Deaths registered in Scotland last week fell below the five-year average for the first time since the coronavirus lockdown began, according to the latest weekly figures from the National Records of Scotland. There were 35 deaths involving Covid-19 in the country in the week ending June 28, the ninth weekly fall in a row.
In the House of Commons Dominic Raab, the foreign secretary, has used a statement to MPs to confirm that the UK will extend the right of people in Hong Kong with British national (overseas) status to enter and stay in the UK. Raab told MPs:
We have worked with ministers right across Whitehall and we have now developed proposals for a bespoke immigration route for BNOs and their dependants. We will grant BNOs five years’ limited leave to remain, with a right to work or study.
After these five years they’ll be able to apply for settled status and after a further 12 months with settled status, they will be able to apply for citizenship. This is a special bespoke set of arrangements, developed for the unique circumstances we face and in light of our historic commitment to the people of Hong Kong. All of those with BNO status will be eligible as will their dependants who are usually resident in Hong Kong and the Home Office will put in place a simple streamlined application process and I can reassure (honourable members) there will be no quotas on numbers.
The Foreign Office news release on this is here.
My colleague Rebecca Ratcliffe has more on our Hong Kong protests live blog.
Sturgeon hits back at Johnson after he condemns talk of Scotland quarantining English visitors
Nicola Sturgeon was visibly vexed at this lunchtime’s media briefing after a succession of questions on Boris Johnson and others’ response to her warning earlier in the week that she might have to quarantine visitors from England. She told reporters:
The fact we are describing this as a “row” should make us all take a long hard look at ourselves … Other countries are just doing what they need to do in a public health sense to stop transmission of virus.
The fact that in Scotland we are trying to turn this into a standard political constitutional row – and I’m saying we to be charitable because it isnae me – is frankly disgraceful.
Addressing Johnson, Scottish secretary Alister Jack and other critics directly, she said: “If you find yourselves trying to turn any of this into a political or constitutional row go and take a long hard look at yourself in a mirror.”
At PMQs, in response to a question from a Scottish Conservative MP, Johnson said that he found the idea of visitors from England being quarantined “astonishing” and that there was no border between the two countries. (See 12.15pm.) Asked to respond to Johnson’s comments, Sturgeon was palpably frustrated, describing them as “absurd and ridiculous political statements”. She went on:
For a prime minister to try to politicise these things is shameful and unacceptable.
Pointing to the announcement by the governor of New York that he would quarantine visitors from particular states, she said:
I don’t think the governor of New York is being political or constitutional – he’s trying to protect the people he serves from being exposed to the spread of the virus.
She said that she would be failing in her duty not to consider cross-border quarantines if her scientific advisers suggested it.
Anybody you hear trying to turn this into a proxy debate about Scottish independence or the constitution, they are the one who are being reckless and failing the public health test.
Her comments come as national clinical director Jason Leitch confirmed a “cross-border cluster” of coronavirus infections around Gretna and Annan, right on the border between Scotland and England (the one Boris Johnson just said at PMQs doesn’t exist).
Sturgeon described it as a “sharp reminder for us that the virus is still out there”.
Leitch said that the cluster was currently in single figures and was complex because some tests were done in England and some in Scotland. The infections are not thought to be linked to a particular event. He said that Public Health Scotland and Public Health England have put together a cross border incident management team already, adding that clusters were much easier to deal with than sustained community transmission. “This is exactly what we expected to happen at this stage in the pandemic.”
at 1.41pm BST
PMQs – Snap verdict
You can tell a major political announcement has misfired when it has to be rewritten 24 hours later. Yesterday Boris Johnson gave a major speech on his plans for economic recovery, and in so far as the headline writers were concerned, he was announcing a £5bn investment package. By today, by the alchemy of political spin, that has now metamorphosed into a £600bn spending package. The press release yesterday did say that what the PM was announcing was part of £640bn investment package for the next five years set out in the budget in February, but the headline writers ignored that because it was not new, or even crisis-related.
Why was Johnson trying to retrospectively increasing the price tag on his big speech by more than a hundred-fold? Because he was getting pummelled by Sir Keir Starmer. Johnson introduced the figure at the end of their exchanges, when Starmer was making the quite reasonable point that what was announced yesterday would not be much use to those in the hospitality or retail sector losing their jobs now. Johnson’s best moment of the exchanges came when he was able to boast about what has already been done to protect 11m jobs, but he did not have a decent answer to Starmer’s point about jobs being lost now, which is when he resorted to magic numbers.
The early exchanges went even more badly for Johnson. He was not quite as evasive as he was last week, but his claim that the government did act in a timely manner in Leicester was wholly unconvincing and Starmer managed to refute what Johnson said about pillar 2 information being shared with Leicester without even trying. Starmer’s most effective question was his third, when he accused Johnson of being too flippant on a matter of life or death. He said:
The prime minister can’t just bat away challenge. These are matters of life and death, other people’s livelihoods. An example of this, last week [Labour MP Peter Kyle] asked the prime minister how can seaside towns be expected to cope with likely influx of visitors to beaches and parks during the hot weather? The prime minister replied, show some guts. Two days later Bournemouth beach was closed with 500,000 visitors, a major incident was declared. Does the prime minister now regret being so flippant?
Johnson responded by claiming that somehow the question was illegitimate – always a sign that an attack his hitting. Perhaps Johnson would be better off if he just resorted to humility and total honest (although god help the person at the No 10 meeting who suggests that).
Unlike Starmer, Johnson is a deft phrase-maker and he put his talent to use in the slogan he used in his peroration. He said:
We’re the builders, they’re the blockers. We’re the doers, they’re the ditherers. We’re going to get on with it and take this country forward.
In other circumstances (particularly in a full chamber, with Tory MPs cheering), this might have been effective. But to have any bite, a slogan has to be at least half-true and a prime minister who has repeatedly been accused of dithering over coronavirus (most importantly over lockdown in March; now over Leicester) really needs to cultivate a better line of attack. Starmer is averse to these sort of alliterative jingles, and at PMQs has repeatedly been understated rather than overstated. But this can make what he says all the more powerful, as when he labelled Johnson “flippant” on a matter of life and death. It was a clear hit.
Johnson says the Department for Education has been working with the Department for Transport on ensuring children can use buses to return to school in the autumn.
And PMQs is now over. Snap verdict coming up soon.
Johnson says he does think there are issues with the way the DBS criminal record check scheme works. He agrees to look at this.
Johnson says as soon as nail bars can open in a way that is Covid secure, they will be allowed to open.
Labour’s Stephen Timms asks if non-universal credit benefits should be raised in value in line with the increase applied to universal credit. (Some people are still on the “legacy benefits” because they have not yet moved over to UC.)
Johnson accepts that Timms has been a strong campaigner on this, but refuses to make this pledge. He just quotes figures for how much UC has increased.
Labour’s Siobhain McDonagh ask about children on free school meals. If the PM is sincere about wanting to level up, will he support a bill to ensure all children on free school meals get internet access.
Johnson says he supports this aim. But the most important thing now is to get pupils back to school. It is disappointing that Labour has not unequivocally backed children going back, he says.
The DUP’s Ian Paisley says it was good to see the PM at a Christians in parliament event yesterday. Will the government invest in hydrogen-powered buses (some of which are made in Northern Ireland).
Johnson says he is a big fan of buses made in Northern Ireland.
Jason McCartney, a Conservative, asks if the government will replenish arts council funds so that the creative sector can be supported.
Johnson says the house is speaking with one voice this morning. But, as we open up, we must be careful. He says the theatres will reopen, but in a Covid secure way.
Labour’s Stephen Doughty asks about job losses in South Wales and elsewhere. Workers do not want slogans. They want to know what the PM will do to protect their jobs in the long term.
Johnson says he recognises that people are worried about their jobs. That is why they have a £600bn investment programme, he says.