Coronavirus

Mail
The UK today confirmed its first coronavirus death in ‘a woman in her 70s with underlying health conditions’, as the number of cases doubled in two days to 116 and health chiefs revealed patients with mild symptoms will be asked to stay at home instead of being treated in hospital.  The patient, understood to be a 75-year-old woman, tested positive for the killer infection last night at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading before succumbing to the illness today. Elderly patients are known to be at higher risk of suffering deadly complications because of their weaker immune systems.

Times
A British woman has become the first to die from the new coronavirus in this country after having the disease diagnosed during routine testing of pneumonia sufferers, it is understood. The frail patient, who had underlying health conditions and is believed to have been 75, died at the Royal Berkshire Hospital in Reading, it was announced yesterday. She is thought to have had the virus diagnosed after the NHS started testing intensive care patients with respiratory problems. The woman had not travelled abroad or been in contact with a known case, as evidence mounts that the virus is being passed on undetected in the UK.

BBC News
UK health officials are moving towards the second phase of their response to the coronavirus outbreak. It comes as the number of UK people diagnosed with the virus reached 115, a rise of 30 since Wednesday. The latest government figures released on Thursday showed that of the total number of cases, 25 are in London. Earlier, the country’s chief medical adviser Prof Chris Whitty said the next phase – “delay” – will see more action to slow the spread of the virus. He told MPs it was “highly likely” some people now being infected in the UK have no connection to overseas cases.

Mail
The UK Government and the NHS have launched a hard-hitting advertising campaign urging the public to wash their hands to stop the coronavirus. Ominous, dark images of stains on a door handle under ultraviolet light warn people the virus can survive on some surfaces for hours, remaining contagious. Prime Minister Boris Johnson and his ministers and officials are hammering home the message that hand-washing is the best thing people can do to protect themselves.

Telegraph
Elderly people will be urged to avoid crowded areas or stay at home entirely when coronavirus becomes more widespread, the UK’s chief medical officer has said. Professor Chris Whitty stressed that pensioners should not be advised to isolate themselves at the moment, but suggested this would change as the virus takes a greater grip. While overall mortality rates for coronavirus are estimated at one per cent, this rises to 15 per cent for those in their 80s and around eight per cent for those in their 70s.

Telegraph
Coronavirus is far more deadly for men than women, with males 65 per cent more likely to die from an infection than females, new analysis shows. The latest breakdown of figures from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Chinese scientists, shows that of all suspected cases 1.7 per cent of women who contract the virus will die, compared with 2.8 per cent of men. In confirmed cases, the infection is fatal for 4.7 per cent of men, but just 2.8 per cent of women, even though the gender balance for those testing positive is roughly split in half.

Trade talks

Telegraph
The overlapping timelines of Britain’s negotiations with the EU, and, separately, with the United States, create an interesting set of power dynamics for David Frost, Crawford Falconer and our negotiating teams in Downing Street and the Department for International Trade to navigate. The two scenarios are very different. In the US case, the political will for a deal is high on both sides. Both President Donald Trump and Prime Minister Boris Johnson have been vocal about their desire to conclude a free trade agreement (FTA).

Mail
Britain and the EU warned of ‘serious’ and ‘significant’ differences in the post-Brexit trade talks yesterday as the first round of negotiations concluded. Both sides said some common ground had been found, but that four key areas could cause talks to crash and burn by the summer if compromises are not reached. The bruising talks got under way on Monday when David Frost, Boris Johnson’s lead negotiator, took more than 100 British officials to Brussels. Both sides have agreed to try and strike a trade deal by the end of the year, when Britain finally leaves the EU.

BBC News
More than 100 British negotiators are heading home from Brussels after the first week of talks with the EU over the future relationship with the UK. The two sides sound quite positive and appear to agree on some technicalities in areas like transport and energy. But there are some big disagreements about some big things. The two sides agree that their new free trade agreement should include measures to ensure fair economic competition between them.

EU

Breitbart
French populist National Rally (RN) Member of the European Parliament Jérôme Rivière stated that he believes the United Kingdom leaving the European Union is akin to the start of the collapse of the former USSR. In an interview with Breitbart News political editor and Breitbart News Saturday host Matthew Boyle in Washington, DC, during the annual CPAC conference, Rivière stated that Brexit could lead to major changes in the European Union, saying the UK leaving the EU is a similar event to the first free elections in Poland that removed pro-USSR President Wojciech Jaruzelski in 1990.

Telegraph
Michel Barnier has told the United Kingdom to “respect” the European Union’s independence as he admitted there were “very, very difficult” points of disagreement in their negotiations. Speaking this afternoon in Brussels to mark the end of the first round of UK-EU talks on their post-Brexit future relationship, Mr Barnier told reporters: “Nobody contests the UK’s independence. We also ask the UK to respect our own independence….just as the UK sets its own conditions for opening up its market, the EU sets its own conditions for opening up its markets for goods and services.” The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator stressed that a good deal remained “possible”, but was complicated by the “many…serious divergences” such as the UK’s ongoing refusal to sign up to a proposed “level playing field” tying both sides to shared standards.

Independent
Britain must respect the EU’s “independence” and accept that the bloc has its own red lines in trade talks, its chief negotiator has warned Boris Johnson. Michel Barnier was speaking in Brussels at the close of the first round of Brexit trade negotiations, where he warned that “very, very difficult” differences were emerging between both sides with the clock ticking down. “Let’s avoid any misunderstandings: the UK has spent a lot of time this week insisting on its independence: ladies and gentlemen, nobody contests the UK’s independence. We also ask the UK to respect our own independence,” Mr Barnier said. “Of course, we respect the UK’s sovereignty, and just as the UK sets its own conditions for opening up its market, the EU sets its own conditions for opening up its markets for goods and services.

Sky News
There are “very, very difficult” differences between the EU and UK following the first week of talks on a future relationship, the bloc’s chief negotiator has claimed. Michel Barnier, who is heading the EU’s negotiating team, highlighted four main areas of divergence between the two sides at the end of their first round of negotiations. These relate to EU demands for the UK to maintain a “level playing field” with Brussels’ rules and standards; the role of the European Court of Justice (ECJ) and European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR); governance; and fisheries.

Times
There are “very grave and serious” disagreements between Britain and the European Union over a trade and security deal including a human rights row that threatens police co-operation, Michel Barnier has said. The EU’s chief negotiator said four major disagreements had emerged after a first round of negotiations in Brussels this week that could derail a deal by the end of the year unless they are resolved. “To be completely frank there are many divergences and they are very serious divergences,” he said. He highlighted Britain’s refusal to agree to a treaty clause applying the European Convention on Human Rights and jurisdiction for the EU courts.

Guardian
Michel Barnier has spoken of grave differences between the EU and the UK over their future relationship, warning that Boris Johnson’s refusal to formally commit to the European convention on human rights would limit cooperation in fighting crime. Following the first round of negotiations between the two 100-strong teams, the EU’s chief negotiator said there were many “serious divergences” between the two sides. The problematic areas were said to range from the maintenance of a level playing field for British and European businesses to the role of the European court of justice and conditions on future access for European fishing fleets to British waters.

Independent
Boris Johnson is refusing to sign up to human rights protections in any Brexit trade deal with the EU, opening the door to the UK quitting the European convention. Speaking in Brussels after the first round of post-Brexit talks, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier told reporters that the UK “informs us that they do not wish to commit formally to applying the European Convention on Human Rights”. UK officials confirmed that the UK did not want membership of the European Convention on Human Rights membership written into the trade agreement. As an EU member the UK could not leave the ECHR because it was a condition of its membership.

Breitbart
The Turkish government has sent an additional 1,000 special police to the border with Greece in order to prevent migrants coming back to the country. The announcement was made on Thursday by Turkish Interior Minister Suleyman Soylu, who said the extra forces were being positioned in order to stop the Greek government from attempting to push migrants back onto Turkish territory. The Turkish minister also claimed that Greek border forces had injured or wounded at least 164 migrants in recent days along the border, Kathimerini reports.

Fisheries

Independent
The environment secretary has warned the EU that the UK has taken “sufficient” steps to protect its waters after Brexit, as fears grow of a French blockade. The royal navy boasts three extra vessels, the Home Office will provide a further four and the government can call in help from the private sector, George Eustice said. A new control centre has been launched, 50 extra fishery protection officers have been recruited and there will be “aerial surveillance”, a House of Lords inquiry was told. “We have significantly increased our enforcement capability,” Mr Eustice said, adding: “We think that is sufficient.” The extra muscle was set out after the controversy of access for EU boats emerged as a key dispute in the post-Brexit trade talks, with Brussels demanding an agreement by the end of June.

Telegraph
The EU will have to fold on fisheries under pressure from member states who export to the UK, the Environment Secretary has said.  George Eustice, who was formerly Defra minister, said the European Union would be unwise to deny Britain its desire to become an independent coastal nation as it would risk a trade deal that would benefit numerous nations that do not require access to British waters.  “The member states that are quite dependent on access to our waters are France, the Normandy Fleet does have quite a lot of access, probably Ireland, to a lesser extent The Netherlands and Belgium,” Mr Eustice told a House of Lords EU Energy and Environment sub-committee.

Express
BRITAIN has warned Emmanuel Macron that Royal Navy gunboats will be deployed to stop EU fishing boats from entering UK waters after Brexit. Environment Secretary George Eustice made the promise to a House of Lords committee in the latest war of words between the UK and European Union over fishing access. The hugely emotive issue is already threatening to derail post-Brexit trade talks. Mr Eustice warned the Royal Navy now has three additional vessels and the Home Office will provide a further four, while the Government can also call in help from the private sector. He insisted the UK is taking “sufficient” measures to protect British waters, telling the Lords committee an additional 50 fishery protection officers have been recruited and there will be “aerial surveillance”.

High Streets

ITV News
High street sales have taken a battering from storms and coronavirus fears over the past month, according to new figures. Like-for-like store sales slipped 0.9% in February, according to BDO’s latest High Street Sales Tracker. The survey blamed storms Ciara, Dennis and Jorge – as well as global fears over the coronavirus outbreak – for the decline, after sales had picked up in previous months. Sophie Michael, head of retail and wholesale at BDO, said: “Bad weather and concerning headlines contributed to an already difficult trading environment in February. “The poor performance in non-store sales contributed further to a disastrous month for retail across the board.”

Northern Ireland

Independent
Boris Johnson‘s dream of building a bridge connecting Northern Ireland and Scotland could instead become a tunnel in the Irish Sea, the Tory cabinet minister has said. Scottish secretary Alister Jack said he favoured a channel between Portpatrick on the British mainland to Larne in Northern Ireland – and insisted the prime minister was “on the same page”. He told MSPs the bridge idea was a “euphemism” for a link between the two countries and a tunnel would avoid the issue of the Second World War munitions dump at Beaufort’s Dyke in the Irish Sea.

iNews
The construction of a 22-mile tunnel linking Scotland and Northern Ireland is being seriously investigated by the UK Government, the Scottish Secretary has said. Alister Jack said the project would be cheaper than the £20bn bridge previously proposed between Portpatrick and Larne and would get around many of the problems raised. He added that Boris Johnson was on “exactly the same page”, while Northern Ireland’s First Minister Arlene Foster was also “very enthusiastic” about the idea.

Mail
Boris Johnson‘s planned bridge to Northern Ireland could end up being a tunnel, the Scottish Secretary said today. Alister Jack said the PM agreed with him that an underground link could be cheaper and avoid problems such as the huge Second World War munitions dump in the Irish Sea.  Mr Johnson has previously extolled the virtues of a bridge, ordering the idea to be seriously investigated by government officials. He insists the multi-billion pound scheme, potentially running for 20 miles between Portpatrick and Larne, would help strengthen the bonds between parts of the UK.

Priti Patel

Times
Boris Johnson was accused last night of undermining a Whitehall inquiry into bullying allegations against the home secretary after he declared that his “instinct” was to “stick with Prit”. The prime minister ordered an official investigation to “establish the facts” of Priti Patel’s behaviour earlier this week after a string of allegations about her treatment of staff. Mr Johnson will have sole responsibility to decide if she has broken the ministerial code. But he appeared to prejudge that decision yesterday when he told This Morning on ITV that his “instinct” was to stand by her.

Telegraph
Priti Patel is a “tough, assertive and effective leader,” say nearly 100 people who have worked with her including former charity commission chief William Shawcross in a letter to The Telegraph. Responding to the bullying allegations against her by civil servants, the authors from business, politics and academics say that even under pressure the Home Secretary has “never crossed the line or lost her temper.” They claim she has been a target of a campaign of gossip, smears and malicious gossip by anonymous individuals who have failed to produce any verifiable facts. “She is right to ask tough questions of senior civil servants at the Home Office, which has hardly covered itself in glory over recent years, even if a few of them don’t like it.

Huawei

Times
Boris Johnson will face his first Commons rebellion next week as Tory MPs demand that he bans Huawei from Britain’s 5G network in two years’ time. The prime minister’s decision to approve the controversial Chinese firm’s role has angered many of his own MPs in addition to allies, such as the United States and Australia. Mr Johnson sought to dispel opposition with a promise to limit Huawei’s involvement to 35 per cent of the network’s “non-core” elements, a proportion that he said would later reduce.

Flooding

Mail
Flood-hit families face seeing their homes demolished due to damage from successive storms as the river levels in East Yorkshire have dipped by only inches in six days – with Britain preparing to take another battering of rain. Kevin Lorryman’s home is just one of dozens in the communities of Snaith and East Cowick which were inundated a week ago when the River Aire spilled out of its normal washlands, creating a vast inland sea. Across December, January and February, the country was deluged with an average total of 469.7mm of rain, according to Met Office figures released this week.

Badger cull

Times
Badger culls will be phased out and replaced by greater use of vaccinations to protect cattle from tuberculosis, the government has announced. Testing of cattle herds will also be improved to remove infected animals more quickly to prevent the disease from spreading. The decision will delight Carrie Symonds, the prime minister’s fiancée, who has campaigned against the badger cull and has been named in court papers by cattle farmers claiming they were improperly denied a culling licence. More than 100,000 badgers have been shot since 2013 in 41 culling areas, including an estimated 45,000 last autumn.

Independent
The government’s controversial mass badger culls will be phased out and replaced with wildlife vaccines in a change of strategy in efforts to save cattle from bovine tuberculosis (bTB). Ministers say they will not only order schemes to inoculate more badgers, but also improve testing of cows to catch the disease earlier and begin trials of a vaccine for cattle. Wildlife conservation groups welcomed the move, which they said would prevent the “largest slaughter of a protected species in living memory” and would be better for taxpayers, farmers and animals.

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