Hitachi ‘withdraws’ from Wylfa nuclear project

Plans for a £15-£20bn nuclear power plant in Wales have been scrapped.

[Owl doubts this will be as big a “blow” to the Welsh economy as claimed]

Work on the Wylfa Newydd project on Anglesey was suspended in January last year because of rising costs after Hitachi failed to reach a funding agreement with the UK government.

Isle of Anglesey council said the company had now confirmed in writing it is withdrawing from the project.

Council leader Llinos Medi said: “This is very disappointing, particularly at such a difficult time economically.”

Developer Horizon Nuclear, which is owned by Hitachi, said it would not comment.

The UK government also declined to comment.

However Anglesey council said it had received a letter from the Tokyo-based parent company confirming its decision.

Mrs Medi has asked to meet both the Welsh and UK governments to discuss the future of the site.

A two-reactor plant at Wylfa was the biggest energy project ever proposed in Wales.

It was earmarked as having the potential to power up to five million homes, but the project was put on hold as the upfront costs rose.

With 9,000 workers ready to start the construction phase, the decision in January 2019 was described as “a tremendous blow” to the Welsh economy by business leaders.

The company said in June it was hoping to secure extra funding from the UK government to resume the project but has now thrown in the towel.

Analysis by BBC Wales business correspondent Brian Meechan

As one of Wales’ biggest proposed construction projects, Wylfa Newydd has faced turbulent times.

The company behind it, Hitachi, has always been concerned about the costs of building the new nuclear power plant.

The UK government went some way in offering financial support to the project but it wasn’t enough to satisfy Hitachi’s concerns over the financial risks.

The UK government also held a consultation on plans that would see energy customers pay upfront for the costs of construction.

The industry has been waiting for months for an outcome to that.

When the UK government said nuclear was part of its push for green energy, the industry thought it was a positive sign for Wylfa Newydd.

But critics question how green nuclear energy really is, not to mention how safe it is.

Wales has been called the “land of artists’ impressions” with many big schemes that are talked about and never happen.

Supporters of Wylfa Newydd will be concerned it will become another of those, while its critics would be glad to see the back of the plans.

The decision will have “a big effect on the economy”, according to Edward Jones, lecturer in economics at Bangor University.

“We are currently feeling the effect of Covid-19 and Brexit is around the corner, and we will feel the negative impact of that on the economy,” he said.

“A lot of people were investing in learning new skills with the thought of getting jobs at Wylfa.

“We know businesses are investing in new production methods to be part of the supply chain of the nuclear power plant.

“The challenge now is to find other projects that can make use of these skills.”

Mr Jones said other energy projects on the island, such as the Morlais tidal energy scheme, could make use of the investment already made.


Did your MP vote to break international law? (Yes)

Did your MP vote to break international law?

Many senior Tories did not vote, and two Conservative MPs rebelled in the first Commons division on Boris Johnson’s internal market bill, which would give ministers the power to break international law

Seán Clarke

Internal market bill, second reading

First vote on the PM’s controversial Brexit bill

Interactive list here

Both Simon Jupp and Neil Parish voted to break the law – Owl


The real ‘social housing waiting list’ is 500,000 more than official figures

“A coalition of charities, businesses, banks, and think tanks has launched a campaign calling on the government to put building social homes at the heart of its plans for recovery from the coronavirus crisis.”

The mutant housing needs algorithm is going to do nothing to address this problem, it’s just another developers’ charter to build, build, build the wrong sort of houses in the wrong places – Owl

15 September 2020 

The real ‘social housing waiting list’ in England is 500,000 households bigger than official figures suggest, reveals our new data today.

The findings are published in our annual People in Housing Need report, the most comprehensive report to date on the state of the nation’s housing crisis. It is the only research to analyse the true number of people in need of social housing in England, which has now hit 3.8m. This equates to 1.6m households – 500,000 more than the 1.16m households recorded on official waiting lists.[i]

Due to the severe shortage of social homes, some of these people have been on their council waiting list for almost two decades and may never be housed.[ii]

Already at critical levels, the National Housing Federation is warning that the number of people in need of social housing is set to rise rapidly as a result of the coronavirus pandemic – with low-income earners roughly twice as likely to lose their jobs.[iii] Worse still, those currently in need are likely to be forced further into poverty and debt and as the eviction ban ends, many more will become homeless.

Social rented homes are typically 50% of market rent. They are the most affordable and secure homes for people on low incomes.

Last year only 6,338 new social rented homes were built, a fall of 84% since 2010. New lettings from existing properties also fell by 17% in the same time period and the most expensive areas of the country saw the smallest proportion of new lettings, despite having the highest number of people in need and on waiting lists. [iv]

In the last two years the number of people in need of social housing has increased by 5% and 165,000 people, whilst the number of households has largely remained the same. This suggests that new and growing families are now suffering the worse effects of the housing crisis. The report shows that there are now 3.4m people living in overcrowded homes.

Now in its second year of publication, People in Housing Need reveals the true number of people hit by housing problems, what issues they are facing; such as unaffordability, overcrowding or poor conditions, and what housing would be most appropriate to meet their needs, based on income and circumstances.

Previously, council housing waiting lists were the only way of measuring how many people needed social housing. But these lists, which only record people who apply and meet strict criteria, are a way of prioritising the most vulnerable. They are not intended to be an accurate reflection of everyone in need of an affordable and secure home. Today’s report gives a significantly clearer and more accurate picture of housing need in this country.

The largest number of people on the real ‘social housing waiting list’ are in private rented homes (1.5m), with many having to choose between living in poverty and getting into debt in order to keep a roof over their heads. Others are living in overcrowded, poor quality or unsuitable homes, stuck with friends, family or ex partners because they cannot afford a home of their own, or are homeless. Official figures show that the number of homeless children living in temporary accommodation has risen by 88% since its low point in 2011 to 129,380.[v]

A coalition of charities, businesses, banks, and think tanks has launched a campaign calling on the government to put building social homes at the heart of its plans for recovery from the coronavirus crisis.

The Homes at the Heart campaign is a partnership between Chartered Institute of Housing, Crisis, National Federation of ALMOs, Association of Retained Council Housing and National Housing Federation; along with over 60 supporters from across different sectors – from Carers UK to NatWest.

Last month the HCLG committee inquiry into building more social housing, endorsed the National Housing Federation and Crisis’ recommendation that the government invest £10bn a year in social housing. This would be enough to build 90,000 new social rented homes every year. The report added that this should be a top priority to rebuild the country from the impact of Covid-19.

Kate Henderson, Chief Executive of the National Housing Federation, said: “Today’s report shows that the sharp end of the housing crisis is getting sharper, and at a rapid rate. Under-investment in social housing has left us with virtually no affordable homes available for people on the lowest incomes.

“The real tragedy is that these are same people impacted the most by the coronavirus crisis, which had led to huge job losses for low income workers. When the government’s Job Retention Scheme and ban on evictions end, we are likely to see people in need of social housing skyrocket.

“Everyone deserves a safe, secure and affordable home and social housing provides that vital safety net for low income people including thousands of key workers who have been keeping our country going at this time. We are calling on the government to commit to a once-in-a-generation investment in social housing and put homes at the heart of its plans for economic and social recovery.”

For more information on the Homes at the Heart Campaign visit:


Sasha’s Secret Diaries reveal a government of “eight smug, aloof, and slightly aimless people”

Tory wife’s diary reveals all about the party

“….the more one reads of the world of Mrs Swire, the more inevitable the subsequent collapse of British politics starts to seem. How were they supposed to end, those years of government by about eight smug, aloof, and slightly aimless people who were only bothering because they didn’t have anything better to do? …..”

[Owl finds the extracts themselves rather boring and repetitive unless you like descriptions of endless dinner parties but the reviews are interesting]

Hugo Rifkind 

It’s obviously simplistic to conflate political projects with cliques, but it can be helpful, too. Particularly when you’re trying to figure out why people hate each other so much.

In many respects, for example, the Blair government was best understood as a club of Islington lawyers who had had enough of left-wing politics being dominated by whiffy old men with bundles of pamphlets in plastic bags. And then, later on, the Corbyn movement was dominated by those same whiffy old men, often also from Islington, and often also with the same pamphlets, who were still very cross about it.

Similarly, over on the other side, the Cameron government was a bunch of chummy, middlebrow chaps from glamorous public schools, and the Brexiters who usurped them were a bunch of resentful middlebrow chaps from slightly less glamorous public schools, who the first lot had never once had over for a weekend in the Cotswolds. Caricature? Of course. But not, I think, untrue.

The memoirs of Sasha Swire, serialised in The Times this week, offer the sort of perspective into the Cameron tribe we could only otherwise have got with a periscope punching up through an unspeakably expensive kitchen island. She is the wife of the former Tory Foreign Office minister Sir Hugo Swire, and the daughter of a former Tory defence secretary, and she is tall and blonde and rich and glamorous, and seems to convey the very essence of being a very particular sort of Tory. As in, you know the sort of Tory that Ruth Davidson is? That Theresa May is, and John Major is? Well, not that sort. No.

Like all the best memoirists, Swire seems to understand her own life with the perfect mix of insight and a complete lack of it. For the latter, I offer you the bit in Decca Aitkenhead’s interview in The Sunday Times, where Swire mused that her husband should have been foreign secretary, or at least international development secretary, because he had Etonian charm and “knows all the countries”. What, all of them? Get you, Mr Google.

For the former, though, ponder her epiphany, in yesterday’s extract, at the Cameron’s Notting Hill Christmas party. “Poor old Sarah Gove” is there, apparently doing the catering, and our author has a flash of being “in the court of King David”. It is, she writes, “a very particular, narrow tribe of Britain and their hangers-on” and “enough to repulse the ordinary man”. I’m not sure which ordinary man. Maybe her gardener.

Fifteen years after it began and four years after it so abruptly ended, there remains something enigmatic about the Cameron project. One looks back, still, and one is not quite sure what it was for. Asked why he wanted to be PM, Cameron famously replied “because I think I’d be good at it”. It always reminded me of that Billy Connolly routine, where he meets a well-spoken Englishman who tells him he’s a tobogganist. “A tobacconist?” says Connolly, confused. From the right sort of background, you can have a decent crack at doing almost anything. So why not, thought Dave, do that?

Perhaps that’s why it all never really seemed to matter. Facetiousness can be a pose for the upper classes because earnestness is gauche but the characters we see through Swire don’t even seem to notice that they’re doing it. “What more do I want?” chuckles Cameron, after the fall of Tripoli in 2011. “A great day on the beach . . . and I’ve just won a war.” Contrast this with Blair on Iraq, with the handwringing, and the angst, and the talking to God. Despite all that “heir to Blair” stuff, the two PMs don’t seem to have much in common, either in earnestness or in charisma. This is seen most abruptly when the PM tells Mrs Swire, I suppose in what he imagines to be a charming way, that her perfume makes him want to “push you into the bushes and give you one”.

The clique has codes. A few months after hosting the Camerons in Cornwall, the Swires mention to the Osbornes that they still haven’t been invited to Chequers. Twenty-four hours later an invitation materialises, because while joking about forcibly humping your friend’s wife in the bushes is basically fine, forgetting to return an invitation definitely isn’t. Also, there is the strange, awkward, status of the Goves. Alone among the clique, they are precarious, with lives that would be very different if they weren’t in it. Thus, eventually, they aren’t. In a world where everybody is blithe, their crime seems to be not being. Almost explicitly, in fact, Boris Johnson is forgiven for backing Brexit because he didn’t really believe in it, whereas Michael Gove isn’t, because he did. As Sarah Vine, otherwise known as Mrs Gove, wrote yesterday: “Hugo toyed with the idea of coming out for Brexit, but in the end decided to support Dave instead.” Brexit or Dave: the real referendum choice.

As I said, a clique theory of politics will always be simplistic. Speaking as somebody who was also at a public school, and who is also from a Conservative family and who is, indeed, even also called Hugo, I might also seem to be dancing on a pinhead in separating one bunch of Tories from another.

Still, the more one reads of the world of Mrs Swire, the more inevitable the subsequent collapse of British politics starts to seem. How were they supposed to end, those years of government by about eight smug, aloof, and slightly aimless people who were only bothering because they didn’t have anything better to do? What else could possibly have happened, if not the storming of their expensively tasteful barricades, by all of those colleagues that they relied upon, and looked down upon, and never invited in?


North-south divide in housing targets

More on the impact of the mutant housing algorithm – Owl

Melissa York, Assistant Property Editor 

A new housebuilding algorithm will mean that northern councils have to cancel their plans while huge numbers of homes are built in the south, according to an analysis.

Last month the government said that it was looking to revise quotas for local councils using a formula based on “relative affordability”, among other factors. The targets would be compulsory and create local “growth” zones that would automatically approve developments with little input from local councillors.

The Local Government Association (LGA) compared housebuilding targets under the proposed regime with the current one and found that the results would lead to a housing boom in London and the south and fewer homes being built in the north.

In Dover, the council would be expected to deliver 294 per cent more homes than it has done in recent years, according to the LGA’s estimate, while Tunbridge Wells, in Kent, would have to increase housebuilding by 184 per cent.

In the north, it found that housebuilding would decrease, with 66 per cent fewer homes built in Newcastle, 59 per cent in Liverpool, 20 per cent in Sheffield and 16 per cent in Leeds. Rural areas would be disproportionately affected, with some of them seeing a 59 per cent increase in homes under the updated algorithm, compared with a 20 per cent increase in urban areas. The LGA said it was not the planning system but housing delivery that was “fundamentally broken”, because nine out of ten applications were approved.

The Ministry for Housing, Communities and Local Government said: “The LGA’s fears are unfounded. The current formula for local housing need is inconsistent with our aim to deliver 300,000 homes by the mid-2020s.”


Devon & Cornwall covid cases up 50 per cent

122 new Devon cases confirmed this week

The number of coronavirus cases confirmed in the last seven days has risen by 50 per cent across Devon and Cornwall.

One hundred and twenty-two new cases have been confirmed in Devon in tests carried out by the NHS and by commercial partners, compared to 96 new cases confirmed last week. Most, 71, were in the Devon County Council area, which excludes Torbay, which had 12 cases, and Plymouth, which had 39, down one from last week.

Cases confirmed across Cornwall and Devon County Council areas have doubled, in Torbay tripled, but in Plymouth, they have fallen, with 39 cases compared to the 40 last week.

Of the new Devon County Council area cases, 18 were in East Devon, 17 in Exeter, four in Mid Devon, eight in North Devon, seven in the South Hams, nine in Teignbridge, six in Torridge, and two in West Devon.

There is a cluster of four cases in Clyst, Exton and Lympstone, and in Cranbrook, Broadclyst and Stoke Canon, in East Devon, three cases in Wonford and St Loyes, and Pennsylvania and University, in Exeter, a cluster of three Bishop’s Nympton, Witheridge & Chulmleigh in North Devon, and four cases in Wellswood and Churston and Galmpton in Torbay.

Plymouth currently has four clusters, all of three cases, in Cattedown and Prince Rock, Mutley, Plymstock Hooe and Oreston, and Honicknowle and Manadon. Clusters in Dartington and Loddiswell, and Ivybridge, in the South Hams, Bradninch, Silverton and Thorverton, Chudleigh and Bovey Tracey, Plympton Underwood, North Prospect and Mannamead and Hartley have dropped off the map in the last week.

And while the number of cases being confirmed still remains relatively low, not all of the new cases are linked to returning international travellers, which has been the pattern previously.

Dr Virginia Pearson, director of public health Devon and chair of the multi-agency covid-19 health protection board, said: “Although Devon’s rates have been comparatively low so far, we cannot be complacent. Just like the rest of the country, we have seen a significant rise in the number of confirmed cases in September. Not all new cases are now linked to returning international travellers, which was the pattern we had seen recently. We must remember that coronavirus is still a very real threat to us all, especially to our older and vulnerable residents.

“It’s very easy, with the relaxation of restrictions we’ve had over recent months- the call for people to return to work and to support our high streets; our children returning to schools, colleges and soon to Universities – to believe that life is back to normal. It is not back to normal.  The virus is still here and it is very easy to get infected, especially indoors.  I am therefore urging all Devon residents, of all ages, but specifically to our younger residents who perhaps do not feel the risk felt by older and more vulnerable residents, to follow the public health advice at all times.

“We are continuing to monitor the data very closely so that we can react immediately to situations as they arise.  But we also need you, the Devon public, to carry on doing your bit to reduce the risk of coronavirus spreading in our county this autumn.”

However, despite the rise in cases across the region from previous figures, the number of people in hospital with coronavirus has continued to remain relatively low. The R Rate for the wider South West region is now estimated as between 0.9 and 1.2, up from 0.8 – 1.1 last week. 

In total, Torridge has had 64 positive cases, West Devon 78, with 123 in the South Hams, 143 in North Devon, 235 in Mid Devon, 238 in Teignbridge, 274 in East Devon, 291 in Exeter, 318 in Torbay, 793 in Plymouth and 1026 in Cornwall and the Isles of Scilly.



Urgent improvements needed at failing  Devon Doctors service

Urgent improvements have been demanded at Devon’s NHS 111 and out of hours GP service after inspectors found ‘deep rooted issues’ and that not all patients are receiving safe care or treatment.

Anita Merritt 

It was also criticised for not treating patients promptly enough, with national performance targets failing to be met, and some patients having been put at risk, including deaths which have since been the subject of serious incident investigations.

Shocking examples included a patient who died some time after a fall and had not being properly assessed due to the clinician’s heavy workload, and a patient who had sustained an injury, but no call back was made and they subsequently died.

Devon Doctors Limited, which provides an Urgent Integrated Care Service (UICS) across Devon and Somerset, was inspected by independent health and social care regulator the Care Quality Commission (CQC) in July, after concerns were raised about the service including safety fears and insufficient staffing to meet expected demand.

They included that prior to lockdown in March 2020, up to 300 call backs were reallocated back to patients’ own in hours GPs on Monday mornings as they had not been addressed by the service over the weekend.

It resulted in considerable delays for some patients in accessing advice or treatment, with some patients having waited up to 17 hours for contact from the service.

The inspection looked specifically at Devon NHS 111 and out of hours service, and some areas of the Somerset out of hours provision.

Devon Doctors, which is based at Manaton Court in Exeter, provides a primary medical service to approximately 1.1 million people, a figure which increases substantially in the summer months due to the area’s tourism industry.

Janet Ortega, CQC’s head of inspection for Primary Medical Services in the south, said: “People who call the NHS 111 service are entitled to quick and easy access to healthcare advice and information, or access to urgent attention when that’s appropriate.

“This should never impede on patient care. Our inspectors visited Devon Doctors in July and were not assured that patients were being treated promptly enough and, in some cases, they had not received safe care or treatment.

“It is clear there are deep rooted issues and the provider needs to address these. We have shared our findings with the leadership team at Devon Doctors and they know what they must do to improve.

“The provider recognised the concerns highlighted by our inspection team and is working very closely with Devon CCG and Somerset CCG through an improvement programme.

“We will continue to monitor Devon Doctors extremely closely and will return to inspect services again on an unannounced basis in the near future.”

The service was last inspected in January 2017 when it was rated as good overall.

However, during the latest visit, CQC inspectors found the systems in place to keep patients safe and safeguarded from abuse were not always followed. This meant the risk to patients was not always minimised.

Not all staff had received up-to-date safeguarding and health and safety training appropriate to their role. Records showed there were gaps in staff completing training and records that had been completed did not show what level of training had been undertaken.

Some staff said they were not always confident that the training they had received was sufficient to enable them to carry out their roles.

The leadership team was unable to show that actions to address any challenges to the quality of service had been effectively put into place or monitored. Not all staff felt supported by leaders to perform their role effectively.

Information to enable staff to deliver safe care and treatment to patients was not always up to date.

The data relating to performance for the NHS 111 service was consistently considerably below England averages. The service was not achieving the required national targets.

Performance targets for answering calls within 60 seconds were not always met and regularly fell below the national average.

There were a lack of systems to ensure risks were reduced and the safety of patients’ health and welfare was protected.

The service was not rated at the latest inspection due to it being a focused inspection.

A spokesman for Devon Doctors said: “We were inspected by the CQC in July 2020 and some areas for improvement were identified.

“An improvement plan has been developed and agreed with the CQC and commissioners in Devon and Somerset.

“We are working very closely with all three of these organisations to address specific areas for improvement and this work has already begun.

“We are confident that we can resume the high-quality service that we have successfully provided to patients for the last 20 years.”

To read the full report click here.

NHS reminder about face-to-face appointments angers GPs

NHS bosses have sent a letter to GPs to remind them to offer face-to-face appointments where necessary, sparking an angry response from professional bodies who say such comments risk insulting hard-working doctors.

Nicola Davis

In March, GPs were urged to move to remote consultations where possible in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19. The result was a surge in the number of appointments conducted at a distance: in May alone, 48% of GP appointments were carried out over the phone.

Now NHS England has written to GP practices reminding them they must make sure patients are aware face-to-face appointments are available, where clinically appropriate, and warning practices they face investigation by local commissioners if they fail to offer such appointments where needed.

“We know that the vast majority of practices have made significant efforts to remain accessible to patients through the pandemic, and to keep staff and patients safe,” the letter states.

But, it adds: “It is important that no practice suggests in their communication that the practice is closed or that the practice is not offering the option of face-to-face appointments.”

Nikki Kanani, the medical director of primary care for NHS England, said general practice had adapted quickly during the coronavirus outbreak to offer remote services, while providing face-to-face appointments where necessary.

“While many people, particularly those most vulnerable to Covid-19, want the convenience of a consultation over the phone or video, the NHS has been and will continue to offer face-to-face appointments and I would urge anyone who feels they need medical support to come forward so they can get the care, support and advice they need – the NHS is here for you,” she said.

Prof Martin Marshall, the chair of the Royal College of GPs, said the proportion of appointments carried out face-to-face is increasing, with more than 300,000 delivered each day last week.

“General practice is open and has been throughout the pandemic. GPs have been delivering a predominantly remote service in order to comply with official guidance and help stop the spread of Covid-19,” he said.

“Where face-to-face appointments are necessary, they are being facilitated, and we have called on CCGs to work with practices where this is not possible – for example, if all GPs at a practice are at high risk of Covid-19 – to ensure that they can be.

“Any implication that they have not been doing their job properly is an insult to GPs and their teams who have worked throughout the pandemic, continued delivering the vast majority of patient care in the NHS, and face an incredibly difficult winter ahead.”

Dr Richard Vautrey, the GP committee chair at the British Medical Association, agreed, adding that doctors have experienced a significant increase in workload.

“GPs have been working incredibly hard to keep their services as accessible as possible during the Covid-19 pandemic, with most offering virtual triage as the first point of contact in order to help keep their workforce and communities safe. This is exactly what the government has been encouraging them to do,” he said.

“This does not mean practices have stopped face-to-face appointments, and they continue to be offered where safe and necessary. Any inference that in-person consultations were put on hold does a great disservice to the committed GPs who have continued to go to work throughout the pandemic.”

Chief scientist Patrick Vallance ‘was told off’ for backing lockdown

The government’s chief scientist was ‘told off’ for pushing too hard for lockdown as coronavirus cases soared, a private email revealed today. 

James Tapsfield

Sir Patrick Vallance said he ‘argued stronger than anyone’ for harsh restrictions early in the crisis, as he defended his own performance during internal wrangling.

In the message to fellow science officers, Sir Patrick complained that he had been rebuked by chief medical officer Chris Whitty and then-Cabinet Secretary Mark Sedwill over the tough stance.

The spat – disclosed in an email released to the BBC under freedom of information rules – sheds light on the tensions at the heart of government as it struggled to cope with the challenge from the deadly disease.

Sir Patrick and Prof Whitty in particular have always tried to present a united front, as they are jointly responsible for interpreting the complex evidence on coronavirus for Cabinet and often flank the PM at press conferences. 

It comes as experts condemned the government’s response handling of coronavirus as ‘one cautious, catastrophic error after another’. Professors Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson, from Oxford University warned that the draconian ‘Rule of Six’ restrictions imposed today had ‘no scientific basis’ and could ‘tip the public over the edge’.  

The internal row emerged as Sir Patrick and colleagues were discussing how to respond to allegations from the Sunday Times that there had been too much delay in announcing a lockdown – which finally happened on March 23.

The message from Sir Patrick, dated May 23, said it was ‘very clear what we warned of and what needed to be prepared for’.

He added: ‘It is also the case that I argued stronger than anyone for action for lockdown (with a telling off from CMO, PS DHSC and CabSec).’

CMO is an abbreviation for ‘chief medical officer’, Prof Whitty, while PS DHSC refers to the permanent secretary at the Department of Health, Chris Wormald and ‘CabSec’ at the time was Sir Mark. 

Sir Patrick came under heavy fire early in the crisis for citing the idea of ‘herd immunity’, that the disease would need to be contracted by a large proportion of the population.

However, he has denied that was the government’s active policy, and insisted in the email that ‘herd immunity is what is achieved by vaccines and that is what stops epidemics’. 

A government spokeswoman said: ‘As recorded in the SAGE minutes there was no disagreement on the substance of the scientific advice to Ministers.

‘This is a new virus and at every stage, we have been guided by the advice of world renowned scientists.

‘There was no delay to lockdown. SAGE advised on March 16th that further measures should be introduced as soon as possible.

‘Our response ensured the NHS was not overwhelmed even at the virus’ peak, so that everyone was always able to get the best possible care.’

Sir Patrick is regarded as one of the most sceptical major players in government over the chances of overcoming the disease quickly.

At a press conference with Mr Johnson and Prof Whitty last week, he voiced doubts about the prospects that a ‘moon shot’ mass testing system could remove the need for lockdown and social distancing soon.

He cautioned that there was a lot of uncertainty around the development of accurate saliva tests. 

Asked whether the ‘moonshot’ technology worked, Sir Patrick said: ‘Some of them we don’t yet know that they work. 

‘So things like lateral flow tests are not yet being used widely, they’ve not been validated.

‘There are prototypes which look as though they have some effect, but they’ve got to be tested properly and so there are, as always with technologies, unknowns and we would be completely wrong to assume this is a slam dunk that can definitely happen. I think this needs to be tested carefully.’