Europe will block trade deal if Internal Market Bill is not 'rectified', threatens Guy Verhofstadt

Guy Verhofstadt had earlier tweeted his support for Joe Biden
Guy Verhofstadt had earlier tweeted his support for Joe Biden Credit: AP

The European Parliament will block a post-Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU if Boris Johnson does not 'rectify' the Internal Market Bill further, Guy Verhofstadt has said. 

Mr Johnson's compromise with his backbenchers - whereby MPs will be granted a vote before a minister can use powers which override international law if the EU undermines the "fundamental purpose" of the Northern Ireland Protocol - has gone through on a new policy paper published today. 

But the Prime Minister's "climbdown" over the Internal Market Bill has no bearing on its breach of international law, the outspoken MEP and chair of the now-defunct Brexit Steering Group said. 

European Parliament would "not give its consent to any trade deal" if the bill is not further "rectified", he added.

Earlier this morning Mr Verhofstadt this morning tweeted his support for presidential candidate Joe Biden, saying: "Biden is right. Boris Johnson might not care about international law or the Good Friday Agreement, but there are many who do! The world is watching with disbelief."

See what else happened today in Westminster below

And that's it for another day...

Dido Harding is continuing to give her evidence, and is being joined by health minister Lord Bethell. You can catch up on their responses with my colleagues' coronavirus blog here

Westminster is quieter as MPs return to their constituencies for surgeries and Covid-friendly community events, but it's been a busy day with people still picking through the finer points of the Internal Market Bill. While Boris Johnson might have made his backbenchers happier by giving them a vote before the law-breaking powers are used, there is still plenty of teeth being gnashed, both in the legal community here and more generally in Brussels. 

And with the UK agreeing to give the EU the details that mean it can be listed as a third country, the "blockading" problem seems to go away, begging the question what is the point in winding up our international partners. 

One of the answers might be to act as an insurance policy should they make good on their threat anyway. But it seems more likely to be a case of winning over the domestic audience - albeit with disregard for what future trading partners might think. 

Number 10 likes to ignore the outrage of the "Westminster bubble" - but the international community might have longer memories than the average voter. 

However the more pressing issue is testing and the second wave. Boris Johnson wants to protect Christmas - but does the rule of six go far enough?

Today's question seems to have created the dreaded ratio: 52 per cent say yes, with the remaining 48 per cent split between calling for an immediate lockdown (18 per cent) and more general restrictions such as curfews (30 per cent). 

I'll be back tomorrow from 8am for all the rest of the week's news from Westminster and beyond. 

Unknown contacts a 'big gap' in tracing, Dido Harding admits

Dido Harding is then asked how many contacts are being reached in total, which she says is very hard to estimate because "one of the big gaps in our measurement is people who you have been in contact with who you don't know". 

That is why an app is so important, she says, saying app users will "significantly improve our effectiveness". 

Asked again to put a figure on it, Baroness Harding passes over to Susan Hopkins, CMA on Test and Trace, lists problems with tracing even known contacts, saying "all of this brings the app into sharp focus". 

It will tell another individual if they are at risk and what they should do next, she adds. 

Testing turnaround times just one of many metrics, Dido Harding insists

Greg Clark then asks more questions, noting that the PM’s target was for 24-hour turnaround, but Dido Harding is quoting next day turnaround. What are the figures for 24-hour turnaround?

Baroness Harding says they focus on next day turnaround. Otherwise they would be giving people results in the middle of the next, she says.

Mr Clark says just a third of people are getting tests in 24 hours, which is an important time because Sage said test results had to be delivered quickly. The sooner they are delivered, the sooner those being tested, and their contacts, can be asked to self-isolate. 

Baroness Harding says she is judged by "quite a lot of metrics", not just turnaround time but how fast they reach contacts and the percentage of contacts reached. 

Baroness Harding Credit: PA

Dido Harding defends need for 'local and national' Test and Trace system

Asked what National Institute for Health Protection will do better than the agencies it is taking over from, including Public Health England. 

She says NHS Test and Trace, the Joint Biosecurity Centre and PHE have worked well together but "in the space of a few weeks, by knowing our long term future is together it is encouraging professionals... simply to work together more closely."

Over the last few weeks, there has been more broad coverage of the country and more collaborative working, she says. 

She then defends Serco in the face of implied criticism over Test and Trace, saying they have done "a good job".

Prompted, she agrees to go back and find out what she can share in terms of the commercial contracts. 

Challenged over excess "centralised" systems, she says they need both a local and national system. Increasingly the team is seeing "real collaboration between local leadership teams and national testing", she adds. 

Dido Harding challenged over suitability to head up National Institute for Health Protection

Dido Harding is then asked how she became the acting chair of the new body that is taking over from the Public Health England. 

She says she didn't apply to head up the National Institute for Health Protectionbut she wanted to "serve my country". 

Asked if it is right to take the role without open competition, she stresses it is interim and unpaid, but says speed was of the essence. 

She emphasises it is "an enormous consumer, citizens service with huge logistics and data - data analytics and data flow". 

"This is a team effort," she adds

Increase in test demand has caused delay in results, Dido Harding admits

The increase in demand for tests has caused a delay in turnaround time for those who get one, Dido Harding has said. 

The Test and Trace chief told the Science and Tech Committee that there had been an increase in the time taken to get test results "in the last week or so". 

This is because "very consciously, where we have seen a significant increase in demand, we have made use of every single day of the seven days of lab capacity to maximise capacity," she said. 

"What that has meant is for some people turnaround times have gone out a bit."

But when capacity increases again that will go initially "not to more people being tested to actually to seeing those turnaround times reduced," she said. "It is a balancing act."

Greg Clark noted that the turnaround times were "very significantly" lower than the target. 

Government committed to weekly tests for care home workers, says Dido Harding

Challenged by Labour MP Dawn Butler about total tests not reaching capacity, Dido Harding suggests the labs have run at "more than 100 per cent" for the last couple of days, but she says she is concerned about this. 

Ms Butler then asks if taxpayers are charged for "voided tests". Baroness Harding says she can't confirm that because they are still "working through" the details with the company Randox. 

Asked what was wrong with the tests, Baroness Harding repeats that it is work that is still underway. Asked what Owen Paterson does for Randox, Baroness Harding says it is a question for him. 

Asked about the risk of asymptomatic transmission, she says that is "exactly why our second priority is care homes... because we have learned from the last nine months how this disease attacks the elderly."

"Care home workers receive tests once a week today... the Government is very committed to maintaining that programme," she adds. 

London tests being cut because of 'lower prevalence' in capital, says Dido Harding

Dido Harding is then quizzed by Mark Logan, Conservative MP Bolton North East, about testing in regions like his that are suffering outbreaks. 

She says that while the  average testing is being carried out at a level of 100 per 100,000 outbreak areas are two-to-three times that level. 

Capacity constraints aren't in the testing sites but in the lab which is tests have to be restricted in person. 

However she tells him Test and Trace is on track to have 500 different testing locations by end of October. 

Asked if redirecting resources to outbreak areas means a cut in London's capacity, she says the capital has had 10,000 tests a day, saying "over the last few weeks, London has seen the absolute number of tests come down precisely because London has a lower prevalence" than Bolton and other parts of the North. 

Dido Harding: No one expected current spike in demand for tests

Greg Clark asks if the second wave has come earlier than expected. 

Dido Harding says "I don't think anybody was expecting to see the really sizeable increase in demand we have seen over the last few weeks - none of the modelling was that expected.

She says people should "think really hard" about whether they need a test, and refers back to the officially recognised symptoms. "We are all going to have to play a part," she adds. 

Mr Clark says soon people with symptoms won't be able to get a test, but Baroness Harding says Test and Trace is "very clear" on priorities list: firstly NHS patients, then care home residents who are being tested even without symptoms and NHS staff. 

Roughly half of the testing capacity goes to those three groups, she says. 

After that outbreak areas are given additional testing, and beyond that the "broad general public" where key workers, particularly teachers, will be prioritised. 

Dido Harding challenged over winter capacity

Dido Harding says more tests will be needed as we go past October, but says the new labs won't be on stream by that time. 

Greg Clark asks if the 500,000 target will be where demand is by that time, but she doesn't answer the question. Instead she says demand is already outstripping supply and says it must be "protected for those who most need it". 

Mr Clark then says the number of people who demonstrate Covid-like symptoms in a normal winter is 500,000 so the tests won't address the additional numbers. 

"We have plans to go beyond 500,000 a day, and announced new labs today that will address that," Baroness Harding says. 

This is based on "clinical and scientific modelling" of what is required in a winter season, she says. 

Dido Harding blames Sage model for testing capacity shortfall

Greg Clark tells Dido Harding it is "dispiriting" that capacity hasn't been built sufficiently during the summer. 

The Test and Trace boss says it "has not been a quiet summer", arguing capacity has doubled and is on track to double again by the end of October. 

Mr Clark argues back that they have not prepared for the increase in demand that was required and asks why it wasn't done in time for September. 

Baroness Harding says she understands people's frustrations, "We built our testing capacity plans based on Sage modelling," she adds. "Today we have more tests per 100,000 population than any other country in Europe."

"We built our capacity plans based on Sage modelling, based on what we should be preparing for in the autumn," she adds. 

It is 'entirely human' that people are seeking tests without symptoms, says Dido Harding

Baronness Harding says that out of 24,000 people at 25 regional sites, 27 per cent were there "because they had been in contact with someone who had tested positive but didn't have symptoms".

"I completely understand why people are scared and worried," the Test and Trace boss tells Greg Clark, the Science and Tech committee chair. Asked if people were lying, she says no, "people are worried... it is totally understandable". 

They "ought to have symptoms", she adds. But it is "an entirely human thing to be scared and worried, and think the answer is to get a test". 

But Mr Clark argues this could have happened at any time, why has there been an increase now? 

Baroness Harding says there has been a doubling in seeking tests for children under 17, and more than that in children between five and nine years old. 

They planned for demand to rise, but "plainly we don't have enough testing capacity today and we are doing everything we can to increase that capacity."

Demand for tests 'three to four times' higher than capacity, Dido Harding says 

Greg Clark kicks off his session with Dido Harding asking her about test capacity, which she confirms is 242,817 tests per day. 

The data is being published 4pm today, she says. Data is being validated before being published, she adds,which is why . 

This is total capacity, she adds and breaks it down by NHS capacity - pillar one - which is 82,817 across the UK, while pillar two is 160,000. 

Mr Clark is trying to understand why data hasn't been published daily throughout the summer, which she says is just down to them trying to ensure it is accurate. 

Asked about current demand, Baroness Harding says there is "significantly more" than capacity. Based on calls and visits to website it is "three to four times" capacity, she adds, but stresses there are duplicates with people calling multiple times. 

The number of symptomatic people "will be significantly lower than that", she adds. 

Are coronavirus cases rising or falling in your area? 

Dido Harding will shortly be giving evidence to the Science and Technology committee, chaired by Greg Clark - one of many Conservative MPs to grill Boris Johnson yesterday. 

Baroness Harding heads up NHS Test and Trace, something Mr Clark, the former business secretary, has made a central pillar to his scrutiny of the response to the pandemic. 

She is likely to come under criticism for the failings in the system which has led to mass shortages in test capacity, while the tracing component of the system still has yet to take off. 

Ahead of the hearing, type in your postcode in the tool below to find out how many cases there have been in your local area.

Scotland will have 'fair access' to lab test capacity, Nicola Sturgeon says

Nicola Sturgeon said she has been assured by the UK Government that access to testing will not be restricted and Scotland will have a "fair share" of laboratory capacity to process tests.

The Scottish First Minister said a "capacity constraint" across the UK testing system was delaying test results because labs are struggling to keep up with demand.

But Ms Sturgeon said she had spoken to UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock who insisted that testing in Scotland will not be rationed, as is happening in England.

Speaking at First Minister's Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: "This is a laboratory processing issue in Scotland, but we have received assurances that Scotland's access to testing through mobile testing units or regional testing centres would not be constrained to try to deal with any of this.

"And secondly, that Scotland's fair share of the laboratory processing capacity will also be secured."

Nicola Sturgeon Credit: WPA Pool

Planet Normal: Comedians are scared of being seen as 'facist adjacent', says Geoff Norcott 

Woke culture is ripe territory for comedy, but left-wing comedians are now worried that they'll be dubbed "fascist adjacent" if they're seen to critique it, one of the UK's few right wing comics has said.

Speaking to Liam Halligan on the Telegraph's Planet Normal podcast, Geoff Norcott said: "If people in liberal ivory towers want to make decisions on behalf of people that they can't handle some light piss-taking, that is dangerous, because you're then excluding people from the conversation."

Also on the podcast: Allison and Liam weigh up whether Victoria Wood would be a victim of so-called "cancel culture" and find a cunning loophole to make their Christmasses Covid-compliant.

Listen below.

Andrew Lilico: A fishing compromise may be worthwhile if we get something even better in return

Reports are circulating that the UK government may be willing to compromise on fishing rights. Perhaps there might be a special zone around the Channel Islands and maybe current quotas would be phased out rather than ending instantly next January. 

Agreements with other countries frequently involve compromises of various sorts. Last week the UK and Japan made a free trade agreement. That illustrates that, for all the allegations by EU politicians and their commentariat apologists, it simply isn’t true that Brexit has induced unrealism amongst British politicians or an inability to make the compromises necessary and intrinsic to international deals.

Not every compromise is desirable or necessary, argues Andrew Lilico. Of course some people will object. If no-one objected they wouldn’t be compromises. But compromises are part of deal-making. 

BBC hits back over Rees-Mogg's claim it's 'stealing Ovaltine from pensioners'

The BBC has hit back after Jacob Rees-Mogg claimed the broadcaster was "stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners' night-time drink" by dropping free licence fees for the over-75s. 

Responding to a question about star salaries in light of the cut, the Leader of the House told the Commons: "I do think the BBC has been unfair on pensioners in requiring them to pay the licence fee.

"The hope was that they would not do this and they are basically stealing the Ovaltine from pensioners' night-time drink by charging them for this licence fee and they are losing licence payers... when charging some of the least well-off in our society and giving the money to some of the most well-off in our society, there are people who will rightly question that."

But a BBC spokesman said: "It was the Government who decided to stop funding free TV licences for the over-75s.

 

"The BBC Board believes the fairest option is to help the poorest older pensioners. Around 1.5 million households could get free TV licences if someone is over 75 and receives Pension Credit.

"Critically, it is not the BBC making that judgment about poverty, it is the Government who set and control who is eligible for Pension Credit and what level of payments are made."

Have your say on: Does the rule of six go far enough?

This morning Edward Argar, the health minister, was insistent that the rule of six would be sufficient to keep rates of coronavirus at a manageable level. Boris Johnson also told The Sun it was important to deploy "tough" measures now to "protect" Christmas. 

But with further restrictions being imposed on around two million people in the North-East of England, a further quarter of a million people in Wales coming under a new local lockdown, and widespread lack of testing, is it really working?

Or should they consider going further now in order to allow greater freedoms at a point in the year when seeing family and friends is a priority?

Have your say in the poll below.

Further 18 people die with coronavirus in England

A further 18 people who tested positive for coronavirus have died, bringing the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 29,705.

Patients were aged between 56 and 95 years old. All but two patients had known underlying health conditions.

Date of death ranges from 12 September to 16 September 2020, with the majority on or after 15 September.

Three regions - the East of England, London and the South West - reported no deaths, but six were reported in the North East & Yorkshire, where more restrictions have been imposed by Matt Hancock today. 

The North West registered five deaths, while there were four in the Midland and three in the South East.

Labour calls on Jacob Rees-Mogg to apologise over 'carping' comments

Labour has ordered Jacob Rees-Mogg to apologise after he told members of the public to stop "carping" over a lack of coronavirus tests. 

Alex Norris, shadow minister for public health and patient safety, said: “For weeks, people across the country have been struggling to get coronavirus tests. But rather than fixing problems, the government have instead resorted to a blizzard of blame shifting and excuses.

“Now, out-of-touch ministers have got a new message to those who can’t get tests: ‘stop complaining and praise us’. 

“Jacob Rees-Mogg should immediately apologise. Whining about the public not being grateful enough won’t sort anything - only his government can fix the testing shambles they are presiding over.”

You can see the video below (1:19pm). 

European Parliament will block trade deal if Internal Market Bill is not 'rectified', says Guy Verhofstadt

Downing Street's "climbdown" over the Internal Market Bill has no bearing on its breach of international law, Guy Verhofstadt has said. 

The outspoken MEP and Brexit-critic this morning tweeted: "[Joe] Biden is right. Boris Johnson might not care about international law or the Good Friday Agreement, but there are many who do! The world is watching with disbelief."

He followed that up, saying European Parliament would "not give its consent to any trade deal" if the bill is not further "rectified".

MPs will vote before law-breaking powers can be used, policy paper confirms

Boris Johnson's concession to rebels - giving MPs a vote before a minister can use powers which override international law if the EU undermines the "fundamental purpose" of the Northern Ireland Protocol - has gone through on a new policy paper published today. 

Examples of such behaviour would include the EU refusing to grant third country listing to UK agricultural goods for "manifestly unreasonable or poorly justified reasons" - something which Brussels has already said it will grant (12:18pm).

It also listed an "insistence that the EU's state aid provisions should apply in GB in circumstances when there is no link or only a trivial one to commercial operations taking place in" as a reason why Parliament would be asked to support the Bill's provisions.

The other examples listed include an insistence that GB-NI tariffs and related provision should be "charged in ways that are not related to the real risk of goods entering the EU single market", as well as an insistence on export declarations for NI goods going to GB.

But as David Anderson, Baron Anderson of Ipswich, pointed out this morning (9:55am), this fudge solves the Government's "political problems, at least in the Commons, but does not solve their legal one".

Lobby latest: Downing Street dodges question about Jacob Rees-Mogg's comments

Downing Street did not back comments made by Jacob Rees-Mogg today, after the Leader of the House accused the public of "endless carping" that they cannot get a test. 

Asked about these comments, Number 10 spokesman said noted that Boris Johnson spoke yesterday about the need to increase capacity, adding: “We will continue to increase capacity.”

You can watch Mr Rees-Mogg in action below. 

Lobby latest: Downing Street 'working with US partners' so they understand Brexit position

The UK Government is "working with our US partners" so they understand the official position on Brexit and Northern Ireland, Downing Street has said. 

It comes after US presidential candidate Joe Biden tweeted: "We can’t allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit."

Today a Number 10 spokesman said: "We continue to remain absolutely committed to no hard border and no border infrastructure between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, and we will continue to engage with our US partners on a bipartisan basis to ensure that our positions are understood."

Asked if Mr Biden was wrong, the spokesman said: "We will continue to work with our US partners to ensure our position is understood, but the whole point of this - as the PM has set out - is to make sure the Belfast/Good Friday Agreement is upheld."

Lobby latest: Downing Street plays down national curfew plans

The UK's coronavirus testing system is facing "challenges" after the latest official figures showed a sharp fall in the levels of "in person" test results being returned within 24 hours, Downing Street has admitted.

Yesterday the Prime Minister admitted there were "huge problems" with the regime, telling MPs of the Liaison Committee: "We do not have enough testing capacity now."

Today a Number 10 spokesman added: "We accept there are challenges and we accept that we are seeing significant demand for tests at the moment. We are obviously working to address those challenges. We will continue to work to enhance testing capacity in the coming weeks."

But the spokesman played down suggestions that a nationwide 10pm curfew could be imminent as cases continue to rise.

"We will keep the restrictions under review. We don't want to bring in these kind of measures which is why we have introduced the rule of six and are urging people to abide by it," the spokesman said.

Third of English people feel 'very angry' about prospect of no deal Brexit, study claims

A third of English people feel “very angry” at the prospect of Britain leaving the EU without a deal, despite increasing numbers of people being resigned to talks failing, a new survey claims.

The poll of 5,000 people, carried out by University of Exeter and ORB International, found that 41 per cent of people thought coronavirus had made it more likely that the UK will leave without a deal, while 20 per cent thought a deal would be delayed.

A fifth of people thought Brexit would disproportionately harm young people, and 28 per cent thought it would have a much more negative impact on poorer people.  

Professor Dan Stevens, from the University of Exeter, who led the survey, said: “These results show that there is widespread pessimism and anger about Brexit in the public in the current context. There is also the feeling that some of the inequalities we have seen with Covid-19, for example the more negative impact on ethnic minorities and the poor, are also there with Brexit.”

Watch: North East of England put into local lockdown, Matt Hancock confirms

Matt Hancock has been batting off questions and complaints from MPs over the shortage of coronavirus tests for the last hour or so. 

But before that, he made a statement on something slightly different - sweeping new restrictions across much of the North East of England. 

You can watch his statement again below. 

Meanwhile, in the House of Lords...

Meanwhile, in the upper chamber, former chancellor and one-time Father of the House of Commons Sir Ken Clarke has been introduced to the Lords. 

The Europhile politician was one of 21 MPs to have the whip withdrawn by Boris Johnson during the Brexit wars of last autumn, but having been nominated by the Prime Minister, Baron Clarke of Nottingham will sit as a Tory.

MPs slam Matt Hancock over 'chaotic and dangerous' test shortages

Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, has been defending the Government on testing as MPs line up to report the troubles their constituents are having getting hold of one. 

Jonathan Ashworth, the shadow health secretary, pointed out that Mr Hancock did not cover testing in his statement. Four months ago the minister said testing for all was established. He promised test and trace. But instead we have ended up with trace a test, he says.

Asking about two of her constituents, Yvette Cooper, chair of the Home Affairs Committee, said: "This isn't just chaotic, this is dangerous.

"The Government knew there would be a huge increase in demand for testing when the schools went back and when they were encouraging people to go back to work... why did he set his target for the end of October and not the beginning of September?"

Brussels still expects UK to withdraw law-breaking clauses from Internal Market Bill

Despite the breakthrough on listing in the post below, The European Union is standing firm on its demand for the Government to drop provisions in the UK Internal Market Bill relating to the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement.

Eric Mamer, chief spokesperson of the European Commission, was asked during a Brussels briefing whether the Government's compromise with Tory rebels - which would give MPs a vote before using powers which would break international law - had altered the EU's stance.

Mr Mamer replied: "We have as you know set out a position extremely clearly, it is in our statement, and it relates to those clauses being withdrawn from the law.

"That position has not changed and we have asked the UK to do this at the earliest possible convenience and by the end of September at the latest. That has not changed."

UK to give Brussels food regime details, enabling food exports to continue after Brexit

The UK Government will give Brussels the information required to enable the EU give the UK third party listing, ensuring farmers can continue to export animal products to the bloc.

The EU had previously asked for "full clarity" on the UK's future food regime, including on future food imports, so it can list Britain, but Boris Johnson claimed this amounted to a threat to "blockade" Northern Ireland. 

A government spokesman today said the UK would be "laying secondary legislation next month to clarify listing procedures in future".

A European Commission spokesman said it was possible to list a country in a few days. 

"Michel Barnier clearly stated that the EU is not refusing to list the UK as a third country for food imports.  To be listed, we need to know in full what a country’s rules are, including for imports," he said. 

"The UK has informed us that they will transpose the EU Official Control Regulation, as well as legislation on animal health and public health, with modifications. We are waiting for this legislation to be put forward."

Matt Hancock confirms new lockdowns for north-east of England

Matt Hancock has confirmed local lockdown restrictions will be introduced in Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Gateshead, Sunderland and County Durham following "concerning rates of infection".

From these regions face a ban on residents socialising with other people outside their own households, table service only in bars and restaurants and the closure of leisure and entertainment venues between 10pm and 5am.

Announcing further financial support for councils to help deal with this, the Health Secretary has told MPs the Government will "strain every sinew" to ensure local authorities are prepared for the winter ahead. 

He was speaking after official data revealed that just 1.9 per cent of people in England who used a home test kit for Covid-19 received their result within 24 hours in the week to September 9.

This is the lowest percentage since Test and Trace was launched at the end of May.

Matt Hancock Credit: PA

EU is negotiating in 'perfectly good faith', says Brussels spokesman

Brussels has insisted it carries out negotiations in "good faith" after Boris Johnson told MPs he did not believe they had acted as such in the Brexit talks.

Yesterday morning Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland Secretary, had said he thought the EU was acting in good faith, however in the afternoon the Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee: "I don't believe they are."

This morning Eric Mamer, chief spokesperson of the European Commission, said: "I can point to our hundreds - literally hundreds - of international agreements signed with very, very different third parties of all kinds.

"And I think that they testify to - as I think you say in English - a rather splendid track record when it comes to carrying out negotiations in good faith, and indeed even concluding them.

"So what I would simply do is ask you to go and talk to those third parties with whom we have signed these agreements and further they will testify to the quality of our negotiation.

"And I think that Michel Barnier showed in the context of the negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement that even on extremely complex and politically sensitive issues the Commission and indeed the EU negotiate in perfectly good faith."

Dominic Cummings was 'no end of trouble' for David Cameron

Dominic Cummings was "no end of trouble" when David Cameron was prime minister, the former Conservative leader has said. 

Mr Cameron recalled how he had sacked the "very clever" official twice, telling Times Radio: "We didn't necessarily hit it off... perhaps if he's your right hand man and you're the prime minister that is the best place for him, but he wasn't mine, he was someone else's, and he was no end of trouble".

The former prime minister once famously called Mr Cummings a "career psychopath". 

Asked if the man who is now chief of staff for Boris Johnson should have been fired for driving from London to Durham during lockdown, when his wife was displaying coronavirus symptoms, Mr Cameron said there was no "handbook for when people have to resign".

He added: "If you asked me to write the handbook now... it's not that clear cut."

Mr Cameron also suggested Gavin Williamson was right not to resign over the exams chaos, noting that "governments of totally different persuasions all came to what turned out to be very much the wrong decision".

Dominic Cummings 'no end of trouble' Credit: PA

Outstanding Brexit issues 'resolvable', says David Cameron

The remaining issues in Brexit trade talks are "resolvable", David Cameron has said. 

The former prime minister stressed that he thought the law-breaking clause in the Internal Market Bill was a "tactic" but said "the signal is bad".  

He repeated his comments from earlier this week that it was "the very last thing you should do, the last resort", adding: "I am not happy about it but this Government is in a negotiation... a very important negotiation, and the EU are quite understandably negotiating very hard and the Government are trying to counter that."

If fishing and state support are the only issues "that are left, they are resolvable issues, I would think," he added. 

Government must 'correct' impression that Brexit means Tories are less inclusive

The Government must "correct" the impression that Brexit means the Conservative party is "less inclusive", David Cameron has said. 

The former prime minister told Times Radio: "Brexit doesn't necessarily mean the Conservative party is less liberal, less progressive, less open to ideas like equal marriage... but it is seen by some as signal that we are going that way.

"It doesn't mean we are not working harder for an inclusive Britain, for good harmonious society and race relations... but there are some people who see Brexit as a signal of a less inclusive [party] and the Government has to correct that."

Boris Johnson was "very much a One Nation Conservative, he was supportive of equal marriage," his former boss added. 

Mr Cameron added that social cohesion was "going to become the biggest issue in politics" and Mr Johnson should "flip" policy approach so that everything flowed from this one issue.  

Boris Johnson and David Cameron Credit: AFP

Government should wait to restore country's finances, David Cameron has said

The Government should not seek to restore the country's finances until the economic situation improves, David Cameron has said. 

Asked about austerity, the former prime minister stressed it was a necessary reaction to the situation at the time. 

Mr Cameron said the Government should continue to give "generous help as we reopen", having shut down vast swathes of the country through lockdown. 

"As the economy starts moving again.... we are still going to have make difficult decisions," he added. "When we reach the sunlit uplands of growth again we will have to see about fixing the roof while the sun is shining but we are not there yet."

Prime ministers should not 'fear the tall poppies' in Cabinet, says David Cameron

Prime ministers should not fear "tall poppies" in their Cabinet, David Cameron has said. 

The former leader told Times Radio he had many people in his Government who he disagreed with, pointing to outspoken members of the party such as Ken Clarke and Iain Duncan Smith. 

Asked if Jeremy Hunt would have done a better job than Boris Johnson, Mr Cameron said he was trying to stay neutral but described the former health secretary as "hugely capable". 

"He talks a lot of sense as chairman of the select committee and I hope his talent isn't lost to politics forever," Mr Cameron added. 

He dodged a question about whether Mr Hunt should be in the Cabinet, saying: "I didn't fear the tall poppies... you want to have the big players on the table."

Jeremy Hunt is 'hugely capable', says David Cameron Credit: PA

Boris Johnson's failure to attend early coronavirus Cobras may have delayed response, David Cameron says

Boris Johnson's failure to attend Cobra meetings at the start of the pandemic may have delayed a Government response, David Cameron has said. 

The former prime minister told Times Radio that although he sometimes missed the first Cobra in an emergency, being there meant decisions could be taken more quickly. 

Mr Johnson has been criticised for missing five of the first Cobra meetings dedicated to Cobra. 

Mr Cameron said: "I didn't always attend the first Cobra of every emergency but I had to focus on it quite quickly, not just because PMs are superhuman and are the only person who can take decision... but to bang the table and ask obvious questions. 

"You have got to get in there quite quickly and drive progress," he added. 

Asked if he was criticising Mr Johnson directly, his former boss said: "I don't know exactly what the circumstances are, so I am not passing judgement. 

"[But] if you wanted to get stuff done, there is something about the prime minister turning up that helps to drive decision making."

David Cameron: 'The ex-prime minister club has a lot of sympathy' for Boris Johnson

David Cameron "cooked all the meals" and did a bit of home schooling "but that wasn't my strong point" during lockdown, he has said. 

The former prime minister also volunteered as his local food bank, he told Times Radio. 

"I was much less busy than I was as prime minister," he added, admitting that he "missed" much of his former role, but not "some of the pressures". 

It has been "odd" watching the current Government deal with the pandemic which is "far greater" than anything faced by the members of the ex-prime ministers' club, he said, adding there was a lot of "sympathy" for Boris Johnson and his team. 

"What's been happening recently is just incredibly tough - it's easy to criticise with hindsight," but the "bigger picture" is getting the balance between listening to scientists and making the right political call. 

Labour MPs demand 'urgent clarification' on north-east restrictions

Labour MPs representing north-east England seats called for further information from Matt Hancock on the measures being taken.

They requested "urgent clarification on a number of key issues" around interventions being planned in Sunderland, South Tyneside, Gateshead, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, North Tyneside, Northumberland and County Durham.

The letter, signed by 15 Labour MPs, asked whether household-level information and contact tracing data will be available to local authorities and what extra testing capacity would be put in to the region. Mr Hancock is due to set this out in the Commons from 11:30am. 

"We agree that restrictions must be put in place in order to protect public health, and prevent the further spread of Covid-19, and we support measures taken in order to save lives," the MPs said.

"We do, however, believe that this must be done in close collaboration with local authorities, who must have access to all appropriate information, data and support in order to make the best decisions for their areas."

The letter was sent by Sunderland Central MP Julie Elliott and signed by colleagues including shadow chief secretary to the Treasury Bridget Phillipson and shadow science minister Chi Onwurah.

Public approval of Government's pandemic response falls to lowest level yet

Public approval of the Government's handling of the pandemic has fallen to the lowest level yet, amid a growing crisis over lack of coronavirus test capacity. 

The net approval score for Boris Johnson's team has dropped to -33, down from -18 last week, YouGov said. The previous lowest net approval was -21, recorded in mid-August. The highest ever score was +51, recorded at the end of March.

Last week some 63 per cent of people said the Government had done a bad job, up eight per cent on the previous week, while  just 30 said ministers have done a good job, down seven per cent. 

More than two-thirds of Britons - 70 per cent - say the national coronavirus situation is getting worse; just 14 per cent say it is getting better.

Have your say on: Does the rule of six go far enough?

This morning Edward Argar, the health minister, was insistent that the rule of six would be sufficient to keep rates of coronavirus at a manageable level. 

Boris Johnson also told The Sun it was important to deploy "tough" measures now to "protect" Christmas. 

But with further restrictions being imposed on around two million people in nothern parts of the country, and a further quarter of a million people in Wales coming under a new local lockdown, is it really working? Or should they consider going further now in order to allow greater freedoms at a point in the year when seeing family and friends is a priority?

Have your say in the poll below

Londoners unable to work because of testing 'chaos', Sadiq Khan claims

Sadiq Khan has written to Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, calling for action on the coronavirus testing "chaos and confusion", amid claims Londoners are struggling to get tested.

The Labour mayor told London Assembly Members: "This is a critical moment in the fight against Covid-19. Many Londoners are being told there are no testing sites available in London.

"The delays are preventing frontline workers from being able to do their jobs, and children are being kept away from their classrooms unnecessarily.

"This failure is putting lives and livelihoods in jeopardy. We've known for months now that come the autumn demand for testing would increase. This crunch point should have been foreseen, and then avoided.

"And unless the Government massively ramps up testing capacity in London we'll be back to where we started: trying to halt the spread of the virus in the dark.

"Nothing is more important than a fully functioning test, trace and isolate system if we are to prevent a devastating second wave, and time is fast running out. "

Number 10 releases exchange of letters between Prime Minister and Lord Keen

Boris Johnson yesterday told MPs conversations were ongoing in a bid to keep Lord Keen, Scotland's advocate general, in post. But by the end of the day, he had accepted the peer's resignation. 

Number 10 has just released the letters between the two - here's what the Prime Minister had to say.

Tory David Morris ordered to apologise over breach of parliamentary rules

A Conservative MP has been ordered to apologise to the Commons after he breached parliamentary rules on paid advocacy.

David Morris last year asked a question and sent a follow-up email to the Business Secretary relating to a firm which had given him a £10,000 donation the previous month.

An inquiry by the Committee on Standards ruled that Mr Morris had inadvertently breached the Code of Conduct for MPs on two occasions.

The report by the parliamentary commissioner for standards, Kathryn Stone, also criticised the Morecambe and Lunesdale MP's conduct during the inquiry.

She said: "I consider Mr Morris's conduct during my inquiry to be regrettable and disrespectful of the House's system of standards. Mr Morris has now acknowledged and apologised for his breach of the rules and for his conduct during my inquiry. I have also accepted that his breach of the rules was inadvertent."

The committee recommended that Mr Morris apologise to the Commons by means of a personal statement. 

Watch again: Prime Minister rolls eyes at arch Brexiter Sir Bill Cash

Yesterday's Liaison Committee hearing saw Boris Johnson go up against several hostile MPs, including more than a handful from his own party. 

But Sir Bill Cash, despite endeavouring to support the Prime Minister on his Internal Market Bill, received schoolboy-style eye-rolling. 

The veteran Eurosceptic used most of his allotted time to go through precedents of law-breaking rather than ask questions - something you might thing the put-upon PM would be grateful for. However that is certainly not how it seemed. 

Watch again below. 

Prime Minister's rebel concession 'solves political problems but does not the legal one'

Boris Johnson's compromise with rebel MPs on the Internal Market Bill solves his "political problems, at least in the Commons, but does not solve their legal one", according to a British barrister and peer.

David Anderson, Baron Anderson of Ipswich, said: "The Bill does not read like a defensive measure, but as a deliberate and much broader attack on the WA that the PM signed up for, on which he won the election, and that was designed to work whether we make a future relationship agreement or no.

He added: "A heavily-whipped Commons, that is, with a huge government majority, which will be asked for its view at a moment of major national crisis. This makes no difference to the EU, and why should it?

"This is not an arcane debate between lawyers about the status of international law: it goes to the absolute fundamentals of what it takes to be trusted."

ICYMI: Boris Johnson reaches deal with Brexit Bill rebels as law officer quits

Boris Johnson reached a compromise with Tory rebels on Wednesday night by agreeing to give them a final say on overriding the Brexit divorce deal – but it came too late to prevent one of his senior law officers from resigning.

Officials had hoped to persuade senior legal adviser Lord Keen to change his mind after he tendered his resignation on Wednesday morning.

However, his position was unchanged after Mr Johnson promised to impose "extra parliamentary scrutiny" on the controversial Internal Market Bill by accepting an amendment similar to one from senior backbencher Sir Bob Neill.

Read the full story here.

Rishi Sunak tells children: My biggest fear is getting it wrong

Rishi Sunak has told primary school children "my biggest fear is getting it wrong".

During a visit to Pickhill Church of England Primary School near Thirsk, North Yorkshire, the Chancellor toasted marshmallows and told pupils his promotion was "a big surprise, I really wasn't expecting it, and it is a real privilege".

He added: "This has been a very difficult time and I have had to make a lot of decisions that affect the whole country, which has been stressful.  My biggest fear is getting it wrong."

Mr Sunak, who told the pupils Boris Johnson was "my friend as well as my boss", also warned: "We don't have as much money as we would like at the moment and can't keeping borrowing."  

Update: Former WHO director backtracks on lockdown claims

Former WHO director Anthony Costello has backtracked on claims that Chris Whitty is seeking a two-week lockdown. 

The UCL Professor had put the cat among the pigeons after he said last night that a " well-connected person" had told him the Chief Medical Officer was pushing for a mini national lockdown over fears that coronavirus case rates were much higher than official figures showed. 

Test shortage could require more 'blunt tools' to restrict spread of coronavirus, Sage scientist warns

The shortage of coronavirus testing capacity is affecting the ability of authorities to track the spread of the disease, a scientist involved in advising the Government has warned.

Dr Adam Kucharski, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the lack of tests could mean more severe restrictions have to be brought in to control it.

"I think we are getting to the point where potentially we are losing our ability to accurately track the virus," he told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme.

"That means that we could have a situation where it is getting into risk groups, we start to see more cases appear and we don't have good warning of that.

"It also affects our ability to have more targeted, nuanced measures. If we lose the ability to track the virus it ends up that more blunt tools will be deployed. That is what we saw earlier in the year."

Last night, former WHO director Anthony Costello claimed that estimates put daily infection rates at 38,000, 10-times the official published figures. 

Government must be 'tough now' to 'protect' Christmas

Boris Johnson has said the Government must be "tough now" on coronavirus restrictions in order to "protect" Christmas.

His words came as stricter new measures are expected to be announced for the North East of England, where cases are on the rise - including a reported curfew on pubs.

The Prime Minister said people have to be "both confident and cautious" and that it is "crucial" the country does not re-enter "some great lockdown again that stops business from functioning".

He told the Sun: "Christmas we want to protect, and we want everyone to have a fantastic Christmas.

"But the only way to make sure the country is able to enjoy Christmas is to be tough now.

"So if we can grip it now, stop the surge, arrest the spike, stop the second hump of the dromedary, flatten the second hump."

Will it be lonely this Christmas? Credit: Paul Grover for Telegraph

Boris Johnson contradicts Home Secretary on 'sneak culture'

The Prime Minister has contradicted Home Secretary by saying members of the public should not report their neighbours for breaching the "rule of six" unless they are having large parties.

On Tuesday, Priti Patel said she would report breaches she saw, later suggesting that families stopping to talk in the street could be breaking the new laws.

However, Boris Johnson has since urged people to speak with rulebreakers before notifying the authorities.

He told The Sun: "I have never much been in favour of sneak culture, myself. What people should do in the first instance obviously if they are concerned is raise it with their friends and neighbours.

"But I think what is reasonable for anyone to do is if they think there is a serious threat to public health as a result of their neighbours' activities - if there is some huge kind of Animal House party taking place, as I am sure, hot tubs and so forth, and there is a serious threat to public health then it's reasonable for the authorities to know."

Priti Patel Credit: AFP

Non frontline workers will 'have to wait longer' for test, minister admits

The Government is "ramping up" testing capacity as cases rise, but people who fall outside of the frontline worker priorities will have to "wait longer", a minister has said.

"We will see this in the next few days, the official guidance coming out that will prioritise frontline NHS care workers, teachers and similar," Edward Argar, the health minister has told the Today programme. 

"It is possible that there are people with symptoms who apply for a test who have to wait longer because we are prioritising those key frontline workers we need to keep our NHS and care system working."

He said the Government was hoping that "Mr and Mrs Smith" would still be able to get a test "in a timely fashion". 

Government not 'in that place' of considering nationwide curfew

The Government is "not in that place" of considering a nationwide curfew - as long as people follow the rules that are in place,  a minister has said. 

It is thought that Matt Hancock will confirm a regional curfew, affecting around two million people, when gives a statement about new areas of coronavirus spikes at 11:30am. 

But Edward Argar told the BBC's Today programme that instead of a national curfew, local lockdowns such as the one imposed on Leicester "work - we've seen those rates come right down",

"I don't think we are at a place where we would wish to see, or need to see, national level of restrictions. But that comes down to all of us following the rules be they local lockdown guidelines or indeed national law and guidance."

Health minister plays down national lockdown 'speculation'

Edward Argar has again tried to play down claims that Chief Medical Officer Chris Whitty is seeking a national two-week lockdown. 

Last night independent Sage scientist and former WHO director Anthony Costello claimed he had heard from "a well-connected person" that cases are far higher than official figures show, leading Prof Whitty to want to see a quick lockdown introduced to bring rates down. 

The health minister told the Today programme: "I have seen speculation, but I can only speak as I find and as I know.

"That is not something I have heard from Chris or that I have seen in my capacity from Chris."

Edward Argar Credit: Geoff Pugh

Minister who gave ferry contract to firm with no ships to advise ports company 

The minister who once gave a no-deal Brexit ferry contract to a company with no ships will be handed a six-figure salary to advise a ports company. 

Former transport secretary Chris Grayling is being paid £100,000 per year for seven hours work each week  to be a strategic adviser to Hutchison Ports Europe, according to official documents.

The appointment was approved by the watchdog after the Tory MP gave a reassurance he would not advise the firm on Brexit opportunities or commercial maritime matters.

The Epsom and Ewell MP resigned as transport secretary when Boris Johnson became Prime Minister in July 2019.

He sparked outrage, and no small amount of mirth, when it emerged he had awarded a £13.8 million contract to Seaborne Freight - a company with no ships - to mitigate the potential consequences of a no-deal Brexit.

Chris Grayling  Credit: Geoff Pugh for the Telegraph

Tory MPs school Joe Biden over Good Friday Agreement

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden has been attacked by Conservative Tories after he intervened in the Brexit row last night. 

Mr Biden tweeted that he would not "allow the Good Friday Agreement that brought peace to Northern Ireland to become a casualty of Brexit".

Former trade minister and long-time ally of Boris Johnson Conor Burns tweeted: “Hey Joe Biden would you like to discuss the Good Friday agreement? It is also called the Belfast Agreement so it doesn’t offend both traditions. Did you actually know that? I was born in NI and I’m a Catholic and a Unionist. Here if you need help.”

Jacob Young MP added: "We all believe in protecting the Good Friday Agreement (Belfast Agreement), and a key element of the agreement is recognising Northern Ireland’s position as a full part of our United Kingdom."

Recent intake Joy Morrissey replied: “I guarantee he didn’t know any of that. Many Americans know next to nothing about the troubles, the bombings & terrorist attacks on the U.K. Biden is shamelessly pandering to the American Irish vote while refusing to engage with the U.K. Government or U.K. Diplomatic channels. Nice.”

She then deleted that tweet, but added: “Clearly it’s all about the Irish American vote.”

ICYMI: Anthony Costello's claim about two-week lockdown

Anthony Costello, former WHO director and independent Sage, last night claimed he had heard from a "well-connected person" that Chris Whitty is trying to persuade Boris Johnson to deploy a two-week national lockdown now. 

The UCL Professor claimed a lack of tests meant authorities fear cases are far higher than official figures suggest. 

Here's the tweet in case you missed it.

Minister hints at 'effective' curfew plans for parts of the country with Covid spikes

The Government is poised to confirm new curfew plans for around two million people, a minister has hinted. 

Ed Argar, the health minister, said he didn't want to get into the "exact menu" of measures that Matt Hancock will be setting out this morning, but told BBC Breakfast that curfews were "effective". 

Mr Hancock will be setting out new restrictions across the north east of England - in Newcastle, Northumberland, North Tyneside, South Tyneside, Gateshead, County Durham and Sunderland - after it became the latest area to see a spike in coronavirus cases in the Commons from 11:30am today.

David Cameron denies claims he ran 'government of charms'

David Cameron has denied presiding over a “government of charms” where his “chums” received favourable treatment in response to the tell-all diary from a Conservative MP’s wife. 

The former Prime Minister broke his silence following the publication of extracts from Diary of an MP’s Wife: Inside and Outside Power, the book written by Sasha Swire, the wife of Sir Hugo, over the couple’s 20 years in politics. 

In one extract of the book, Lady Swire recalls visiting Mr Cameron and his wife Samantha at their home the weekend after the EU referendum. 

She said Mr Cameron asked them to come “with two fat Cohibas and plenty of booze”.