The Government will make an announcement about airport testing “in the coming days”, a Treasury minister has said in the first key moment of the Conservative party conference today.
Steve Barclay, Chief Secretary to the Treasury, told Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye airport testing was a “key priority” adding that Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, to make an announcement on this “in the coming days”.
Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab is due to give his speech to the Tory conference on Saturday afternoon, with other Cabinet ministers taking part in interviews and panel events throughout the four-day event.
Read the latest updates below
Have your say: Is the virtual conference any good?
Coronavirus has forced this year’s Conservative party conference out of the hotels and halls and into an online world – with all the technical difficulties that come with it.
It will be next to impossible for ministers – even the most charismatic – to create the drama of a good speech. Although Theresa May might have wished her coughing speech could have been done in an empty room.
But does the virtual conference give you the opportunity to hear from ministers without having to drink warm wine while having your ear bent by someone who just won’t let you free?
Have your say in the poll below.
Chopper’s Politics: I know we’ll be seen as a culture wars Ukip, says Laurence Fox
Today we have a special episode of Chopper’s Politics, taking to actor and founder of a new ‘anti-woke’ political party, Laurence Fox.
In an exclusive, no-holds-barred interview, the actor and leader of the newly-formed ‘Reclaim’ party tells Christopher Hope how he secured 10,000 supporters and a £5 million donation all before next month’s launch…
But whose voters is he hoping to poach? All is revealed within. Plus, he tells listeners how becoming an anti-woke figurehead has had a ‘devastating effect’ on his acting career, and shares the unexpectedly touching story behind his two rather imposing new hand tattoos.
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Getting coronavirus rates down ‘key’ to celebrating Christmas, says minister
The “key” to being able to celebrate Christmas is for the country to get the rates of coronavirus down, Steve Barclay has said.
Although Christmas is “some weeks away”, he said Government was very focused on the period, including Department for Transport.
He suggested there could be some local interventions – but in an interview last night the Prime Minister hinted that he wanted to suspend the rule of six for the festive period.
Will the virtual conference lead to virtual plotting?
Conservative party conferences are always great opportunities for trouble-making.
Three years ago I remember seeing Grant Shapps buzzing around the bars chatting to backbenchers as he sought to build support for what was ultimately his futile rebellion against Theresa May.
He wasn’t alone in using the opportunity of late night drinking to plot against the given leader taking the party in a direction that MPs don’t like. So Boris Johnson might be somewhat relieved that his backbenchers will only be able to do so remotely.
Unfortunately for him, it does seem as though some MPs are happy to make their concerns known publicly.
Read the article Bob Seely has tweeted here: Boris Johnson’s ‘strongman’ Government is destroying democracy
Lords should listen to MPs on the Internal Market Bill, former Brexit secretary says
The House of Lords should back the Internal Market Bill (UKIM), a Treasury minister has said.
Steve Barclay warned peers against voting the controversial bill down, saying they should pay attention to what had happened in the Commons, where MPs “had spoken very clearly”.
“What I would point to is the fact that the UKIM was passed with a very large majority in the House of Commons,” he said.
During the Brexit wars of 2019 Mr Barclay said peers had told him “it was really important to listen to the will of the House and to listen to the decision of what the House of Commons was.”
“I hope their lordships will be consistent in that, and given the bill has passed with a very large majority then I think the same arguments that they applied when considering the Benn amendment and the Cooper amendment, under the previous prime minister, I think many of those arguments are the same, that one should listen to the voice of the House of Commons, and I think on the Internal Market bill it has spoken very clearly.”
The Brexit negotiations are making “good progress” but there are still outstanding issues on key areas including fisheries, he added.
Planning algorithm will help ‘flush out issues’ on building, despite looming rebellion, says minister
The planning algorithm is an opportunity to “flush out the issues” that local MPs might have around further house-building – but the country needs more homes, a Treasury minister has said.
Steve Barclay was asked about the looming rebellion over the use of yet another controversial algorithm, this time to determine how many houses are built in any particular area.
The chief secretary to the Treasury said: “We need to build more, we need to build more housing. I can’t say as someone who has a house that I am against more housing… but we need to build good-quality housing, in areas that deliver.”
He added: “In terms of the party and the algorithm – it’s a consultation… clearly when discussing the algorithm, we need to understand how local factors are weighted and it will allow us to flush out these issues.”
Mr Barclay defended the overall use of algorithms – despite widespread criticism of the chaos caused by the exams one during the summer – although stressed ministers must be aware of their “limitations”.
Government accused of creating “Soviet-style targets” with planning algorithm
Government wants to ditch ‘endless reports from consultants’ on Project Speed
The Government is looking to strip out the red tape and “endless reports from consultants” in a bid to cut the time it takes to get things done under a new initiative called Project Speed.
Steve Barclay, the chief secretary to the Treasury, told the virtual Conservative party that this project was aimed at any thing that “just takes far too long”, from road schemes to building to setting up businesses.
He said: “We need to take a look at how we speed that up – from the planning laws, over reliance on endless reports from consultants to regulatory constraints.
“Project Speed is looking across the piece how do we do things better and setting a business up is a good example of that,” he added.
Culture Secretary ‘very much prioritising’ improved internet connection, says minister
Oliver Dowden is “very much prioritising” improved internet connection, in light of the increased numbers of people working from home, a Treasury minister has said.
Steve Barclay told the Conservative party conference that he had been discussing a “wider package” with the Culture Secretary in the context of the Comprehensive Spending Review.
“What Covid has highlighted… is the importance of those connections,” he added.
The MP for North East Cambridgeshire said he was particularly “alive” to the fact that his own constituents did not have the best connections and that this was an issue for other rural residents.
“Is it a focus – yes it is – and it is something I know Oliver Dowden is very much prioritising,” he says.
Coronavirus lockdowns could be longer than six months, Treasury minister admits
Coronavirus could be with us for longer than six months before a vaccine rides to the rescue, a Treasury minister has warned.
Steve Barclay, the chief secretary to the Treasury, said the pandemic would be with us for “at least” six months, adding: “It could be longer, we don’t know.”
But when a vaccine is found, “we need to be at the front of the pack”, he added.
The uncertainty about when the comes means the country must “ensure businesses can operate in a Covid-safe way,” he added, and that any lockdowns were introduced as “targeted interventions”, he added.
Matt Hancock will be unveiling a “three tiered approach so can be much more targeted”, he noted.
‘Traffic light’ system to govern local coronavirus lockdowns in England – what would your area be?
Tories ‘back the NHS absolutely’, says Treasury minister
The pandemic has demonstrated how the “Conservative party backs the NHS absolutely”, a Treasury minister has said.
Steve Barclay said support for the health service announced by Boris Johnson and Rishi Sunak throughout the crisis – most recently yesterday – “reinforced” the that the Tories supported the health service, contrary to some of the suggestions made by the Labour party, particularly during last year’s General Election.
“Conservative members can take huge pride in the fact that at its time of need, the Conservative party has stood with the NHS,” he told the virtual conference. The Government had “backed it to the hilt”, he added.
Yesterday the Prime Minister published a list of the long-promised 40 new NHS hospitals that will be built by 2030, part of the “unite and level up agenda” that will be refreshed and re-promoted at the conference.
Government trying to reduce ‘real economic scarring’ from Covid, says Steve Barclay
The Government is trying to reduce the amount of time people are unemployed for, as well as the number of jobs lost overall, a Treasury minister has said.
Steve Barclay told the Conservative party conference that furlough could not be extended because there was no sense of where it would end.
“Does that mean extending furlough until there is a vaccine? Well for HIV we don’t have a vaccine… [or] they would say targeted – well, targeted to which sectors? And what about the supply chain – are you going to support those businesses as well?”
“The furlough was an initial response to retain that link between employee and business, so businesses can bounce back [but] as the virus is going to be around for longer than we initially feared it is right for the taxpayer… and the employee as well,” to move onto the “second phase”.
“If you are out of the workplace for very long time that is not good, so we are trying to not just mitigate how many people are unemployed but how long they are unemployed for.”
“That is what has the real economic scarring. That is the strategy behind what we are doing.”
Tories to announce new Leeds headquarters following ‘blue wall’ election success
The Tories will open a new headquarters in Leeds in a bid to deliver for the “blue wall” areas that voted for Boris Johnson at the last election, the party’s virtual conference will be told.
A host of seats across the north of England, Midlands and parts of Wales voted Conservative, some of them for the first time in their history, at the 2019 general election, giving the Prime Minister a landslide victory.
Amanda Milling, co-chair of the party, is set to open the Tory conference on Saturday with the announcement that staff will be moved to Leeds in order to focus attention on the region.
“We are determined to show our commitment to the blue wall seats,” Ms Milling is expected to say.
“That’s why I am thrilled to announce that CCHQ (Conservative Campaign HQ) will be opening a headquarters in Leeds. This new headquarters will provide the party with a base at the heart of the blue wall because we’re in it for the long haul.
“We’re determined to make the blue wall part of the fabric of our party and our country. The best way we can deliver for people there is to be there.”
The party said it was aiming to have the headquarters open next year.
Its current base is in Matthew Parker Street, located close to Westminster.
Ms Milling is set to add: “Leeds is a key part of our plan to build back better for the people of this country and building a campaign presence there reinforces our commitment to that task.”
Steve Barclay: Parliament should have more of a voice on lockdown decisions
The Government agrees with Sir Graham Brady that Parliament should have more of a voice, Steve Barclay has said.
Speaking at the Conservative party conference, the Treasury minister said it was “important parliament has a voice” but suggested ministers would never be able to please everyone.
“One lobby group will say we are moving too fast, another will say we are moving too slow,” he notes. “But it is important that Parliament has a voice and the PM has been clear on that.”
Asked about the prospect of a second lockdown, he rolls out the usual line about not wanting to have it, but not ruling it out.
‘Scrutiny is meant to be inconvenient’: How rebels won their battle for lockdown votes
Steve Barclay: Airport testing a ‘key priority’ for Government
Steve Barclay does not give any detail of what this airport testing announcement could be, but he does highlight the programmes that are in place in other parts of the world.
He also hints there may be a two-pronged strategy, suggesting that business travellers will have different needs to tourists.
“There are a number of issues within the wider question of testing,” he says. “We are acutely aware, both in Treasury and across Government, that this is a key issue with sector and I hope the Government will be in position to say more about this in the coming days.”
He adds it is a “very live” issue and “we absolutely hear the industry”. It is a “key priority”, he adds.
Airport testing announcement to be made in ‘coming days’ says Treasury minister
Good morning from the first virtual Conservative party conference. Outside might be grim but in the virtual world the sun never sets…. or maybe that’s just conference life.
Steve Barclay has started his chat with Heathrow boss John Holland-Kaye, who has urged the Government to help make Global Britain a reality by ensuring the airport builds on its role as a hub for international travel.
He also raised testing, something he has been pleading with the Government to introduce for months.
The Treasury minister says they recognise the “strategic” importance of the airport.
He turns to testing, which he says is a “key priority”. Mr Barclay also confirms that Grant Shapps, the Transport Secretary, and Matt Hancock, the Health Secretary, to make an announcement on this “in the coming days”.
The conference is off to a strong start already.