Top story: ‘Systemic economic crisis’ of Covid and Brexit
Hello, Warren Murray with your Wednesday morning news. If you are new around here, don’t worry – you’ll catch on quickly.
The government has privately admitted the UK faces an increased likelihood of “systemic economic crisis” as it completes Brexit in the middle of the Covid-19 second wave. A confidential Cabinet Office briefing seen by the Guardian says: “Winter 2020 could see a combination of severe flooding, pandemic influenza, a novel emerging infectious disease and coordinated industrial action, against a backdrop of the end of the [Brexit] transition period.” Rishi Sunak is set today to deliver one of the toughest spending review statements in modern history with the economy in the deepest recession on record. The chancellor’s second mini-budget of the pandemic will lay bare the government’s fears over the long-lasting impact of a looming winter surge in unemployment when he unveils a £4.3bn package of support to help the jobless find work. It includes a £2.9bn Restart scheme designed to aid a million workers with their job searches; and a further £1.4bn to increase the capacity of Jobcentre Plus – the government’s support service for the unemployed.
Forecasts from the Office for Budget Responsibility are expected to show Britain headed for a drop in GDP of more than 10%. The second wave and return to lockdown will result in a double-dip recession this winter, with rising unemployment expected next year. A budget deficit of about £400bn is anticipated, with the chancellor potentially looking to a hike in capital gains and other taxes, as well as a public sector pay squeeze. The national infrastructure strategy is due to be published, and plans to move civil servants to the north of England confirmed. Other measures are set to include £115m for homelessness; extension of the furlough scheme; and Covid-19 expenses such as test and trace, protective equipment, mass delivery of vaccines and general NHS funding. The chancellor faces pressure to maintain the £20 per week universal credit increase.
‘Trump changed the landscape’ – Joe Biden has given his first detailed interview as president-elect, saying “This is not a third Obama term. We face a totally different world than we faced in the Obama-Biden administration. President Trump has changed the landscape.” After government officials on Monday released resources for the transition, Biden said the Trump administration’s outreach “has been sincere. They’re already working out my ability to get presidential daily briefs. We’re already working out meeting with the Covid team in the White House.”
As he continues to assemble his cabinet, Biden said he wouldn’t “use the justice department as my vehicle” to investigate Donald Trump and his allies: “There are a number of investigations that I’ve read about that are at a state level. There’s nothing at all I can or cannot do about that.” Separately, Biden told journalists in Wilmington, Delaware, that there must not be a hard border on the island of Ireland because of Brexit. “We do not want a guarded border.”
> The Home Office broke equalities law when it introduced its hostile environment immigration measures, the Equality and Human Rights Commission has concluded. The department now has a legal duty to review and correct the policies.
> Shamima Begum’s lawyers are seeking in the supreme court to have the Isis recruit let back into the UK from Syria so she can challenge the removal of her citizenship.
> Queues of trucks stretching for five miles on the M20 have unexpectedly built up in Kent after French authorities started a trial of post-Brexit checks.
It gives a glimpse of things to come in January whether a deal is reached or not, with the government last month warning about queues of 7,000 lorries on the main motorway routes to both the Eurotunnel and Dover.
> Scotland is to provide free period products to all who need them under a world-first scheme. The scheme, which is estimated to cost about £8.7m a year, will not be means-tested.
Christmas mix – Families across Britain will be able to gather in three-household “Christmas bubbles” of any size, the government has announced, bringing warnings from scientists that the plan will almost inevitably see a rise in the number of coronavirus cases. The rules were thrashed out in a meeting involving the four UK governments. It will allow people to travel around freely from 23 to 27 December, ending on 28 December when all areas will revert to previous Covid rules. The Alzheimer’s Society has called it “heartbreaking” that care home residents aged over 65 will not be allowed to join loved ones. This morning it emerges the government’s £22bn test-and-trace system has failed to reach more than 100,000 people exposed to coronavirus in England’s worst-hit areas since the second wave began, with four in 10 not asked to self-isolate. And the government spent £10bn more buying PPE equipment in the “chaotic” and inflated pandemic market than it would have paid for the same products last year, according to the National Audit Office, while less than 10% of the kit was delivered to the Covid-19 frontlines by the end of July.
House bounce – More than 100,000 additional house sales are expected during the first three months of 2021 as the rebound in the property market continues and buyers rush to complete purchases before the end of the stamp duty holiday. The number of new sales being agreed remains 38% higher than it was a year ago, according to property website Zoopla. It predicts the housing market will be the busiest before Christmas than it has been for over a decade. The UK housing market has rebounded since the summer because of pent-up demand following the first UK-wide lockdown, and after the chancellor, Rishi Sunak, decided in July to introduce a stamp duty holiday on properties up to £500,000 until March 2021.
‘Right thing to do’ – A New Zealand farming family has gifted 900 hectares of pristine land by the edge of Lake Wakatipu back to the country, saying it is “the right thing to do”. The stretch of land at the foot of the Remarkables range will become open to everyone in 2022, after being handed over to the Queen Elizabeth II National Trust for “the benefit and enjoyment of all New Zealanders”. Remarkables station owners Dick and Jillian Jardine wanted to see the property protected and loved for another century. Despite having numerous offers from overseas developers for the property that has been in the family for 100 years, the Jardines declined. In a statement, the trust said the gift was “hugely significant for the Wakatipu area and wider New Zealand”.
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Bruno Fernandes scored twice in a 4-1 win over Istanbul Basaksehir to boost Manchester United’s hopes of qualifying for the Champions League knockout stage. Olivier Giroud scored in added time to give Chelsea a 2-1 win over Rennes and secure their place in the next phase, while Barcelona put their domestic struggles to one side with a 4-0 victory over Dynamo Kyiv that sealed their progress. Andy Murray says the ATP, which governs the men’s game, should take domestic abuse cases such as the one which has engulfed Alexander Zverev over the past month “extremely seriously”. A decision on when next year’s Australian Open will be held is imminent, but a delay of a week or two is the “most likely” outcome.
England’s defence coach, John Mitchell, is warning his squad to beware Welsh wind-ups and expects the hosts to “have a crack” at certain key players during Saturday’s Autumn Nations Cup game in Llanelli. The former British Cycling and Team Sky head coach Shane Sutton was “absolutely lying” when he told parliament that he had no knowledge of doping in the sport, a former teammate told a medical tribunal on Tuesday. The former France rugby union wing Christophe Dominici has died at the age of 48. Nat Sciver and her fellow England allrounder Katherine Brunt are being credited for helping the Melbourne Stars to the brink of the Women’s Big Bash League final in Australia. And a shortage of stewards could hamper the return of fans to stadiums as clubs race to resolve a series of issues before the relaxing of Covid restrictions next week.
Up to 60 Debenhams stores could close with the loss of thousands of jobs as part of a rescue deal for the troubled chain, which has been in administration since March. Stock markets in the Asia-Pacific rallied overnight in the wake of a record close on Wall Street last night as investors embraced risk in the wake of positive news about a potential vaccine to prevent Covid-19. The FTSE 100 is expected to join the party and lift 0.4% at the opening bell this morning, while the pound is on $1.335 and €1.122.
“Christmas bubbles” and how to form them leads our Guardian print edition today – the picture slot goes to Beyoncé’s Grammy nominations, and we have the funny if it wasn’t so serious story of I’m A Celebrity potentially releasing foreign cockroaches that could harm the Welsh countryside. The FT opts for the mini-budget: “Sunak corrals £4bn to shield jobs and livelihoods from Covid shock”.
Is the Metro not potentially creating confusion by splashing with “rule of three” – as in the number of families that can gather – when we’ve already got the rule of six? More befuddlement by numbers in the Telegraph: “Five days of Christmas with three households together”. And here’s the Mail with “12 rules of Christmas” – it adds that “3 households can gather with NO top limit” (ugly Christmas jumpers permitted then), “freedoms to last five days from 23rd to 27th” and care home residents aged 65+ not permitted. No guidance on how many sixpence allowed in the pudding …
A much more simple treatment in the Times: “Covid rules relaxed for Christmas”. The Sun has “Here it is … mini Christmas”, which is quite good, while the Express says “Have a merry (but not so many) Christmas”. “Bubbles for Christmas” says the i, cracking a perhaps unintentional champagne pun. “Season’s meetings” says the Mirror.
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