Response to Russia attack ‘under review’, says security minister

James Brokenshire said the UK was keeping its response under review - EPA-EFE/REX/EPA-EFE/REX
James Brokenshire said the UK was keeping its response under review – EPA-EFE/REX/EPA-EFE/REX

The Government will keep its response to the Russian attack on vaccine research centres “under review”, the security minister said today, as he confirmed it was “an ongoing incident”. 

James Brokenshire told Sky News there was “no evidence of damage or harm” as a result of the hack but said it was “still completely unacceptable” for Russian actors to have penetrated the UK’s systems in this way, at a time when international partners should be “pulling together” to stop coronavirus.

Mr Brokenshire said insisted the UK was “one of the best protected countries” against these kinds of attacks, but said the Government was hoping to encourage people to “raise their guard” by “taking some very simple steps in terms of their own systems.”

The minister then told BBC Breakfast there was “no evidence” Russia had succeeded in stealing any information from pharmaceutical companies developing a Covid-19 vaccine in a series of co-ordinated cyber attacks.

“Obviously we know these groups have been able to penetrate systems and to look around and assess what information is there,” he added. “This is an ongoing incident, which is why we have put this alert out there, why there is mitigation that has been put in place.”

The separate allegation of Russian interference with the December general election is not being attributed to the Russian state, but rather “actors”.

There is an “ongoing criminal investigation” into how a document relating to a planned UK-US trade deal was obtained and leaked online.

Follow the latest updates below.

08:03 AM

What’s on the agenda today?

There’s plenty on the agenda for Friday, kicking off with the weekly figures on coronavirus and social impacts being published by the ONS at 9:30am. 

The focus of the day will be the Prime Minister’s press conference at 11am, in which he is expected to announce a £3bn bung for the NHS to prepare for whatever coronavirus brings this winter. He is also expected to set out a plan for easing the lockdown further, potentially putting him at odds with the Government advisers.  

He is also expected to unveil new powers for councils to act quickly if cases start to surge. 

Then at 11:30 the independent Sage group will hold their regular press conference, which is likely to respond to these measures. At 3pm, Sir Patrick Vallance returns alongside Professor Chris Whitty, with the pair giving evidence to the Lords Science and Technology Committee   

The PM will also announce £3bn for NHS to prepare for the second peak & winter pressures, following the publication of the report earlier this week that warned of a further 120k deaths if left unchecked. On Weds it looked like he hadn’t actually read the report – hopefully we will hear that he has done today.

07:47 AM

Employers to decide if people should return to workplaces, minister says

James Brokenshire has said it will be down to employers and their staff to decide whether workers should return to the office, ahead of a press conference from the Prime Minister this morning.

Boris Johnson is expected to set out the next steps of the recovery roadmap this morning, as the Government seeks to boost the economy after many months of enforced closure. 

However there is some confusion over whether office workers should be told to return to their workplaces, after Chief Scientific Adviser Sir Patrick Vallance told MPs yesterday there was no need to change current advice, which stipulates that people should work from home if they can. 

Security minister James Brokenshire told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “The advice actually says that employers should decide in consultation with their employees whether it’s viable for them to continue working from home.

“But, if they do, then obviously this needs to be based on risk assessment, public health guidance, and ensuring that it’s a Covid-safe space for them to do so.”

Pressed on whether people should return to workplaces if they can, Mr Brokenshire said: “It’s for employers to make that assessment.”

07:42 AM

City centres will ‘not go back to what they were’ after coroanvirus, Ken Clarke warns

The country’s towns and city centres will not “go back to what they were” after the coronavirus-induced lockdown has come to an end, former chancellor Ken Clarke has said. 

The long-time minister told the Today programme predicted unemployment will reach three million by the end of the year in the wake of the coronavirus crisis.

He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I think we are going to see the loss, the very sad loss, of a lot of businesses, particularly small, medium-sized businesses.

“There are sectors of the economy, the old economy, that are not going to recover.

“Our city centres are not going to go back to what they were. And these are all dreadful things.”

07:39 AM

 ‘No change to emphasis’ on back to work, says minister

The Prime Minister is expected to set out further changes to the lockdown today, and Number 10 has been hinting all week that he will flip the emphasis from people working from home if they can to getting them back to offices. 

Boris Johnson is due to give a press conference at 11am this morning, which will include new guidance on home working, as well as unveiling new powers for councils to shut down businesses if local cases start to surge.

But Sir Patrick Vallance yesterday said there was “absolutely no need” to change the the guidance for people who have been able to work from home. 

This morning, james Brokenshire signalled a change in tone from Downing Street, telling Sky News: “If people can return to office environment or place of work, that’s a matter for employers and employees” .

He added: “I don’t think there is any change of emphasis on that way.”

Mr Brokenshire also claimed there had been “consistency in that advice”. 

07:32 AM

Minister says he ‘supports’ chief whip over move to expel Julian Lewis

The chief whip was right to expel Julian Lewis from the Conservative parliamentary party, security minister James Brokenshire has said. 

Dr Lewis was sacked late on Wednesday after he worked with opposition MPs to secure the chairmanship of the Intelligence and Security Committee, snatching it from Number 10’s preferred candidate Chris Grayling. 

The matter has been criticised as proof that Downing Street was trying to influence what is meant to be an independent process, with the committee – a key body in terms of scrutiny – intended to be impartial. 

While Mr Brokenshire would not comment specifically on the row, he stressed the importance of the ISC being able to carry out its work. 

“Obviously decisions in terms of how the committee selects it chair – it is for the committee. But obviously party managers will make separate decisions. 

“The chief whip that makes the decision around this has taken the whip away from [Dr Lewis] and I support the chief whip in his decision making.” 

07:26 AM

Russian government ‘hypocritical’ over cyber attacks, claims security minister

The Kremlin is being “hypocritical” in claiming it supports responsible behaviour online while “supporting” cyber attacks like the one carried out on vaccine research centres, the security minister has claimed. 

James Brokenshire told the Today programme that the UK’s National Cyber Security Centre was “95 per cent satisfied”  that the attack was carried out by the Russian state. 

He said: “We have to be very careful in terms of calling these things out, ensuring we can have that confidence in attribution.”

The group called Dukes or Cozy Bear was actually “Russian intelligence agencies”, he said. 

“The Russian government is hypocritical in claiming to support responsible behaviour in cyber space while secretly supporting” this kind of activity. 

07:09 AM

PM to announce £3bn for NHS to fight coronavirus this winter

Boris Johnson will announce an extra £3 billion to keep Nightingale hospitals open until March next year, amid fears of a second wave of Covid-19 this winter.

The Prime Minister will Friday set out the funding boost to make the health service “battle ready” for the winter.

The announcement will come amid warnings of a further 120,000 deaths in hospitals if the virus rebounds later this year.

Downing Street said the extra money will allow hospitals to boost capacity in the health service while also allowing routine treatments and procedures to continue.