Politics latest news: Tory MPs threatened with the sack as No 10 moves to avert Budget rebellion

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
Cat Neilan
·50 min read
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

Conservative MPs have been warned they could be stripped of the Tory whip if they vote against the Government at next week's Budget, as a row begins to brew over possible tax rises.

Asked if the votes will be considered a confidence issue for Tory MPs, the Prime Minister's press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said: "Yes."

It comes as tensions build over a possible tax rises, with some backbenchers concerned that the long-standing fuel duty freeze looks unsustainable given the country’s deficit could soon exceed £400bn.

While some Tories said they thought the country "might not love it, but they will stomach it", others are already making mutinous noises.

One northern MP told the Telegraph: “I think that the Conservative Party will make a grave error if it attempts to turn itself into a version of the Labour Party in terms of tax and spend policy.”

Another added: "Fuel duty and beer duty are basically Red Wall taxes, because if you're a Londoner, you probably don't have or need a car, but families in towns in the North and Midlands do. Alcohol consumption is also higher in the North.”

Meanwhile Treasury Select Committee chairman Mel Stride has warned an increase to capital gains tax "would be extremely problematic on Conservative back benches".

This morning former chancellor Phillip Hammond said Boris Johnson must tell the public "some difficult home truths", saying he feared the "populist" Government would be unwilling to take difficult decisions.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

03:40 PM

Have your say: Should the Budget include some tax rises?

With just a few days to go, the Budget is dominating the minds of people in Westminster.

Previously Treasury minister Jesse Norman said he thought that any post-Covid recovery could be strong enough to avoid tax rises - although the Chancellor has never been so bullish.

Indeed, MPs now think a fuel duty rise might be on the cards, while a corporation tax hike has already got the support of Rishi Sunak's former Treasury colleague Simon Clarke, among others, in a bid to start righting public finances without dampening recovery.

But Mel Stride, the Treasury Select Committee chairman, has warned against corporation tax rises, while David Cameron said taxes should not be increased until the economy is reopened fully.

With the situation as precarious as it is, is now the right time - or should the Government hold off until the autumn (or beyond?) Have your say in the poll below.

03:26 PM

Government replaces 'person' with 'mother' in maternity leave bill

The Government has agreed to demands by peers to change the wording of legislation on maternity leave for ministers.

Members of the Lords from across the political divide were fiercely critical of the use of the word person, instead of woman, throughout the Ministerial and Other Maternity Allowances Bill.

After accusations that this amounted to "abandoning women", Cabinet minister Lord True said the Government was willing to accept a cross-party amendment to the legislation.

The change will remove the word person from the Bill and replace it with "mother or expectant mother".

03:10 PM

No 'wiggle room' on roadmap dates, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has rejected any suggestion there might be "wiggle room" in his roadmap, as he pledged to remain "cautious" in easing the lockdown.

The Prime Minister said the four-stage dates he set out continued to be the target "towards which people can work" given that the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 remained "high". There are 16,800 Covid patients in UK hospitals.

Asked if there was any wiggle room if vaccine data improved, he said: "I think it's very important to have a timetable that is sensible, that is cautious, but one that is also irreversible. And that's the virtue of the timetable we have set out.

"Everybody knows the dates: March 8, kids back in school; April 12, shops reopen; May 17, hospitality reopens; June 21, we hope, if all things go according to plan, a general reopening.

"And I think those are a series of dates towards which people can work, and I think that the people of this country would rather trade some haste for some certainty, and that's why we've done it in the way that we have and we will still continue to stick to that plan."

03:05 PM

UK-wide Covid alert level dropped as risks 'recede'

The UK's four chief medical officers have agreed the Covid-19 alert level should move from five - its highest - down to four as the risk of the NHS being overwhelmed within 21 days "has receded".

In a joint statement, the four chiefs - including Professor Chris Whitty - said the current data suggested that while "the health services across the four nations remain under significant pressure... we are now seeing numbers consistently declining, and the threat of the NHS and other health services being overwhelmed within 21 days has receded."

The statement added: WWe should be under no illusions – transmission rates, hospital pressures and deaths are still very high. In time, the vaccines will have a major impact and we encourage everyone to get vaccinated when they receive the offer.

"However for the time being it is really important that we all – vaccinated or not - remain vigilant and continue to follow the guidelines.

"We know how difficult the situation has been and remains to be for healthcare workers, we thank them for their immense effort, skill and professionalism throughout the pandemic."

03:04 PM

Allister Heath: The useless and authoritarian SNP is turning Scotland into a failed state

Will Boris Johnson’s greatest legacy be the dissolution of the most successful political union in modern history, rather than the triumph of Brexit and the recovery from Covid, Allister Heath asks in his column today.

Despite the indefensible subsidies, the anti-English propaganda, the entrenched Left-wing voting bloc in Westminster, he explains he remains - just - a unionist.

I love the United Kingdom, a beautiful, living construct, in so many ways a beacon to the world since 1707. The enlightenment was conceptualised by brilliant Scots such as Adam Smith, David Hume and Adam Ferguson, but in recent decades many of their ideas reinspired England, especially during the Thatcher years.But the horror show in Holyrood over the past few weeks fills me with foreboding. Regardless of how atrociously the SNP behaves, or how uselessly it governs, it remains by far the most popular party in Scotland, on course to win the elections to Holyrood in May, and poll after poll registers a majority for independence.

Read his column in full here.

02:50 PM

Covid cases fall in all English regions except Yorkshire and the Humber

Cases of Covid fell in all regions of England except Yorkshire and the Humber, according to the latest weekly surveillance report from Public Health England.

In Yorkshire and the Humber the rate of new cases stood at 150.1 per 100,000 people in the seven days to February 21, a slight increase from 149.5 the previous week.

In the East Midlands the rate of new cases stood at 167.1 - the highest rate of any region, but down from 181.0 in the previous week. The West Midlands recorded the second highest rate: 152.1, down from 175.5, while the South West recorded the lowest rate: 68.1, down from 89.3.

Case rates in England are also continuing to fall among all age groups.

The highest rate is among 30 to 39-year-olds, which stood at 174.4 cases per 100,000 people, down week-on-week from 197.6. Among 20 to 29-year-olds the rate dropped from 178.0 to 157.3, and for 40 to 49-year-olds it fell from 166.9 to 144.6.

For people aged 80 and over, the rate fell from 133.7 to 98.6.

02:38 PM

England's daily Covid vaccine rate recovers after

The drop in daily vaccinations appears to have ended, as official figures show that more than 410,000 people got the jab yesterday - the highest number so far this week.

A total of 16,337,561 Covid-19 vaccinations took place in England between December 8 and February 24, according to provisional NHS England data, including first and second doses, which is a rise of 411,146 on the previous day's figures.

Of this number, 15,794,992 were the first dose of a vaccine, a rise of 396,937 on the previous day, while 542,569 were a second dose, an increase of 14,209.

Twice this week the daily figure fell below 200,000.

02:36 PM

One in seven Londoners aged 70-plus have still not had the Covid jab

Around one in seven people aged 70 and over in London had yet to have their first dose of Covid-19 vaccine at the start of this week, new figures suggest.

An estimated 85.2 per cent of those aged 70 and over in the capital had received their first jab up to February 21, according to provisional figures from NHS England - the lowest proportion for any region.

The estimate for the whole of England is 95.9 per cent.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson said on February 14 that everyone in England in the top four priority groups, including those aged 70 and over, had been offered the vaccine.

02:33 PM

David Cameron urges Chancellor not to rise taxes before lockdown lifts

Former prime minister David Cameron warned Chancellor Rishi Sunak that tax rises "wouldn't make any sense at all" as the nation opens back up from lockdown.

Mr Cameron, warned against tax rises as he defended his own austerity policies, telling US broadcaster CNN: "Today we do face very different circumstances.

"So piling, say, tax increases on top of that before you've even opened up the economy wouldn't make any sense at all.

"I think it's been right for the Government here in the UK and governments around the world to recognise this is more like a sort of wartime situation."

David Cameron said the current situation was different to the backdrop to his austerity era - AFP
David Cameron said the current situation was different to the backdrop to his austerity era - AFP

02:28 PM

Surge testing begins in second London borough over South African variant outbreak

Surge testing is to be carried out in an area of Redbridge, east London, to control and suppress the potential spread of the South Africa coronavirus variant.

It follows an announcement earlier today that the same action is being taken in West London's borough of Ealing (see 11:27am).

"Working in partnership with the local authority, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed to a targeted area within the IG1 postcode in Redbridge, where the Covid-19 variant first identified in South Africa has been found," the Department for Health and Social Care said.

People living in this area are "strongly encouraged" to take a Covid-19 test when offered, whether they are showing symptoms or not.

02:25 PM

Gavin Williamson 'did nothing between September and December', claims union boss

The Education Secretary has been accused of "doing nothing" to prepare a contingency plan for exams being cancelled before his announcement in January.

Mary Bousted, joint general secretary of the National Education Union, said while the exams replacement was better than last year's chaos, "it has all been too late", despite warnings that he needed "a plan B".

She told Sky News: "Gavin Williamson spent from September to December saying exams would take place as Covid rates rose in schools, and infection rates rose in society. Then in January he said they ware not going to take place."

The plan announced today meant teachers had "14 weeks in school to come up with grades" - putting those in England under far greater time pressure than their equivalents in the other nations.

"Gavin Williamson did nothing between September and December," Dr Bousted added. "It was completely inadequate and teachers are now having to pick up the pieces.

"Yes, there has been consultation but there is very little time left for teachers to do this hugely important task."

02:17 PM

Further 254 Covid deaths registered in England's hospital

A further 254 people who have tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 82,410

Patients were aged between 26 and 99 years old. All except 13, aged 57 to 94 years old, had known underlying health conditions. The date of death ranges from 28 December to 24 February, with the majority being on or after 20 February.

The Midlands was the worst-affected region, with 63 deaths, followed by the North West with 47, and the North East & Yorkshire, with 38.

There were 36 deaths in London, 35 in the East of England, 21 in the South West and 14 in the South East.

02:12 PM

Exams watchdog 'perfectly happy' with Government plan

The interim head of the exams watchdog has said he is "perfectly happy" with the Government's plan for teacher assessment this year - but admitted he can't remember what advice he gave to ministers.

Simon Lebus, interim chief regulator of Ofqual, told BBC Radio 4's World At One: "I'm afraid I can't recall what I may or may not have advised the Government.

"But I am perfectly happy with the set of arrangements we have ended up with and I think it is right that they (the exam board question papers) should be there and available for school and teachers to use as a benchmark, but I don't think they need to be compulsory because I think there is all kinds of valid evidence that you can use to collect in arriving at your grading judgment."

On the prospect of grade inflation under the assessment scheme, he added: "There was a lot of grade inflation last year and I'm not expecting there is going to be a huge amount of grade inflation this year because we are adopting a completely different approach."

01:59 PM

Landlords sell up amid fears of capital gains tax hikes

Former rental properties have flooded the sales market as landlords escape the sector ahead of rumoured capital gains tax rises.

As previously reported by this newspaper, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is considering raising CGT rates to bring them in line with income tax. This would mean landlords could have to surrender a much larger chunk of their profits when they come to selling investment properties in the future.

The percentage of homes for sale that were previously rented out has risen across all English regions, according to research by property website Zoopla. Currently 7.2pc of all new stock in Britain is a former rental property.

The increase has been particularly stark in London and the South East, where the proportion is 13pc and 8pc respectively – up from about 5pc a year ago.

Read the full story here.

01:51 PM

Jacob Rees-Mogg joins string of MPs to blast 'unethical' spoof email research project

Jacob Rees-Mogg is among a string of MPs to condemn "unethical" academics for sending out spoof emails to MPs to gauge response times.

The Commons Leader told MPs it was "deeply foolish" for university staff at King's College London to send correspondences to elected representatives from fictitious constituents as part of a research project.

Conservative MP Chris Green said staff had wasted an estimated 650 hours responding to the spoof emails.

Mr Green told the Commons: it was "completely the wrong time" for King's College London to be sending "many hundreds of spoof emails to Members of Parliament.

Yesterday deputy speaker Dame Eleanor Laing said it was "disgraceful", noting the "great deal" of concern MPs had about the matter.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

01:38 PM

Have your say: Should the Budget include some tax rises?

With just a few days to go, the Budget is dominating the minds of people in Westminster.

Previously Treasury minister Jesse Norman said he thought that any post-Covid recovery could be strong enough to avoid tax rises - although the Chancellor has never been so bullish.

Indeed, MPs now think a fuel duty rise might be on the cards, while a corporation tax hike has already got the support of Rishi Sunak's former colleague Simon Clarke, among others, in a bid to start righting public finances without dampening recovery.

But with the situation as precarious as it is, is now the right time, or should the Government hold off until the autumn (or beyond?) Have your say in the poll below.

01:25 PM

Lord Speaker to step down early to campaign on HIV/Aids

The Lord Speaker Lord Fowler has announced he will be stepping down early from his role in the House of Lords to focus on campaigning on HIV/Aids and other issues.

The 83-year-old former health secretary said he had taken the decision to end his five-year tenure in late April a few months earlier than planned, and return to the backbenches to sit as an independent crossbencher.

Lord Fowler said: "It has been a privilege to serve as Lord Speaker these last five years, and to have worked with such exceptional colleagues who devote themselves daily to improving public life."

He said his main reason for stepping down earlier than expected was to enable him to campaign on HIV/Aids and other international issues of public health.

He added: "I want to spend the next years campaigning against these modern evils and trying to support the many individuals and organisations in the field who are working to turn the tide."

Lord Fowler will campaign against 'modern evils' of HIV/Aids - Andrew Crowley
Lord Fowler will campaign against 'modern evils' of HIV/Aids - Andrew Crowley

01:17 PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson is no populist, says No 10

Downing Street has rejected Philip Hammond's claim that Boris Johnson is running a "populist" Government and lacks the appetite to be unpopular by doing the right thing (see 8:11am).

The Prime Minister's press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said: "The Prime Minister has spoken about the tough choices ahead. There have been difficult choices he has had to make in responding to the pandemic and indeed over the months and years ahead there will be more of them.

"So, I don't recognise the picture the former chancellor makes."

She cited "difficult" policy decisions made by Mr Johnson, including to cut foreign aid, and to order people to stay at home during the coronavirus pandemic.

"This is a Prime Minister who is prepared to take difficult decisions and is weighing up very hard choices at the moment," Ms Stratton added.

The former chancellor accused Boris Johnson of running a "populist" government - Heathcliff O'Malley
The former chancellor accused Boris Johnson of running a "populist" government - Heathcliff O'Malley

01:12 PM

Lobby latest: Union committee demonstrates 'focus' and 'commitment' to UK, says No 10

The creation of a new Cabinet committee on the Union led by the Prime Minister is not a sign of "confusion and panic", but demonstrates the PM's "focus" and "commitment," his spokesman has said.

No 10 officials would continue to work in the Union unit, but the new Union strategy committee would build on existing structures, Downing Street confirmed today.

"We have the Union policy implementation committee also which is chaired by CDL (Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster Michael Gove) which will also meet more regularly," the spokesman told reporters.

"The Union policy implementation committee is chaired by CDL and that will have officials and other ministers attending as required, they will obviously implement the policy that's decided at the PM-led Union strategy committee.

"That will include, amongst others, the PM, CDL, the Chancellor, Secretary of State for Wales, Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Secretary of State for Scotland and Lord Frost."

01:10 PM

Lobby latest: Prisoners won't jump the queue for jabs, says No 10

Prisoners will not be vaccinated against coronavirus ahead of other groups, Downing Street has said.

The Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) handed final recommendations to ministers on Sunday, advising that teachers, police and other key workers should not get priority for Covid jabs but prisoners can be vaccinated en masse, The Times reported today.

But the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "That is obviously not the case and is not true. Prisoners won't be prioritised for vaccines.

"They are vaccinated at the same time as the general public in line with the JCVI (Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation) prioritisation groups, no quicker than that."

The priority list for phase two of the vaccination programme, to jab under-50s without clinical conditions, has not yet been published.

"The JCVI make their recommendation and we take it forward in terms of the vaccination programme," he said.

01:08 PM

Lobby latest: Pubs will be able to serve takeaway alcohol from April 12

Downing Street has confirmed that pubs will be able to serve takeaway drinks from April 12, in a potential boost for bars without gardens.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Outdoor hospitality is permitted so I believe it would be the case that takeaway alcohol will be permitted."

Takeaway-yay: A welcome clarification for pubs without beer gardens - Bloomberg
Takeaway-yay: A welcome clarification for pubs without beer gardens - Bloomberg

01:05 PM

Lobby latest: Tory MPs will be sacked if they rebel on Budget, No 10 warns as row over fuel duty brews

Conservative MPs have been warned they could be stripped of the Tory whip if they vote against the Government at next week's Budget, as a row begins to brew over possible tax rises.

Asked if the votes will be considered a confidence issue for Tory MPs, the Prime Minister's press secretary, Allegra Stratton, said: "Yes."

It comes as tensions build over a possible rise to fuel duty, with sources telling the Telegraph the freeze looks unsustainable given the country’s deficit could soon exceed £400bn. However, rebel Tories are already threatening to rebel.

One MP said: “I think that the Conservative Party will make a grave error if it attempts to turn itself into a version of the Labour Party in terms of tax and spend policy.”

Another added: "Fuel duty and beer duty are basically Red Wall taxes, because if you're a Londoner, you probably don't have or need a car, but families in towns in the North and Midlands do. Alcohol consumption is also higher in the North.”

12:45 PM

Sturgeon and Davidson clash in explosive argument over Alex Salmond 'cover up'

Nicola Sturgeon has hit back against allegations that Alex Salmond's witness statement was redacted because of a "cover up", saying those claims risk undermining the integrity of Scotland's system.

MSPs could be heard gasping when Scottish Conservatives leader Ruth Davidson claimed the drama this week pointed to "a cover up".

But Ms Sturgeon claimed her rival was "sacrificing" institutions becsuse of the "ego of one man".

She added: "Scrutiny of me and the Scottish Government... it is not just legitimate, it is absolutely necessary.

"Anyone suggesting decisions in any way politically influenced or politically driven are not just wrong... I would also suggested signing up to dangerous conspiracy theory that risks undermining integrity of Scotland's independent justice system."

She accused Ms Davidson of "pursuing a scorched earth policy".

12:33 PM

No 'virtue, value or utility' in second Scottish referendum, says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has said there is no "virtue, value or utility" in having another independence referendum in Scotland, as he ruled out a second vote "in the foreseeable future".

The Prime Minister said: "I think the focus of politicians throughout the UK should be on fighting the pandemic, working together to defeat Covid and building back better."

Asked if Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon should resign, if she is found to have misled the Scottish Parliament, Mr Johnson said: "I'm focusing on fighting the pandemic and that's what we're all doing across the whole of the UK.

"I am indeed working across the whole of the UK right now to fight the pandemic I think that's what everyone wants us to do.

"That's what all politicians should be focused on, that should be our number one priority and for what it is worth, since you ask me to comment on these issues, I don't see the sense in having a referendum on the constitution of the UK whilst we're trying to defeat coronavirus."

12:22 PM

Exams replacement plan is 'durable', says Boris Johnson

Boris Johnson has insisted the exams replacement plan "will be durable" as he backed Gavin Williamson following last year's exams row.

On a visit to Accrington Academy in Lancashire on Thursday morning, Mr Johnson said while exams were preferable "this is as good a compromise as we can come to".

"I think it will be fair, I think it will be durable and it's the right way forward."

Asked if he had confidence in the Education Secretary, the Prime Minister replied: "Of course, and I think that what we are doing is the right thing to get all our students, our pupils, back on March 8, I think that is what parents, teachers and overwhelmingly what pupils want to do."

Students had "done very well, learning remotely, they've stuck with it, it's been productive and got better over the course of the lockdowns, but the best place for kids is in schools and they have got absolutely no doubt about it the pupils themselves", he added.

12:16 PM

Exam plan 'not ideal' but the 'best we can do', admits minister

The Government's plan to replace exams with teacher assessment is "not ideal" but "the best we can do" in the situation, the schools standards minister has admitted.

Nick Gibb this morning defended the move to full teacher assessment instead of summer exams, saying it was "the only fair system" given the disruption students have faced in the last year.

The minister - who was the main cheerleader of the infamous algorithm used last summer arguing they would prevent unsustainable grade inflation - insisted the new plan included "a whole raft of measures to make sure grades are a fair reflection" of each student's work.

12:01 PM

Education Secretary hits out at Labour criticism over 'en masse' return

Emma Lewell-Buck, Labour MP for South Shields, asks why the Education Secretary is not following advice for a phased return to schools, instead sending "10m children back en masse".

Gavin Williamson says she is "showing off the instinctive reaction of many people in the party that they don't want children to be going back to school".

He says the system of controls, including the Covid testing, will make sure classrooms are kept Covid free "to keep our children safe, to keep our workforce safe and to keep our communities safe as well".

11:58 AM

Education committee chairman warns against 'wild west of grading'

Conservative MP Rob Halfon has warned against "a wild west of grading", as a result of the second year of teacher assessment.

The education select committee chairman said rather than "having their cake and eating it", he risked "baking a rock cake of grade inflation into the system".

It was the least worst system, he noted, but asked what is the plan to make sure grades are "meaningful to employers, so as not to damage children's life chances, and when and how will we reverse grade inflation".

Gavin Williamson says grade inflation is "an important issue", which is why so much work is going on. But it was not possible to "peg to a certain year" because that would probably "entail the use of some sort of algorithm".

11:55 AM

Testing key to keeping classrooms Covid free, says Gavin Williamson

The JCVI is considering vulnerabilities and professions when compiling the next priority list, Gavin Williamson has said, but refused to "pre-empt" whether it will include teachers.

The Education Secretary has also rejected the use of rotas in schools, saying it is important that pupils have full-time class time.

"Testing will be a very important part of keeping classrooms Covid free," he adds. Uptake has been very high, and schools have "readily adapted to this testing regime", with 97 per cent of schools now having testing centres set up.

On exams, he stresses the Government will do everything possible to ensure there is support for teachers to make sure the assessments are carried out "fairly right across the system".

Consistency in both state and private schools is key, he adds, and there will be "proper checks in place to prevent malpractice within the system".

11:48 AM

Kate Green attacks Gavin Williamson over exams 'incompetence'

Kate Green says the delay in details about the exams plan for this year "means more weeks of anxiety" for students and teachers.

She points to the chaos of last summer, saying: "The real cause of the chaos was not an algorithm - it was his incompetence."

Noting the change in approach, Labour's shadow education secretary says she wonders why he "only trusts teachers when there is a chance to make them responsible for what happens with exams, rather than his department".

She asks for assurances grades will be consistent, and how to avoid pressure being put on schools to make sure they are fair.

11:45 AM

Gavin Williamson 'failing to do all he can to keep schools open'

Labour's shadow education secretary says it is "not enough" to say that schools will reopen, as she challenges him over poor preparation for the March 8 return to classroom.

Kate Green asks why there has been "no commitment to prioritise school staff" for vaccination, and she notes that schools have lost funding during the pandemic. She notes that ventilation plays an important role and asks him to update guidance.

The opposition MP also asks why face masks are "only temporary", and claims Gavin Williamson is "failing to do all he can to keep schools open".

11:42 AM

Gavin Williamson: No algorithm will be used on summer grades

"No algorithm will be used", to assess students grades, Gavin Williamson confirms, following last year's summer exams chaos.

"Grades will be awarded on the basis of teachers judgement and will only ever be changed by human intervention," he adds.

Qualifications similar to GCSE and A-levels will be based on similar arrangements, he says.

Exams and assessments of BTQs will go ahead so students can demonstrate "occupational" skills required.

As well as affecting learning, the pandemic has "put some of the wonder of growing up on hold", he says, but the Government will "start to put this right".

11:39 AM

'Widespread support' for exams replacement plan, says Gavin Williamson

Gavin Williamson says the exams replacement consultation received more than 100,000 responses, including from students, parents and teachers.

There was "widespread support" for the approach the Government is taking, he adds.

"The most important thing we can do is ensure the system is fair," he tells MPs, stressing it must be "a true and fair reflection of their work".

He confirms assessment will be based "on what they were taught, not what they missed".

Teachers can choose a range of assessments, and guidance will be supplied.

11:37 AM

Face masks in classrooms to last until Easter, says Gavin Williamson

Face coverings should be worn in secondary school classrooms, Gavin Williamson has said, confirming it is "a temporary measure" that will be "replaced at Easter".

Other measures includes bubbles, special timetables and increased hygiene measures.

He says children will need "longer term support to make up for lost learning", noting that Sir Kevan Collins is working on a "long-term plan" to make up for lost learning "over the course of their education".

He highlights the recovery premium already announced to support those "who need it most", alongside tutoring programmes for primary and secondary schools, as well as summer schools funding.

The Education Secretary says this builds on the £1bn package already announced.

11:33 AM

'The end is very clearly in sight', says Gavin Williamson

Boris Johnson's roadmap "isn't quite the end but the end is very clearly in sight", Gavin Williamson has told MPs, as he sets out the plans for the return and recovery of education.

He notes that the "one way road to freedom" will include "a robust testing regime in place" for when secondary schools reopen, noting that more than 4m have already been carried out.

The Education Secretary thanks staff for the work they have carried out so far, as he confirms plans for students to carry out twice weekly home testing, supported by on-site testing where needed.

11:30 AM

Alex Salmond to appear before Holyrood inquiry

Alex Salmond has agreed to appear before the Holyrood inquiry into the Scottish Government's unlawful investigation of sexual harassment claims made against him.

The former first minister pulled out of a scheduled hearing yesterday after the Scottish Parliament belatedly redacted his written submission the day before he was due to appear, but offered to attend on Friday instead.

He is expected to give evidence on the botched investigation and face questions about his claims that Nicola Sturgeon misled parliament and breached the ministerial code.

In his written submission, Mr Salmond named people he claims were involved in a "malicious and concerted" attempt to see him removed from public life, and described the Crown Office - the body responsible for prosecuting crimes in Scotland - as "simply not fit for purpose".

Ms Sturgeon has said there is "not a shred of evidence" there was a conspiracy against her former mentor, and denied lying to parliament. She is scheduled to appear before the committee to give evidence next week.

Sturgeon has said there is "not a shred of evidence" there was a conspiracy against her former mentor - Getty
Sturgeon has said there is "not a shred of evidence" there was a conspiracy against her former mentor - Getty

11:27 AM

Surge testing begins in Ealing after South African variant detected

Local authorities have begun surge testing in the West London borough Ealing, after "a small number" of South African variant cases were identified.

Additional testing and sequencing will be made available to control and suppress the potential spread of the variant, against which the vaccines are less effective.

Working in partnership with the London Borough of Ealing, additional testing and genomic sequencing is being deployed within the borough, the Department for Health and Social Care said.

"The increased testing, in combination with the current lockdown rules and following Hands Face Space advice, will help to monitor and suppress the spread of the virus. Positive cases will be sequenced for genomic data to help increase our understanding of Covid-19 variants and their spread."

People living in Ealing are strongly encouraged to take a test when offered.

11:24 AM

Covid cases fall by more than a fifth last week

The number of people testing positive for Covid in England fell by more than a fifth last week, official figures show.

A total of 84,310 people tested positive at least once in the week to February 17, according to the latest Test and Trace figures.

This is down 21 per cent on the previous week and is the lowest number since the week to September 30.

Some 86.8 per cent of people who were tested for Covid-19 in England in the week ending February 17 at a regional site, local site or mobile testing unit - a so-called "in-person" test - received their result within 24 hours.

This is up slightly from 85.4 per cent in the previous week, and is the highest figure since the week to July 8.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson had pledged that, by the end of June 2020, the results of all in-person tests would be back within 24 hours.

11:15 AM

Victoria Lambert: Is Gavin Williamson placing his trust in teachers, or setting them up to take the blame?

Anyone hoping for a clear policy for GCSEs, A levels and vocational qualifications this summer – let’s call it a Grades Roadmap – will be stunned to see the proposition placed before us in miniature this morning, writes Victoria Lambert.

There will be exams, yes, but also no exams. There will be external tests but internal marking. Assessments, yes, but teachers will be in charge. They will be monitored, and work will be checked and re-checked. But also, there will be “random sampling” and “targeted scrutiny” by exam boards. The Algorithm is dead. Grade inflation is dead.At first it feels like watching a controlled explosion of the entire grades system. One of those huge, antiquated tower blocks being collapsed into smoking rubble and a small mushroom cloud. I know there has been much talk of redesigning the way children sit exams – should we ditch exams at 16 or indeed do them at all – but I never expected the final move to come from inside Whitehall.

Read her column in full here.

11:11 AM

Government accused of 'playing political games' on genocide amendment

The Government has been accused of "playing political games" over the genocide amendment to the Trade Bill, in blocking MPs from having a "straight vote".

Instead of allowing MPs a vote on an amendment granting the High Court power to block trade deals with countries found to be carrying out genocide, the government had put forward an amendment by Tory MP Sir Bob Neill giving select committee chairs a say.

However the Lords have passed another amendment proposed by the former Liberal Democrat MP Lord Alton, giving the power to rule on genocide to a parliamentary panel of judicial experts, which will push the bill back to the Commons.

Labour MP Yasmin Qureshi asked Liz Truss " to guarantee that the Government, whilst not supporting the genocide amendment which is coming to the House soon, will the Government at least stop playing political games and allow a straight vote on the matter?"

The Trade Secretary said while she agreed "the atrocities committed by China in Xinjiang are abhorrent... the issue is expanding the role of the UK courts raises serious constitutional issues and instead this issue needs to be addressed politically."

10:56 AM

Jacob Rees-Mogg rejects calls for statement on High Court case brought by 'infamous fox murderer'

Jacob Rees-Mogg has rejected Labour's calls to have Matt Hancock make a statement to the House over the High Court ruling, on a case brought by "infamous fox murderer" Jolyon Maugham.

The Leader of the Commons was referring to an infamous admission by the Good Law Project director and barrister that he clubbed a fox to death on Boxing Day 2019, while wearing his wife's kimono.

Mr Rees-Mogg told Labour's Valerie Vaz that the lawyer was "not somebody I am particularly interested in".

Such complaints were simply "fussing and wasting time over the fact that my right hon friend the Secretary of State for Health and Social care was getting on with ordering PPE, rather than getting officials spend time filling out forms keeping this fox murderer happy."

The High Court ruling was "a technical breach - it was going to be put right away", he added, noting the documents were published "a fortnight late when very pressing businesses was being attended to".

10:49 AM

Serco dividends an 'outrage' after struggling Test and Trace, claim Labour

Labour frontbencher Rachel Reeves has said it is an "outrage" that Serco has resumed paying shareholder dividends.

Serco this morning reported pre-tax profits of £153.3m for 2020, up from £80.7m a year earlier.

Chief executive Rupert Soames told the BBC's Today programme that Test and Trace was "now a remarkable success and I acknowledge it has taken quite some time to get there." He also defended the company's decision to restart the paying of dividends to shareholders, stressing that profits from coronavirus work amounted to just one per cent of the company's profits.

But Ms Reeves said: “It will outrage taxpayers that their money - meant to fund a contact tracing system which has never been up to scratch - is instead being paid to Serco shareholders via dividends.

“It's typical of this government’s appalling waste during this pandemic - they should have done with contract tracing as they rightly did with the vaccine - place it in the hands of our NHS and our local communities, instead of using it to hand huge profits to Serco."

A Labour government would "drastically reform public service procurement," she added.

10:36 AM

Gavin Williamson 'failed to show leadership again' on exams, say Liberal Democrats

The Liberal Democrats have accused Gavin Williamson of leaving parents, teachers and students "in limbo" over exams, claiming it raises questions about the Education Secretary's leadership.

Daisy Cooper, the party's spokesperson for education, said he had "dithered and delayed about how to carry out assessments this year", after announcing exams would be cancelled back in January.

She noted that the Lib Dem education minister in Wales, Kirsty Williams, had confirmed the plan in November last year , but "by contrast, this government has needlessly left pupils parents and teachers in England wracked with anxiety and unable to plan."

Ms Cooper added: "While it is good news that it has finally been confirmed that teachers assessments will be used as the basis of grades this year, the Education Secretary's failure to show leadership once again during this crisis, has meant months of uncertainty for pupils and their teachers and given them less time to prepare for these new assessments."

10:23 AM

‘I rarely cheer at the television, but I cheered Laurence Fox on Question Time’, says former BBC Chairman

Lord Grade has held some of the most prestigious roles in television. As former BBC and ITV chairman and former CEO of Channel 4, he’s a veteran in the industry.

And his standout TV moment in recent years? Actor-turned-politician, Laurence Fox’s appearance on the BBC’s Question Time, where he accused an audience member of being “racist” for suggesting his view on the media’s treatment of Meghan Markle was less valid as a “white privileged male”.

“I thought, at last - a voice for those of us who are so sick of the intolerance”, he tells The Telegraph’s Planet Normal podcast, hosted by columnists Allison Pearson and Liam Halligan. “It’s not the agenda. The agenda is fine, and I respect people’s points of view, I just don’t respect the tone in which they do it, the woke brigade.”

But will Lord Grade back Mr Fox’s newly-launched Reclaim party on voting day? Listen to Planet Normal on the audio player below to find out.

10:12 AM

Focus Budget on 'net-zero Britain', says Conservative MP

The Conservative chairman of the environmental audit committee has called for "a tax system fit for net-zero Britain", warning there is "no vaccine against runaway climate change".

Philip Dunne said next week's Budget should be used as an opportunity "to start this process", with VAT reductions on vouchers to fund energy efficiency retrofits and tax incentives for electric cars.

He called for the Government to "frontload its investment" in areas such as VAT relief for green tech, creating green jobs and make nature protection front of mind during post-Covid recovery.

The former minister said: "The Covid-19 crisis must be treated as a wake-up call. It is a symptom of a growing ecological emergency. The economic recovery will shape our national economy for decades to come.

"A tax system fit for net-zero Britain is key. It will encourage innovation, give confidence to the sector and support companies to make the low-carbon transition."

He added: "There will be no vaccine against runaway climate change, and it is our responsibility now, using the opportunity of the economic recovery, to set the UK on track for net-zero."

10:02 AM

Government urged not to 'stand by' over Vauxhall Ellesmere Port crisis talks

Labour has urged the Government not to "stand by" as talks to try and save the Vauxhall Ellesmere Port plant rumble on, amid fears the factory could be wound down completely.

More than 1,000 people work at the site - with many more in the supply chain. A decision could come within the next 48 hours, despite no agreement being reached this week. Government officials met with company management and representatives of the local authority on Monday evening.

Ed Miliband, shadow business secretary, urged for ministers to step in.

"The Ellesmere Port plant is a major employer and winding it down would have devastating consequences, with a thousand highly-skilled jobs lost from the local community," he said.

"The Government must not simply stand by, because doing so risks worsening the unemployment crisis and dealing a huge blow to Cheshire and the automotive industry.

"They must act with real urgency to support our manufacturing industry and the jobs they provide."

09:50 AM

Boris Johnson to chair new strategy committee tasked with saving the Union

A new Cabinet committee tasked with saving the Union will meet for the first time next week, as Boris Johnson draws up new plans to combat the growing momentum for Scottish independence.

Senior Government sources have confirmed the Prime Minister will chair the committee, which will shape the strategy for preventing the breakup of the UK.

They also signalled that he is considering how new post-Brexit spending powers could allow the UK Government to intervene in areas that are devolved and controlled by the SNP administration.

The new Union Strategy (S) committee will complement an existing policy committee, and will be attended by Mr Johnson, Rishi Sunak, Michael Gove and the secretaries of state for Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. Lord Frost, who was last week promoted to the Cabinet to take charge of the UK’s future relations with the European Union, will also attend.

Read the full article here.

Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will be among those attending - Reuters
Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak will be among those attending - Reuters

09:35 AM

Exams replacement plan could lead to 'extremely high grade inflation', warns think tank

A think tank has warned that the Government's plans to replace exams with teacher assessment could lead to a huge disparity in results and "extremely high grade inflation".

Education Policy Institute chief executive Natalie Perera had said: "Without timely and detailed guidance for schools on how this year's grades should be benchmarked against previous years, and with classroom assessments only being optional, there is a significant risk that schools will take very different approaches to grading.

"This could result in large numbers of pupils appealing their grades this year or extremely high grade inflation, which could be of little value to colleges, universities, employers and young people themselves."

There is, however, largely cautious support for the proposals, with the National Education Union saying it is "likely the least worst option available".

Paul Whiteman, general secretary of school leaders' union Naht, said the plans "appear to chart a path which avoids the awful chaos of last year".

09:22 AM

Trainees and retirees to run catch-up summer schools, says minister

Trainee teachers and retirees could run the summer schools that are being funded, a minister has said.

Secondary schools in England are being asked to consider delivering face-to-face summer schools as part of efforts to help pupils catch up. Schools will have the option to run summer classes for pupils who need it most, potentially starting with those who will be moving up to Year 7 at secondary school this year.

Asked who would staff this, schools minister Nick Gibb told Sky News: "We want them run from schools but the reason why there is funding is to enable the schools to be able to employ people to be able to run those summer schools - we want a summer of activities.

"There are a whole raft of people who will be able to come in - young graduates, people who are training to be teachers, retired teachers - that is a matter for the school to decide.

"But we are providing £200 million to enable schools to run those summer schools, and that is on top of all the other measures."

09:14 AM

Keep going... as long as it's in your own home

The Government might be taking one of Matt Lucas's pastiches of previous advice a bit too seriously.

Last night, a new campaign launched urging Britons to "keep going" while also staying home as vaccines are rolled out and full lockdown restrictions remain.

The campaign will feature prominently across television, radio and social media.

Viewers are told that "every sacrifice, every day at home, every covered face - everything we're doing is helping stop the spread of Covid-19. Let's keep going."

Watch the video below.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

09:08 AM

Government-appointed recovery tzar quits over 'mini exams' row

A Government-appointed expert has resigned from Oqual's recovery committee in a row over the exams replacement plan.

Sir Jon Coles, chief executive of the United Learning group of schools, was named the Department for Education's nominated member on the committee in November. But schools minister Nick Gibb confirmed that he had quit in a row over the move to teacher assessment.

"He thought the exam materials that we were making available to teachers… as part of range of evidence to eczema boards, he wanted that to be compulsory, mandatory," Mr Gibb told Sky News. "We asked that in the consultation and the consultation was very clear they should be optional, not mandatory.

"We didn't want them to be regarded as mini exams," he added. "We canceled exams because they were unfair -we didn't want to replace them with another exam."

Sir Jon, who warned Gavin Williamson not to use the now-infamous algorithm before last summer's grades fiasco, wrote on Twitter the plan "risks an outcome in August much worse than last year's."

08:58 AM

Pupils will be given option to sit summer exams, says minister

Pupils will be able to sit exams if their teacher decides that is how they perform best, the schools minister has said.

Speaking to ITV's Good Morning Britain, Nick Gibbs said: "There will be mocks in some schools where that student can thrive.

"There is an option for teachers to use the question bank of past paper questions that exams boards are producing for schools to use if they wish, to give an extra layer of evidence that teachers can have and can compile to submit to the exam board.

"So I think there will be options for those students to take one of those optional papers or questions if the teacher decides that is best for the student."

Mr Gibb said there is "an autumn series" of exams available for those pupils who "really did want to take the exam" as part of any resit.

08:52 AM

Government trusts 'the judgement of teachers', says schools minister

The Government trusts "the judgment of teachers" to assess student grades this summer, the schools minister has said, amid warnings that the latest plan will lead to chaos.

Following last year's fiasco overseen by Mr Williamson, the Education Policy Institute (EPI) think tank warned the latest plans could cause "extremely high grade inflation".

But Nick Gibb told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "We trust the judgment of teachers. They're the people who know their pupils best.

"On top of that, there are all these checks both at the school level and at the exam boards level to make sure that we do get consistency and there is a range of evidence that backs up the judgment of that teacher when they send the grades to the exam board.

"There are all kinds of detailed guidance from the exam board to make sure that teachers across the country are applying their judgment in a consistent and fair way."

Education Secretary Gavin Williamson is to set out further details of how schools will be tasked with determining the grades in the House of Commons later on Thursday after exams were cancelled for a second successive year.

08:50 AM

Budget: Rishi Sunak readies a six-month extension to Universal Credit rise in Budget

A six-month extension to the £20-a-week uplift to Universal Credit will be announced in the Budget next Wednesday, The Telegraph understands.

The Prime Minister, Chancellor and Work and Pensions Secretary have arrived at an agreement on the issue following tense negotiations and pressure from backbenchers for a lengthier commitment.

Reports on Wednesday night suggested Mr Sunak will retain the fuel duty freeze and extend VAT cuts for the hospitality and tourism sectors. He is also facing calls to consider high street vouchers for shoppers and lower alcohol duty for restaurants and pubs hit by Covid-19.

Read the full story here.

08:29 AM

Parents urged to encourage children to take Covid tests

The schools minister appealed to parents to allow their children to take part in the voluntary testing regime once classrooms reopen next month.

Nick Gibb told Times Radio: "It is not mandatory and any child will need the permission of a parent for the test to be administered.

"This is just one more way of identifying positive cases - without this system, you might miss these asymptomatic cases.

"But for every person who takes a test, that helps us to identify positive cases.

"Of course we can't make it mandatory on parents but we just hope that most parents will see the wisdom of testing their children twice a week.

"And the first three tests will be in school so the students, who will do it themselves actually, will learn how to do it effectively and then testing kits will be sent home."

08:27 AM

Schools Covid tests 'not compulsory', says minister

Twice-weekly Covid tests of secondary students are "not compulsory", the schools minister has said.

Asked whether it should be a case of "no test, no school", Nick Gibb told LBC radio: "No, we want to make sure it is not compulsory in that sense, and they will need the permission of the parents.

"In all these things, it is a balance of risk and just having anybody tested frankly and identifying asymptomatic cases is a bonus in terms of minimising the risk.

"But we do expect and we hope that most students, the vast majority of students will volunteer to have these tests twice a week and then, after the third test, there will be home testing kits for those students."

Students takes a COVID-19 test at Oasis Academy  - PA
Students takes a COVID-19 test at Oasis Academy - PA

08:20 AM

Alex Salmond believes 'there was a conspiracy to get him', claims friend

Former first minister Alex Salmond believes his one-time protege Nicola Sturgeon and allies have been "stitching him up", according to a friend.

Alex Neil MSP told BBC Radio 4s Today programme: "He believes that there was a conspiracy to get him.

"Initially he thought it was an attempt to keep him out of public life and not allow him back into the Scottish Parliament after he lost his Westminster seat.

"But I think since then this has grown and he believes a number of people have been involved in conspiring against him and stitching him up."

Asked if Mr Salmond believes Nicola Sturgeon and her circle were involved in a conspiracy to "do him down", Mr Neil replied: "Basically, I think he does, yes."

Mr Neil added: "I think Alex believes after he lost his Westminster seat there was a possibility of a by-election in Scotland in his neck of the woods and he believes some people were frightened of him coming back in, which he says he had no intention of doing anyway."

 Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond  - Getty
Former Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond - Getty

08:18 AM

Exams plan 'fair and flexible' for students and teachers, says Boris Johnson

The new exams replacement plan will be "fair and flexible", Boris Johnson has promised.

The Prime Minister: "No child should be left behind as a result of learning lost during the pandemic. That's why students will receive grades awarded and determined by teachers."

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.
This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.

08:14 AM

Face masks in schools 'not mandatory' but 'highly recommended', says Nick Gibb

Wearing face masks in secondary schools is not compulsory but is being "highly recommended", Nick Gibb has said.

Speaking to BBC Breakfast, the schools minister said: "We are saying it is not mandatory for schools to have masks in classrooms but it is highly recommended because we want to do everything we can to reduce the risk of transmission in the school.

"So there is twice-a-week testing of students, staff as well. We have all those measures in place - hand hygiene, the cleaning of surfaces, the ventilation, staggered lunchbreaks and play times - all those measures designed to minimise the risk of infection and transmission within the school.

"And this is one more measure just to help reduce that where you can't have social distancing in a classroom."

Face masks "not mandatory", says schools minister Nick Gibb - E+
Face masks "not mandatory", says schools minister Nick Gibb - E+

08:11 AM

Former chancellor tells 'populist' Prime Minister to give public 'difficult home truths' before Budget

Former chancellor Philip Hammond has urged Boris Johnson to tell the public "some difficult home truths" ahead of next week's Budget.

Lord Hammond of Runnymede said the Government should ditch "very extravagant" promises from its manifesto, telling the BBC: "My fear is that, as a populist government, giving money away is always easier than collecting it in."

He added: "The Government will be tempted not to move quickly back to normalising the relationship between government and citizen, the balance between taxing and spending, as we move out of the crisis and into the next phase, which is dealing over the longer term with the legacy of this Covid crisis - what the economists called the scarring effect on the British economy."

Lord Hammond was appointed to the Lords by Boris Johnson despite being stripped of the Tory whip as an MP in 2019 for joining with those attempting to block a no-deal Brexit.

07:51 AM

Abolish Northern Ireland Protocol, Tory MPs demand

The Northern Ireland Protocol must be abolished rather than tweaked, the European Research Group will urge the Government on Thursday.

The hardline Tory Brexiteers will publish a report, seen by The Telegraph, urging Boris Johnson to overhaul the problematic protocol rather than work with the EU to amend it.

It comes amid a growing outcry over bureaucracy and checks, required under the protocol, hampering the inward flow of some goods to Northern Ireland from Great Britain.