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Covid is a ‘gift that keeps on giving’ says ally of Sir Keir Starmer

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing a backlash after one of his most senior frontbenchers described the Covid pandemic as a ‘gift that keeps on giving’ for lawyers.

Lord Falconer, the Shadow Attorney General, used the phrase during a briefing for a top City firm staffed by millionaire lawyers. 

The peer insists that he was referring to changes in the law triggered by the crisis, but a source close to the Labour grandee said that he regretted his choice of words.

Last night, Lord Falconer’s comments were seized on by the Conservatives, with party chairman Amanda Milling describing it as a ‘troubling’ example of Labour’s approach to the pandemic. 

Lord Falconer (pictured), the Shadow Attorney General, used the phrase during a briefing for a top City firm staffed by millionaire lawyers

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer is facing a backlash after one of his most senior frontbenchers described the Covid pandemic as a ‘gift that keeps on giving’ for lawyers. Lord Falconer (right), the Shadow Attorney General, used the phrase during a briefing for a top City firm staffed by millionaire lawyers

Lord Falconer insists that he was referring to changes in the law triggered by the crisis, but a source close to the Labour grandee said that he regretted his choice of words. (He is pictured at the party’s 2018 conference in Liverpool)

Lord Falconer insists that he was referring to changes in the law triggered by the crisis, but a source close to the Labour grandee said that he regretted his choice of words. (He is pictured at the party’s 2018 conference in Liverpool)

The embarrassment comes after a torrid week for Starmer (above, on February 3), who had to apologise to Boris Johnson for making false accusations in the Commons

 The embarrassment comes after a torrid week for Starmer (above, on February 3), who had to apologise to Boris Johnson for making false accusations in the Commons

Last year, three partners at Gibson Dunn, which has 20 offices worldwide, wrote an article for a legal journal which advised private equity firms on how to invest in the 'distressed environment' of Covid. (Above, ambulance staff outside the Royal London hospital)

Last year, three partners at Gibson Dunn, which has 20 offices worldwide, wrote an article for a legal journal which advised private equity firms on how to invest in the ‘distressed environment’ of Covid. (Above, ambulance staff outside the Royal London hospital)

As well as being a full-time member of the Shadow Cabinet, Lord Falconer – who served as Tony Blair’s Lord Chancellor – is a partner at the international law firm Gibson Dunn, where his duties have included leading its Covid-19 UK Task Force.

Labour declined to reveal details of Lord Falconer’s pay at the company, although it was reported in 2019 that full partners at the firm took home an average of £2.5 million a year.

The embarrassment comes after a torrid week for Starmer, who had to apologise to Boris Johnson for making false accusations in the Commons. 

The Labour leader had called it ‘complete nonsense’ for the Prime Minister to claim that Starmer had wanted Britain’s vaccines to remain under the regulation of the European Medicines Agency post-Brexit. He later had to admit the charge was true.

The Labour leader had called it 'complete nonsense' for the Prime Minister to claim that Starmer had wanted Britain's vaccines to remain under the regulation of the European Medicines Agency post-Brexit

Keir Starmer later had to admit the charge was true

The Labour leader had called it ‘complete nonsense’ for the Prime Minister to claim that Starmer had wanted Britain’s vaccines to remain under the regulation of the European Medicines Agency post-Brexit. He later had to admit the charge was true

As well as being a full-time member of the Shadow Cabinet, Lord Falconer – who served as Tony Blair's Lord Chancellor – is a partner at the international law firm Gibson Dunn, where his duties have included leading its Covid-19 UK Task Force. Labour declined to reveal details of Lord Falconer's pay at the company, although it was reported in 2019 that full partners at the firm took home an average of £2.5 million a year. (Above, Lord Falconer in 1997 when he was Tony Blair's Solicitor General)

As well as being a full-time member of the Shadow Cabinet, Lord Falconer – who served as Tony Blair’s Lord Chancellor – is a partner at the international law firm Gibson Dunn, where his duties have included leading its Covid-19 UK Task Force. Labour declined to reveal details of Lord Falconer’s pay at the company, although it was reported in 2019 that full partners at the firm took home an average of £2.5 million a year. (Above, Lord Falconer in 1997 when he was Tony Blair’s Solicitor General)

Constituency Labour parties have also reportedly been drawing up censure motions against Starmer as they lose faith in his ability to win a General Election. 

The most recent opinion poll put the Conservatives three points ahead of Labour, while one survey found that just 16 per cent of people thought Starmer would have done a better job in handling the pandemic than Johnson.

In a recording obtained by The Mail on Sunday, Lord Falconer can be heard introducing a Gibson Dunn ‘webinar’ on ‘how the law has been changed by Covid’ by saying: ‘This is a gift that keeps on giving, the law keeps on changing, keeps on getting more complicated, and is always interesting.’ 

By the time of the webinar, on June 29, in the UK some 43,575 people had died with coronavirus, with the country established as the worst-hit nation in Europe.

Lord Falconer, who also once shared a flat with Mr Blair, inhabits a world which contrasts starkly with that of voters in those ‘Red Wall’ seats in the Midlands and the North which Labour hopes to reclaim from the Tories at the next Election.

In September, Starmer's Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green (above), called the pandemic a 'good crisis' which Labour could exploit

In September, Starmer’s Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green (above), called the pandemic a ‘good crisis’ which Labour could exploit

Last year, three partners at Gibson Dunn, which has 20 offices worldwide, wrote an article for a legal journal which advised private equity firms on how to invest in the ‘distressed environment’ of Covid.

It started: ‘The current Covid-19 pandemic – while providing unprecedented challenges for many portfolio companies – will also present some unique investment opportunities to invest in distressed businesses.’ 

The article suggested the ‘strategic purchase of debt as a path to obtaining control’ of failing firms. 

Lord Falconer, who was appointed to Labour’s front bench last April, is a member of the Privy Council, which technically entitles him to receive sensitive Government information – although there is no suggestion that he has ever used the privilege for commercial advantage.

The source close to Lord Falconer said of his opening comments last night: ‘Charlie was referring to the pace at which the Government is making changes to the law.

‘He regrets his choice of words, which he understands could be misinterpreted.’

A source present at the meeting said: ‘Lord Falconer’s comments to a group of legal advisers were solely about it being an interesting time to study the law.’

In September, Starmer’s Shadow Education Secretary, Kate Green, called the pandemic a ‘good crisis’ which Labour could exploit. 

She said: ‘I think we should use the opportunity, don’t let a good crisis go to waste. We can really see now what happens when you under-resource schools, when you under-resource families.’

Last night, Ms Milling said: ‘One Shadow Minister previously said this awful pandemic was a ‘good crisis’ for the Labour Party. Now these troubling comments by another Shadow Minister emerge.

‘All of this sums up Labour’s approach throughout the pandemic, which has been to play politics at every opportunity.’

From Blair’s flatmate to a Starmer loyalist – the ultimate Labour insider

By BRENDAN CARLIN for the Mail On Sunday 

He is a Labour insider par excellence – there at the start of the Blair project and, more than 20 years later, present at the beginning of the Starmer project too.

Charlie Falconer has been a familiar – if unelected – figure on the party’s front line since the mid-1990s, even if that figure has dramatically changed over the years thanks to his famous ‘apple diet’.

Apart from a few years of exile under the Gordon Brown premiership and the Jeremy Corbyn era, he has served as either a Minister or a Shadow Minister every year since 1997. Falconer was given a peerage immediately after New Labour’s landslide victory that year.

That was after he ‘fluffed’ his bid to become an MP, so the story goes, by refusing to take his children out of private school during selection for the safe Labour seat of Dudley North. 

In the early days of New Labour, the affable Scottish lawyer was best known as Tony Blair’s one-time flatmate. 

In the early days of New Labour, affable Scottish lawyer Charlie Falconer was best known as Tony Blair's one-time flatmate. As young lawyers, they lived together in Wandsworth, South London. Apart from Labour activism, they shared a passion for rock music – Lord Falconer, 69, has boasted of still being able to reveal the names of the B-sides of virtually every hit of the 1960s. (Above, the-then Home Secretary David Blunkett, centre, flanked by Lord Falconer and Tony Blair in 2003)

In the early days of New Labour, affable Scottish lawyer Charlie Falconer was best known as Tony Blair’s one-time flatmate. As young lawyers, they lived together in Wandsworth, South London. Apart from Labour activism, they shared a passion for rock music – Lord Falconer, 69, has boasted of still being able to reveal the names of the B-sides of virtually every hit of the 1960s. (Above, the-then Home Secretary David Blunkett, centre, flanked by Lord Falconer and Tony Blair in 2003)

As young lawyers, they lived together in Wandsworth, South London. Apart from Labour activism, they shared a passion for rock music – Lord Falconer, 69, has boasted of still being able to reveal the names of the B-sides of virtually every hit of the 1960s.

The two men have known each other since their school days in Scotland, although not always on the best of terms. Lord Falconer has let slip how Mr Blair was dating a fellow student, Amanda Mackenzie Stuart, whom Charlie fancied. ‘We got on very, very badly,’ he revealed, although Amanda and Charlie apparently did get together eventually.

While Mr Blair focused on his political career in the 1980s, his flatmate concentrated on his career in commercial law – so much so that by the mid-90s his earnings were estimated to be about £500,000. 

In 1985, he married fellow barrister Marianna Hildyard, eventually becoming neighbours – and dinner companions – of the Blairs in New Labour’s Islington heartland. Starting out as Solicitor-General in 1997, his ministerial career included a brief responsibility for the Millennium Dome.

Charlie Falconer has been a familiar – if unelected – figure on the party's front line since the mid-1990s, even if that figure has dramatically changed over the years thanks to his famous 'apple diet'. (Above, in 2000)

Charlie Falconer has been a familiar – if unelected – figure on the party’s front line since the mid-1990s, even if that figure has dramatically changed over the years thanks to his famous ‘apple diet’. (Above, in 2000)

It culminated in a four-year spell as Lord Chancellor and Constitutional Affairs Secretary in 2003-07 when he presided over the creation of the Supreme Court. 

Out of office during the Brown premiership, the peer returned to the frontbench under Ed Miliband. He even stayed on to accept a job in Corbyn’s Cabinet but quit in 2016 ahead of the failed bid to force the leader out.

Blair flatmate jibes apart, he has suffered swipes for being a political ‘heavyweight’ in every sense of the word.

Nine years ago, the bathroom scales read 16st 6lb, so his lordship decided on a punishing weight-loss regime which meant missing breakfast and lunch, living off apples till dinner time, and no alcohol. Such was his dramatic weight loss (over 5st in two years), that fellow peers feared he had some horrible wasting disease.

‘I was just so fat,’ he explained. Despite his Blairite pedigree, Charlie Falconer seems to have remarkably few critics, even among hardened Labour Corbynites who heartily loathe his former boss’s brand of Labour politics.

His Covid ‘gift that keeps on giving’ gaffe may change that.   

As Government scrambles to find hotel rooms for its border quarantine plan, a Crowne Plaza two miles from Heathrow is home to 400 asylum seekers… and two nearby migrant detention centres stand almost empty

By MICHAEL POWELL for the Mail On Sunday 

Hundreds of asylum seekers are being housed at a large hotel near Heathrow as the Government struggles to find accommodation for passengers forced to quarantine after arriving from virus hotspots.

Ministers have so far failed to secure a single room for the scheme – intended to prevent deadly new strains of Covid-19 spreading in Britain. Yet taxpayers are spending a fortune to put up more than 400 immigrants at the four-star Crowne Plaza hotel just two miles from the UK’s biggest airport.

Astonishingly, officials have chosen not to move the asylum seekers into two nearby immigration removal centres, where there is space for more than 800 people and which would free up vital rooms for passengers required to self-isolate for ten days.

Boris Johnson last month announced plans to force arrivals from 30 ‘red list’ countries to quarantine in hotels, but the scheme has been delayed in part because of problems finding accommodation. Yet some 10,000 migrants are being housed at hotels across the UK, despite official figures showing only 290 of the 2,462 beds at seven purpose-built immigration centres are currently occupied.

Hundreds of asylum seekers are being housed at a large hotel near Heathrow as the Government struggles to find accommodation for passengers forced to quarantine after arriving from virus hotspots

Hundreds of asylum seekers are being housed at a large hotel near Heathrow as the Government struggles to find accommodation for passengers forced to quarantine after arriving from virus hotspots

At Harmondsworth, two miles from the £100-a-night Crowne Plaza, 527 beds are lying empty. There is space for a further 300 people at Colnbrook, half a mile further on. Alp Mehmet, from the Migration Watch UK think tank, said last night: ‘This is a frankly barmy situation. The Government is struggling to find hotel rooms for travellers to quarantine in, but there are hundreds of migrants and asylum seekers staying in a hotel right next to the airport. You couldn’t make it up.’

An 8ft fence was erected around the perimeter of the Crowne Plaza last summer, yet migrants last week strolled past private security guards contracted by the Home Office – many of them not wearing masks. 

As further evidence of the apparent indifference to safety, a hand car-wash business is operating in the hotel’s car park in contravention of lockdown rules. There is even a sign advertising the service at the nearby exit of the M4.

Migrants who have often risked their lives to reach Britain are in despair at safety measures.

‘It is not a good system – people are too close together,’ claimed Ilyat Alkaldi, 42, who fled Kuwait and completed the final leg of his journey across the Channel by dinghy from Calais. 

He has been housed at the hotel since October and claimed migrants roam the corridors and visit each other’s rooms. Djomou Bamou, 32, who was smuggled into the UK in a car, said: ‘We can walk around wherever we want. There are lots of people here.’

Astonishingly, officials have chosen not to move the asylum seekers into two nearby immigration removal centres (pictured), where there is space for more than 800 people and which would free up vital rooms for passengers required to self-isolate for ten days

Astonishingly, officials have chosen not to move the asylum seekers into two nearby immigration removal centres (pictured), where there is space for more than 800 people and which would free up vital rooms for passengers required to self-isolate for ten days

Each room has a double bed, an en suite bathroom and flatscreen TV. Staff leave three basic meals outside rooms each day while dining areas and leisure facilities are closed. Housekeepers clean the rooms once a week.

Groups of migrants can be seen chatting on smartphones outside the hotel or strolling to a parade of shops in nearby West Drayton.

Among them was Atif Ali, 21, from Pakistan, who was smuggled into the UK in the back of a lorry after spending two years living in the infamous Jungle camp in Calais. ‘After three months here in this hotel I feel like I am going crazy,’ he said. ‘You just sleep, it’s boring.’

The apparent freedom afforded to the migrants contrasts with the draconian measures awaiting passengers who will be placed in quarantine after flying in to Britain. Government-hired security guards are expected to patrol each hotel floor to ensure compliance.

However, Government officials still need to find 28,000 rooms to accommodate them after admitting that no contracts have yet been awarded. Given its location, the Crowne Plaza and its 500 rooms might be considered an ideal location, but it has been block-booked by the Home Office until March.

Taxpayers are spending a fortune to put up more than 400 immigrants at the four-star Crowne Plaza hotel just two miles from the UK’s biggest airport

Taxpayers are spending a fortune to put up more than 400 immigrants at the four-star Crowne Plaza hotel just two miles from the UK’s biggest airport

Ministers have been accused of hopelessly inadequate planning, with tender documents sent out to hotel chains only on Thursday night. Rob Paterson, the boss of Best Western, said: ‘In any normal company, if you went out and announced a programme nationally and you hadn’t thought about how you were going to plan that, and you hadn’t spoken to the people involved… I’m not sure I’d have a job if I did that in my company.’

Tory MP Sir John Hayes, a former Transport Minister, said: ‘This is a ridiculous situation. Hotels are not the best place for asylum seekers. They should be in secure accommodation or else we risk them disappearing into the black economy or being exploited.’

The Mail on Sunday has revealed how at least 20 hotels across Britain are being used to house migrants who had crossed the Channel as part of a £4 billion, ten-year contract between the Home Office and outsourcing firms.

Last night the Home Office said it is legally obliged to provide accommodation to asylum seekers. A spokesman said: ‘At all of our sites we put in place a range of measures to ensure they are safe and asylum seekers, like everyone else, must follow the coronavirus regulations.’ 

Gibraltar has given Covid jabs to 40 per cent of its residents – compared to Spain’s four per cent… in what is perhaps the starkest contrast between the speed of the UK’s vaccine rollout and the ‘slow-coach’ failure of Brussels

By BRENDAN CARLIN and JONATHAN BUCKS  for the Mail On Sunday 

It is perhaps the starkest contrast between the speed of the UK’s vaccine rollout and the ‘slow-coach’ failure of Brussels.

Thanks to jab supplies flown in by the RAF, Gibraltar has so far inoculated well over a third of its 33,700 residents.

The famous British outpost on the Mediterranean last week announced it had given first doses to over 13,000 people – a rate of almost 40 per cent.

But in next-door Spain, the EU member which covets the tiny UK territory on its southern tip, only four per cent of people had had a first jab by Friday.

To rub salt in Madrid’s wounds, many of the people now protected by British-supplied jabs in Gibraltar include workers who travel each day from Spain to work in the Rock’s care sector. 

Thanks to jab supplies flown in by the RAF, Gibraltar has so far inoculated well over a third of its 33,700 residents. The famous British outpost on the Mediterranean last week announced it had given first doses to over 13,000 people – a rate of almost 40 per cent. (Above, a woman gets her Covid jab in Gibraltar)

Thanks to jab supplies flown in by the RAF, Gibraltar has so far inoculated well over a third of its 33,700 residents. The famous British outpost on the Mediterranean last week announced it had given first doses to over 13,000 people – a rate of almost 40 per cent. (Above, a woman gets her Covid jab in Gibraltar)

In next-door Spain, the EU member which covets the tiny UK territory on its southern tip, only four per cent of people had had a first jab by Friday. To rub salt in Madrid's wounds, many of the people now protected by British-supplied jabs in Gibraltar (above) include workers who travel each day from Spain to work in the Rock's care sector

In next-door Spain, the EU member which covets the tiny UK territory on its southern tip, only four per cent of people had had a first jab by Friday. To rub salt in Madrid’s wounds, many of the people now protected by British-supplied jabs in Gibraltar (above) include workers who travel each day from Spain to work in the Rock’s care sector

As befits its British Overseas Territory status, the Rock is being supplied with coronavirus vaccines flown out from the UK on RAF aircraft. (Above, RAF personnel load a batch of the Covid-19 vaccine onto a Voyager aircraft, bound for the Falkland Islands)

As befits its British Overseas Territory status, the Rock is being supplied with coronavirus vaccines flown out from the UK on RAF aircraft. (Above, RAF personnel load a batch of the Covid-19 vaccine onto a Voyager aircraft, bound for the Falkland Islands)

Last night, former Brexit Minister David Jones hailed the comparison as one more bonus of quitting the EU.

With fish and chips and warm beer galore, modern Gibraltar looks for all the world like a little bit of Britain on the Med. Perched on the edge of the Iberian peninsula, it was ceded by Spain to Britain more than 300 years ago.

And as befits its British Overseas Territory status, the Rock is being supplied with coronavirus vaccines flown out from the UK on RAF aircraft.

In a series of flights which began last month, more than 17,000 of the Pfizer-BioNTech jabs have so far been delivered.

The most recent consignment of 6,825 jabs arrived last weekend on a C-130J Hercules flying from RAF Brize Norton. Another is due to arrive tomorrow.

Fabian Picardo, the territory’s chief minister, last week expressed ‘the sincere gratitude’ of the people of Gibraltar to Defence Secretary Ben Wallace for the ‘sterling work done by the RAF’ to get the vaccines to the St Bernard’s Hospital on the Rock.

As with other EU countries, the vaccination rate in Spain has been hampered by the chaos engulfing the decision by Brussels to order supplies for all 27 member states and the resulting delays in vaccines being delivered. (Pictured, a healthcare worker at Enfermera Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid on February 4)

As with other EU countries, the vaccination rate in Spain has been hampered by the chaos engulfing the decision by Brussels to order supplies for all 27 member states and the resulting delays in vaccines being delivered. (Pictured, a healthcare worker at Enfermera Isabel Zendal hospital in Madrid on February 4)

Addressing Gibraltar’s parliament, he added: ‘The logistical work necessary to get the vaccine here has been extraordinary.’

Mr Picardo, who himself has been vaccinated, led a minute’s silence to the 80 Gibraltarians who have so far died from coronavirus. 

But he hailed the Rock’s vaccine rollout so far – which yesterday stood at 13,398 first doses and nearly 5,000 second doses – and raised hopes that with infections down, ‘we are slowly turning the corner’.

That vaccine drive included many of the Spanish nationals who cross into Gibraltar each day to work in the care-home sector. Spanish newspaper El Pais admitted last December that they would be the first Spaniards to get the jab.

As with other EU countries, the vaccination rate in Spain has been hampered by the chaos engulfing the decision by Brussels to order supplies for all 27 member states and the resulting delays in vaccines being delivered. 

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been heavily criticised, including in her native Germany, for presiding over a procurement policy that has left Brussels trailing way behind the UK.

According to the World In Data league table last week, only about four per cent of Spaniards had received a first dose, compared to more than 17 per cent in the UK.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been heavily criticised, including in her native Germany, for presiding over a procurement policy that has left Brussels trailing way behind the UK

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has been heavily criticised, including in her native Germany, for presiding over a procurement policy that has left Brussels trailing way behind the UK

Last night, senior Tory Mr Jones said: ‘I think it’s great that so many Gibraltarians are getting vaccinated at such a fast rate.

‘But it just goes to show how much better off Gibraltar is in being part of the UK as a newly sovereign nation capable of running its own highly successful vaccination, well-planned programme rather than the botched slow-coach operation in Brussels.’

His Tory colleague, Colonel Bob Stewart, secretary of Westminster’s all-party parliamentary group on Gibraltar, added: ‘Gibraltar has been in front of the curve all the way through the pandemic.

‘They have had total control on getting their population vaccinated and it does not surprise me that if they can, they will be using it to help local Spanish people for whom they have a great affinity.’

Mrs von der Leyen admitted last week that in relation to procuring the vaccines, Britain was like a ‘speedboat’ compared with the ‘tanker’ of the EU.

But she still insisted the ‘European approach is the right one’, saying: ‘On these vaccines, we worked faster than usual.’


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