Top story: Cummings’ role in hiring of friends’ firm
Hello, Warren Murray here, and we can’t fit it all in, therefore careful choices have been made.
Boris Johnson has declared coronavirus case rates will have to be “very low indeed” before England enters a “cautious but irreversible” easing of lockdown restrictions. The emphasis on infection rates is likely to inflame tensions with Conservative MPs who see it as overturning commitments given by Matt Hancock, the health secretary. Anti-lockdown MPs argue case rates will matter less once vaccinations take effect. The prime minister confirmed he would set out a roadmap for ending restrictions on Monday 22 February, including possible dates. “If, because of the rate of infection, we have to push something off a little bit to the right – delay it for a little bit – we won’t hesitate to do that.”
Dominic Cummings was instrumental in a Covid contract going without tender to a company called Public First that was run by his friends, according to court documents. The not-for-profit Good Law Project has brought a judicial review about the granting of the contract for holding focus groups. “I am a special adviser and as such I am not allowed to direct civil servants,” Cummings in a witness statement submitted to the high court. “However, as a result of my suggestion I expected people to hire Public First.” An official at the Cabinet Office wrote in an internal email at the time that it was a case of “Tory party research agency tests Tory party narrative on public money” – the author later claimed it was meant lightheartedly.
The WHO has approved the Oxford vaccine, clearing the way for its rollout via the Covax system that aims to bring vaccinations to poorer countries. For further updates would you ever head to our global live blog.
‘Free speech’ or fines – Proposed laws would allow “no-platformed” academics, students or visiting speakers to sue universities by claiming infringement of free speech. The University and College Union is accusing the government of “fighting phantom threats to free speech” as the education secretary, Gavin Williamson, today introduces plans including a “free speech champion”. A free speech condition would be imposed for universities to stay registered and get public funding, and laws would also cover students’ unions. Williamson said he was “deeply worried about the chilling effect on campuses of unacceptable silencing and censoring”. Hillary Gyebi-Ababio from the National Union of Students said: “There is no evidence of a freedom of expression crisis on campus, and students’ unions are constantly taking positive steps to help facilitate the thousands of events that take place each year.” Universities UK said it was waiting to see the details but “there are already significant legal duties placed on universities to uphold freedom of speech”.
‘The industry is reeling’ – Post-Brexit visa rules for British artists, actors and theatre workers to work in Europe have become a “towering hurdle”, according to an open letter signed by stars including Sir Ian McKellen, Julie Walters, Patrick Stewart, Miriam Margolyes and Anne-Marie Duff. The performing arts union Equity is imploring the prime minister to go back to the negotiating table to ensure visa-free work in the EU.
Equity’s general secretary, Paul Fleming, said the arts and entertainment were worth more to the economy than banking. The UK government says the EU rejected proposals for creative professionals to continue working easily across Europe. “We hope member states will act on these calls by changing the rules they apply to UK creatives. We’re working urgently with our cultural sectors to resolve any new barriers they face.”
‘Facts and causes’ – The US Congress will move to establish an independent commission into the Capitol attack on 6 January. Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, said it would look at the “facts and causes” of the deadly insurrection. Donald Trump was acquitted in his second Senate impeachment trial because of the political mathematics but both Democrats and senior Republicans have said he incited the deadly riot. The Capitol complex remains guarded by more than 5,000 national guard troops and ringed with eight-foot fences rimmed with razor wire. The troops are expected to remain through mid-March. More than 200 people have been charged with federal crimes and a huge investigation continues.
‘Nowhere near enough’ – Thousands of British military personnel dismissed for being homosexual will be able to have their service medals restored. Gay rights campaigners say criminal records, lost pension rights and blemished service records must also be dealt with by the Ministry of Defence. Gay men and lesbian women were banned from serving in the British military until 2000. Before that about 200 to 250 were thrown out each year and sometimes sent to prison.
Joe Ousalice, 70, a Falklands veteran, was handed back his long service and good conduct medal by the defence secretary, Ben Wallace, last year. They had been removed in 1993 after a court martial when he had served 18 years in the Royal Navy. “This is nowhere near enough,” Ousalice said. “By taking my medal and three good conduct badges that I had, my rank was cut. I had to wait until 60 before drawing a pension, whereas I could have got it immediately.”
Coventry volts ahead – Coventry city council is seeking pre-emptive planning permission for a “gigafactory” beside the city’s airport to make electric car batteries. So far only one company, BritishVolt, has announced it wants to build a UK factory, at a site in Blyth, Northumbria, near Nissan’s Sunderland plant. A joint venture between Coventry council and Regional City Airports aims to attract an experienced manufacturer to start production by 2025. Many in the industry believe the West Midlands will also require a battery plant to supply carmakers such as Aston Martin Lagonda, BMW and the taxi and van company LEVC. The Jaguar brand is to switch to pure electric technology by 2025, before its owner JLR ceases all production of petrol and diesel vehicles by 2036, meaning it will require hundreds of thousands of batteries a year.
Today in Focus podcast: Why are India’s farmers angry?
The Guardian’s south Asia correspondent and the founder of a sustainable farming movement explain why huge protests are taking place against the Indian government’s sweeping reforms of agriculture.
Lunchtime read: How to have better arguments online
The troubled times we live in, and the rise of social media, have created an age of endless conflict. Rather than fearing or avoiding disagreement, we need to learn to do it well.
Today barring a twist will be a Test match that concludes with India squaring the series at one-all – our live coverage is up and running. Australian Open day nine is likewise under way so get all the updates from the first day of the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park – in developments so far, Naomi Osaka has reached the semi-finals by defeating Hsieh Su-wei 6-2, 6-2. A resolute Jürgen Klopp has vowed to correct Liverpool’s faltering season and denied he needs a break after a difficult time in his private and professional life. Chelsea are remembering why it helps to have a manager who trusts in his tactics and style of play after Thomas Tuchel led his side to a 2-0 win over Newcastle. Sport is facing a “massive spread in the cancer of match-fixing” during the Covid-19 era, investigators have said, with fixers diversifying into new areas and targeting especially vulnerable teams, players and officials. Simone Biles says she would not allow her daughter to be part of the USA Gymnastics set-up following the organisation’s handling of the Larry Nassar sexual abuse scandal. Lando Norris believes he will face the hardest challenge of his career in the new Formula One season.
Asia-Pacific shares have advanced today, putting world equities on course to extend their bull run for a 12th consecutive session as optimism about the global economic recovery and expectations of low interest rates drive investments into riskier assets. Severe freezing weather in the US has helped push oil prices to a 13-month high. The MSCI index of Asia-Pacific shares ticked up 0.45% while Japan’s Nikkei rose 0.4% to a 30-year high. The Hang Seng surged 1.79% to a 32-month high in its first session since Thursday following the lunar new year holidays. Mainland Chinese markets will remain closed until this Thursday while Wall Street was also shut on Monday. The FTSE has picked up on the positive vibe and is set to open higher. The pound is worth $1.394 and €1.148 at time of writing.
A quarantined arrival giving the thumbs-down from behind a hotel window features across several front pages today. Others look out longingly – the Metro calls it the “Radisson blues”. The i has “Border farce on day one of new hotel quarantine” –picking up, as our story does on how border staff, received their instructions – a lengthy email with five attachments – only two and a half hours before they came into force. The Guardian has “Anger over Cummings role in Covid contract” and stars calling for the government to bring back visa-free work in the EU for creative practitioners.
“Johnson: this must be the final lockdown”. That’s the Telegraph while the Times has “Vaccination is reducing admissions and deaths” – which might further embolden Tory MPs who believe high vaccination rates are enough to warrant lifting restrictions. The Express says “PM: we can be optimistic … but no time to relax”.
The Sussexes’ decision to go even more public via an Oprah Winfrey interview is everywhere. “Harry and Meghan: the final straw” says the Mail: it reports they are set to be stripped of their remaining royal patronages. The Mirror can’t resist doing it as “Royal soap Oprah” and says the palace “fears explosive claims”. The FT leads with “JLR ditches diesel in plan to go electric in 15 years” – our version of that news here. Its picture lead is Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, who has become the first female and first African leader of the World Trade Organization.
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