UK

Sunak ‘to extend furlough’ as No 10 refuses to deny ‘charity plan’ to renovate PM’s flat

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Rishi Sunak’s ‘vain’ Budget promo video mocked

Rishi Sunak is expected to extend the government’s furlough scheme when he sets out his Budget in the House of Commons on Wednesday.

Business secretary Kwasi Kwarteng told BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning the extension is likely to come with “other measures” when Mr Sunak addresses parliament. Mr Kwarteng played down the prospect of immediate large tax increases but said Mr Sunak had acknowledged the country could not “go on spending money forever”.

The Labour Party has said it would focus on recovering from the Covid crisis before raising corporation tax at a later date in a bid to boost the public purse.

Meanwhile, Boris Johnson is believed to be trying to set up a charity to help pay for a costly makeover of his Downing Street flat, after protesting at the huge bill.

The prime minister complained the cost of the refurbishment – carried out by his fiancée Carrie Symonds – was “totally out of control” and running to “tens and tens of thousands”, it was reported.

Mr Johnson’s official spokesman did not deny the reports. He told reporters: “Downing Street is a working building, as has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishment and maintenance are made periodically.”

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Search for missing patient narrowed to 379 households, Matt Hancock says

Health officials are closing in on the mystery missing patient with the more virulent Brazilian variant of Covid-19, Matt Hancock says.

The search has “narrowed down to 379 households in the south-east”, the health secretary told MPs, adding: “We are contacting each one.”

Deputy political editor Rob Merrick has more on this story:

Matt Mathers2 March 2021 15:17

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Suella Braverman becomes first Cabinet minister to go on maternity leave

Suella Braverman is the first cabinet minister to take maternity leave while retaining her position, after the government brought in legislation to change rules which required her to resign in order to take time off after her baby is born.

Solicitor General Michael Ellis has been temporarily promoted to Attorney General to cover for Ms Braverman while she takes maternity leave.

An announcement today revealed that she will be designated Minister on Leave (Attorney General) during her time away from her post as the government’s most senior law officer.

Her deputy Mr Ellis is expected to perform the role of Attorney General for six months, while prisons minister Lucy Frazer takes his role as Solicitor General for England and Wales.

Matt Mathers2 March 2021 15:04

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Pontins blacklist of people with Irish surnames ‘completely unacceptable’, says prime minister

Boris Johnson has denounced as “completely unacceptable” a blacklist of Irish surnames drawn up by Pontins to keep supposedly undesirable guests out of its holiday camps.

The list, distributed to the company’s call handlers, said that people with names like Boyle, Delaney, Gallagher, McGinley, McMahon and O’Donnell were “unwelcome” and should not be allowed to book holidays.

Political editor Andrew Woodcock has more details:

Matt Mathers2 March 2021 14:42

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Government refuses to say if MPs will be given vote on multi-billion pound aid cut

Foreign office minister James Cleverly has repeatedly refused to say whether MPs will be given a vote on a multi-billion pound cut to the UK’s aid budget after being grilled by senior Tories.

The row comes after the government reneged on a manifesto commitment to maintain overseas aid spending at 0.7 per cent of national income, cutting the budget to 0.5 per cent — around £4 billion per year.

Politics correspondent Ashley Cowburn has more details below:

Matt Mathers2 March 2021 14:18

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Johnson’s ‘charity plan’ to renovate Downing Street ‘abuse of power’, former standards chief warns

Boris Johnson would be abusing his position as prime minister if he set up a charity to help pay for a renovation of Downing Street’s flat, a former standards chief has warned.

Reports suggest Mr Johnson is trying to set up a body similar to those used by US presidents to help cover the cost of expensive refurbishments of the White House.

It would be funded by wealthy Tory party donors, according to reports.

But Sir Alistair Graham, a former chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, said the alleged plan was “monstrous”, adding that charitable donations are not designed to enhance “living standards for the prime minister and his wife.”

He told The Times: “It would seem to me an abuse of his position as prime minister. I cannot believe how it crossed his mind. If there is a need to do certain things in terms of maintenance, that should be paid out of government funds.”

Downing Street has not denied the plan, first reported by the Daily Mail.

Matt Mathers2 March 2021 13:47

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No 10 refuses to comment on PM’s plans to redecorate flat via charity

Boris Johnson’s official spokesman has refused to comment on reports that the prime minister is considering setting up a charity to pay for the refurbishment of his official flat.

It was reported in the Daily Mail that the scheme – based on one used by the White House – could be funded by wealthy Tory benefactors. The paper claimed it followed reports that Mr Johnson had complained the cost of refurbishing the flat over No 11 by his fiancee Carrie Symonds was “out of control”.

Speaking on the matter today, the PM’s spokesman said: “Matters concerning any work on Downing Street, including the residences, are covered in the Cabinet Office annual report and accounts. That is where we set out the details of what has happened.

“Downing Street is a working building, as has been the case under successive administrations, refurbishment and maintenance are made periodically.”

Here is deputy political editor Rob Merrick’s report on the claims from earlier:

Sam Hancock2 March 2021 13:05

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PM: Pontins blacklist of people with Irish surnames ‘unacceptable’

Boris Johnson has denounced as “completely unacceptable” a blacklist of Irish surnames drawn up by Pontins to keep supposedly undesirable guests out of its holiday camps.

The list, distributed to the company’s call handlers, said that people with names like Boyle, Delaney, Gallagher, McGinley, McMahon and O’Donnell were “unwelcome” and should not be allowed to book holidays.

An investigation by the Equality and Human Rights Commission found that the company had been using the blacklist as part of a policy of refusing bookings by Gypsies and Travellers to its holiday parks.

Political editor Andrew Woodcock has the full report:

Sam Hancock2 March 2021 12:55

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Johnson and Sunak want Budget to ‘unleash growth’

No 10 has revealed what Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak hope to achieve when the new Budget is announced on Wednesday.

“It is a challenging time for the public finances but what they want to be doing is unleashing growth and supporting jobs,” the PM’s press secretary Allegra Stratton told reporters earlier.

It comes following reports the chancellor is set to extend furlough support for jobs to keep workers in employment as the economy begins to reopen.

The job retention scheme – which pays up to 80 per cent of wages for staff who would otherwise be laid off – is due to expire at the end of April, but Mr Sunak is coming under intense pressure to prolong it as many businesses will still be closed at that point.

Sam Hancock2 March 2021 12:50

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Public trust ‘eroded by ministers flirting with cuts to animal welfare standards’

Trust in ministers has “eroded” due to the government’s nonchalant attitude towards diluting food and animal welfare standards in post-Brexit trade deals, an official report is warning.

An independent commission – which trade secretary Liz Truss agreed to set up – demands that protections are maintained and calls for them to be enhanced, in the years to come. It also chastises ministers for casting doubt on bans on low-quality products such as chlorinated chicken.

“With busy lives, people often don’t have the time to scrutinise what they buy and expect the reassurance that the government has this in hand,” it states.

Deputy political editor Rob Merrick reports:

Sam Hancock2 March 2021 12:44

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EU workers may ‘lose right to live in UK after returning home during Covid’

Tens of thousands of EU nationals living in the UK could lose their right to remain here after being forced to return to their home countries due to the pandemic, a new report has warned.

After as many as 1.3 million foreign workers left the UK last year – the largest exodus since the Second World War – campaigners fear that many may have intended to return to homes and jobs in Britain, but have lost their rights because they felt unable to come back within six months, at a time when Europe was under public health restrictions and travel ground to a virtual halt.

Official Home Office guidance states that an absence of more than six months from the UK as a result of the coronavirus outbreak will “not necessarily” affect a claim for “pre-settled status”, but guarantees this only for individuals whose return was delayed because they were personally ill with Covid-19, in quarantine or studying.

Political editor Andrew Woodcock has more:

Sam Hancock2 March 2021 12:35

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