Hopes of June 21 reopening not extinguished by Indian variant, No 10 signals

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Friends hug outside a restaurant in London as Britain eased some coronavirus restrictions on Monday - VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock
Friends hug outside a restaurant in London as Britain eased some coronavirus restrictions on Monday - VICKIE FLORES/EPA-EFE/Shutterstock

Hopes of a grand unlocking on June 21 have not been extinguished, as Boris Johnson said he does not "see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate" from the next phase of the planned roadmap out of lockdown.

During a visit to a vaccination centre in London on Tuesday, the Prime Minister said that "we will know a lot more in a few days' time" if further easing will go ahead as planned on June 21.

On Monday there were fears that the review date of when social distancing rules can be lifted would be pushed back due to mounting concerns over the Indian variant, but senior Government sources this morning said they hope the review will be ready by June 14.

On this date Mr Johnson is expected to confirm whether step four of the roadmap can go ahead as planned.

It had been expected that the review would conclude that the one metre plus rule and compulsory mask wearing would be converted from law into guidance.

The suggestion that the final lifting of restrictions could be delayed angered Tory MPs and even Cabinet ministers, but Mr Johnson's comments today suggest that the review could still report in time for June 21.

​​Follow the latest updates below.

03:27 PM

That's it for another day...

Yesterday's fears that the grand unlocking on June 21 was going to be delayed due to the Indian variant spreading across the UK have been somewhat calmed by Boris Johnson today, who said: "I don't see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map".

Downing Street said on Monday that a review of social distancing rules, due to report by the end of this month, could be delayed. This has also been thrown into question as senior Government sources this morning said they hope the review will be ready by June 14.

The Prime Minister added today that "we'll know a lot more in a few days' time" about the scheduled roadmap of easing out of lockdown.

In other news, a nurse who looked after Mr Johnson when he was seriously ill with Covid-19 has resigned, citing the Government's 1 per cent pay offer to the NHS and its lack of respect for the profession.

In a fresh attack on No 10's Covid-19 response, Dominic Cummings published a new Twitter rant saying that "pseudo lockdowns" are "hopeless". This new line of attack comes as the Government considers local restrictions to contain the spread of the Indian variant.

Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham made it clear today that the possible return of local lockdowns would be fiercely resisted in the North West of England, saying: "Last year, tiers did not work - they did not stop the spread of the virus." Instead he proposed a speed up of the vaccination programme in places struggling with an Indian variant surge.

Environment Secretary George Eustice said today that the Government wants to do trade deals with other countries "but obviously on the right terms", amid reports of a rift in the Cabinet over negotiations with Australia.

It was reported that Mr Eustice and Michael Gove are locked in an internal battle with Liz Truss over a UK trade deal with Australia, which hinges on access for its farmers to UK markets.

In Holyrood, Nicola Sturgeon was today re-elected as the First Minister of Scotland by a majority of MSPs after the SNP won the Scottish Parliamentary elections with 64 seats.

For more news and analysis, keep reading.

02:58 PM

Boris Johnson: UK 'most positive' country in world for vaccine uptake

The Prime Minister has said that the UK is the "most positive" country in the world in terms of uptake of the coronavirus vaccine.

Asked whether those who were hesitant to have the jab were partly to blame for the spread of the Indian variant, Boris Johnson said: "I want to thank everybody in this country who is coming forward to get vaccinated, that's the way I look at it.

"And this country is quite extraordinary, there was a poll I think done last night which showed that of all the countries in the world we are the most positive about vaccinations, the numbers are incredibly high.

"And I know that some people have been more vaccine-hesitant than others but actually across the whole of society the numbers continue to go up in every age group and that's very, very encouraging."

02:51 PM

PM tells senior ministers he still wants to go ahead with planned roadmap

Boris Johnson has told senior ministers that he still wants to work through the road map for lifting coronavirus lockdown restrictions in England.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman said that he told the weekly meeting of the Cabinet that they would need to monitor the data closely.

"The Prime Minister set out the Government's desire to continue to work through the road map following the move to step three yesterday," the spokesman said.

"He concluded Cabinet by re-stating the important need to closely watch the data in the coming days ahead of making decisions on step four."

The spokesman said that Health Secretary Matt Hancock told the meeting that "comprehensive work" to provide more vaccines and "surge" testing in outbreak areas was continuing.

02:31 PM

Sturgeon re-elected as First Minister of Scotland at Holyrood

Nicola Sturgeon has been re-elected as the First Minister of Scotland by a majority of MSPs at Holyrood.

The SNP leader said she wants to lead the country "to brighter and better times" and said recovery from the coronavirus pandemic was her "driving priority".

Ms Sturgeon defeated both Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross and Scottish Liberal Democrat leader Willie Rennie, who each put themselves forward as candidates.

She won 64 votes, ahead of Mr Ross on 31, four for Willie Rennie and 28 MSPs abstained.

SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon arrives ahead of being formally re-elected as Scotland's First Minister at Holyrood, Edinburgh - Jane Barlow/PA Wire
SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon arrives ahead of being formally re-elected as Scotland's First Minister at Holyrood, Edinburgh - Jane Barlow/PA Wire

02:19 PM

Minister dismisses need for new reviews into Covid-19 controversies

A senior minister has insisted no new investigations should be opened into Covid-19 controversies linked to lobbying, procurement and conflicts of interest.

The Cabinet Office's Penny Mordaunt responded to calls for a judge-led inquiry by stating "I don't think we need any more reviews" given there are several inquiries taking place.

Ms Mordaunt struck a bullish tone in the Commons, describing allegations raised by opposition MPs as based on "speculation, innuendo and smear" rather than fact.

Labour's deputy leader, Angela Rayner, who secured an urgent question on ministerial interests, had accused Government ministers of acting "like rules are for other people" and levelled claims against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, Home Secretary Priti Patel and Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Ms Mordaunt said the public do have an interest in the issue of standards in public life but view criticisms raised in the Commons during the urgent question "as a load of flannel".

02:11 PM

No reason that next stage of easing restrictions should not go ahead, says senior Conservative

The chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs has said there should be no reason why the next stage of unlocking from coronavirus restrictions should not go ahead on June 21.

Sir Graham Brady told Sky News that the data surrounding coronavirus is "continuing to move in a positive direction, and actually far more positive than anybody had anticipated at the outset".

The senior Conservative said there had been no issues with schoolchildren returning to classrooms or the reopening of hospitality outdoors, adding: "With the continuing advance of the hugely successful vaccination programme, I think there's every reason to believe that yesterday's reopening of indoor hospitality is going to go smoothly too."

01:56 PM

Labour deputy accuses PM of acting like 'rules are for other people'

Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner has accused Government ministers of acting "like rules are for other people".

Asking an urgent question on enforcement of the Ministerial Code and the publication of the register of ministers' interests, Ms Rayner said: "The Ministerial Code is clear there must be 'no misuse of taxpayer money' nor 'actual or perceived conflicts of interest'.

"But time and again ministers act like rules are for other people. None more so than the Prime Minister himself.

"Last year, he declared £15,000 from a Tory donor for his sleazy jet trip to a private island. This weekend, we read that the real cost was double that and paid by someone else entirely.

"People may ask why this is important. It is important because it goes to the very heart of our democracy.

"Who does our government answer to? The public, or private interests? We only learnt from the media that the Prime Minister has blocked publication of the independent Commissioner's report."

Watch Ms Rayner in the Commons today:

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01:46 PM

Nurse who looked after PM resigns over Government's handling of Covid

A nurse who looked after Boris Johnson when he was seriously ill with Covid-19 has resigned, citing the Government's 1 per cent pay offer and its lack of respect for the profession.

Jenny McGee, who cared for the Prime Minister in intensive care at St Thomas' Hospital in central London, told how she found the Prime Minister in April 2020 when she arrived at work.

She told a Channel 4 documentary: "All around him there was lots and lots of sick patients, some of whom were dying.

"I remember seeing him and thinking he looked very, very unwell. He was a different colour really."

In the documentary, The Year Britain Stopped, to be broadcast on May 24, she said that when she looks back on her period with Mr Johnson she thinks it was a "weird" time.

Ms McGee added: "I don't know how much more I've got to give to the NHS. We're not getting the respect and now pay that we deserve.

"I'm just sick of it, so I've handed in my resignation."

Nurse Jenny McGee at a Downing Street garden party with the Prime Minister - Andrew Parsons/Downing Street/PA Wire
Nurse Jenny McGee at a Downing Street garden party with the Prime Minister - Andrew Parsons/Downing Street/PA Wire

01:35 PM

Lobby latest: No 10 insists people should not be travelling to 'amber list' countries

Downing Street has said that people should not be travelling to countries on the Government's "amber list" for foreign travel.

Environment Secretary George Eustice suggested in a BBC interview on Tuesday that people could travel if they "feel the need" to visit family or friends.

However the Prime Minister's official spokesman said travel was only permitted for a very limited number of reasons.

"The position remains that people should not travel to amber list countries and that is to protect public health," the spokesman said.

"We recognise that the restrictions that have been placed are difficult for the public. There may be essential reasons for which people still have to travel to amber list countries but of course strict quarantine and testing measures will apply.

"There are some limited reasons why it might be acceptable to travel - for work purposes, protecting essential services or compassionate reasons such as a funeral or care of a family member but otherwise people should not be travelling to these countries."

Passengers prepare to board an easyJet flight to Faro, Portugal on May 17 - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire
Passengers prepare to board an easyJet flight to Faro, Portugal on May 17 - Gareth Fuller/PA Wire

01:23 PM

Boris Johnson says he will take 'very draconian action' against future variants

Boris Johnson has said India was placed on the red list of travel restrictions before the coronavirus variant first identified in the country was of concern, and that he will take "very draconian action" against future variants coming into the UK.

The Prime Minister said: "If you look at what happened with the variant we are talking about, the so-called Indian variant, the B1617.2, India was put on the red list before this was even a variant under investigation, let alone a variant of concern.

"So we took prompt action and we will continue to take very, very draconian action in respect of all variants coming from wherever around the world."

01:10 PM

Dominic Cummings claims 'pseudo lockdowns' are 'hopeless'

Dominic Cummings has claimed that "pseudo lockdowns" without "serious enforcement are hopeless" as the Government considers local restrictions to contain the spread of the Indian variant.

Threatening another major row with Boris Johnson, the former senior Number 10 adviser has launched a wide-ranging attack on the handling of the pandemic, describing the UK’s border policy as a "joke".

He also accused the Government of a lack of transparency during the pandemic, adding that secrecy over its response had "contributed greatly to the catastrophe" seen during the first wave last year.

Mr Cummings added that, while the plan for tackling Covid-19 was hailed as "world class" by the Prime Minister and others in Government, it had in fact "turned out to be part disaster, part non-existent".

Read the full story from Harry Yorke, our Whitehall Editor.

Former number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings - TOLGA AKMEN/AFP
Former number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings - TOLGA AKMEN/AFP

12:58 PM

Lobby latest: Need for local lockdowns has not been ruled out

Downing Street has said that the need for local lockdowns in England has not been ruled out as the Government continues to monitor the spread of the disease.

"We are doing everything possible to ensure that we can proceed with the road map and that includes taking step four with June 21 being the earliest date for that," the Prime Minister's official spokesman said.

"But whilst we are getting this data it is too early to speculate on what future measures we may or may not need to take.

"We are not ruling out those sort of measures at this stage whilst we are still looking at the data coming in."

12:36 PM

Northern Ireland protocol on agenda as Edwin Poots meets Brandon Lewis

Incoming DUP leader Edwin Poots has held talks with the Northern Ireland Secretary in Belfast on Tuesday.

Mr Poots had requested the face-to-face meeting with Brandon Lewis to discuss Brexit's contentious Northern Ireland Protocol and a series of other issues.

The Lagan Valley MLA has said removing the Protocol, which governs Irish Sea trade, will be his main priority as DUP leader.

Many unionists and loyalists are vehemently opposed to the Protocol, which has created economic barriers on trade between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

After his election on Friday, he called on rival unionists parties to work with him to undermine the post-Brexit trading arrangements.

"The Northern Ireland Protocol is proving to be a massive challenge for us and if we are to fight this to ensure that everybody in Northern Ireland is not worse off as a consequence of the protocol, then it's for us to do that together," he said.

Edwin Poots leaving Stormont House in Belfast after a meeting with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis - Liam McBurney/PA Wire
Edwin Poots leaving Stormont House in Belfast after a meeting with Secretary of State for Northern Ireland Brandon Lewis - Liam McBurney/PA Wire

12:25 PM

Arnold Schwarzenegger says Boris Johnson is the 'real deal'

Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger has lavished praise on Boris Johnson saying he is the "real deal".

The former governor of California made the comments during an interview with Alok Sharma as they discussed the MP's role as the President of Cop26, the international climate change summit due to take place in Glasgow later this year.

The Terminator actor said: "The reason why I mentioned Boris is because your Prime Minister is, unlike some of the other countries that are host countries of this event, of a Cop event, he is the real deal.

"And I remember when he was mayor of London, and he started the Boris bikes, and he had me come over to his office, and we rode around on the Boris bikes, you know, to make them popular, and had the press show up and all this stuff and now in the meantime, those Boris bikes are in every city in the world."

"So he is really the real deal and he really believes in it and that's what I love about him, and I think that's why your conference is going to be successful, because with his backing, and with your knowledge and your passion and all that stuff, I think it's going to be great."

Boris Johnson takes Arnold Schwarzenegger for a ride on one of his 'Boris bikes' during his visit to City Hall in London in 2011 - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire
Boris Johnson takes Arnold Schwarzenegger for a ride on one of his 'Boris bikes' during his visit to City Hall in London in 2011 - Stefan Rousseau/PA Wire

12:19 PM

Pictured: Boris Johnson visits a vaccination centre in Islington today

Boris Johnson visiting a Vaccination Centre at the Business Design Centre in Islington today - Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
Boris Johnson visiting a Vaccination Centre at the Business Design Centre in Islington today - Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
Boris - Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
Boris - Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
Boris - Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard
Boris - Jeremy Selwyn/Evening Standard

11:49 AM

Dominic Cummings hits out at government over coronavirus 'catastrophe'

Dominic Cummings has blamed the Government's secrecy over the coronavirus response for the "catastrophe" in spring 2020.

Boris Johnson's former aide said the Covid plan was supposed to be "world class" but turned out to be "part disaster, part non-existent".

He said public scrutiny was now essential to examine how the Government will respond to a variant of the virus which can escape vaccines.

Mr Cummings, who left Downing Street in November after a behind-the-scenes power struggle, is due to give evidence to MPs on the coronavirus response on May 26.

Ahead of his appearance, Mr Cummings highlighted his concerns with the approach adopted in the early stages of the pandemic last year:

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11:44 AM

Prime Minister: Nothing 'conclusive' to say we need to deviate from roadmap

Boris Johnson said he does not "see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate" from the next phase of the roadmap during a visit to a vaccination centre on Tuesday.

He added that "we will know a lot more in a few days' time" if further easing will go ahead as planned on June 21.

Mr Johnson said "we are keeping everything under very close observation" following the emergence of the Indian coronavirus variant of concern.

Speaking at a vaccination centre in London, the Prime Minister said: "We are looking at the epidemiology the whole time as it comes in and, at the moment, partly because we have built up such a wall of defences with the vaccination programme, I don't see anything conclusive at the moment to say that we need to deviate from the road map.

"But we've got to be cautious and we are keeping everything under very close observation.

"We'll know a lot more in a few days' time."

11:16 AM

British farmers expect Liz Truss to protect their livelihoods, says Labour

Labour said British farmers would expect Liz Truss, the International Trade Secretary, to protect their livelihoods in the UK trade deal with Australia, which hinges on access for Australian farmers to UK markets.

Shadow international trade secretary Emily Thornberry said: "If Liz Truss cannot negotiate a trade deal with Australia on the terms she herself proposed last year, the fault lies squarely at her door.

"So instead of blaming her Cabinet colleagues or the National Farmers' Union for these difficulties, she should get on with her job, and deliver the deal that she promised.

"It's perfectly normal that the Australian government should try to get the best possible deal for its agricultural mega-corporations.

"But British family farmers have a right to expect that Liz Truss will do the same for them, not sell out their livelihoods for the price of a quick trade deal, and a cheap headline at the G7 summit."

11:05 AM

Mayor of Manchester: 'Tiers did not work'

Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham has suggested that the possible return of local lockdowns would be fiercely resisted in the North West of England, where restrictions were in place for much of 2020.

Mr Burnham, who is a favourite to be the next Labour leader, said: "Last year, tiers did not work - they did not stop the spread of the virus.

"It would be hard for me to put out a message of caution in Greater Manchester when nationally the messaging is very different, that the roadmap is proceeding.

"We struggled with that mixed messaging all of last year. Government should listen to its own MPs, to what I am saying, and allow the vaccination programme to proceed much more quickly in Bolton, Blackburn and other places that have the spread of this variant.

"That is the solution, and it is right in front of us."

Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester - PHIL NOBLE/Reuters
Andy Burnham, mayor of Manchester - PHIL NOBLE/Reuters

10:49 AM

British farming will 'struggle to compete' if zero-tariff lamb and beef trade goes ahead, says union president

British farming will "struggle to compete" if zero-tariff trade on lamb and beef from Australia goes ahead, the president of the National Farmers' Union (NFU) has said.

The Financial Times reported on Monday that the Environment Secretary and Michael Gove were locked in an internal battle with Liz Truss over a UK trade deal with Australia, which hinges on access for its farmers to UK markets.

The internal battle involving Ms Truss, who negotiated the agreement, is on the issue of whether to grant tariff-free access to Australian farmers. George Eustice said this morning there was a "balance to be struck" between opening up trade and protecting domestic industries.

Following a meeting of the UK Farming Roundtable, which includes 19 farming bodies, NFU president Minette Batters said: "We know that if we're to open up the opportunities of new markets overseas for UK farmers, we will have to offer greater access to our own markets in return.

"However, this trade-off needs to be balanced, and we need to make sure concessions to our hugely valuable home market are not given away lightly. There is a very real risk that, if we get it wrong, UK farming will suffer irreversible damage."

10:29 AM

Health Secretary: Only travel to amber list countries with an 'exceptional' reason

During his statement to the House of Commons about Covid-19 and the Indian variant on Monday, the Health Secretary said that people should not travel to amber list countries unless they have an "exceptional" reason to do so.

Former health secretary Jeremy Hunt asked Matt Hancock for "absolute clarity" on the amber list, asking in the Commons: "Should all of our constituents go on holiday to countries on that amber list even when it is no longer illegal?"

Mr Hancock replied: "The answer is no. The official Government advice is very clear that people should not travel to amber or red list countries or territories. People should not travel to amber list countries for a holiday."

The conflicting guidance and easing of travel restrictions has prompted the question of why travel to amber list destinations is not still illegal under Government Covid-19 guidance, but there has been no real explanation yet.

Health Secretary Matt Hancock makes a statement to the House about the Covid-19 pandemic -  House of Commons/ PA Wire
Health Secretary Matt Hancock makes a statement to the House about the Covid-19 pandemic - House of Commons/ PA Wire

10:18 AM

'Amber list' confusion as No 10 eases international travel restrictions but tells people not to go

Government officials are coming under increasing pressure to give the public clearer 'amber list' travel guidance as it emerged that 150 flights carrying thousands of holiday-makers departed British airports for amber destinations on Monday.

The Government has put countries like Greece, France and Spain on the amber list, and as of May 17 it was no longer illegal to travel to these destinations for a holiday.

There has been confusion about the guidance because just as the international travel restrictions eased, Downing Street has told people not to travel to red or amber list states.

Asked why it was not illegal to go to amber list destinations, the Prime Minister's official spokesman said: "Our advice is that no one should be travelling to amber countries, that's in the interests of public health.

"There may be unavoidable, essential reasons for which people still have to travel to amber list countries, that's why the rules are there."

09:59 AM

Britain’s planning system is 'not fit for purpose', says Robert Jenrick

The coronavirus pandemic has shown that Britain’s planning system is "not fit for purpose" and more affordable homes must be built to "transform the quality of life" for young people, the Housing Secretary has said.

In a riposte to Tory rebels threatening to vote down the Government’s planning reforms, Robert Jenrick warns that while Britain is a "property-owning democracy", there is now a whole generation that "feels priced out of the dream of home ownership".

Writing for The Telegraph, Mr Jenrick also seeks to quell growing unrest among MPs by confirming for the first time that he is looking at imposing new taxes on developers who sit on land for years in order to increase their profits.

The issue of "land banking" is a long-standing complaint among MPs and campaigners, who say it is helping to inflate house prices and keep first time buyers off the housing ladder.

Read the full report by Harry Yorke, our Whitehall Editor.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the cab of a digger - Peter Byrne/PA Wire
Prime Minister Boris Johnson in the cab of a digger - Peter Byrne/PA Wire

09:35 AM

Sherelle Jacobs: Variant caution risks becoming an excuse never to return to normality

There are few better windows into the state of the nation’s psyche than what the public is watching on online streaming sites. And as lockdown lifts, and people return to pubs, restaurants and the theatre, currently trending on Amazon Prime is a 2015 docudrama about the notorious Stanford Prison experiment.

In 1971, professor Philip Zimbardo recruited a group of university graduates to participate in a mock prison. While pretend guards subjected their “prisoners” to psychological torture, submissive inmates harassed fellow comrades into following the rules.

The experiment went down as a lesson in how easily people can slip into authoritarianism. But there was another revelation that Zimbardo and his contemporaries didn’t know quite what to make of – how effortlessly the participants lost all sense of reality.

Are there parallels with our own experiment in lockdown? Those who hold the keys to our freedom have embraced their powerful new roles with vigour. Sage – today’s answer to the Zimbardo experiment's parole board of clinical experts – seems both academically and venally opposed to restoring our liberties, however successful the vaccines are proved to be.

Read Sherelle's comment piece in full.

09:12 AM

'Intensive surveillance' being used in areas with high case rates, says Cabinet minister

George Eustice told Times Radio that "intensive surveillance" was being used in areas with high case rates but local restrictions remained a possibility.

At the moment there was a "clear road map out of the lockdown " with a decision due in a few weeks' time on whether the June 21 measures can go ahead.

"If we do have a deterioration in some of these areas then of course we can't rule out that we would put in place certain local lockdowns," he said.

"At the moment we are doing a lot of intensive surveillance in those areas, with surge testing to identify it and deal with it."

08:55 AM

Chancellor says 'our Plans for Jobs is working' as unemployment rate dips to 4.8pc

The latest figures the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show that the overall rate of unemployment fell to 4.8 per cent in January to March, which the Chancellor said shows "our Plan for Jobs is working".

The number of UK workers on payrolls rose by 97,000 between March and April but has fallen by 772,000 since the pandemic struck.

Rishi Sunak said: "Protecting and creating jobs continues to be my top priority.

"While sadly not every job can be saved, nearly 2 million fewer people are now expected to be out of work than initially expected - showing our Plan for Jobs is working.

"Thousands of young people are finding work through our Kickstart scheme, and the extension of the furlough and self-employed support schemes beyond the end of the road map means people's jobs will continue to be protected while the economy gradually reopens."

The Chancellor visits wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa in Hull - Simon Walker HM Treasury
The Chancellor visits wind turbine manufacturer Siemens Gamesa in Hull - Simon Walker HM Treasury

08:38 AM

People who refuse Covid vaccine are selfish, says Lord Lloyd Webber

The composer Lord Lloyd Webber has said those who refuse to have a coronavirus vaccination are "selfish", as government fears emerged that social cohesion could be undermined if those reluctant to get jabs are scapegoated.

Government figures are working on ways to further improve take-up of the jabs among ethnic minority communities whose vaccination rate lags behind the nationwide average, with a push to get families to have vaccines together being looked at.

The Telegraph understands that multi-generational vaccinations, where members of the same household of different ages can be jabbed at the same time, are being seriously considered after recent pilots.

The thinking comes as Whitehall maps out how to contain the spread of the Indian variant, officially named B.1.617.2, which early data suggests can be transmitted more rapidly than other strains of the virus.

Read the full story from Ben Riley-Smith, Political Editor, and Laura Donnelly, Health Editor.

08:27 AM

Cabinet Minister defends timing of India travel ban

George Eustice defended the timing of the Government's decision to effectively ban travel from India by adding it to the red list from April 23.

In response to suggestions the decision was taken too late, the Environment Secretary told ITV's Good Morning Britain: "What we did is put India on the red list a full six days before that variant was even under investigation and a full two weeks before it was declared a variant of concern.

"We did put India on the list as soon as we saw an uptick in prevalence and well before the Indian variant was declared a variant of concern."

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08:07 AM

Hospitality leaders angered by delay to social distancing review

Downing Street is facing a backlash from the hospitality industry after signalling that the review of whether social distancing can be lifted by June 21 will not be announced as planned by the end of the month.

While uncertainty over the Indian variant has thrown the timetable into doubt, senior Government sources say they are still hopeful the review will be ready before June 14, the date at which Mr Johnson is expected to confirm whether step four can proceed as planned.

However, Sacha Lord, the night time economy tsar for Greater Manchester, hit out at the prospect of restaurants and pubs having just seven days to prepare for the return of normal service.

Speaking to BBC Radio Radio 4's Today programme, he said: "We can't live by these rumours, we need absolute assurances. And what I would say...what we've been told about the review data, the 14th of June, well, one week isn't enough to get hospitality up and running again."

Mr Lord added: "Even yesterday, places were operating at 50 per cent.

"Hospitality will naturally only start to turn a profit when those restrictions are dropped, and we are hoping for June 21.

"And when we do return to normal as well, I must also point out it is going to take at least three years for businesses to return to pre-pandemic levels in terms of getting rid of the loans, the debts, the rent arrears, the VAT holidays."

07:44 AM

Vaccines are the only way out of lockdown

Amid warnings from ministers that vaccine hesitancy is the "principal threat" to removing all remaining lockdown restrictions on June 21, George Eustice told LBC this morning: "We will only be able to exit this pandemic when the vast majority of people have had the vaccine."

The Environment Secretary said the way to ensure confidence in the vaccines was to continue stressing that hey had been "rigorously assessed and that they are safe" while also pointing to the danger posed by new variants to those who have not been innoculated.

He also suggested younger people needed to be as enthusiastic about the jabs as their older counterparts.

"We know that the uptake of the vaccine was very high in those older cohorts, those are the ones who were most at risk of hospitalisation and death.

"So having got the vaccine out to people over the age of 60 and having good uptake there I think we are in a good position to prevent the resurgence of new variants because it's now clear the vaccine can dampen the transmission of the virus too.

"We just need all those other, younger cohorts to also embrace the vaccine."

07:26 AM

Cabinet row over Australia trade deal

George Eustice has appeared to confirm he is at odds with Liz Truss over a UK trade deal with Australia, which hinges on access for its farmers to UK markets.

The Financial Times reported that the Environment Secretary and Michael Gove were locked in an internal battle with Ms Truss, who negotiated the agreement, on the issue of whether to grant tariff-free access to Australian farmers.

Allies of Ms Truss warn that a failure to sign off the deal will severely undermine one of the benefits of leaving the EU: the ability to strike trade deals with close partners and countries around the world.

However, Mr Eustice said this morning there was a "balance to be struck" between opening up trade and protecting domestic industries.

"We think there's great opportunities, we're very keen for instance to pursue trade agreements with Australia and also with the United States and with other countries as well," he told Sky News.

"But always in any trade agreement, yes there's a balance to be struck between your commercial interests and your desire to open up free markets."

Pressed on the row, he added: "I'm not going to get into discussions that are going on in Government about individual trade agreements.

"At the moment there's a very clear consensus in Government that we want to do a trade agreement with countries like Australia, but obviously on the right terms."

06:56 AM

George Eustice: Local lockdowns 'certainly' not ruled out

Cabinet minister George Eustice did not rule out the prospect of local lockdowns being imposed in response to the Indian variant.

Mr Eustice told Sky News the Government could not rule out some areas being held back as restrictions are eased elsewhere.

It comes after The Times reported this morning that ministers are considering contingency plans for local lockdowns or a delay to national easements on June 21 in response to concern about the spread of the Indian variant of coronavirus.

Officials have drawn up plans modelled on the Tier 4 restrictions introduced last year, the paper reported, with people required to stay at home and pubs and non-essential retailed forced to close again.

Businesses in areas subject to the restrictions would receive grants of up to £18,000.

Asked about the reports this morning, Environment Secretary said ministers still wanted the planned lifting of restrictions in England on June 21 to go ahead but "we can never rule out that there may have to be a delay".

Asked whether it was possible for parts of the country to move ahead on June 21 while others are kept under restrictions, Mr Eustice said: "That would be an option and we cannot rule anything out, obviously, at this stage.

"But our preferred outcome is that we really double down and get the vaccination rates up in those areas that are seeing these problems so that we can give them the immunity that they need to this virus and then we won't have to have any such local lockdowns."

06:54 AM

Holidays to Europe with Covid vaccine passports get green light

British holidaymakers are on Wednesday set to be given the green light by the EU to use "vaccine passports" to enter Europe.

EU ambassadors are expected to sign off a plan allowing fully-vaccinated Britons to fly to Europe without having to have a Covid test or quarantine.

It came as the bosses of BA and Heathrow issued a joint plea to the Government to publish an advance list of its "green" countries for the summer to enable families to plan holidays.

Currently, all European countries bar green-listed Portugal and Gibraltar are rated "amber" by the Government, requiring travellers to quarantine and take two PCR tests on their return.

The EU plan would see member states adopt uniform entry requirements, giving fully-vaccinated holidaymakers from low-risk countries such as the UK unrestricted entry to Spain, France, Italy and other popular destinations.

06:52 AM

UK must break free from EU mindset, says Lord Frost

British officials remain indoctrinated with "EU ways of thinking" that must be eradicated to make Brexit Britain more competitive, Lord Frost said on Monday as he called for a bonfire of Brussels red tape.

He told MPs on the European Scrutiny Committee that a revolution was needed to "normalise" EU law still on Britain’s rulebook and return them to UK common law traditions, which are "lighter touch" and less risk averse.

Lord Frost said: "Lots of our bureaucracy and our regulatory systems have had to operate within a prescriptive EU law framework."

"We have internalised principles of EU law and EU ways of thinking about things for the last 50 years, which is harder to eradicate because it's quite subtle," the Cabinet minister and former Brexit negotiator said.

You can read the full story here.

06:14 AM

Good morning

As the Indian variant continues to surge across parts of the country, a row in Westminster is intensifying about how to deal with it.

With Downing Street yesterday signalling that a review of social distancing rules, due to report by the end of this month, could be delayed, there are now real fears that the grand unlocking on June 21 is in jeopardy.

Officials are now drawing up contingency measures, including for local lockdowns, which appear to closely model the Tier 4 restrictions imposed last year.

The plans have sparked a widespread backlash among Tory MPs and even Cabinet ministers, who believe a delay to easing restrictions to save vaccine refuseniks is unjustified.

One minister quoted in the Daily Mail warns Boris Johnson that he risks creating his own "Theresa May moment" - a reference to the former prime minister's failure to deliver Brexit on time.

Meanwhile, ministers are also coming under pressure over the traffic light system for international travel, amid reports that thousands of Britons are flouting guidance and booking flights to amber list countries.