s we didn’t have enough to worry about. Kim Jong-un has vowed to expand North Korea’s nuclear weapons capacity, as he appeared to break down and cry during a public performance. Our health secretary Matt Hancock knows a bit about that – crying in public (not the nuclear weapons stuff). Thankfully, Hancock has vowed to expand the UK’s vaccine capacity, and is all set to reveal how every adult will get the jab by autumn.
Inside the bubble
Political editor Andrew Woodcock on what to look out for on Monday:
MPs return from their interrupted Christmas break, with the Commons sitting from 2.30pm. NHS England chief Simon Stevens and vaccine taskforce chair Kate Bingham will give evidence to the public accounts committee, and Matt Hancock will lead a press conference on the vaccination programme later.
KEEPER OF THE KEYSTONE: Health secretary Matt Hancock will set out a vaccine delivery plan later today, promising the proposals would be the “keystone of our exit out of the pandemic”. Hancock said the UK was now “on course” to hit its two million vaccines per week and pledged every adult will be offered a jab “by the autumn”. Is he being too optimistic? Hancock acknowledged the NHS “probably under the greatest pressure it ever has been” – but claimed we’re all heading for a “brilliant summer” once the most important jabs are done. “I’ve booked my cottage in Cornwall,” he said. Even Boris Johnson is said to label “any overly optimistic statement ‘Hancockian’,” according to The Sunday Times. It emerged Tony Blair has been advising Hancock on his pandemic strategy. Perhaps he could a few pointers in expectation management? Reports on Sunday suggest 23 March is a realistic end date to the lockdown, while pubs may not re-open until the May Day bank holiday.
JOLT FROM THE BLUE: Downing Street is said to be alarmed by internal data on poor levels of compliance with lockdown. “To be frank, the public need a massive jolt,” one No 10 official said. In new guidance to police chiefs, officers will be asked to impose £200 fines for non-breaches after just one warning. Supermarkets could be legally required to enforce mask wearing, says The Times this morning – while mandatory mask-wearing in offices is thought to be under consideration. Also being discussed is a ban on people from different households exercising together. Keir Starmer said nurseries “probably should be closed”, and the Labour leader has the uncanny knack of getting in front of inevitable changes. As seven new “mass” vaccination centres open this week, some people have expressed confusion over NHS letters asking them to travel to miles away from their homes. A repeat of the testing debacle ahead?
GREAT ROCK AND ROLL SWINDLE: Top musicians are reacting with fury over news the government “rejected” an offer from the EU to waive touring visas for British musicians – revealed by The Independent at the weekend. Radiohead frontman Thom Yorke called the government “spineless f***s” in a tweet, while former Charlatans singer Tim Burgess said the industry was “owed an explanation” by No 10. The Independent understands it was turned down because the government insisted on denying that same right to EU artists visiting the UK. Meanwhile, Keir Starmer risked the ire of Europhiles by dropping his pledge to reintroduce free movement with the EU if Labour wins the next election. He told Andrew Marr said there wasn’t much of an argument for “reopening those aspects” of the deal, adding: “Pretending to the British public that somehow after four years of negotiation, the treaty that’s just been secured is up for grabs … that is not realistic.”
FOOLS’ RULES: Starmer seems to be assuming there won’t be any major problems with the Brexit deal. Let’s wait and see about that. Manufacturing and trade bodies have told Michael Gove to help sort out the “baffling” mess of rules which threatens trade with the EU. Dominic Goudie, from the Food and Drink Federation, said things were so bad that implementation talks should start up with Brussels. “He [Gove] seemed to realise the full gravity of the situation that is unfolding,” one source told The Observer on a crisis meeting at the end of last week. Traders are highlighting the sheer complexity of “rules of origin” arrangements – which means only goods made up largely of stuff originating in the UK actually qualify as tariff-free. British seafood firms face risk of collapse because of red tape, according to Scotland Food & Drink, and the British Meat Processors Association said new systems were posing “a severe challenge … to the smooth running of the nation’s food supply chain”.
FAMILY MAN: Keir Starmer will try to grab some headlines today by urging the government to “protect family incomes” and drop the “absurd” council tax rises coming in spring. In his first speech of 2021, he will also demand teachers, forces personnel and care workers are immune to the sector pay freeze. Elsewhere today, expect returning MPs to weigh in on social media censorship and regulation. Matt Hancock said the Twitter and Facebook bans imposed on Donald Trump raise a “very big question” about how the tech giants operate. The minister said they were now “taking editorial decisions” which was likely to have “consequences” for how they are governed. Meanwhile John Bercow has had a go at Theresa May for her “breathless” wooing of Trump during the early days of his presidency. Bercow suggested she set the tone by being too eager to “pay homage” to the tyrant.
THEY SAID YOU WAS HIGH CLASS: Good to know Donald Trump has his priorities straight. As he watched his fanboys storm the US Capitol, the president was said to be distressed about how members of the mob appeared to be “low class”. The snooty demagogue faces the start of impeachment proceedings today, with Democrats in the House of Representatives initially seeking a vote on a resolution calling on Mike Pence to remove the monster’s presidential powers. I wouldn’t get too excited about it. House whip James Clyburn revealed that despite a vote on an article of impeachment being likely this week, the party may not send it to the Senate for trial until after Trump leaves office. Pence hasn’t ruled out using the 25th Amendment to oust his boss, according to reports. He is said to be keeping it if Trump becomes even more unstable in the coming days.
On the record
“I’m very conscious of the fact that everything I’m doing, everything the Labour Party is doing is focused on winning an election in 2024.”
Keir Starmer explains his stance on the Brexit deal
From the Twitterati
“Music is one of Manchester’s, and Britain’s, best exports. A visa-free deal for musicians would have been massively more beneficial to the UK than the EU. This needs to be looked at again.”
Andy Burnham wants a U-turn on visa-free tours for British artists…
“Wtf??? Why the hell is this government so keen on destroying the music industry??? They give no money to struggling artists … and then this after lockdown robs musicians of live performance income. Why???”
…and Ivor Novello-winning musician Nitin Sawhney is angry.
John Rentoul, The Independent: How might people change their minds about Brexit?
Rosie Duffield, The Independent: I’m worried the Brexit deal will come back to haunt Labour. I hope I’m wrong
Nick Cohen, The Guardian: Gove and co were thrilled to be close to Trump – now see them run
Chris Cillizza, CNN: Trump is over? Not so fast
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