Independent Scotland's 'immediate priority' would be to join EU Single Market, says Alex Salmond

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Cat Neilan
·44 min read
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Alex Salmond claimed Scotland had been 'dragged out of the EU against our will' - PA
Alex Salmond claimed Scotland had been 'dragged out of the EU against our will' - PA

Alex Salmond has said the "immediate priority" of an independent Scotland would be to get back into the EU's Single Market.

The former first minister, who is campaigning for his new independence party Alba, told Sky News that Scotland had been "dragged out of the EU against our will", adding that he would seek to "get back into the Single Market, as we can do that relatively quickly" if Scotland broke away from the rest of the union.

He added: "European Union membership will take, with the best will in world, several years."

But being in the Single Market alone meant Scotland "could have a customs union with the rest of UK", saying that would have "significant implications on the type of border" that might be erected. "One thing is for sure, you would be in the Common Travel Area," he added.

But challenged over the situation unfolding in Northern Ireland as a result of post-Brexit barriers, Mr Salmond said this was down to "a reckless Tory Prime Minister", and the "same mistakes" would not apply to Scotland.

Launching the SNP's campaign yesterday, Nicola Sturgeon ruled out a second referendum on Scotland’s membership of the EU - despite the manifesto promising an “escape from Brexit”.

Follow the latest updates below.

03:09 PM

And that's it for another day...

As the week draws to an end, the focus in Westminster remains firmly where it was at the start, thanks to a drip-drip of stories about undeclared second jobs and links to Greensill Capital.

Matt Hancock - who admitted on Tuesday that he did meet with David Cameron and Lex Greensill for a drink - is under further pressure today over family connections to a firm that secured an NHS contract in 2019. But he acted "entirely properly" and Boris Johnson is standing by him, No 10 says.

The Prime Minister's position towards his predecessor is less clear, however, and next week sees the start of the many public Commons-led inquiries with two Treasury officials giving evidence before MPs. Mr Cameron will likely follow, although it is not known exactly when.

When it comes to second jobs, our readers are clear: the majority thinks some change is needed, with 57 per cent saying there should be an outright ban on second jobs, while 28 per cent said limits of some sort are needed. Just 15 per cent said any restrictions risked driving away good candidates.

Labour is making much of the 'return of Tory sleaze' - presumably a phrase that has worked well in focus groups. But a new poll puts Sir Keir Starmer at his lowest point yet, just weeks away from the local elections - which suggests he could be in for a fairly bruising result.

But Scotland is where the most interesting battle ground is shaping up. Nicola Sturgeon might be hoping to secure a mandate for independence, but a renewed Scottish Labour is looking to land a few punches - and Alex Salmond is not holding back either.

For all this and more of today's news, carry on reading below.

02:50 PM

Boris Johnson: Nation owes Prince Philip 'more than words can say'

A wreath sent by prime Minister Boris Johnson among the flowers outside St George's Chapel, at Windsor Castle, - PA
A wreath sent by prime Minister Boris Johnson among the flowers outside St George's Chapel, at Windsor Castle, - PA

Boris Johnson has sent a wreath with a note saying the nation owes Prince Philip "more than words can say", ahead of the Duke's funeral tomorrow.

The Prime Minister's written message, laid outside St George's Chapel in the grounds of Windsor Castle, read: "In grateful memory of a man to whom the nation owes more than words can say.

"Sent on behalf of the nation. From the Prime Minister".

A wreath from Nicola Sturgeon read: "With deepest sympathy from the First Minister of Scotland and the Scottish Government."

The Royal Navy's tribute read: "In gratitude for an exceptional life of service from all ranks of the Royal Navy.

"Fair winds and following seas."

02:46 PM

'Real questions' about why India is not on red list, says professor of public health

A professor of public health has expressed surprised that India has not been added to the UK's red list for travel restrictions, after 77 cases of a new variant were found in the UK.

Prof Linda Bauld, chair of public health in The Usher Institute at the University of Edinburgh, said "unless something has changed in the last few hours, India - unlike Pakistan and Bangladesh - is not on the red list.

"There are real questions about that. Obviously, we don't want any countries to be on that list but it is about protecting the progress we have made."

She noted that managed quarantine was "deeply unpopular" but was a "tried and tested approach" used by the likes of Australia and New Zealand.

"I am not making policy decisions and try to stick to science, but that is an effective intervention that might make a difference," she told Sky News.

Earlier this afternoon Number 10 confirmed that India was not on the red list, but did not explain why. Boris Johnson is due to travel to the country next week.

02:35 PM

Tom Harris: Sturgeon can have independence – but only if two-thirds of Scots want it

Scottish independence would make Brexit look like a walk in the park - Reuters
Scottish independence would make Brexit look like a walk in the park - Reuters

So, this is what it all boils down to. There was a Scottish independence referendum in 2014 and, despite promising at the time that this would be a “once in a generation” opportunity, Nicola Sturgeon now wants another one, writes Tom Harris.

Faced with the prospect, if not the reality, of another referendum, Unionists are all over the shop, torn between frustration at the “once in a generation” promise being broken, while utterly terrified of people on Twitter calling them undemocratic for opposing another referendum, whatever the results of the elections turn out to be.It’s time for everyone to calm down. It’s time for a few home truths about Scotland, the future of the United Kingdom and the future of our democracy.

Read the rest of Tom's latest column here.

02:21 PM

Campaigners win opening round in legal battle over polling contract

Campaigners argue the firm has connections with Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove - Shutterstock
Campaigners argue the firm has connections with Dominic Cummings and Michael Gove - Shutterstock

Campaigners have won an opening round of a court fight with the Government after complaining about a decision to award a polling contract to a company they say has connections to Conservative minister Michael Gove and former No 10 adviser Dominic Cummings.

A High Court judge has ruled that the Good Law Project's liability for paying Government legal costs should be limited if its challenge is unsuccessful.

Mrs Justice O'Farrell on Friday ruled that the Good Law Project should have to pay no more than £120,000 of the Government's legal bills if it lost the case.

The Good Law Project has challenged a decision by Cabinet Office Minister Mr Gove to award a polling contract to Hanbury Strategy and Communications in June, during the pandemic.

Lawyers representing the Cabinet Office are fighting the claim.

02:06 PM

Angela Merkel 'delighted' to have AstraZeneca jab

Merkel, who is stepping down this year after 16 years at the reins, said she was 'delighted' to have got the AstraZeneca jab - Bloomberg
Merkel, who is stepping down this year after 16 years at the reins, said she was 'delighted' to have got the AstraZeneca jab - Bloomberg

Angela Merkel on Friday received her first dose of AstraZeneca's Covid-19 vaccine in an attempt to boost faith in the jab.

"I am delighted to have received my first vaccination with AstraZeneca today", the German chancellor said in a tweet posted by her spokesman Steffen Seibert.

"I thank everyone involved in the vaccination campaign and everyone who gets vaccinated. Vaccination is the key to getting out of the pandemic."

Germany recommends the AstraZeneca vaccine is only used for the over 60s, and Mrs Merkel is 66.

Earlier this week Ursula von der Leyen tweeted a picture of herself getting the jab - although she did not reveal which type she got.

01:46 PM

Labour write to Cabinet Secretary over Matt Hancock revelations

Labour's shadow health secretary has written to the head of the civil service asking him to 'insist' on answers from Matt Hancock as to why he failed to declare a personal interest in his sister's company until last month.

Topwood was awarded a contract to provide waste disposal services to the NHS in England in 2019.

In the letter to Simon Case, Jonathan Ashworth said: “Many serious questions remain unanswered, and no stone must be left unturned in tackling the culture of cronyism and sleaze that surrounds this Government...

"This is a matter of the upmost importance for the protection of democracy in our country and I urge you to take full and thorough action. You must insist that the Health Secretary explain himself, and make that explanation available to the public.

"I seek your judgement on whether Matt Hancock’s behaviour in this instance is a breach of the ministerial code; all those in Government who have acted inappropriately must be held to account."

01:37 PM

Alan Cochrane: The SNP have turned manifesto failures into an art form

There’s a great deal of guff in Sturgeon's manifesto about how badly Scotland has been treated and ignored by Westminster - Reuters
There’s a great deal of guff in Sturgeon's manifesto about how badly Scotland has been treated and ignored by Westminster - Reuters

There’s not really much point in poring over election manifestos, unless you’re an ‘anorak’ like this one or an avid collector of broken promises, writes Alan Cochrane.

Still, the SNP versions of these documents are a bit special in that in recent times they’ve turned their failure to fulfil manifesto pledges into something approaching an art form.

Take, for instance, wiping out the entirety of student debt or closing the attainment gap between rich and poor school pupils. Neither’s been done, although the latter crops up again this time round, so I suppose there’s perhaps still some hope.Otherwise, I would imagine that the only thing that might interest the average voter is what Nicola Sturgeon and her team have to say about independence and another referendum. After all, given that this is the only thing in which this party has the slightest interest there might be a chance that they’ll at least try to honour their printed promise on that. However, in doing that, every other thing that the average voter cares for – and remember, according to the polls, most don’t think indyref2 is much of a priority – will take a back seat.

Read more of Alan's column here.

01:25 PM

Never smile at a.... Dentosaurus?

Nicola Sturgeon checks the teeth of 'Dentosaurus' during a visit to the Thornliebank Dental Care centre in Glasgow - PA
Nicola Sturgeon checks the teeth of 'Dentosaurus' during a visit to the Thornliebank Dental Care centre in Glasgow - PA

They say you should never work with children or animals - but what about a Dentosaurus?

It's amazing the things a politician will do on the campaign trail, as this picture of Nicola Sturgeon shows.

01:21 PM

Government has 'open door to lobbyists', claims Sir Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer airside during a visit to Edinburgh Airport  - PA
Sir Keir Starmer airside during a visit to Edinburgh Airport - PA

Sir Keir Starmer has said there is an "open door to lobbyists" from the Government, as he renews his calls for a "transparent inquiry" and new legislation to deal with the issue.

The Labour leader, who is fighting off a slide in the polls, told journalists: "We need to change the law.

"The lobby laws were introduced by David Cameron and the next thing we know he is having tea in the desert with [Lex] Greensill. The laws are not strong enough.

"But we need to get to the bottom of what is going on. Until then we are not in a position to say what any new laws should look like. So let's have that inquiry because this is the return of sleaze."

He said the shadow cabinet "operate within the rules".

01:12 PM

DUP blasts EU 'belligerence' over Northern Ireland protocol

Lord Dodds said the Government must ignore the EU's 'belligerence' - PA
Lord Dodds said the Government must ignore the EU's 'belligerence' - PA

DUP deputy leader Lord Dodds has condemned a warning by the European Commission insisting that the Northern Ireland protocol in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement was the only way to avoid a hard border with the Republic (see posts below).

In a statement Lord Dodds said: "It is clear from these remarks that the EU is simply focused on protecting its own interests rather than securing long-term answers which benefit communities and businesses across our province.

"It has become increasingly clear that the EU's legalistic and rigid approach is incapable of bringing about the real change needed to deal with the protocol.

"The Government must respond to this belligerence in a strategic and decisive way. Northern Ireland's place in the UK internal market must be restored and the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom protected."

01:06 PM

World's largest vaccine maker urges Joe Biden to lift export ban on materials

The head of the world's largest vaccine maker has directly tweeted US President Joe Biden, urging him to lift an export ban on raw materials desperately needed to make more coronavirus shots.

The unusual step by Serum Institute (SII) chief Adar Poonawalla underlined the crisis in providing vaccines to developing nations, many of which rely heavily on the firm for supplies.

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12:54 PM

Have your say: Should there be tougher rules on second jobs?

The focus of Westminster today remains firmly on Greensill and the wider lobbying issue, after it emerged that yet another senior official had a second job at the now-collapsed finance firm.

Iain Duncan Smith this morning made a distinction between people being seconded to work in business, in order to benefit from knowing of the private sector, and doing so while working in Whitehall, saying people shouldn't have "a foot in both camps".

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Reynolds has gone further and questioned whether MPs should be allowed to earn six-figure salaries through outside interests while sitting on the green benches, saying their focus should be on the primary job.

So is this more than a question of transparency, and should there be tougher rules brought in around second jobs? Have your say in the poll below.

12:53 PM

UK's population growth slows to lowest level since 2003

The UK population may have grown by just 0.5 per cent in the year to mid-2020 - the lowest annual increase since the year to mid-2003.

Early indications suggest the overall size of the population in mid-2020 stood at 67.1 million, up by 316,000 on the official estimate for mid-2019, according to preliminary data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

Liz McKeown, ONS director of public policy analysis, said: "The coronavirus pandemic has created a number of challenges for measuring the labour market, population and migration. At the same time there is significant interest in what impact the pandemic has had on the number of people living and working in the UK.

"These are early population indicators based on new methods. There is uncertainty and they will likely be subject to revision in the coming months, especially as more data becomes available. In this respect they do not represent official population estimates.

"But what they do provide are the very latest insights on what happened to the population and migration since the pandemic, using available data and new methods."

12:37 PM

England's R-number widens - but stays below one

The coronavirus reproduction number, or R value, in England is between 0.7 and one, according to the latest Government figures.

Last week, the figure was between 0.8 and one.

R represents the average number of people each Covid-19 positive person goes on to infect.

When the figure is above one, an outbreak can grow exponentially, but when it is below one, it means the epidemic is shrinking.

The growth rate, which estimates how quickly the number of infections is changing day by day, is between minus six per cent and minus one per cent for England.

12:28 PM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson stands by Matt Hancock amid fresh cronyism claims

Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock: The Health Secretary acted 'entirely properly', says No 10 - AFP
Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock: The Health Secretary acted 'entirely properly', says No 10 - AFP

Boris Johnson has full confidence in Matt Hancock, Number 10 has said.

The Health Secretary was facing fresh challenges of cronyism today, after it emerged that he and his sister have shares in a company that was awarded a contract with the NHS (see posts below).

But the Prime Minister's official spokesman said Mr Johnson was standing by his minister.

"The Health Secretary acted entirely properly in these matters," he told journalists.

"Matt Hancock discussed these shares with the permanent secretary before accepting them."

12:18 PM

Lobby latest: Number 10 refuses to say if Cabinet Secretary's probe will be made public

Number 10 has refused to say whether an internal probe of the second jobs held by senior members of the civil service will be made public.

Simon Case, the Cabinet Secretary, has ordered Government departments to come clean on whether officials have been working outside Whitehall, following the revelations that high-ranking figures held paid roles with Greensill Capital.

His findings will be handed to Nigel Boardman, who the Prime Minister has given "carte blanche" on his investigation of supply chain financing in the wake of the scandal engulfing David Cameron.

Asked if they will be made public, the Prime Minister's spokesman said he expected this to happen after the Boardman report is concluded - but would not comment on when, or whether they would be published in full.

12:08 PM

Lobby latest: Prime Minister to watch Prince Philip's funeral on TV

Prime Minister Boris Johnson will watch the Duke of Edinburgh's funeral on television on Saturday from his country residence Chequers, in Buckinghamshire.

He will observe the national minute's silence, which will take place at 3pm to mark the start of the funeral, from the countryside retreat, a No 10 spokesman said.

11:57 AM

Lobby latest: No 10 defends accuracy of Covid tests

Downing Street has defended the use of lateral flow tests despite reports that officials have raised concerns about the accuracy of the tests.

A No 10 spokesman told reporters: "Lateral flow tests have been rigorously evaluated and we believe that they are both accurate and incredibly useful in terms of being able to spot asymptomatic cases of the virus.

"We know now this can be one in three people and it therefore allows us to identify possible contacts of those people and ultimately helps us to reduce the spread and the transmission of the virus."

11:53 AM

Lobby latest: No 10 dodges explanation for why India is not on red list

Downing Street has failed to explain why India has not been added to the list of countries from which travel is restricted.

The Prime Minister's official spokesman insisted that the red list of countries is "under constant review", when asked why India has not been put on it despite a high number of cases.

A No 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "We add and remove countries based on the latest scientific data and public health advice from a range of world-leading experts.

"We keep it under constant review and we won't hesitate to introduce tougher restrictions and add countries if we think it is necessary."

11:41 AM

Lobby latest: Boris Johnson's India trip to go ahead despite Covid surge

Boris Johnson's visit to India will still go ahead later this month, despite concerns about a coronavirus variant which was first detected in the country, Number 10 has said.

Officials have currently designated it a "variant under investigation" (VUI) rather than a "variant of concern" (VOC), such as the Manaus (Brazil) or South African variants.

Asked if the Prime Minister's trip to India would still go ahead, a No 10 spokesman told a Westminster briefing: "The Prime Minister's visit is still happening later this month.

"We have said that the programme will be slightly shorter than it will have been and you can expect the main body of his programme to take place on Monday April 26.

"As you would expect, safety is obviously important and is a priority for us on this trip, which is why we will make sure that all elements of the visit are Covid-secure."

11:36 AM

Government 'falsely imprisoning' care home residents, campaigners claim

Government guidance requiring care home residents to isolate for 14 days if they leave their facility encourages care homes to act unlawfully by "falsely imprisoning" residents, say campaigners who are threatening legal action.

John's Campaign is "very concerned" about guidance which it says "creates an unacceptable risk of illegality" and is likely to deprive residents of their liberty. It is considering a challenge, with lawyers sending a pre-action letter - the step before formal legal proceedings begin - to the Department of Health and Social Care (DHSC).

The DHSC guidance, updated on April 7, requires residents to isolate for 14 days after a trip out of the home. The letter, sent by Leigh Day, says it is "entirely unclear" on what basis the "punitive rule" is justified.

It states that the self-isolation rule "creates an unacceptable risk of illegality, because it encourages (indeed, requires) care homes to act unlawfully (namely, by falsely imprisoning care home residents and/or depriving residents of their liberty".

The DHSC guidance says the 14-day isolation rule is to ensure that residents who may become unknowingly infected do not pass coronavirus to other residents and staff.

But it says: "We recognise that in practice, this is likely to mean that many residents will not wish to make a visit out of the home."

11:30 AM

'I'll remain optimistic as lockdown eases' - Readers on the week's biggest talking points

On Monday, lockdown was eased again in England, allowing pubs, restaurants, cafes and social clubs to serve outdoors for the first time this year, as well as enabling the return of staycations and the opening of retail shops.

The BBC received a record number of complaints this week in response to the broadcaster's blanket coverage following the Duke of Edinburgh’s death last Friday. Almost 111,000 people contacted the company to lodge a complaint.

Find out what our readers had to say about these stories and the week’s biggest talking points here.

11:19 AM

Fraser Nelson: If Sweden’s Covid strategy is such a disaster, why is it still so popular?

If lockdown is the greatest social experiment in the world, then Sweden is the control. By keeping everyday life going it has become a global rebel – and to some, a rogue state, writes Fraser Nelson.

When it emerged with the highest Covid levels in Europe earlier this week, it was held up as proof of the terrible price paid for reckless defiance. There is only one missing ingredient to this great cautionary tale: a lack of remorse among Swedes. Even now, with another wave underway, they have no intention of locking down.The story told of Sweden by those outside of the country is certainly damning. Headlines proclaim that its great experiment has been “abandoned” and that even its king now admits its more relaxed policy led to disaster. Michael Gove talks about how Sweden started well, but ended up with a battery of measures to keep people apart – even to stop them visiting bars. He says this not out of any animus to Sweden but because his critics point to it as the alternative to locking down: what Britain might have done.

But, argues Fraser, much of what’s said about Sweden is false. Read the rest of his column here.

11:11 AM

Covid cases fall to lowest levels since mid-September

The number of Covid cases in England has fallen to the lowest level since the middle of September.

Around one in 480 people in private households in England had Covid-19 in the week to April 10 - down from one in 340 the previous week, according to the latest estimates from the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

It is the lowest figure since the week to September 19 2020, when the estimate stood at one in 500.

11:05 AM

NAO to investigate Greensill's involvement in Covid support schemes

The National Audit Office (NAO) has launched an investigation into Greensill Capital's " involvement in the Government’s Covid-19 support schemes".

The investigation, which comes on top of at least three parliamentary probes and the Boardman review ordered by the Prime Minister, was announced just moments ago.

The team will be headed by NAO director Simon Reason.

"The British Business Bank (BBB), acting as scheme administrator on behalf of the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy... authorised Greensill Capital to issue financial support in June 2020. Greensill Capital filed for insolvency on 8th March 2021," the body notes. u

"This investigation will cover Greensill Capital’s involvement in the government’s COVID-19 support schemes, including the accreditation process, and any post-accreditation monitoring of Greensill Capital’s activities.

10:51 AM

Matt Hancock failed to declare family connection to company awarded NHS contracts

Matt Hancock is facing fresh challenges of cronyism this morning, after it emerged that he and his sister have shares in a company that was awarded a contract with the NHS.

Last month the Health Secretary declared in the MPs' register of interests that he had acquired more than 15 per cent of Topwood shares, but did not mention that his sister Emily Gilruth owned a larger portion of the shares and is a director of the firm, according to the Health Service Journal and Guido Fawkes.

Shadow work and pensions secretary Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News "it feels like we are back to 1990s levels of Tory sleaze", following days of revelations about the influence of Greensill Capital within Whitehall.

Justin Madders, shadow health minister, added: “This Conservative Government has been infected with widespread cronyism and is unable to identify where the line is drawn between personal and departmental interests... There are serious questions to answer from Matt Hancock and there needs to be a full inquiry.”

A Government spokesman said: "Mr Hancock has acted entirely properly in these circumstances. All declarations of interest have been made in accordance with the ministerial code. Ministers have no involvement in the awarding of these contracts, and no conflict of interest arises."

10:42 AM

Have your say: Should there be tougher rules on second jobs?

The focus of Westminster today remains firmly on Greensill and the wider lobbying issue, after it emerged that yet another senior official had a second job at the now-collapsed finance firm.

Iain Duncan Smith this morning made a distinction between people being seconded to work in business, in order to benefit from knowing of the private sector, and doing so while working in Whitehall, saying people shouldn't have "a foot in both camps".

Labour frontbencher Jonathan Reynolds has gone further and questioned whether MPs should be allowed to earn six-figure salaries through outside interests while sitting on the green benches, saying their focus should be on the primary job.

So is this more than a question of transparency, and should there be tougher rules brought in around second jobs? Have your say in the poll below.

10:25 AM

Independent Scotland's 'immediate priority' would be to join EU Single Market, says Alex Salmond

Alex Salmond has said the "immediate priority" of an independent Scotland would be to get back into the EU's Single Market.

The former first minister, who is campaigning for his new independence party Alba, told Sky News that Scotland had been "dragged out of the EU against our will", adding that he would seek to "get back into the Single Market, as we can do that relatively quickly" if Scotland broke away from the rest of the union.

He added: "European Union membership will take, with the best will in world, several years."

But being in the Single Market alone meant Scotland "could have a customs union with the rest of UK", saying that would have "significant implications on the type of border" that might be erected. "One thing is for sure, you would be in the Common Travel Area," he added.

But challenged over the situation unfolding in Northern Ireland as a result of post-Brexit barriers, Mr Salmond said this was down to "a reckless Tory Prime Minister", and the "same mistakes" would not apply to Scotland.

10:20 AM

Jeremy Warner: Greensill one small part of parasitic monster feasting on Covid largesse

It is only natural that coverage of the Greensill affair should have focused so heavily on the politics of it all, the involvement of David Cameron, and the wider activities of well connected lobbyists and civil servants with second jobs in the commercial sector, writes Jeremy Warner.

But beneath the headlines is a much bigger scandal – the extraordinary waste and lack of accountability which in an age of let-rip public spending has engulfed government procurement in the round.Greensill is just one small part of the negligence, recklessness and cronyism that has come to characterise the unchecked largesse of Britain’s Covid response. It’s been a bonanza for those with the connections and expertise to exploit it; regrettably, someone has to bear its costs, and that’s us, the taxpayers.Like parasites to the pig’s belly, all and sundry have come swarming in to feast on the abundance of government money, many enriching themselves beyond the dreams of avarice.

Read the rest of Jeremy's column here.

10:11 AM

Matt Hancock may have breached ministerial code on NHS contractor, Labour claims

Labour has demanded that Matt Hancock explain why he failed to declare that his sister is the director of a company that secured an NHS contract.

The Health Secretary has declared his 15 per cent shareholding in Topwood, but there has been no mention that his sister Emily Gilruth owned a larger portion of the shares and is a director of the firm,

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner MP said Mr Hancock should explain "why he did not declare that the company is owned by his family members."

She added: "It appears that the Health Secretary has breached the ministerial code, and the public deserve answers. It is clear that Tory sleaze and cronyism has engulfed this government, making it even more urgent that the government publish the delayed Register of Ministers' Interests in full immediately.

"Given it was the Health Secretary who was found by the courts to have acted unlawfully on contract transparency – with this latest scandal the public will rightly expect the utmost transparency."

10:00 AM

Indian variant with 'escape mutations' found in England

India is in the grip of a new surge, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deaths. - Getty
India is in the grip of a new surge, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deaths. - Getty

The discovery of 77 UK cases of a variant with 'escape mutations' first detected in India could be a cause for concern, an expert has said.

Public Health England (PHE) reported that 73 cases of the B.1.617 variant have been confirmed in England as well as four cases in Scotland.

Paul Hunter, professor in medicine at the University of East Anglia, said the variant features two "escape mutations" - E484Q and L452R - which "are causing people to be concerned".

"There's laboratory evidence that both of these are escape mutations," he said. "Basically, applying what we know about other human coronaviruses would suggest that this is going to be even less controlled by vaccine, but we don't know that for certain at the moment."

In India, Covid-19 rates are soaring, with more than 13.9 million confirmed cases and 172,000 deaths. The country is not currently on the Government's "red list" for travel.

09:52 AM

Government 'failing its duty' to protect human rights in Hong Kong

Jimmy Lai will serve 14 months in prison for his role in Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests - AP
Jimmy Lai will serve 14 months in prison for his role in Hong Kong's pro-democracy protests - AP

The UK is "failing in its duty" to protect democracy and human rights in Hong Kong, the Liberal Democrats have said.

It comes after Jimmy Lai, the owner of Hong Kong's last opposition newspaper, was sentenced to serve more than a year in prison, along with four other veteran democracy activists, for helping to lead one of the city's biggest-ever protests.

"Jimmy Lai's sentencing is a solemn, urgent reminder the UK and the international community that democratic opposition is being snuffed out in Hong Kong," said foreign affairs spokesperson Layla Moran.

“The UK is failing in its duty under the Joint Declaration and international law to preserve Hong Kong’s democracy and human rights. Any red line has been crossed. The time for Dominic Raab and Boris Johnson to act is long overdue."

09:41 AM

Blocking vaccine patent waiver will 'come back to bite us', Government told

The Government has been urged to back a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines and treatments to ensure those in the poorest countries can get the jab, amid warnings about further mutations emerging.

Independent Sage, the group set up to challenge official advice, said the UK was "one of a small number of countries" blocking the move to support a waiver of the global agreement on trade-related aspects of intellectual property (TRIPS) at the World Trade Organisation, as proposed by India and South Africa.

In a recent survey of world-leading epidemiologists, two thirds warned that we have a year or less before virus mutations make the vaccines we have ineffective.

Professor Gabriel Scally said: "The case here is clear – the UK should support a patent waiver for Covid-19 vaccines to end this pandemic and save countless lives in the UK and worldwide.”

Nick Dearden, director of Global Justice Now, said the refusal to act "will come back to bite us when it creates new variants which undermine our own vaccination drive".

09:30 AM

France could follow UK out of EU, Michel Barnier warns

Latest polling shows that Ms Le Pen would beat Emmanuel Macron by two points in the first round of next year’s presidential elections. - Getty
Latest polling shows that Ms Le Pen would beat Emmanuel Macron by two points in the first round of next year’s presidential elections. - Getty

Michel Barnier has warned that France could follow the UK out of the EU, as polls show growing support for the Eurosceptic Marine Le Pen.

“We can find, not just in the UK, but here in France, in the northern regions […] citizens who want to leave the EU,” Mr Barnier said. “We could draw some lessons from Brexit for ourselves. It's now too late for the UK but not for us."

“It is our responsibility to understand why the British left [...] it's important for us to listen to the anger that was expressed in the UK, and to implement the kind of changes that are necessary to better understand and reassure the European citizens that remain.”

Latest IFOP polling shows that Ms Le Pen, who leads the National Rally party, would beat Emmanuel Macron by two percentage points in the first round of next year’s presidential elections, although Mr Macron is tipped to win in the second round.

09:14 AM

SNP accused of tidying streets in Sturgeon’s constituency ahead of Anas Sarwar visit

Anas Sarwar: When they heard that I was going to be visiting, they were ordered to go and do a clean up operation the night before. - Stuart Nicol
Anas Sarwar: When they heard that I was going to be visiting, they were ordered to go and do a clean up operation the night before. - Stuart Nicol

Yesterday, The Daily Telegraph decided to cover ⁦Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar’s walkabout in ⁦Nicola Sturgeon ’s constituency to highlight litter and the lack of street cleanliness.

Colleagues photographed three bin lorries and street cleaners that turned up shortly before Mr Sarwar's election stop. Local residents said it was not the normal day for the refuse collections to occur.

"Amazing coincidence", says Scottish editor Simon Johnson.

Mr Sarwar agrees: "When they heard that I was going to be visiting Govanhill today, they were ordered to go and do a clean up operation the night before," he says. "They didn’t want it to be a bad site for when the cameras turned up.”

Read the full article here and decide for yourself.

09:05 AM

EU 'highly' unlikely to reorder AstraZeneca jab, says French minister

The European Union is very unlikely to renew its Covid-19 vaccine contracts with pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, a French minister has said.

No final EU decision had been taken, French industry minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told RMC radio, but "it is highly probable" that no further AstraZeneca doses would be ordered.

The prediction comes after US drugmaker Johnson & Johnson said it would delay its European rollout, also over blood clot fears - a major hit for the continent's beleaguered immunisation campaign as several countries battle rising caseloads.

"We have not started talks with Johnson & Johnson or with AstraZeneca for a new contract, but we have started talks with Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna," Pannier-Runacher said.

08:59 AM

Tom Harris: Amid the furore over Greensill, we musn't be repulsed by commercial experience

As with most Westminster scandals, the initial offence turns out to be merely an appetiser for a much wider and deeper malaise, writes Tom Harris.

The revelations that former prime minister, David Cameron, took a paid lobbying post and then lobbied senior ministers directly and informally on behalf of his client was bad enough. Now more dubious practices are being unearthed, including the revelation that civil servants routinely have two jobs, with one foot in Whitehall and the other in the board room...However, it should be pointed out at this point that the subject under scrutiny today is less about lobbying than about the need for transparency in public appointments and the mechanisms that need to be put in place to avoid conflicts of interest. And just because a public-spirited journalist believes instinctively that such a conflict of interest exists does not necessarily mean that is the case.The problem, as with the related but separate issue of lobbying, is one of transparency.

Read Tom's column in full here

08:53 AM

New poll puts Tories ahead of Labour by 14 per cent

Commentators are making much of a new poll which shows that the Conservatives have gained a 14 per cent lead against Labour, suggesting the opposition's claims of "Tory sleaze" are failing to cut through.

The YouGov poll, conducted for the Times this week, shows Boris Johnson's party has actually climbed two percentage points to 43 per cent, while Labour has fallen five points to 29 per cent. Greens and the Liberal Democrats have also edged up two points to eight per cent apiece.

This is the worst performance since Sir Keir Starmer took over the leadership last year.

James Meadway, former adviser to John McDonnell and director of the Progressive Economy Forum tweeted: "Not only a vaccine bounce.

"Since autumn last year, the Tories have adapted to a world where Covid is semi-permanent feature, notably in politicising all economic questions. They are using the opportunity to build a new Tory hegemony of which the green turn is most obvious element."

08:32 AM

People urged to get vaccine as 'immunity not guaranteed' from past infection

Previous coronavirus infection does not fully protect young people against reinfection, research suggests.

Researchers said that despite previous infection and the presence of antibodies, vaccination is still necessary to boost immune responses, prevent reinfection and reduce transmission.

Professor Stuart Sealfon, of Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, New York, and senior author of the study, said: "As vaccine rollouts continue to gain momentum it is important to remember that, despite a prior Covid-19 infection, young people can catch the virus again and may still transmit it to others.

"Immunity is not guaranteed by past infection, and vaccinations that provide additional protection are still needed for those who have had Covid-19."

Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures
Latest UK vaccine numbers: rollout figures

08:20 AM

MPs should not be earning six-figure salaries on second jobs, says Labour frontbencher

A Labour frontbencher has called for greater transparency on second jobs and MPs' interests, saying parliamentarians should not have second jobs with substantial salaries.

"It feels like we're back to 1990s levels of Tory sleaze", shadow work and pensions secretary, Jonathan Reynolds told Sky News.

"Being an MP is a job - it's a difficult job and an important job and it should be your main focus," he added, noting there were exceptions for writing books or columns on the side.

"If you're earning £200, £300,000 on top of being a member of parliament. Dedicate that time to being a member of parliament."

08:06 AM

Ministry of Justice dragged into lobbying scandal

G4S hired Paul Kempster, the civil servant in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons, to run its then-troubled detention services division. - PA
G4S hired Paul Kempster, the civil servant in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons, to run its then-troubled detention services division. - PA

The Ministry of Justice has been dragged into the lobbying scandal as it is revealed a former prisons procurement chief took a job with G4S to take charge of its private sector jail contracts.

G4S hired Paul Kempster, the civil servant in charge of negotiating private contracts for government prisons, to run its then-troubled detention services division.

Mr Kempster joined the outsourcing firm from the MoJ and oversaw the five prisons that G4S managed for the Government, as well as two immigration removal centres and a secure training centre for young people.

Shadow Justice Secretary David Lammy said: “As the Greensill scandal shows, the Conservative Party's contracting and cronyism has brought sleaze back into the heart of government.

“The Justice Secretary Robert Buckland must now urgently provide answers to reassure the public that all necessary safeguards and checks were undertaken and no rules were broken in the case of Paul Kempster."

My colleague Charles Hymas has the full story here.

07:56 AM

Boris Johnson urged to provide funding for medical cannabis

The Prime Minister is being urged to provide funding for families who are left thousands of pounds out of pocket in trying to get medical cannabis.

More than 100 politicians from cross-party groups have signed a letter to Boris Johnson, claiming that only three NHS prescriptions have been issued for medical cannabis despite it being legalised in November 2018.

The law change was made possible after several high-profile cases, including that of young epilepsy sufferers Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell, whose conditions appeared to be helped by cannabis oil.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Medical Cannabis under Prescription said the law change "raised the hopes" of families with children suffering from similarly extreme forms of epilepsy, but just three prescriptions have been issued since the law changed.

The APPG noted that the medicine cost up to £2,000 a month, saying: "In any circumstance, this is a severe financial burden for families already having to cope with very sick children, and Covid restrictions have rendered most fundraising impossible."

07:44 AM

Compare and contrast: Frost-Sefcovic meeting 'constructive', say UK

Lord Frost: Meeting was 'constructive' - PA
Lord Frost: Meeting was 'constructive' - PA

The UK Government has issued a statement about last night's meeting in Brussels between Lord Frost and Maros Sefcovic with a markedly different tone.

While the EU's version of events appeared to take a hard line, Westminster's was more conciliatory, highlighting the "constructive atmosphere" in which the two men discussed the issues in Northern Ireland.

“Lord Frost said that the intensive discussions between the Co-Chairs of the Specialised Committee on the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland in recent weeks had begun to clarify the outstanding issues, and some positive momentum had been established," a Downing Street spokesperson said.

"But a number of difficult issues remained and it was important to continue to discuss them. He agreed there should be intensified contacts at all levels in the coming weeks."

Once again, fish was on the menu: Lord Frost was served asparagus soup with scallops, followed by grilled sea bass and mascarpone and vanilla ice cream, after arriving at the Berlaymont building at 7.30pm local time.

07:39 AM

EU warns Britain further unilateral action on Northern Ireland is unacceptable

European Commission's vice president Maros Sefcovic - Reuters
European Commission's vice president Maros Sefcovic - Reuters

The European Commission warned Britain that any further unilateral action over the Northern Ireland Protocol was unacceptable at a meeting last night.

Maros Sefcovic, the commission vice-president, told David Frost that “solutions can only be found through joint actions and through joint bodies”.

Rather than the unilateral extension of grace periods on some customs checks in the Protocol, which Brussels says is a violation of international law, “mutually agreed paths towards compliance are key”, the commission said.

The Protocol prevents a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit by introducing a customs border in the Irish Sea. It means that Northern Ireland must continue following some EU rules in order to prevent extra checks.

“The Vice-President stated clearly that the implementation of the Protocol is a joint endeavour, which leaves no space for unilateral action,” a commission statement said.

“Only joint solutions, agreed in the joint bodies established by the Withdrawal Agreement, can provide the stability and predictability that is needed in Northern Ireland,” the commission said.

Mr Sefcovic said that EU legal action against the UK for breaching the Protocol would continue but Brussels has granted a British request for an extension on a deadline to respond to a letter triggering the lawsuit.

07:34 AM

George Osborne's failure to wait for approval on Standard job 'tells you everything you need to know'

George Osborne became known as 'six jobs' thanks to his portfolio of roles which crossed over with his time as an MP - Bloomberg
George Osborne became known as 'six jobs' thanks to his portfolio of roles which crossed over with his time as an MP - Bloomberg

George Osborne announcing his role as editor of London newspaper the Evening Standard without informing the appointments watchdog "tells you everything you need to know about the process," Lord Kerslake has said.

The former chancellor, who became known as 'six jobs' when he accrued a portfolio of roles before stepping down as an MP, did not wait for the advisory committee on business appointments (Acoba), which assesses the appointments of former ministers and senior civil servants, to give its advice.

At the time a committee of MPs said it proved that Acoba was "toothless", and said Mr Osborne had been disrespectful of MPs’ rules and set an “unhelpful example”.

Lord Kerslake, who was head of the civil service during the coalition government, told Radio 4's Today programme; "The fact George Osborne was announced as editor of the Standard without having gone through Aoba tells you everything you need to know about process.

"I do think it needs to be statutory."

07:22 AM

Attacks on Lord Heywood unfair, say allies

Former top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood has been blamed for presiding over a 'wild west' - Andrew Parsons/ I-Images
Former top civil servant Sir Jeremy Heywood has been blamed for presiding over a 'wild west' - Andrew Parsons/ I-Images

Allies of Lord Heywood, the former civil service chief who died in 2018, have claimed he had been unfairly impugned for his role in the Greensill scandal.

Concerns have been raised over Lord Heywood’s alleged desire to push Greensill’s proposal for Government departments to use supply chain finance to speed payments to suppliers. One senior government source told the Sun “it seems it was a bit of a wild west under Heywood.”

However, sources who worked with Lord Heywood argued that he had been committed to the integrity of the civil service.

One told this newspaper: “Jeremy was constantly on the lookout, rightly so, for innovations that would support the public service. But he was also very careful about the ethics of the civil service. He pursued reform while respecting the fundamental basis of civil service ethics.”

Read the full story here.

07:14 AM

Former head of civil service has 'lost confidence' in PM-led inquiries

Boris Johnson 'sat on' the report into Priti Patel - AP Pool
Boris Johnson 'sat on' the report into Priti Patel - AP Pool

A former head of the civil service has said he does not have confidence in the inquiry Boris Johnson has ordered into Greensill, because of how the Prime Minister handled the bullying inquiry into Priti Patel.

Lord Kerslake, who was the UK's most senior civil servant between 2011 and 2014, told Radio 4's Today programme that the row which saw report author Sir Alex Allan quit as an adviser on ministerial standards had undermined his faith in the process.

"I have slightly lost confidence in prime ministerial-led inquiries because of how the inquiry into Priti Patel was handled," he said. "The Prime Minister sat on report, issued a bowdlerised version and took no action."

However he noted there were three parliamentary committees which will be considering Greensill and lobbying, saying "the combination should get to the bottom of this and improve how we do things".

He added that Acoba boss Lord Pickles will also "get to the bottom of this" and improve the oversight body, which currently "isn't strong enough on roles where there is conflict".

07:07 AM

Lord Kerslake 'baffled' by officials' Greensill second job

Lord Bob Kerslake - Paul Grover for the Telegraph
Lord Bob Kerslake - Paul Grover for the Telegraph

A former head of the civil service has said he is "baffled" as to how a former head of government procurement was able to take a job with Greensill Capital while still working in Whitehall.

Lord Kerslake said he had "real concerns" about the case of Bill Crothers.

"I can see no circumstances in which his appointment was acceptable," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"He led on procurement - an area of absolutely intense scrutiny and where integrity is vital. The effect of what he did, if not the intent, was to bypass the Acoba rules.

"The situation was that Greensill were active in government even if they didn't have a contract. So I am personally baffled as to how this got approved."

07:04 AM

Former Conservative leader attacks officials for 'having foot in both camps' on Greensill

A former Conservative leader has said senior civil servants should never "have a foot in both camps" as it emerged another senior civil servant had a job at Greensill.

David Brierwood, a former banker at Morgan Stanley, appears to have joined the firm as a director two months after he joined the department as a crown representative in 2014.

Iain Duncan Smith told Sky News: "For those working in Parliament and the House of Commons, there are very strict rules. For those who leave, there needs to be a tighter concept for how they work. Everything has to be absolutely above board."

He stressed there was "nothing wrong with trying to promote an industry which may benefit the UK but it has to be done in an open way", saying that ministers should not be "influenced by a relationship with someone" but the strength of the idea.

"There is no way that someone should be working both in a department as a civil servant and company outside at the same time - you can't have a foot in both camps."

06:50 AM

Cabinet Office adviser hired by Greensill while in civil service

Downing Street was under mounting pressure on Thursday night over the Greensill scandal after it was reported that a second official in the Cabinet Office had been hired for the firm while working for the civil service.

David Brierwood, a former banker at Morgan Stanley, appears to have joined the firm as a director two months after he joined the department as a crown representative in 2014.

It comes just days after it emerged that Bill Crothers, the former Government’s former chief commercial officer, had also taken on a role advising Greensill two months before he left the civil service in 2015.