Politics latest news: Government 'very concerned' by supermarket empty shelves - watch live

  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.
·26 min read
In this article:
  • Oops!
    Something went wrong.
    Please try again later.

The Government is "very concerned" about the pictures of empty shelves, a minister has said, as a supermarket boss urged people not to return to the "dark days" of panic buying.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, said a list of critical workers who will be eligible for loosened isolation rules if pinged by the Covid app will be published today. Previously Downing Street said no such list would be created.

He told Sky News: "Obviously we are very concerned about the situation. I have spoken to members of the British Retail Consortium and other people, and we are monitoring the situation.

"We're going to announce a list of exempt workers. The list of exemptions will be quite narrow because, obviously, you have to draw the line somewhere."

It comes as Richard Walker, the managing director of the supermarket chain Iceland, urged people not to panic buy, saying that empty shelves were "isolated" incidents.

"There are some availability issues... but there is enough to go around," he told the BBC. "The people who should be panicking are the Government - the sooner they clear up this mess, the better."

​​Follow the latest updates below.

10:13 AM

Minister rejects call to end isolation rule now

Mark Harper, the chairman of the Covid Recovery Group, says his reading is that "the decision has been taken" to use a Covid passport, and demands that the Government bring legislation forward for a vote.

The Forest of Dean MP asks about comments made by Kwasi Kwarteng this morning regarding businesses allowing staff to take a test after being pinged, and working if it is negative.

"If it is not safe now, how does it suddenly become safe on Aug 16? And given it is safe on Aug 16, can we not just implement it now?" he asks. Not acting now means people will delete the app, which will make us less safe, he adds.

Nadhim Zahawi says there are "no easy decisions", but reiterates the value of isolation.

"We are working flat out with critical infrastructure, with key workers, to make sure that people have that ability to test... instead of self-isolation."

10:03 AM

Exemption list could be delayed, minister warns

A minister has warned that the exemption list might not be released until recess - despite a colleague having said it would be published today.

Speaking in the Commons, Jeremy Hunt wished the Speaker "a ping-free summer" as he notes that a 10th of people have deleted the Covid app already.

He asked if the Government will "listen to public opinion" and scrap the isolation requirement "immediately" for those who have been double jabbed. He warns that "we risk losing social consent" if not.

Nadhim Zahawi told the former health secretary, who masks up after his question, that people are still coming forward to be vaccinated, stressing the value of isolation.

"If you allow all these things to happen too rapidly and allow people to decide not to isolate, you run the risk of the infection rate running away with us, and challenging the strategy of... being the first major economy to transition [out of the pandemic]."

He said the Government is "working flat out" to get the exemption list, saying MPs will "be the first to receive that.. even during recess".

09:58 AM

Nadhim Zahawi: Pandemic will become 'manageable menace status' through isolation

Nadhim Zahawi has defended the use of isolation, saying it is the second most powerful tool that the Government has to stop the spread of Covid.

The vaccines minister told MPs: The most effective tools we have is of course the vaccine programme, followed by the tool of self-isolation.

"We need to transition this virus from... pandemic to manageable menace status."

09:52 AM

Labour attacks Government 'shambles'

Jonathan Ashworth said yesterday's pay rise announcement was "a shambles", with ministers "dragged kicking and screaming" to give the three per cent pay rise.

He asks whether junior doctors will be included, and whether it will extend to social care workers.

The shadow health secretary says there have been "briefing and counter-briefing" about what may be coming for the social care reform, asking whether the manifesto pledge on National Insurance will be broken to pay for it.

He also asks about the "apparent U-turn" on the exemption list, and asks for an "absolute guarantee" that PCR tests will be able to keep up with demand.

09:48 AM

Mandatory vaccines for nightclub entry 'not a step we take lightly'

Nadhim Zahawi praises the "protective wall" offered by vaccinations, particularly after both doses of the jab.

The minister says this underpins the strategy for the next few months, including international travel and the lifting of domestic restrictions.

He reiterates the Aug 16 end point for isolation rules, and that at the end of September full vaccination will be a condition of entry to "high risk settings".

Everyone will have been offered the vaccine by that point, he adds.

"This is not a step that we take lightly," Mr Zahawi says.

09:45 AM

Covid pass 'the right thing to do' in large venues, says minister

Nadhim Zahawi then turns to his statement, highlighting the new campaign to recommend face masks and social distancing, despite the legal restrictions having been dropped.

The vaccines minister says he knows the Covid pass has been "of great interest" to MPs - which is somewhat euphemistic - which will "allow people safely and securely to prove their vaccination status".

"Although we don't encourage its use in essential settings like supermarkets, other businesses and organisations in England can adopt the pass as a means of entry where it is suitable for their venue or premises when they can see its potential to keep their clients or their customers safe," he said.

"For proprietors of venues and events where large numbers are likely to gather and likely to mix with people from outside their households for prolonged periods, deploying the pass is the right thing to do."

He added: "The pass has an important role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and so we reserve the right to mandate its use in the future."

09:42 AM

Nadhim Zahawi thanks Speaker for keeping show on the road during pandemic

Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, thanks the Speaker and "everyone who works here" for having kept MPs safe and Parliament running throughout the pandemic.

It is an "incredible achievement," he adds.

It follows yet another telling off from Sir Lindsay Hoyle about a key announcement being made outside the Commons chamber.

09:41 AM

Speaker slams Sajid Javid for making pay rise announcement 'from his garden'

The Speaker has wrapped the knuckles of Helen Whately and Sajid Javid for giving a statement to the House yesterday that did not include the widekly-trailed announcement about NHS pay rises.

Sir Lindsay Hoyle said he was "far from happy" that the social minister had given an update "with no mention" of the pay rise.

"I find it difficult to believe that negotiations were going beyond that time," he added, saying the House should be "the first, not the last to know".

He attacked the Health Secretary for having made the announcement "from his garden".

09:36 AM

Environment Secretary attempts to play down empty shelves concerns

The Environment Secretary has attempted to play down concerns over supermarket supplies by insisting staff shortages were lower now compared to earlier in the Covid-19 pandemic.

George Eustice told MPs: "Over the past 18 months the key workers in our food supply chain have worked incredibly hard to keep the nation fed during the difficult context of the pandemic.

"The recent hot weather has increased demand for some items, like bottled water, and staff absences have increased but remain lower than seen earlier in the pandemic.

"We are working with colleagues across Government to support businesses in the food supply chain."

09:18 AM

Improve isolation sick pay to 'stop Covid spreading like wildfire', says TUC

The Government has been called on to bolster isolation support payments, in a bid to "stop Covid spreading like wildfire through workplaces".

TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: "With hundreds of thousands of cases reported in the past week - and over half a million people pinged - it beggars belief that ministers are still refusing to provide decent sick pay.

"The baffling decision this week to exclude millions of low-paid workers from access to any form of sick pay looks more foolish by the day.

"We know that many working in hospitality and other frontline roles do not earn enough to even qualify for the statutory minimum. They shouldn't be forced to choose between doing the right thing and being plunged into financial hardship."

09:12 AM

Supermarkets race to restock shelves

Further supermarkets have joined Iceland in urging the public not to panic buy, saying they are working to fill the empty shelves at speed.

A Co-op spokesman said: "We are sorry that we are running low on some products. Like many retailers, we are impacted by some patchy disruption to our deliveries and store operations but we are working closely with our suppliers to get re-stocked quickly."

A Sainsbury's spokeswoman said: "We are working hard to ensure customers can find what they need.

"While we might not always have the exact product a customer is looking for in every store, large quantities of products are being delivered to stores daily and our colleagues are focused on getting them on to the shelves as quickly as they can."

09:09 AM

Government must rethink exemptions for retailers, says trade body

The Government "needs to rethink" its refusal to allow retail workers to join the exemption list, the head of the British Retail Consortium has said.

Helen Dickinson told Sky News: "Businesses have shared data on absence rate with the Government. They are looking at that right now and our hope is that in the coming hours they will shift on that position because what none of us want to see is increased disruption."

She stressed that people should not panic buy, despite availability issues.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, said earlier today that the exemption list would be published today - despite Downing Street having previously said there would be no list, and that people would have to apply on a case-by-case basis.

09:05 AM

Pingdemic causing issues 'up and down supply chain'

Businesses are coming under "extreme pressure" , with up to a quarter of staff absent because of the pingdemic, the chief executive of the Food and Drink Federation has said.

Ian Wright told Sky News the problem was "up and down the supply chain", affecting those working in manufacturing, meat processing, distribution and "really severe problems in hospitality".

He added: "It's not consistent in every part of the country and supply chain, but where it is happening it is bad."

08:56 AM

'Industry-wide driver shortages' force BP to shut garages

BP has had to shut "a handful" of its garages because of a shortage of fuel, because of "industry-wide driver shortages" caused by the pingdemic.

In a statement, the retailer said: "We are experiencing some fuel supply issues at some of our retail sites in the UK and unfortunately have therefore seen a handful of sites temporarily close due to a lack of both unleaded and diesel grades. However, the vast majority of these temporary issues are being resolved within a day.

"Our supply chain has been impacted primarily by the industry-wide driver shortages across the UK. The situation was exacerbated last week by the temporary closure for a number of days of our Hemel Hempstead fuel distribution terminal due to necessary Covid-19 isolations amongst staff there. The terminal is now operating as normal once again.

"We are working hard with our haulier supplier to deliver fuel into sites and minimise any disruption to our customers. We apologise for any inconvenience caused."

08:46 AM

Who plotted with whom in Dominic Cummings’s Dirty 'Few Dozen'?

Et tu, Dominic? - Reuters/BBC
Et tu, Dominic? - Reuters/BBC

If Boris Johnson masochistically decided to watch the BBC’s interview with Dominic Cummings, he is now aware that he was supposedly the subject of the most treacherous political plot since the Ides of March.

Within days of his landslide victory of December 2019, Cummings and his inner circle were “having meetings in No 10” in which they discussed “trying to get rid of him and get someone else in as prime minister”.

Pressed on how many plotters there were, he replied: “A few dozen, maybe.”

Startling stuff. A “few dozen” sounds uncannily like the 60-odd senators who participated in the assassination of Julius Caesar. Et tu, Dominic?

Did the plot ever even exist? And if so, who might the co-conspirators have been?

Gordon Rayner casts his eye over the potential plotters here.

08:34 AM

Don't blame the app for being pinged, says British Medical Association

People should not blame the NHS Covid app for being pinged, a spokesman for the British Medical Association has said, stressing that it just reflects the surge in cases.

Dr Tom Dolphin, a consultant anaesthetist in central London, said it was "very unfortunate" that people are deleting the app.

"I think that if you blame the app for it, it overlooks the point which is that the app is reflecting the huge rate of transmission in the community," he told Sky.

"The reason there's a pingdemic is because there's a pandemic. People are being infected and testing positive in huge numbers, and blaming the app for that is like blaming the fire alarm for going off when there's a fire."

08:27 AM

Shameful: Sir Keir Starmer attacks 3pc pay rise for NHS

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

08:20 AM

'Political interference': China rejects WHO call to re-investigate Covid origins

China has rejected a World Health Organization (WHO) plan to investigate laboratories and markets in Wuhan as part of the hypothesis that Covid could have escaped from a Chinese laboratory.

"We will not accept such an origins-tracing plan as it, in some aspects, disregards common sense and defies science," Zeng Yixin, Vice Minister of the National Health Commission, told reporters.

"We hope the WHO would seriously review the considerations and suggestions made by Chinese experts and truly treat the origin tracing of the Covid virus as a scientific matter, and get rid of political interference."

The Vice Minister said he was taken aback when he first read the WHO plan because it lists the hypothesis that a Chinese violation of laboratory protocols had caused the virus to leak during research.

The head of the WHO said earlier in July that investigations into the origins of the Covid-19 pandemic in China were being hampered by the lack of raw data on the first days of spread there.

Mr Yixin stressed that some data could not be completely shared due to privacy concerns.

08:11 AM

Goverment's mixed messages causing 'confusion and havoc', says Nervtag scientist

The Government's mixed messages "are creating confusion and havoc", a Nervtag scientis has said.

Ravi Gupta, a Cambridge University professor, told Sky News: "It is a little bit difficult to justify people doing self-isolation when in fact we have held huge sporting events with large amounts of transmission that have probably gone undetected.

"So it's a sort of half-hearted measure that is affecting the lives of many people, many of whom will be depending on their income on a daily basis, and for whom a week of isolation is disastrous.

"This is not a sort of call that I can make, but all I would say is that if this was part of a coherent strategy, where there was national buy-in with the right messaging, I don't think that this would be such a problem and we could have mitigation measures in place."

08:04 AM

Boris Johnson has failed 'miserably' to translate levelling up into more than 'political soundbite': report

Boris Johnson's levelling up agenda risks becoming an “everything and nothing policy” that lacks definition, coordination and planning, according to an all-party group of MPs.

The Beis committee report said the Government was unclear about whether the agenda extended to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland or just covered the regions of England.

Darren Jones, the committee chairman, said: "We still have no clarity on what levelling up means, how much it will cost, who will pay for it, who is responsible for delivering it and how we will measure success."

"The Government has failed miserably at translating a political soundbite into a real programme of government," he added.

07:58 AM

Keep life moving: Government launches new awareness campaign

People in England are being urged to continue wearing face coverings in crowded places, and use the NHS Covid app to check in to venues, despite legal requirements to do so being lifted.

An official information campaign, which will hit airwaves, newspapers and other media from today, will see the Government replace its "hands, face, space, fresh air" slogan with its new catchphrase: "Keep life moving".

A video fronted by TV doctor Dr Amir Khan will also recommend people continue to follow social distancing guidance.

The advice comes despite Monday being trumpeted as England's "freedom day", with Prime Minister Boris Johnson removing almost all legal restrictions, including social distancing guidelines.

07:47 AM

Three per cent pay rise for NHS staff 'fair', says minister

The three per cent pay rise for NHS staff in England and Wales is "fair", the Business Secretary has said, amid the prospect of unions taking industrial action.

Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News: "The independent review has recommended a per cent increase and the Government has decided that we'll go with the independent review.

"I think that's entirely fair. Obviously we'd like it to be more but you've got to remember we spent £350 billion to deal with the pandemic.

"I think per cent, which, after all, was what the independent review came up with, is a fair number."

07:42 AM

Brexit and pingdemic causing 'recipe for chaos' in lorry driver shortages

Brexit and the pingdemic have exacerbated existing lorry driver shortages to create "a recipe for chaos", the managing director of policy at the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said.

Rod McKenzie said: "We started off with a shortage of 100,000 UK lorry drivers, and that's because we've always had a shortage of 60,000 and we've lost an additional 20,000 European drivers.

"Add to that 30,000 cancelled lorry driving tests in the past year which haven't been made up, that's a shortage of 100,000, and when you're that short on staff to begin with, and you have the pingdemic on top of that, you've got a recipe for chaos, and chaos is what we're now seeing unfolding in front of our eyes."

He added: "What we're able to see is the effect in terms of our shops, our supermarkets and everything else. There are fewer drivers than there were last week - and there were shortages last week.

"Since the pingdemic has peaked we're seeing this critical shortage get even worse."

07:39 AM

Government confusion over 'what is essential' exacerbating pingdemic

The Government's "confusing advice" over whether lorry drivers must isolate when 'pinged is partly to blame for the shortage of staff, the Road Haulage Association (RHA) has said.

When asked how long he expects the shortage to last, according to Rod McKenzie, the group's managing director of policy, said: "It will last as long as the Government continues to give confusing advice.

"We're in this pickle because the Government says a small number of essential workers are exempt from isolating if they've been double-jabbed and test negative, but what is essential?

"At the beginning of the pandemic it was very clear that lorry drivers were essential workers, but in this latest advice it's not clear.

"Are we essential? Of course we're essential. Does the Government think we're essential? We don't know."

07:30 AM

MPs might not get vote on Covid vaccine passport, minister admits

A minister has refused to confirm that rules to introduce mandatory Covid passports will be put to a Commons vote, with the number of rebel MPs making a defeat likely.

Kwasi Kwarteng, the Business Secretary, told Radio 4's Today programme said: "You can never predict parliamentary votes, but we have a majority of 80 and I am very confident that we can pass the legislation that we require."

Asked if there would be a list of named events the passport would apply to before the vote, he said: "I don't know the proposed vote will be... it might just be a general vote on the concept of vaccine passports. "

Asked if a vote would take place at all, he said: "I don't know... if the vote does occur, I am confident the Government will preserve a majority."

07:26 AM

Government 'isn't panicking' over pingdemic, insists minister

Shoppers "shouldn't be panicking" about availability of food and other produce, the Business Secretary has said - but insisted he is not either.

Responding to comments by Iceland boss Richard Walker, Kwasi Kwarteng told Radio 4's Today programme: "I am not panicking, I am looking at the evidence.

"We have set out very clear rules, whatever we said would have been under attack and that is fair enough.

"There are some saying we should have extended the lockdown, others saying we should have eased restrictions sooner," he added. "Between the two we have taken a very balanced approach."

07:23 AM

Aug 16 will mark 'enormous change', says minister

The end of isolation requirements on Aug 16 will see an "enormous" change, the Business Secretary has said.

He confirmed that restrictions would be lifted "across the board", including the requirement to isolate.

"I fully expect that restrictions will be lifted, that is what we are working towards," he added.

07:21 AM

Empty shelves 'not universal', insists minister

The Business Secretary has said he is "very concerned about some developments", but stressed that empty shelves were "not a universal thing".

Kwasi Kwarteng told Radio 's Today programme: "I don't want people to get the impression that every shelf in every supermarket is bare - that's certainly not the case.

"But we are certainly concerned about instances of shortages, looking at the supply chains of certain industries," he added.

07:19 AM

Exemption list to be published today, says Business Secretary

Kwasi Kwarteng has said the pingdemic is "challenging" but stressed it is just the latest in a long list of problems posed by the pandemic.

The Business Secretary told Radio 4's Today programme firms should not "apply" to get on the exemption list - contradicting previous messages from Downing Street - as he confirmed the list will be published today.

"We will be publishing today the sectors which will be affected," he added, but refused to "pre-empt" which jobs would be included.

07:16 AM

Government has not lost the battle in pingdemic, insists minister

A minister has rejected suggestions that large numbers of people are ignoring the requirement to isolate after being alerted by the NHS Covid app, saying "that is why it's called a pingdemic.

Asked about the case of Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley, who has told staff to return to work if they test negative, Kwasi Kwarteng stressed the "vast majority of people are still isolating".

Asked if the Government has "lost the battle", he told Radio 4's Today programme: " I don't think we have...

"People are following the rules, they are getting pinged and self isolating - largely. I would strongly recommend they continue to do that."

07:07 AM

Change isolation rules or face further disruption, Government told

Self-isolation should be amended for people working in food supply chains before the disruption worsens, the head of the British Retail Consortium has said.

"Either those rules need to change or something else in the wall of defences against the virus needs to be considered," Helen Dickinson told BBC Breakfast.

She said she was not calling for the app to be ditched but added: "I want to be really clear that the ... disruption that we are already seeing will only get worse."

Bringing forward the date double-vaccinated people will not need to self-isolate if they come into contact with a positive case could be one solution. It is currently scheduled for Aug 16.

07:04 AM

Food delivery drivers told to take Covid test and return to work if they are pinged

A food distribution firm struggling with staff shortages is advising workers who are pinged by the NHS app to take tests and continue working, in breach of the Government advice.

Bidfood chief executive Andrew Selley defended his approach, telling Radio 4's Today programme: "We know that they're critical workers as part of the food supply chain, so if people are obviously positive or contacted by Test and Trace then they will have to isolate."

Told his testing programme is contrary to Government advice, Mr Selley said: "We think that's appropriate and safe. The ping is advisory."

Mr Selley said 100 staff from around 20 depots across the country were off isolating on Wednesday, presenting a "real challenge" with deliveries delivered late, or even the next day.

07:01 AM

Consumers may have 'less choice' of produce over pingdemic pressures, admits BRC boss

Supermarkets are already trying to work around staff shortages caused by the pingdemic, the head of the British Retail Consortium has said.

Helen Dickinson told BBC Breakfast: "Everybody I am talking to is seeing absence rates that are higher than they would normally expect. They are already taking mitigating actions which include changing shifts, reducing hours and, in some cases, needing to close stores."

Consumers could get less choice in supermarkets, face longer waits for deliveries or reduced opening hours from their local stores between now and when the rules are due to change on Aug 16.

"I think what the most important thing for Government to do is to recognise that the current situation is untenable," she said.

07:00 AM

Don't panic: BRC boss urges people to stay calm - but admits pingdemic might force store closures

Some food retailers will be forced to close stores because of the number of staff being told to self-isolate by the NHS app, the chief executive of the British Retail Consortium has warned.

Helen Dickinson told BBC Breakfats that some areas of the country were harder-hit than others, making businesss owners increasingly anxious.

"Right now [Aug 16] feels a long time away given the rises that we're seeing in case numbers," she said.

"There will be many smaller businesses where if they only have one or two staff and they need to self-isolate, then that's them needing to close their doors completely.

"What is the most important thing is that people don't panic because there's no need to panic, because there's plenty of food in the country."

06:56 AM

EU may back down on renegotiating Northern Ireland protocol, says minister

The EU could back down and renegotiate the Northern Ireland protocol, despite Brussels having ruled it out yesterday, the Business Secretary has said.

Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News the protocol was "not something that was in stone, not something that was going to last forevermore".

He added: "A deal is a deal but it wasn't something that was going to last forever. Nobody thought the Northern Ireland protocol was going to define the role of Northern Ireland within the UK forevermore, it was something that was flexible.

"You'll remember two years ago people said we were never going to get a deal from the EU but we did so. When people say they're not going to look at the protocol again, I say 'well, let's just see'."

06:52 AM

Government unlikely to rise National Insurance for social care reform, says minister

The Business Secretary has said he does not expect the Government to increase national insurance to cover the long-anticipated social care reforms.

Kwasi Kwarteng told Sky News it was a manifesto commitment that he "hoped" would not be broken although did not rule out other tax rises.

"I don't see how we could increase national insurance, but... we've lived through an unprecedented time, we've been spending huge amounts of money that we never thought was possible and it's up to the Chancellor and the Treasury, and the wider Government, to decide the Budget," he said.

A social care plan will come "by the autumn", he added - later than was expected.

06:34 AM

Boris Johnson faces Commons defeat over vaccine passports

Boris Johnson faces defeat in the House of Commons over his plans to bring in vaccine passports after Labour indicated that it would oppose the measures.

A Labour spokesman said making people show proof of Covid jabs for "everyday access" to venues was "costly, open to fraud and impractical".

Mr Johnson said on Monday that he would change the law to require proof of two doses of a Covid vaccine for entry into nightclubs and "other venues where large crowds gather".

To do so he must hold a vote in the Commons and the Lords but is now facing opposition from both Labour and the Liberal Democrats, with defeat a real possibility.

06:34 AM

Good Morning

It's the last day of term - but there is no sign of the pressure easing on the Government.

After yesterday's warning that the protocol was leading to empty shelves in Northern Ireland, it seems the rest of the United Kingdom is facing the more immediate issue of pingdemic staff absences resulting in food shortages.

Meanwhile frontline health workers have said they may resort to industrial action over the three per cent pay rise, announced last night (some hours after expected).

And, with the EU having rejected out of hand the UK's call to renegotiate the protocol, will Boris Johnson call their bluff?

Here's today's front page.

This content is not available due to your privacy preferences.
Update your settings here to see it.
Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting