UK politics live INDY 23 May - Live coverage - The Independent

UK politics live INDY 23 May

    Good morning and welcome to The Independent's coverage of all the latest in UK politics.
    It appears it is going to be a long bank holiday weekend for the prime minister after it emerged late on Friday that his chief adviser, Dominic Cummings, broke lockdown rules in March while suffering from suspected coronavirus.
    Head here for the latest on a story that is likely to dominate the headlines for the next few days. 

    Boris Johnson under pressure over reports police spoke to Dominic Cummings about breaking lockdown rules

    ‘The British people do not expect there to be one rule for them and another rule for Dominic Cummings,’ says Labour
    5/23/2020 8:08:40 AM
    The headache for Boris Johnson over Dominic Cummings comes just as a new poll shows the prime minister's initial surge in popularity during the coronavirus peak is beginning to slide. 
    The number of people who feel favourably towards for the prime minister dropped by 6 points since last month – when he was battling the virus in intensive care – to 45 per cent in May, according to a survey by Ipsos Mori.
    And more than a third of people (38 per cent) said they feel unfavourably towards Mr Johnson, a rise of 7 per cent since last month.

    Boris Johnson’s popularity ratings fall as ‘rallying around effect’ starts to fade, new poll shows

    'Signs some of the rallying-around effect we saw after the first lockdown announcements and Boris Johnson’s subsequent illness are falling away', says Ipsos Mori

    5/23/2020 8:23:55 AM
    The Press Association has reported on the SNP Westminster leader Ian Blackford's scathing remarks this morning about Dominic Cummings' flouting of lockdown rules:
    Ian Blackford, SNP Westminster leader, said the Prime Minister had “serious questions” to answer regarding what he knew about Dominic Cummings' lockdown trip to Country Durham.

    Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme, the MP said: “I think what should have happened by now is that Dominic Cummings should have gone.
    “What I find that (according to some reports) members of Downing Street knew about this so, first and foremost, Boris Johnson has serious questions to answer over what now appears to be a cover-up. The Prime Minister must explain exactly when he knew about the breaking of the rules, whether he sanctioned it, why Cummings wasn't sacked immediately and why it appears that he tried to cover it up, not telling the public until the newspaper(s) broke the story eight weeks later last night.”
    He branded the alleged actions the “height of irresponsibility for someone to think this is a reasonable course of action”, and added: “Here we have the highest official in Government, the closest confidant of the Prime Minister prepared to break the rules that the rest of us are being asked to obey.
    “You cannot have a situation where there appears to be one rule for the powerful and the millions of the rest of the public are being told we must follow Government advice. Demonstrably, this is an individual who has broken the advice he has been, in many cases, the architect of delivering.”
    Mr Blackford said Mr Cummings' alleged actions were “more serious breaches” than rule breaking carried out by UK Government adviser Professor Neil Ferguson and former Scotland chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood, both of whom resigned for their breaches.
    5/23/2020 8:27:56 AM
    A number of prominent figures have been caught breaching restrictions amid the global coronavirus pandemic.

    Here are just some of the other high-profile people who have been in the spotlight for flouting local lockdown measures.

    Footballers and politicians alike: Famous faces who have flouted lockdown orders

    Nature of the breaches, and the excuses made, have varied wildly.
    5/23/2020 8:41:35 AM
    5/23/2020 8:52:22 AM
    As the Cummings controversy continues to rage, Priti Patel has announced the unprecedented measure of requiring travellers to the UK to self-isolate for 14 days on arrival.

    Introducing an open-ended quarantine plan to begin on 8 June, the home secretary said: “As the world begins to emerge from what we hope is the worst of the coronavirus pandemic, we must look to the future and protect the British public by reducing the risk of cases crossing our border.

    “We are introducing these new measures now to keep the transmission rate down and prevent a devastating second wave.”

    Travel industry’s warning on new quarantine rules as loopholes emerge

    Any UK-bound traveller can easily circumvent the new 14-day self-isolation rules with either of the ‘Dublin dodges’
    5/23/2020 8:57:49 AM
    The Independent's travel correspondent, Simon Calder, answers all the key questions surrounding the UK's first blanket quarantine policy for travellers arriving in the UK by air, sea or rail. 

    This is what the new UK rules on quarantine mean for your travel plans

    How the rules requiring 14 days of self-isolation for arrivals to Britain will work, starting from 8 June.
    5/23/2020 9:06:17 AM
    A Plaid Cymru MP has been arrested on suspicion of assault.

    Jonathan Edwards, member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr, has been expelled from the party after being detained by police on Wednesday.

    Officers with the Dyfed-Powys force confirmed a 44-year-old man from Ammanford had been arrested and released on bail pending investigation. They said they would not be releasing any further information about the inquiry.

    Plaid Cymru MP arrested on suspicion of assault

    Member for Carmarthen East and Dinefwr expelled from party
    5/23/2020 9:21:46 AM
    The government, after more than 12 hours of silence, has finally responded to allegations Dominic Cummings broke lockdown rules while infected by coronavirus. A statement from No 10 reads:
    "Owing to his wife being infected with suspected Coronavirus and the high likelihood that he would himself become unwell, it was essential for Dominic Cummings to ensure his young child could be properly cared for.
    "His sister and nieces had volunteered to help so he went to a house near to but separate from his extended family in case their help was needed. His sister shopped for the family and left everything outside.
    "At no stage was he or his family spoken to by the police about this matter, as is being reported. His actions were in line with coronavirus guidelines. Mr Cummings believes he behaved reasonably and legally."
    5/23/2020 9:26:28 AM
    Here's the latest on the government's response to the escalating row surrounding Dominic Cummings. 

    No 10 breaks silence to defend Dominic Cummings' 250-mile trip during lockdown

    No 10 have defended Dominic Cummings saying it was “essential” he visited Durham while sick with coronavirus. More follows…
    5/23/2020 9:33:32 AM
    5/23/2020 9:50:24 AM
    5/23/2020 10:05:31 AM
    TUC urges accessible testing and paid time off for workers

    The TUC said there should be easily accessible testing sites as part of measures to ease the economic lockdown.

    Priority should be given to those in at-risk and shielding groups, or who care for individuals in those groups, said the union organisation.

    The TUC said it recognised the public health case for testing and tracing, but added that “significant questions” remained about the proposed roll-out, both in terms of equality of access and workers' privacy.

    The union federation said it believed that, without high levels of trust in the testing and tracing process, people may choose not to participate, which would undermine the effectiveness of the approach.

    TUC general secretary Frances O'Grady said: “We want effective testing and tracing to be put in place as soon as possible, but to gain public trust it must be based on equal access and safeguard workers' data.

    “The Government needs to do more to ensure that everyone can access testing and self-isolate if necessary. That means accessible testing sites, paid time off for testing, and decent sick pay for anyone advised to stay at home.

    “To build confidence in the process, employers must work with unions to guarantee that data will be protected, and not used to monitor or discipline workers.

    “Unions support a safe reopening of the economy, but the Government must prioritise workers' safety and win their trust.”

    5/23/2020 10:12:50 AM
    Though some lockdown restrictions have been eased, local councils on Britain’s coast are warning the public to stay away from beaches to help prevent the spread of coronavirus over the bank holiday weekend.

    Police have said they are concerned high numbers of people visiting beaches could become a problem, while photographs of busy beaches in Brighton and Southend-on-Sea, have raised concerns over social distancing.

    Visiting beaches is allowed under current government guidelines which allow day trips to outdoor spaces with members of your own household, but staying overnight is not.

    Britons warned to avoid beaches over bank holiday weekend

    Public lavatories remain closed in many places, raising additional hygiene issues for visitors, councils say
    5/23/2020 10:32:11 AM
    5/23/2020 10:35:48 AM
    Dominic Cummings' lockdown journey from London to County Durham was “most unwise”, the county's acting police and crime commissioner said.

    In a statement, Steve White said: “Given the whole ethos of the guidance and regulations issued from the Government was to reduce the spread, regardless of reason, by travelling to County Durham when known to be infected was most unwise.
    “To beat this crisis we need to be selfless as millions have been. The response by the people of County Durham and Darlington have been exemplary, which makes this most frustrating and concerning.”
    Mr White, a former head of the Police Federation in England and Wales, added: “Incidents such as this do not help, and I can appreciate that the longer this goes on the harder it gets, but I encourage the people of County Durham and Darlington to keep up the outstanding effort seen so far by using common sense when following the guidance to stay alert and continue to social distance.”
    5/23/2020 10:56:10 AM
    Labour has said Downing Street's statement on Dominic Cummings' journey to Durham "raises more questions than it answers".
    In a statement, a Labour spokesman said: “The lockdown rules were very clear: if you or anyone in your household was suspected of having Covid-19 you must immediately self-isolate and not leave the house. However, the Prime Minister's chief adviser appears to believe that it is one rule for him and another for the British people.
    “This will cause understandable anger for the millions of people who have sacrificed so much during this crisis.
    “Number 10's statement also raises more questions than it answers. We are still unclear who knew about this decision and when, whether this was sanctioned by the Prime Minister and whether Number 10 is now questioning the validity of the statement from Durham Police.
    “At this afternoon's press conference, we will be expecting answers to these questions.”
    5/23/2020 11:08:46 AM
    5/23/2020 11:22:49 AM
    5/23/2020 11:28:40 AM
    5/23/2020 11:42:46 AM
    The Independent's James Moore, writing in Indy Voices, blames political leaders for the surprisingly widely believed 5G coronavirus-5G conspiracy theory.
    "More than one in every 16 people still buy into the 5G coronavirus rubbish. So there is probably one of your neighbours who’s part of the club, maybe a member of your extended family. It’s a scary thought."

    Opinion: It really isn't surprising some people believe in 5G conspiracy theories, after the leaders we've had

    More than one in every 16 people still buy into the 5G coronavirus rubbish. So there is probably one of your neighbours who’s part of the club, maybe a member of your extended family. It’s a scary thought.
    5/23/2020 11:49:34 AM

    Dominic Cummings defends lockdown trip as 'right thing' to do amid calls for him to resign

    Dominic Cummings has broken his silence after it emerged he apparently flouted lockdown rules by travelling to Durham with his sick wife and child.
    "I behaved reasonably and legally," he told reporters, according to the Press Association.
    He added: “Who cares about good looks. It’s a question of doing the right thing. It’s not about what you guys think.”
    5/23/2020 12:14:23 PM
    5/23/2020 12:30:21 PM
    What childcare options are there for parents who develop coronavirus symptoms?

    Downing Street has insisted Mr Cummings' journey during lockdown was “essential” and did not break government rules on coronavirus, but what does the guidance actually say on the issue?

    Our reporter, Sabrina Barr, has put together an overview of what NHS guidelines say for parents who develop coronavirus symptoms:

    What childcare options are there for parents who develop coronavirus symptoms?

    ‘If you have adults who are unable to look after a small child, that is an exceptional circumstance,’ says Dr Jenny Harries, deputy chief medical officer for England
    5/23/2020 12:46:09 PM
    Our columnist John Rentoul has warned Boris Johnson risks looking “weak” if he allows Mr Cummings to stay on following Friday’s reports of him breaking lockdown rules.

    John writes:

    “Dominic Cummings’s reputation as a shadowy, powerful figure behind the throne was an irritant for the prime minister before yesterday’s report that he broke lockdown rules; now it could become a serious problem.”
    You can read the full piece below:

    Opinion: Boris Johnson will look weak if Dominic Cummings stays on

    If Cummings keeps his place in No 10, it would make the prime minister appear to tolerate one rule for his favourite and another for everyone else
    5/23/2020 12:56:09 PM
    5/23/2020 1:12:35 PM
    5/23/2020 1:35:16 PM
    5/23/2020 1:38:26 PM
    Durham County Council leader says residents are ‘shocked’ by reports

    Labour councillor Simon Henig, the leader of Durham County Council, has said residents of County Durham are “shocked” by reports of Mr Cummings’ actions.

    “This breach of the rule on self-isolation came at a time when the rate of infection was far higher in central London than in Durham,” Mr Henig said in a statement.

    “The public health guidance has been very clear and must apply to everyone if our communities are to be protected from this terrible virus.”

    Fellow Labour councillor Lucy Hovvels, portfolio holder for adult and health services, added that Mr Cummings must be dismissed for “arrogantly and flagrantly flouting the rules” if the reports are true.

    “The hypocrisy of Dominic Cummings to think he is above his own government's guidance is staggering,” she said.

    “While the vast majority of our residents in County Durham have made such extraordinary and heart-breaking sacrifices during this pandemic, a senior government adviser has driven the length of the country, displaying coronavirus symptoms, to swan back to his parents' house.”

    Ms Hovvels added: “Our communities will be appalled and will rightly expect us to condemn these irresponsible actions, which are an insult to the people who have lost their lives across our county. 

    “If the government does not take immediate action against Cummings, it sends a message that there is one set of rules for those who make them and another for the people of the UK.”
    5/23/2020 1:46:04 PM
    Piers Morgan says he will visit his parents if Boris Johnson does not fire Cummings today

    Many people are angry today at Mr Cummings’ apparent breaking of lockdown, but few seem to be quite as angry as Good Morning Britain’s Piers Morgan.

    In a series of tweets on Saturday, the ITV presenter vowed to break lockdown rules and drive to see his parents if Boris Johnson does not fire his senior adviser.

    “If Boris doesn’t fire Cummings today, then I will deem the Lockdown over & drive down to see my parents (from a 2m distance) for the first time in 12 weeks,” Mr Morgan wrote on Twitter.

    You can read the full story below:

    Piers Morgan says he will visit his parents if Boris Johnson does not fire Dominic Cummings today

    ITV presenter says he will deem 'lockdown over' if senior adviser escapes punishment
    5/23/2020 2:01:37 PM
    This afternoon's Downing Street briefing will be at 1600 and feature transport secretary Grant Shapps and deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries.

    Mr Shapps will no doubt be expected to answer a number of questions on Mr Cummings' trip to Durham.
    5/23/2020 2:20:05 PM
    Government announces £283m in funding to improve safety on public transport

    The government has announced £283m in funding for roads, railways, buses and trams to improve public safety and protect transport services.

    Grant Shapps, the transport secretary, said the funding, divided into £254 million for buses and £29 million for trams and light rail, would increase both frequency and capacity of services while ensuring there is enough space on vehicles to allow for social distancing.

    The money will be spent on making adjustments to vehicles, signage, deep cleaning and the provision of hand sanitiser.

    In addition, 3,400 people, including British Transport Police officers and Network Rail staff, have been deployed at stations to make sure passengers follow the social distancing guidance put in place.

    Mr Shapps, who will lead the daily Downing Street press conference later this afternoon, said: “To make sure people can travel safely when they need to, we are increasing capacity on buses and light rail, as well as helping local authorities fast-track plans to support cyclists and pedestrians, further reducing pressure on our transport network.

    “These measures will help keep passengers safe now, but we must also prepare for what comes next.

    “Strengthening vital road and railway connections, as well as encouraging cycling and walking, will be essential to our ambition to level up the country, secure a green legacy, and kickstart regional economies, as we build out of Covid-19 and look to the future.”
    5/23/2020 2:27:07 PM
    5/23/2020 2:40:35 PM
    Dominic Cummings is too clever to break the rules. They bend to accommodate him

    "The only appropriate reaction at this point is to stand and applaud, quite possibly even on our doorsteps, once a week. #ClapforCummings. I’ll be doing it and you should too," writes The Independent's Tom Peck.

    "Except the applause is not really for Dominic Cummings, but for ourselves. Just a short moment of thanks for our extraordinary good fortune to have been alive on earth at the same time as this, the single greatest genius in human history. Dominic Cummings: the cleverest man ever to have lived.

    "Sure, there have been other geniuses, people like, say, Einstein. But all he ever did was look upon the world around him and distil the chaos down to the rules that only he could see."

    You can read the full article below:
    5/23/2020 2:49:34 PM
    The government's latest coronavirus press conference is underway, led today by transport secretary Grant Shapps and Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer.
    5/23/2020 3:03:35 PM
    Mr Shapps says in total 3.35 million tests have been carried out in UK, with the number of positive results now standing at more than 257,000.
    He adds there are more than 9,000 in hospital with coronavirus, and that there have now been 36,675 confirmed deaths from Covid-19, and increase of 282 since Friday.
    5/23/2020 3:06:52 PM
    Mr Shapps announces the government will implement £283m in funding for roads, railways, buses and trams to improve public safety and protect transport services.

    He cautions that people should continue to avoid travelling wherever possible.
    5/23/2020 3:09:08 PM
    UK coronavirus death toll rises by 282 to 36,675

    UK coronavirus death toll rises to 36,675

    A further 282 people have died from coronavirus in the UK, the government has announced at its daily press conference.
    The latest figures bring the total death toll from Covid-19 to 36,675, which includes deaths in hospitals and in the community, such as care homes.
    5/23/2020 3:10:58 PM
    5/23/2020 3:15:51 PM
    Mr Shapps, who is hosting the government's daily coronavirus press conference, is now taking questions, the first of which comes from a member of the public. It does not address the Dominic Cummings affair.
    5/23/2020 3:19:29 PM
    The BBC asks Mr Shapps if Boris Johnson knew of Dominic Cummings' trip to Durham, and if members of the public are able to mimic Mr Cummings' behaviour.
    Dr Harries says families must continue to self-isolate together at home.
    Mr Shapps dodges the question, saying Mr Cummings "remained in place" during lockdown and that Mr Johnson would have known he "was staying put".
    5/23/2020 3:25:06 PM
    5/23/2020 3:33:28 PM
    On the issue of Mr Cummings’ journey, Mr Shapps said the welfare of the adviser’s 4-year-old child was “the important thing”.

    Meanwhile, Dr Jenny Harries has reiterated the government guidance, saying: “The advice is you self-isolate at home & your family self-isolates with you & that's very clear.”

    However, she does note there is a “safeguarding” clause in the guidance for if a child is at risk.
    5/23/2020 3:36:34 PM
    The transport secretary has said Mr Cummings has the prime minister’s full support, but questions about the incident are still coming.

    When asked whether Mr Cummings' actions showed one rule for some and one rule for others, Mr Shapps said: “This wasn’t visiting a holiday home or going to visit someone. This was staying put.”
    5/23/2020 3:41:32 PM
    Here are some of Mr Shapps’ comments on the issue in more detail.

    Referring to the controversy surrounding the adviser, the transport secretary said the steps were taken only to prevent Dominic Cummings' child being without “the necessary support”.

    Mr Shapps added: “Mr Cummings is in the public eye, but the reality of the matter is that a four-year-old child's welfare was the important thing.

    “Parents ask themselves what they would do if they had no one else around and eventually you would have to turn to external support or try and be close enough to your family to provide that care, which is what happened in this case here."
    5/23/2020 3:44:03 PM
    On the issue of what the prime minister knew about Mr Cumming’s actions, Mr Shapps said: “The important thing is that everyone remains in the same place whilst they are on lockdown which is exactly what happened in I think the case you're referring to with Mr Cummings.

    “The prime minister will have known he was staying put and he didn't come out again until he was feeling better.”

    He added: “The guidance says if you're living with children keep following this advice to the best of your ability.

    “However, we are aware that not all these measures will be possible depending therefore on circumstances.”
    5/23/2020 3:46:59 PM
    5/23/2020 3:54:02 PM
    More on Grant Schapps’ defence of Mr Cummings can be found below:
    5/23/2020 4:07:40 PM
    5/23/2020 4:14:14 PM
    Earlier in this afternoon’s press briefing, Dr Jenny Harries said travelling despite lockdown measures could be justified if there was an “extreme risk to life”.

    That comment could cause some problems for the government, as it does not appear to apply to Mr Cummings’ case.

    When asked if the adviser had undermined the “stay at home” message at the time, Dr Harries refused to comment specifically on the incident.

    “In relation to the advice to the public, it's absolutely clear that public health guidance is, if you're symptomatic you stay at home, take yourself out of society as quickly as you can with your family and stay there, unless there is extreme risk to life,” she said.

    “That is a really important message, people have been really good at doing that, but it's vital that we continue to do that going forward.”
    5/23/2020 4:21:45 PM
    The SNP has drawn a comparison between the resignation of Scottish chief medical officer Catherine Calderwood and the actions of Mr Cummings.

    In April, Dr Calderwood was forced to resign after she twice visited her second home in Fife during lockdown.

    Ian Blackford, the SNP Westminster leader, said: “There was absolutely nothing in the list of reasons under the law for leaving the house that allowed someone to travel the length of the country to stay with their parents, particularly not someone who was known to have the virus.

    “The [Scottish] Tories vociferously demanded the resignation of Catherine Calderwood that same weekend.

    “As Scottish Tory leader Jackson Carlaw said at the time 'There cannot be one rule for bosses and another for everyone else'.

    “People are understandably questioning Boris Johnson's judgment. He must show Dominic Cummings the door and answer for his own role.”
    5/23/2020 4:40:33 PM
    We're moving our live coverage of Dominic Cummings over to our main Coronavirus Live Blog for the rest of the evening - which can be found here.
    5/23/2020 4:53:16 PM
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