Brexit negotiations were halted ahead of a looming deadline for the UK-EU trade deal on Thursday after a member of Michel Barnier’s team tested positive for coronavirus. Face-to-face talks between Mr Barnier and David Frost, the UK’s chief negotiator, will not be possible at a crucial point in the talks, with the timetable to avoid no deal extremely tight. EU chief negotiator Mr Barnier, who must now quarantine for up to 10 days, broke the news on Twitter. “One of the negotiators on my team has tested positive for Covid-19. With David Frost, we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period,” he wrote. Lord Frost, who officials said was in “permanent” online contact with Mr Barnier said: “The health of our teams comes first.”
Brexit talks were thrown into chaos yesterday after it emerged a member of Michel Barnier‘s team tested positive for coronavirus. The EU’s chief negotiator will now be among those self-isolating for at least a week in line with Belgian health rules. Despite the setback, Downing Street insisted that talks would restart today remotely. Mr Barnier wrote on Twitter: ‘We have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines.’ A member of his team will brief EU ambassadors this morning via videolink on the progress of the talks. Mr Barnier contracted the virus himself in March.
FACE to face Brexit talks were SUSPENDED at the 11th hour today – throwing hopes for a quick fire trade deal into jeopardy. Brussels’ chief negotiator announced high-level meetings have been pulled because one of his top team has tested positive for the virus. But both sides are expected to continue to hold talks online as they race against the clock to get an agreement over the line. It’s not yet clear if one or both chief negotiators will have to go into isolation. The Frenchman and Lord Frost both had the virus back in March. A British source said officials had already war-gamed the risk of another Covid outbreak and were staying “calm”.
Face-to-face talks between Michel Barnier and Lord Frost were suspended this afternoon after a member of Mr Barnier’s personal team tested positive for the coronavirus. The development is a big complication and an obstacle for the negotiations as deadlines for an agreement continue to slip, presenting a political headache for the European Union. “One of the negotiators in my team has tested positive for Covid-19,” Mr Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, tweeted. “With Lord Frost we have decided to suspend the negotiations at our level for a short period. The teams will continue their work in full respect of guidelines.”
The post-Brexit trade talks between the UK and EU will continue remotely after a member of Michel Barnier’s negotiation team tested positive for coronavirus. The two sides have been meeting in Brussels with time running out to reach a deal before the Brexit transition arrangements expire at the end of the year. To give greater hope of a deal being secured, both parties have agreed to carry on at a distance after originally halting talks on Thursday. “With respect to the relevant public health guidance, the UK and EU teams have agreed to continue to negotiate remotely for the time being,” a statement read.
MICHEL BARNIER could be forced to draw up a special “declaration” to convince concerned EU states that any trade deal with Britain isn’t a power grab by Brussels. Sources said a handful of leaders, including French President Emmanuel Macron, were concerned that the agreement could be bundled over the line without proper scrutiny. One insider said the EU’s chief negotiator could avoid a potential rebellion by producing a “declaration” that assures capitals the Brexit trade deal doesn’t infringe on their national powers. The document would include promises that any provisions in the pact are a “one-off” move to protect trade and security ties with Britain.
BRITONS have furiously hit out at plans drawn up by German politicians for a European Union army – with one Express.co.uk reader insisting Nick Clegg “owes an apology” to Nigel Farage for dismissing claims of a Brussels military force. A working group on security and defence policy of the Social Democrats (SPD) – one of Germany’s major political parties – has published a 12-page plan to create an EU army. The politicians have called for “the ability to act regardless of tiresome questions of sovereignty”. But the plan for a Brussels army has prompted a backlash from Express.co.uk readers.
FRANCE has warned fishermen could intervene to prevent British catch from being sold on the European Union market if the UK Government tries to cut off EU vessels from fishing in British waters. France has emerged as one of the prominent obstacles to clinching a new arrangement on fisheries to roll out at the end of the Brexit transition period in December. President Emmanuel Macron has insisted he will not allow a British decision to severely affect the livelihoods of French fishing fleets. Olivier Leprêtre, the president of the Fishermen’s Union Northern France, warned European Union fishermen could retaliate against British vessels and stop UK fish from being sold on the EU market.
Councils are being overwhelmed by asylum seekers because the Home Office is moving hundreds of claimants into hotels in their areas without their knowledge, the spending watchdog has said. The Public Accounts Committee (PAC) cited cases in which up to 160 asylum seekers had been booked into three-star hotels in a local area without councils or health authorities being warned so that they could prepare local services and avoid being overwhelmed. It follows the disclosure this week by The Telegraph that nearly 10,000 asylum seekers are being housed in up to 100 hotels across the UK – nine times the number in March.
Millions of public sector workers face a pay squeeze to help pay for the pandemic. Rishi Sunak will use next week’s spending review to unveil a new era of ‘pay restraint’ to plug the black hole in the public finances. The Chancellor believes it would be ‘unfair’ for more than five million public sector workers to keep getting inflation-busting pay rises while many private sector counterparts face wage freezes or redundancy, Government sources said. He is expected to unveil a cap on wage increases set at or below inflation. It would hit workers such as teachers, police, civil servants, NHS managers and members of the Armed Forces.
Nearly four million public-sector workers, including soldiers, police officers, teachers and civil servants, face a pay freeze next year to help to repair the nation’s coronavirus-ravaged finances. Rishi Sunak will use his comprehensive spending review next week to announce there must be “pay restraint” as Britain faces the devastating economic aftermath of the pandemic. The chancellor is expected to say it is only fair that public-sector wages are frozen when many of those in the private sector face significant pay cuts or the loss of their jobs.
The chancellor, Rishi Sunak, is preparing to announce a renewed squeeze on public sector pay in next week’s government spending review in response to the economic shock of the coronavirus pandemic. Government sources said an announcement on pay restraint would be part of the mini-budget on Wednesday, as part of plans to launch a Whitehall savings drive to tackle record levels of government borrowing incurred during the crisis. The fresh round of belt-tightening for public servants – many of whom were at the forefront of the government’s response to the pandemic – is likely to contrast sharply with Boris Johnson’s generous four-year settlement for the armed forces.
Everyone should be tested for coronavirus every month to give people “freedom passes” to resume everyday activities, Jeremy Hunt says. The former health secretary today urges Boris Johnson to set an Easter deadline to return to more normal life through mass testing with rapid home testing kits, even if vaccines have not come through by then. Pilot schemes in Liverpool are offering tests to anyone who wants one but Mr Hunt, who chairs the Commons health select committee, urges the government to go further and give people an incentive to be tested by allowing them “to go out, shop and go to work” if they test negative.
Boris Johnson was facing a battle to save Christmas last night after a Government adviser warned that allowing festive gatherings would ‘throw fuel on the fire’ of the pandemic. Downing Street said again yesterday that the PM was set on relaxing the Covid restrictions to allow families a break at the end of ‘an incredibly difficult year’. Ministers vowed to strike a balance with the need to stop the virus running out of control. But a string of scientific and medical experts warned that allowing families to assemble for Christmas risked sparking a third wave of coronavirus in the New Year.
Families mixing at Christmas poses “substantial risks” and there is “far too much emphasis” on having a normal festive period, a government scientific adviser has said. Although the country is “on the cusp” of being able to vaccinate older populations who are at the most risk, it would be “tragic” to throw away the gains made in suppressing the coronavirus, said Andrew Hayward, professor of infectious disease epidemiology at University College London (UCL) and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage).
Crossing the Scottish border will be illegal from the end of this week under sweeping new Covid restrictions which critics have described as ‘deeply flawed’. As of 6pm on Friday, entering or leaving Scotland without a reasonable excuse is banned and anyone caught doing so could be slapped with a £60 fine. People living within Level Three or Level Four lockdown areas – which includes vast swathes of central Scotland – are also not permitted to leave their area. But First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has been hit with claims that the rules cannot be legally put in place by Scottish parliament – sparking fears that lockdown-defying travellers could dispute their fines.
SCOTS will be banned from leaving the country and anyone crossing the border will be slapped with a fine as new travel bans come into force. The law kicks in tomorrow at 6pm and anyone who flouts the rules will be punishable by minimum £60 fixed penalties. From tomorrow, entering or leaving Scotland will be illegal – but critics have described the new travel ban as “deeply flawed.” Scottish Tories said there were “serious legal questions” about the draft regulations, and questioned whether Nicola Sturgeon had the power to say on what terms people could enter or remain in Scotland.
The Scottish government has published draft regulations that make it illegal to enter or leave the country without a reasonable excuse, as well as significantly restricting travel within Scotland. The regulations, which come into force on Friday at 6pm, were described as “deeply flawed” by opposition parties, which said they had “grave doubts” about the competence of Scottish ministers to legislate in this way. According to the draft document, a person living in Scotland must not travel to any other part of the common travel area – England, Wales, Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – nor can anyone from those places travel to Scotland.
Dozens of mass coronavirus vaccination sites will be set up across the country within weeks, while firefighters will be trained up to help deliver the inoculations, as part of plans by ministers to deliver millions of jabs in record time. GP surgeries have been told to organise the initial wave, which will involve using community centres, village halls, and practices themselves to administer the jabs to care workers and the elderly as soon as next month. The NHS is establishing a series of much larger venues to inject millions of others once those at the top of the priority list have had the jabs.
Dozens of mass vaccination centres will be set up across the country and tens of thousands of healthcare staff recruited to immunise people against coronavirus as soon as vaccines are available, The Telegraph understands. Derby City Council confirmed that talks with the Government about using Derby Arena as one of the first locations for administering the Pfizer vaccine from mid-December are under way. Smaller vaccine centres will also be set up in each primary care network for people who are more at risk. The centres are being sought because the Pfizer vaccine needs to be stored in dry ice at -103F (-75C), meaning it is impractical to deliver it to all GPs.
Pfizer’s coronavirus vaccine could arrive in the UK as early as next week, according to the firm’s chief executive, who said shipping would begin “within hours” of the jab receiving regulatory approval. Dr Albert Bourla said his company would be applying for permission from authorities around the world – including the UK’s Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency – “very, very soon – within a couple of days” and was then ready to start distributing the first of 20 million vaccine doses that have already been made. The first coronavirus vaccines could be available in Scotland by next month, the country’s Health Secretary said on Thursday
The NHS is preparing to open dozens of mass vaccination centres across England to vaccinate people against Covid-19. There will be at least 42 centres, based in places such as conference centres, and the NHS is planning to hire tens of thousands of staff to run them, the Health Service Journal reported. The fresh details of how people will get the vaccine come as NHS England prepares to publish its “deployment plan” for how it will store, distribute and administer the vaccine.
UP to one million Brits a day are to be vaccinated against Covid in a record-breaking push to beat the virus. The NHS is poised to recruit more than 40,000 extra workers to roll out the jabs. Firefighters will join a specially trained army of 40,000 extra workers recruited to roll out Pfizer jabs at record speed — with up to one million a day forecast. NHS bosses will target retired doctors and nurses to help, as well as other workers with first-aid skills, such as firefighters, PCSOs and members of the Armed Forces.
Oxford University’s Covid vaccine is unlikely to be used in the UK before Christmas as the scientists running the project said they don’t expect to have results to give regulators until December. The researchers today published a study confirming that their vaccine candidate triggers an immune response in older people, who are most at risk of severe Covid-19, and that trials had not found any safety issues. But the timescale for the jab, which Number 10 has ordered 100million doses of and is considered one of Britain’s greatest hopes for ending the epidemic, may stretch into early 2021 before people start getting injected.
London Mayor Sadiq Khan has demanded that black people and other ethnic minorities receive priority access to the Chinese coronavirus vaccine. The leftist Mayor claimed that so-called BAME (Black, Asian, Minority Ethnic) groups are disproportionally affected by the virus, and therefore should be placed at the top of the list when the vaccine is distributed. Speaking to BBC Radio on Monday evening, Mr Khan said: “The NHS and Public Health England are working up criteria for who gets the vaccine first. Basically speaking, it’s done by age. “But I have asked for additional things to be factored in, and that includes concerns I have got around black, Asian, ethnic minority Londoners who disproportionately suffered during the main deaths we saw in March, April, May and June.”
Test & trace
TEST and Trace are planning a major overhaul in the coming weeks as they attempt to “rebuild public trust” in the public. The NHS Test and Trace system has faced ongoing backlash for losing tens of thousands of cases briefly, with many dubbing the service a “failure”. Leaked documents indicate the coronavirus body believe they need to “reset” their relationship with local councils and public after losing their trust. The body has produced a powerpoint called “the path to Christmas” which outlines its plan. Test and Trace head Baroness Dido Harding has continued to claim the service is working well with local councils.
Just half of close contacts given to England’s NHS Test and Trace are being reached in some areas, a BBC investigation has found. Six months after Boris Johnson promised a “world beating” system, it can be shown the network is failing in areas with some of the worst infection rates. The research also found no-one from NHS labs was at a key government meeting with private firms about testing. But the government said the system was “undoubtedly” curbing Covid spreading. It added that NHS Test and Trace was dealing with rising numbers of cases and was working hard to “refine and improve” the way it worked.
Lazy civil servants are responsible for a £5 billion rise in the cost of HS2, a report by Parliament’s spending watchdog warns today. The National Audit Office said a proposed £5 billion saving in April 2017 never materialised because bureaucrats in charge of the project “did not put enough effort into developing the actions necessary to realise them”. The Government’s estimated total spend on the high-speed rail line has risen from an initial £30 billion in 2010 to almost £90 billion. In a report published today, the NAO identifies major failings in the civil service’s handling of several other multi-billion pound Government projects, including Crossrail and the Royal Navy’s aircraft carrier-building programme.
BBC bosses have been warned millions of Britons aged 75 and over are refusing to pay for the annual TV licence fee after backtracking on a deal to offer free TV access to the elderly. The BBC announced last year free TV licences for the over-75s would no longer be issued and anyone benefitting from the cut would need to start paying again from 2020. The decision sparked the outrage of BBC users, with the group Defund the BBC emerging in a bid to make the payment of the licence fee voluntary. Group member Calvin Robinson has now warned the corporation elderly Britons are ready to stop paying for TV access after years of underrepresentation.