Lockdown To Ease Next Week
The prime minister has confirmed that further lockdown easing will go ahead in England from next Monday. At a No 10 press conference last night, Boris Johnson said the easing would be "the single biggest step" on the government’s roadmap out of lockdown. Under the changes, pubs and other hospitality businesses will be allowed to serve customers inside, cinemas and museums can reopen and six people or two households can meet indoors.
Each stage on the roadmap has been separated by a gap of several weeks to give scientists enough time to assess the impact of the changes. The latest relaxation of measures will also see hotels reopen and indoor group sports and exercise classes resume. Restrictions on weddings, receptions and wakes will be eased, with up to 30 people allowed to attend. Foreign breaks will resume, with holidaymakers allowed to travel to destinations on the government’s ‘green list’ without needing to isolate on their return from 17th May.
At the same time, the UK’s chief medical officers have agreed that the country’s alert level should be lowered from four to three. In a statement on Monday, the officials said the vaccination programme and public efforts to maintain social distancing had led to a consistent fall in infection numbers, deaths and hospital pressures. However, they made clear that the virus is still circulating in the UK and said continued vigilance was needed. “This remains a major pandemic globally,” they added.
QUEEN’S SPEECH TO SET OUT PM’S AGENDA
The Queen’s Speech will be made in parliament today. The speech, which is written by the government but delivered by the monarch, will set out the prime minister’s agenda for the year ahead. While the speech is usually the centrepiece of the ceremony to mark the opening of a new session of parliament, this year’s event will be pared back to comply with social distancing rules.
The speech is expected to contain more than 25 bills, including a number carried over from the last parliamentary session, such as the much-delayed environment bill on post-Brexit rules for environmental protection, and the controversial police, crime, sentencing and courts bill. However, the list of bills is unlikely to include legislation for long-awaited reforms to social care funding. Reports suggest government talks are ongoing about the possible cost of the reforms, which could run into the billions.
The government may also be poised to propose new legislation introducing mandatory voter ID at elections. Boris Johnson first committed to the new requirement for ID checks at polling stations in 2019, but no such legislation was put forward during the last parliament. Ministers say the voting reforms would help limit the risk of electoral fraud. However, the Electoral Commission has found only low levels of such fraud in the UK – with just one conviction in 2019.
Labour MP Diane Abbott discusses the party’s reshuffle on BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme on Monday. Deputy leader Angela Rayner was sacked as party chair and campaign coordinator on Sunday. The move prompted anger in the Labour ranks, with some MPs suggesting she had been made a scapegoat for the party’s local election losses. Just hours later, it emerged Rayner had been awarded new positions as shadow chancellor of the duchy of Lancaster and shadow secretary for the future of work.
After a turbulent weekend, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer attempted to ease party tensions in a speech on Monday. Addressing his new shadow cabinet – where Anneliese Dodds has also been replaced as shadow chancellor by Rachel Reeves – Starmer took full responsibility for the election losses. He also praised Rayner and said she would be “taking the fight to the Tories” in her new high-profile role.
In other news
PM INVESTIGATED OVER HOLIDAY
Boris Johnson is facing an investigation into who paid for his Caribbean holiday at the end of 2019. The prime minister spent 10 days at a luxury villa in Mustique with his partner Carrie Symonds. Questions were first raised when Johnson declared the holiday in the register of MPs’ interests as “accommodation for a private holiday” worth £15,000 and cited Conservative donor David Ross as the provider. However, Ross denied he had paid for the holiday and described Johnson’s claim as a “mistake”. He later backtracked and said he had “facilitated” the trip.
On Monday, parliamentary standards commissioner Kathryn Stone confirmed she was investigating whether payment for the trip had been properly declared by the PM.
24 KILLED IN GAZA AIRSTRIKES
Twenty-four people have died following Israeli airstrikes on Gaza. The strikes were launched after violent clashes between Palestinian protesters and Israeli police outside al-Aqsa mosque in Jerusalem on Monday. Later that day, Hamas, an Islamist group that rules inside Gaza, fired the first of around 150 missiles toward Israeli police in Jerusalem.
Israeli forces responded by launching airstrikes on Gaza that lasted through much of the night. Health officials said 24 people, including nine children, had died in the strikes. It remains unclear whether several of the deaths were caused by Israeli strikes or by a Hamas missile that landed short. No Israeli casualties were reported.
CALLS FOR INQUIRY AFTER BENEFIT DEATHS
The deaths of multiple people claiming benefits has prompted calls for an inquiry into the Department for Work and Pensions’ (DWP) handling of cases. There have been more than 150 government reviews into cases where claimants have died or come to serious harm since 2012. These internal reviews are held by the DWP if its actions are alleged to have had a negative impact or it is named at an inquest.
Labour MP Debbie Abrahams has called for an independent inquiry to investigate the cause and scale of the deaths and suggested these known cases are just “the tip of the iceberg”. The DWP has insisted its priority is providing a “supportive and compassionate service”.
UK HOUSE PRICES ROCKET
New figures from Halifax show house prices have risen at the fastest rate in five years following the extension of the stamp duty holiday. The UK’s biggest mortgage lender said prices had rocketed 8.2% in the last 12 months, adding almost £20,000 to the average house price. Altura mortgage broker Rob Gill suggested “fear of missing out” was behind the surge. “There's a fear among buyers that they could miss out if they don't hurry up and buy before prices spiral,” he said.
It follows the chancellor’s decision to extend the stamp duty holiday, with the property purchase tax now suspended on the first £500,000 of all sales in England and Northern Ireland until June.
LONDON MAY HOST CHAMPIONS LEAGUE FINAL
Uefa met with UK government officials on Monday to discuss a new location for the Champions League final. The clash between Chelsea and Manchester City had been due to take place at the Ataturk Stadium in Istanbul on 29th May. However, rising Covid-19 cases have seen Turkey added to the UK government’s travel ‘red list’, meaning UK citizens returning from the country must quarantine at a government-approved hotel for 10 days.
London has been put forward as a potential new location, with Wembley touted as the most likely venue. However, the UK government is yet to reach an agreement with Uefa. Portugal, which is on the UK's travel 'green list', is also considered a strong candidate for hosting the final.
Sir David Attenborough has been named the People’s Advocate ahead of this year’s UN Cop26 climate conference in Glasgow. Over the next six months, Attenborough will urge world leaders to put the climate crisis at the top of their agenda – culminating with an address to the UN summit in November. Announcing the appointment, Boris Johnson said there was “no better person to build momentum for further change” than the 95-year-old naturalist.