Britain should ‘make this moment count’ in reinstating support for Lebanon, says Tory MP

Laveta Brigham

Ministers have pledged ‘technical and financial support’ for Beirut – AFP A senior Conservative MP has said the UK should “really make this moment count” in re-instigating British support for Lebanon, having left the country “alone for too long”.  Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told BBC […]

Ministers have pledged 'technical and financial support' for Beirut - AFP
Ministers have pledged ‘technical and financial support’ for Beirut – AFP

A senior Conservative MP has said the UK should “really make this moment count” in re-instigating British support for Lebanon, having left the country “alone for too long”. 

Tom Tugendhat, the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, told BBC Radio 4’s World At One that the UK had been “at the forefront of helping Lebanon for the last 10 years”, playing a vital supporting role as the Middle Eastern country offered “extraordinary” levels of support to more than two million Syrian refugees. 

“It is right that we step up once again,” the MP for Tonbridge and Malling added. “To really make this moment count.”

“We have left Lebanon alone for too long.”

Ministers have pledged “technical and financial” support for the country, which is reeling from a massive explosion by Beirut port yesterday evening, in which at least 100 people have been killed. 

Mr Tugendhat said initially support should include sending the Royal Navy in to help rebuild parts of the city. 

Follow the latest updates below.

Table of Contents

02:15 PM

Queen sends message of condolence to Lebanon after Beirut blast

The Queen has sent a message of condolence to the President of the Republic of Lebanon, saying she and the Duke of Edinburgh are “deeply saddened” by the huge blast which killed at least 100 people in Beirut.

You can read the latest updates on our live blog here.

The scene of the explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut is seen through a damaged apartment in Beirut - AP
The scene of the explosion that hit the seaport of Beirut is seen through a damaged apartment in Beirut – AP

02:01 PM

Watch: Nicola Sturgeon orders Aberdeen lockdown

Bars, restaurants and cafes have been ordered to close as lockdown restrictions are reimposed in Aberdeen over a coronavirus cluster in the area.  

A five-mile travel rule has been put in place and residents are being told not to enter each other’s houses.

Watch First Minister Nicola Sturgeon’s statement below.

01:54 PM

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01:40 PM

Have your say on: business rates reform

This morning, we are reporting that Rishi Sunak is considering an increase in business rates for the “most valuable properties”, despite fears that the move could hurt firms already struggling amid the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The IEA has now waded in, saying wholesale reform is needed – but warning that a rise in rates may result in further intervention required to prop up struggling bricks and mortar businesses. 

But what do you think? Have your say in the poll below.

01:38 PM

Business rates need reform, but not hiking, says think tank

Business rates are “a poorly-designed tax which badly needs reform” – but ministers should not consider increasing rates on the most valuable properties – a think tank has said. 

As revealed by The Telegraph today, Chancellor Rishi Sunak is mulling a move as part of plans to shore up the country’s coffers.

But Professor Len Shackleton, editorial and research Fellow at the Institute of Economic Affairs, warned that a rise in rates would fall on tenants rather than landlords once they are “locked into a contract”, placing “a far greater cost” on bricks and mortar firms. 

“As such they threaten high street shops, already in steep decline, more than online retailers,” he added. “Businesses which spend money to improve property are likely to face a higher rates bill. Business rates may therefore inadvertently work against policies to boost productivity, improve digital connectivity and energy efficiency. “

They also “take no account of current trading conditions”, and may actually result in more intervention required, he noted.

01:26 PM

Further 13 people die after testing positive for coronavirus, NHS England says

A further 13 people have died after testing positive from coronavirus, according to NHS England. 

There were no deaths recorded in London, the East of England, North East and Yorkshire and the South West. 

But there were two deaths recorded in the Midlands and the South East, with nine in the North West of the country. 

It takes the total number of confirmed reported deaths in hospitals in England to 29,371.

Patients were aged between 52 and 92 years old. All had known underlying health conditions.

01:15 PM

UK ‘ready to support’ Lebanon after Beirut blast, says minister

The UK Government is “ready to support” Lebanon after the massive blast in Beirut yesterday, which has killed at least 100 people, a minister has said. 

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, said a further announcement would be made today, confirming that the Prime Minister of Lebanon, Hassan Diab, has asked for support in dealing with the impact of the explosion.

He told Sky News: “Ministers and officials are urgently working out what can do to support” the country, and this would include “technical and financial” measures.

Mr Gibb also said all embassy staff based in Beirut are accounted for but was unable to the confirm numbers of Britons that might have been caught up in the blast. 

12:58 PM

Sweden suffers record plunge despite lighter lockdown 

Sweden’s light-touch lockdown failed to spare its economy from a historic plunge in GDP as Covid-19 triggered a collapse in exports and spending.

Output contracted by a record 8.6pc in the second quarter compared with the previous three months, but the Nordic nation suffered a much smaller hit than many other European economies.

My colleague Tom Rees has the story.

12:44 PM

Mobilise Navy to help Beirut, says Foreign Affairs Committee chair

The Royal Navy should be mobilised to support reconstruction efforts in Beirut, a senior Conservative MP has said.

Tom Tugendhat, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, told the BBC’s World at One programme: “Beirut has been a haven of tranquillity in a very troubled region for many hundreds of years.

“To find it now in such a rocky road is extremely worrying for all of us.

“We need to try and get the Royal Navy and other naval assistance in to reopen the port as quickly as possible so that we can get food and fuel and medical supplies in.”

12:42 PM

Aberdeen lockdown ‘a devastating blow’, says tourism and hospitality bodies

Tourism and hospitality groups have said the decision to impose a local lockdown in Aberdeen is a “devastating blow” to the firms who have only just reopened. 

Pubs, cafes and restaurants are among the businesses that must shut in the city from 5pm today, following an outbreak linked to multiple outlets. 

The Scottish Tourism Alliance and UK Hospitality said in a joint statement that this should serve “as an example of how quickly the virus can reignite and illustrates the immediate impact that this has on a local economy and public health”.

They added: “It is absolutely critical that all businesses and customers follow the government guidelines and safety protocols stringently and that we safeguard as best as we can to prevent this situation happening elsewhere in the country.

“Today’s news comes as a shock and should serve as a reminder that disregarding these guidelines has almost immediate consequences, however we must also recognise that many people and businesses are enjoying the easing of restrictions in a safe way that poses little threat to public safety.”

12:32 PM

Angela Epstein: Shutting down pubs to save our schools would be a myopic zero-sum game

Given the choice between a glass of red and spending one more minute homeschooling,  it’s not difficult to predict how many parents would already be reaching for the bottle opener. And who could blame them?  

Indeed, as children’s commissioner Anne Longfield admits  in a briefing paper published today,  our youngsters were too often “an afterthought” during the first phase of lockdown. 

But, writes Angela Epstein, there are aspects in Longfield’s thesis which are deeply troubling  – not least her argument that if any local or national lockdown takes place, schools must stay open ahead of pubs, restaurants and non-essential shops.

12:18 PM

Shielding people ‘facing impossible choice’ between health and income, says Labour

The Government’s lack of support for people who have been shielding is leaving them “facing an impossible choice between their health and their livelihood”, Labour has claimed. 

Figures published by the ONS this morning showed nearly a third of shielding people feel uncomfortable returning to work and one in 20 are planning not to return to work.

Vicky Foxcroft, shadow minister for disabled people, said the statistics “confirm what Labour has been warning for some time”. 

She added: “The Government must publish the scientific advice it has received confirming it is safe for disabled and clinically vulnerable people to stop shielding.

“They must urgently confirm how those who cannot return to their workplace will be supported, how many people this affects and what steps they are taking to communicate this to the shielding community.”

12:07 PM

Scottish factory to expand after Government invests in coronavirus vaccine

A factory in West Lothian is expanding as part of a deal to secure 60 million doses of a coronavirus vaccine candidate developed by the French firm Valneva.

The UK Government and the drugs firm are investing in the Livingston plant, with 75 new jobs expected to be created.

The Government had struck a deal for early access to Valneva’s “promising” vaccine candidate.

If clinical trials are successful, the site could provide up to 100 million doses of the vaccine across the UK and internationally.

Speaking on the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme ahead of his visit, Alok Sharma said the French company hoped to secure regulatory approval for its vaccine in the second half of next year.

The Business Secretary said: “We’re looking at a whole range of ways we can support and bring forward a successful vaccine, in addition to that we’re also investing in manufacturing in the UK and supporting the international effort.”

12:01 PM

Pub crawls could be banned after Aberdeen outbreak, Nicola Sturgeon hints

Nicola Sturgeon has hinted that she may ban pub crawls, after the Aberdeen outbreak was linked to more than 20 pubs and bars. 

The First Minister told the daily press briefing: “It could be that what we see here is a pattern that has involved people going from one pub to another on the same night.

“Now, it may be that we have to look at some of those lessons to think about whether we need to tighten up some of the restrictions about how hospitality is operating across the wider country.”

11:47 AM

Aberdeen lockdown will ‘protect’ Scotland’s schools, Nicola Sturgeon says

Imposing a local lockdown on Aberdeen will give the Scottish government “the time and space” to ensure children can return to schools as planned, Nicola Sturgeon has said. 

Schools are due to start returning from August 11 in Scotland, with the aim of being fully reopened by August 18. 

The First Minister told the briefing that she was aware the changes were”deeply, deeply unwelcome news”.

She added: “The last thing we want to do is to reimpose these restrictions but this outbreak is reminding us just how highly infectious Covid is. Our precautionary and careful judgement is that we need to take decisive action now, difficult as that undoubtedly is, in order to try to contain this outbreak and prevent further harm later on.

“As I said earlier, this is about doing all we can to ensure our children can return to schools next week.”

She added: “Acting now, we judge, gives us the time and the space to protect the ability of our young people to return to education.”

11:42 AM

New Scottish Tories leader pledges ‘fresh start for our country’

Douglas Ross has been named the new leader of the Scottish Conservatives, as his bid went uncontested by fellow Tories. 

Mr Ross, who resigned as a junior minister over the Dominic Cummings row, replaces Jackson Carlaw who quit suddenly after just six months in the job. 

Here’s what Mr Ross has to say about his new role. 

11:36 AM

No coronavirus deaths for 20 days in a row in Scotland

There have been no coronavirus deaths in Scotland for the 20th day in a row, Nicola Sturgeon has said, during her daily coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh.

A total of 2,491 patients have died in Scotland after testing positive for Covid-19.

Ms Sturgeon said 18,781 people have tested positive for the virus, up by 64 from 18,717 the day before.

There were 267 people in hospital with confirmed Covid-19, down by three.

Of these, three were in intensive care, no change.

The First Minister has imposed a new local lockdown on Aberdeen after a cluster of cases were identified. 

11:34 AM

Aderdeen lockdown will last at least a week, says Nicola Sturgeon

A five-mile travel ban has been put in place around Aberdeen, and residents are being told not to enter each other’s houses, as the Scottish government imposes a local lockdown on the city.

All indoor and outdoor hospitality has also been told to close by 5pm today.

The closure will be backed by governmental regulations, Nicola Sturgeon said, and will be enforced if the rules are not followed.

The First Minister added that the changes will be reviewed next Wednesday, when she hoped that they could be removed if they could, either in entirety or in part.

However, they could be extended beyond that seven-day period.

11:28 AM

Have your say on: business rates reform

This morning, we are reporting that Rishi Sunak is considering an increase in business rates for the “most valuable properties”, despite fears that the move could hurt firms already struggling amid the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The Chancellor has asked for industry feedback on whether high end shops, offices and other large premises should pay a new, higher business rate, with responses due ahead of the autumn Budget.

Feedback is also being sought for an online sales tax and scrapping business rates altogether and replacing them with a “capital values tax”, which would be based on the value of land and the buildings on it. 

Which do you think is the right way forward? Have your say in the poll below.

11:23 AM

Local lockdown to be imposed on Aberdeen, Nicola Sturgeon confirms

Lockdown restrictions are to be reimposed on the Aberdeen area after 54 new cases emerged in a cornavirus cluster, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has said.

Speaking at the coronavirus briefing in Edinburgh, she said  the rise in cases has contributed to a greater fear their was a “significant outbreak” in the city.

So far 191 contacts have been traced in relation to the cluster.

According to the First Minister, more than 20 other pubs and restaurants are involved in the cluster.

10:57 AM

Jeremy Warner: Britain must compromise on state aid for an EU deal

Whatever happened to Brexit? Don’t worry, it’s still ticking away beneath the hysteria of Covid-19, even if for now it is a largely forgotten sidewater of the pandemic-dominated, rolling 24-hour news agenda.

Yet the transition is fast approaching its end, and one way or another, Britain will be fully out of the EU’s single market come January 1 next year. Like it or not, we’ll soon be talking Brexit again.

Jeremy Warner argues that to leave without any kind of a deal would be to pile Mount Pelion on Mount Ossa – yet for now, it still seems all too possible. Read why here. 

10:40 AM

Beirut blast leaves 300,000 people homeless, says city governor

The Governor of Beirut has said that 300,000 people have been left homeless after an enormous explosion tore across the city, killing at least a hundred people and wounding thousands. 

Marwan Abboud added that around half of the city had been damaged by the explosion, amid warnings that the death toll was likely to raise far beyond 100, with many victims still trapped under rubble. 

We will be covering the UK response here but please read our Beirut live blog for the latest updates from the Lebanese capital. 

10:34 AM

Mourners gather for John Hume’s funeral

The funeral of John Hume, who was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, is taking place this morning. 

Among those arriving for the funeral at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Derry/Londonderry, include local musician Phil Coulter, who is expected to play The Town I Loved So Well at the end of the service.

First Minister Arlene Foster visited the Guildhall ahead of the funeral to sign the book of condolence for Mr Hume.

Ahead of the service, Pope Francis paid tribute to Mr Hume.

A statement from the Vatican said: “His Holiness Pope Francis was saddened to learn of the death of John Hume, and sends the assurance of his prayers to his family and to all who mourn his loss.

“Mindful of the Christian faith that inspired John Hume’s untiring efforts to promote dialogue, reconciliation and peace among the people of Northern Ireland, his Holiness commends his noble soul to the loving mercy of Almighty God.”

A message from the Dalai Lama will also be read during the service.

Patricia Hume (second right) arrives at St Eugene's Cathedral in Londonderry for the funeral of her husband John Hume - PA
Patricia Hume (second right) arrives at St Eugene’s Cathedral in Londonderry for the funeral of her husband John Hume – PA

10:19 AM

World has ‘forgotten Lebanon’ until now, says Labour’s Lisa Nandy

The UK must “not be complacent” about helping Lebanon recover from the Beirut blast, Labour has said, with the shadow foreign secretary calling for a “longer-term strategy” to support the country through multiple challenges. 

Lisa Nandy told Sky News the scale of suffering required an immediate response, including food and medicine. 

She praised the response so far, including from France, which has already started to provide support, saying she hoped the UK would be able to do likewise “later today”. 

But she noted that Lebanon’s problems went much deeper than the blast, saying the country was “already reeling from government that was barely functioning, a Covid crisis that had hit them particularly hard and an economic crisis”. 

The Syrian conflict had been having a “huge impact too”, with Lebanon “shouldering a huge responsibility on behalf of the rest of the world”, Ms Nandy said, adding: “The world really does have to come together and unite to try and find a resolution to this.”

She said: “There is a sense that the world has forgotten about Lebanon.”

10:09 AM

‘Perfect storm’ facing Scottish universities to be probed by MPs

MPs are to probe the future funding of Scotland’s universities, as the sector faces “a perfect storm” of challenges exacerbated by the pandemic. 

Scottish and EU students do not pay tuition fees in Scotland, but with international students staying away there is now a potential shortfall of up to £651m.

The current crisis has already triggered interventions by both the UK and Scottish Governments to support research, institutions and student support, but questions remain over whether it will be enough.   

The Chair of the Scottish Affairs Committee, Pete Wishart MP said: “The pandemic has helped create a perfect storm that could see universities in Scotland pushed to the brink, some may even fall, without careful consideration of policies that help to re-establish their foundations.

“The consequences of not doing so risks derailing the Government’s ambition to level up the UK, could deny a new generation of young people the opportunity to get on in life, and would hamper the quality of research on the international stage.” 

10:03 AM

Government’s handling of pandemic like a pantomime, says Equity head

The Government’s handling of the coronavirus crisis has been compared to a “pantomime” by the head of a performance art union. 

Paul Fleming, incoming general secretary of Equity, told the BBC more state funding was needed to keep the arts going through the pandemic.

Mr Fleming said: “Perhaps the reason why the government is less than bothered about reopening pantomime is because they’ve had enough of it themselves – [in managing] the whole thing from start to finish.”

He called for greater “clarity” on when theatres, circuses, concert halls and other venues can reopen in England.

09:46 AM

Useful idiots like Jeremy Corbyn are making the lives of Britain’s enemies easier

Given the questionable company Jeremy Corbyn has kept throughout his political career, it is no surprise that he should find himself at the centre of a Russian email-hacking scandal.

As Con Coughlin writes, the former Labour leader’s use in the election of government documents stolen by Russia is just one example of him helping Britain’s enemies.

09:33 AM

Have your say on: business rates reform

This morning, we are reporting that Rishi Sunak is considering an increase in business rates for the “most valuable properties”, despite fears that the move could hurt firms already struggling amid the effects of the coronavirus crisis.

The Chancellor has asked for industry feedback on whether high end shops, offices and other large premises should pay a new, higher business rate, with responses due ahead of the autumn Budget.

Feedback is also being sought for an online sales tax and scrapping business rates altogether and replacing them with a “capital values tax”, which would be based on the value of land and the buildings on it. 

Which do you think is the right way forward? Have your say in the poll below.

09:09 AM

Huawei wan will not cause long-term damage to UK, IT professionals believe

The majority of IT professionals do not believe the UK’s decision to ban Huawei from 5G will cause long-term damage to the country, new research indicates.

Following the Government’s decision to strip out Huawei equipment by 2027, the Chinese company warned it would “move Britain into the digital slow lane, push up bills and deepen the digital divide”.

However, a survey by BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT, found that 53 per cent of IT professionals do not agree with that statement, while just over half (51 per cent) said they felt Huawei’s removal would make the UK network safer.

The Government’s decision on Huawei followed advice from the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC), which said US sanctions imposed on the firm would compromise its ability to safely be a part of 5G networks.

The survey of just under 3,000 industry professionals, carried out in response to the decision, found that 48 per cent felt that the 2027 target was feasible, compared to 27 per cent who said they felt it would not be possible.

09:00 AM

Boris Johnson, Dominic Cummings and Donald Trump in new Spitting Image series

Boris Johnson, his chief adviser Dominic Cummings and the Duke of York feature among the latest Spitting Image puppets unveiled ahead of the show’s return.

The satirical series will air later this year on BritBox after originally running for 18 series between 1984 and 1996.

Donald Trump, Beyonce, the Duke and Duchess of Sussex, Vladimir Putin, Bernie Sanders, Elon Musk, RuPaul, Adele and James Corden will also get the satirical treatment.

The show is the first original commission announced by BritBox UK, the streaming service launched by the BBC and ITV.

Dominic Cummings, I presume - Mark Harrison/BritBox/Avalon/PA
Dominic Cummings, I presume – Mark Harrison/BritBox/Avalon/PA

08:57 AM

Julia Hartley-Brewer: Forget the unions – it’s time the Government flushed out teachers who refuse to work

Charlie Mullins, the founder of Pimlico Plumbers, has told his 450 staff to get back to work or face the sack.

While applauding the Chancellor’s furlough scheme as a “much-needed lifeline”, he said it was time to “draw a line under it”, insisting that even some of his own staff had been “milking the system”, enjoying getting paid 80 per cent of their wages to “sit on their backsides”.

This, writes Julia Hartley-Brewer, is precisely the sort of ruthless straight-talking that the teachers in our state schools need to hear from the people who pay their wages.

08:49 AM

Service economy ‘seeing light at the end of the tunnel’ as sector starts to rebound

British service providers are “starting to see light at the end of the tunnel”, as the sector expanded at its fastest rate for five years in July.

The closely-watched IHS Markit/CIPS Services purchasing managers’ index (PMI) rose to 56.5 last month from 47.1 in June as the easing of lockdown restrictions helped to drive a rebound in activity.

However, the figure was marginally lower than analysts’ expectations of 56.6.

Tim Moore, economics director at IHS Markit, said this added to “signs of recovery” already seen in manufacturing. 

He added: “UK service providers are starting to see light at the end of the tunnel after a record slump in business activity during the second quarter of 2020… Higher levels of service sector output were almost exclusively linked to the reopening of the UK economy after lockdown measures and the subsequent return to work of employees and clients.

“However, these are still the very early stages of recovery and survey respondents often commented on achieving growth from an exceptionally low base.”

08:34 AM

Local leaders ‘desperately need to know game plan’ from Government, says Sadiq Khan

Sadiq Khan has said local leaders “desperately need to know what the game plan is” from the Government if they are to prepare to take effective action should the number of infections increase.

The London Mayor said he has not spoken to Prime Minister Boris Johnson since May 10.

He told Good Morning Britain it is “not good enough” to be left to talk to individual ministers who only know what is happening in their portfolio, arguing the Government would have “more difficulty” in closing down geographical areas rather than shutting down an institution.

He told Good Morning Britain: “I think we would be ready to have a lockdown of institutions – so if we had, God forbid, an increase to do with a factory or at a school or an individual place of worship – we think we would have good plans with the councils to close buildings.

“We are served by four airports and the Eurostar, so if they (the Government) talked to me and talked to London leaders, we could explain some of the complexities and work through them.

“None of this insurmountable. but let’s work together.”

08:26 AM

Labour demands Boris Johnson block peerage for Claire Fox

Labour has demanded that Boris Johnson block Claire Fox’s peerage over the former MEP’s historical support for the IRA attack in Warrington, which killed two children. 

Warrington North MP Charlotte Nichols has written to the Prime Minister asking him to intervene after Colin Parry, whose 12-year-old son Tim was killed in the bombing, said the decision to make Ms Fox a peer had offended him “deeply”.

At the time, Ms Fox was a leading figure of the Revolutionary Communist Party which defended ‘the right of the Irish people to take whatever measures are necessary in their struggle for freedom’.

Labour’s deputy leader Angela Rayner said it was “an insult to the people of the North West” which has “rightly caused revulsion and real hurt both in Warrington and across our region”.

She added: “The Prime Minister is showing crass insensitivity to the families of those who lost their lives in 1993 and countless others whose lives were changed forever that day, and as a result of the IRA attack in Manchester city centre in 1996.

“If the Prime Minister refuses to block this nomination he is showing that he doesn’t care about the victims and survivors of terrorism in our communities.”

08:15 AM

Philip Johnston: Dominic Cummings’ planning overhaul will provoke Tory shires into outright rebellion

When governments talk of “radical overhauls”, they usually mean some modest tinkering dressed up as something fundamental.

But the planning shake-up outlined by Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, and to be published tomorrow really is radical in the literal sense because it will tear up the existing system by the roots and start all over again.

The aims are laudable but, as Philip Johnston warns, are almost certainly unachievable without causing an almighty backlash, principally from the Conservative party’s core voters. Read why here.

08:03 AM

Sadiq Khan contradicts minister over lockdown communication claims

Sadiq Khan has said he first heard about plans to seal off London in the event of a second wave in the Sunday newspapers, contradicting claims made by a minister yesterday. 

The capital’s mayor said the plan, which suggests closing London down and sealing it off from the M25 inwards, had not been discussed with himself, the 32 council leaders or any other local leaders.

He told Good Morning Britain: “You have seen the chaos in Greater Manchester, in parts of Yorkshire, Lancashire and previously in parts of Leicester from confused communication from the Government.

“It is really important, and this is not a party political point, that the Conservative Government, the Labour mayor and all of us put aside party differences and work together for the greater good.”

Yesterday Simon Clarke, the local government minister, argued local leaders were being constantly updated on Downing Street’s plans, suggesting opposition parties were trying to “score points”. 

07:51 AM

Government working ‘at speed’ on package for Lebanon, says Business Secretary

The UK Government is “working quickly and at speed to look at a package of support” after the tragedy in Lebanon, the Business Secretary has said.

Speaking to the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland radio programme ahead of a visit to Livingston, Alok Sharma said: “It is a terrible tragedy that’s unfolded in Lebanon and of course our thoughts are very much of those who have been injured and of course with the families of those who have lost their lives.

“The Government there is looking to see what has happened and we will have to wait to see what comes out of that.

“But of course we’ve been very clear that we want to support that country at this particular time and we’re working quickly and at speed to look at a package of support for them.

“It is a very, very challenging time for people in Lebanon, in Beirut, and we understand the urgency of the situation.

“I hope very, very shortly the UK Government will be able to set out precisely what we will be doing in providing support for them.”

07:40 AM

Home Affairs Committee chair attacks Government over ‘serious error’ on quarantine

The Home Affairs Committee chair has attacked the Government over a “serious error” in not imposing quarantine quicker at the start of the coronavirus outbreak, saying there was no scientific basis for the decision. 

Labour MP Yvette Cooper told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “At a time when other countries were introducing stronger border measures, the UK was lifting them and we heard detailed evidence that shows that thousands of people with Covid-19 would have arrived into the country or come back to the country at that time as a result.

“That escalated the pace and scale of the epidemic so many more people caught Covid-19.”

She added: “We saw evidence that even just a couple of days after the Government lifted their guidance you had an estimated 900 people arriving in a day with Covid-19 who then weren’t asked to isolate and we just see no science behind that decision at all.

“I think it’s that lack of science, the lack of transparency, that is so concerning.”

07:34 AM

Schools closure under lockdown ‘nuanced’ matter, says minster

Nick Gibb has not ruled out the possibility that schools might have to impose restrictions including a system where older children might be rotated in every other week. 

He told the Today programme: “We certainly want children in school… and the way we are tackling the virus nationally now is having much more granular detail.”

Through Test and Trace and the local survey tests “we can identify in much greater detail where in particular localities seeing a spike”, he added. That means authorities can “then take action with local director of public health about what restrictions we impose”. 

“People can be reassured because T&T we are able to identify where spikes are in transmission rates and then we can take action… [but] it’s a more nuanced response, it has to depend on the facts of the case.”

He added: “You can’t decree this for every single case, it will depend on the circumstances .”

07:28 AM

UK ‘stands ready’ to support Lebanon, says minister

The UK “stands ready” to support Lebanon, a minister has said, including working with allies to provide financial assistance, a minister has said. 

Nick Gibb, the schools minister, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “It is a terrible tratgey and thoughts are with Lebanon this morning. The Government is working urgently this morning on what we can do.

“There will be further announcements this morning about what support we are giving to Lebanon.”

Mr Gibb said the UK had a “proud track record of helping the county, particularly dealing with Syrian refugees”, noting that the UK had given £700bn of aid since the start of the Syrian refugee crisis. 

07:22 AM

Children may have to alternate weeks in schools if R-rate rises, Prof Ferguson warns 

A former Sage scientist has said there will have to be “some tightening up” of restrictions if opening schools raises the ‘R’ number, including having children attend in alternate weeks.

Professor Neil Ferguson told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Whether, in high schools, FE colleges, it is necessary for children to go back 100 per cent or whether we can have other alternative means of provision, children being in one week and out the other week, therefore reducing contacts in school and outside school, or whether we row back on the relaxation of restrictions in the rest of society to allow schools to be fully opened, for instance social venues, leisure venues, more working from home – those things.”

Prof Fergson,who resigned after it emerged he had broken his own lockdown rules, added: “I mean that really is a policy decision, but I’m just saying, in my view, it is likely that some form of those measures will be necessary to maintain control of transmission.”

On whether the virus can be controlled in winter, he added: “Things could get quite difficult. I mean, I’m reasonably confident that as long as there is the political will in place to maintain control of transmission that we can do it, we’ve have good enough surveillance now to know what is going on.”

07:19 AM

Anne Longfield ‘right’ over priority for schools, says Government minister

Children’s commissioner Anne Longfield is “right” about the need for children to return to their classrooms, a Government minister has said.

Speaking with the Telegraph, Ms Longfield said  “schools must be the first to reopen and the last to close during any local lockdowns”. 

Nick Gibb told BBC Breakfast: “So far as the local restrictions at the moment are concerned, including in Manchester, all schools will be open in September and indeed in other parts where they have been having lockdowns recently such as in Leicester.

“It is hugely important for children to be in school. It is best for their education. It is best for their welbeing,” he added. 

“It is better for them to be with their friends and their teachers – and that is the government’s clear policy that all children will be back in school in September.”

07:16 AM

Labour will back Government on ‘tough decisions’ to reopen schools, says shadow minister

Labour will back the Government in making tough decisions” to ensure children can get back to school in England in September, the shadow health secretary has said.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Jon Ashworth said: “I think what we really need to see now is the testing and tracing regime radically improved.

“We think that getting children back into school has to be an absolute national priority, they have to be back into school safely and we need to use these next four weeks of August to get really on top of these infections, to drive them down by improving testing and tracing.”

Mr Ashworth continued: “I can’t get ahead of the advice from Sage or the Chief Medical Officer, but quite clearly Chris Whitty said we are at the limits now of what restrictions can be eased and if tough decisions have to be made, if restrictions have to be reimposed in order to get children back into school, then of course we would accept that.”

He added that face coverings for older children in schools “should be considered”.

07:13 AM

Schools will return in September, even under local lockdowns, confirms minister

A minister has confirmed the Government’s position that all children will return to school in September, following the Telegraph’s front page story this morning.

Asked whether the Government would consider closing pubs and restaurants to ensure all children can return to school safely in September, Nick Gibb replied: “Our priority is to make sure that children are back in school with their friends.”

The schools minsiter told Sky News: “We’re very clear that all children will be returning to school in September, including in areas of local lockdown such as Greater Manchester.

“It is hugely important for children’s education, for their wellbeing, that they do return to school and schools are working enormously hard in preparation for September to make sure that the risk of transmitting the virus within the school environment is kept to an absolute minimum.”

07:11 AM

UK ‘urgently looking at how to support Lebanon’, says British ambassador 

Chris Rampling, the British ambassador to Lebanon, said the UK Government was “urgently” looking at how to support the country.

07:10 AM

Beirut blast could prompt ‘political shake-up’, says former foreign minister

Alistair Burt, the former foreign minister has said the blast in Beirut could lead to “some degree of political shake-up”. 

The politician who stood down as an MP in December said the UK should offer “whatever help and assistance is going to be necessary”, saying he was “pleased and not surprised” by Dominic Raab’s offer so far (see below). 

Asked about the causes of the explosion, he said it “may well have been an accident due to the storage of materials in the port”, adding “a level of nonchalance” may have contributed. 

He said there was “much unhappiness” with the way things were being run in Lebanon currently, adding the response to the blast “will require some degree of political shake-up as well”.

07:02 AM

‘Premature to speculate’ on causes of Beirut blast, says minister

It is “premature to speculate” on the causes of the blast in Beirut, a minister has said. 

Last night US President Donald Trump described the incident as “an attack” and referred to “a bomb of some kind.”

However US officials quickly stepped in to say there was no indication this was the case.

This morning Nick Gibb, the schools minister, told Sky News: “The Lebanese government have announced that they are conducting an inquiry and we are ready to help support the Lebanese government with any technical support that they need.

“But this is a tragedy and the Lebanese authorities are, of course, investigating the cause of that tragedy and I think before we have the results of that inquiry, I think it is premature to speculate.”

06:54 AM

‘Close shops and pubs to reopen schools,’ says Children’s Commissioner

Pubs and shops should be shut in order to reopen schools if a trade off needs to be made because of a rise in infections, the Children’s Commissioner has urged the government.

Anne Longfield said that if lockdown restrictions need to be reimposed because of local flare ups in infection rates, schools must only be closed to bring transmission down as a last resort once all other options have been exhausted.

She criticised ministers for treating children as an “afterthought” during the first lockdown, adding they must be put at the heart of planning for a second wave.

“That means schools must be the first to reopen and the last to close during any local lockdowns,” she said. “If the choice has to be made in a local area about whether to keep pubs or schools open, then schools must always take priority.”

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