Viv has asked me to tell you she’s a bit under the weather at the moment and
won’t be writing her usual Daily Betrayal column.  She should be
back at her desk after the weekend.  Get well soon Viv.

Labour laws

Telegraph
Boris Johnson is considering a post-Brexit overhaul of labour laws to free businesses from regulations originally imposed by the EU. The 48-hour working week is one of the regulations being targeted by the Government, it was reported on Thursday night, in a move that is likely to meet with resistance from trade unions. The Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (BEIS), has asked business leaders for their views on the ideas, which are understood to be at an early stage. Mr Johnson recently said there would be “big changes” to regulation this year but that the UK would not “regress” on workers’ rights and would not “send children up chimneys”. But ministers believe the current laws, imported from EU law as part of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, can be tweaked to benefit both businesses and workers.

Guardian
The government has rejected a report that following Brexit, it plans to tear up employment protections based in EU law – a strategy that Labour has called “a disgrace”. Proposals include an end to the 48-hour maximum working week, changes to rules about breaks at work, and removing overtime pay when calculating certain holiday pay entitlements, the Financial Times said. Another proposal would be to get rid of the current requirement for businesses to log information about daily working hours, to save on administration costs. The package is being drawn up within the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy, the newspaper said, and while it has not been put to other ministers, the department has consulted some business leaders.

Fisheries

Mail
A Government minister claimed fish in UK waters are ‘better and happier’ since Brexit took place – amid growing fury at red tape costing the seafood industry millions. Commons Leader Jacob Rees-Mogg made the claim in the Commons today after days of claims that exporters have been hit by a ‘perfect storm’ of bureaucracy, IT problems and confusion since the EU trade agreement kicked in on January 1. There were complaints of shellfish rotting in ports as the ‘disastrous’ hold-ups meant they could not be sold in Europe. After SNP politicians claimed that the hold-ups were costing £1million per day, Tory Brexiteer Mr Rees-Mogg said: ‘What is happening is that the Government is tackling this issue, dealing with it as quickly as possible, and the key thing is we’ve got our fish back. ‘They’re now British fish and they’re better and happier fish for it.’

Boris

Mail
A senior Tory MP today fired an extraordinary broadside across the bows of Boris Johnson as he warned the PM’s time in Number 10 could be under threat unless he ditches his lockdown strategy.  Steve Baker, a former Brexit minister, has written to his Conservative colleagues to ask them to formally register their opposition to the Government’s draconian curbs with the Chief Whip.  Mr Baker said Mr Johnson must set out an exit strategy for the current national shutdown and deliver a guarantee that such measures will not be rolled out again next winter.  The member of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group of Tory MPs said a failure to take those steps would mean that ‘inevitably the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table’. Mr Baker, who played a leading role in the successful Tory backbench effort to oust Theresa May, warned Mr Johnson that ‘if we do not act now, events will become inevitable’.

Guardian
Boris Johnson’s position as prime minister could be under threat if the coronavirus lockdown in England lasts into late spring, a backbench Conservative MP has warned. In a message to fellow Tories in the Covid Recovery Group (CRG), which comprises around 70 MPs who are wary of lockdown measures, Steve Baker urged colleagues to stress their concerns. He told fellow MPs it was “imperative you equip the chief whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored, with a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter.” Baker, the deputy chair of the CRG, wrote: “Certain government scientists have said that the current lockdown could last until late spring. There is no reason to think there will be any real resistance in cabinet to the argument for greater and longer and more draconian restrictions on the public. “This could be a disaster. Nothing seems more certain to break the public than giving hope before taking it away, and doing it repeatedly.”

Sun
BORIS Johnson’s days in Downing Street are numbered unless he gives a clear path out of lockdown soon, influential Tories have warned. Powerful backbencher Steve Baker, who was instrumental in the downfall of Theresa May, has privately said “it’s inevitable the Prime Minister’s leadership will be on the table.” In an explosive rallying call to fellow members of the lockdown-sceptic Covid Recovery Group, the ex-minister blasted: “people are telling me they are losing faith in our Conservative Party leadership.” The group represents dozens of Tory backbenchers who are worried about the side effects of long lockdowns. Mr Baker urged those colleagues to make their concerns directly to Mr Johnson’s Commons enforcer, Chief Whip Mark Spencer.

Express
BORIS JOHNSON has been warned his authority will be “on the table” if the Government does not outline an appropriate exit roadmap from the coronavirus lockdown. Steve Baker, the deputy chairman of the Covid Recovery Group which opposed the introduction of a second lockdown, urged members of the association to ramp up their anti-restriction efforts. Mr Baker, who used to lead hardline Brexiteer group the European Research Group, sent out a letter, seen by The Sun, with the request on Thursday. He wrote: “I am sorry to have to say this again and as bluntly as this – it is imperative you equip the Chief Whip today with your opinion that debate will become about the PM’s leadership if the Government does not set out a clear plan for when our full freedoms will be restored, with a guarantee that this strategy will not be used again next winter.”

Breitbart
Influential backbench leader Sir Graham Brady has said that lockdown measures could be “removing hope” from Britons, criticising “pointless restrictions” that ban people from sitting on a park bench or taking more than one walk a day. Sir Graham, chairman of the 1922 Committee of all backbench Tory MPs, warned that the government and ministers need to recognise that “lockdown carries its own costs”. “Not just in terms of livelihoods destroyed and people who might lose their homes through unemployment, but also the health consequences and the mental health consequences — the danger that we’re removing hope and aspiration for young people,” Brady told The Telegraph‘s Planet Normal podcast on Thursday.

Lockdown

iNews
Priti Patel insisted tougher Covid-19 restrictions will not be introduced “today or tomorrow” but left the door open for tighter rules to be brought in next week.  Ministers are actively considering further strengthening measures but have been encouraged by early signs that the current lockdown rules are having an impact on Covid cases. With the NHS under extraordinary pressures, there are concerns that the current restrictions may not be enough to bring the infection rate under control, particularly with the highly-transmissible new variant.  Downing Street is understood to be considering plans to require masks be worn outdoors and scrapping the rule that allows two people from different households to meet for exercise.

Labour Party

Express
GORDON BROWN has been tipped to become Scottish Labour’s next party leader after Richard Leonard stepped down ahead of this Scottish Parliament elections. Mr Leonard, Scottish Labour leader since 2017, resigned “in the best interests of the party”. While MSP Anas Sarwar is considered the frontrunner for the role, commentators have suggested Mr Brown, Prime Minister from 2007 to 2010, could take over to boost the party in Holyrood.  Andrew Adonis, Labour member of the House of Lords, took to Twitter to tip the former Prime Minister to step up to run Labour in Scotland. He said: “The best leader of the Labour Party in Scotland would be Gordon Brown.” George Eaton, an editor at The New Statesman, added: “Given how high the stakes are, there’s surely a case for Gordon Brown becoming Scottish Labour leader.”

‘R’ rate

Mail
There were more tentative signs the UK is turning the tide on coronavirus today as new cases fell by 7.5 per cent from last week and figures showed infections were tumbling in every age group except the over-80s. A further 48,682 cases were reported today, bringing the country’s overall pandemic total to 3,292,014 – up 1,157 on yesterday but crucially down 3,936 from last Thursday’s data.   Deaths in the past 24 hours rose by 1,248 – a 7.4 per cent climb from last week’s 1,162 – bringing the UK’s grim fatality toll to 86,015. Sir Patrick Vallance has warned that the country should brace for a ‘pretty grim period’ of fatalities as the NHS comes under strain from patients in the teeth of a devastating second wave.  But because the trend in death rates lags behind cases by a couple of weeks, scientists hope the drop in infection rates will translate into less deaths.

Sun
THE UK’s Covid R-rate may finally have dropped below one in some areas – amid hopes Brits may be turning the tide against the deadly second wave. Experts at Cambridge University believe the rate could be as low as 0.6 in London, which has been the epicentre of the disease in recent weeks. But they’ve warned deaths are yet to peak. The second wave of the pandemic has now caused more deaths than the first. In total, 1,248 fatalities were recorded yesterday – more than seven per cent higher than the 1,162 reported the previous Thursday. However, scientists say there are encouraging signs the tough new lockdown is working after cases began to drop at long last.

Express
THE CORONAVIRUS R-number in the UK has fallen below one as cases are continuing to decline, according to scientists. On Thursday a further 48,682 COVID-19 cases were registered, bringing Britain’s total during the pandemic to 3,292,014. Although the figure has increased by 1,157 from the one released on Wednesday, it has hugely declined since last week’s numbers. According to official data, cases fell by 7.5 percent from last week giving some hope that lockdown measures are beginning to work.  However, deaths related to the coronavirus have risen by 1,248 in the past 24 hours which is a 7.4 percent climb from last Thursday’s 1,162. It brings the UK’s total pandemic death toll to a grim 86,015.

Police fines

Mail
Britain’s biggest police force is handing out a record 300 penalties a day – with more Covid rule breakers fined in the past few weeks than in the first nine months of the pandemic. Scotland Yard Deputy Commissioner Sir Steve House yesterday revealed the extent of the crackdown as it emerged that officers are doling out 66 times more fines every day than during the first lockdown. When the restrictions were first announced, the Metropolitan Police dished out 4.5 fines a day on average between March 27 and April 13. In comparison, more than 300 people a day are now getting fixed penalty notices, with almost 4,000 penalties handed out so far in London.

Vaccine

Mail
Whitehall sources last night vowed that all over-50s could be vaccinated by the end of March as figures show that more than three million people have already received the Covid jab. The Government is preparing to more than double the pace of the vaccine roll-out next week, with vaccines for as many as half a million people per day as ministers vow to hit Boris Johnson’s target of immunising the 15million most vulnerable people by mid-February. A senior Whitehall source claims that No10 is increasingly confident that all 32million over-50s could receive their first vaccine dose by mid to late March, according to the Times.  A document published by the Scottish government – but then removed – suggests as many as 3.8million people could be vaccinated next week in the UK, indicating a double of the current vaccination rate.

Sun
MORE than 32million over-50’s could be vaccinated by the end of March under new Government plants to ramp up the jab roll-out, it has been reported. The Government is said to be preparing to more than double the pace of the current programme next week to up to half a million jabs a day. Ministers believe they will be able to hit Boris Johnson’s target of vaccinating the 15million most vulnerable by February 15. A senior Whitehall Source told The Times they were confident that are all 32million over-50s could receive their first dose by mid to late March. The source said: “We have the supply coming in. “Once we get to the over-60s things will speed up dramatically and distribute at scale through pharmacies.”

Times
All over-50s could be vaccinated by the end of March under plans to increase the provision of coronavirus jabs. The government is preparing to more than double the pace of the programme next week with vaccines for as many as half a million people a day. Ministers believe that they will have enough doses to hit Boris Johnson’s target of inoculating the 15 million most vulnerable people by February 15. A senior Whitehall source told The Times they were increasingly confident that all 32 million over-50s could receive their first vaccine dose by mid to late March. Confidential figures published by the Scottish government suggest that 3.8 million vaccinations will be carried out next week alone, eclipsing the 3 million carried out so far.

Telegraph
Nicola Sturgeon has been accused of putting the UK’s vaccination programme in jeopardy after the Scottish Government was forced to retract its jabs delivery plan amid a transparency row. Scotland’s First Minister on Thursday insisted the deployment schedule had been published on “transparency” grounds, adding that she was “not convinced” that it would have any impact on supply.  Defending the move, she insisted that the plan, which provided official estimates for future deliveries of the vaccine until May, had only been removed because UK ministers had raised concerns about “commercial confidentiality”.  But Whitehall sources have hit back, branding the Scottish Government’s actions “completely irresponsible” and revealing that health officials and ministers had been forced to scramble on Wednesday evening to contain the fallout among vaccine manufacturers.

iNews
A major study of NHS staff and care home residents and workers will reveal for the first time whether Covid-19 vaccines curb transmission in the community as well as reduce serious disease in an individual. Clinical trials of the two vaccines currently in use in the UK – Pfizer/BioNTech and Oxford/AstraZeneca – were unable to provide sufficient evidence that they stopped the virus being passed on to others from vaccinated individuals. Identifying vaccines that can curb transmission is crucial as it would be a step towards genuine herd immunity – which happens when enough people are vaccinated so that the wider population benefits indirectly. A document by Public Health England suggests that results showing reduced transmission could lead to the lockdown being lifted sooner.

EU

Mail
France is demanding that truckers have Covid tests which can take 72 hours to give a result before being let in amid growing fears of further Dover chaos. Last month the French government banned HGV drivers from crossing the English Channel in a desperate bid to prevent the spread of ‘mutant’ coronavirus detected in London and the South and East of England. The unprecedented ban left thousands of lorry drivers stranded in Kent during the Christmas period and led to clashes with police at the border – only resolved when the UK gave drivers lateral flow tests which take 20 minutes to produce a positive or negative result. But now the French government is worried about the accuracy of the tests and has called on the UK to introduce a fully saliva-based PCR test for the truckers, according to the Times.

Times
France is demanding that lorry drivers have PCR tests which can take 72 hours to produce a result, causing concern in government that it will lead to chaos at the border. Last month France banned lorry drivers from crossing the Channel to try to stop the spread of the new UK strain of the coronavirus. The ban left thousands of drivers stranded in Kent and led to clashes with police at the border. The government resolved the issue by giving lorry drivers lateral flow tests, which take 20 minutes to produce a result. However, France, which is introducing a nationwide 6pm curfew tomorrow, is concerned about the accuracy of the tests. It wants Britain to introduce a fully saliva-based PCR test for lorry drivers.

Mail
EU leaders will meet next week to discuss plans for Covid vaccine passports which would allow people who have had the jabs to avoid travel restrictions and go on holiday – as UK ministers continue to flip-flop over the controversial policy.  The idea of introducing vaccination certifications has already been floated in Europe, with Greek ministers suggesting that EU countries adopt a ‘standardised’ passport in order to promote travel.  Next Thursday Greek prime minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis will urge other European leaders to agree on coronavirus passports ‘facilitating the freedom of movement of persons who have been vaccinated against Covid-19’.   In a letter to EU Commission chief Ursula von der Leyen, Mr Mitsotakis had suggested: ‘Persons who have been vaccinated should be free to travel. ‘It is urgent to adopt a common understanding on how a vaccination certificate should be structured so as to be accepted in all member states’.

Social care

Telegraph
Outbreaks of Covid-19 in care homes have more than trebled in a month, with levels of infections now similar to the peak of the first wave, figures show. The latest surveillance data from Public Health England (PHE) reveals that, in the week to January 14, there was the second highest weekly total since records began in April. On Thursday night, senior figures said the numbers were “shocking” and warned: “Care homes cannot be neglected again.” It came as the Government closed Britain’s borders to Portugal and South America amid fears over a new strain of the virus from Brazil. Ministers had pledged that all care home residents would be vaccinated by the end of this month, but The Telegraph has been told the care home rollout is taking longer than the Government had anticipated.

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