Downing Street warns peers not to block Internal Market Bill amid warnings of 'panic' in the Lords

Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street following the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office this morning
Boris Johnson returns to Downing Street following the weekly Cabinet meeting at the Foreign & Commonwealth Office this morning Credit: Getty Images Europe

Downing Street has warned peers not to try to block controversial legislation overriding key elements of the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

The Government is simultaneously trying to head off rebellions in both the House of Commons - where Boris Johnson enjoys a working majority of 90 - and the House of Lords, where the Conservatives are outnumbered by 536 opposition members to 250 Tories. 

This morning, one pro-Brexit MP said peers were "panicked" by the prospect of backing a bill which enabled ministers to override the Withdrawal Agreement saying even sympathetic lords "have gone wobbly" following ministerial admissions that it would allow them to break the law. 

But No 10 spokesman said the Salisbury Convention - which states the House of Lords should not vote down legislation that implements government manifesto commitments - should apply to the UK Internal Market Bill.

"We would expect the Lords to abide by the Salisbury Convention," the spokesman said.

"Guaranteeing the full economic benefit of leaving the EU to all parts of the United Kingdom and ensuring Northern Ireland's businesses and producers enjoy unfettered access to the rest of the UK were clear Conservative manifesto commitments which this legislation delivers."

And that's it for another day...

After the high drama of yesterday, today was a day for both sides to regroup. 

There was plenty of focus on the growing crisis over test shortages, with Matt Hancock responding to questions from MPs all over the country - and critically on both sides of the House - who were left fuming after constituents were forced to travel hundreds of miles to get a test. 

Even Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle complained about the situation, making a rare intervention as a backbench MP. 

But the Internal Market Bill remains the focus, with Brussels accusing the UK Government of "populism" and undermining democracy. 

Back in Westminster, MPs are getting into the weeds of the bill, which is now in the committee stage where the Government will either have to accept some changes or face the likelihood of a larger rebellion next week. 

Downing Street is confident enough that it will scrape through that it has put out a warning for peers - but there are no guarantees.

Respondents to our daily poll believe removing the whip is an acceptable response to those who rebel - with 51 per cent saying Number 10 should dispense with the usual processes, although a further 29 per cent said those should be honoured. Just 20 per cent thought it should be a free vote. 

I'll be back tomorrow when we are expecting to see Brandon Lewis before the Northern Ireland committee and Boris Johnson before the Liaison Committee, as well as a PMQs with the leader of the opposition self-isolating. Promises to be an interesting one. 

Andy Burnham's office attacks Government over lack of tests in Manchester

It is "not acceptable" that people in Greater Manchester are unable to get hold of tests when the region is suffering higher-than-average coronavirus rates, a spokesman for the mayor Andy Burnham has said. 

"Our local authorities are doing all they can to increase capacity in places like Bolton but we are hamstrung by serious issues with the national booking system and nationally run sites," the spokesman said.

"The Government must act immediately to get this sorted and work with us to establish a better long-term solution to this problem.

"We would ask people to try booking an appointment only if you have coronavirus symptoms or you have been asked to get tested."

Watch again: Matt Hancock 'working hard to fix' operational challenges facing Covid testing

Matt Hancock faced a grilling earlier today as MPs of all stripes criticised him over test shortages. 

He told the Commons he was working hard to fix the problems, but admitted it would take "weeks".

Watch again below.

Ian Paisley fined over fundraising dinner

DUP MP Ian Paisley has been fined £1,300 by the Electoral Commission over breaches in finance rules related to a party fundraising dinner.

Mr Paisley accepted money from two local councils to purchase tables at the event at the Tullyglass hotel in Ballymena in September 2017.

In addition to the fine, Mr Paisley has agreed to pay back a total of £2,600 to the two councils.

The Electoral Commission determined that the dinner, which was addressed by senior Conservative Michael Gove, was a fundraiser for Mr Paisley's constituency activities.

Mr Paisley has until October 8 to pay the fine.

"Given the circumstances of this case the fact that both donors are public bodies, the Commission decided that returning the donations provided an appropriate course of action," the Commission ruling stated.

DUP MP Ian Paisley Credit: PA

Alex Salmond's premiership 'punctuated' by 'bullying', former permanent secretary says

Alex Salmond could be a bully and intimidating, but no formal complaints were made against him during his final five years as first minister, Scotland's former top civil servant has said.

Sir Peter Housden told a Holyrood inquiry that Mr Salmond's premiership was "punctuated" by concerning behaviour.

The former permanent secretary told MSPs: "I knew the former first minister could display bullying and intimidatory behaviour."

Asked if he witnessed Alex Salmond shouting at or bullying any staff members, Sir Peter said: "I was well aware - in the way I have described - that those behaviours took place.

"I had a number of conversations with people who had been on the receiving end of that and they indicated many conversations about what we could do to prevent their reoccurrence."

But at the end of his time at the top of Scotland's civil service, Sir Peter insisted there were "no bodies buried" in relation to serious bullying or sexual harassment concerns.

Sir Peter Housden, former Permanent Secretary at the Scottish Government, gives evidence at Holyrood Credit: PA

Matt Hancock inadvertently reveals Conservative MP is pregnant

Earlier today Matt Hancock said he supported Alicia Kearns' campaign to allow pregnant women to be accompanied by partners during scans and at all stages of labour. 

He also inadvertently 'outed' her as being pregnant - congratulating the Conservative MP, then hesitating when he says he does not know if her pregnancy is public knowledge.

"It is now," he said. 

William Hague: Breaching international law would leave Britain perilously exposed

It will not have been easy for Geoffrey Cox, a Conservative MP and strong supporter of Brexit, to say that he could not back the proposals in the Internal Market Bill that the Government admits will breach international law. By all accounts he had protracted discussions with Downing Street before coming to his view that “it is unconscionable that this country, justly famous for its regard for the rule of law around the world, should act in such a way”.

He spoke with the experience and authority of a former attorney general.

William Hague has the different perspective of a former foreign secretary. But he has come to the same conclusion.

Conservative co-chair rejects Labour's call to end 'fire and rehire' tactics

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has called for the "fire-and-rehire tactics" deployed by some companies during the coronavirus pandemic to be outlawed.

In his speech to the Trade Union Congress (TUC) conference, Sir Keir said the treatment of staff at companies such as British Airways and British Gas was "wrong" and "against British values".

He said: "They should also be illegal. These tactics punish good employers, hit working people hard and harm our economy.

"So, I'm calling on the Government to act now - introduce legislation to end fire and rehire."

Last week, Conservative MP Huw Merriman, chairman of the Transport Select Committee, criticised the treatment of staff by BA during its efforts to mitigate the impact of Covid-19.

But today Amanda Milling MP, co-chairman of the Conservative Party, said: "Rather than stoking people's fears about their future, Sir Keir should put politics aside and start supporting the Government.

"While he criticises from the sidelines, this Government is delivering for the people of this country as we build back better from coronavirus."

Amanda Milling Credit: Paul Grover for the Telegraph

Matt Hancock challenged over cancer screening backlog

The backlog of people waiting for cancer screening has fallen "by about half", the Health Secretary has said.

Tory MP Paul Bristow quoted Cancer Research UK, which estimates that the backlog of people waiting for a screening due to Covid-19 could be as much as three million people.

Matt Hancock told the Commons: "Yes, this is an incredibly important subject to make sure that we get the screening available.... We are tackling that backlog, it's down by about half and... I'm very happy to work with my honourable friend and all others in this House to make sure that people get the early diagnosis of cancer which can so often be life-saving."

Former Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron warned people might lose their lives due to the backlog, saying: "It is now clear that it would take the system operating at 135% capacity for six whole months just to catch up with where we were in March, until then the tragic reality is that people in my constituency and around the country will unnecessarily be losing their lives."

Mr Hancock replied: "I feel very strongly about this. We have worked very hard to get through the backlog and we are making progress against that backlog, but nevertheless anything we can do to speed that up, I'm happy to look at."

European Commission president expected to say EU wants a Brexit trade deal in flagship speech

The president of the European Commission is expected to double down on her warning that Britain must drop plans to renege on the Withdrawal Agreement at her annual flagship speech on Wednesday.

Ursula von der Leyen is expected to use her State of the Union address in the European Parliament in Brussels to stress the EU still wants a trade deal with Britain but not at any price. Backsliding on the Brexit treaty would seriously damage the trust needed to finalise the agreement, she has previously warned. 

The contents of the speech are a closely guarded secret but Mrs von der Leyen could repeat her warning that the Internal Markets Bill, if approved by Parliament, would jeopardise the negotiations on the future trading relationship.

Read my colleague James Crisp's latest missive from Brussels here.

 Ursula von der Leyen  Credit: Shutterstock

Further 14 people die with coronavirus in England

A further 14 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died in hospital in England, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals to 29,676, NHS England said on Tuesday.

Patients were aged between 62 and 94 and all had known underlying health conditions.

The dates of the deaths were between April 17 and September 13, with the majority over the weekend.

One other death was reported with no positive Covid-19 test result.

Camilla Tominey: The Internal Market Bill will be a whole new Brexit battle

Boris Johnson is under no illusion that the second reading of the Internal Market Bill is just the beginning of another Brexit battle reminiscent of the darkest days of 2019.

Indeed, the extent of the ‘mini’ rebellion only serves as a reminder of what is yet to come as the Prime Minister attempts to extricate himself from the Withdrawal Agreement he re-negotiated with Brussels.

Considered a ‘dress rehearsal’ ahead of the real showdown, when Tory MP Bob Neill’s amendment is read next week, far more parliamentary posturing is expected, not least in the House of Lords.

Read Camilla Tominey's analysis of yesterday's mini rebellion - and what is yet to come.

Matt Hancock admits test shortage will take 'weeks' to resolve

Turning back to the Commons now, where Matt Hancock has been faced with a deluge of criticism from MPs across the House over the shortage of tests. 

Labour's shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth warned the country was "at a perilous moment", noting that Imperial College estimates the virus is doubling every seven to eight days.

"We all want to avoid further restrictions or another national lockdown, but when testing breaks down, contact tracing breaks down, and the growth of this virus cannot be tracked.

"The Prime Minister promised us whack-a-mole but instead his mallet is broken. The Secretary of State is losing control of this virus. He needs to fix testing now."

Meanwhile Jeremy Hunt,  the chair of the Commons health committee, said Mr Hancock had estimated it would take two weeks to resolve - but that was a week ago. Asked if that meant it could be resolved a week from now, Mr Hancock had bad news:

"Well I think that we will be able to solve this problem in a matter of weeks... we are managing to deliver record capacity, but as he well knows demand is also high and the response to that is to make sure we have prioritisation so the people who most need it can get the tests that they need."

Priti Patel contradicts fellow ministers to insist Internal Market Bill doesn't break law

Priti Patel has insisted that the Government is "absolutely not" breaking the law through the Internal Market Bill, contradicting fellow Cabinet ministers including Boris Johnson. 

Last week Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis told MPs the bill would "break international law in a very specific and limited way". Speaking in the Commons yesterday, the Prime Minister did not back away from this, instead stressing that powers would be held "in reserve" and only used as a last resort. 

This morning however, when asked about Mr Lewis' comments, the Home Secretary told Sky News: "We are absolutely not doing that [breaking the law]. The purpose of the bill is to ensure we preserve the integrity of the UK … but also stay true to the people of Northern Ireland in terms of the Good Friday Agreement. 

She added: "Parliament is sovereign when it comes to how international treaties are not only interpreted but applied through acts of parliament."

Have your say on: What should happen to MPs who vote against the Internal Market Bill?

Last night's vote on the second reading of the Internal Market Bill was a dress rehearsal for the main event next week, when the bill reaches the committee stage. 

This is when MPs go through the bill with a fine tooth comb, and where the Government is likely to see more numbers of backbenchers rebel over the clause that enables minister to break the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Already Andrew Mitchell, who sided with Boris Johnson last night, has said he will not vote to break the law next week and there will be plenty more.

Rebels are not being explicitly threatened with having the whip withdrawn - with some suggesting the process might not be carried out in the usual way.

But, the case is being made that this is a matter of conscience - so should MPs be allowed a free vote? Or should they be given fair warning and allowed to make up their minds?

Have your say in the poll below.

Lobby latest: Downing Street insists it is 'wrong' to say there are no tests in critical parts of country

While Matt Hancock is fielding questions from MPs, Downing Street has told journalists that it is "wrong" to suggest there a no tests in the worst-hit parts of the country.

The Health Secretary is getting a grilling from both sides of the House, with Lib Dem MP Munira Wilson claiming people in Aberdeen were being offered a test in her constituency of Twickenham. 

But a No 10 spokesman said: "We would say that it is wrong to say that testing is not available in these areas. Our capacity continues to be targeted to where it is most needed which is why booking slots and home testing kits are made available daily for people with symptoms.

"Mobile testing units continue to be deployed to those areas with local outbreaks and high rates of transmission in the community."

The spokesman said that ministers had discussed the efforts to increase testing capacity at the weekly meeting of the Cabinet chaired by Boris Johnson.

"Capacity is the highest it has ever been but we are obviously seeing significant demands for tests. We continue to strive to increase capacity," the spokesman said.

Natalie Elphicke to support Charlie fight 'excessive sentence'

Charlie Elphicke's estranged wife and successor as Dover MP Natalie Elphicke has said she will back her former husband in an appeal against his "excessive sentence".

Mr Elphicke received a two-year jail term for three counts of sexual assault against two different women (12:50). 

The judge said she "considered carefully" whether the sentence should be suspended.

But she told Elphicke: "Bearing in mind the gross breach of your position of power... I am satisfied that appropriate punishment can only be achieved by immediate custody."

He was told he would likely serve up to half that term in prison before being released on licence.

But Ms Elphicke said: "The court seems to be on a bit of a mission, it entirely ignored the report of a highly experienced probation officer as well as sentencing guidelines.

"There is no doubt that Charlie behaved badly. However, everyone, Charlie included, has the right to a fair trial, and I don't believe that he has had one."

Charlie and Natalie Elphicke Credit: Telegraph

Government forced to reintroduce prioritisation for tests amid ongoing shortages

The Government is having to reintroduce a prioritisation list for people seeking coronavirus tests, amid ongoing shortages, the Health Secretary has said. 

Suspected Covid-19 patients with acute medical needs and people in care homes will be be first in the queue, Matt Hancock confirmed, after he was called into the Commons by Labour, with a full list being published soon. 

"We have seen a sharp rise in people coming forward for a test, including those who are not eligible," Mr Hancock said. "Throughout this pandemic, we have prioritised testing according to need. Over the summer, when demand was low, we were able to meet all requirements for testing, whether priorities or not.

"But as demand has risen, so we are having to prioritise once again and I do not shirk from decisions about prioritisation. They are not always comfortable, but they are important."

Mr Hancock said prioritisation was "a choice that we must make".

Shadow health secretary Jonathan Ashworth said Mr Hancock was "losing control of this virus".

Matt Hancock and Boris Johnson during this morning's Cabinet Credit: WPA Pool

Dialogue between Westminster and Holyrood 'significantly worse' under Boris Johnson

The UK Government's attitude to devolved administrations has worsened under Boris Johnson, and there is now "absolutely no trust" between Westminster and Holyrood, MPs have been told.

Scotland's Constitution Secretary Mike Russell said the quality of dialogue has been poor and has "got significantly worse since Boris Johnson became Prime Minister".

Mr Russell told the Committee on the Future Relationship with the European Union: "There is in my view a hostility to devolution in the current Government."

He added: "We have been in such a difficult set of circumstances for so long that it would be difficult to find a way in which we could work constructively together, there is no trust in the relationship, absolutely none now."

His comments came as he again raised concerns about the UK Government's Internal Market Bill, which passed its first hurdle yesterday.

Former MP Charlie Elphicke jailed for two years for sexual assaults 

Former MP Charlie Elphicke has been jailed for two years at Southwark Crown Court for three counts of sexual assault against two women.

The judge said to the ex-Dover MP: "Both women described similar and shocking allegations on them. You're a sexual predator who used your success and respectability as a cover."

Mrs Justice Whipple told Mr Elphicke the first victim suffered a "terrifying episode" when he chased her around his home chanting "I'm a naughty Tory" after assaulting her.

The judge said of the two offences against the second victim, the Parliamentary worker: "This was a campaign of harassment, it required planning to get her alone with you."

Charlie Elphicke in Southwark today Credit: PA

Nicola Sturgeon held 'constructive' call with Matt Hancock over testing shortage

Nicola Sturgeon said she has spoken to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock about the backlog in testing processing in recent days and hopes to see an improvement in the next few days.

The Health Secretary has just started speaking the Commons, but ahead of his statement to MPs the First Minister said the issue was not about "access to testing slots at regional testing centres or mobile testing units - but instead it has been one of access to sufficient Lighthouse laboratory processing". 

"It is this that has led to a backlog in the system and longer turnaround times for tests than we we want to be the case," she added. 

"As this is a UK-wide system we are not able to resolve this on our own... To that end last night I had a constructive conference call with Matt Hancock, the UK Health Secretary, and Dido Harding, head of the UK testing system, to seek assurances that Scotland will continue to get fair access to the UK-wide laboratory capacity and discuss how we can resolve these issues.

"So I hope to see improvement over the next few days but of course I will continue to provide updates."

Nicola Sturgeon Credit: AFP

 

Consider four-day week to stave off job losses, unions urge

Unions have called on the Government to consider adopting a four-day working week in a bid to stave off widespread redundancies.

Fran Heathcote, president of the Public and Commercial Services union, said the Government should allow flexible working to continue and consider supporting a four-day week to help stem job losses.

The TUC's general council issued a statement calling for plans to rebuild public services and promote decent jobs.

"That means bringing our public services back to full strength, with decent pay for those who looked after us in the crisis, an end to outsourcing and a new focus on good jobs and direct employment in social care."

Northern Ireland committee to grill Brandon Lewis after he admitted Internal Market Bill would break law

MPs will quiz Northern Ireland Secretary Brandon Lewis on the Internal Market Bill, following his admission last week that it would “break international law in a very specific and limited way”.

The Northern Ireland committee, chaired by Conservative Simon Hoare, will grill Mr Lewis on the overall aim of the bill and its effect on the functioning of the Northern Ireland Protocol and the Good Friday Agreement, as well as trying to him down on the extent to which international law is breached and the potential consequences of this for the people and the economy of Northern Ireland.

They will also seek to understand how the bill will affect negotiations with the EU on the future relationship and the implementation of the Northern Ireland protocol.

He will be up before the MPs from 10am - just hours before the Prime Minister's Liaison Committee appearance. We will be watching both appearances.

Brandon Lewis leaving Cabinet this morning Credit: Bloomberg

European Commission still 'expects UK to withdraw' key clauses from Internal Market Bill

The European Commission is still expecting the UK to change its Internal Market Bill and remove the clauses which will enable ministers to break the Withdrawal Agreement, despite it passing its second reading last night. 

Speaking this morning, a commission spokesman told a Brussels press briefing: "We were very much in contact with the British authorities. Vice president Maros Sefcovic even went to London extremely quickly in order to seek clarifications and make the views of the EU known on this issue.

"Which led... to the deadline which was set for the UK to withdraw the provisions from the draft Internal Market Bill. This is what we expect from the United Kingdom and we have made our views extremely clear.

"And we are not going to speculate on anything in the meantime. We are waiting to see the developments in London on this issue."

Last week the UK was given until the end of the month to withdraw the key clauses from the bill. 

Meet Maroš Šefčovič, the steely former communist who imposed the EU's Brexit deadline

Leading European figures slam 'populist' and undemocratic Internal Market Bill

The Internal Market Bill is proof of "what populism can do to a country", which will undermine trust in the UK's word, the leader of the largest group in the European Parliament has said. 

Manfred Weber, leader of the European People's Party and a long-time ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, said this morning that the controversial bill which passed its second reading yesterday was "unprecedented and shocking".

"This is what populism can do to a country, which was global leader of international law and trade," he added. "We need clarification within the next few days. Why negotiate an agreement about the future if we cannot count on our agreements of the past?

Philippe Lamberts, member of the Brexit coordination group and leader of European Greens, warned that it posed a new challenge to democracy. 

"The latest Brexit episode tells us the United Kingdom has joined too long list of countries who abandoned the idea of a rules-based international order in favour of a world where might is right or political expediency is right – and that’s at our doorstep, that’s not good news, and adds to our geopolitical challenge," he said.

Brussels warns lobby groups that UK food exports to EU and Northern Ireland could become illegal

Michel Barnier may have denied David Frost's claims that the EU was seeking to ban exports from Great Britain after Brexit, but my colleague James Crisp has just filed a story which backs it up. 

Brussels has warned farmers, businesses and animal welfare campaigners that it may be forced to ban all British exports of live animals and animal products such as cheese, beef, eggs, chicken and lamb from January 1. 

European Commission officials told a meeting of trade associations and other stakeholders in Brussels on Friday that the ban was inevitable unless the UK gives details of its future animal health and food safety regime by the end of October.

Read the full story here

Watch: Priti Patel says families mingling in street breaks rule of six

Families will be in breach of the new “Rule of Six” ban on “mingling” if they stop to chat in the street or park, says Priti Patel, as police warned they risk being overwhelmed by “snitching.”

Asked if two families of four stopping for a chat on their way to the park would be in breach of the “Rule of Six,” the Home Secretary said: “It’s mingling, I think it is absolutely mingling but you have to put this into context of coronavirus, and keeping distance and wearing masks…

“The rule of six is about making sure people are being conscientious and are not putting other people’s health at risk. People can exercise their own judgement, wear masks, social distancing etcetera.”

Watch again below

Government urged to work 'constructively' on furlough replacement 'life-raft'

Sir Keir Starmer has urged the Government to work "constructively" with the opposition to develop a replacement for the furlough scheme, ahead of the support winding up next month. 

He added: "Of course, the furlough scheme can’t go on as it is forever - we’ve never suggested that. But the truth is this: the virus is still with us. Infections are rising. Lockdowns are increasing... So, it makes no sense at all for the Government to pull support away now." 

"But with a bit of imagination, and if we act in the national interest – a better approach is possible. That’s why today, I’m calling for the Government to work with us to create new, targeted support that can replace the Job Retention Scheme."

He said a scheme should be developed for sectors that most need it "and prevent mass unemployment."

"This would be a life-raft while we’re still in choppy waters," he added.

UK is on 'precipice of return to Thatcher-era unemployment', warns Sir Keir Starmer

The UK is " the precipice of a return to Thatcher-era unemployment" Sir Keir Starmer has said, as he renews calls for further support for jobs. 

Speaking to the TUC from his home as he self-isolates, the Labour leader told unions "we can’t let the Tories use this crisis as an excuse to weaken workers’ rights". 

Austerity was a political choice, he adds, but the crisis has further "ingrained injustices and inequalities we see all around us." 

Boris Johnson is 'reopening old wounds on Brexit', says Keir Starmer

Last December's election result was "devastating", not just for the party but for the workers who need a Labour government, Sir Keir Starmer has told the TUC.

He points to the failings of the Government during the pandemic - including PPE, care homes and that people have to "traipse around the country" to get a test. 

"Whatever Boris Johnson and Matt Hancock might say, i t’s not the British people that are to blame for these mistakes. It isn’t civil servants, care home workers or mutant algorithms. It’s this Government."

"After six months of this pandemic, that is completely unacceptable," he says. "It is the Government that is holding Britain back and we should never let them forget that."

Ministers have had time to "get the basics right", Sir Keir says. "The Prime Minister has failed on every count."

Instead of getting to grips with the pandemic, Boris Johnson is "reopening old wounds on Brexit..and making it harder to get the trade deal we all want", he adds, echoing comment made in this paper at the weekend. 

Labour and unions are 'one family', says self-isolating Keir Starmer

Sir Keir Starmer, who is currently self-isolating, is addressing the TUC from his home. 

The Labour leader says it was "the trade union movement that stood up" to protect jobs, saying "without you there would have been no furlough scheme... without you, if it had been left to just the Government, it would have been a case of sink or swim". 

Labour was "born out of the trade unions", he adds, stressing that "we are one family, one movement" and under his leadership will remain so - a nod to the criticism that he is soft left and of the establishment. 

Speaker Lindsay Hoyle complains about 'completely unacceptable' test shortage

In a sign of the times, Commons Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle has complained about the "completely unacceptable" testing availability in his constituency. 

The Chorley MP has tweeted that he had received "numerous complaints from residents unable to book a test after displaying Covid symptoms".

He added that he has raised his concerns with ministers to push for action to be taken as a matter of urgency.

Russia has 'a case to answer' on Navalny poisoning, says Dominic Raab

Russia has a "case to answer" over the poisoning of opposition figure Alexei Navalny, Dominic Raab has said. 

Mr Navalny has been able to leave his bed for short periods and is no longer using a ventilator, the German hospital where he is being treated said yesterday.

Moscow has dismissed Berlin doctors’ diagnosis of Novichok poisoning, accusing them of “rushing to conclusions”. But German government spokesman Steffen Seibert said on Monday that laboratories in France and Sweden “have now confirmed independently of one another the proof of a nerve agent of the Novichok group”.

The Foreign Secretary tweeted: "We are working with Germany and partners in [the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons] as Russia has a case to answer and must fully investigate."

Have your say on: What should happen to MPs who vote against the Internal Market Bill?

Last night's vote on the second reading of the Internal Market Bill was a dress rehearsal for the main event next week, when the bill reaches the committee stage. 

This is when MPs go through the bill with a fine tooth comb, and where the Government is likely to see more numbers of backbenchers rebel over the clause that enables minister to break the Withdrawal Agreement. 

Already Andrew Mitchell, who sided with Boris Johnson last night, has said he will not vote to break the law next week and there will be plenty more.

Rebels are not being explicitly threatened with having the whip withdrawn - with some suggesting the process might not be carried out in the usual way.

But, the case is being made that this is a matter of conscience - so should MPs be allowed a free vote? Or should they be given fair warning and allowed to make up their minds?

Have your say in the poll below.

Prime Minister focuses on sentencing powers shake-up during Cabinet 

All of Westminster is talking about the Internal Market Bill and what the next stages mean for the Government, and the Conservative party - which yet again is being fractured by Europe. But according to a read-out from this morning's Cabinet, the Prime Minister's focus was the Government's forthcoming shake-up of sentencing powers.

Boris Johnson told his Cabinet that he wanted "sensible approaches to sentencing, making it easier for judges to put dangerous offenders behind bars for longer" and to end the "ridiculous state of affairs whereby a criminal can get back out on to the streets even when it is clear to everybody - including the court - that they pose a threat to justice and a threat to the British public".

"That includes longer sentences for child killers, lowering the age limit on whole-life tariffs for the worst offenders and locking (up) for longer more of the most violent criminals before they can apply for parole," Mr Johnson said.

"What we are doing is we are putting public protection as the single most important factor in our criminal justice policy and I think that will command the sympathy and approval of the British public."

Justice Secretary Robert Buckland is due to publish a Sentencing White Paper setting out the plans on Wednesday.

Boris Johnson leaves 10 Downing Street, on his way to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, ahead of a Cabinet meeting. Credit: PA

Boris Johnson's call to win over rebel MP 'didn't connect'

Boris Johnson made phone calls to would-be rebels himself yesterday, in a bid to secure support for his controversial Internal Market Bill. 

But I'm told that one of the 30 Conservative MPs who abstained last night had been expecting a call from the Prime Minister "but it didn't connect". 

Last week, Mr Johnson held a Zoom call with all 364 MPs, only to have his efforts derailed by technology - including that the internet connection dropped out, leaving him frozen in points. Not everyone could join the call, because apparently Downing Street hadn't paid for the premium version. 

Still, it seems the general mood from Number 10 and the whips office is still carrot rather than stick, although MPs have been told that "everything is in play" - a hint that if they don't play ball, they could lose the whip. 

In more normal times, there is a process that must be gone through first, but Tories are worried that won't be the case here, as they didn't last September when sacking the 21 rebels or with Julian Lewis when he gazumped Chris Grayling to become chair of the Intelligence and Security Committee. 

Boris Johnson in Downing Street today Credit: Bloomberg

Excess deaths fall below five-year average again 

Excess deaths in England and Wales were below the five-year average last week, official figures show. 

A total of 7,739 deaths were registered in England and Wales in the week ending September 4, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS) - 1,443 deaths below the five-year average of 9,182.

The week to September 4 included the late August bank holiday, which meant fewer deaths would have been registered than in a normal working week.

Of those deaths registered during the week, 78 mentioned Covid-19 on the death certificate - down from 101 in the previous week.

Protecting jobs is 'number one priority', says Rishi Sunak

Rishi Sunak has said his "number one priority" is to protect jobs, as new data shows some 695,000 workers have been removed from the payrolls of British companies since March.

The Office for National Statistics (ONS) said the rate of unemployment increased as another 36,000 jobs fell off payrolls across the country. Meanwhile, unemployment increased by 62,000 to 1.4 million for the three months to July.

It comes amid growing calls for the Government to extend jobs support ahead of the furlough scheme winding up next month, with Thursday marking the cut-off point for larger firms to begin redundancy consultation. 

Mr Sunak said: "This is a difficult time for many as the pandemic continues to have a profound impact on people's jobs and livelihoods. That's why protecting jobs and helping people back into work continues to be my number one priority."

Although he gave no suggestion of any change in policy, the Chancellor stressed the Government would continue to support "people back to work" through the autumn.  

Rishi Sunak arrives at Downing Street this morning, ahead of the weekly Cabinet meeting Credit: Getty

ICYMI: Michael Deacon on the incredible return of Ed Miliband

Ed Miliband. You remember. Labour leader a few years back. Gawky. Geeky. Invariably addressed the Commons in a spluttering, strangulated squawk, like an over-excited chicken.

Well, he’s back. For a moment, anyway. With Sir Keir Starmer forced into self-isolation at the last minute, after a family member was required to take a Covid test, Mr Miliband took the Labour leader’s place at the dispatch box yesterday. 

Boris Johnson, no doubt, was thanking his lucky stars. He was facing a tough enough night as it was, with Tory MPs threatening to rebel against his controversial new plan for Brexit. So the last thing he needed was a stringent cross-examination from Sir Keir. Weedy Mr Miliband, by contrast, would be a doddle. 

But that is not, as Michael Deacon writes, the way it turned out

What was Dominic Cummings reading?

Dominic Cummings might not be making himself popular with MPs (of any stripe) but he's always popular with the paparazzi. 

This morning the Prime Minister's chief adviser arrived in a suit and clutching some documents, ahead of Tuesday's regular Cabinet meeting. 

Here's a close up of what he was reading. 

Dominic Cummings pictured reading a document as he arrives at Downing Street Credit: Reuters

Pro-Leave MP blames Dominic Cummings for 'deliberately exploding' Internal Market Bill row

Brexiters might have prevailed last night but there is considerable concern about the next stages of the Internal Market Bill - and whether Dominic Cummings is to blame for "deliberately exploding" the issue.

One ERG member has got in touch to note that "all the lords have panicked" and even pro-Leave lords "have gone wobbly", amid growing fears about the powers the bill contains to override the Withdrawal Agreement.

"The stupid thing about [Brandon Lewis'] comment - it’s not even factually correct," the MP says. "The bill itself does not breach law or an agreement. It provides the potential to do so,  but in that respect it is no different in substance to the clause they all voted for in the EU Withdrawal Agreement act.

"It's a huge storm in teacup, that has been deliberately exploded by Dominic Cummings. It’s classic Dom, he loves chaos. He is completely careless of reputation or vanity, has contempt for the parliamentary party and he terrorises people into getting his way. He probably wanted the effect that this has had."

To that end, the MP suggested there were questions over whether this was just "positioning" in the hope of forcing the EU's hand in the final stages of Brexit talks, with David Frost due to travel to Brussels again this week. 

Dominic Cummings arrived at Downing Street, uncharacteristically, in a suit this morning  Credit: Bloomberg

Prime Minister should 'back off' his aim to test 10m people a day, says Sage scientist

Boris Johnson should "back off" his aim to test 10 million people per day, Sir John Bell has said. 

A report in the British Medical Journal (BMJ) said the UK has drawn up plans to eventually carry out up to 10 million Covid-19 tests a day by early next year.

But the Sage scientist and regius professor of medicine at Oxford University told BBC Radio 4's Today programme that Prime Minister said: "Let's back off the 10 million a day," adding: "It'll be two or three million I think, in the first instance."

Asked whether he had advised the Prime Minister not to use the word "moonshot", Sir John said: "Well, I I do remember the space shuttle Challenger.

"So there are several ways to do moonshot. Apollo 13 (sic) was great, Challenger was not so great."

Government 'underestimated' speed of second wave, says Sage scientist

The Government "underestimated" the speed at which a second wave would hit the UK, which is why there is a shortage of tests, a Sage scientist has claimed.

Sir John Bell, regius professor of medicine at Oxford University, who has been overseeing the Government's antibody test programme and advising ministers, told BBC Radio 4's Today programme we were "definitely behind the curve in terms of getting necessary tests". 

He added: "A month ago they had spare capacity in testing - significant spare capacity - but I think what has been underestimated was the speed at which the second wave would arrive, but also the pressure put on the system from children returning to school, and the testing demands associated with that, and people increasingly out and about. 

Sir John said demand would rise but warned things would get worse "because of course we haven't hit winter yet - we haven't all started to sniffle, get fevers, get colds, and that's going to add additional confusion to the problem".

"The real question is whether they can get supply in a position where it can outpace demand, and that's the challenge at the moment."

Sir John Bell claims the UK is "behind the curve" on test capacity Credit: La Roche

Priti Patel fails to rule out rationing for coronavirus tests

Priti Patel has failed to rule out the possibility that coronavirus tests could be rationed, as the Government grapples with availability issues. 

There is a growing crisis in testing availability, after it emerged last night that there were no tests available yesterday in any of the top 10 Covid hotspots in England. 

But asked whether the Government was considering rationing available supplies, the Home Secretary said: "I am not going to go into issues of that nature.

"The fact of the matter is our priority has been constantly to bolster and increase testing capacity in the areas where they need it most."

The Home Secretary added: "We have always prioritised people on the front line and in the NHS."

Families stopping to chat is 'mingling' and breaks rule of four, says Priti Patel

Families stopping to chat in a park counts as "mingling" and breaks the new rule of six, the Home Secretary has said. 

Asked if two families of four would be breaking the law if they stopped, Priti Patel told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "It is mingling. I think it is absolutely mingling.

"You have got to put this in the context of coronavirus and keeping distance, wearing masks.

"The rule of six is about making sure that people are being conscientious and not putting other people's health at risk."

Ms Patel added: "Mingling is people coming together. That is my definition of mingling."

Internal Market Bill allows Government to 'stay true' to Good Friday Agreement, Priti Patel claims

The Internal Market Bill is designed to ensure the Government "stays true" to the Good Friday Agreement, Priti Patel has said.

"When it comes to preserving the integrity of the UK and clearly delivering for the people of Northern Ireland when it comes to the Good Friday Agreement, we've said from day one... that we would always stand by our word and not compromise when it comes to unfettered access in goods and services but also standing by the Good Friday Agreement," she said on BBC Breakfast.

"We are ensuring the UK Internal Market Bill stays true to that principle that is why we are bringing this bill forward."

People should 'take responsibility' on rule of six, says Priti Patel

The Home Secretary has doubled down on her comments earlier, saying once again she would report her neighbours if she saw them breaching the 'rule of six'. 

Having told Sky News earlier that she would do so if she saw something "inappropriate", Priti Patel went on to tell BBC Breakfast:  "I don't spend my time looking into people's gardens."

Pressed on the matter following policing minister Kit Malthouse's comments about reporting breaches to police, she added: "I think anybody would want to take responsibility and ensure we're not spreading this awful disease and therefore if I saw gatherings of more than six people clearly I would report that."

Andrew Mitchell says it is 'unacceptable' to breach international law 

A former Cabinet minister has said it would be "unacceptable" to breach international law through the Internal Market Bill. 

Andrew Mitchell told BBC Radio 4's Today programme: "The proposition that we should march through the Lobby as lawmakers and say that we are going to ignore and disavow a law that we have passed, to do with the rule of law, that is completely unacceptable."

The former chief whip said while he backed large parts of the Bill, but would not back it unless it was amended, stating: "To ask members of the parliamentary party to walk through the Lobbies quite deliberately voting to breach international law is something which I cannot do.

"And which is causing very considerable anxiety and worry on the backbenches.

"We all want to help the Government with these negotiations, but to do that flies in the face of all British tradition."

Who voted for the Internal Market Bill? See what your MP did here

Yesterday's poll attracted nearly 2,700 votes, with 88 per cent of you saying the Government was right to bring forward legislation that allows ministers to break the law. 

But not everyone agreed, with 30 Tories abstaining and two walking through the no lobby with Labour and other opposition MPs. 

How did your MP vote last night? Use the interactive tool below to find out. 

Government working 'night and day' to build test capacity, says Priti Patel

The Government is "surging capacity" in local lockdown areas and tests are available within a 10-mile radius, the Home Secretary has said.

Priti Patel said it was unacceptable that people have been unable to get tests, adding: "Clearly there is much more work that needs to be undertaken with Public Health England and the actual public health bodies in those particular local areas.

"As a Government we work with Public Health England to surge where there is demand in local hotspot areas and we continue to do that."

On access to testing, she said the majority of tests are available within a 10-mile radius.

"It seems to me there'll be extreme cases where people can't get to test locations within that radius but that doesn't mean that Public Health England are not working night and day to boost capacity," she added.

'Wrong to say' there are no tests, claims Priti Patel

Priti Patel said it was "wrong to say" that there were no tests available after she was quizzed about the long delays in trying to book a test in Bolton where the infection rate is the highest in England.

The Home Secretary said: "Tests are available, you've heard me say, particularly in local lockdown areas, I've seen this myself, I've seen the teams that have been working on this.

"Mobile testing is going in, capacity is going into local areas where lockdowns have been undertaken and are taking place," she told BBC Breakfast. "I think it is wrong to say tests are not available, new book-in slots are being made available every single day, mobile testing units are being made available.

"And on top of that home testing kits are being issued across the country but specifically in local lockdown areas."

Priti Patel Credit: AFP

Coronavirus is 'here to stay' says Priti Patel as she defends test capacity 

Priti Patel has said coronavirus is "here to stay until we get a vaccine", as she defended the Government on test capacity. 

The Home Secretary said it had been "challenging" to increase the capacity for testing, but insisted it was "growing and growing", with tests available "across the country". 

She told Sky News that people should "get a test if you’re symptomatic, but be very mindful that if you’re not you should just follow the guidance" on hand washing and social distancing.

However, asked repeatedly about the growing crisis in testing availability, after it emerged last night that there were no tests available yesterday in any of the top 10 Covid hotspots in England, she insisted capacity was "growing, it is increasing".

Ms Patel said there was "inevitable demand - the more tests there are in the system, the more capacity we need". 

"This is sadly our new normal. [Coronavirus] is here to stay until we get a vaccine and it is right that we continue to grow capacity."

I would call the police over rule of six breaches, says Priti Patel 

The Home Secretary has said she would call the police if she saw a group of people breaking the new 'rule of six', but stressed it was not about "dobbing in neighbours". 

Priti Patel told Sky News it was "a personal choice" but she would call if she saw"something I thought was inappropriate", adding: "It’s not about dobbing in neighbours, it's about taking personal responsibility.

"If a big party was taking place, it is right to call the police. Anyone effectively defying the rules they will be helping to spread coronavirus."

Rule of six explained: What you can and can't do

How the PM failed to sway Tory rebels over Brexit Bill 'safety net'​

Boris Johnson has failed to quash a growing Tory revolt over plans to amend the Brexit divorce deal, as senior figures, including Sajid Javid, joined the rebels.

Mr Javid, the former chancellor, said he would “regretfully” be unable to support legislation that would give the Government the power to go back on parts of the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated by Mr Johnson last year.

He is one of 18 Tory MPs who have publicly opposed legislation which cleared its first Commons hurdle on Monday night, while David Cameron became the fifth former prime minister to express misgivings about it. 

The rebels include 10 former ministers, five of whom served in the Cabinet. MPs voted to give the UK Internal Market Bill a second reading by 340 to 263 - a Government majority of 77.