NORTHERN IRELAND’S FIRST MINISTER ARLENE FOSTER RESIGNS

The Times reports that Arlene Foster is to step down as Northern Ireland’s first minister after a revolt by senior figures in her party forced her from office. Foster, 50, had been under increasing pressure after reports emerged of a letter of no confidence being passed between Stormont assembly members following growing discontent within her own party. She said she had decided to step down as leader of the DUP on May 28 and as first minister of Northern Ireland at the end of June. Foster had previously played down suggestions that her position was under threat but was said to have cancelled a meeting with Brandon Lewis, the Northern Ireland secretary. She has faced widespread internal criticism for her handling of Brexit.

BORIS FLAILS AND FLOUNDERS OVER FLAT DECOR INVESTIGATION

The Mirror reports that the latest round of PMQs saw the flailing Prime Minister try to shrug off news that there would be an Electoral Commission investigation into his Downing Street flat renovations. Wednesday’s session, which saw a struggling Boris Johnson face interrogation by Sir Keir Starmer, once again left many questions unanswered and even included a false claim from the Tory leader.  During the tense gathering, Boris repeatedly refused to say who had initially paid for his Downing Street flat to be refurbished and became visibly furious as he tried to dodge the question  It comes after it was confirmed that the Electoral Commission would launch an investigation into the £58,000 renovations that took place at Boris’ Downing Street property. The investigation has been launched in the belief that there may be ‘reasonable grounds to suspect an offence has occurred’.

WHERE HAVE ALL THE WORKERS GONE

The Daily Mail reports: Jobs lost in hospitality account for 43 per cent of the national total during the coronavirus crisis, with many staff who have lost their employment moving into retail – and others heading back to their home countries in Europe. Some restaurant bosses told MailOnline that furloughed staff had left to get a better-paid job at an agency, while another said he had not had a single response to an advert for a bar worker on a salary of £22,000 a year. Bosses  also have concerns  about the exodus of Eastern European workers following the pandemic and post-Brexit. Wages are on the rise with businesses struggling  to find bar staff despite offering higher rates – and waiters commanding £15 an hour in South East England,  One in five companies with furloughed staff now say they are unlikely to keep all of them on according to a YouGov study released this week as government estimates 4.9million workers were furloughed in February.  For hospitality to rebuild and play its full role in the economic recovery, additional support for jobs as well as long term plans to facilitate enhanced training and apprenticeships are vital and with so many companies facing rent debts and business rates bills, after more than a year with little trading, many companies – and thousands more jobs – will be in jeopardy unless further support is forthcoming.

THE CITY LOOKS TO BIG BANG 2

The Express reports that Rishi Sunak believes the City of London should prepare itself for the “Big Bang 2.0” with the sector hub braced for “big change” as struggles continue with the EU over access to the bloc’s own financial markets.  CityUK has estimated financial exports to be worth £56billion, but EU ministers are still continuing to finalise the details of a recent memorandum of understanding for future regulatory cooperation – four months after Brexit. The agreement, which was negotiated separately from the Brexit trade deal, could lead to a forum to closely manage post-Brexit financial services trade. Industry insiders are expecting improvements as the UK battles to stand above its rivals throughout the EU, but believe Mr Sunak’s vision of a big bang could take some time. Following the financial crisis in 2008, several strict rules were imposed, including capping bankers’ bonuses at 100 percent of salary.

NAIVE UK ACADEMICS AIDING CHINESE MILITARY RESEARCH

The Sun reports that China’s  drive to build the world’s most powerful military is being inadvertently aided by “breathtakingly naive” British academics. Research into radar jamming, ship building, drones, advanced materials and artificial intelligence is among the research that has been sponsored by Chinese institutions in the UK, warned a report from think tank Civitas. University representatives defended their work with their Chinese partners, saying the study “mischaracterized” their relationships and that the co-operation is fundamental for research. But the study warns there is a “pervasive presence of Chinese military-linked conglomerates and universities in the sponsorship of high-technology research centres in many leading UK universities and in their research relationships”.

NO DIRTY MONEY LAUNDERING HERE SAYS RAAB

The Telegraph reports that the UK Government  will impose sanctions on 22 people accused of serious corruption, including South Africa’s Gupta brothers and the UK has announced new beefed-up sanctioning powers against corruption as Dominic Raab warned the country has become a “honey pot” for foreign actors seeking to launder their “dirty money”. The Foreign Secretary said the new sanctions would stop those involved in serious corruption from entering and channelling money through the UK. Britain, for the first time, on Monday imposed asset freezes and travel bans against 22 people from across Russia, South Africa, Saudi Arabia and Latin America under the new Global Anti-Corruption sanctions regime, which gives the UK unprecedented power to stop corrupt actors profiting from the UK economy. The move brings the UK in line with the US and Canada in adding corruption to its Magnitsky Act sanctions regime.

TENSIONS STILL RISING  OVER NEW ZEALAND’S CLOSER TIES WITH CHINA

The Times reports that Australia’s foreign minister had barely set foot in New Zealand when the questions began. Followed across the Tasman Sea by a flurry of Chinese criticism after she blocked President Xi’s pet infrastructure project at home, Marise Payne arrived in Wellington for tense talks with her counterpart, Nanaia Mahuta. When asked about New Zealand’s shift away from the Anglophone “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance, leaving Australia increasingly isolated against China, she replied: “That is entirely a matter for New Zealand.”

COMPULSORY PAPERS OFF THE MENU

The Guardian reports that Compulsory Covid passports to enter pubs and restaurants are now off the menu and the government’s review is likely to recommend that documents are required only for larger events. Michael Gove, the Cabinet Office minister, is expected to set out progress on the review into Covid certification in a written statement to the Commons on Thursday. Plans for the use of so-called vaccine passports had sparked considerable anger among Conservative MPs, though Boris Johnson had suggested in several interviews that he backed their use. Cabinet Office sources confirmed the inquiry was prioritising the use of Covid certificates – which would show proof of vaccination, a recent test, or antibodies from having previously caught the virus – for larger events in places such as theatres, music venues or sports arenas.

TWO JABS STILL MEANS KEEPING YOUR DISTANCE

The London Evening Standard reports that people who have received two doses of a Covid-19 vaccine are being told to keep up social distancing partly due to British culture, a senior health official has said. Dr Ramsay told the Commons Science and Technology Committee the UK’s policy of leaving up to 12 weeks between vaccine doses – a move she said has saved lives – means the UK is behind the US when it comes to fully vaccinated individuals. “I think they (US) are able to be less cautious, perhaps, than us because of the fact that more people have had two doses, which one would expect to get even better protection against transmission,” she said.

COVID PASSPORTS BY ANOTHER NAME

The Mail reports in a piece headed ‘advertisement’  that the Transport Secretary Grant Shapps has said that The NHS app will double as a covid passport for tourists with the details of millions of vaccinations already uploaded. Thousands have rushed to download the app this morning and were shocked to discover details of their vaccinations – including how many they’ve had and the type of vaccine administered – were already waiting for them. But the Department of Health has denied claims on social media it has secretly rolled out covid passports, insisting that all vaccines are automatically added to the app when it connects to the user’s medical records. Shapps revealed today that the NHS app is being worked on to become a health certificate for international travel ahead of the G7 in Cornwall in early June – but refused to be drawn on the finer details of how it would work – leaving huge unanswered questions about how people would get record of a negative non-NHS test uploaded, and what happens to unvaccinated people when they return from their holidays.

AND FINALLY

From The Guardian: At first glance it could be an old scrap of paper that has had blackcurrant juice knocked over it. In reality it is, in terms of size, weight and material, arguably the most valuable object in the world. When it goes to auction in June it is expected to sell for between $10m and $15m – more than a billion times its original value. The scrap of paper is the British Guiana One-Cent Magenta, which was created in 1856 and is the most famous and valuable stamp in the world. “It is the Mona Lisa of philately,” said David Beech, a philatelic expert. “It is the one stamp that every philatelist and every collector would have heard about and seen an illustration of.” The stamp was created in British Guiana, now Guyana, when a shortage of stamps usually imported from England threatened to disrupt the colony’s postal service. It was discovered in 1873 by a budding 12-year-old philatelist called Vernon Vaughan, a Scottish boy living in British Guiana. He found it in his uncle’s papers, thought it looked valuable and sold it for six shillings.

 

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