The Breakfast Briefing: Back to school bust-up as lockdown eased across England
Some primary school pupils will return to the classroom from Monday. (PA)
Your essential morning guide to what’s moving in Westminster from the PoliticsHome team.
Is lockdown being eased too quickly? That’s certainly the view from the Government’s critics this morning, as it faces a twin assault from education unions and public health officials over the lifting of a string of measures from today.
The reopening of schools to some primary pupils after months of lockdown was always going to be a highly emotive issue. But there’s no love lost between the unions - who believe ministers have failed to consult properly or fully justify the plan - and the Government, as kids tentatively head back to the classroom.
Leading PolHome this morning is another great piece by The House’s policy editor Georgina Bailey, who has spoken to all the key players, including Education Secretary Gavin Williamson, NEU general secretary Mary Bousted and Rob Halfon, chair of the Education Select Committee.
With “hard-left” name-calling flying at the unions from some in CCHQ, Halfon tells Georgina it’s vital that both teachers' representatives and the Government do not “get into an inquest about what went wrong”, but “try and come climb down from this Everest pandemic and work together to try and make things right and get our children back into schools”. Essential reading if you really want to get your head around this complex row.
Also waving a red flag this morning is the Association of Directors of Public Health (ADPH), which represents senior public health officials and isn’t known for taking political potshots at ministers.
"There’s no love lost between the unions - who believe ministers have failed to consult properly or fully justify the plan - and the Government"
In a last-ditch plea to put stage two of the lockdown exit plan on pause, the body says it fears the Government is “misjudging this balancing act and lifting too many restrictions, too quickly”. They add: “Over the weekend we have seen signs that the public is no longer keeping as strictly to social distancing as it was – along with this, we are concerned that the resolve on personal hygiene measures, and the need to immediately self-isolate, if symptomatic, is waning. A relentless effort to regain and rebuild public confidence and trust following recent events is essential.”
The ADPH points to a lack of faith in the Government’s Covid-19 Test and Trace system as a case in point, and warns that its “room for manoeuvre” while keeping the reproduction rate of the virus below 1 remains “tight”.
Speaking at the Number 10 press conference last night, Communities Secretary Robert Jenrick said ministers were “reasonably confident” lifting the curbs was manageable, while earlier in the day Dominic Raab repeated the mantra that the Government has been guided at all times by the scientific advice. Ministers will also be significantly buoyed by news from the Department of Health that Boris Johnson’s target of boosting testing capacity to 200,000 a day has been met - and a day early to boot.
As if that wasn’t enough to be grappling with, the Government is also facing a mounting backlash from its own side over those plans for a 14-day quarantine on everybody who arrives in the UK.
Former transport minister Theresa Villiers told the Westminster Hour last night that the “blanket” proposals were an “over-reaction” - and she’s certainly not alone on the Tory benches in wanting the Government to think again on a move travel firms warn will represent one more nail in the coffin of operators already reeling from the Covid-19 pandemic.
WHAT WE'RE WATCHING TODAY
Commons leader Jacob Rees-Mogg will publish his draft plans on how the end of the hybrid Parliament will be made a reality amid a backlash from MPs. In case you missed it over the weekend, our Alain Tolhurst has an excellent primer on the battle to reopen the Commons tomorrow. And former Commons leader Andrea Leadsom writes for us today arguing the case for a return.
If you're properly into this stuff (we are), it's also definitely worth keeping an eye on the 2.45pm Procedure Committee grilling of Clerk of the House Dr John Benger and Clerk of the Journals Mark Hutton on how on earth the Commons can physically operate under the Covid-19 curbs.
And, as usual, the Government press conference is slated for 5pm. We'll have the usual evening round-up in your inbox as soon as.
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