Top story: PM won’t accept UK ‘locked in EU’s orbit’
Good morning and welcome to this Friday briefing, with me, Alison Rourke, as the window on a Brexit trade deal appears to be closing.
Boris Johnson has ordered his ministers to prepare for a hard exit from the EU on 31 December, warning of the “strong possibility” of no deal being done. As senior Tories urged him to find a way to make an agreement, he said he couldn’t countenance Britain being “locked in the EU’s orbit”, which he said would treat the nation like Europe’s twin. “It was put to me that this was kind of a bit like twins, and the UK is one twin, the EU is another, and if the EU decides to have a haircut then the UK is going to have a haircut or else face punishment. Or if the EU decides to buy an expensive handbag then the UK has to buy an expensive handbag too or else face tariffs,” he said. The PM said everyone should get ready for the “Australia option”, which is code for trading on World Trade Organization terms with the EU, meaning tariffs being imposed on a wide range of goods (it was described by Australia’s former PM Malcolm Turnbull on Thursday as “not one from a trade point of view … that Britain would want, frankly”). The EU meanwhile has made fishing and transport offers in the event of no deal, in return for a “level playing field”. Legislation could temporarily allow UK airlines to operate for six months and for roads to stay open for hauliers, if No 10 was prepared to maintain EU-equivalent regulations. The EU will also offer fishing access and open negotiations over quotas, if Downing Street reciprocated. It won’t be any consolation to those worried that no deal will make Britons less safe. Lord Ricketts, a former national security adviser, says the UK’s loss of real-time access to crime data “makes us all less safe”.
Barbara Windsor dies – The iconic actor, best known for her roles in EastEnders and the Carry On films, has passed away, aged 83. “Her passing was from Alzheimer’s/dementia and Barbara eventually died peacefully and I spent the last seven days by her side,” Windsor’s husband, Scott Mitchell, said. He added that her last weeks were “typical of how she lived her life. Full of humour, drama and a fighting spirit until the end”. As Peggy Mitchell, landlady of the Queen Vic, she yelled at rogue drinkers to “get outta my pub!” She was previously known for her portrayals of “good time girls”, especially in the Carry On series. Tributes poured in from former colleagues and friends. The Guardian’s Mark Lawson remembers her as the daring, giggling pearly queen of the screen. Her life in pictures includes her final appearance in EastEnders in 2016.
Dominic Cummings – The PM’s former adviser’s notorious trip to Barnard Castle in April was a “deeply unfortunate episode” that undermined the government’s coronavirus message, the justice secretary, Robert Buckland, has admitted in an appearance last night on the BBC’s Question Time. It marks the first time a senior government minister has publicly acknowledged this since the paymaster general, Penny Mordaunt, said there were “inconsistencies” in Cummings’ account of his actions during lockdown and apologised to her constituents for how the incident “undermined key public health messages”.
Test and trace fail – The government programme has failed to meet targets for delivering results contacting Covid-infected people despite costs escalating to £22bn. The National Audit Office found the programme is contacting two out of every three people who have been close to someone who has tested positive, with about 40% of test results delivered within 24 hours, well below the government’s targets. The report said a target to provide results within 24 hours of in-person testing deteriorated to a low of 14% in mid-October before rising to 38% in early November. Thousands of children will be tested for coronavirus in schools across London, Kent and Essex in a bid to stem rising infection rates that have put the capital on course for tier 3 restrictions next week. Secondary schools and colleges in Wales will close to almost all students next week and lessons will move online to try to stem the virus spread. And more than £165m in emergency loans to some of the UK’s biggest arts and heritage organisations has been announced to ensure they survive the pandemic.
Lloyds pay gap – Black staff at the banking group are being paid nearly 20% less than their colleagues, the high-street lender revealed. It blamed lack of black staff in senior positions with larger salaries and bonuses for the discrepancy. Figures released as part of its wider race action plan showed the median pay gap between black staff and their colleagues was 19.7%, while the bonus gap stood at 37.6%. Black employees make up 1.5% of Lloyds staff, but only hold 0.6% of the top jobs. It is difficult to determine how Lloyds’ black pay gap compares with rivals, given that the bank is the first to publish the data.
Dog diagnosis – It’s said that dogs resemble their owners, but the similarities may also extend to their risk of diabetes, research suggests. Previous studies had hinted that overweight owners tend to have porkier pets, possibly because of shared health behaviours such as overeating or not taking regular exercise. But research from Uppsala University in Sweden, published in the British Medical Journal, found that owning a dog with diabetes was associated with a 38% increased risk of having type 2 diabetes compared with owning a healthy hound. Personal and socioeconomic circumstances of the dog owners could not explain this link. No shared risk of diabetes was found between cat owners and their pets, however.
Today in Focus podcast: 2020: a year like no other
A look back at how the Guardian covered a year that began with the outbreak of a pandemic, witnessed global anti-racism protests after the killing of George Floyd, and ended with the voting out of President Donald Trump.
Lunchtime read: Music’s year of chaos
Each year the Guardian convenes pop stars to mull over big musical moments, and for 2020 this was – like almost every social or professional interaction – convened over a video call. Alex Petridis writes that it was a strangely appropriate format for an industry that learned how to livestream as it weathered a total collapse in gigs and festivals, but despite the horrors, there was still plenty of brilliant and indeed cathartic music released. Pondering the ups and downs of this Covid year: Danielle Haim, singer with Haim, who are nominated for album of the year at the Grammys; Phoebe Bridgers, also heading to the Grammys with four nominations; British soul-jazz singer Lianne La Havas; emotive songwriter Moses Sumney; glam-pop star Declan McKenna; and British-Japanese pop sensation Rina Sawayama.
Damian Hopley, the chief executive of the Rugby Players Association, has described cases of early-onset dementia among its membership as “horrendous” and a “wake-up” call for the sport. Anthony Joshua, the world heavyweight champion, is still sparring days before Saturday’s fight against Kubrat Pulev, a trick he learned from Wladimir Klitschko. Tottenham beat Antwerp 2-0 to leapfrog the Belgian side and progress as winners of Europa League Group J while Arsenal won 4-2 at Dundalk with the help of a Mohamed Elneny screamer to make it six wins from six in the group stage. David Turnbull scored the winner on his Europa League debut in Celtic’s 3-2 victory against Lille, as Rangers and Leicester topped their groups with wins. Sebastian Coe, the World Athletics president, believes the organisers of the Tokyo Olympics have a “cast-iron will” to stage next year’s event and is highly confident they will go ahead. Lewis Hamilton will race in the Formula One season finale at Abu Dhabi on Sunday after missing the last round in Bahrain having contracted Covid-19. American Amy Olson’s bid for her maiden major got off to a spectacular start as a hole-in-one and three birdies gave her the first-round lead at the US Women’s Open in Houston. And France’s Victor Perez jumped into pole position to win the Race to Dubai after day one of the £6m DP World Tour Championship.
Efforts to build up Wales’s automotive industry have received another blow, after a company seeking to build Britain’s first large electric car battery plant abandoned south Wales in favour of a new location in northern England. Britishvolt, a startup, said it had acquired exclusive rights to a coastal site in Blyth, Northumberland, because its previously announced preference of the Bro Tathan site in the Vale of Glamorgan, would not be ready to start construction in the summer of 2021. The U-turn came in the same week that Ineos, run by the Brexit-supporting billionaire Sir Jim Ratcliffe, confirmed that it would build its new off-road vehicle in France.
The pound is buying €1.095 and $1.331.
The papers are largely focused on the approaching Brexit crunch point. The Guardian has “Johnson tells ministers to prepare for no-deal Brexit”. It’s echoed by the Telegraph with “Prepare for no deal, warns Johnson”; the Times with “Prepare for no deal, PM tells Britain”; and the FT with “Johnson issues bleak warning that no-deal Brexit is ‘strong possibility’”; the i splashes with “‘Strong’ chance of no-deal, admits PM”. The tabloids print equally stark warnings. The Mail has “Boris: get set for no deal” and the Express adds a slightly more nationalistic tone with, “All we ever wanted was our freedom”; and the Mirror’s first editions lead with “On the brink of no-deal”. But the final editions of both the Sun and the Mirror devote their front pages to Barbara Windsor, with almost identical headlines: “Babs dead at 83” and “Babs dies at 83”.
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