Great Britain

Brexit news – live: EU may not turn up to trade talks as foreign aid cut to stay for ‘foreseeable future’

Downing Street has admitted that it does not know if EU negotiator Michel Barnier will turn up for face-to-face Brexit trade talks which are due to resume tomorrow.

The admission came after reports suggested Mr Barnier was pulling out of the talks unless there is a major shift in the UK’s negotiating stance.

It came as Boris Johnson faced a growing backlash from senior Tories over plans to cut foreign aid from 0.7 per cent to 0.5 per cent of gross national income (GNI) - a cut which would account for more than £4bn.

Chancellor Rishi Sunak said in Wednesday's Spending Review that the plans were needed to repair the economy following the coronavirus crisis.

Former foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt and ex-prime minister David Cameron were among those who criticised the proposal, while Archbishop of Canterbury Justin Welby said it was “shameful and wrong” to remove support to some of the world’s poorest people during the pandemic.

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Boris Johnson’s advisers warn against hugging elderly relatives at Christmas

Boris Johnson’s top scientific advisers have warned Britons not to hug elderly relatives at Christmas, despite new rules allowing it.

Don't hug elderly relatives at Christmas, warn Boris Johnson's advisers

Our political editor Andrew Woodcock has the details here:

Boris Johnson’s top scientific advisers have warned Britons not to hug elderly relatives at Christmas, despite new rules allowing it.

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Don’t expect to escape tough restrictions this winter, Chris Whitty warns

Our deputy political editor Rob Merrick has this report on the warning from England’s top medic that people should not expect to escape harsh restrictions over the next few months.

New tough restrictions introduced for 99 per cent of England are unlikely to be relaxed this winter, Chris Whitty has warned.

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Boris Johnson ‘absolutely convinced things will genuinely be much, much better by April’

“What we’ve got to do is keep our eye on the prize and remember that in just a few months, we will have a vaccine – I’m absolutely convinced of it now … Chris [Whitty] has finally talked me into it – that by April, things genuinely will be much, much better,” Boris Johnson said.

“But what we want to avoid is relaxing now too much, taking our foot off the throat of the beast now, when we’ve got it in a much, much better place than it was before the autumn measures came in.”

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Chris Whitty breaks down likely effectiveness of each tier

As the government seeks to explain why nearly all of England has been placed in Tiers 2 and 3, Chris Whitty has suggested that the lowest tier is not enough to stop rising infections, with the middle category of restrictions likely only enough to “hold the line”.

“Tier 1, which is very similar to the previous Tier 1, slowed things down but did not stop the rise anywhere … [in winter] almost certainly anywhere that goes into Tier 1 will rise,” England’s top medic said.

“Tier 2 looks as if it is strong enough to hold the line – so stop things rising but not reliably to pull things down. And Tier 3, we think based on previous experience, is strong enough to pull things down from a higher peak.”

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‘I know this will bring a great deal of heartache’, PM says of tier allocations

Discussing the decision to place most of England in the highest tiers, the prime minister said: “I know this will bring a great deal of heartache and frustration, especially for our vital hospitality sector … in so many ways the soul of our communities.

“I really wish it were otherwise, but if we are going to keep schools open, as we must, then our options in bearing down on the disease are necessarily limited.”

The tiers “strike a balance”, he said, adding that they are “less intrusive” than a lockdown.

“There’s no doubt that the restrictions in all tiers are tough, and I’m sorry about that,” he said. “While the data is beginning to improve, the virus is still prevalent, and the faster we drive it down, the faster we can lift restrictions, and that’s exactly what these new tiers are designed to achieve.”

In a likely reference to widespread anger over the apparent lack of a visible path out of higher tiers, Mr Johnson insisted that the “new approach” to the tier system is “designed to reduce the R below 1, opening a path for areas to move down the scale as soon as the situation improves”.

He added: “Crucially, we now have the means to accelerate that moment of escape with rapid community testing”.

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The government’s allocation of tiers are based on five indicators, Boris Johnson reiterates: cases across all ages, infection rates, testing positivity rates, and the possible strain on the NHS.

The government will be publishing data packs containing the reasons behind the decisions taken for each area on its website, he said.

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Government seeking to avoid ‘winter of hibernation’ and another lockdown in new year, PM says

Boris Johnson said that while the lockdown has shown progress in diminishing infection rates, “if we ease off now, we risk losing control of this virus all over again, casting aside our hard-won gains, and forcing us back into a new year national lockdown with all the damage that would mean”.

“The tough measures in our winter plan are the best way to avoid this outcome. All our friends around the world are grappling with the same question of how to keep people safe without retreating into a winter of hibernation,” the prime minister said.

He cited a nightly curfew in Italy, the extension of Germany’s partial lockdown until 20 December, and France’s hospitality closure until January.

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Boris Johnson opens his Downing Street conference by saying:

“We now have reason to hope that by spring community testing and vaccines will combine to end this era of restrictions, but to get there we must first navigate a hard winter when the burden on our NHS is heaviest and the cold weather favours the virus.”

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Boris Johnson will be holding a press conference at around 5pm, following the controversial announcement of coronavirus tier allocations across England.

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PM’s new chief of staff studied in Munich to watch Man Utd play

Alongside the inevitable analysis of how Boris Johnson’s new chief of staff could influence the future direction of Downing Street, much is also being made of Dan Rosenfield’s committed support of Manchester United.

The Times’s Patrick Maguire highlights this insightful anecdote, gleaned from an interview with the Jewish Telegraph:

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