Monday briefing: PM in crisis mode as travel ban bites | World news

Top story: France bans passengers and trade for 48 hours

Morning everyone. I’m Martin Farrer and these are the top stories this morning.

Boris Johnson will hold a meeting of the government’s emergency committee, Cobra, this morning to address the country’s mounting coronavirus crisis, as European travel bans threatened the steady flow of freight. Ministers are grappling not only with a pandemic that health secretary Matt Hancock yesterday described as “out of control” in parts of England, but the fresh threat of how a French ban on freight into Britain will impact already-precarious supply lines of essential goods. Miles-long queues of lorries and travel chaos were expected across Kent this morning after the decision by the French to place curbs on trade on top of banning passenger traffic in line with other European countries. Hauliers and the food and drink industry warned it could have a “devastating” effect on supplies over the holiday period.

The travel bans to France, Germany, Italy and non-European countries including Israel came as the latest figures showed the new variant of Covid-19 has led to a huge rise in cases, especially in London and south-east England. Ministers have admitted that the latest lockdown measures could last for months and it has brought fresh criticism from Labour and the prime minister’s own party about how the crisis has been handled, in particular Saturday’s “extremely egregious” u-turn on Christmas gatherings. The newspaper front pages also paint a bleak picture for the government this morning. Business owners and residents in London have also railed against the “incompetence” of the government. Scientists are still investigating the new strain of the virus, which is thought to be 70% more transmissible, although it is hoped that the newly developed vaccines will still offer protection. A surge in case in Thailand has prompted a testing blitz while officials are still scrambling to contain an outbreak in Sydney, Australia. Distribution has begun in the US of the Moderna vaccine approved last week but the daily cases could reach as high as 5,000. Follow all the latest developments at our live blog.

Brexit limbo – The latest deadline in the Brexit trade deal talks passed without any agreement being reached last night as negotiators reportedly inched towards a compromise on fishing rights. The two sides will resume talks in Brussels today despite last night’s inconclusive outcome meaning that Britain could begin 2021 without any deal in place. The European parliament has said it would not vote on any agreement reached after Sunday’s deadline. A major problem remains the EU threat to levy tariffs on British goods if the UK government blocks access to fishing waters.

‘McMafia’ ruling – Britain’s first McMafia-style “dirty money” investigation could see a woman who spent £1m a year at Harrods forced to give up her £15m home unless she reveals the source of her fortune. Zamira Hajiyeva, the wife of a former boss of the Azerbaijani state bank jailed for fraud, has lost her appeal against an unexplained wealth order forcing her to reveal how she came by so much money. If she does not comply, the National Crime Agency will be able to seize £22m worth of property, including her home in Knightsbridge, central London, and an £11m Berkshire golf course.

Stimulus deal – US Congressional leaders believe they have reached agreement on a $900bn coronavirus aid package after wrapping up marathon negotiations last night. Republican Senate leader, Mitch McConnell, said “help is on the way” after the four leaders of the Senate and House finalised an agreement for a major rescue package for the virus-ravaged American economy. The deal includes $600 direct payments to individuals, a $300 per week unemployment compensation supplement, and payroll assistance for struggling local news outlets. It is the second-largest economic stimulus in US history, following the $2.3tn Cares Act passed in March.

PPE mystery – A little-known firm with mystery investors and links to the Isle of Man has been awarded government contracts worth £200m to supply the UK with personal protective equipment (PPE). PPE Medpro was one of the companies placed in a “high-priority lane” for well-connected firms, although it has not revealed the identities of the financiers and businessmen behind the venture. It remains unclear how its offer to supply PPE came to be processed through a channel created for companies referred by politicians and senior officials.

Lewis Hamilton after winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award.

Lewis Hamilton after winning the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award. Photograph: Peter Byrne/PA

Happy Hamilton – Lewis Hamilton has won BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year award, capping a year in which he became Formula One racing world champion for the seventh time and emerged as an increasingly strong critic of his sport’s lack of diversity. Hamilton saw off challenges in the public vote from cricketer Stuart Broad and jockey Hollie Doyle among others, but the latter was nevertheless a big winner for raising her sport’s profile. Hamilton said: “I am so grateful to the British public. I know there’s been a huge amount of support… for them to call in tonight, and award me this great honour, I’m really just so grateful.”

Today in Focus podcast

Throughout 2020 we have reported on the shocking developments as Covid-19 swept through Britain, changing our way of life in a flash. In this episode we revisit people who helped us tell the story, from Wuhan, ICU wards, care homes and unemployment claims to a blind date that led to romance

Today in Focus

The people who helped us report on the pandemic

Lunchtime read: Michael Palin’s fitting swansong

Programme Name: Michael Palin’s Himalaya: Journey of a Lifetime - TX: n/a - Episode: Michael Palin’s Himalaya: Journey of a Lifetime (No. n/a) - Picture Shows: Michael Palin - (C) Firecrest Films - Photographer: Ryan McNamara

Photograph: Ryan McNamara/BBC/Firecrest Films

The BBC’s screening last night of Michael Palin; Journey of a Lifetime provides Lucy Mangan with the opportunity to celebrate one of our national treasures and his contribution to the travelogue genre. It is, she notes, a fitting swansong, but her thoughts are weighed with wistfulness as we look back on a year when we’ve scarcely been able to leave our homes, never mind journey through the majestic Himalaya.


Ole Gunnar Solskjær described Manchester United’s 6-2 victory over Leeds as one of the “great performances” against their cross-Pennines rivals, with his team rising to third in the Premier League. The family of another United legend, Nobby Stiles, say they have been told his brain was severely damaged by repeated heading of the ball. Spurs boss Jose Mourinho rued his team’s slow start as they lost 2-0 to Leicester, while Sam Allardyce’s reign at West Brom began with a sobering 3-0 defeat at home to Aston Villa. Joe Montemurro was in good spirits after Arsenal provided some much-needed Christmas cheer for the club’s fans with a 4-0 win against Everton in the team’s final Women’s Super League game of the year. Tiger Woods has enjoyed a dominant golfing career but added a new memory after he and 11-year-old son Charlie finished five shots back of world number three Justin Thomas and his father during an exhibition event in Orlando on Sunday.


Codemasters, the British gaming company behind the maker of Formula One racing games, has been targeted for a £945m takeover by an American rival as the industry emerges as one of the economic winners of the coronavirus crisis. The FTSE100 looks set to shed 1.1% this morning over concerns about the pandemic in Britain and the continuing delay over Brexit. The pound has also suffered, falling 1.2% to $1.335 and it is also off against the euro at €1.095.

The papers

The normally sober FT has the headline “‘Out of control’ Covid 19 variant means curbs will stay for months”, setting the tone for the rest of today’s front pages. The Express says “Millions face lockdown misery for two long months” and the Mail reads “The worst Noel and agony set to last months!”. The Mirror goes in harder with “Sick man of Europe” below a picture of Boris Johnson in a face mask, while the Star also attacks the government with “What a load of baubles”.

Guardian front page, Monday 21 December 2020

Photograph: The Guardian

The Guardian focuses on the European travel ban – “Nations ban travel from UK as new strain of virus takes hold” – as does the i – “Europe imposed UK travel bans over new Covid strain fears” – and Telegraph: “UK hit by virus travel ban across Europe”. The Times says “Europe shuts door on Britain” and he Sun has “French show no merci”. In Scotland the Record declares “Fortress Scotland” and the Herald says “Tiers may face axe as new Covid strain ‘too infectious’”.

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