Politics latest news: Working from home guidance will be 'company-specific', says minister, despite …

Politics latest news: Working from home guidance will be ‘company-specific’, says minister, despite …

T he Government is under pressure to open up the new UK-Australia trade deal to a vote in both the House of Commons and Holyrood.  Nicola Sturgeon told MSPs she was “deeply concerned about the implications of this trade deal and future trade deals on our farming sector in Scotland”, adding it should be put to a vote “not just in the House of Commons, but a vote in this Parliament as well”.  Emily Thornberry, shadow international trade secretary, made the same point during a debate with Liz Truss in which she accused the minister of throwing farmers “to the wolves”. She called for a “binding vote…  so that we can reject the terms that she has agreed on farming and send someone else back to the table to get a better deal for our country?” Ms Truss insisted MPs will have the opportunity to block it if they do not support it. However Parliament has only a limited role in approving trade deals, with MPs likely to be denied a vote. I t has been a relatively quiet day in Westminster, but there has been plenty of action beyond today.  Matt Hancock announced that the vaccine has reached the final stage of the programme, with over-18s being able to access jabs from tomorrow.  However Prof Chris Whitty has some characteristically gloomy predictions about this winter (and more to come).  In Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon joined the chorus of critics over the Australia trade deal – but a vote seems unlikely at this stage.  Sir Keir Starmer was in Bristol, while half the Tory party appears to have hit the streets of Chesham and Amersham.  Boris Johnson welcomed the Crown Prince of Bahrain to Downing Street, as he continues to resume face-to-face meetings.  But there are “no plans” to make working from home the default option, Number 10 insisted – but it is looking at how to make “flexible” working the norm. That should reassure 72 per cent of you, who believe offices are best.  P roposed reforms to strip the Electoral Commission of its prosecution powers could “fetter” its abilities, the watchdog has warned. Constitution minister Chloe Smith has today said the commission should be “fully accountable to Parliament” as she set out plans for a legal change to ensure it “should not bring criminal prosecutions”. But the independent body, which is currently investigating the refurbishments of Boris Johnson’s official flat, insisted its “oversight and scrutiny” was vital. An Electoral Commission spokeswoman said: “It is important that the commission’s independence is preserved and that it is able to continue to deliver all duties within its remit, including effective enforcement. “Some changes announced today place a fetter on the commission which would limit its activity. We will work with the Government to explore these areas.”  D ominic Raab has spoken with his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, about “international issues, including where we differ profoundly”.  The pair spoke on the phone, following the bilateral meeting with US President Joe Biden and President Vladimir Putin earlier this week. Today I spoke to Russian Foreign Minister Lavrov @MFA_Russia. We discussed a range of bilateral and international issues, including where we differ profoundly, as well as global challenges including international security, Covid-19, and climate change ahead of COP26 pic.twitter.com/PtH1hhE6kc T he coming winter “may well be quite a difficult one”, Professor Chris Whitty has warned.  England’s chief medical officer told the NHS Confed Conference that social distancing had cut flu last year but it will be back this winter “unless the Covid situation is so bad that everybody has started to go back to essentially minimising their social contacts again”. He added: “So, either we will have a very significant Covid surge, people will minimise their contacts and we will have less respiratory viruses, or people will be back to a more normal life, there will be some Covid but on top of that we will go back to having a flu surge, an RSV surge in children, and so on. “I think we need to be aware of and brace for the fact that the coming winter may well be quite a difficult one.” He said it probably will not be on the scale of last winter but that the NHS still has to be braced. D owning Street has rejected reports that it will make working from home the ‘default’ option – but admitted it is looking at doing so for flexible working.   The Prime Minister’s official spokesman defined flexible working as “a range of working arrangements around time, place and hours of work including part-time working, flexi-time or compressed hours” but not necessarily working from home.  Sir Digby Jones has argued that long-term remote working will create a “zombie nation”- but others, including Oliver Dowden, the Culture Secretary, and Jesse Norman, the Treasury minister, have both highlighted its benefits today.  P rofessor Chris Whitty might have had some downbeat forecasts for the near future, but in the medium to longer term, things sound more hopeful.  England’s chief medical officer told the NHS Confederation Conference: “If I look five years out, I would expect us to have polyvalent vaccines which will hold the line to a very large degree against even new variants as they come in and an ability to respond with vaccination to new variants. “But the period over the next two or three years, I think, new variants may well lead to us having to revaccinate or consider boosting vaccination as they come through. “So, I think we have to just be aware that Covid has not thrown its last surprise at us and there will be several more over the next period.” P rofessor Chris Whitty has said case rates will continue to go up in the next few weeks due to the Delta variant being “significantly more transmissible” than the Alpha variant. England’s chief medical officer told the NHS Confederation Conference it would be “very surprising if this particular highly transmissible respiratory virus was not also favoured,” during the winter, along with other seasonal bugs like the flu.  Prof Whitty said most people think there will be “further problems over the winter”, adding: “How big they’ll be I think is uncertain, and that partly depends on do we get new variants which can evade vaccines better, and partly depends on how the current wave passes through the UK.” The Tories are hoping to defend the constituency, which has had just two MPs in its history, Sir Ian Gilmour until 1992, and former Welsh secretary Dame Cheryl Gillan until her death in April. Although it is considered a safe seat in normal times, MPs have told The Telegraph the Lib Dems have been “all over it” and there are “real concerns” it could swing as a result of the pro-Remain, anti-HS2 demographics.  Out campaigning in #CheshamAndAmersham by election for @Conservatives candidate #PeterFleet with @Laura__Farris @Siobhan_Baillie @BimAfolami @joymorrissey pic.twitter.com/60vojhYB0W T he Home Secretary has said she will “carefully consider” the recommendations made by the Manchester Arena inquiry chairman Sir John Saunders.  Priti Patel said her thoughts were with survivors and relatives of the 22 victims, were were murdered by suicide bomber Salman Abedi in May 2017, saying today “will be a very difficult day for them”. She also praised Figen Murray, who has campaigned for ‘Martyn’s Law’ in honour of her son.  Thanking Sir John for his “vital” work, she added: “The Government continues to take action in response to the terrorist threat and earlier this year launched a consultation on a new Protect Duty which will introduce a legal requirement for public places to ensure preparedness for and protection from terrorist attacks…  “We will now carefully consider the chair’s conclusions and recommendations in this report, including his reflections on the Protect Duty which will help shape our consultation response, and respond fully in due course.” T he UK Government should sanction Hong Kong governor Carrie Lam and others following the “unacceptable” raid on the Apple Daily newspaper in Hong Kong, Stephen Kinnock has said.  Hong Kong police made a series of dawn arrests of Apple Daily newspaper executives, while 500 police officers sifted through reporters’ computers and notebooks, after authorities cited media articles as potentially violating the new national security law. Mr Kinnock, Labour’s shadow Asia and Pacific minister, said: “The raid on Apple Daily and the arrests of journalists is yet another unacceptable attack on Hong Kong’s media freedom, guaranteed under the Basic Law. “Democracy and the ‘one country, two systems’ principle are being steadily crushed. “The UK must stand up to these efforts to silence the people of Hong Kong. It is time for the UK government to sanction Carrie Lam and other senior officials responsible for the crackdown, and withdraw support for British judges serving in Hong Kong’s compromised legal system.” S ome 15,893 possible reinfections of Covid-19 have been identified in England, according to figures published for the first time. Reinfections are defined as people who have tested positive for a second time at least 90 days after first testing positive for the virus. Of the 15,893 possible reinfections up to May 30, 53 have so far been confirmed by identifying genetically distinct specimens from each episode of illness, Public Health England said. The figures are part of ongoing analysis into reinfection levels, which is currently affected by the limited availability of data for identifying the genomic sequence of the virus, particularly in the early months of the pandemic. D owning Street has said there are no plans to introduce a legal right to work from home but it is consulting on making flexible working a default option. This morning Jesse Norman, the financial secretary to the Treasury, appeared to acknowledge such plans, although stressed that “every company is going to want to have different approaches”.  He told Sky News: “Working from home gave benefits, benefits to the economy as well as personal ones” However the Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “We’ve asked people to work from home where they can during the pandemic but there are no plans to make this permanent or introduce a legal right to work from home. “There are no plans to make working from home the default or introducing a legal right to work from home.” But he added: “What we’re consulting on is making flexible working a default option unless employers have good reasons not to.” He defined flexible working as “a range of working arrangements around time, place and hours of work including part-time working, flexi-time or compressed hours” but not necessarily working from home. A mid the unfolding internal DUP ructions at Stormont, former party leader Arlene Foster, who was ousted in a heave spearheaded by Edwin Poots supporters, has posted a pointed tweet about her “lovely lunch” in a Belfast restaurant. Just had a lovely lunch @DeanesAtQueens with a good friend. It’s great hospitality is open again- Hope everyone is having a great day this lovely sunny afternoon. #ProudofNI D ominic Cummings might have hoped that the series of screengrabs he published yesterday might put more pressure on his apparent nemesis Matt Hancock.  The Health Secretary is currently giving a speech to the NHS Confederation – and while he is likely to face questions about the fact he was dubbed “hopeless” by Boris Johnson, the PM has insisted he has “full confidence” in the minister, which suggests no imminent sackings.  Mr Cummings’s claims were not pushed heavily by Labour yesterday, beyond a few half-hearted swipes about “Hopeless Hancock” – perhaps a sign that MPs have closed ranks on the disruptive former chief aide, whose reliability has been called into question.  S ir Keir Starmer said he is “really concerned” by reports that the Treasury suppressed access to sick pay for individuals self-isolating with coronavirus during a peak of the pandemic. “One of the big issues for the 14 months or so we have been in the pandemic has been whether people feel that they can afford to self-isolate,” the Labour leader told reporters during a visit to Airbus in Bristol. “Self-isolation is a huge tool in the armoury when it comes to defeating the pandemic, but too many people felt that they couldn’t afford to self-isolate. “We have been saying this for a year or more, so the idea now that this has been suppressed I think is so wrong in terms of how we fight this pandemic.” T oughening border controls so no new variants enter the UK is “more important” than establishing a system to enable Britons to have foreign summer holidays, Sir Keir Starmer has said.   “Everybody wants to get back to normal and to open up just as quickly as we can,” the Labour leader told reporters during a visit to Bristol. “People want to go on holiday, business people need to travel across the world for business, so the sooner we can get to that, the better. “If there is a scheme that can be used, a vaccine scheme that is practical and that has global agreements, all countries have agreed on it, then we can make some progress. “Frankly at the moment, the more important thing is making sure our borders are secure, so that we can get on with vaccinating everybody before we let any more variants in.” E veryone over the age of 18 in England will be able to book their Covid-19 vaccine from Friday,  Matt Hancock has announced. Speaking at the NHS Confederation conference, the Health Secretary said a first dose has been given to four out of five adults. N icola Sturgeon has said she is “deeply concerned” about the UK-Australia trade deal, and called for it to be put to a vote in Holyrood as well as the House of Commons.  Speaking during First Minister’s Questions, Ms Sturgeon said: “The detail of this should be published in full, it should be put to a vote. “I would suggest it should be put to a vote not just in the House of Commons, but a vote in this Parliament as well, so that we can represent the interests of the farming community across Scotland. “I am deeply concerned about the implications of this trade deal and future trade deals on our farming sector in Scotland.” B oris Johnson commended Bahrain’s Salman Bin Hamad al-Khalifa on his government’s steps to “normalise relations with Israel” during their meeting today.  The Prime Minister welcomed the Crown Prince and Prime Minister to Downing Street this morning.   “They reflected on the close and historic partnership between the UK and Bahrain and agreed to further strengthen our economic, security and diplomatic cooperation,” a spokesman said following the meeting. “The leaders discussed the global effort against Covid-19 and support for international initiatives to combat the pandemic, including Covax. They also spoke about regional security issues and defence collaboration, and the Prime Minister commended the Bahraini government’s steps to normalise relations with Israel.   “The Prime Minister looked forward to welcoming Bahrain to the Cop26 climate summit in November and to deepening cooperation on green technology and the transition to renewable energy.” O n the morning after the independence referendum, September 19, 2014, I felt oddly deflated, writes Tom Harris. Having campaigned on the streets of my constituency for three years for a “No” vote, I should have been elated at our victory. The Union was safe, the Yes campaign defeated. But something told us that triumphalism on our part would be misplaced.  And then David Cameron made his statement from outside Downing Street. And instead of seeking to unite the country – the whole country, that is, not just Scotland – he decided to kick off the following year’s general election campaign in the most partisan and cynical fashion. Rather than acknowledge and try to ameliorate the tensions and divisions that had been exposed and heightened by the referendum, the prime minister decided to throw a hand grenade into the arena.  M Ps and Parliamentary staff will receive an 18-day break over Christmas, Jacob Rees-Mogg has confirmed.  The festive recess will run from December 16 until January 4, he told MPs today.  The Commons Leader also announced a 24-day recess from September 23 until October 18, when the political parties are expected to host their annual conferences. No conference recess took place in 2020, while Parliament was recalled twice over the Christmas and new year period due to Brexit and the pandemic.  Shadow Commons leader Thangam Debbonaire said: “I know the staff of this House who have been asking me about it will be very pleased to hear about recess dates given the hard year so many of them have been through.” D owning Street did not deny a report that the Government suppressed access to sick pay through the furlough scheme for people isolating at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. However, the Prime Minister’s spokesman insisted furlough was not intended for “short-term absences” such as self-isolating.  He said: “The guidance on Gov.uk sets out that the furlough scheme is not intended for short-term absences from work due to sickness and self-isolation should not be a consideration when a business is deciding if a business should furlough an employee.” D owning Street has insisted the Government is committed to the pensions triple lock, after Rishi Sunak appeared to duck the pledge.  The Chancellor repeatedly refused to confirm that state pensions would rise as quickly as wages this year, but insisted that the so-called triple lock was “still government policy”. The Prime Minister’s official spokesman said: “Yes, we’re committed to the triple lock.” He added: “There is still significant uncertainty around the trajectory of average earnings and whether there will be a spike as has been forecasted. Our focus is to ensure fairness both for pensioners and taxpayers.” A ny change to the law to allow for working from home to become the “default” option will allow for “company-specific” approaches, a Treasury minister has stressed, as he rejected claims it would create a “zombie nation”.  Former CBI director general Sir Digby Jones that leaked proposals for a change in law, which would make it impossible for employers to force their staff into the office for all but essential reasons, would return Britain to “the enervating era of the British disease of the 1970s”. Writing in the Daily Mail, the former trade minister warned it would create “a zombie nation that no longer functions as a vibrant, essential destination for international capital and foreign visitors”. But Jesse Norman, the financial secretary to the Treasury, said: “Digby is a man of extremely colourful opinions and occasionally accurate ones. This may suit some people, and not others, but… companies have no interest in going backwards.” Any change to guidance would respect the fact that “every company is going to want to have different approaches”, he added, although highlighted the manifesto commitment on flexible working.  M att Hancock is not “hopeless” but a “successful genius” who has done good work during the pandemic, Jacob Rees-Mogg has said.  The Commons Leader defended the Health Secretary after criticism by his Labour counterpart Thangam Debbonaire. Mr Rees-Mogg told MPs: “As regards text messages, there’s a great line from Dr Johnson that in lapidary inscriptions a man is not on oath and I think the same applies to text messages which are essentially the trivia, the flotsam and jetsam, the ephemera of life and fundamentally unimportant. “The fact the honourable lady finds them so exciting shows how little she has to go on.” Mr Rees-Mogg later described Mr Hancock as the “brilliant, one and only, successful genius” who has been running the Health Department. J acob Rees-Mogg has insisted the “terminus day” will be the end of all restrictions, comparing it to “Paddington not Crewe”.  Responding to a question about visiting rights for care home residents the Commons leader told MPs: “This has been a really difficult time for people in care homes and as the Prime Minister himself said, we will soon reach the terminus day. “Some people have thought it means an interchange, but it is Paddington not Crewe. And when we reach the end, the restrictions will go.” D UP leader Edwin Poots has defied colleagues in formally nominating Lagan Valley MLA Paul Givan as Northern Ireland’s new First Minister at a special sitting of the Stormont Assembly. Several DUP figures including peers and MPs had ordered Mr Poots not to proceed with the nomination, which came after a late-night agreement with Sin Fein on Irish language legislation.  Mr Givan thanked Mr Poots, his wife and family for their support throughout the years, adding: “I share the same drive and determination to serve the people of Northern Ireland. There is much goodwill from the public for this place to work.  “We must recognise there is more in common than separates us. Northern Ireland is a special place.” Sinn Fein’s Conor Murphy has nominated party colleague Michelle O’Neill as Northern Ireland’s deputy first minister. B oris Johnson has welcomed Crown Prince Salman bin Hamad Al Khalifa of Bahrain to Downing Street today, as he continues to increase his face-to-face engagements.  L abour has called on the Government to clarify its position on working from home, following a leaked document suggesting it could become the “default” option by law.  Angela Rayner, deputy leader and shadow ‘future of work’ secretary, said: “Throughout this crisis this Government has failed working people time and time again, from refusing to classify Covid as a ‘serious’ workplace risk to failing to crack down on unsafe workplaces and rogue employers who have put their staff at risk. “As we emerge from this crisis, we cannot have one-sided flexibility that allows employers to dictate terms to their workers when it comes to flexible working arrangements. “Instead of leaks and briefings the government must publish their proposals for office-based workers post July-19th, and the starting point must be a strengthening of workers’ rights on flexible working so that workers are not pressured or blackmailed back into unsafe workplaces.” F or the likes of Pret and Caffè Nero, a leaked Whitehall document suggesting that the Government will continue to favour remote working even after the pandemic must have gone down like a cold cup of £2.80 caffe mocha, writes Ross Clark. Although Angela Merkel looks set to lift its working from home rule at the end of June, it seems Boris Johnson will try to promote a hybrid model of office working, with people spending some days in the office and some days working from home, instead. But anyone sitting with a laptop on their patio in the Home Counties can’t afford to be too complacent – “there’s no such thing as a free lunch” is a business adage for a reason. T here is “no common ground” between Sinn Fein and the DUP on a range of issues including Irish language legislation and women’s rights, Mary Lou MacDonald has said.  The Sinn Fein leader told RTE’s Morning Ireland programme: “When it comes to the realisation of people’s rights and recognising diversity and making space for people, there is one problem party and that party is the DUP. “The common ground we wanted with Edwin Poots and the DUP was an agreement that this legislation could as planned and agreed come through the Assembly and the Executive… They made it very clear to us that that was not going to happen. “They refused to do that and that’s not going to change between now and October and therefore we took the initiative and went to the British Government.” R ishi Sunak will be looking to “fudge” figures to scale back the multibillion-pound bill of state pensions, a former minister has said. The triple lock guarantees that the state pension increases in line with inflation, earnings or 2.5 per cent – whichever is higher.  The Chancellor last night ducked an outright pledge. Former pensions minister Sir Steve Webb, who is now a partner at consultants LCP, said the Chancellor could say he is sticking to the triple lock but measuring underlying earnings growth without the distortions of furlough. Or he could apply the triple lock formula over a two-year period, which would offset this year’s earnings surge by last year’s earnings fall. Sir Steve said: “Current earnings figures are soaring away and a simple link to earnings growth will result in a multibillion-pound bill. There can be little doubt that the Chancellor will be looking for ways to ‘fudge’ the earnings figures.” S peaker Alex Maskey has written to MLAs to confirm a special sitting of the Assembly at 12pm following the late-night agreement which has caused such concern among DUP figures (see post below). “Further to my letter of Monday 14 June 2021, Members will be aware of political developments overnight,” he wrote. “As a result, it has been communicated to me by the two largest parties that the nomination of a First Minister and a deputy First Minister can be successfully conducted today. “I have engaged with the Business Committee this morning and it has agreed to schedule an additional sitting to ensure that this business can be transacted. S enior DUP MPs and peers have written to party leader Edwin Poots expressing concern and urging him not to nominate a First Minister until he consults with them. Defeated leadership candidate Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, senior MPs Sammy Wilson and Gavin Robinson, and former deputy leader Lord Dodds are among those to have signed the email, saying they were “very concerned” by the late-night agreement struck with Sinn Fein.  The deal, which would prevent the collapse of the power-sharing executive by ensuring the nomination of the First Minister and deputy within the necessary time period, was agreed on the basis that Westminster will legislate on the Irish language. “You have often spoken of the need for accountability and transparency within our party and it is now essential that you consult with us as representatives of the people of Northern Ireland before you proceed further,” the email said.  The Prime Minister is still shrugging off the latest set of allegations made by Dominic Cummings, who yesterday published a series of screengrabs purporting to show expletive-laden messages in which Mr Johnson called the Health Secretary “hopeless”.  This morning, Jesse Norman said the PM was “firmly behind” Mr Hancock, saying: ” There can be no question of loss of confidence.”  However, a demotion has been rumoured for some time, and with George Eustice and Gavin Williamson also at risk, there could be a string of changes coming down the line.  T he Government is hoping to “find a way of making it work” so that those who have been fully vaccinated can travel abroad, the Culture Secretary has said.  Oliver Dowden told Sky News: “We keep all these things under review, none of us want to stop anyone going on holiday and as soon as we are able to ease restrictions we will look to do so.” Acknowledging the “hugely damaging impact on our travel and tourism industry”, Mr Dowden stressed that restrictions were required to avoid a further spread in cases, which would “take us back from the real spirit of optimism I can feel in the air.” But he added: “Of course we are keeping this under review and if we find a way of making it work, we will make it work.” O liver Dowden has said working from home has “given a real shot in the arm to the tech industry”, and the UK is “just building momentum” in the sector.  The Culture Secretary said there was “a real excitement and buzz about the UK”, which was outpacing countries in creating “quality jobs” and boosting the economy around the country.  Asked about the shift towards working from home as a norm, he told Sky News: “People have more flexibility now. I don’t think you are ever going to be able to fully substitute meeting face to face… but because we are used to working remotely there are greater opportunities to set up businesses in different parts of the UK.” He conceded there will be “more people coming into the labour market as the furlough scheme unwinds”, but stressed that there are “quality jobs” available – including for older workers.  M achines are expected to help ease the worker shortage for picking flowers and plants in the UK, a minister has said. Environment minister Victoria Prentis told MPs the Government is hoping to recruit more British-based workers, but that “automation will be at least some of the solution”.  Labour’s Alex Cunningham said the UK Government’s “bizarre” approach to EU labour was “causing chaos” in many sectors, with food and flowers “left rotting” and businesses going bankrupt.  But Ms Prentis said George Eustice, the Environment Secretary, was “working actively on this issue and had a meeting with several representatives of the ornamental sector only yesterday to discuss this”. She added: “We’re working hard across Government to address these worker shortages and working with DWP to promote picking and to support the horticultural sector as well to recruit more UK workers. Automation will be at least some of the solution to this and we are actively promoting new technologies.” G eorge Eustice has sidestepped questions over his future in the Cabinet, amid widespread rumours the Environment Secretary will be demoted by Boris Johnson in a looming reshuffle. Shadow environment secretary Luke Pollard told the Commons: “I hope today isn’t the Secretary of State’s last Defra questions because of the rumours from Downing Street that he’s due for the chop.” But “if it were to be true”, Mr Pollard asked how the frontbencher would like to be remembered.  Mr Eustice replied: “Well, ministers never comment on reshuffle speculation – particularly when it’s about one’s self. But, in the context of fishing we have recently got an agreement with the EU on how to approach shared stocks for the remainder of this year. “We have got an increase in quota of around 25 per cent – 15 per cent of that coming this year – and we’ve deployed that to actually almost double the fishing opportunities for our inshore fleet in this year.” G eorge Eustice was forced to defend the trade deal he is known to oppose after a shadow minister described it as a “betrayal of British farming”. Daniel Zeichner, shadow environment minister, said the UK-Australia deal had prompted “disbelief and anger” among the British farming community, saying: “The key losers in this are British farmers.” He asked what the Environment Secretary would do to help them deal with the “huge increase in the amount of beef and lamb coming in from Australia produced to lower standards at lower costs”.  Mr Eustice insisted the deal included ” some important mitigations” including a tariff rate quota that will be in place for the first 10 years and a “special agricultural safeguard” for five years after that.  “So we believe that we’ve put in place mitigations through that quota for the first 10 years and that safeguard.” T he UK has agreed a truce with the United States over a 17-year long tariffs dispute involving European planemaker Airbus and US rival Boeing. It comes in the wake of a similar deal between the European Union and US announced Tuesday. The dispute, the longest-running in the history of the World Trade Organization, has been suspended for five years, ending retaliatory tariffs on products including Scotch whisky.  The agreement followed talks between Britain’s International Trade Secretary Liz Truss and US Trade Representative Katherine Tai. “Today’s deal draws a line under an incredibly damaging issue,” said Ms Truss. The UK could now focus on taking its “trading relationship with the US to the next level”, she added.  T he Government is said to be poised to introduce new legislation making working from home the ‘default’ option, paving the way for a permanent change to office life.  Employers would be required to show it was essential for staff to attend the workplace in order to prevent them from working flexibly, according to the Daily Mail. The Conservative manifesto did include a commitment to “consulting on introducing flexible working by default” – something highlighted by Jesse Norman, the Treasury minister, who defended the plans this morning.  So will this help workers maintain a different life-work balance? Or will it create a ‘zombie nation’, as argued by Sir Digby Jones?  R ishi Sunak has repeatedly refused to confirm that state pensions would rise as quickly as wages this year, but insisted that the so-called triple lock was “still government policy”. With pay expected to increase by as much as 8pc as battered earnings recover from the Covid crisis, the triple lock rule would commit the Government to increasing pensions by the same amount, adding £5bn to the national deficit. The Chancellor claimed he could not pre-empt a decision on pensions and insisted that forecasts of a surge were “speculation”. The final decision would be taken as part of a statutory review in autumn. In an interview with Andrew Neil on GB News, Mr Sunak nonetheless said that the triple lock remained in force. Former leader of the Conservative Party Iain Duncan Smith joins Telegraph columnists Liam Halligan and Allison Pearson to discuss the “irrational” extension of Covid rules beyond June 21 and why it is a blow for those keen to restore the country’s freedoms.  With more than half of the UK adult population now fully vaccinated, the MP for Chingford & Woodford Green tells the podcast that the lockdown debate is no longer even about the virus: “We are now in a fight not over Covid, but over the nature of how we live our lives.” T he biggest rail workers’ union has threatened industrial action in the face of a pay freeze, job cuts or changes to conditions.  The Rail, Maritime and Transport union (RMT) said such a move by the Government would be “a kick in the teeth” for workers.  General secretary Mick Lynch said: “It is scandalous that transport workers, who have kept Britain moving throughout the Covid pandemic at well-documented personal risk, are being rewarded with the Government-imposed kick in the teeth of a pay freeze, even as rising inflation cuts the value of their pay…  “Our members are watching their pay lose value month by month while the profiteers are laughing all the way to the banks.” Any pay freeze, job cuts or “attacks on pensions and working conditions” will be met with ” a co-ordinated campaign of industrial action” by RMT and other unions, he added. T he Home Office has been urged to extend digital employee checks or risk exacerbating the recruitment crisis by delaying more than 300,000 people a week from starting new jobs.  Digital right to work checks have allowed firms to hire new staff without meeting them in person throughout the pandemic, however it is due to come to an end on June 21 – despite the final stage of the roadmap being delayed until July 19.  Kate Shoesmith, deputy chief executive of the Recruitment and Employment Confederation , said the Government was “shooting themselves in the foot” by insisting on a return to in-person checks.  “There are significant labour shortages across the UK right now in every sector. Any delays to hiring could have serious consequences for companies and the recovery,” she added. “We urge the Home Office to continue with digital checks until at least 19 July and use the intervening time to consult on making them a permanent feature of the labour market.”     A senior Tory has warned that it will take “years to rebuild” society after the series of lockdowns caused by the pandemic.  Steve Baker, who was among those to speak out against the extension of restrictions yesterday, said he feared the roadmap delay “has been done to allow the NHS to catch up on services,” adding: “Our rights cannot become a tool of NHS capacity management.” The former minister said: “Lockdowns cannot be perpetually on the table. Never again can these fear tactics be used.” 🚫Lockdowns cannot be perpetually on the table. Never again can these fear tactics be used. 😶We have transformed our society for the worse. It will take years to rebuild it. pic.twitter.com/w2szdgcgAn S inger Peter Gabriel has warned that the Womad festival may have to be cancelled this year without support from the Government. He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “If we’re trying to restore cultural life and normality then we do need a bit of help here. It’s a huge industry now and we would like to get some confidence and security from something like an insurance scheme, some sort of underwriting scheme.” Asked if festivals should become part of the pilot scheme on large events, he said: “Obviously we want to be included..  If we can just lock those in and get some support for independent festivals particularly, but all the festival sector, then I think we can have a great summer.” He warned organisers would have to cancel the festival he co-founded in 1982 without support.  “We’ve been faced with bankruptcy on two occasions previous to that and if we’re trying to secure the future of the festival… we can’t risk sinking it this year.” S ummer holidays abroad will be opened up for vaccinated Britons under plans being considered by the Government, The Telegraph understands. Officials are drawing up proposals that could allow people who have had both Covid jabs to avoid having to quarantine on their return from amber list countries, although they will still have to be tested. The change would effectively turn amber countries green for the vaccinated, opening up the possibility of quarantine-free travel to most major holiday destinations in Europe and the US. The proposals to ease the restrictions for vaccinated people are said to be at an early stage. Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, who has fought for tough border restrictions, is said to be “open” to the change. “They haven’t definitely got there yet, but that’s the direction of travel,” a senior source told The Telegraph. R eports that the Government knowingly suppressed access to sick pay for people self-isolating are “shocking”  and “shameful”, a Labour shadow minister has said. This morning Politico reported that earlier this year the Treasury instructed officials to conceal the fact that furlough could be used to access isolation sick pay, as costs soared. Bridget Phillipson, shadow chief secretary to the Treasury, said: “These revelations are shocking. “The government were advised time and time again how crucial a proper self-isolation system is for curbing the spread of infection, and protecting people’s lives and livelihoods. “It is shameful and reckless that the Chancellor ignored professional advice and put countless people and workplaces at unnecessary risk when he had the opportunity to help.” T he Liberal Democrats have claimed the Chesham and Amersham by-election is “neck and neck” as voters go to the polls in a by-election for the historically Conservative safe seat. The constituency in Buckinghamshire has had just two MPs in its history, Sir Ian Gilmour until 1992, and former Welsh secretary Dame Cheryl Gillan until her death in April. But Tory MPs have told The Telegraph the Lib Dems have been “all over it” and there are “real concerns” it could swing as a result of the pro-Remain, anti-HS2 demographics.  Leader of the Liberal Democrats Sir Ed Davey has been a regular fixture in the constituency during the campaign in efforts to win over voters, while Boris Johnson also made an appearance in the run up to the by-election. A spokesman for the Liberal Democrats said: “It is neck and neck in Chesham and Amersham. This election will go down to the wire and the Conservatives could be in for a shock.” T reasury minister Jesse Norman said “an enormous amount of money” has already been poured into the arts during the pandemic, when asked if a Government-backed insurance scheme could be introduced to support festivals. The financial secretary told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think the answer to that question is the Government has already poured an enormous amount of money into the arts and culture sector, so it’s important to recognise what has already been done.” Pressed if the underwriting insurance will be considered, Mr Norman said: “Of course the Government continues to monitor the way in which restrictions are playing out, and this is a matter for discussion, as the Culture Secretary has said, it’s a matter for the sector to address with him.” C riticism of Boris Johnson keeping Matt Hancock in his role despite describing him as “totally f—— hopeless” in a message to Dominic Cummings is “the biggest nonsense I have heard”, a Treasury minister has said.  “The Prime Minister obviously is a massive supporter of the the Health Secretary,” Jesse Norman told Radio 4’s Today programme. “There is no question of a loss of confidence.” He stressed that those messages – if genuine – were sent “in the middle of biggest economic and health catastrophe for a century”, adding they were “a tiny snapshot of one side of a story, without any context or looking at it from the other side”. I nflation is not viewed as a serious risk currently – but it has the “potential” to become a problem, a Treasury minister has said.  Asked if support was not being further extended because of fears over inflation, Jesse Norman said he would “hesitate to disagree with Sir Mervyn” King, who last week said we should be “nervous” about the risks of return to 1970s-style inflation.  But he said it was hard to make a judgement about the “extraordinary” circumstances we are in.  “Of course it’s true that as an economy rebounds… it may be that different markets and different companies find different price points and so it’s not impossible you could get a temporary inflation pressure.” He said there was no “general view” that it was currently an issue, and it was not being “flagged” by the Bank of England, but added: “There’s the potential for inflation to be a serious risk.” A Treasury minister has defended the decision not to extend business support to match the delay in the roadmap.  Jesse Norman told Radio 4’s Today programme; “The Treasury has played this very long from the beginning… we have programmes that are tapering out in the next few months, specifically designed to accommodate the possibility that we might have had to be some temporary delay, of the kind we have just seen.  Sir Iain Duncan Smith has said he is “cynical about the idea that people are going to stay at home massively instead of going to the office” once the pandemic is over.  T he former Conservative leader said the “vast majority of  people in the UK” are employed by smaller companies, which “can’t afford that flexibility”. He told Sky News that people “can’t wait to get back into the office”… because “we’re “social animals at the end of the day”.  Remote working is “very two-dimensional” and doesn’t allow for people to “play off each other as ideas are formed”. He noted that city centres “rely” on office workers, adding: “Flexibility, yes but I suspect most people will want to spend the lion’s share of their time interacting with colleagues in the office.” D ominic Cummings has offered “one side of a snapshot of a conversation” at the peak of the crisis, a minister has said, when asked about the latest set of revelations made by the former aide.  Boris Johnson condemned Matt Hancock as “totally f—— hopeless” in a series of expletive-laden WhatsApp messages released by his one-time adviser.  Yesterday Number 10 refused to comment on whether the messages were genuine, but stressed that the Prime Minister still had full confidence in his Health Secretary.  H e was also asked about whether he thought Mr Johnson still  believed Mr Hancock was hopeless, Jesse Norman said: “What we have been presented with is one side of a snapshot of a conversation in the middle of the worst economic, social and health crisis we have had in 100 years.” Mr Hancock has been “battling valiantly and in many ways highly effectively,” he added. Pressed, he told Sky News: “The Prime Minister hasn’t consulted me on the matter, but he gives me the oppression of thinking Health Secretary is doing a very good job in very difficult circumstances.” Officials are drawing up proposals that could allow people who have had both Covid jabs to avoid having to quarantine on their return from amber list countries although they will still have to be tested. We urge you to turn off your ad blocker for The Telegraph website so that you can continue to access our quality content in the future.
See all stories on this topic

Unionists should not get caught up in the politics of an Irish language act

They should bring it on and not get to caught up in the politics of the act. LIVE UPDATES: DUP in d…
See all stories on this topic

Left Wing, Right Wing: Thoughts from the Politics Editor

The most recent results for the May local elections and the Hartlepool by-election have shown that …
See all stories on this topic