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Tony Blair has said it is “time to distinguish” between people who have and haven’t had a coronavirus vaccine.

The former prime minister has warned it “makes no sense at all to treat those who have had vaccination the same as those who haven’t” – and said relaxing measures for those who have had both jabs will provide a powerful incentive.

Mr Blair’s remarks came as it emerged that 13.5 million first and second doses of a COVID-19 vaccine were given out in May, setting a new monthly record.

The ex-Labour leader also described the NHS app that proves someone is vaccinated as 'inadequate'
The ex-Labour leader also described the NHS app that proves someone is vaccinated as ‘inadequate’

The ex-Labour leader also described the NHS app that proves someone is vaccinated as “inadequate”, and warned it needs to be simpler and more effective.

His remarks came in response to a new report by the Tony Blair Institute for Global Change, which says “vaccine status matters” and that health passes can “allow citizens to prove their status in a secure, privacy-preserving way”.

The report’s authors said that, if a health pass system was used at home and abroad, “we can move beyond blunt, catch-all tools and align with other countries by removing certain restrictions for the fully vaccinated, thereby enabling us to sustainably reopen the economy”.

And they added: “For as long as the world goes largely unvaccinated and the risk of a new variant remains significant, it’s vital that we have an alternative to the blunt tool of lockdowns to enable the country to live freely and safely.”

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Mr Blair said: “It is time to distinguish for the purposes of freedom from restriction between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, both for citizens here for domestic purposes; but also for our citizens and those from other countries in respect of travel on the basis that being vaccinated substantially reduces risk.”

The 68-year-old, who served as PM from 1997 to 2007, made it clear that this would involve discriminating between the vaccinated and unvaccinated, adding: “Other than for medical reasons, people should be vaccinated.”

In response to his remarks, a senior government source told the PA news agency: “Once again Mr Blair appears to have learned of things already in the pipeline and decided to publicly call for them.

“It’s becoming something of a habit. Nonetheless we thank him for his continued support.”

Meanwhile, people who have been contacted to bring forward their second coronavirus vaccine appointment are being urged to rebook as soon as possible.

Last month, the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation recommended that the interval between doses should be reduced to eight weeks for the clinically vulnerable, as well as everyone over the age of 50.

The move aims to combat the spread of the COVID-19 variant first detected in India, also known as the Delta variant.

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Vaccine uptake on the increase

Overall, more than 1.7 million people have been sent texts by the NHS that invite them to reschedule their appointment.

Dr Emily Lawson, the NHS lead for the COVID-19 vaccination programme, said: “The vaccine is our most effective weapon against the virus and there has never been a more important time to get protected.”

More than half of people in England are now fully vaccinated, with 23,077,511 people having received both doses.

Some 33,525,485 people – more than three-quarters of the country’s adult population – have received their first dose.

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Huge queues outside vaccination centre

All of this comes as the government “draws up other options” before making a decision on whether to completely lift COVID restrictions on 21 June.

While Number 10 is still planning to go ahead with the final step in the roadmap, it is waiting for more data before taking any decisions.

Options under discussion are said to include retaining the wearing of face masks in certain settings, or delaying the end to legal limits on social contact until July.

Until now, the government has only ever said there is “nothing in the data” to suggest ending lockdown should be delayed.

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Firms nervous of further lockdowns

Conservative MP Andrew Bridgen told Sky News the “public appetite” for restrictions could “wane very quickly” if all measures are not removed on 21 June.

He added: “Lockdowns were there to protect the NHS. We know hospitalisations are a fraction of what they were at the peak. We’ve been told we’ve got to get used to living with this virus. Living with the virus doesn’t mean we have to be in lockdown forever – that’s not a solution.”

Meanwhile, an NHS boss has told Sky News that vaccines appear to have “broken the chain” between catching coronavirus and becoming seriously ill.

Chris Hopson, the chief executive of NHS Providers, said while the number of people in hospital with the variant first detected in India, also known as the Delta variant, was increasing, it was much lower than what was seen in previous waves.

On Saturday, the UK reported another 5,765 coronavirus cases – significantly up on the total on the same day last week, but down on Friday’s two-month high.

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Mayor of London has confidence in Met Police chief – after force apologises for officer’s ‘openly Jewish’ comments




Mayor of London has confidence in Met Police chief - after force apologises for officer's 'openly Jewish' comments

Sadiq Khan has confidence in Met Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley despite him facing calls to quit over the force’s handling of a recent pro-Palestine protest, Sky News understands.

It comes after Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho told Sky News that the incident in London – in which an officer was captured on video calling a man “openly Jewish” and threatening him with arrest – was “completely wrong” and that “what happens next” with regard to Sir Mark was a “matter for the Labour London mayor”.

Sky News understands that Sir Mark does still retain the confidence of Mr Khan, who as mayor has the power to effectively sack the commissioner – but can only do so with the permission of the home secretary, who can also require the mayor to dismiss the head of the Met.

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A spokesperson for the London mayor said: “Everybody must feel safe going about in London wherever they please. The way the original incident was dealt with by the Met was concerning and the original response put out by them was insensitive and wrong.

“The Met have an extremely difficult job – particularly so when it comes to operational decisions taken while policing marches.

“But in the end the Met must have the confidence of the communities they serve and it is right that they have apologised for the way the incident was handled and their original public response.”

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Coutinho: Met has ‘got it wrong’

Mr Rowley, who replaced Cressida Dick as Met commissioner in 2022, is facing calls to quit following the officer’s interaction with Gideon Falter, the chief executive of the Campaign Against Antisemitism.

In the video, an officer appears to prevent Mr Falter from crossing the road and tells him: “You are quite openly Jewish. This is a pro-Palestinian march. I am not accusing you of anything, but I am worried about the reaction to your presence.”

Mr Falter, who was wearing a yarmulke and said he was simply walking past after attending synagogue, was then threatened with arrest if he did not leave the area.

He told Sky News that Londoners cannot have confidence in the Met under Sir Mark’s leadership and accused the commissioner of “victim blaming” following the incident, for which he has received two apologies.

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New video of ‘openly Jewish’ row

Mr Falter was joined in his call for Sir Mark to go by former home secretary Suella Braverman, who said there had been “failure after failure by the Met” over the last six months.

In an interview with Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips, Ms Coutinho repeatedly declined to say whether Sir Mark should quit following the incident, but said what happened was “completely wrong”.

“It’s not right that one group of people in society should be told they can’t go around their daily lives because it might be a provocation to someone else,” she said.

“That’s not how equality works in this country.

“So I do think they’ve got it wrong. I think it’s right that they’ve apologised, and ultimately, what happens next is a matter for the Labour London Mayor who has the responsibility to hold the Met to account.”

On Sunday morning, the Board of Deputies of British Jews issued a statement in which it called for an “urgent meeting” with Sir Mark following “a series of high-profile errors” regarding its policing of pro-Palestine marches.

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“The Metropolitan Police has made a series of high-profile errors in their responses to these demonstrations,” the statement read.

“The entirely avoidable mistakes have had a devastating effect on the previously high level of trust held by the UK’s Jewish community in the police.

“We have written to the commissioner to ask for an urgent meeting to reinforce the gravity of the situation and to begin to repair this grievous loss of confidence.”

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Met resignation is ‘not the way forward’

Labour’s shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood said the Met had “not covered themselves in glory” over the incident with Mr Falter but that she did not agree with calls for Sir Mark to resign.

“I can understand the strength of feeling and as I say that footage was very concerning, and I can understand where Mr Falter is coming from,” she told Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips.

“But I don’t think that the resignation of the Met’s commissioner is the way forward.”

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Liz Truss refuses to apologise for sparking mortgage rate rise – but admits one failing as PM




Liz Truss refuses to apologise for sparking mortgage rate rise - but admits one failing as PM

Liz Truss has acknowledged she and her government lost the confidence of financial markets following the mini-budget of October 2022 – but has refused to apologise to homeowners for higher interest rates.

Talking to Sky News, the former prime minister blamed her downfall on the Bank of England, primarily governor Andrew Bailey. However, she said she did not meet Mr Bailey once during her time in office.

“I actually had a meeting set up – I wanted to meet him,” she said. “But I was advised that would be a bad idea. And perhaps I shouldn’t have taken that advice.

“But that advice came from the cabinet secretary and what I didn’t want to do is further exacerbate the [market] problems.

“In retrospect, yes, I probably should have spoken directly to the governor of the Bank of England at the time.”

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Asked about the aftermath of the mini-budget, at which her chancellor Kwasi Kwarteng announced a series of unfunded tax cuts, without presenting evidence of how he would pay for them, Ms Truss said: “It’s fair to say that the government did not have the confidence of the markets…

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“But if you have organisations within the state, like the Bank of England, like the Office of Budget Responsibility, who are pretty clear to people they don’t support the policies that are being pursued and are essentially undermining those policies, then it is difficult to command the confidence in the markets – because the markets look to the government for that leadership.”

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A look back: Truss’s time as PM

During Ms Truss’s short time in office, the expected path for the Bank’s interest rate a year ahead rose from below 4% to around 6%.

While those rates were increasing before the fiscal event, they shot up dramatically in the wake of the mini-budget, rising even further when, a few days later, Mr Kwarteng promised even more tax cuts.

That sharp increase in interest rates precipitated a short-lived crisis in UK financial markets, which triggered the near collapse of liability-driven investment (LDI) funds which underlie the pension market.

Asked whether she would apologise for the sharp rise in interest rates during her time in office, Ms Truss said: “I question the premise of what you’re asking me, because mortgage rates have gone up across the world.

“The issues that I faced in office, were issues of not being able to deliver the agenda because of a deep resistance within the establishment.”

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Liz Truss beside Kwasi Kwarteng at the mini-budget announcement in September 2022. Pic: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters
Liz Truss beside Kwasi Kwarteng at the mini-budget announcement in September 2022. Pic: UK Parliament/Jessica Taylor/Handout via Reuters

She continued: “I think it’s wrong to suggest that I’m responsible for British people paying higher mortgages. That is something that has happened in every country in the free world.

“I’m not saying that I got everything absolutely perfect in the way the policy was communicated. But what I am saying is I faced real resistance and actions by the Bank of England that undermine my policy and created the problems in the market.”

Ms Truss was talking to Sky News in Washington DC on the US leg of her publicity tour for her new book, Ten Years To Save the West.

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Since publication it has emerged that one of the quotes she used in the book, attributed to Mayer Amschel Rothschild, is in fact a fake quote, often used in an antisemitic context.

Ms Truss said: “I’m very sorry about that. It was a complete mistake. It was something I found online and I’ve said I’m very sorry to the British Board of Deputies for that.

“It will be removed from all future editions of the book and removed from the Online Edition.”

Asked whether she feels more at home in the US than in the UK these days, she said: “Well, I do like aspects of American politics. I believe that on economics the US has got it more right than the UK has.

“My heart’s in Britain. But I think you’ve got to be prepared to learn from other countries that have that success.”

You can watch the full interview with the former prime minister on Sky News’s Sunday Morning with Trevor Phillips programme from 8.30am this morning. Trevor is also joined by Energy Security and Net Zero Secretary Claire Coutinho, shadow justice secretary Shabana Mahmood and Reform UK leader Richard Tice.

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Rishi Sunak pledges to keep child benefit cap if Tories win next election




Rishi Sunak pledges to keep child benefit cap if Tories win next election

Rishi Sunak has revealed he will keep the two-child benefit cap if the Conservatives win the next election.

The policy limits the benefits parents on Universal Credit can claim for their children.

Writing in The Sun on Sunday, the prime minister said: “Working families do not see their incomes rise when they have more children.

“Families on benefits should be asked to make the same financial decisions as those supporting themselves solely through work.”

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Mr Sunak confirmed the pledge to keep the cap, which was introduced in 2017, would be in the Tory election manifesto.

This is the second manifesto commitment the Conservatives have made public, with the first being to keep the triple lock on pensions.

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It would reportedly cost an estimated £1.5bn to lift the cap.

Over the years, some Labour Party MPs and charities have called for the cap to be scrapped, but Sir Keir Starmer has previously stated that the party would not overturn the cap under his leadership.

Child benefit is money paid to parents or guardians who are responsible for raising a child.

There are no specific age rules for the person making the claim, and it isn’t means-tested.

It is paid at two different rates: £24 a week for your eldest child and £15.90 a week for each other child.

But, you can be liable for a tax charge if you earn over a certain amount.

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High income child benefit charge threshold raised to £60,000

Under the current rules, if either you or your partner have an individual income of £50,000 or more and you receive child benefit, you are liable to pay the high-income child benefit tax charge.

The charge is equal to 1% of the total child benefit received for every £100 earned over £50,000.

Once you earn £60,000, the charge equals all the benefits you’d receive, so you get nothing.

However, Jeremy Hunt announced a rise in the threshold in the spring budget, increasing them to £60,000 (that’s when you start losing out) and £80,000 (when you get nothing) respectively.

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From 6 April, you’ll be charged 1% of your child benefit for every £200 of income that exceeds £60,000 – up until £80,000.

Earlier this week, the prime minister said that people who are fit to work but do not accept job offers will have their benefits taken away after 12 months.

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Outlining his plans to reform the welfare system if the Conservatives win the next general election, Mr Sunak said “unemployment support should be a safety net, never a choice” as he promised to “make sure that hard work is always rewarded”.

Mr Sunak said his government would be “more ambitious about helping people back to work and more honest about the risk of over-medicalising the everyday challenges and worries of life” by introducing a raft of measures in the next parliament.

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