Today’s daily politics briefing
Campaigners have called on Boris Johnson’s government to ditch the planned ‘Festival of Brexit’ and redirect the money to Covid recovery efforts. Lib Dem MP Jamie Stone said it was “sick” to spend £120m on the cultural celebration during a public health crisis.
It comes as former prime minister Gordon Brown warned Mr Johnson that the UK risks becoming a “failed state” unless the government makes major reforms. Mr Brown urged No 10 to move further on devolution and replace the House of Lords with a “senate of the regions”.
Meanwhile, work and pensions secretary Therese Coffey brought an interview on Good Morning Britain to an abrupt end after falling out with host Piers Morgan on Covid death rates. “I’m sorry Piers … I’m going to go,” the minister said before hanging up.
Fewer than 2,000 young people start new jobs through £2bn government scheme
A £2bn government job scheme launched five months ago has seen fewer than 2,000 young people start in their new roles.
The Kickstart programme was launched in September to support firms to offer six-month work placements for 16 to 24-year-olds who are in receipt of universal credit and at risk of long-term unemployment.
While more than 120,000 jobs have been created, just 1,868 people have started their placements in the UK as of 15 January, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) confirmed.
Samuel Osborne25 January 2021 16:31
Labour reports Tory London mayor candidate to CPS over ‘misleading’ election leaflet
Labour has reported the Conservative London mayoral candidate to the Crown Prosecution Service over claims he “repeatedly attempted to mislead” voters with campaign leaflets.
Shaun Bailey, who is seeking to topple Labour incumbent Sadiq Khan during the upcoming May election, used “City Hall” branded paper to warn Londoners of an alleged “21.2%” council tax increase.
The letter warned: “London mayoral council tax rise. Do not ignore.”
The leaflet, sent in December, invited readers to sign a petition against any council tax hikes and, while the footnote included Mr Bailey’s name and the address for the Conservative Party headquarters, the Tory Party logo and name was absent.
Lawyers acting on behalf of Labour, in their submission to the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS), called the leaflets a “fraudulent device”, as described by the 1983 Representation of the People Act.
Samuel Osborne25 January 2021 16:04
People asked to shield should be guaranteed access to furlough scheme, Labour says
People who are asked to shield due to Covid-19 should be guaranteed access to the furlough scheme, Labour has said.
Shadow work and pensions secretary Vicky Foxcroft told the Commons: “Since the start of the pandemic, shielded people have been an afterthought. The increased costs they are facing are doing untold damage to their lives, and the Government’s solution of claiming statutory sick pay is woefully inadequate.
“Will the government finally do the right thing and ensure shielding people or people having to isolate are furloughed? Guaranteed furlough from day one will help people stay home and support businesses up and down the country.”
Responding for the government, work and pensions minister Justin Tomlinson said: “I hope the shadow minister welcomes the continued and extensive support that the government has provided through schemes such as furlough, the additional £9bn in welfare support and, specifically for those who are clinically extremely vulnerable, the second £32m additional support provided through local authorities to help with those following the shielding guidance.
“And in these critical times certainty is vital and perhaps the shadow team should reflect on this with their random decision to try and cancel Universal Credit that has stood up so well to support those people in the most need during this unprecedented time.”
Samuel Osborne25 January 2021 15:33
Another UK firm halts orders to EU
More Brexit woes now. Sarah Braithwaite, owner of horse feed firm Forage Plus, was selling into 20 European countries before 1 January.
This month her stock has failed to get to the EU, or been rejected by customers over unexpected customs bills and taxes. She has now halted European orders – making up to 30 per cent of her sales – and is refunding £40,000 to customers.
Braithwaite told Reuters she called the government for help – but said her business is too small to build a presence in Europe to overcome the new barriers. “The trade that we’ve got now wouldn’t support the cost of setting all that up,” she said.
It follows reports some firms have been told to set up subsidiaries in the EU to avoid trade disruption. Truck volumes between Britain and the EU were down 29 per cent in the first 20 days of the year, according to data firm Sixfold.
Adam Forrest25 January 2021 15:09
PM will head to Scotland this week
Boris Johnson will visit Scotland this week to plead with Scots to reject separatism, The Sun Newspaper reported. A sign of desperation perhaps?
The newspaper reports that it will be part of an “all-out bid to save the Union of the United Kingdom,” adding that the PM will “hail the benefits of being in the UK”.
It follows yet another poll showing majority support for independence north of the border, and the launch of the SNP’s plans for indyref2.
Adam Forrest25 January 2021 14:57
Boycott any ‘wildcat’ referendum, says Scottish Tory leader
Scottish Conservative leader Douglas Ross said politicians from union-backing parties should boycott any “wildcat” independence referendum arranged by the SNP without approval from the UK government.
He stressed the stressed the 2014 vote had been the “gold standard of referendums” – saying a Section 30 order from Westminster would be the only “correct mechanism”.
Ross added: “No-one who believes in democracy should enter into this wildcat referendum that would have no actual bearing in terms of the outcome, would not be enforceable.”
Asked about the matter on Monday, Boris Johnson refused to say whether he would mount a legal challenge if Nicola Sturgeon pressed ahead with a vote.
Adam Forrest25 January 2021 13:58
UK-New Zealand trade deal ‘weeks away’
International trade Liz Truss is launching a new round of trade talks with her counterparts from New Zealand today, and officials are reportedly confident an agreement can be wrapped up before Easter.
Speaking about the roll-over deal (another which essentially replicates the tariff-free arrangements the UK had with the country as part of the EU), Truss told The Sun: “We have made great progress so far, and I look forward to taking negotiations up a gear.”
Truss could be given a more senior cabinet post at the next reshuffle after “impressing” Boris Johnson by securing a series of roll-over deals last year, according to The Mail.
Adam Forrest25 January 2021 13:46
£1,000 one-off payment for those on universal credit?
Downing Street did not deny reports that a £1,000 one-off payment was being considered as a one-off replacement for the £20 weekly universal credit uplift, rather than risk making it a permanent £6bn-a-year rise.
Asked whether Boris Johnson backed a £1,000 lump-sum payment, the spokesman said: “It is a matter for the chancellor, but again I would point to the support that we have provided to people on low incomes and those who are the most vulnerable in society throughout the pandemic.”
“What is striking is how few Tories are really worried about this,” said The Spectator’s editor Fraser Nelson on rising public debt. “So many Tories actually think there is a magic money tree.”
Adam Forrest25 January 2021 13:23
The virus of nationalism is getting ever more contagious – no wonder the UK is becoming a ‘failed state’
The only way towards what Gordon Brown calls a ‘reformed state’ – is giving Scotland a veto, Sean O’Grady argues:
Samuel Osborne25 January 2021 12:57
Electric car makers need help to ‘remain competitive’ after Brexit
Car manufacturers based in the UK will be uncompetitive without more post-Brexit investment in electric car battery production, peers have been told.
Alessandro Marongiu, international trade policy manager at the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, said last week’s decision by Nissan to move battery production of its Leaf cars to its Sunderland factory does not guarantee similar measures will be forthcoming.
He told the House of Lords’ EU Goods Sub-Committee: “We will need additional investment, for example in the production of parts that are incorporated in electric power trains, and we will need bigger investment in ‘gigafactories’ in the future if we want to remain competitive.”
Adam Forrest25 January 2021 12:40