BIG ECONOMIC BANG FOR THE NORTH
The Express reports: Billions of pounds of private sector investment could be unlocked in the North of England and create an economic Big Bang, a major new report says today. By making the region attractive to investors the Centre for Policy Studies study predicts the effect could be comparable to the dramatic financial boom in London under Margaret Thatcher in the 1980s. New investment incentives, planning reforms and other pro-growth measures would help create thousands of high-quality jobs, the report argues. By attracting high-productivity industries such as green technology the document insists the North could become the home for Boris Johnson’s much-trumpeted Green Industrial Revolution.
NO HASTY REOPENING SAYS DOWNING STREET
From the Guardian: Downing Street is pushing back against pressure from Conservative MPs to set a swift timetable to end the lockdown in England after meeting its first major vaccination target, saying any hastiness in reopening could risk undoing the progress made in combating the coronavirus pandemic. In a sign of the likely battle ahead in the coming weeks, ministers and officials flatly ruled out a demand from Tory backbenchers for all Covid restrictions to be over by the start of May, saying any plan needed to be both more cautious and decided step by step. But clamour for a more fixed schedule seems set to increase after Boris Johnson announced the government had reached its target of offering at least a first vaccination to the top four most vulnerable groups in England by Monday.
TIMETABLE DEMANDED FOR LIFTING OF CORONAVIRUS RESTRICTIONS
The London Evening Standard reports: Lockdown-sceptic Tories have piled pressure on Boris Johnson calling on him to commit to a timetable for lifting coronavirus restrictions with a complete end to controls by the end of April. In a letter to the Prime Minister the leaders of the Covid Recovery Group (CRG) said the tremendous pace of the vaccination rollout meant restrictions in England should begin easing from early March. They said ministers must produce a cost-benefit analysis to justify any controls that remain in place after that date, with a road-map stating when they would be removed. The letter was organised by the CRG chair and deputy chair, Mark Harper and Steve Baker, and was said to have the backing of 63 Conservative MPs in all.
VACCINE PASSPORT CONFUSION CONTINUES
The Mail reports that the government was facing more confusion over vaccine passports after Dominic Raab suggested they could be needed to get into pubs and supermarkets in the UK.The Foreign Secretary appeared to contradict a series of other government statements as he said the idea was under consideration. The comments risked provoking anger from Tories who are already deeply alarmed about the way the pandemic has hammered civil liberties.
TRUMP STILL COMMANDS LOYALTY
Reuters reports from Washington that the vote by 43 of the 50 Republican senators to acquit Trump on the charge of inciting last month’s deadly riot in the U.S. Capitol, with only seven voting for conviction, highlights just how powerful a grip he has on the party he remade in his image over the past five years. The former president, who has largely stayed out of sight at his Florida home since leaving the White House on Jan. 20, commands fervent loyalty among his supporters, forcing most Republican politicians to pledge their fealty and fear his wrath.
REPLACE THE LORDS SAY MPs
From the Express: MPs have launched an effort to abolish the unelected House of Lords and replace it with an elected chamber. A new cross-party group – the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Electoral Reform – is pushing for reforms of the Chamber to boost democracy at Westminster. Currently, there are around 800 members of the House of Lords, more than the 650 MPs elected into the House of Commons. Boris Johnson appointed 16 new peers at Christmas taking the total to 52 in 2020. Critics say the Chamber is being stuffed with Tory and Labour donors and not accountable to the people, with peers entitled to a daily allowance of up to £323 outside normal Covid-19 pandemic times.
NO CHINESE OR RUSSIAN BUYERS OF BRITISH DEFENSE CONTRACTORS
The Telegraph writes: Chinese and Russian companies must be banned from acquiring British defence contractors to end a laissez-faire approach to our national security and sovereignty, an influential group of MPs has demanded. An investigation of foreign involvement in the military supply chain by the defence select committee found stronger safeguards around foreign investment are required. The MPs recommend a whitelist of friendly countries as most investments are from close allies and are to be welcomed but Countries falling outside this list should be barred from investing in the UK’s defence supply chain, including China and Russia. No British company should be left with the choice of either going under or accepting hostile foreign investment, and the Government must ensure that no one finds themselves in this position.The report identifies nine companies operating in the UK defence supply chain that have been acquired by Chinese buyers.
120.000 HATE SPEECH ALLEGATIONS BUT NO CRIMES IDENTIFIED
The Daily Mail reports that police have recorded hate-speech allegations against more than 120,000 people – yet cannot identify a single crime that has been prevented by the exercise. Critics say the controversial practice of logging non-crime hate incidents, even after officers decided what was said or posted online did not break any laws, has a chilling effect on free speech. However senior officers have insisted it helps them measure tensions effectively and to prevent serious hostility and violence. But in response to a Freedom of Information request, none of the 43 police forces in England and Wales was able to point to any crime that had been prevented, and 20 admitted they did not even have a system in place to monitor the effectiveness of recording the claims. Police guidelines were recently updated so they apply to schoolchildren and now state that hate incidents can include ill-will, spite, contempt, prejudice, unfriendliness, antagonism, resentment and dislike.
EBOLA CASES IN GUINEA AND DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC OF CONGO
The Independent reports that three people have died of Ebola in southeastern Guinea, the state health agency said, in the first resurgence of the disease there since the world’s worst outbreak, between 2013-2016. A further five patients have tested positive for the disease, and are being isolated in treatment centres, officials have confirmed. The Democratic Republic of Congo has also confirmed four cases of Ebola, provincial health minister Eugene Nzanzu Salita said on Sunday.Those in Guinea initially fell ill with diarrhoea, vomiting and bleeding after attending a burial in Goueke sub-prefecture.
BBC LOCKDOWN LAUGHS TO THE RESCUE
From the Guardian: The BBC intends to give the nation some lockdown laughs later this month with a three-week comedy season called The Festival of Funny, featuring stars including John Cleese, Eddie Izzard and Stephen Fry as well as new talent such as Rose Mate to counter the Covid-19 gloom. The corporation is to air new comedies across radio and TV including a live standup show every night for a week on BBC2 featuring established names such as Jo Brand and Jason Manford alongside up and coming comedians. The BBC’s comedy controller, Shane Allen, said the idea for the festival was born in December as a way to boost people’s mental health: “We need comedy to help pull us out of this. It’s the British sense of humour that gets us through the darkest times in life.”
THE GREAT OUTDOORS GETS THE GREEN LIGHT FIRST
The SUN reports that senior government sources claimed the outdoor activities will be the first to get the green light next month – followed by sports such as golf and tennis – as the UK finally begins to lift restrictions. Park bench coffees and picnics will be able to be enjoyed with anyone from your own household or with one other person. However, households will still not be allowed to mix inside or outside with anyone else. The move will be the first step in a wider plan to ease restrictions with schools, non-essential retail and hospitality being opened again in the following month. “It will be a national reopening – none of this geographical tiering stuff,” a ministerial source said.
BORIS SPENDS ON NEW UNION ARMY
From the Express: Boris Johnson has pledged to defend the UK with a new ‘Union army’ as SNP chiefs prepare to unveil a new independence referendum bill. Scotland’s Constitution Secretary Michael Russell said a draft bill paving the way for indyref2 would be published within the next six weeks before the Scottish elections. Freedom of Information (FOI) requests revealed Boris Johnson and Tory ministers are spending hundreds of thousands of pounds on new staff for its “Union Unit” to defend increasing support for Scottish independence.
The Daily Star reports that talking to animals in the way Dr Dolittle did might seem more like an appropriate subject matter for a family film than serious scientific research. But Professor Michael Bronstein at Imperial College London says that artificial intelligence could provide the key to unlocking completely alien languages – such as the complex songs of whales. Bronstein is already working on an AI chatbot that could decipher sperm whales’ unique language even though it has no points of reference with any human communication. He does concede, though, that the first conversations between humans and whales may only be a rough approximation of the true depth and meaning of what they’re saying because our lives and reference points are so completely different.