UK Covid live: keeping free lateral flow tests ‘simply unsustainable’, says No 10

UK Covid live: keeping free lateral flow tests ‘simply unsustainable’, says No 10

World News

Evening summary

Nicola Slawson

Here’s a roundup of the key developments from the day:

  • The government’s former ethics chief has apologised for her “error of judgment” after she was fined by police for attending a party in the Cabinet Office during lockdown. Helen MacNamara, who now works for the Premier League, issued a statement after a leak naming her as one of the 20 people issued with fines after a Met investigation.
  • Downing Street has declined to say whether Boris Johnson believes coronavirus laws were broken at No 10 after fines were issued. The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “The prime minister wants to comment at the conclusion of the process and not at the middle of it.”
  • Keir Starmer called for the names of all senior officials fined for Downing Street parties to be made public. The Labour leader said the government was “taking the public for fools yet again”. He said the prime minister had “misled the public” and presided over “widespread criminality”, adding that Boris Johnson is “unfit for office”.
  • Now is not the time for a “self-indulgent leadership contest” if Boris Johnson is fined over the Partygate scandal, a minister has said. Asked if the prime minister should resign if he’s fined, the Wales secretary, Simon Hart, told Sky News he thinks “the world has moved on a considerable distance”.
  • Officials being fined for lockdown-breaking parties in Downing Street is “not the most important issue in the world” given atrocities in Ukraine, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said, while also arguing that Boris Johnson did not mislead people over the events. The Brexit opportunities minister defended his dismissal of the Partygate row as “fluff” in the context of the war in Ukraine and the cost-of-living crisis and also told LBC radio that some coronavirus restrictions imposed during lockdown were “inhuman”.
  • The prime minister’s official spokesman has defended axing universal free coronavirus tests as new symptoms for Covid-19 were designated, saying lateral flow spending was “simply unsustainable”. He said: “… the provision of free tests was costing taxpayers £2bn a month and that is simply unsustainable.”
  • Parliament does appear to have a problem with drug-taking, shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson has said. The Conservatives have removed the whip from David Warburton, the MP for Somerton and Frome, who is understood to be facing allegations of sexual harassment, cocaine use and failing to declare a loan. Phillipson said: “I personally have never witnessed that, but it would appear that there is a problem that it is taking place.”

That’s it from me today. Thanks for joining me.

For the latest news on Ukraine, follow our dedicated live blog:

Read the full story on Helen MacNamara’s fine from my colleagues Rowena Mason and Paul MacInnes here:

The government’s former ethics chief has apologised for her “error of judgment” after she was fined by police for attending a party in the Cabinet Office during lockdown.

Helen MacNamara, who now works for the Premier League, issued a statement after a leak naming her as one of the 20 people issued with fines after a Met investigation.

She said: “I am sorry for the error of judgment I have shown. I have accepted and paid the fixed-penalty notice.”

MacNamara was fined in connection with a leaving party held on 18 June 2020 to mark the departure of a private secretary, Hannah Young, who was moving to New York to take up a role with the British consulate general. She is said to have provided a karaoke machine for the event, which is understood to have been one of the most raucous under investigation.

Boris Johnson was not present at the event but the former cabinet secretary Mark Sedwill and the former No 10 aide Dominic Cummings are reported to have been in attendance.

Cummings has written a blog defending Young and saying: “It is deeply, deeply contemptible that not just the PM but senior civil servants have allowed such people to have their reputations attacked in order to protect the sociopathic narcissist squatting in the No 10 flat.”

MacNamara left government in February 2021 and joined the Premier League the following May, where she holds the position of chief policy and corporate affairs officer.

Hired due to the depth of her experience and her contacts within 10 Downing Street, MacNamara has led the league’s response to the government’s fan-led review of football governance, which last autumn called for the introduction of an independent regulator for the game.

Ministers are finally acknowledging what has been patently obvious since the beginning of the pandemic: Covid is associated with far more than the oft-cited symptoms of high temperature, persistent cough and loss of sense of smell and taste.

With little fanfare, a further nine potential symptoms have now been added to the official list on the NHS website, including diarrhoea, loss of appetite, sore throat and tiredness.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recognised many of these symptoms since April 2020, as have numerous other governments. So why has the UK taken so long – and will anyone take any notice?

British scientists have long called for a broadening of the official symptoms list. According to research published in February 2021, the inclusion of fatigue, sore throat, headache and diarrhoea in the criteria to qualify for a PCR test could have enabled 96% of symptomatic cases to be detected – a third more than relying on the “classic” three symptoms alone.

Indeed, some scientists suspect it’s precisely because access to free testing has been scrapped for most people in England that the government has updated the list.

“We were always told that the barrier to expanding the list was that adding more symptoms could overwhelm the testing capacity, so it makes sense that since free testing has now stopped, the list has been updated,” said Prof Tim Spector, lead researcher of the Zoe Covid symptom study app, who has been lobbying for this change for two years.

Read the full story here:

Government’s former ethics chief apologises over Covid breach

Helen MacNamara, the government’s former ethics chief, has said she is sorry after being fined over the partygate scandal.

She said she has paid the fine she was handed reportedly in connection with a leaving do held in the Cabinet Office on 18 June 2020 to mark the departure of a private secretary.

I am sorry for the error of judgement I have shown. I have accepted and paid the fixed penalty notice.

The DUP is threatening to frustrate efforts to return to a powersharing executive at Stormont until Westminster acts to restore Northern Ireland’s status within the UK internal market.

Its leader Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has said that, while he is a committed devolutionist who believes direct rule from Westminster would result in bad decisions for Northern Ireland, the price of his backing would be amending the protocol that has created trade barriers on goods shipped to the region from Great Britain Addressing a party election event at a cinema in Dundonald in east Belfast, he told colleagues:

The protocol must be replaced with arrangements that protect Northern Ireland’s place within the United Kingdom.

The DUP collapsed the executive in February when its first minister Paul Givan resigned in protest at the protocol.

The move automatically ousted Sinn Féin deputy first minister Michelle O’Neill and removed the administration’s ability to meet or make significant decisions.

Powersharing rules mean a properly functioning administration can only be formed if the largest unionist and largest nationalist parties agree to enter the joint office of the first and deputy first ministers.

Donaldson said the replacement of the protocol must be achieved either by way of a negotiated agreement with the EU or by the UK government acting unilaterally.

The UK needs a proper energy strategy from the government, rather than going “cap in hand” to dictators, Starmer has added. Asked by broadcasters whether the shadow business secretary, Jonathan Reynolds, was right to agree over the weekend that the country needed to prepare for energy rationing, the Labour leader said:

We don’t need energy rationing. We do need an energy strategy. And going from one dictator in Russia for your oil and gas, cap in hand to another dictator in Saudi Arabia is not an energy strategy.

We need a strategy that is fast-forwarding on renewables and on nuclear, retrofitting so that we can actually keep our houses and our homes warmer.

That is the strategy, the security strategy, that we need for this country and we don’t have it from this government.

Updated

Labour leader Keir Starmer said “nobody” in the party would be asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement after making accusations of sexual harassment.

Asked about reports of the practice within Labour, he said:

I cannot comment on the individual cases. What I can say is nobody in the Labour party is asked to sign a non-disclosure agreement in relation to sexual harassment.

That is against our policy.

Updated

Keir Starmer called for the names of all senior officials fined for Downing Street parties to be made public.

The Labour leader said the government was “taking the public for fools yet again”.

He added:

I think it is very important that the prime minister makes sure that all those who are given fines, certainly in senior positions, are named.

We seem to be going through this process where instant by instant, fines are coming out but the public are being left in the dark. The public complied with the rules. They are entitled to know who didn’t comply with the rules and what is going on.

Starmer later said:

If the prime minister wants to come to parliament and tell us that he was repeatedly lied to by his own advisers then let him do that.

The idea that he had no idea what was going on in his home and his office and he only gave answers because he was lied to by his officials is a case he needs to make. I would like to see him make that case because I don’t think he can.

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer said the prime minister had “misled the public” and presided over “widespread criminality”, adding that Boris Johnson is “unfit for office”.

Asked by broadcasters if the prime minister should return to parliament to correct the record on earlier statements about Partygate, Starmer said:

It is absolutely important that the prime minister is honest and accountable to parliament. I shouldn’t have to say that.

That has been a principle for a very long time. The idea that we are even debating whether it is all right for the prime minister to have lied about this shows just how far the standards have sunk under this prime minister.

He needs to come to parliament to be held to account. He has not only misled the public about this, he has presided over widespread criminality in his home and his office and that is why I am convinced he is unfit for office.

Updated

Domestic oil and gas will play an “important part” of the UK strategy after minister Jacob Rees-Mogg said “every last drop” of oil should be extracted from the North Sea, Downing Street said.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said:

Certainly it’s right that domestic-produced oil and gas will play an important part of the transition to net zero.

He also confirmed the delayed energy security strategy will be published on Thursday.

Asked about transport secretary Grant Shapps’ criticism of onshore wind turbines, the prime minister’s official spokesman said:

We’ve said when it comes to onshore wind, this needs to be done when it’s locally supported. You’ll see more about our position on energy in our strategy published on Thursday.

Updated

PM’s spokesman defends end of free testing, saying it was ‘simply unsustainable’

The prime minister’s official spokesman has defended axing universal free coronavirus tests as new symptoms for Covid-19 were designated, saying lateral flow spending was “simply unsustainable”.

He said:

I think we need to look at where we are in the course of this pandemic. We know there is relatively high prevalence of Covid at the moment but because of vaccines, because of therapeutics and other approaches, we are not seeing it have the knock-on impact when it comes to requiring the most intensive hospital treatment.

At the same time, the provision of free tests was costing taxpayers £2bn a month and that is simply unsustainable.

He said ministers expect the public to use their “good judgment” on whether to go out if they have symptoms.

The spokesman said:

I think anyone, even pre-Covid, would recognise if they have symptoms of an infectious disease, something like flu, they should stay home and not infect their loved ones or colleagues, and it is that sort of good judgment that we expect to see going forward.

Updated

Jacob Rees-Mogg’s assessment that some of the coronavirus restrictions during lockdown were “inhuman” has not been backed by Downing Street.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said:

I think at all times the government took action to save both lives and livelihoods and that was always a balanced judgment that sought to be informed by the latest evidence we had.

We have established an inquiry to take a proper view and learn lessons about what happened and there will be more to say then. But certainly at all times the government sought to act in the best interests of the United Kingdom.

Downing Street declines to say whether Boris Johnson believes lockdown laws were broken at No 10

Downing Street has declined to say whether Boris Johnson believes coronavirus laws were broken at No 10 after fines were issued.

The prime minister’s official spokesman said:

The prime minister wants to comment at the conclusion of the process and not at the middle of it.

Asked if he agreed with Welsh secretary Simon Hart’s assessment that the “world has moved on” from the partygate allegations, the spokesman said:

We recognise the strength of feeling around this issue which is why the prime minister came to the House to apologise and has talked about the mistakes made. We’ll have more to say at the conclusion of the process.

He said Johnson has not received a fixed penalty notice.

Updated

Here’s a bit more detail on the fine former deputy cabinet secretary Helen MacNamara has reportedly received.

The Telegraph reports the government’s former ethics chief is among the first group of people to receive a fixed penalty notice in connection with the partygate scandal.

MacNamara’s karaoke machine was reportedly used at the event on 18 June 2020. The party got so “raucous” that there was reportedly a drunken brawl.

She received a £50 fine on Friday after police concluded she had broken Covid laws by attending a leaving party for Hannah Young, a Downing Street aide, who was leaving to take up a role with the British consulate general in New York, the paper reports.

The karaoke party, held in the cabinet secretary’s office at 70 Whitehall, took place at a time when all indoor gatherings were banned. At the time people were also advised not to sing in public and singing was also banned during funerals.

MacNamara’s role involved being in charge of propriety and ethics across Whitehall at the time, advising all government departments on standards.

Tony Diver (@Tony_Diver)

💥 🍷 NEW: The Government’s former head of propriety and ethics has been fined over a “raucous” karaoke party in the Cabinet Office at which there was a drunken brawl.

FPNs also issued over the No10 party in April 2021.

(w @evansma & @benrileysmith) https://t.co/Af3AP0qR5I

April 3, 2022

Updated

The trial of an alleged terrorist for the murder of MP Sir David Amess has been halted again after the judge tested positive for Covid-19.

The defence case for Ali Harbi Ali had been due to start today at the Old Bailey, having previously been delayed for a week when three jurors tested positive.

Justice Sweeney has since come down with Covid, though he is symptomless. The trial is listed to resume on Thursday.

Ali, 26, is accused of stabbing 69-year-old Amess, the MP for Southend West, to death during a constituency surgery in Leigh-on-Sea on 15 October last year.

The defenda nt, from Kentish Town, north London, denies murder and preparing acts of terrorism.

Please note: Because this is an active court case we cannot allow discussion on it below the line, any comments on this update will be removed.

Updated

Ukraine will “rise again and take her place once more among free and sovereign nations”, Boris Johnson has said.

In a video posted to Twitter, the prime minister said:

From the moment the Russian invasion began, and troops and tanks burst across their frontier, Ukrainians have defended their homeland with invincible courage and tenacity, and we in Britain are lost in admiration for their valour and patriotism.

Our job is to do everything we can to support them.

Boris Johnson (@BorisJohnson)

Putin will never break the spirit of Ukraine’s people or conquer their homeland.

Ukraine will rise again and take her place among free and sovereign nations once more.

🇬🇧🇺🇦 pic.twitter.com/0VWziRkRGO

April 4, 2022

Johnson outlined the military support Britain has given to Ukraine, as well as humanitarian aid.

He said:

All the tanks and guns in Vladimir Putin’s arsenal will never break the spirit of Ukraine’s people or conquer their homeland.

Britain will never waver from supporting our friends and I have not the slightest doubt that when this time of agony is over, Ukraine will rise again and take her place once more among free and sovereign nations.

The UK is to push for tougher international sanctions against Vladimir Putin’s Russia and increase supplies of arms to Ukraine as evidence of atrocities continue to emerge from the war zone, PA news reports.

The foreign secretary, Liz Truss, will meet her Ukrainian counterpart, Dmytro Kuleba, in Warsaw today ahead of key G7 and Nato talks later this week where she will push for tougher economic measures against “the Putin war machine”.

Follow our dedicated Ukraine liveblog here:

Updated

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