Schools and parents to join coronavirus testing priority list, hints minister

Robert Buckland after yesterday's Cabinet meeting - AFP
Robert Buckland after yesterday’s Cabinet meeting – AFP

Children, their parents and teachers could be top of the list to get coronavirus tests after frontline NHS and social care workers, a minister has hinted. 

Until now, the Government has said anyone who needs a test can get one, but yesterday Matt Hancock admitted that, for the first time in months, tests would be rationed “once again” amid widespread shortages. The Health Secretary told MPs that people with acute clinical needs – such as hospital patients – and those in social care would be prioritised, as he acknowledged “operational challenges” in the system.

However this has provoked fears that it could put the country into “lockdown by default” if children and their parents cannot get tests.

This morning Robert Buckland, the Justice Secretary, said: “All of us who know and have been here through testing will know it has to be NHS first and then social care. 

“And then I think what we need to do is have a cascading system where we know where our priority should be and for me priority should be for children in school and their parents in order to ensure their lives are safe and also importantly they are not disrupted in the way we are seeing.”

He later told BBC Breakfast that testing at schools would be prioritised because of “the importance of education” and the “knock-on effect on parents” that quarantine would have. 

“A very sensible outline is coming,” Mr Buckland said. 

Follow the latest updates below.

07:21 AM

Government has ‘more work to do’ on testing, Robert Buckland admits

Robert Buckland has acknowledged the Government faced difficulties with the coronavirus testing system, admitting there is “more work to do”.

It comes as Matt Hancock admitted he was having to ration tests again, creating a new prioritisation list, following a nationwide shortage of test lab capacity.

The Justice Secretary told the BBC: “There are of course huge positives in the in-person tests, 90 per cent of those have been returned in a day, that’s great, but clearly when it comes to the tests we have to post out and the delayed response, there is much more work to do.

“I’m not denying that for a moment, we’re listening and acting upon the concerns of everybody who’s getting in touch and telling us about the problems they’re experiencing.”

07:18 AM

UK ‘not at stage of breaking law’ over Internal Market Bill, says Robert Buckland

Robert Buckland has insisted he does not believe the Internal Market Bill is “at that stage” where he would resign as a minister. 

The Justice Secretary said this weekend he would quit if he saw the rule of law being broken “in a way that I find unacceptable”.

Speaking to Sky News this morning, he explained: “If this country breaks the law and does so in a way that is clear and in a way that cannot be judged finely or fudged in any way – there are lots of debates about precisely what the law means in this area – I said that if the law is breached in a way that I find unacceptable, of course I will go.

“But I do not believe we are at that stage yet.”

Questioned on the objections of former attorney generals Jeremy Wright and Geoffrey Cox to the Internal Market Bill, Mr Buckland added: “I think my colleagues are absolutely right to sound the alarm about a flagrant and egregious breach of the rule of law – something that is beyond any doubt or argument – but I do not believe we are there.”

Robert Buckland and Larry the Cat - Bloomberg
Robert Buckland and Larry the Cat – Bloomberg

07:12 AM

EU to blame if UK breaks law, says minister

If the UK is forced to break the the terms of the Withdrawal Agreement through the Internal Market Bill will have been sparked by a European Union decision, Robert Buckland has suggested.

The Justice Secretary told Sky News: “If we reach that stage, the reason for it is because we judge that sadly, despite everybody’s best efforts, the EU is in a position where we think they are actually breaching their obligations to us.

“It is like an international dispute where clearly there is a breach somewhere but it is going to be the subject of a lot of argument.

“I would like to avoid that, I think we can but we do need to just prepare for that contingency, that ‘break glass in case of emergency’ provision, which I believe this is.”

He repeated his commitment to quitting the frontbench if the UK broke the law in an “unacceptable way”. 

07:09 AM

Justice Secretary in talks with Bob Neill over Internal Market Bill

Robert Buckland has held talks with senior Tory MP Sir Bob Neill over his amendment to the UK Internal Market Bill, the minister has admitted.

But the Justice Secretary refused to confirm if he had passed on the MP’s concerns to Boris Johnson. 

Mr Buckland told Sky News: “I don’t think it would be right of me to start talking about private conversations.

“But what I can say is that there are lots of discussions going on with MPs from all parts of the debate, not just Bob Neill but MPs in all parts of the Conservative Party.

“We want to get on with this job, we want to get this Bill through, we want to make sure we are ready for any disagreements or disputes that might arise if we don’t get agreement at the Joint Committee, and that’s what we’re planning on.”

Asked about whether he had spoken to Sir Bob, Mr Buckland added: “I talk to Bob Neill regularly, I have talked to Bob Neill about the Internal Market Bill, I have spoken to other people (as well).”

Pushed on whether he had raised Sir Bob’s concerns with Boris Johnson, he said: “I’ve had lots of conversations with colleagues – ultimately it is up to the Prime Minister and those responsible for business in Parliament to get the details (sorted).”