Herd immunity isn't a plan. It's an unethical medical experiment being conducted on children*

*Unless they go to private schools. Congratulations to England on the football. But can we now talk about the government's latest high-stakes gamble?

Welcome to Keeping the Receipts— a newsletter from the Citizens, written this week by Carole Cadwalladr. You can read about the mission behind this here.

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“A really stupid plan” 

This was the front page of today’s Mail on Sunday. Investment banker Sajid Javid, now health minister, used its pages to announce his plan to return the country to “freedom” on 19 July.

The days when ministers felt obligated to make announcements to parliament are over. But few dogwhistles are as obvious as this. The day after England beat Ukraine 4-0, Javid declared Britain had beaten the virus and normal life would resume, no matter that the virus is actually growing exponentially and that by 19 July we are predicted to have more cases than at any time in this entire pandemic.

There have been so many moments of folly, stupidity and incompetence since the start of the pandemic that it’s hard to rank them. But this may be the greatest yet. We have gone through the looking glass. Today represents a refusal even to engage with reality. We are entering a fact-free zone. Perhaps that’s why some Conservative MPs are calling for the government to stop publishing the figures.

Because it’s not ignorance that is behind this decision to remove all mitigations, including masks, even though only 49% of the population are fully vaccinated. It’s against the advice of the medical establishment including the BMA. The decision isn’t based on any sort of science. It’s based on a hardline ideology that deliberately ignores scientific evidence and the advice of doctors and includes the belief that masks are in some undefined way antithetical to “freedom”.

The Citizens have partnered with Independent SAGE from the start and we’ve witnessed so many moments during the Friday briefings we broadcast when the scientists have expressed their frustrations and fears. But it’s worth watching Friday’s in its entirety to see their collective disbelief at the government’s utter disregard for the consequences of their actions on a whole generation of children and the deliberate creation of conditions ideal for the emergence of a new variant:

As Professor Christina Pagel points out, letting a virus that we know so little about rip through a young and unprotected population is not only unethical and dangerous, it’s also just plain stupid:

We don’t need to let millions more people get infected and then live with the consequences of that down the line, but that seems to be the government’s plan and it’s a terrible plan.”

In last week’s newsletter we outlined our fears that the government was planning to reach herd immunity by allowing the virus to run unchecked through schools. This week it was announced that school bubbles and self-isolation for contacts of positive cases in schools are likely to be scrapped. A scientist on the Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation claimed that children might be “better off” getting infected than vaccinated. The element of doubt is gone: this is a herd immunity strategy, a mass experiment being conducted in real time using children as guinea pigs.

The decision to remove the paltry protection that exists for school children at a time when infections are spiralling has provoked an angry response from many in the scientific community. But no one in government is paying any attention. The opposition is nowhere to be seen. And from this vantage point, the disappearance of Matt Hancock last week to be replaced by the more hardline Javid looks, well, fortuitous.

We worked with Deepti Gurdasani, an epidemiologist at Queen Mary University, to try to force the government to reveal the data it was suppressing on the spread of the variant in schools. This was her response this week:

Ten to 15% of children have symptoms that last more than five weeks and there’s increasing evidence that Covid can cause long-term damage to the brain, heart and other organs. It’s projected that one million more people will have been infected by July 19. Ministers have families and they can presumably do simple maths, so what flabbergasts me is why they would put their own children at risk? I don’t know the answer. I’ll just note in passing that private schools break up on Wednesday and all four of Javid’s children will be protected from these latest decisions because they go to fee-paying schools.

We’re working this weekend with Deepti and other scientists to support a coordinated scientific response to the government’s proposals. The principle behind setting up the Citizens was the realisation that the cavalry isn’t coming and if we want to hold to power to account we have to do it ourselves. If you have skills you can volunteer - contact us at info@the-citizens.com - or you can support our mission by subscribing below or sharing this post.

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What’s the difference between a radio shock jock and a hostile foreign power?

Almost a year ago, the Citizens along with a cross-party group of four MPs - the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant, the SNP’s Alyn Smith - and two members of the House of Lords - Lib Dem Lord Strasburger and crossbencher (and ex-Conservative) Baroness Wheatcroft - embarked on a long, expensive and difficult process to try to hold the Prime Minister to account over his failure to protect the democratic process.

We believe that the government has failed in its duty to protect the security of our elections and therefore our democracy. And, because all attempts by parliament have failed, we are attempting to exercise our rights under the European Convention on Human Rights: the right to a free and fair election.

We are seeing so many egregious and unlawful abuses of power at this time. Some of these have been challenged through the courts. Some have even been successfully challenged through the courts, such as Good Law Project’s recent victories again Michael Gove and the Cabinet Office. They’re all hugely important attempts to uphold the rule of law and the authority of parliament.

But this case is singular. It’s a highly credible group of parliamentarians, is backed by a supporting statement from Lord Ricketts, former national security advisor to the government, and it’s grounded in the suppression of a report by the Intelligence and Security Committee that attracted almost universal condemnation. And it’s the first time a legal challenge on the grounds of national security has ever been brought.

The case is the result of months of careful work, many meetings and the commitment of all involved, including a team of lawyers working at vastly reduced rates. The government first attempted to “strike out” the case but we finally made it past the first hurdle last week: to a “permission hearing” at the Royal Courts of Justice.

You may have seen on Twitter or elsewhere the result of this hearing: we were denied permission to take the case forward. Here’s Luke Harding in the Guardian’s report:

A judge has rejected an attempt by a group of MPs and peers to compel Boris Johnson to investigate Russian interference in UK elections, saying their concerns were a “matter for politics rather than the law”.

This, however, is not the end of the road. Not just because our lawyers believe that we are right on the law. But because what this hearing made abundantly clear is a profound misunderstanding about the scale and nature of the threat.

A measure of how important the government considers this case to be is that it instructed its chief counsel, James Eadie QC. His argument rested on the assertion that this is not a matter for a court but for parliament.

But that is the point. Parliament spoke. Its Intelligence and Security Committee made its recommendation for a full inquiry in the strongest possible terms. But Boris Johnson point blank refused to accept them.

Eadie argued that this isn’t a matter for judicial review. If new legislation is required, he said, that is a matter for politicians not lawyers. But, as Richard Hermer QC for our side said, the legislation exists: the Security Services Act. It was the political direction that was lacking, not the law.

The judge point blank refused to accept this. He suggested that it would be over-reach for any government to direct the Security Services to protect our elections. This makes no sense to us. What else are the Security Services for but to defend the realm?

But there was one moment in particular that was genuinely shocking. Ben Bradshaw, the Labour MP for Exeter, who was in the court at the time, let out an audible gasp. Here is how Luke put it in his report.

The judge, Mr Justice Swift, said he saw “no distinction” between a controversial talkshow host – or a “shock-jock”, as he put it – and career spies in Moscow seeking to disrupt British democracy. He turned down the cross-party group’s application for a judicial review.

I rather clumsily captured it here in my live tweets (plus added typos):

“It doesn’t matter how many adjectives you use, I don’t see the difference between them.” It was an extraordinary statement by Justice Swift. If a senior member of the judiciary cannot understand the difference between Dan Wootton shooting his mouth off on GB News and a deliberate attempt of subversion by a hostile foreign government that has used a prohibited nerve agent and killed a British citizen on a British street, then the scale of the problem is far, far worse than even we realised.

Or as Ben Bradshaw put it in the Guardian:

“This leaves our democracy defenceless against a hostile foreign power,” Labour’s Ben Bradshaw said. “There is a timidity on the part of the legal establishment to stand up to the executive.

“The government has been wilfully negligent in investigating Kremlin interference in our democratic processes. Every other western democracy takes this extremely seriously. Boris Johnson is looking away.”

Or as Clara from the Citizens put it on our behalf:

This is very far from over.

This film explains the backdrop to why we, along with the four MPs - the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas, Labour’s Ben Bradshaw and Chris Bryant and the SNP’s Alyn Smith - and Lord Strasburger, who sits with the Lib Dems, and Baroness Wheatcroft, an ex-Conservative now crossbencher took this case to court. Because there was literally no other choice.

It is not about politics. It’s about national security. Our contention is that unless we know what happened in the past, we can’t protect the country in the future.

This hearing took place in a week in which the Russian government falsely claimed its destroyer in the Black Sea fired warning shots at a British warship. This is literally information warfare. It’s a way of inflating its military strength through a deliberate exploitation of the media. Which the Daily Mail fell for hook, line and sinker:

What’s more, this week, the New York Times reports that British and US intelligence have warned that the GRU - Russian military intelligence, the agency behind the Skripal poisoning and the attack on the US 2016 election - have an ongoing operation targeting institutions, government agencies and media organisations:

This week we filed the papers to appeal the court’s decision. Thank you to everyone who backed this crowdfunder. We couldn’t have done it without you. And we’re not giving up.


Are we living in Line of Duty land now?

Thanks to all who joined us on Wednesday night for our first ever paid subscriber event, featuring the legend that is television dramatist, Jed Mercurio.

Perhaps more than anything else in recent times, the BBC’s Line of Duty has tapped into the current zeitgeist. Six seasons came to a head with a denouement that revealed institutional corruption in the heart of his fictitious police force.

Jed came to TV drama after training as a fighter pilot in the RAF and then working as a hospital doctor and he brings a scientific insistence on facts to everything he writes. But what became clear, too, is how much politics also informs his writing.  

The first season of Line of Duty was broadcast in the summer of 2012, when the UK was basking in the glory of hosting a successful Olympics. Jed spoke about how his “small unheralded cop show” evolved over the course of six series to reflect the changing national mood and political landscape. He said he fears some of the values that we held then as a nation are “being dismantled”.

For the second part of the conversation, Alastair Morgan, who has been campaigning for justice for his murdered brother Daniel Morgan for 34 years, and the journalist, Peter Jukes, joined us. Their podcast about Daniel’s murder was explicitly referenced as inspiration for the last series of Line of Duty. Uncannily, though, Jed wrote the phrase “institutional corruption” months before the Morgan panel report was published two weeks ago, which made the same allegation of the Met.

It was a genuinely fascinating discussion, even if Jed claims that if we were living in a series of Line of Duty we’d currently only be at about episode 2 in the story arc [screaming emoji face]:

For access to future events please consider becoming a paid subscriber and supporting our mission.

And thank you so much to those who already have. Hope you enjoy the rest of your Sunday, Carole x

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