Brexit latest news: EU member states prepare to implement deal as Brussels waits for white smoke
Matt Hancock gives a press conference on Downing Street at 3 p.m.
Truck drivers run into police at the border
The Brexit breakthrough is still out of reach as the fishing line prevails
David Blake: The EU has outsmarted the UK at every turn
Tier 4 restrictions must be extended on Boxing Day
Latest Coronavirus News: Follow the updates on our live blog
The member states of the European Union are preparing a new trade deal with the UK from January 1st, diplomatic sources have suggested, suggesting that a Brexit deal is imminent.
Three sources told Reuters the deal was "pretty much there" and will be announced "today or tomorrow."
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A # 10 source said it was "possible but far from certain" that a post-Brexit trade deal could be secured today.
Despite a number of mixed signals, both sides have said they are "optimistic" that a trade deal can be reached today if the remaining problems related to fisheries can be resolved.
Michael Martin, the Irish Prime Minister, said fishing is still the main barrier to a deal.
"It's all about the fishing, it would appear now," he said.
Follow the latest updates below.
Christmas and the beginning of 2021 will be "tough," says Hancock
Matt Hancock encouraged the public to continue to abide by the rules - WPA Pool / Getty Images Europe
Matt Hancock said, "This Christmas and the beginning of 2021 are going to be tough. The new variant makes everything a lot harder because it spreads so much faster.
"But we must not give up now, we know we can control this virus, we know we can get through this together, we will get through it by suppressing the virus until a vaccine can make us safe."
He added, "I believe everyone will do what it takes to protect themselves and others, especially at Christmas, and I know from the bottom of my heart that there is a brighter sky ahead of me."
Downing Street: Deal possible tonight
A # 10 source said it was "possible but far from certain" that a post-Brexit trade deal could be secured today.
Hancock explains the reasons for Tier 4
The old tiering system is not enough to control the new virus strain, said the health minister.
Matt Hancock said at the press conference: "We know the three-tier system controlled the old variant and is now working in much of the country, particularly in northern England.
"But we also know that Tier 3 is not enough to control the new variant. This is not our hypothesis, it is a fact and we saw it on the spot.
"We saw case rates go up in some places near the current Tier 4 restrictions in places like East Anglia, where we see a significant number of the new variants, and we saw case rates go up sharply.
"It is therefore necessary to bring more of the east and south-east of England into Tier 4.
"We are also taking action in parts of the southwest where there are early signs of the new variant and where cases are increasing."
Vaccinations have started in nursing homes
Matt Hancock said vaccinations have started in nursing homes and the Chelsea retirees have been vaccinated.
The Oxford / Astrazeneca University vaccine was presented to the MHRA with full authorization, he said.
Further areas can be found in Tier 4
Matt Hancock said more areas would have the toughest restrictions - SKY
More from the east and southeast of England will enter the toughest Tier 4 ban on Boxing Day, Matt Hancock has announced.
Speaking at a press conference on Downing Street, Hancock said: "As of 12:01 am on Boxing Day in Sussex, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Norfolk and Cambridgeshire, parts of Essex are not yet in Tier 4, Waverley in Surrey and Hampshire, including Portsmouth and Southampton, but with the exception of the New Forest, all are escalated to level 4. "
Bristol, Gloucestershire, Somerset, including North Somerset, Swindon, the Isle of Wight, the New Forest and Northamptonshire, and Chesire and Warrington will all be escalated to Tier 3.
"And I'm afraid Cornwall and Herefordshire have seen rates soaring and need to escalate to Tier 2," said Hancock.
Matt Hancock: Second new variant of the coronavirus discovered
Matt Hancock announced that scientists have discovered a second new strain of coronavirus that is "even more transmissible" than the mutant strain discovered in Kent and the south-east of England.
The strain was discovered in South Africa and the government is enforcing quarantine on anyone who has come to the UK from the country in the past two weeks, as well as their close contacts.
Mr. Hancock says the government is taking the new strain "incredibly seriously".
He warned the new strain had mutated more than the strain discovered in Britain.
According to official statistics, South Africa has registered 931,000 cases of Covid-19 with nearly 25,000 deaths.
Deal likely to come "in the next 24 hours"
There is some hideousness in Westminster this afternoon, with the general feeling that an agreement with the EU is almost complete, but no formal announcement.
Sky News' Joe Pike caused some panic with this tweet, suggesting the deal has been closed.
However, the BBC's political editor says no agreement has been reached and the negotiators are still in the room.
According to EU sources, Reuters is expected to sign an agreement within the next 24 hours.
Don't go anywhere ...
Downing Street press conference from 3pm
Matt Hancock will be speaking from Downing Street at 3pm today.
Check out the live stream at the top of the blog.
Six more areas switch to Tier 4 reports
According to reports, six more areas could be upgraded to Tier 4 on Boxing Day.
The Times' Steven Swinford suggested that Essex, Surrey, Oxfordshire, Suffolk, Hampshire and Sussex could move from their current levels to level 4.
Other counties could move too, he said.
Matt Hancock is expected to announce the new levels at a press conference at 3pm.
The R-rate increases between 1.1 and 1.3
The R-value for the UK should have increased slightly to 1.1 to 1.3.
Last week it was estimated at 1.1-1.9. In itself, this was an increase to 0.9 and 1.0 the week before.
The data also suggest a growth rate between 1 and 6 percent, meaning the number of new infections is increasing by 1 to 6 percent every day.
The latest figures, released by the Government Office for Science and the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergency (Sage), reflect growing concerns about the spread of a mutant strain of coronavirus in south-east England and London.
Matt Hancock will host the press conference on Downing Street at 3pm
Mr. Hancock will speak from Downing Street at 3 p.m. - Tolga Akmen / AFP
The Secretary of Health will hold a press conference on Downing Street today at 3 p.m. with Dr. Jenny Harries, the deputy chief medical officer, will lead.
It is expected that Mr. Hancock will make an announcement about the English tier system and could designate additional areas for tier 4.
We bring you the latest information here.
Significant delays continue to occur in Dover as the border reopens
Grant Shapps, the transport minister, said French police had only responded to the agreement to reopen the border from this morning and that "severe delays" would continue.
Read the latest information here.
Comment: A vaccine does not protect us from the economic disaster of further lockdowns
According to Ross Clark - Stefan Rousseau / PA, Boris Johnson will be advised to announce another full national lockdown
"It is all too painful to predict what will happen in the next few days," writes Ross Clark.
"The next day or so, a grim Prime Minister is going to announce that a few more areas are going to be added to Tier 4. Soon after, scientific advisors will show up on the radio waves and say that it is nowhere near enough and say that the only way Fighting the variant form of the virus consists of a complete national lockdown, this time with closed schools.
"A few hours later, Sir Keir Starmer will also be calling for a full national lockdown and Boris Johnson will accuse him of jumping on a train. However, by the middle of next week the train will pull up at 10 Downing Street and become a familiar blonde figure climb on board.
"By New Year's Day we will all be in curfew 4 - schools will be closed for January."
Is there any other way?
Read Ross' article here.
Sturgeon apologizes for violating the mask rules
Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon apologizes after breaking Covid's rules by taking off her face mask at a funeral - SKY NEWS
Nicola Sturgeon has apologized to the Scottish Parliament for violating the coronavirus rules as he was photographed without a face mask.
At the beginning of the First Minister's questions, she said, "I would like to take this opportunity to say how sorry I am for breaking the rules that I must all obey every day.
“I took off my face mask while attending a brief funeral last week. I'm sure everyone in the media this morning saw a picture of me without her.
"I want to make it clear today that regardless of the circumstances in which I was wrong, I have no excuses. These rules apply to me as much as they do to everyone else, and the rules are really important.
"I'm kicking myself very hard, possibly harder than my worst reviewer ever could, but more importantly, I'll make sure I don't drop my guard again."
Prof. Lockdown again calls for national measures
Neil Ferguson, AKA Professor Lockdown - Getty
Professor Neil Ferguson, the official known as "Professor Lockdown" who advised the government to take national action earlier this year, has called for "more uniform" measures to replace the tiered system.
He told the Commons Science and Technology Committee the new strain of coronavirus was "everywhere now," but said he expected the effects of new Tier 4 restrictions and revised strict measures elsewhere over Christmas would have a positive impact.
He said: "The schools are now closed, we are in an almost locked situation across the country.
"Contact rates are lower over Christmas.
"I expect that while I am reluctant to make any predictions, we will see a flattening of the curve in the next two weeks. We will at least see a slowdown in growth."
"The big question is what happens in January and how much we want to make public health policies more uniform across the country when the new variant is widely available."
Prof. Ferguson left the government Sage Committee after The Telegraph announced he'd broken the lockdown rules to meet his married lover.
The border will reopen and the trucks will have priority
The French border has reopened and trucks have priority when crossing the canal, Priti Patel tweeted.
Stör expected to be asked about mask errors
The First Minister's questions begin in Scotland.
You can see it live below.
Ms. Sturgeon is expected to be asked about her mask flaw, reported this morning, in which she wore no face covering at a funeral.
Irish cabinet minister tests positive for coronavirus
The Irish government said a cabinet member tested positive for Covid-19. All other ministers will now restrict their movements pending coronavirus tests and results.
"A member of the cabinet tested positive for Covid-19," said a government statement.
"In accordance with public health recommendations, all ministers limit their movements while waiting for a Covid test and result."
Great Britain offers "public good" by exchanging mutated Covid data, says the chairman of Nervtag
When asked by the Chair of the Science and Technology Committee, Greg Clark, whether the UK is being "punished" for having the expertise to recognize the new tribe, which has resulted in dozens of countries following the routes with the UK Closing the Kingdom, Professor Peter Horby said: "I think it is fair Countries that have more extensive and rigorous science and are more transparent expose themselves to important information that is made available to others.
"But it's a global public good.
"It is in our best interest that we know about these viruses so we can control how they spread."
The Brexit talks could continue on Christmas Day
Micheal Martin, the Taoiseach, highlighted the prospect of officials working on the text of a Brexit deal on Christmas Day if a breakthrough occurs by then.
Mr Martin said he and other EU leaders were "on standby" to approve any deal that might emerge from the negotiations between Brussels and the UK government.
"If you had a breakthrough tonight or tomorrow, officials in Europe could be working on the text on Christmas Day," he told RTE Radio One.
The Taoiseach said he still thought a deal would come about.
"All in all, given the progress that has been made, I think there should be a deal."
Irish Prime Minister: Fishing is still holding us back from getting a deal
Michael Martin, the Taoiseach - Tom Honan / PA
An update from the Brexit negotiations in Brussels:
Micheal Martin has said that fishing is still the main barrier to a deal.
"It's all about the fishing, it would appear now," he said.
"There has been great progress in the last two to three weeks on a level playing field and it is very difficult for everyone involved, but the fishing gap is still wide and it is a time of concern for the fishing communities in Ireland."
Mr Martin said the EU agreed to reduce the number of fish caught in UK waters by 25 percent, accompanied by a transition period of six years. He suggested that the UK is asking for a drop of more than 35%.
"It's not just about monetary conditions, I think it's about the sustainability of the fishing industry in relation to Member States, and six or seven Member States have particular concerns about this," he said.
"It's about maintaining rural communities."
Money for art projects than five percent say they are lonely
The government has pledged £ 7.5 million for winter loneliness projects.
The latest data from the Office of National Statistics show that five percent of adults in England feel "often" or "always" lonely.
Funding goes to the arts, libraries, charities and radio. Arts Council England will receive £ 5 million for arts and library services, £ 2 million to expand the Government Solitude Fund launched in May, and £ 500,000 to distribute to the Audio Content Fund and Community Radio Fund.
Culture Minister Baroness Barran said the arts, library and radio could "help bring people together and combat loneliness".
She added: "We are at the end of one of the most difficult years we have ever had and I know the next few months will be a worry for many people who have felt particularly isolated or lonely during the pandemic.
"We still have some difficult times to overcome and it is important that we continue to support those who are most at risk of isolation and loneliness over the next few months."
Scientists are investigating whether the vaccine works against the mutant Covid
Prof. Peter Horby - Chair for Nerve Tag - Pixel GRG
During an evidence session of the Commons Science and Technology Committee on Wednesday morning, Professor Peter Horby, chair of the Advisory Group on New and Emerging Respiratory Virus Threats (Nerve Tag), said scientists are still investigating whether the new mutant strain of coronavirus could bypass the immunity caused by vaccine or previous infection.
He said: "What we don't yet know is whether there is a difference in the severity of the disease, the age distribution of the cases or, most importantly, whether there is an immune escape."
Prof. Horby also said the strain likely originated from someone in Kent and could have been caused by "accidental errors" copying the virus.
Met warns Londoners: Tier 4 compliance or fine
The Metropolitan Police warned Londoners to abide by Tier 4 rules and posted footage of people breaking the rules this past weekend.
Anyone organizing parties of 30 or more people can be fined £ 10,000 by the police.
Eurostar passengers must have a PCR test to travel to France
A passenger has his documents checked at the Eurostar terminal in St. Pancras International - HANNAH MCKAY / REUTERS
Eurostar passengers must have a negative PCR test result in order to drive through the tunnel, the operator has announced.
EU citizens, key workers such as truck drivers and residents of France are allowed to travel, and the country has in principle accepted rapid cross-flow tests.
According to Eurostar, passengers must do a PCR test, which can take 48 hours to get a result.
Food shortages could last until December 31st
Trucks are parked on either side of the M20 and at Marston Airport - Andrew Matthews / PA
There may be a shortage of fresh goods until the backlog of trucks waiting to cross the canal is cleared, the UK retail consortium said.
Andrew Opie, director of food and sustainability for the group, said: "It is good news for consumers that the French borders are now open again, but it is important that trucks cross the border as soon as possible.
"Until the backlog is cleared and supply chains return to normal, we expect problems with the availability of some fresh goods."
Experts have already warned that the backlog could go away by New Year's Eve.
The Oxford vaccine could be approved shortly after Christmas, says a top scientist
Regulators could approve the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine shortly after Christmas, a medical professional said.
The vaccine developed by researchers at Oxford University could be approved by the Medicines and Health Products Regulatory Authority (MHRA) "shortly after Christmas," said Professor Sir John Bell.
His comments came as former Prime Minister Tony Blair called for big policy changes in the introduction of vaccines, focusing on giving more people a single dose with greater flexibility as to who receives a bump.
Approval of the Oxford vaccine would greatly speed up efforts to fight Covid-19 as it is easier to distribute than the Pfizer / BioNTech surge currently in use in the UK.
The government has ordered 100 million doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca vaccine, of which around 40 million will be available by the end of March.
McCluskey is calling for a 15 percent increase in salaries for NHS employees
The government is being asked to give NHS workers a "substantial" wage increase to offset a decade of austerity and recognize their role in the ongoing Covid-19 crisis.
United States Secretary-General Len McCluskey has written to the Prime Minister to set out the union's call for a wage increase of £ 3,000 a year, or 15 percent, whichever is greater.
A three-year NHS tariff ends in April 2021, and Health and Welfare Secretary Matt Hancock has asked the NHS Pay Review Body (PRB) to report on the award for 2021/2022 early next May.
Unite, which has 100,000 members in the healthcare sector, has called for an increase to offset a 19 percent real wage drop that has suffered since 2010, according to many NHS workers.
In his letter, Mr McCluskey said: "To hear the Chancellor announce that NHS workers will receive a raise on one hand and on the other hand announce pay freezes for other public sector workers who are helping fight the pandemic is offensive and shows how much the government genuinely values key public sector workers. "
Jenrick says there is still a way to go before the Brexit deal
Robert Jenrick, the housing secretary, said "Details matter" when it comes to the prospect of a trade deal with the EU and issues of fishing rights and a "level playing field" for competition.
He told BBC Radio 4's Today program: "We want to make sure we take precautions on both counts to ensure that we continue to be an independent, sovereign nation.
"So getting these details right is very important and I think the Prime Minister is aiming for this to be an agreement that is likely to go a long way.
"We want to make sure it's right for the country before he can recommend it to parliament."
Mr Jenrick added, "I am optimistic, I hope we can reach an agreement, but we have to resolve these final problems and there is another way to go about it."
Widow Twankey: Panto cancellations are "disgusting"
Christoper Biggins as Widow Twankey in Aladdin - Matt Cardy / Getty Images
Christopher Biggins, who played the famous widow Twankey in Aladdin, has described the government's decision to move London to Tier 3 in early December and effectively stop pantomime productions in the capital as "disgusting".
Speaking of Good Morning Britain, the actor said: "So many pantomimes have been canceled this year, including mine. I wanted to go to Dartford."
He added, "So many people have lost mimes lately, including the London Palladium, which was tragic they lost theirs. They did six performances and then the government took them off. It was disgusting, just shameful. It was wonderful, wonderful pantomime, I went to the last performance.
"But only six performances that they did after a lot of rehearsing and laying out. It was so safe, the Palladium, it wasn't true. All the theaters were safe. It was very tragic, the whole thing."
Nicola Sturgeon 'mad at herself' after violating mask rules
Scottish National Clinical Director Jason Leitch said Nicola Sturgeon was "mad at herself" after breaking coronavirus rules by removing her face mask at a funeral.
On BBC Radio Scotland's Good Morning Scotland program, he said: "I think the First Minister knows this is important. I think she is as angry with herself as some are with her."
The Scottish Sun reported this morning that Ms. Sturgeon removed her mask after waking up.
The front page of the Scottish Sun this morning - The Sun.
"We had a quick chat last night and she's absolutely mad at this little concentration disorder," said Leitch.
"It's so simple, we live in a completely different world than we were a year ago, right?"
He said Ms. Sturgeon was "about to arrive and was called back".
He added, "Her mask was taken off because she was leaving and then (she went) back in and (had) a little mistake - didn't put it back on."
Truck drivers and police clash at the border after days
Hauliers and police officers clashed in Dover harbor when truck drivers sparked their anger over being in Kent without going home for days.
The government says the first crossings could be this morning, but it could take days to clear the backlog of up to 4,000 trucks near Dover.
The protests started yesterday when truck drivers tried to push their way through police to get to the port, which is currently closed.
Here are the latest photos of the protests:
A man is being held by a police officer in Dover Harbor - Getty Images Europe / Dan Kitwood
A man protests with a police officer outside the port - Steve Parsons / PA
Travelers to Europe are stopped by police in the port of Dover - Dan Kitwood / Getty Images Europe
National ban on the table as the steps announcement loom
Robert Jenrick didn't shy away from suggesting that there could be a reform of the tiered system this morning to deal with the new mutant coronavirus variant.
We hear from government sources that a full national lockdown could be on the table early next year, but an announcement is possible this afternoon, which will take effect on Boxing Day, covering the period between Christmas and New Years.
The government's "Covid-O" committee meets today to consider action.
This morning, Mr Jenrick said, "We don't have an immediate plan to take action, but the number of cases is increasing and the variant is spreading to other parts of the country. So we'll see if there is a need to do more and close." Make sure the tiered system is robust enough for the new circumstances.
"Remember, the tiered system was developed before we knew the full savagery of the new variant. So we need to make sure it is robust enough to survive this and prevent cases from only rising at the very worrying levels now in parts of the country. "
The mutant strain of the virus has already spread to most of the country, scientists warned yesterday, which means the toughest restrictions may no longer be reserved for London and the southeast.
Here is a map of the current restrictions in the UK:
Will there be a Brexit deal today?
Lord Frost leaving the British Ambassador's residence in Brussels this morning - Virginia Mayo / AP
Both the British and EU sides have now said they are "optimistic" about the possibility of a Brexit deal before the statutory deadline of December 31st.
Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator, yesterday proposed a tentative deadline for Christmas Eve (tomorrow) to reach an agreement and suggested that both sides could be closer than ever.
But Downing Street is less safe. Sources told Politico yesterday that a deal is more likely than not - stressing the prime minister is ready to negotiate rather than settle down on Christmas Eve.
The fundamental questions remain: fisheries, a level playing field and governance remain a sticking point for both sides.
A UK offer to fish was turned down by the EU yesterday, leaving the billion pound industry in limbo.
In light of travel bans and restrictions on movement between Britain and the continent, the Sun reported this morning that the RAF is ready to repatriate Lord Frost and his negotiating team in time for Christmas.
Robert Jenrick has warned the backlog could be days in the ports as experts have warned it could last the entire Christmas break.
Truck drivers woke up this morning to the grim news that they could be held at Manston Airport for a week.
But Mr Jenrick said he was "fairly optimistic" that the UK could reach a trade deal with the EU as European sources suggested that an agreement could be signed later today.
On the front page of this morning, you learn that the animal system is expected to be tightened this afternoon. However, the restrictions will only come into effect on Boxing Day.
Mr Jenrick said there were "no immediate plans" to change the levels, but ministers hinted that the current system is not "robust" enough to deal with the mutated strain of coronavirus.
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