Blog: Boris Johnson news – live: PM condemns China sanctions as Alex Salmond launches new political party – The Independent

Today’s daily politics briefing

Downing Street has refused to say whether Boris Johnson will give evidence to a Greater London Authority inquiry into whether he acted with “honesty and integrity” in his former capacity as the capital’s mayor with regards to his relations with businesswoman Jennifer Arcuri.

Asked if the prime minister would be willing to provide evidence to the inquiry into whether he had breached these principles while in office, his press secretary Allegra Stratton said the question was “hypothetical”, adding: “Let’s cross all those bridges when they come.”

Ms Stratton also insisted there were “no plans whatsoever” to cut Scotland’s share of UK spending, after first minister Nicola Sturgeon claimed to delegates at the SNP’s online conference that she was “pretty sure” Westminster would “like to” do so, but “probably think they wouldn’t get away with” it due to her party’s “strength”.

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The latest news on Brexit, politics and beyond direct to your inbox every weekday

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Good morning, and welcome to The Independent’s live coverage of UK politics.

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 08:21

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Voices: Voters can smell Labour’s identity confusion and lack of authenticity

Here’s the full piece by Unite general secretary Len McCluskey, which warns that Labour under Keir Starmer is suffering from a “lack of authenticity” and direction, challenging the leader to “honour” left-wing pledges he committed to 12 months ago to offer a credible alternative to the Conservatives.

The party is unsure about what it is and who it speaks for. Keir Starmer must put pressure on the Tories and remind voters of his strong policies before the upcoming elections

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 08:35

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Brexit ‘teething problems may be permanent, systemic ones’, FSB chair warns

Following their survey of some 1,483 small businesses finding that 26 per cent of exporters had either temporarily suspended or permanently ceased trading with the EU since the Brexit transition period ended three months ago, Federation of Small Businesses chair Mike Cherry said:

“At a moment when small firms are doing all we can to return to growth and get our economy firing on all cylinders again, those that do business internationally are being hit with some incredibly demanding, unfamiliar paperwork.

“Three months on from the end of the transition period, what we hoped would prove to be teething problems are in danger of becoming permanent, systemic ones.

“While larger firms have the resources and bandwidth to overcome them regardless, smaller traders are struggling, and considering whether exports are worth the effort any more.

“Unless more is done to ease the admin burden on those that do business overseas, and increase access to markets outside the EU, it will weigh heavy on our efforts to recover from the most severe downturn on record.”

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 08:45

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Racial disparities commission ‘poised to advise scrapping of Bame label’, according to report

Boris Johnson’s racial disparities commission is reportedly poised to recommend that the term BAME should no longer be used by public bodies and companies.

The Telegraph reports that scrapping the acronym – standing for black, Asian and minority ethnic – is a key proposal in a report to be published this week by the Commission on Race and Ethnic Disparities.

The paper cites a source as saying the long-contested blanket term has become “unhelpful and redundant”, potentially masking the lived experiences of individual groups.

The prime minister announced the commission in June in response to the wave of Black Lives Matter protests. But some concerns were raised after Dr Tony Sewell – who previously said evidence of the existence of institutional racism was “flimsy” – was appointed as its chair.

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 08:55

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Boris Johnson urges England to ‘remain cautious’ as lockdown eased

Much of the talk this morning is focused on the easing of lockdown restrictions in England.

Boris Johnson has stressed that “we must remain cautious, with cases rising across Europe and new variants threatening our vaccine rollout”.

He is expected to hammer this message home at a Downing Street press conference later today.

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 09:07

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Minister pressed over long-awaited online harms bill

Nigel Huddleston, a minister at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, has insisted that the long-awaited online harms bill – first floated when Theresa May was in power – will be brought to parliament in “due course”, adding that it is an “horrendously complex area”.

Pressed on Good Morning Britain over whether this meant months or years before the bill to tackle abusive behaviour online was proposed, the Tory MP was unable to give a timeframe.

But he added: “Spreading racial hatred and so on online is already illegal, and it should be reported. But you’re absolutely right, the social media companies also need to take responsibility here. It’s in their own terms and conditions that people should not be spreading this and they should be proactively taking people down and offline already, and they are doing to some degree.

“But we’ll be bringing in laws to make sure they’re compelled to do so, and if they don’t, we’ll fine them up to 10 per cent of global revenue.”

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 09:19

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Here’s a little more detail on our headline story – the Federation of Small Businesses’ survey suggesting one in four exporters have temporarily or permanently ceased trading with the EU, three months on from the end of the Brexit transition period.

Of the 207 importers and exporters who responded to the 1,483-strong survey, some 70 per cent reported suffering shipment delays when moving goods around the bloc in recent weeks. Around a third have had goods held indefinitely at border crossings, with a similar number having lost goods in transit.

Of the 132 exporters surveyed, 35 had ceased trading with the bloc– five of them permanently.

Some 11 per cent of remaining exporters are considering a permanent halt of sales to Europe, while the same proportion have established, or are considering establishing, a presence within an EU country to ease their exporting processes.

Following the findings, FSB is urging the government to strike “ambitious new trade deals” with fast-growing economies, including the US, and to increase the threshold for tariffs and taxes on cross-border traders to £1,000.

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 09:35

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Tories’ Hartlepool by-election candidate given warm welcome by prospective colleagues

Our chief political commentator highlights this less than glowing assessment of the Tories’ new Hartlepool candidate, as reported by Patrick Maguire of The Times.

One of Jill Mortimer’s prospective northern colleagues is quoted as suggesting: “CCHQ must have run the numbers and concluded it’s no longer there for the taking.”

A Tory has not won the seat since 1974. The jury is clearly still out on whether this can change at the looming 6 May by-election.

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 09:49

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Vaccines minister admits ‘much more work to do with local communities’

Nadhim Zahawi has responded to the new ONS statistics showing the vaccine take-up rate by demographic, admitting there is “much more work to do with local communities”.

The new Office for National Statistics figures, published in the last hour, found that ethnic minorities in the UK aged 70 and over were less likely to have received a dose of coronavirus vaccine than those who identified as white British.

It follows a drive in some communities to encourage take-up of the available coronavirus vaccines after years of mistrust, which the government’s scientific advisory body Sage warned in January was linked to “structural and institutional racism and discrimination”.

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 10:24

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David Lammy calls for ‘urgent action’ over ‘rape culture’ in schools

Following comments by Chief Constable Simon Bailey – the national police lead for child protection – suggesting that, in some instances, it would be “naive” to think that schools had not covered up sexual offences to protect their reputations, shadow justice secretary David Lammy has called for “urgent action”.

“I suspect this sits alongside the concerns that many have raised about the prolific nature of porn and young people getting access to porn,” he told Times Radio.

Mr Lammy added: “It needs urgent action. This is about child safeguarding. [It is] really really worrying to see top schools named in this way. Some of it does sound like crime. Schools should be taking that seriously and contacting police and children’s services where it comes up.

“Some of it feels like harassment and so some of this is about public education. Schools should be well placed to deal with that. There have been calls about how we are dealing with sex education in our schools.”

He also urged more regulation, telling the programme: “We need an online harms bill. We are still waiting for it. It hasn’t come forward. Why is there a delay on something that is so serious?”

Andy Gregory29 March 2021 10:29

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