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UK politics news – live: Anger at Tory school behaviour drive, as Galloway ‘may cost Scottish unionists seats’

Today’s daily politics briefing

Gavin Williamson has been accused of failing to do his homework on pupils’ behaviour at school, after launching a discipline drive following a year of coronavirus lockdown he claimed had “inevitably” seen a decline in standards.

The education secretary has made banning mobile phones in schools a key plank of his plan.

But headteachers have hit back, with one union saying they had reported “a sense of calm and co-operation from students that is deeply impressive”.

Meanwhile, Conservative strategists fear the return of George Galloway could rob them and other unionist parties of votes in the upcoming Holyrood elections.

The Daily Telegraph reported Tory fears that up to eight seats could be lost if Mr Galloway’s All for Unity group wins 4 per cent of votes.

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Covid vaccine passports would ‘imperil privacy of everybody’, senior Tory claims

Plans to introduce mandatory Covid vaccine “passports” to allow people to enter pubs and restaurants would “imperil the privacy of everybody”, a senior Tory has warned.

The government has said vaccine certificates could be used to help get life back to normal after the UK’s third national lockdown.

But concerns are growing that asking drinkers or diners to show proof they’ve had a vaccine or recently tested negative for the disease would breach civil libertines and lead to health databases.

David Davis, the Conservative MP for Haltemprice and Howden, welcomed the US government’s move last night to rule out Covid passports and called on the UK to follow suit.

“The US is right. A passport secure at the point of use intrinsically still creates a gateway into health databases,” he said. “This imperils the privacy of everybody, not just those carrying these passports.”

The government has ruled out certificates for essential shopping but has so far failed to set out exactly where they might be required, saying only they could benefit theatres and the hospitality industry.

Labour has accused Downing Street of creating confusion by not setting out concrete plans. Shadow health secretary Jon Ashworth said the proposals could be “discriminatory”.

Matt Mathers7 April 2021 13:31

Gavin Williamson launches pupil behaviour crackdown

Gavin Williamson has made banning mobile phones a key part of his plan to push back against bad behaviour in schools following a pandemic year which has “inevitably” affected pupils’ stuck at home.

My colleague Joe Middleton has the story:

Matt Mathers7 April 2021 13:10

Medicines regulator to give update on Oxford-AstraZeneca jab this afternoon

The UK’s medicines regulator will this afternoon give an update on its investigation into links between the Oxford-AstraZeneca jab and blood clots.

The MHRA briefing will take place at the Department of Health at 3pm and in collaboration with the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation.

It will be led by Professor Jonathan Van-Tam, deputy chief medical officer for England, Dr June Raine, chief executive of the MHRA, Sir Munir Pirmohamed, Chair of the Committee of Human Medicines, and Professor Wei Shen, chair of the JCVI.

Matt Mathers7 April 2021 12:57

Salmond attacks Sturgeon over lack of urgency on independence

Alex Salmond has accused Nicola Sturgeon of not acting urgently enough on the issue of Scottish independence.

The ex-first minister, as leader of the new pro-independence Alba Party, is trying to return to Holyrood almost seven years after stepping down as SNP leader.

In a thinly veiled attack on his successor, he told BBC Radio Scotland’s Good Morning Scotland: “I think in terms of urgency, in terms of getting on with that job, I am not certain why the case has not been pursued as urgently as it should have been over the last five years, but it should be pursued now.”

He said there was a “growing realisation in Scotland that that should be done”, adding: “People will get very frustrated if we return pro-independence majorities and nothing happens.”

The Alba Party is fielding candidates in all eight regions on Holyrood’s list ballot, and Mr Salmond believes his party can help see a “supermajority” of MSPs in favour of independence elected on 6 May.

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 12:50

‘Inflammatory’ race report could put lives of ethnic minorities at risk, health experts warn

A controversial report on racial disparities commissioned by the government used “inflammatory” language that could put the lives of minority ethnic communities “at further risk”, health experts have warned.

The Consortium of Black, Asian and minority ethnic Health Professional Networks said it is “dismayed” that the report by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities (Cred) “downplayed the significant impact of racism” in Britain.

The report said racism is a “real force” but that Britain is no longer a country where the “system is deliberately rigged against ethnic minorities”, writes Kate Ng.

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 12:39

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Tories fear return of Galloway

The return of George Galloway to the political arena could cost the Conservatives seats in Scotland’s elections, according to a report.

The ex-Labour and Respect Party MP has launched the All For Unity party north of the border.

The Daily Telegraph reported Tory strategists feared that were the new group to achieve a 4 per cent vote share across Scotland on election day, it might drain their votes.

Up to eight seats could be lost by anti-independence parties under that scenario, the paper reported.

It quoted a Conservative source as saying: “Their support is coming disproportionately from us.”

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 12:17

Williamson on anti-bad-behaviour drive and phones in school

Gavin Williamson has launched a drive against bad behaviour at school, saying the pandemic year had “inevitably” affected pupils’ discipline.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the education secretary said it was imperative to ensure “out-of-control behaviour” did not destroy learning environments.

His comments came as the Department for Education prepared to announce details of its £10m “behaviour hub” scheme, which it said would begin in time for the summer term.

Department officials have identified 22 “lead schools” with strong reputations for behaviour and discipline that can help others.

Mr Williamson has made banning mobile phones in schools a key part of his plan, saying they not only distract from “exercise and good old-fashioned play” but also foment cyber bullying and the inappropriate use of social media.

“While technology has been invaluable keeping children learning during lockdowns and we support its use, it’s now time to put the screens away, especially mobile phones,” Mr Williamson wrote, stipulating he was not referring to the controlled use of laptops of tablets in class.

He added: “Maintaining good discipline is an absolute must in any classroom and is one of our key priorities. Out-of-control behaviour will also destroy the wholesome and happy environment that every school should have, leading to bullying, and turning playgrounds from a place of joy to a jungle.

“That’s why I am totally behind schools and colleges taking firm action to create a disciplined and calm environment, and putting in place a strong behaviour culture where students are taught how to behave well and are clear about what is expected of them.”

“Quite contrary to what Mr Williamson has said, heads are reporting a sense of calm and co-operation from students that is deeply impressive. Young people are relaxed and pleased to be back at school and, most importantly, behaviour has never been better.

“There are much bigger fish needing to be fried by the Government, not least the perilous state of education funding and the arrangements for next year’s GCSE and A-levels.”

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 12:01

Northern Ireland Protocol: Critics and protesters ‘offer no alternative’, says EU ambassador

Politicians who want to scrap the Northern Ireland protocol have failed to come up with a better alternative, the EU ambassador to the UK has said, amid an outbreak of violence in the province.

João Vale de Almeida said Conservative MPs and unionist leaders who have railed against the trade border in the Irish Sea must focus on making current Brexit arrangement work.

“Even those who attack the protocol today, who would like to see it scrapped, have no alternative to the protocol,” he said. “So that what should be our focus. Our focus should be to implement the protocol.”

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 11:52

UK rushing to ‘abandon human rights’, Amnesty report warns

The UK has long been “moving in the wrong direction on human rights” but matters are now “speeding towards a cliff edge”, Amnesty International has warned.

In the organisation’s 408-page annual human rights report, the UK received strong criticism for its perceived mishandling of the coronavirus pandemic, writes Rory Sullivan.

Amnesty International took aim at the country’s “extremely high” death toll and the fact that care home residents’ rights to health and life were violated by inadequate PPE and coronavirus testing.

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 11:30

Leeds Bradford Airport: government delays decision on controversial expansion

A £150m proposal to transform Leeds Bradford Airport into what would be the north’s second busiest hub has been delayed to allow the government more time to consider it, writes Colin Drury.

Plans to replace the old Sixties terminal with an entirely new building – part of a scheme to accommodate an extra 3 million passengers a year – were approved by Leeds City Council in February.

But the decision was referred to the government amid major concerns that the development – and the resulting pollution – would devastate the UK’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2050.

Jon Sharman7 April 2021 11:04