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    Starmer backs away from Labour call for Palace investigation of Meghan racism claim

    Sir Keir Starmer has backed away from a Labour call for Buckingham Palace to “fully investigate” allegations of racism after the Duchess of Sussex claimed that a member of the royal family raised “concerns” about the likely skin colour of her son Archie. The Labour leader said Meghan’s claims, which also included an allegation that she was told not to seek help when feeling suicidal, should be taken “very, very seriously”.But asked repeatedly in a TV interview whether he backed shadow education secretary Kate Green’s call for a Palace investigation, Starmer sidestepped the issue.Meanwhile, Boris Johnson’s official spokesman told reporters that the prime minister had not watched the interview when it was aired in the early hours of the morning, UK time, and declined to discuss his views on the Duchess’s allegations.In the long-awaited TV interview broadcast in the US on Sunday, Meghan told interviewer Oprah Winfrey that the unnamed royal voiced “concerns and conversations about how dark his skin might be when he’s born”.Meghan said there had been “several conversations” with her husband Prince Harry about Archie’s likely skin tone, and “what that would mean or look like”.Asked by Winfrey whether the implication was that there were worries her child would be “too brown”, Meghan replied: “If that is the assumption you are making, that is a pretty safe one.”Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayLabour frontbencher Ms Green described the comment as “really distressing – shocking”.Ms Green told Sky News: “If there are allegations of racism, I would expect them to be treated by the Palace with the utmost seriousness and fully investigated.”She added: “There’s never any excuse in any circumstances for racism and I think it is important that action is taken to investigate what are really shocking allegations.”Asked if the royal family needed to respond to the claims, Ms Green said: “I’m sure that the Palace will be thinking very carefully about that, and I certainly think people will be wondering what is going to be said.”But Sir Keir notably declined to repeat her call when asked four times whether there should be an investigation in an interview later in the day during a visit to a school.“I think they need to be taken very, very seriously,” he said. “They are allegations in relation to race and to mental health. “For too many years – this is bigger than the Royal Family – we’ve been too dismissive. We can’t do that.“It’s a reminder there’s a lot more to do. Nobody, but nobody, should be prejudiced because of the colour of their skin or because of their mental health issues.”Asked whether the institution of the monarchy is fit for purpose, Starmer said: “Well they’re serious allegations and we’ll have to see how the institution reacts to this. It’s bigger in a sense than just the royal family because that experience of racism, I’m sad to say, is too prevalent still in 21st century Britain and we all have to take that seriously and redouble our efforts.” More

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    Boris Johnson news – live: PM ‘really, really awful’ over Covid response, says first minister of Wales

    Today’s daily politics briefingFirst minister of Wales Mark Drakeford said he felt a “sense of despair” and was “wringing” his hands after a crisis Covid meeting with Boris Johnson in December. A TV documentary crew caught the Welsh Labour leader saying: “Dear me, he really, really is awful.”It comes as Mr Johnson’s top Brexit adviser Lord David Frost has been accused of “playing games” with the EU over the protocol. The civil servant in charge of the Brexit department between 2017 and 2019 said the protocol remained the “least-worst option” and has to work.Meanwhile, the EU has rejected Lord Frost’s claim that Brussels’ approach to talks on Northern Ireland was driven by “ill-will” towards the UK. The EU Commission’s spokesperson stated: “We never sulk.”Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayShow latest update
    1615215247Johnson getting a big ‘vaccine bounce’, says StarmerBoris Johnson’s widening lead over the Labour party in the polls is down to a “vaccine bounce” boosting support for the Tories, Keir Starmer has said.In a rare comment on the polls the opposition leader said his party was behind because voters tended to “gravitate” towards the government during a time of crisis and felt good after getting their jabs.“There is undoubtedly a vaccine bounce going on,” the Labour leader told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show on Monday afternoon. “But let’s be honest, we’ve got to do better as a Labour Party I’ve got to do better, we’ve got a job and a half to do.”Starmer told the programme that he “never thought for a moment” that Labour could reverse its bad election result from 2019 in the space of a year.Adam Forrest8 March 2021 14:541615214235‘Dear me, he really, really is awful’Mark Drakeford said he felt a “sense of despair” and was “wringing” his hands after a crisis meeting with the PM following France’s travel ban.On the Zoom call, Johnson said he wanted to “urgently look at the implications of the travel bans that some of our European friends have imposed”.A S4C TV documentary crew cuts away from most of the meeting – which cannot be recorded for security reasons – but Drakeford is then heard to say: “Dear me, he really, really is awful.“Imagine that some deadly new variant of the virus had been discovered in France and they were trying to persuade us that there was no need to take any action to stop French lorry drivers from driving across the continent.”Adam Forrest8 March 2021 14:371615214017Ross: Scottish independence would be ‘immensely worse’ than BrexitMore now from Scottish Tory party leader Douglas Ross’ remarks to the Onward think tank. Ross has suggested negotiations to break up the UK would be far, far messier than the process we’ve all just lived through.“What the process would be if we had an independent Scotland negotiating leaving the United Kingdom – well, it would be immensely worse than the difficulties that were experienced in leaving the European Union.”“We would be leaving a country that we remain part of, that we have been the proud and strong member of for centuries, rather than for the European Union for just over four decades.” More

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    Boris Johnson poll lead is down to ‘vaccine bounce’ says Keir Starmer

    Boris Johnson’s widening lead over the Labour party in the polls is down to a “vaccine bounce” boosting support for the Tories, Keir Starmer has said.In a rare comment on the polls the opposition leader said his party was behind because voters tended to “gravitate” towards the government during a time of crisis and felt good after getting their jabs.Sir Keir’s analysis comes amid sliding leadership ratings and a growing lead for the Tories, despite the UK having one of the worst death and economic tolls in the world from Covid-19.”There is undoubtedly a vaccine bounce going on,” the Labour leader told BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine show on Monday afternoon.”The vaccine rollout is going very well, all tribute to those on the ground. I’ve been in vaccine centre a number of times, including this morning and the NHS, those on the front line doing an incredible job. “And of course, you can feel it: you go into the vaccine centre with anxiety written over your face, and then you see people coming out the other end with a smile, it is an incredible feeling and of course that leads to a bounce I think at the polls.”He added: “I also think in a pandemic, something like this, people tend to gravitate, to pull towards their government because they want the government to get it right because they themselves and their family depend on it. So, there are factors there, but let’s be honest, we’ve got to do better as a Labour Party I’ve got to do better, we’ve got a job and a half to do.”Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdaySir Keir told the programme that he “never thought for a moment” that Labour could reverse its bad election result from 2019 in the space of a year, suggesting the idea was “unrealistic”. At that election Labour won the lowest number of seats on record since 1935, though its share of the vote was higher than in 2010 and 2015. That result, at an election dominated by Brexit, came after a surprise strong showing in 2017 where the party won 40 per cent of the vote.Admitting it was a “big ask” to win the election scheduled for 2024, Sir Keir added: “I’m determined we could do it. I think we can do it. I think we’ve got to rebuild the party, deal with antisemitism – we’ve done some of that, we’ve got to do more on that – rebuild trust with voters, and be much more connected with voters.””It is going to take every day, every week, every month and every year to the next general election to do it. I’m going to sweat blood to do that, but I never thought that we could turn around.”
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    First minister of Wales branded Boris Johnson ‘really, really awful’ over his Covid response

    The first minister of Wales branded Boris Johnson “really, really awful” over his response to the more aggressive variant of Covid-19 being found in December.On the Zoom call, Mr Johnson said he wanted to “urgently look at the implications of the travel bans that some of our European friends have imposed”.A TV documentary cuts away from most of the meeting – which cannot be recorded for security reasons – but Mr Drakeford is then heard to say: “Dear me, he really, really is awful.“Imagine that some deadly new variant of the virus had been discovered in France and they were trying to persuade us that there was no need to take any action to stop French lorry drivers from driving across the continent.”The pre-Christmas ban on passengers and freight entering from the UK sparked chaos in Kent, triggering many miles of queues for lorries and travellers.France later eased the crackdown after an agreement was struck to have lorry drivers tested and allowed to cross if they returned negative results.Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayAsked by an adviser whether he wanted any minutes from the meeting, Mr Drakeford said: “No, I don’t think there is anything at all, other than wringing our hands, a sense of despair. Difficult to understand.”The comments are revealed after Mr Drakeford lashed out at Mr Johnson for putting the Union at threat by failing to create effective working by the devolved administrations.“The Union, as it is, is over,” he told a committee of MPs last week. “There is no institutional architecture to make the United Kingdom work. It is all ad-hoc, random and made up as we go along.”In the S4C documentary, the first minister said he and Mr Johnson are “very different people – despite both studying Latin – adding: “It’s hard to find anything else that’s common between us as people.“The world through Boris Johnson’s eyes is so different to the world that people in Wales see. It’s difficult sometimes to understand where he’s coming from and why he’s doing what he’s doing.”Amid confusion over whether that would be guidance or law, Mr Drakeford said of the media: “Let’s hope nobody is bright enough to ask, ‘is that ‘should’ as in regulation or ‘should’ as in advice’?“They are asking already”, an official tells him – prompting the first minister to say “shit” in response.A later cabinet meeting shows ministers were split over whether to make the rule legally enforceable, but Mr Drakeford decided to go ahead, putting the guidance into law. More

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    Back to school: Boris Johnson contradicts education minister on Covid testing

    Downing Street has contradicted an education minister by saying that children who test positive for coronavirus in a lateral flow test can be cleared to go to school if they later test negative in the more reliable PCR test.Children’s minister Vicky Ford sparked alarm among parents by saying that schools should not take the risk of having a child in the classroom after testing negative in a rapid-turnaround test carried out at home – even if they are later shown by a laboratory test not to have the virus. But Boris Johnson’s official spokesman later insisted that the opposite was true, telling reporters that a pupil can come out of self-isolation and return to school if the lab test comes back negative.He told a regular Westminster media briefing: “If a PCR test is negative following a positive lateral flow, children can go back to school.”The spokesman said that the aim would be to get PCR tests out “as quickly as possible” after the positive lateral flow test performed at home.Back-up PCR tests are not needed after rapid tests performed at school, because they are done “under supervision in a controlled environment”, he said.The contradictory messages fuelled confusion on the day when schools across England began welcoming millions of children back in the first major step in easing the national lockdown after more than two months. Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayUpon returning, students in secondary schools and colleges will have to take three lateral flow tests onsite under supervision, before being asked to perform the rapid tests twice a week at home.Questioned on the new testing system, Ms Ford told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If they test positive then they shouldn’t be in school. “The lateral flow test – as we heard yesterday from Public Health England – have got less than one in 1,000 chance of having a false positive. So if they test positive they should stay out of school.”Presented with the situation of a child testing positive using a self-administered lateral flow device (LFD) test at home, who then received a negative result after using a laboratory test — known as a PCR test — Ms Ford suggested they would still have to complete their 10-day self-isolation period.“The first priority is to make sure we keep the Covid out of the classrooms, with these regular tests,” she stressed.“The chance of a lateral flow test giving a false positive are actually very low. There will obviously be discussions with the pupils and their families if they then have the negative test later.”“The really important thing here is to make sure we can keep schools open and minimise the risk of having Covid in the classrooms and that is why people who’ve had the test that shows they have got Covid through the lateral flow test, we should not take the risk of having the child in the classroom.Quizzed on whether a laboratory test could override the lateral flow test, the minister went on: “They should not take the risk. We all want to make sure that we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here.”Shadow schools minister Wes Streeting criticised the Government for confused messaging.“What hope is there for schools, parents and pupils when ministers in the Department For Education can’t get their basic facts right?” he asked.“Is there a single day or a single announcement or a single initiative that Gavin Williamson’s bungling team have managed to get through unscathed? Worse than useless.” More

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    ‘We never sulk’: Brussels shrugs off Frost claim of ill-will in Brexit row

    The EU has rejected the claim by Boris Johnson’s Brexit minister that its approach to talks on Northern Ireland was driven by “ill-will” towards the UK, insisting: “We never sulk”. David Frost made the incendiary charge in a newspaper article on Sunday, in which he claimed that London’s second threat to breach the terms of the Brexit deal which Mr Johnson signed with Brussels was “lawful”.As Brussels threatened legal action over the UK’s plan unilaterally to delay agreed checks on supermarket goods and parcels, Lord Frost accused the EU of undermining cross-confidence in the deal’s Northern Ireland Protocol and called for it to “shake off any remaining ill-will towards us for leaving, and instead build a friendly relationship, between sovereign equals”.But Mr Johnson’s government was today accused by Theresa May’s former chief of staff Gavin Barwell of “dishonesty” in its approach to the protocol, which created a customs border down the Irish Sea.Lord Barwell said that the problems which had led to products missing from supermarket shelves and lorries returning empty to Northern Ireland were caused by the deal agreed by Mr Johnson which was “very different from the one Theresa negotiated”. Mr Johnson “gave in to what the EU originally wanted – a Northern Ireland-only arrangement,” said Lord Barwell, adding: “That’s why we have the problems we do now.”And the former civil service head of the Department for Exiting the EU said the Johnson administration was “burning” trust and goodwill with Brussels by “playing games around Brexit” for domestic political reasons.Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayEuropean Commission spokesman Eric Mamer shrugged off Lord Frost’s accusations, telling a Brussels press conference: “We never sulk. We don’t have moods. We are an institution, so we try to work on a day-to-day basis with a very, very even temper.”But former DExEU chief Philip Rycroft told BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour: “It is deeply worrying and frankly deeply depressing that with the ink barely dry on the protocol and on the Trade and Co-operation Agreement, we’re already running into these sorts of problems. Brexit, far from being done, is going to be with us for a long time to come.”Mr Rycroft said that problems in Northern Ireland were caused in part by the government misleading local traders about the likely impact of Mr Johnson’s deal, which requires time-consuming checks on goods moving from mainland Britain to Northern Ireland.“There are undoubtedly issues about the protocol,” he said. “Traders simply aren’t ready to do the things that are required on the protocol, not leastbecause the government spent the best part of last year saying to them they wouldn’t have to do anything, despite knowing full well that all of these checks would have to come in. “Extending those grace periods is not an unreasonable thing to ask for, butthe way that David Frost has gone about this, to tell the Commission he was unilaterally extending without doing his opposite number in the Commission the courtesy of picking up the phone, suggests that they’re still playing games around Brexit.“It’s all about the politically attractive ploy of playing hardball with the EU, rather than accepting their responsibilities for the deal that he and the prime minister negotiated.” Mr Rycroft said: “This is a complicated deal, the Northern Ireland Protocol, it’s the least worst option, it’s there to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. “It is so important to the peace process in Northern Ireland that this protocol is able to work and that’s going to require a huge amount of goodwill and trust on both sides, I’m afraid that trust is being burnt at the moment.”Lord Barwell said that Lord Frost was “adding insult to injury” for the people of Northern Ireland by refusing to acknowledge the barriers to trade that are the consequence of the Brexit deal which he negotiated, which “explicitly created barriers when goods move from GB to NI”.The former 10 Downing Street chief of staff said it was “dishonest” to pretend that Brexit bureaucracy was not having a harmful impact on trade.“The deal which David Frost negotiated does not keep ‘open and free trade’ between the UK and EU – it introduces significant barriers to trade,” said Lord Barwell. “Dismissing the difficulties he has caused for many businesses as ‘the details of customs and form-filling’ adds insult to injury“His argument that setting your own laws in every area of national life is ‘vital to economic success’ will come as news to countries like Ireland that have grown strongly whilst members of the EU and music to the ears of the SNP.“No-one is suggesting that bureaucracy prevents trade altogether, but introducing it clearly has a cost and it’s dishonest to pretend otherwise. If you think other benefits outweigh those costs make that case, but don’t pretend trade with the EU is as free today as it was in 2020.“Why do you expect open and free trade within the UK? Our government signed a treaty that explicitly created barriers when goods move from GB to NI.” More

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    Scottish Tories condemn Nicola Sturgeon’s power over ministerial code, despite loophole clearing Priti Patel

    Scottish Tories are demanding an end to political leaders ruling on allegations against ministers – despite Boris Johnson using the power to rescue Priti Patel after she was found guilty of bullying.“The scandal has shown that the Scottish government is accountable only to itself,” Douglas Ross protested“It’s left to the first minister to uphold the ministerial code and take decisions on the scrutiny of ministerial behaviour.“So, to make this process independent, we will propose that responsibility for scrutiny of ministerial behaviour be given to the standards committee – just as they report on the behaviour of opposition and backbench MSPs.“There should be no separate process for government ministers,” he told an event hosted by the Tory think-tank Onward.Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayIt allowed him to overturn his own ethics adviser’s ruling that the home secretary’s shouting and swearing had bullied her staff and breached the code, by deciding her behaviour had been unintentional.Alex Allen quit in disgust as independent adviser on the code, as the Cabinet Secretary also admitted there is no requirement to ever release the findings of such investigations.During a question-and-answer session, Mr Ross also repeated his call for Scottish Labour to form what a questioner called “a grand coalition” to stop the SNP, if necessary.Anas Sarwar, the party’s new leader, has already ruled out any such deal – as did his predecessor Richard Leonard – knowing any hint of cooperation would further damage Labour, ahead of May’s elections.Mr Ross also insisted Mr Johnson’s premiership had a “positive effect” on the Tories in Scotland, pointing to the success of the vaccination programme and ‘levelling up’ funding.However, amid suggestions the prime minister is a recruiting serjeant for independence, he said: “I’m leading the party in Scotland, I’m on the ballot.” Mr Ross also defended his decision to stage a no-confidence vote in Ms Sturgeon this week, even before the conclusions of separate investigations.The Conservatives had “no choice but to continue with our plans” after the deputy first minister – John Swinney, who also faces such a vote – delayed release of legal advice.The motions have been brought forward after the SNP’s botched handling of sexual harassment allegations made against Mr Salmond, a former first minister“The other parties need to show that they have the stomach stand up to this SNP government like we do,” Mr Ross said, “to hold the first minister to the same standards that she has held others to”. More

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    Students with positive result from rapid test should still self-isolate if second laboratory test is negative, minister suggests

    Secondary school children who receive a positive result after taking a rapid Covid test will have to self-isolate even if a second follow-up laboratory test produces a negative result, a government minister has confirmed.As schools across England begin welcoming millions of children back to classrooms — the first major step in easing the national lockdown — a new testing regime will come into force in an attempt to curb the spread of coronavirus.Upon returning, students in secondary schools and colleges will have to take three quick turnaround tests onsite under supervision, before being asked to perform twice-weekly rapid tests at home.Questioned on the new testing system, Vicky Ford, the children’s minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If they test positive then they shouldn’t be in school. “The lateral flow test as we heard yesterday from Public Health England — they’ve got less 1 in 1,000 chance of having a false positive. So if they test positive they should stay out of school.”Presented with the situation of a child testing positive using a self-administered rapid lateral flow device (LFD) test at home, who then received a negative result after using a laboratory test — known as a PCR test — Ms Ford suggested they would still have to complete their 10-day self-isolation period.“The first priority is to make sure we keep the Covid out of the classrooms, with these regular tests,” she stressed.Inside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekdayInside Politics newsletterThe latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekday“The chance of a lateral flow test giving a false positive are actually very low. There will obviously be discussions with the pupils and their families if they then have the negative test later.”“The really important thing here is to make sure we can keep schools open and minimise the risk of having Covid in the classrooms and that is why people who’ve had the test that shows they have got Covid through the lateral flow test, we should not take the risk of having the child in the classroom.Quizzed on whether a laboratory test could override the lateral flow test, the minister went on: “They should not take the risk. We all want to make sure that we can keep Covid out of the classrooms here.”Public Health England’s Covid-19 strategic response director Dr Susan Hopkins reiterated on BBC’s Andrew Marr programme that the risk of false positives was “extremely low, less than in a thousand”, adding: “We would expect that that would be the same risk with PRC tests. No test is perfect.”However, speaking at the weekend professor Sheila Bird, a member of the Royal Statistical Society, suggested every positive quick-result test of a school pupils should be checked with a PCR test to ensure it was accurate.“In the present circumstances when infection incidence is low, the false positive rate with lateral flow tests remains to be absolutely determined in the context of schools but may be between one and three per 1,000 children. So to differentiate a false positive from a true positive is to do that PCR confirmation.”As children begin heading back to classrooms across the country, professor Calum Semple, a member of the government’s Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), added it was “inevitable that we will see a rise in cases”, but it was not so important if the reproduction number rose slightly.The advice for teachers “is going to be wearing face masks, being careful in the common room – their colleagues are more of a risk to them than the children,” he told BBC Breakfast.Labour is also urging the government to introduce catch-up breakfast clubs before school to help students recover from 109 days of face-to-face learning they missed due to the pandemic.“The Government’s catch-up plans fall woefully short of the support needed to help children recover from the pandemic, condemning the life chances of a generation of young people,” claimed the shadow education secretary Kate Green.She added: “Ministers should listen to Labour‘s call for breakfast clubs to give every child a healthy breakfast, more time to play with their friends and extra time for teachers to provide targeted catch-up support. The government must be more ambitious for children’s recovery.” More