The Prime Minister decided to scrap the Department for International Development (Dfid) without consulting Cabinet ministers, the Health Secretary has revealed.
Matt Hancock said Boris Johnson had made the decision to merge Dfid into the Foreign Office – which was announced yesterday, prompting criticism from charities, opposition MPs and three former prime ministers, including David Cameron- without discussing it first with ministers.
Mr Hancock told Sky News: “No, it wasn’t, it’s absolutely right, it’s a prime ministerial decision.
“All these machinery of Government changes are decisions individually made by the Prime Minister.”
Although the announcement was unexpected, Dfid has been in Mr Johnson’s sights for some time, even coming up during December’s General Election.
However, the unilateral decision is likely to add grist to the mill of a growing number of Conservative backbenchers, angry over the continued dominance of adviser Dominic Cummings to the detriment of the Prime Minister’s elected colleagues.
Follow the latest updates below.
Starmer challenges PM on child poverty
Sir Keir Starmer says he welcomes the Prime Minister’s U-turn on free school meals, saying it was “the right thing to do” but stressing it is “just one step”.
He points to another recent report estimating 600,000 more children are living in poverty than in 2012, and that 5.2 million children will be in poverty by 2022 and asks what the PM thinks caused that.
Boris Johnson says the Government is “very proud” that the free school meals will continue during summer. He insists absolute and relative poverty has declined.
Sir Keir says he “just read a direct report” claiming poverty is increasing, and says it is “not driven by forces beyond our control”.
Boris Johnson defends Mirza appointment to race commission
Asked about the appointment of adviser Munira Mirza to the racial inequality commission, the Prime Minister says she is a “brilliant thinker about these issues”.
Boris Johnson says the cross-government commission will look at racism and discrimination and be a “very thorough piece of work”.
“It is clear from the Black Lives Matter march… that more work needs to bd eone and this Government will do it,” he adds.
Asked about vandalism caused during protests, Mr Johnson says the Government is “looking at new ways in which we might legislate against vandalism of war memorials”.
Government will make flexible working the default, minister confirms
The Employment Act will make “flexible working the default”, Paul Scully has said.
The Small Business Minister told MPs that the Government had been “clear about the benefits of flexible working” for both employees and employers, and pointed to the inclusion of this within the Government’s manifesto
The Employment Act will be brought to the Commons “when possible”, and would make flexible working the default “subject to consultation”, he added.
Truss: Government is working ‘to reform childcare’
In the Commons, Women and Equalities Minister Liz Truss is answering questions about the impact of coronavirus.
Asked about childcare provision during lockdown, Ms Truss says she is working very closely with Education Secretary Gavin Williamson “to reform childcare” to make sure more places are available.
She says the “flexible working practices” that have become more widely used during lockdown should continue after the crisis has passed.
Halving two-metre rule would only allow one extra bus passenger, MPs told
Halving the two-metre rule would only boost bus capacity by one passenger per vehicle, a metro mayor has warned.
West of England mayor Tim Bowles said major reform of bus funding was required as operators are unable to meet demand on some routes.
He told the Commons’ Transport Select Committee: “First Bus have done work and trials on that. They did modelling on two-metre distancing, one-and-a-half-metre and one metre.
“If you think about how tight buses are, even if you reduce that to one metre they’ve worked out you will get one additional passenger on a bus.
“If you’re around about 25 per cent capacity on the bus, it means a double-decker can really only accommodate around 20 or just over 20 people.
“We would only see one more on one of those routes, if they’re following the rules.”
Mr Bowles told the committee that demand for bus services has increased in recent days, from 15 per cent to 19 per cent, as people start to return to work.
Have your say: Should ministers take a pay cut?
Sadiq Khan has cut his salary by 10 per cent, and frozen pay for his senior appointments in City Hall, in a bid to shore up the capital’s coronavirus-hit finances.
The Mayor of London is taking an immediate reduction to his £152,734 salary, cutting it by almost £15,300, as he warned that there could be cuts across the Metropolitan Police, London Fire Brigade, Transport for London and the Greater London Authority due to a shortfall of almost £500 million in funding.
He is not the first public figure to do so: New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and her ministerial team took a 20 per cent pay cut for six months back in April. At the time she said it was more about “showing solidarity in New Zealand’s time of need” than helping public finances.
So should Boris Johnson follow suit? Or is it just virtue signalling nonsense? Have your say in the poll below.
Boarding being removed from Sir Winston Churchill’s statue
Protective boarding around the statue of Sir Winston Churchill in Parliament Square is being removed ahead of the visit to London by French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday.
The statue was boarded up, along with several others, after it was sprayed with graffiti during a Black Lives Matter protest prompted by the death of George Floyd in the US.
A spokesman for the Mayor of London said: “The covering around the Winston Churchill statue will be removed for the visit of President Macron to London.”
Boris Johnson heralds potential of UK-Australia talks
Boris Johnson has heralded the launch of trade talks with Australia and New Zealand as an opportunity for Britons to have “Tim Tams at a reasonable price”.
In a video posted on Twitter “inaugurating” the post-Brexit talks with Australia, the Prime Minister said: “There is a huge amount we can do, whether it is on financial services or across all the sectors of our free trade agreement.
“We share a language, we share a head of state, we are united by so much already.
“Think of the potential which we have,” he said. “I want a world in which we send you Marmite, you send us Vegemite.
“We send you Penguins and you send us, with reduced tariffs, these wonderful Arnott’s Tim Tams.
“How long can the British people be deprived of the opportunity to have Arnott’s Tim Tams at a reasonable price?”
There are few countries in the world who share a closer friendship than Australia and the UK.
Now, as an independent trading nation for the first time in decades, we have the opportunity to turn our shared history and friendship into a world-leading free trade agreement. 🇬🇧🇦🇺 pic.twitter.com/PPWESs3aHq
— Boris Johnson #StayAlert (@BorisJohnson) June 17, 2020
International Trade Secretary Liz Truss, announcing the Government’s negotiation stance, said pivoting towards the Asia-Pacific region would diversify trade and increase the resilience of UK supply chains.
Government analysis suggests the value of UK exports to the two countries could increase by £1 billion as a result of trade deals.
Government urged to ‘come clean’ over BAME impact ahead of schools reopening
The Government has been urged to “come clean” about the impact of coronavirus on BAME school staff and students, ahead of schools reopening more widely.
Patrick Roach, the general secretary of NASUWT said: “We are very concerned that Government hasn’t really come clean in relation to the equality impact of its announcements in relation to schools.
“Government needs to be transparent, needs to publish own equality impact assessment to give the sector greater confidence as it begins to prepare for wider reopening, not just this term but from September onwards.”
The NEU’s Mary Bousted agreed, saying the Government must publish its equality impact assessment, following the recent report into the disproportionate impact on BAME individuals.
“If you are vulnerable, there is plenty of work to be done away from the school site a the moment, supporting children who are learning at home,” she added.
Nick Clegg defends Facebook over ‘free expression’ stance
Just switching from the Education Committee, as Sir Nick Clegg has been talking to the BBC about Facebook’s plans to launch a Voting Information Centre ahead of the US elections this year.
The former deputy prime minister, who set out the plans in today’s Telegraph, told Radio 4 that Facebook’s decision not to take action against inflammatory posts by Donald Trump, was because “defending free expression is important”.
Facebook has been criticised for failing to take down posts by the US president which criticised anti-racism protesters in Minnesota, warning “when the looting starts the shooting starts” – a post which was hidden from view on rival platform Twitter for inciting violence.
But Sir Nick said Facebook’s system allows people to scrutinise what politicians like Mr Trump are saying, and hold them to account by voting in elections.
“I think the fundamental judgment Facebook took in that instance was that, in the end, the best way to hold politicians to account for what they say – the good, the bad and the ugly – is to make sure that people can hear what they say,” he said.
He personally found the posts “abhorrent” but Facebook should not be the “arbiter of political truth” and that “Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook do not have the legitimacy” to tell politicians what they can and cannot say.
The Voting Information Centre has been designed to provide users with accurate information ahead of the US election, and comes in response to Facebook’s failure to stop Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 elections through the site.
As part of Facebook’s plans to stop misinformation during the upcoming election, it said it has banned all adverts from state-backed media firms outside the US.
Union claims it’s been ‘completely misrepresented’ over online learning
Tom Hunt picks up on Jonathan Gullis’ argument that unions have obstructed the reopening of schools before September, pointing to statements from May that appeared to indicate their thinking.
He asks the National Education Union’s Mary Bousted about her union’s move to discourage schools from utilising online learning, while private schools are now “driving incredibly high levels” of attendance, exacerbating the disparity with children from deprived children.
She says the NEU was never against online learning, but online Zoom lessons, saying there had been “very unfortunate safe-guarding issues”, saying the union has been “completely misrepresented”.
Dr Bousted says she is “very concerned” about deprived children, and members have done “everything they can” to help those children.
Tory MP blasts unions over ‘campaign’ to keep schools closed
A Conservative MP has blasted unions for urging teachers “not to engage” with the Government on the plan to reopen schools.
Jonathan Gullis, a former teacher, said he was “absolutely outraged at the sheer damage unions have done to the teaching profession”, and children’s education saying there were “a lot of questions for unions on this regard.”
The Stoke-on-Trent MP said “unions have acted in a way that is not in the interest of working with people”, and demanded to know if they had advised local authorities not to engage, and “how this is in the interests of children”.
Patrick Roach says he “seriously challenge committee members to ensure their views are rooted in the evidence of what unions are actually saying”, stressing that his union NASUWT has “not been engaged in any campaign to keep schools closed”.
But Mr Gullis says “a campaign has been run… to brief fear into parents about the idea of sending their kids back to school”, harming children’s education as a result.
Dr Roach replies: “I think you accept we have not been running such a campaign and I would defy the committee to show me where we have sought to give parents that view.”
Unison’s Jon Richardson claimed there had been “very little” ministerial engagement. “Had the govt talked to us all the way in… they didn’t discuss it with us.”
Mary Bousted, whose union NEU was behind the ‘don’t engage’ message to schools, says this was “in the absence of any guidance about how this was to be done, because we had no guidelines on which to make that engagement”.
She denies her union advised local authorities not to engage, and says the union’s five tests are “perfectly reasonable”.
Unions ‘rather alarmed’ by DfE adviser’s failure to read guidance on reopening schools
Unions said it was “rather alarming” that the Department for Education’s chief scientific adviser had not read the official guidance about reopening schools.
Speaking a month ago, Osama Rahman admitted the DfE had done no modelling on the impact on transmission rates of starting to reopen schools after the May half term break. Mr Rahman told the Science & Technology Committee that the decision would be made by the Cabinet rather than the department itself.
Mary Bousted today said: “The DfE’s chief scientific adviser said he hadn’t read the guidance… that they had low confidence in – the key question is to what extent children transmit the virus and there was still potential for schools to be vectors, he didn’t know how much.”
She added: “It wasn’t just us – it was a whole load of people who felt that was rather alarming.”
‘Who is advising PM if he didn’t know about Rashford until yesterday?’
While the Education Committee continues, I’m hearing from more Tory backbenchers about their complaints with Number 10, ahead of today’s 1922 meeting.
The consensus seems to be that nothing will change from it – but people will certainly be looking to get some things off their chest.
One Conservative MP tells me today is “likely to be more fiery than usual, but I doubt it will change much in terms of No 10 approach.”
Another MP says: “The Govt looks rudderless. It isn’t spotting things like fsm [free school meals] issue early enough, abolishing Dfid in the middle of a pandemic – really, is that the priority for govt time? Who is advising the PM such that he said he didn’t know about Rashford until yesterday?”
There is also “great unrest” about Sunday trading hours, the MP says. And of course, all roads lead to Dominic Cummings, who is “the catalyst for all the other grumblings”.
Schools won’t reopen in September if social distancing rules remain, says union boss
Mary Boustead says an “inventive” plan needs to be put together in time for September to ensure as many schools can open fully as possible.
The joint general secretary of NEU says the “physical footprint” needs to be increased, and blended learning can be introduced to ensure that “support for time in school” is enhanced with remote learning.
It needs to be a national plan, she adds.
But asked what will change in September, she says: “If the Government retains its social distancing rules, they can’t [reopen fully] – that is why we need an education recovery programme that is focused on more than school buildings.
“We have got one about increasing the physical footprint of the school, this is about increasing the number of teachers available to teach smaller classes, and a national plan for blended learning.”
Halfon clashes with union leaders over schools risk assessments
Robert Halfon has clashed with union bosses over their conditions and the risk assessments that schools are carrying out before they reopen.
Asked why parents and children can access Primark but not schools, Mary Boustead says the risk assessment follows Government guidance.
“If you have a quarrel with the risk assessments being done in schools, that is a quarrel you should take up with the DfE,” says the NEU joint general secretary. She notes that the two-metre rule “puts the pressure on the school site”, and calls for an education recovery plan using other public buildings to allow more students back to schools.
Julie McCulloch, director of policy for the ASCL, agrees that schools are using Government guidance for their individual risk assessments, and “have tried to recognise the challenges on their own individual sites”.
“Our survey of our members in secondary schools, we know about 90 per cent of secondaries have opened this week,” she notes.
The “vast majority of school leaders” have “done what they possibly can” with official guidance, she adds.
Union boss defends five ‘conditions’ for schools to reopen
“The NASUWT has never set five tests which schools must satisfy before opening,” the union boss Patrick Roach has said, insisting it has instead set out “five conditions that the Government must demonstrate”.
He noted that schools have remained open for children of key workers and vulnerable children.
Robert Halfon, chair of the Education Committee, then goes through the “conditions which aren’t tests”, noting that they are “vague” and lacking context.
Mr Roach says they are “talking about health and safety protections under law”, saying unions are not asking for access to surgical face masks.
He added: “In the context of a public health crisis… it’s vitally important that there are clear standards about what expectations of a safe return a return to a Covid-secure school… will look like.”
Govt ‘needs to take responsibility’ for opening schools, says union boss
Asked if union leaders are weighing up the educational, safe-guarding and mental health risks to children who are not able to go to schools. Patrick Roach says the question is “an important one, but it’s even more important for the Government”.
He adds: “The Government has made the decision to close schools, the Government needs to take responsibility for decisions around reopening.”
The NASUWT boss said the “best place for children is in schools”.
ASCL’s Julie McCulloch says the two types of risk should not be put “in opposition”, and are bound to change as the outbreak progresses. “We can only follow the evidence that is put forward by scientists,” she adds.
“Every establishment is balancing those risks to the best of their abilities to deliver both on safety and on education,” she adds.
UK Government not worked as ‘collaboratively’ with schools as other countries, unions claim
Asked what the acceptable level of risk would be for schools to reopen, the NEU’s Mary Boustead says “that’s not a question we can answer”, suggesting that it should be for scientists to determine.
“We are not public health experts,” she says, stressing “you’re not making a comparison of like with like,” when looking at what countries like France are doing, because lockdown came in at a different time and the approach thereafter has been different.
Patrick Roach says countries with the greater success are those who “have worked collaboratively with the profession”, saying “that has not been in quite as much evidence in England.”
Union leaders blame Government for lack of information about risk of reopening schools
Turning to the Education Committee now, where Robert Halfon is hearing from various union leaders about schools.
Mary Boustead, the joint general secretary of the National Education Union, says her aim has never been “to reduce the risk to zero” but to find out what the risk is.
She says it has been “very difficult to find out” what the modelling shows.
Patrick Roach, the general secretary of NASUWT, tells Mr Halfon that it is “not a question of either you reopen schools or you don’t” but how you do so safely.
Jon Richards, education national secretary for Unison, points out that risk is different for those of different backgrounds and ethnicities.
Julie McCulloch of ASCL, says the lack of clarity and deluge of guidance has made it hard for schools to plan.
Word from Westminster…
Backbenchers have got in touch with the blog to let us know they think there is a real chance Boris Johnson will be challenged at the 1922 meeting today.
Usually supporters drown out any critics, loudly banging on the desk and roaring whenever the Prime Minister (whoever it is) says something.
But I’m told people are expecting things to be different, because of a “perception of incompetence at the centre”.
There’s a lot that would-be critics could hammer Mr Johnson over, not least schools, the two-metre rule and the quarantine. But there is also growing unhappiness about Dominic Cummings’ continued dominance at Number 10, with MPs still receiving emails about the adviser’s decision to drive to Durham as he and his wife began to come down with coronavirus.
Hancock blames ‘early’ start for Rashford misspeak
Matt Hancock is currently getting something of a ribbing on Twitter after he called Manchester United footballer Marcus Rashford the wrong name.
Speaking to Sky this morning, the Health Secretary praised “Daniel Rashford” for his campaign to get free school meals for deprived children during the summer, which prompted a Government U-turn yesterday.
Celebrities including Gary Lineker picked up on the mistake, as did Mr Rashford himself.
Mr Hancock tweeted: “Too early. But in all seriousness Marcus you’re a credit to the nation”
Speaking to LBC, Mr Hancock suggested “maybe I had Harry Potter on the mind… My seven-year-old listens to Harry Potter and reads Harry Potter avidly, including at 5.30 this morning when I got up to do this morning’s media round.”
Harry Potter was played by Daniel Radcliffe in the movie adaptions of the popular books.
What’s on the agenda today?
It’s another busy day in Westminster, and as is usual on Wednesday the focus of the day will be on PMQs, where Boris Johnson will clash with Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer over the Government’s response to coronavirus (again). It’s not always possible to identify exactly what the former Director of Public Prosecutions will focus on, but the row over free school meals and the Government U-turn following Marcus Rashford’s campaign is likely to feature, as that is also something Labour has been pushing for.
The ongoing shambles over schools more generally could also come up, as could the brewing row over Robert Jenrick’s intervention on Richard Desmond’s development in Westferry, East London.
Before that, we will see Education Committee is hearing evidence about the impact of coronavirus on education from various unions. Committee chair Rob Halfon has made no secret of his opinion that the Government needs to pull out the stops, particularly for disadvantaged children. We will be watching from 9:45am.
Then at 11:30am, Liz Truss and Kemi Badenoch will be answering Women and Equalities questions, following the recent wave of Black Lives Matter protests and the report that confirmed the disproportionate impact of coronavirus on BAME communities
At 1:15pm, International Trade Secretary Liz Truss will update MPs on the prospect of Britain joining the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, after the Prime Minister’s speech on Global Britain yesterday.
At 2:30pm, the Treasury Committee is hearing from business groups including the British Chambers of Commerce about the impact of coronavirus.
And this afternoon Mr Johnson is expected to face the 1922 committee, with a growing number of backbenchers getting vocal about his over-reliance on Dominic Cummings, and a series of decisions that they are unhappy with, including the quarantine, the two-metre rule and the failure to get a plan up and running for schools. Often the 1922 showdowns end up being little more than a damp squib – will today be any different? We will be speaking to backbenchers as it happens.
Join Allison Pearson today for a discussion about private schools
Our government has let children become collateral damage in the war on Covid. Private schools are desperate to open – so why are they being stopped?
Join Allison Pearson in the comments section of this article at 10am today for a discussion about private schools being stopped from opening.
Shielding announcement coming ‘very soon’, says Hancock
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said an announcement on shielding would be coming “very soon”.
He told BBC Breakfast: “I want to say to your viewers, if you are in the shielded category we will announce very soon what the plans are and we will write to you personally through the NHS so that you can get the direct clinical advice.”
‘Intensive local action’ to avoid country-wide lockdown, says Hancock
Matt Hancock has said the Government hopes to avoid a second country-wide lockdown through “intensive local action”.
The Health Secretary told the BBC’s Today programme the team had shut two GPs in Enfield at the weekend, with the surgeries deep cleaned. He also pointed to the hospital in Weston-Super-Mare which was shut after an outbreak was detected.
“Our goal is to keep a lid on this by tackling local outbreaks… that level of intensive local action is the best way to keep on any outbreaks,” he said.
Hancock: We are trying to work out what to replace two-metre rule with
Matt Hancock says “of course” there are more people going out and about after shops reopened on Monday, but stressed this was acceptable as long as they follow social distancing measures.
The Health Secretary told BBC Today programme: “It is the policy of the Government that people should go and enjoy themselves outside”.
Asked about the two-metre rule, he said it was “just another social distancing rule”, and one which was under review.
“The question is what to replace it with, and when and whether to formally make the change”, Mr Hancock said. “We have to get those decisions right.”
The same was true of quarantine, he added, saying ahead of the review he was working with Grant Shapps to agree travel corridors with countries “with a low rate of infection, where we trust their figures”.
Hancock: Dexamethasone not a panacea – but it will help us in the battle
Matt Hancock has said we are “undoubtedly winning the war” against coronavirus, following the announcement about new treatment Dexamethasone.
The drug is already being administered to people on ventilators in hospitals across the country, with experts saying it can save one in eight people from dying.
But the Health Secretary told BBC’s Today programme: “It saves lives, it helps us in the battle against this disease, but it isn’t a panacea – it isn’t a cure”.
“There is an awful long way for the whole world,” he added, pointing to parts of the world where cases were rising.
Minister only able to name one country with worse R-rate than UK
Matt Hancock could only name one country when challenged over which parts of the world the UK was trying to stop importing cases of coronavirus from.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said Brazil was one country which the UK was worried about. Asked at least five times on Sky News what countries meant the quarantine on arrivals was necessary, he said air bridges were still being considered but would not state any other nations other than Brazil.
“It’s really sad to see some of the countries like, for instance, Brazil, where the numbers are really shooting up, so we do have to have this measure in place,” he said.
“I mentioned Brazil, there are others we are worried about.
“I’m not going to go into which countries.”
Hancock praises ‘Daniel’ Rashford as he insists Government did not make U-turn on school meals
Health Secretary Matt Hancock denied the Government had made an embarrassing U-turn on free school meals and praised footballer “Daniel Rashford”.
“Righty-ho, I will tell you what happened, the Prime Minister talked to Daniel Rashford, he considered it and made his decision – I think it’s terrific,” he told Sky News.
Speaking with BBC Breakfast later, he was asked why Transport Secretary Grant Shapps had insisted school meals would not be extended during the summer, only for the decision to be overturned hours later.
Hancock said: “Grant yesterday was explaining the policy as it has been for years, the PM took a fresh look at this and made the judgement he did.
“In Government if you can’t change a decision you can’t make any progress”