Matthew Taylor

Sunday shows round-up: Face masks to become ‘personal choice’ after 19 July, says Robert Jenrick

Sunday shows round-up: Face masks to become 'personal choice' after 19 July, says Robert Jenrick
Robert Jenrick, picture credit: Sky
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Robert Jenrick – We will have to ‘learn to live with the virus’

The Housing Secretary Robert Jenrick was the government’s chief spokesman today as England edges ever closer towards the planned relaxation of Covid restrictions on 19 July. Jenrick continued to make positive noises about this date, telling Trevor Phillips that data being examined by the Prime Minister was looking promising – and suggesting that another postponement of ‘Freedom Day’ was highly unlikely. However, Jenrick’s cautious comments did not rule out the return of restrictions in the winter, should cases continue to rise:

RJ: It does seem as if we can now move forward… to a much more permissive regime where we… learn to live with the virus. That does mean we’re going to have to treat it carefully. We’re going to have to keep on monitoring the cases, and we’re going to have to ensure that every adult gets double vaxxed, because that is the key to keeping the virus under control.

‘I will’ ditch my mask after the 19th

Phillips asked Jenrick if he would be foregoing his face mask in most indoor environments should the government’s roadmap proceed as expected. Jenrick affirmed that he would be, but said that the government would be encouraging people to use ‘personal responsibility’ and exercise their own judgments:

RJ: I will. I don’t particularly want to wear a mask… We will be moving into a phase though where these [things] will be a matter of personal choice. Some members of society will want to do so for perfectly legitimate reasons.

‘I’m disappointed’ the Conservative’s did not win Batley and Spen

Over the past few weeks, the Batley and Spen by-election had looked like fertile ground for the Conservatives to take another seat from Labour, following a hefty defeat at the hands of Hartlepool’s voters back in May. However, Kim Leadbeater, the sister of the late Jo Cox, managed to turn the tide and potentially save Sir Keir Starmer’s bacon in doing so. Jenrick gave his reaction to the unprecedented government victory that never was:

RJ: Of course I’m disappointed that we lost… but governments very rarely take seats from oppositions in by-elections… Actually, this was the biggest swing from an opposition to the party of government for 39 years… so it was still a fantastic result… albeit not exactly what we would have hoped for. I think there are a lot of questions for Keir Starmer as to how the Labour party are just scraping home… when they should be romping home.

Low-rise flat owners potentially exploited by ‘unnecessary’ bills

Phillips then turned to Jenrick’s own departmental responsibilities. The cladding scandal that was brought to national attention after the tragedy of Grenfell Tower is still plaguing many high-rise buildings up and down the country. Jenrick briefly outlined the government’s approach to high-rise buildings (those higher than six storeys), but raised a concern that people living in low-rise buildings may be being taken advantage of:

RJ: We’re ensuring that the most dangerous materials… [are] removed from all high-rise buildings in the country at no cost to leaseholders. That work is underway now…

TP: What about the rest?

RJ: We are also trying to ensure there is a much more sensible and proportionate approach to risk on other buildings, particularly the lower-rise ones. We are seeing examples of leaseholders being asked to pay bills for works which seem to be unnecessary.

ACM cladding will be removed from most buildings by end of 2021

Andrew Marr also bought up the issue of cladding with Jenrick and asked for an update on when high-rise leaseholders could expect to see the dangerous aluminium composite material (ACM) cladding removed from their buildings. Jenrick said that the government would meet its deadline (which has already been delayed by the pandemic) in most, but not all, cases:

RJ: I expect that all ACM cladding will be off buildings by the end of this year, barring a very small number of buildings, and there are exceptional reasons for those… The buildings which we have known [about] for some time – yes, absolutely. There are some buildings we’ve discovered more recently. They’ll take a little bit longer.

Homeowners will get 15 years to sue shoddy developers

Jenrick also told Marr that the government was going to be making a significant change to the amount of time that homeowners have to pursue poor workmanship in the courts:

RJ: I’m announcing today that we are going to change the law, retrospectively, to give every homeowner 15 years in which to take action against the people who built their building if there is shoddy workmanship.

Rachel Reeves – Government ‘should present the evidence’ for unlocking

Marr also interviewed the shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves. Reeves called on the government to publish the data upon which the Prime Minister and his advisers would be making the decision to unlock on 19 July:

RR: We [should] be absolutely confident that that is the right thing to do, and at the moment, all we’re hearing is briefings from ministers, rather than the science behind it. We need to see that science… I would like the government to present the evidence on which it is making its really, really important decisions.

Labour’s policies ‘will be fully costed’

While discussing the cost of social care, Marr challenged Reeves over whether Labour would be willing to summon the political courage to be frank about possible tax increases. Reeves said that the issue of funding was something that she felt viscerally, and promised to spell out exactly how Labour’s policies would be funded ahead of the next election:

RR: [We will be] looking at what taxes may be needed to pay for [social care] ... I will make sure that any policies that I set out, and Labour sets out, will be fully costed and we will explain how they will be paid for. That is really important to me, because value for money, and using taxpayers’ money well really matters to me.

Batley by-election was full of ‘hatred and division’

Phillips spoke to Reeves about Labour’s performance in Batley and Spen. Despite defying expectations, it remains an inconvenient fact for Labour that their vote share decreased by over 7 per cent when compared with 2019; an election which hardly represented the party’s high watermark to begin with. However, Reeves hailed it as a ‘great result’ and went on to point the finger explicitly at the third-placed opponent George Galloway for the unpleasant nature of the contest:

RR: It was a great result in Batley and Spen and I can’t tell you how pleased I am… [It] was a by-election like no other that I have seen… It was a campaign full of so much hatred and division stoked by people outside of Batley and Spen, and that victory in the early hours of Friday morning was a victory for decency over division, for hope over hatred, and for integrity in politics.

‘I don’t accept’ that Labour leaflets were dogwhistles

Some of Labour’s campaign literature has come under scrutiny, particularly a leaflet featuring an image of Boris Johnson shaking hands with Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi. It has been alleged the image was intended to create a parallel between Johnson and Modi – and exploit divisions between the substantial number of Indian and Pakistani voters in the constituency. Reeves denied any intended link and said that Modi’s inclusion represented Johnson’s failure to close the borders at a time when the delta variant of Covid was reaching UK shores:

RR: I don’t accept that insinuation. What we saw in Batley and Spen was underhand tactics by Galloway and his campaign… with actual violence towards the Labour candidate… and also to Labour activists. That is the true nature of what was happening in Batley and Spen.

Jeffrey Donaldson – Boris Johnson ‘should put right what was done wrong’

And finally, Sky’s David Blevins spoke to the latest leader of the DUP, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, who replaced Edwin Poots on Wednesday. Donaldson said that border checks imposed under the Northern Ireland Protocol were still the major obstacle to calming unrest, and reiterated his party’s calls for the Prime Minister to intervene, adding that he was ‘not going to contemplate failure’:

JD: I’m prepared, always, to give people a second chance, and I’m prepared to give the Prime Minister an opportunity to put right what was done wrong to Northern Ireland under the Protocol… I believe there are opportunities going forward, but we can’t get to those opportunities because of these unnecessary barriers.