in Yemen, which have seen large numbers of civilian casualties but which trade secretary Liz Truss brushed off as "isolated incidents".

Labour's Coventry South MP accused the Tories of "putting arms dealers' profits above human rights".

Former shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry said: "At a time when millions of Yemeni children are facing the mortal threat of starvation and disease, Britain should be working flat out to bring this terrible war to an end, not selling the arms that continue to fuel it.”

Her successor Lisa Nandy tweeted:

Campaign Against Arms Trade, which successfully challenged previous UK arms sales to the regime in court, said it would be considering this new decision with its lawyers:

"This is a disgraceful and morally bankrupt decision. The Saudi-led bombardment of Yemen has created the world's worst humanitarian crisis, and the government itself admits that UK-made arms have played a central role on the bombing. We will be considering this new decision with our lawyers, and will be exploring all options available to challenge it," said Andrew Smith.

"The evidence shows a clear pattern of heinous and appalling breaches of international humanitarian law by a coalition which has repeatedly targeted civilian gatherings such as weddings, funerals, and market places. The government claims that these are isolated incidents, but how many hundreds of isolated incidents would it take for the government to stop supplying the weaponry?

"This exposes the rank hypocrisy at the heart of UK foreign policy. Only yesterday the government was talking about the need to sanction human rights abusers, but now it has shown that it will do everything it can to continue arming and supporting one of the most brutal dictatorships in the world."

Andy Gregory8 July 2020 09:21

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